Sunday, December 14, 2014

Last Call For Uber Uber Alles

Ride share bad boy Uber is flipping the country's taxi services upside down, proving that when you combine the ambush tactics of the Tea Party right and the pitiless analysis of Silicon Valley's left, there's very few local and state legislatures and regulators you can't curbstomp.

On a Thursday in June, bureaucrats from Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles made their move against Uber Technologies. The fast-growing ride-for-hire company was told that its popular service was, in fact, illegal and that the firm needed to immediately cease all operations in the state.

Far from being intimidated, Uber was ready to fight back. The company immediately called on one of its most potent weapons: its ­ever-growing list of smartphone-wielding customers. A notice sent to Uber users in Virginia included the e-mail address and phone number of the ordinarily low-profile official in charge of the decision. The notice instructed the company’s supporters to demand that the DMV “stand up for you.”

Hundreds of them did and, by Sunday, Commissioner Richard Holcomb’s inbox was flooded. Holcomb did his best to respond — working through the weekend, even crafting e-mails to irate Uber customers as he lay in bed at home.

The poor guy never had a chance.

Then, seeking a longer-term fix, Uber lobbyists submitted a draft of a proposed temporary operating permit. State officials granted a revised version several weeks later, permitting Uber as well as Lyft, a smaller company, to continue normal operations for the time being.

In an era of government dysfunction, the Virginia example shows how San Francisco-based Uber has pioneered not just a new sort of taxi service but also a new way to change long-standing local ordinances.

Uber’s approach is brash and, so far, highly effective: It launches in local markets regardless of existing laws or regulations. It aims to build a large customer base as quickly as possible. When challenged, Uber rallies its users to pressure government officials, while unleashing its well-connected lobbyists to influence lawmakers.

Why bother with lobbyist organizations like ALEC when you can cut out the middleman, aggressively leverage the internet and your own customers, and crush any and all regulatory opposition?  Just roll through and take over before anyone can react. Yes, the article does point out that Uber has screwed up so far on more than a few occasions, and maybe people are starting to wise up to what's going on.

But until that happens, it's the Wild West, and Uber is winning.

Sunday Long Read: History Is Written By The Winners

I grew up in North Carolina and went to public school there, eventually graduating from the state's residential magnet high school for science and math.  It was one of the best learning experiences of my life, which is why it saddens me to see 20 years later that the Koch brothers just bought North Carolina's high school history and civics classes to teach Tea Party doctrine to students.

Public high school students in North Carolina will be taught from a lesson plans and worksheets prepared by a organization closely tied to the billionaire Koch brothers, if the state’s Department of Public Instruction gets its way. According to the Raleigh News and Observer, the Virginia-based Bill of Rights Institute received a “$100,000, sole-source contract with [North Carolina] to help develop materials for teachers to use in a course on founding principles that the state requires students to take.”

The N&O also notes that the organization receives funding directly from David Koch and from two Koch family foundations, although, if anything, this description understates the Institute’s ties to the conservative billionaires. Two of the Institutes four board members are employed by Koch entities — one is a senior vice president at Koch Industries and another is director of higher education programs at the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation — and many of the Institute’s other top leaders also appear likely to push a political agenda in line with the Koch brothers’ anti-government views. Board member Todd Zywicki, is a George Mason law professor and a leading opponent of Wall Street reforms such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The Institute’s president, David J. Bobb, founded two centers at Hillsdale College, a conservative institution of higher education that proclaims its opposition to “the dehumanizing, discriminatory trend of so called ‘social justice’ and ‘multicultural diversity.’

At every turn the lesson plan is that America was formed by armed resistance to centralized, federal government and remains plagued to this day by high taxes and Washington DC interference.  The lesson plan also includes a call to repeal the Seventeenth Amendment, instead allowing state legislatures to choose Senators to "avoid the corruption of federal elections" and holds the Commerce Clause as the source of many woes the country suffers from.

It's pretty subtle and nasty stuff, and worth a read.  Especially for those of you with kids in high school, understand that this lesson plan is coming to dozens of red states pushed by state legislatures controlled by Republican corporate interests.

Got to get them hating the federal government while they're young, you know.

Cruz Uncontrolled Con't

So Sen. Ted Cruz's plan to force the Senate to stay through the weekend and vote on every single nomination the Dems wanted in order to pass this year's spending bill to stop a shutdown was a disaster.

For Ted Cruz.

Democrats called his bluff.

While Republican senators were fuming at Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) for holding up a $1.1 trillion spending bill aimed at preventing a government shutdown, Democrats saw a silver lining: the move by Cruz and Lee gave Democrats an opening to move a number of President Barack Obama's nominees for federal judgeships and the executive branch.

What happened was that when Cruz and Lee scuttled a deal between Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that would have allowed lawmakers to leave Washington D.C. for the weekend and come back Monday they gave Democrats a chance to advance Obama's presidential appointees by having to stay in D.C. to deal with the spending bill.

The extra time over the weekend gave Reid the opportunity to, through the Senate's executive session, file cloture on the nominations and move them sooner than they would have under the deal Reid and McConnell had planned on and that Cruz and Lee blocked. Under the original deal Reid would have had to schedule votes on the nominees later in the upcoming week, when Democrats may not have wanted to stick around to vote.

"It allows us to speed up the time when we could get going on these noms, rather than waiting until next week," a top Senate Democratic aide told TPM on Saturday evening. "It gets harder to get them all done when you’re running up on the end of the Congress."

Cruz dragged out the clock in protest, lost his anti-immigration poison pill vote on the CR/Omnibus bill anyway, and bought the Democrats extra time to bring up all the nominations that the Republicans blocked for the last two years for a straight up or down vote on Monday.

And in the end, Ted Cruz loses again.  Get used to that headline, America.

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