June 26, 2019

Reactions to Being Kicked Out of an Uber

Photo by Alexander Torrenegra via WikiCommons

Los Angeles’ KCBS channel 2 news contacted me three times last week for an on-camera interview.

The station’s reporters had read a story in the Journal about a Palestinian Uber driver who kicked two (unnamed) Jewish women out of his car after they left the annual Celebrate Israel Festival.

I am one of those women. I realize that, with this admission, I am forfeiting my anonymity.

First was a call from CBS 2’s Dave Lopez, who told me I had an “interesting story” to tell. On camera, he would ask me some questions, such as did I know the driver was Palestinian when I got into his car? (Not sure how I would besides, of course, by using my Arab-Detecting Spidey Sense.)

Then CBS’ Rachel Kim called, and offered me a little more time to explain several concerns. To my surprise and to my relief, I got the empathy of someone who clearly understood the vast complexities of conflict that exist among cultures that are as ancient as the Abrahamic religions.

I declined both invitations to share my Uber plight on TV and its implications for Middle East peace.

In regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I doubted that my 1-star Uber experience would be of any consequence. Recounting my case of ride-sharing discrimination on TV, I thought, pales in comparison to the tales of young soldiers risking their lives at the Israeli border.

“I got kicked out of an Uber. I got a new Uber,” I told both reporters, noting that if my driver, whose Uber profile said his name was Mustafa, masterminded to delay my dinner plans by 10 minutes, then he did so with skillful success.

“I declined both invitations to share my Uber plight on TV and its implications for Middle East peace.”

Uber didn’t respond to my incident report until the Journal reached out for comment, which I relayed was the real issue at hand. And anti-Semitic incidents in California have increased 27% from 2017 to 2018, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which is certainly worthy of some mainstream coverage.

But because my incident was resolved — Uber did eventually fire the offending driver — there is really nothing more to report. Except for my opinion — not about the incident, but about the aftermath.

While these reporters saw me as “the victim” of an Uber atrocity, I explained that many of their viewers might not, which became clear to me via several conversations.

As the Celebrate Israel Festival ended, young families with small Israeli flags made their way past security and back to their cars. I called an Uber to take me and my friend to a nearby restaurant.

Like second-nature, we hopped into the back seat and didn’t even notice the young driver until he asked us for a third time, “Which event are you coming from?” In that moment, I knew this wouldn’t end well.

 “Get out of my car. I’m Palestinian,” he said while staring me down. I slowly slid back out to the public sidewalk and, in retrospect, to my safety.

Once out of harm’s way, my fumes as an American began to flare, so I offered Mustafa a few choice words of road rage that are indigenous to my hometown of Chicago.

My replacement Uber driver said, “I understand where he’s was coming from, you see, because you stole his land.” Hailing from Mississippi, he conveyed this sentiment with genuine gentility.

My colleague at work said, “Yeah, that’s tough. I can see both sides. Wait, we’re still talking about an Uber ride, right?”

My longtime friend of Mexican descent said, “Israel is corrupt; Jews control America; and the Palestinians have a right to defend themselves.” Hand-to-forehead. Repeat. Repeat again.

I felt confused, dispirited and like the butt of a weird joke. I thought it a relatively simple case of right and wrong, but I sorely underestimated how controversial even simple matters are when Israel is involved albeit, indirectly.

In the end, I was left bewildered at how, even among my friends, my bizarre Uber story left me in the astonishingly unpopular position of defending Israel’s right to exist — and my right to an Uber, even if the driver doesn’t like Israel.


Dayna Fields is a financial journalist in Los Angeles and winner of the Best Humorous Column award from the National Newspaper Association in 2014. 

Palestinian Uber Driver Refuses Ride to Jewish Women

A Palestinian Uber driver kicked two Jewish women out of his car on May 19 after he learned they were leaving the Israeli-American Council (IAC)’s Celebrate Israel Festival at nearby Rancho Park. 

In a phone interview with the Journal, Dayna, (who requested only her first name be used for fear of retaliation), 33, and Rachel (a pseudonym; she requested that no part of her name be used for fear of retaliation) said they were in the back seat of the driver’s car across the street from Rancho Park at Fox Studios when he asked them, “What event were you coming from?” The women responded, “Just an event.” After the driver — who according to his Uber profile is named Mustafa — asked them again where they had come from, and after noticing that the car had not yet moved, Dayna said, “An Israeli Independence Day event.”

The driver then told them to get out of his car. 

“He started laughing and he looked us dead in the eye and he said, ‘You need to get out of my car. I’m Palestinian,’ ” Dayna said. “The only reason I can think of that he would ask us which event we were coming from is he clearly wanted to make a statement. It was clear by the families crossing the street and the security that it was an Israel Independence event.”

“I could see his eyes in the wing mirror and he just spun around … his eyes were wild … raged … and that’s what frightened me,” Rachel added.

The women got out of the Uber. “We were pretty freaked,” Dayna said. 

“His rage was so great that he couldn’t handle anyone associated with Israel, and that’s a hate crime, that’s prejudice,” Rachel said. “As females, it’s very intimidating to be in a situation with a male driver. He overpowered us.”

“We definitely felt threatened,” Dayna said. “I take Ubers twice a day to and from work and I’ve never been told to get out of someone’s car because I’m Jewish.” 

As soon as Dayna arrived home, she emailed Uber and received an automatic reply saying, “Sorry you had that experience. You won’t be charged for the ride.” 

“No human reached out — no options, no recourse,” she said. “Uber should fire that person. Uber should have called me and expressed a sincere apology.”

A similar incident occurred on May 4, 2018, when an Uber driver demanded that an Israeli diplomat get out of his car in the middle of Chicago traffic because he answered a phone call in Hebrew. Immediately after Uber received the complaint, they banned the driver from the app.

“He started laughing and he looked us dead in the eye and he said, ‘You need to get out of my car. I’m Palestinian.’ ” — Dayna

In a statement to the Journal, StandWithUS CEO Roz Rothstein said, “Unfortunately, anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head in far too many venues, including, regrettably, from Uber drivers. It’s sad that an Uber driver (or a person in any vocation) would be so out of control and risk their livelihood and reputation because of their intolerance and bigotry. We commend Uber for taking immediate disciplinary action against other drivers in the past who were unable to control their racism, by suspending and/or firing them, and we trust they will do the same in this case.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), there were 1,879 recorded attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions across the United States in 2018, “the third-highest year on record since ADL started tracking such data in the 1970s,” according to the ADL’s 2018 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents. In addition, there has been a 27% overall increase in anti-Semitic incidents from 2017 to 2018 in California, according to the audit. 

In an email to the Journal, ADL Senior Associate Regional Director Natan Pakman said until the women file an incident report, the ADL cannot take any action. “We would rather speak to the victim(s) before weighing in, so we will hold off on a statement at this point.” 

Rachel told the Journal she planned to file an incident report after the Memorial Day weekend. 

IAC CEO Shoham Nicolet said in a statement, “This is yet another red flag demonstrating the growing hate directed toward Jews and supporters of the Jewish State, and it is a direct result of ongoing incitement. The IAC was proud to host a celebration that radiated pride and unity for all Israel and U.S. lovers. We will continue to stand up to anti-Semitism as we celebrate Israel from coast-to-coast.”

The Journal reached out to Uber’s communications department a week after the incident and a company representative said he would look into the complaint and respond by the end of the day. Several hours later, a spokesperson sent an email stating, “Uber does not tolerate any form of discrimination. What’s been described is horrible and the driver no longer has access to the app.” 

The spokesperson also directed the Journal to “additional background” from Uber, noting that rider and driver safety is a top priority for the company, which investigates any reported incidents and has a clear non-discrimination policy. 

Following Uber’s response, the Journal spoke again with the two women who were denied a ride. Rachel said while she was glad that Mustafa had been banned from Uber, “I want to make sure [he] is banned from Lyft, too.”

Dayna said, “Hearing that the guy was banned is huge. The only issue is that they only handled it when a newspaper reached out. There’s really no recourse for a user in this situation, other than a generic dropdown menu and a complaint of a driver acting unprofessionally.”

She added, “I think it is very important that we document and speak out about even small acts of anti-Semitism because if we don’t, then it will only get worse. My bubbe, who passed recently, was an avid reader of the Jewish Journal and instilled its importance in me to this day, which is why I reached out. She would be very happy to know that it was the Jewish Journal that came through for me. Thank you for supporting the Jewish American community like you do. You are so invaluable to so many families.”


Melissa Simon is a senior studying journalism at University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Jewish Journal summer intern. 

Uber Removes London Driver Who Would Not Take Jews

Photo by Alexander Torrenegra via WikiCommons

(JTA) — Uber dropped a driver in London who allegedly said he would not take Jews.

Two men who were wearing kippahs said the driver, identified as “Ahmed,” refused to pick them up after they were matched with him on the Uber app, the Jewish Chronicle reported.

The driver dropped off another passenger then “turned around, and as he drove past us, said ‘I don’t take Jews.’ Then he hightailed it, just pegged it,” Sam Adler, one of the men, told the Jewish Chronicle. He says he suspects that the driver did not see their kippahs until he turned around.

He then cancelled the booking via the app, according to the report.

An Uber spokesperson told the Jewish Chronicle that the driver’s behavior was “totally unacceptable” and that the company “does not tolerate any form of discrimination.” The company removed the driver’s access from the app and reported the allegations to the London Metropolitan Police.

Adler said that the company declined to provide compensation, telling him: “We would never want to minimize an experience like you describe by putting an arbitrary monetary value on the situation.”

Religion in an Uber

I love a cocktail, and because I am a complete lightweight, I use Uber. It is easy and inexpensive, as long as they don’t nail you with their bogus surge pricing. Important to note that if you book an Uber and it cancels on you, then you rebook it 30 seconds later and there is surge pricing, complain to them because that is both lame and unethical. This however is not a blog about Uber pricing, but rather about my recent Uber driver.

If you are interested in people’s stories, talk to your Uber driver. I have met some wonderful people while riding in their cars. I’ve been driven by a Drake lookalike who was so handsome I stuttered when we spoke. There was a grandmother making extra money to help her single mom daughter, who was so great I moved to the front seat. There was a woman who is raising 9 children and drives to get a break from her kids. Uber is great.

Saturday night I went out for dinner with a friend. He drove to my place and we took an Uber to sushi. When we got in the car there was something in Arabic playing and didn’t sound like music, as much as chanting, so I asked if he was listening to prayers, because that is what it sounded like. He told me it actually was prayers, I told him they were beautiful, and somehow we went from prayers to not all Muslim’s being extremists.

I’m not sure if my positive reaction to the prayers made him open up, but he felt compelled to say not all Muslim’s were bad, and many speak out against extremists who are bringing harm to their faith. He wanted me to explain to him why the media never talks about the brave few who are willing to speak out. I didn’t have an answer, which I think made him sad. I appreciated that he wanted to be heard, and felt bad the ride was so short.

We live in a time when it is difficult to be a lot of things. Life has levels of complication when you are gay, black, Jewish, or transgender, to name just a few. It makes me happy when people are proud of who and what they are, so it was great that this man was comfortable enough to play prayers for strangers. He asked me at one point if I was Muslim, and I said no. I didn’t tell him I was Jewish, which I am ashamed of.

I’m not sure why I didn’t say I was a Jew when he asked me if I was Muslim. I’m not sure why I would even have said I was Jewish in that moment. I am proudly and openly Jewish. I say openly because I have many Jewish friends who are quiet about their faith.  It struck me as odd that I would choose this moment to be quiet and not share. I respect his bravery, but am sad for thinking it requires bravery to speak of religion.

Religion has always been something we need to be careful with I suppose. It brings people together, and tears them apart. If fuels love and hate on both small and epic levels. At the end of the day I’ll continue talking to Uber drivers, because connecting to a fellow human being matters, and exchanges about religion can be enlightening if we allow them to be. Sometimes talking to a stranger inspires you to keep the faith.

 

That Time My Uber Driver Was Anti-Semitic

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

My husband, Danny, hopped into the front seat of the Uber and I got in the backseat.

I immediately noticed the smell of weed. Bobby, the driver, was tall, heavy and stoned.

Danny is a socializer. As I looked down at my phone, he asked Bobby about life as an Uber driver.

Bobby complained that people in San Diego were much friendlier than people in Los Angeles, then said how the houses in Beverly Hills were so huge — and how the Jews who live in those houses scare him, with their tiny hats.

“Why do they scare you?” Danny asked.

I shifted in my seat, feeling slightly uncomfortable. I figured Bobby might say something negative about Chasidim. I’ve heard many negative comments about them from Jews and non-Jews.

“Jews don’t eat in the same restaurants as us,” Bobby said. “They’re too good for that. And they control all the banks.”

I felt stiff, like I couldn’t move. I’d encountered anti-Semitism before, but not like this. I wasn’t surprised when a woman in back-country Florida once told me that her dad was cheap, “like a Jew.” Seeing anti-Semitic statements from online trolls doesn’t shock me. But we were in Los Angeles, one of the most diverse, liberal and Jewish places in the country.

“What do you mean?” Danny asked.

“Rabbi Finkelstein said that the Jews have all the money and that it was a lie that 6 million died in the Holocaust.”

“Really?”

“Oh, yeah. I went to the Museum of Tolerance, and I had to laugh. The Jews say 6 million died, but that is nothing. The Chinese — 25 million died. The Russians — 25 million died. You don’t see them crying about it. But we always have to hear about the Holocaust.”

I felt like I was going to throw up.

“The Jews, they don’t eat the same meat as us. They eat kosher,” Bobby continued. “They control the entire meat industry.”

As Bobby drove, Danny looked up “Rabbi Finkelstein” on his phone. He found a video featuring a white supremacist telling an actor with a horribly fake Yiddish accent that he hates Jews because they killed Christ and start all the wars and think non-Jews are uneducated cattle. The “rabbi” admitted that all of this was true.

“You see?” Bobby said. “The Jews are Luciferian.”

The knots in my stomach were getting tighter.

“Did you know that Hitler was Time magazine’s man of the year?” Bobby continued. “He created tons of jobs for Germans.”

“Are you saying Hitler was a good person?” Danny said.

“I’m just saying that Americans made him into some evil person, and he wasn’t.”

How could it get any worse than Hitler admiration?

And then Bobby made it worse. “Did you know that the Jews capture children, then drain their blood to make their matzo ball soup?”

I started giggling uncontrollably, out of nervousness. This was too much. Danny was cracking up, too.

When we finally reached our home, Danny and I couldn’t exit the vehicle quickly enough. We looked at each other in disbelief at what we’d heard.

Does this incident make me want to stop praying in public, eating kosher food or being a proud Jew?

I wondered: Should we report Bobby? If I did, and I got him fired, he knew where we lived. I feared for my safety. Maybe if we had encountered him in a safe, public spot, we would have tried to educate him. But we were in his car.

I’m still stunned that this could happen in L.A., that a person could feel comfortable saying these things to strangers in 2017.

We are not safe anywhere.

Does this incident make me want to stop praying in public, eating kosher food or being a proud Jew? Absolutely not.

I can’t change who I am. And why should I, just because there are lunatics out there?

All I can do is be kind to everyone, even if they are different than me. All I can do is be better than Bobby and all the other Bobbys out there, and try to understand people who are different from me rather than hating and mocking them.

Some part of me wishes I were fearless, that I would have spoken up from that backseat. But I was in shock.

Maybe next time. But let’s hope there won’t be a next time.


Kylie Ora Lobell is the founder of JewessMag.com, a website for Jewish women, and a freelance writer.

My ride-share life

Photo by Alexander Torrenegra via WikiCommons

Two years ago, my car lease was ending — an unremarkable event in the life of a Century City lawyer.

It was, however, a warm autumn in which I found myself walking the mile from my home to my law office more frequently than usual. I also had noticed that my car was collecting dust on the weekends with the arrival of our second child, as all travel with the kids required the two car seats in my wife’s car. At that same time, I came to terms with a nagging problem of mine. I have a pesky need to be productive at all times, which, like an itch that needs constant scratching, included texting at red lights — a dangerous, illegal habit.

So, I began an experiment. I was curious if I could make it a week or two or longer without using my own car. I would walk more, carpool and Uber around town, and even occasionally take public transportation, like the new Expo Line downtown for court or a football game.

What I noticed first was a sense of relief, having been freed from driving in Los Angeles’ ubiquitous traffic. For a couple of bucks, I delegated the driving — and the stress and stir-craziness that Los Angeles gridlock induces — to a stranger. A worthy trade-off for preserving precious sanity.

Next, the savings piled up, which for me was several hundred dollars per month. I am currently spending about $300 to $400 per month on Uber and Lyft, which is not insignificant. But that is far less than my car lease, monthly parking in my office building ($225!), car insurance, gas, parking around town, wear and tear on my car, and the occasional parking ticket.

No less valuable was the ability to be productive on longer drives — making calls, reading or just catching up on emails or texts — or the freedom to choose not to be productive, by clearing some headspace or closing my eyes for a precious few moments. When I’m not trying to be productive, my conversations with our diverse city’s potpourri of drivers are pleasant and often enlightening. I have enjoyed speaking to new Americans from Africa, Europe and the Middle East about the politics of their native lands, and retirees about previous careers and adventures. (I have learned, however, to rarely share that I am an attorney, at the risk of being trapped in an uncomfortable free legal consultation.)

For a couple of bucks, I delegated the driving — and the stress and stir-craziness that Los Angeles gridlock induces — to a stranger.

Of course, my experiment would have failed had the ride-sharing companies not made their products more convenient, user-friendly and reliable. Aggressive marketing campaigns and driver bonuses ensure there are customarily plenty of drivers whenever and wherever I am in need of a ride. Entertainment venues — like stadiums and amusement parks — have designated drop-off and pickup spots to expedite the experience. The GPS systems for both ride-sharing companies have become more reliable, such that you can confidently plan when the driver will pick you up and when you will arrive at your destination. (Barring the exceptional circumstance where my driver, to my horror, mistakenly took Interstate 10 west to go downtown from Westwood).

In fact, these days, I am chronically arriving early to destinations, and because I am dropped off right at the destination, I can avoid the time needed to find or fight for a parking meter or parking space. And, prices for the consumer are remaining low and even decreasing. With Uber and Lyft’s new flat-rate packages, weekly promotions and the cost-efficient Pool and Line carpooling options, certain short non-rush-hour drives can cost less than $4. Plus, if something goes wrong with your experience, both companies will rush to refund your money or discount your next ride. Thankfully, this is one industry where the customer is still king. I also like that many Uber drivers now allow me to preset my music so when I open the door to my Uber, my Frank Sinatra Pandora station is already playing.

Finally, a word about walking. The 20 minutes I walk to or from work is more than just needed exercise and a breath of fresh air. It is more than a welcome opportunity to make a call to my 88-year-old grandmother or listen to music or a podcast. It is an escape from a car culture that saps our energy and pollutes our planet. I know I am not making a huge environmental difference, but it is a start. A dozen friends have even told me that they have followed my lead and have given up their cars after reading on Facebook about my “experiment.”

On a recent morning, a friend spotted me walking to work as he inched along in his car on Santa Monica Boulevard at 10 mph. He immediately texted me, asking if I was OK and whether I needed a ride. I smiled. I called him — rather than texting, of course — and told him that everything was great, admonished him not to text and drive, and asked him when his lease was up.


Sam Yebri is an attorney, former Los Angeles city civil service commissioner and father of two young children.

LIVE STREAM: Uber and racial discrimination – A conversation with Chris Knittel

Join us on Wed., Feb. 15, at 9 a.m. PST for a live conversation with Chris Knittel, professor of applied economics at MIT Sloan, who will talk about his latest research on racial bias in the sharing economy—how Uber and Lyft are failing black passengers and what to do about it.

Eva Millona, the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), will also appear on the program to discuss ways Uber and Lyft can work on mitigating discrimination.

You will be able to view the live show by bookmarking this page and tuning in Feb. 15 at 9 a.m. PST.

Submit your questions to #MITSloanExperts on Twitter before 8 a.m. PST on Feb. 15. Your question could be answered live on the air.

Our last installment featured Zeynep Ton, MIT Sloan Professor and author of The Good Jobs Strategy. The live stream with Chris Knittel will play from here on Feb. 15.

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Jewish comedian T.J. Miller arrested in altercation over Trump with Uber driver

Comedian T.J. Miller was arrested for allegedly slapping his Uber driver following a heated discussion with him over Donald Trump.

The driver, who was bringing Miller back to his Hollywood home from the GQ magazine’s Men of the Year bash, made a citizen’s arrest Thursday after he said the comic hit him on the head, the entertainment news website TMZ reported.

According to a police source quoted by TMZ, the alleged slap came after an argument over Trump’s election as president last month, but the report did not elaborate.

The driver had no visible injuries and Miller appeared to be intoxicated, according to TMZ. Miller, star of the 2016 comedy film “Office Christmas Party” and the HBO sitcom “Silicon Valley,” was later released without having to post bail.

Neither the Los Angeles Police Department nor a representative for Miller responded immediately to a request for comment by the New York Daily News.

Miller’s mother is Jewish, according to the J. Jewish news weekly of Northern California.

The 35-year-old comedian arrived at the GQ event in Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles with a bloody ear recently pierced with a small safety-pin, the Daily News reported.

Driverless cars could save lives, kill businesses

The automotive and tech companies pursuing the driverless car share a utopian belief: Autonomous vehicles will benefit society, eventually saving most of the nearly 33,000 people each year killed in road accidents in America alone.

“If the situation was reversed, and we had automated vehicles today and someone proposed to let people drive cars, what would the reaction be?” asks Glen De Vos, vice president of global engineering for Delphi Automotive PLC, a supplier of driverless-car technology.

“You would be basically asking that 33,000 deaths per year be allowed on highways as part of a policy plan. There's no way on earth anybody would accept it.”

The big win for society wouldn't be big, or even a win, for everybody, however. There will be losers and winners.

Take automakers. Eventually, if fully driverless cars (“L4” vehicles under the American government's classification system) can be summoned with a smartphone just like Uber cars today, many people might forgo car ownership. Or families in developed nations might own one car instead of two.

That could be a financial boon for families. In the United States, cars are usually the second-largest item in the household budget, even though studies show they sit idle 90% of the time. But automakers would suffer.

If driverless cars catch on, U.S. car sales could plunge 40% in the next 25 years, Barclays analyst Brian Johnson wrote in a report last year. General Motors and Ford Motor Co, he added, would have to cut their combined number of assembly plants in the U.S. and Canada to 17 from the current 30. Some 25,000 auto workers would lose their jobs.

Auto makers now are moving to offset any loss of sales with revenue from providing transportation as a service.

“We've run a number of scenarios trying to understand some of the sensitivities,” Mike Abelson, vice president of strategy and global portfolio planning, said in an interview. “Some scenarios show a decline in volume, but we have some scenarios that show it going it up.”

As the cost goes down for autonomous vehicles, it will allow people who cannot drive – the elderly and disabled – to own or use vehicles, Abelson said, echoing comments by Google executives.

Ubiquitous driverless Ubers are a couple decades or more away, but some automakers already are experimenting with selling rides as well as cars. Ford and Jaguar Land Rover are launching car-sharing experiments without self-driving cars; autonomous vehicles could accelerate the concept. General Motors has purchased 10% of ride-hailing service Lyft, a competitor to Uber.

But a prolonged transition to full L4 autonomy could bring automakers a financial windfall. The stage before L4 is L3 technology, requiring some human intervention – including automatic handling in traffic jams, braking to avoid accidents, keeping a proper distance from cars ahead and pulling into parking places. These features would cost extra and boost profits, especially on luxury models.

This is already happening. Last year, Tesla Motors Inc introduced Autopilot, which does all those things, on its Model S that starts at $76,500. Drivers are warned to keep their hands on the wheel – not that they always comply.

The Mercedes-Benz Intelligent Drive system, offered on the new E-Class and some other models, includes features the Daimler AG brand calls Park Pilot, Speed Limit Pilot and Blind Spot Assist. The L3 autonomous features can add $4,500 to the price of a $53,000 car.

Volkswagen AG 's Audi and BMW offer similar systems, and General Motors plans to offer “SuperCruise” next year on its Cadillac CT6 sedans. Other automakers are joining in.

The components companies that sell these systems to automakers are winners, too. They include Israel's Mobileye, Germany's Continental AG and Robert Bosch GmbH, and Delphi and Nvidia Corp in the United States. Silicon Valley's Nvidia, which began by making graphics for video games, now counts automotive as its fastest-growing business segment, with revenue nearly doubling every year.

Two Silicon Valley giants, Google parent Alphabet Inc and Apple Inc, could be big winners.

Google, which says it wants automotive partners, could license its self-driving software to car companies worldwide. Apple, typically tight-lipped, won't discuss its automotive ambitions. Its hiring suggests it might want to market Apple-brand cars, though their manufacture might be out-sourced, like iPads and iPhones.

People who drive taxis, Uber cars, transit buses or delivery trucks would be losers. The number of jobs lost in the U.S. alone could total 2.6 million, or nearly 2% of the work force, calculates economist Martin Zimmerman at the University of Michigan.

To put that in perspective, Zimmerman says, American manufacturing has shed jobs equivalent to 11% of the work force since 1979. The U.S. economy has adjusted well, although many individuals have suffered. Those who moved into other jobs often settled for lower pay.

Eventually, widespread adoption of autonomous driving and automated accident-avoidance technology could undermine automobile insurers. The collapse of auto-insurance premiums in America and Europe as autonomous cars take hold would create a “giant, sucking sound,” Kate Brown, senior vice president of Swiss Re, told a recent conference on autonomous driving at the University of Michigan law school. Insurers would “make it up in China and India” and other emerging markets, she said.

Auto insurers could profit by delaying big discounts for customers who buy automated driving technology, arguing it will take years of claims experience to know how many accidents and deaths are avoided.

Trial lawyers can probably breathe easy: Autonomous driving won't end litigation over accidents. But it will change who gets sued.

“A greater share of crashes could be attributed to a product defect,” Bryant Walker Smith, assistant law professor at the University of South Carolina, said at the Michigan conference. In other words, when cars drive themselves, manufacturers – as opposed to human drivers – would be liable.

Michigan Uber driver accused of anti-Semitism dropped from company

An Uber driver accused by a Jewish University of Michigan student of making anti-Semitic remarks, precipitating a profanity-laced tirade by the student, has been dropped from the company.

Uber told the student publication, the Michigan Review, this week that it was investigating the incident between the driver, Artur Zawada, and the student, Jake Croman.

A video of Croman screaming a torrent of profanities at Zawada has gone viral since it was posted on March 23, three days after the incident. Croman said he was responding to anti-Semitic remarks.

Zawada told the Review in an interview Monday evening that he did nothing wrong. He denies the charges of anti-Semitism.

Croman is being investigated by school administrators and his fraternity over the incident.

Zawada filed a complaint with the Ann Arbor Police Department. He told Tab Michigan that Croman’s rant was unprovoked and came after he told Croman that he would not drive him because of three previous bad experiences with the student.

An immigrant from Poland, Zawada has been in the United States for 30 years. He told the Review that he has no reason to be anti-Semitic.

“Half the Jewish people who founded Israel were Polish citizens,” he said. “I have Jewish friends. I have professors I know at the University of Michigan who are Jewish. I worked for my boss and he was Jewish.”

Croman is the son of multimillionaire New York real estate developer Steven Croman, who is being investigated by the New York State attorney general for allegedly using illegal tactics to pressure rent-stabilized tenants into vacating their apartments, according to the New York Daily News.

Uber not welcome in Israel, transportation minister says

Israel’s transportation minister wants to prevent alternative taxi company Uber from entering the Israeli market, even as he faces opposition from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said Monday at a Knesset Finance Committee meeting that if Israel changes regulations that currently block Uber from legally operating in Israel, the government will owe Israel’s taxi drivers more than $2 billion in compensation, the Times of Israel reported.

At a Cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu implied that Katz opposes Uber because he is being pressured by taxi drivers, according to the Times of Israel.

Speaking to the Finance Committee on Monday, Katz defended taxi drivers, saying they are a “working community that’s dealing with reality and my job is to enable them to cope on equal terms.”

“We are not talking about the country’s rich,” Katz said. “If someone pays for a taxi license, it doesn’t make sense for someone else to come along with a private vehicle and compete with him.”

Israeli regulations prevent anyone other than registered taxi drivers from offering rides in exchange for payment.

Based in San Francisco and founded in 2012, Uber operates in more than 50 countries. The company contracts with individuals who use their own vehicles to transport passengers ordering the service via a smartphone app. Using GPS, the app matches passengers with nearby drivers.

The company has come under attack not just from taxi drivers concerned about competition, but from critics who say it exploits its drivers by hiring them as independent contractors rather than employees.

On a sharing economy and politics

Uber has pulled off what few others can these days: The beloved car service (if I’m allowed to describe it so prosaically) has united politicians of all persuasions. Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians are all vying to outdo each other in portraying the popular company, and its political struggles to avoid regulatory strangulation, as a poignant validation of their worldview. 

Uber last month hired David Plouffe, President Obama’s former campaign manager and White House advisor, to direct its “campaign” against “Big Taxi” and local transportation regulators across the country.  At the same time, conservative Republicans like Senator Marco Rubio and anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist championed Uber even though it is the darling of harried urbanites in Democratic enclaves like San Francisco and New York City.

The Republican Party is embracing Uber’s popularity in such hostile jurisdictions with a plaintive “See, this is what we have been complaining about all along” pitch, complete with a “petition in support of innovative companies like Uber.” Republicans understandably salivate at the sight of liberals, for once, railing against government overreach – excessive licensing requirements, taxes, and safety regulations – threatening a service they love. Is it too much of a stretch to hope that these ride-share fans might rise up to oppose similar government-imposed obstacles facing plenty of other American businesses – power utilities, financial companies, industrial manufacturers, and other “companies like Uber”?

Good luck with that.  The big regulatory clashes of the Internet era – the various iterations of net neutrality, the Microsoft antitrust case, the disputes over taxing online commerce, the Napster music download battles, the recent Aereo TV Supreme Court case, and the current fight over how to regulate Uber, Airbnb, and other “sharing economy” firms – haven’t produced new thinking or  conceptual breakthroughs for how regulate other areas of the economy.

Instead, these “new economy” fights have deepened the dysfunction of our very old political system. Because they have typically involved definitional squabbles— Is Uber merely another limo company?  Was Aereo TV more akin to your old VCR or a rogue cable company?  — and because it is so difficult to dismantle or update regulatory approaches rendered obsolete by disrupting technologies, these Internet-era fights stand out for their brazen hypocrisy, cynicism, and intellectual inconsistency.

Take Uber. It’s hard to imagine Republicans cheering the company on if, instead of stealing market share from local union-controlled monopolies, it was stealing market share from a handful of large, publicly traded national taxi companies that had invested heavily in their infrastructure while satisfying regulations the new entrant was trying to avoid.  

That alternative scenario is pretty much how things stand in the telecom sector, where Republicans have generally defended the prerogatives of incumbent players against regulators and new competitors preaching “net neutrality” (the principle that owners of the Internet’s pipes or airwaves cannot make separate deals with content providers on price or speed depending on their traffic volume or other considerations, but must treat everyone equally). When it comes to the long-running net neutrality battles at the FCC and in the courts, the GOP has been far more sympathetic to what economists call the “stranded costs” and property rights of established incumbents who built their businesses the old-fashioned way.

But conservatives aren’t alone in their hypocrisy, or semantic creativity, when it comes to Uber.  Liberal Uber lovers, instead of addressing cities’ burdensome transport regulations head-on, are more comfortable arguing that the company doesn’t belong in the same category as those old yellow taxis and limo companies.  Uber, you see, is a technology company!

This sort of semantic nonsense has been a staple of all Internet regulatory fights — and, on the business side, of the hype used to try to justify stratospheric valuations for dot-coms during the Internet bubble early on. For a long time Internet enthusiasts felt it was OK to “share” copyrighted music and films online widely, since it was somehow different than old school piracy. And if you think Tesla shouldn’t be forced to sell their cars through third-party dealers, arguing that it’s a tech company that shouldn’t be subject to the old rules is far easier than seeking to take on the anachronistic and anti-consumer laws hurting all car companies. Better to create a loophole or carve-out for the new players than to bother modernizing the entire system.

For years, online retailers like Amazon benefited from the dubious notion that taxing online sales would stifle the development of the Internet, and that online retailers, because they are primarily tech companies, shouldn’t be subject to those pesky burdens imposed on brick-and-mortar retailers.  I am a huge fan of Amazon, but it is unfair to its competitors in the physical world (not to mention to state revenues) for my purchase of shoes on the site to be treated as some mystical high-tech event that is not, contrary to all appearances, a retail transaction.

The “sharing economy” moniker, as applied to the likes of Uber and Airbnb, is itself a brilliant but disingenuous fiction. What exactly am I “sharing” in an Uber transaction?  As far as I can tell, the company owners are “sharing” with me a driver it has hired so long as I pay a certain amount of money to get from Point A to Point B.  The service is good and prompt, but I am not sure what is being “shared” that my community’s yellow cab service doesn’t also “share” with me. Similarly, calling Airbnb part of the “sharing economy” seduces us into thinking it’s so different from everything that has come before it. But isn’t the underlying transaction involved – me paying you $100 to rent a room for the night – basically the same one I engage in if I book a hotel room on Expedia?

So let’s get real. The transformation of numerous industries by nimble players leveraging formidable information technologies on behalf of consumers is to be celebrated, but not to the point of pretending that things that are aren’t, or that aren’t are.  There’s plenty of that already taking place in our traditional politics.

Andrés Martinez is editorial director of Zocalo Public Square, for which he writes the Trade Winds column.

Brands like Yelp, Amazon and Uber make lousy lovers

What brand doesn’t belong on this list?  Amazon, Uber, Yelp, Hillary.

It’s a trick question. They all belong. In recent days, they’ve all been making it harder for their fans to love them.

I loved Amazon at first sight. Later, when it killed Borders, I forgave it, and called it creative destruction. I vowed to patronize independent bookstores more. I said I’d be glad to pay a premium for knowledgeable staff. Here’s how that worked out: I’d call to see if they had something, and almost always they didn’t, but said it sounds like a terrific book, they’d be more than happy to order it, shouldn’t take much more than a week. And, meanwhile, there, on my screen, calling to me, was Amazon, one click and one day away. Almost always, I did click. It felt like a secret vice.  

What’s hurting my relationship with Amazon’s brand now is its ” target=”_blank”>reports about Uber’s competition with Lyft have dampened my ardor.  Lyft’s systems have been gummed up by thousands of car requests from Uber minions who either don’t show up or who ride for just a few blocks and try to recruit the Lyft driver to Uber for a $500-a-head bounty. So much for the romance of ” target=”_blank”>threw out a case against Yelp alleging economic extortion. When I heard one of the plaintiffs ” target=”_blank”>But in her ruling, Judge Marsha S. Berzon said the plaintiffs hadn’t proven economic extortion.  Here’s the killer in the ruling: Even if owners who refused to buy ads had actually proven that Yelp withheld positive reviews, it wouldn’t matter, because Yelp “has no obligation” to publish them. “It is ” target=”_blank”>review of Henry Kissinger’s new book, “World Order.”  In it she calls him “a friend,” vouches for his “astute observations” and notes that they share “a belief in the indispensability of continued American leadership in service of a just and liberal order.” 

I have been her fan since she was the first lady of Arkansas. This tribute to Kissinger won’t be the only test of my fidelity, but I’m not ready to write this one off as a one-off.  Actually, I can think of a few different words to describe him than she did.  Gasbag, narcissist and war criminal come to mind.  

We ” target=”_blank”>leaked to Richard Nixon that a truce was imminent.  This enabled Nixon to torpedo the treaty, telling the Thieu government of South Vietnam that Nixon would give him a better deal than Johnson. Thieu pulled out of the talks, and Nixon, running as the peace candidate, arguably won the 1968 presidential election because of Kissinger’s sabotage. Before the war would end, 20,000 more American troops would die, 100,000 would be wounded, and more than a million Vietnamese would be killed. We also now know that the “just and liberal order” that Clinton and Kissinger agree on didn’t prevent him from backing the military coup that overthrew the democratically elected but inconveniently socialist president of Chile, or from making common cause with murderous despots from Argentina to East Timor. 

I get why she calls him a friend. They were both secretaries of state. Members of that club don’t blow the whistle on one another. I also get that the book review is meant to burnish her hawk credentials. It does. Unfortunately, what it also does is remind us that she is, after all, a politician.  

By now we should know better than to believe any politician is driven more by ideals than by interests. Even so, there are plenty of competing interests for a candidate to pick from. I’d like to believe that if Clinton becomes a candidate for president, when she weighs plutocrats’ interests against the human costs of their wealth, the exigencies of fundraising won’t have a thumb on that scale, just as I’d like to believe that her valentine to Kissinger is just an effort to pre-empt whining from John McCain and Lindsay Graham. But if recent years have taught us anything, it’s that loving any brand is a losing proposition, in politics no less than in commerce. Unfortunately, the business that brands are in is persuading us to confuse their power with our love.


Marty Kaplan holds the Norman Lear chair at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Uber picks political insider David Plouffe to wage its regulatory battles

Uber wants your vote of support. And it has hired a campaign manager to win you over.

Uber, the fast-growing private car start-up, announced on Tuesday it had hired the political strategist David Plouffe to be its senior vice president of policy and strategy. The move further signaled the grand aspirations of companies like Uber, which are challenging entrenched industries and running into resistance from some local governments.

Mr. Plouffe, who ran President Obama’s 2008 campaign, said he planned to run Uber’s communication efforts much like a political race, pushing to woo consumers and regulators alike in the company’s fast-paced expansion across the world.

Read more on nytimes.com.