“What do Uber, Volkswagen and Zenefits have in common? They all used hidden code to break the law.”

“What do Uber, Volkswagen and Zenefits have in common? They all used hidden code to break the law.” @ossia https://medium.freecodecamp.com/dark-genius-how-programmers-at-uber-volkswagen-and-zenefits-helped-their-employers-break-the-law-b7a7939c6591

UBER As Silicon Valley’s Most Spectacular Crash

http://www.newsweek.com/uber-turn-silicon-valley-spectacular-crash-563716?utm_source=pocket&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pockethits

— excerpt below–

Uber is in a whole lot of bad right now, and there’s growing concern that it’s about to melt down like a haywire nuclear reactor, which would leave a crater in the heart of Silicon Valley. Uber gave us on-demand transportation. Countless people all over the world love this new kind of service. The category is only going to get bigger. But it’s possible it will do that without Uber.

Rotten Culture, Bad Press

At the heart of Uber’s trouble is its culture, which seems to have been born from a one-night stand between John Belushi’s crude Bluto in Animal House and Ayn Rand’s hypercompetitive Hank Rearden. That culture got put on public display in February, when former engineering employee Susan Fowler published a blog calling out Uber’s rotten treatment of women and its general dysfunction. The place is so cutthroat, she wrote, “it seemed like every manager was fighting their peers or attempting to undermine their direct supervisor so that they could have their direct supervisor’s job.”

If anyone thought Fowler was a lone whiner, a few days later tech industry legend Mitch Kapor and his wife, Freada Kapor, who is an expert in workplace mores, published an open letter to Uber’s board. The Kapors were early investors in the company, and they were unhappy about Uber’s tepid response to Fowler’s post and fed up with Uber’s “destructive culture,” to use their term. “We are speaking up now because we are disappointed and frustrated; we feel we have hit a dead end in trying to influence the company quietly from the inside,” they wrote.

A week later, while riding in an Uber, CEO Travis Kalanick was captured on video berating the driver, who dared to complain about cuts to his income because Uber keeps reducing fares. “I’m bankrupt because of you,” the driver told Kalanick, who then erupted. After Bloomberg obtained and published the video, Kalanick found himself in the all-too-familiar position of publicly apologizing. He posted on Uber’s site, “I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up.” Duh.

Negative publicity keeps battering Uber. The company ran afoul of the protesters who flocked to airports after Donald Trump’s travel ban, then had to fend off a #DeleteUber movement. (Some estimates say 200,000 people deleted the app in the days after the hashtag went viral.) About six months earlier, Uber took a $3.5 billion investment from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, a move that made Uber look as if it was buddies with a government that won’t let women drive and puts gay men in jail.

Now Uber is being painted as a technology thief by Google’s parent, Alphabet. Last year, Uber bought a company called Otto for a reported $680 million. Otto develops autonomous driving technology. A bunch of people who work there came from Alphabet’s autonomous car subsidiary, now called Waymo. Alphabet alleges that some of those people stole technical data from Waymo, and Alphabet is suing to stop Uber from using it. Uber has often stated that its future rests on having a fleet of self-driving cars—so, of course, it won’t have to share revenue with those pesky human drivers. If Alphabet wins its case, Uber would pretty much have to start building the technology all over again or pay a ton of money to buy someone else’s.

Dissatisfied Drivers, Bleak Financials

While Uber is counting on a hazy future of self-driving cars, in the meantime it has to keep its 160,000 drivers happy, and they are not, as Kalanick’s video encountered showed. Drivers want the Uber app to allow tips; Uber won’t do it. Uber has fought court cases brought by U.S. drivers asking for employee benefits. It settled a suit for $20 million for posting ads that were misleading about how much its drivers can earn. Rival Lyft has been running ads lampooning Uber’s treatment of drivers, hoping to lure away Uber drivers—and convince conscientious riders they should prefer a company that treats its drivers better.

Strategically, Kalanick and his team seem guilty of constant overreach. Does anybody ever order a falafel from UberEats? Who at Uber thought it was a good idea to take on Seamless? Not only did Kalanick buy Otto to get into self-driving cars, but in February he hired a former NASA scientist to develop flying cars.

And then there is Uber’s financial picture. The company is private, but some of its numbers have been leaked. Bloomberg reported that Uber lost $800 million in the third quarter of 2016. 

(See not below: perhaps buying $250 million of luxurious new offices in SF – the most Expensive location on US, had something to do with that ? Also your spending a fortune to R&D flying cars. But won’t pay drivers. Their “losses” are artificial : They are a tight was where it matters, and a black hole on fluff.)

Some speculate Uber may have lost $3 billion last year. Uber is a costly business to run. To serve more customers, it needs to bring in and pay more drivers, so the company can’t take advantage of economies of scale. It has little pricing power because it still faces competition from Lyft and taxis and other newcomers including Maven, which is a unit of General Motors. In order to have the cash to fund operations and expansion, Uber has brought in round after round of private investment, pumping up the valuation of the company to nearly $70 billion. That would make Uber worth more than GM. Raise your hand if you think that makes sense.

The sky-high valuation may be haunting Uber. Kalanick has famously refused to take Uber public, even though the company, at eight years old, is in the sweet spot of when many tech companies do an initial public offering. He makes his stance sound like a maverick’s declaration of independence from public markets, but whispers now are that Uber’s finances might not justify an IPO at a valuation high enough to make current investors happy. If that’s true, Uber is in a hole. It won’t be able to raise money from anyone who has passed sixth-grade math.

Uber stalls, it isn’t going to be saved by a loyal consumer fan base.  It prevents users from forming bonds with drivers…Someone else comes along with a better service or lower price, we’ll use it.

Drexel of the 2010s?

..spending $250 million on new offices

(But won’t pay their Drivers even the low pay they are owed)

..Kalanick has built the Drexel of the 2010s.

http://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.160.3_en.html#goog_1041225006

 

TECH & SCIENCEUBER

Just a year ago, Uber reigned as the tech industry’s awe-inspiring, all-powerful Wizard of Oz. But lately, the curtain is being pulled back to reveal a guy who’s more like an angry drunk frantically yanking levers while taking roundhouse swings at the Tin Man and propositioning Dorothy.  

Uber is in a whole lot of bad right now, and there’s growing concern that it’s about to melt down like a haywire nuclear reactor, which would leave a crater in the heart of Silicon Valley. Uber gave us on-demand transportation. Countless people all over the world love this new kind of service. The category is only going to get bigger. But it’s possible it will do that without Uber.

Rotten Culture, Bad Press

At the heart of Uber’s trouble is its culture, which seems to have been born from a one-night stand between John Belushi’s crude Bluto in Animal House and Ayn Rand’s hypercompetitive Hank Rearden. That culture got put on public display in February, when former engineering employee Susan Fowler published a blog calling out Uber’s rotten treatment of women and its general dysfunction. The place is so cutthroat, she wrote, “it seemed like every manager was fighting their peers or attempting to undermine their direct supervisor so that they could have their direct supervisor’s job.”

RELATED: How AI will transform Wall Street

If anyone thought Fowler was a lone whiner, a few days later tech industry legend Mitch Kapor and his wife, Freada Kapor, who is an expert in workplace mores, published an open letter to Uber’s board. The Kapors were early investors in the company, and they were unhappy about Uber’s tepid response to Fowler’s post and fed up with Uber’s “destructive culture,” to use their term. “We are speaking up now because we are disappointed and frustrated; we feel we have hit a dead end in trying to influence the company quietly from the inside,” they wrote.

03_03_uber_06People gather to protest outside the Uber offices in Queens, New York, February 2.BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS

A week later, while riding in an Uber, CEO Travis Kalanick was captured on video berating the driver, who dared to complain about cuts to his income because Uber keeps reducing fares. “I’m bankrupt because of you,” the driver told Kalanick, who then erupted. After Bloomberg obtained and published the video, Kalanick found himself in the all-too-familiar position of publicly apologizing. He posted on Uber’s site, “I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up.” Duh.

Negative publicity keeps battering Uber. The company ran afoul of the protesters who flocked to airports after Donald Trump’s travel ban, then had to fend off a #DeleteUber movement. (Some estimates say 200,000 people deleted the app in the days after the hashtag went viral.) About six months earlier, Uber took a $3.5 billion investment from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, a move that made Uber look as if it was buddies with a government that won’t let women drive and puts gay men in jail.

One Uber investor said to Fortuneabout the deal, “It goes to the heart of who Travis is. He just doesn’t give a shit about optics. Ever.”

Now Uber is being painted as a technology thief by Google’s parent, Alphabet. Last year, Uber bought a company called Otto for a reported $680 million. Otto develops autonomous driving technology. A bunch of people who work there came from Alphabet’s autonomous car subsidiary, now called Waymo. Alphabet alleges that some of those people stole technical data from Waymo, and Alphabet is suing to stop Uber from using it. Uber has often stated that its future rests on having a fleet of self-driving cars—so, of course, it won’t have to share revenue with those pesky human drivers. If Alphabet wins its case, Uber would pretty much have to start building the technology all over again or pay a ton of money to buy someone else’s.

Dissatisfied Drivers, Bleak Financials

While Uber is counting on a hazy future of self-driving cars, in the meantime it has to keep its 160,000 drivers happy, and they are not, as Kalanick’s video encountered showed. Drivers want the Uber app to allow tips; Uber won’t do it. Uber has fought court cases brought by U.S. drivers asking for employee benefits. It settled a suit for $20 million for posting ads that were misleading about how much its drivers can earn. Rival Lyft has been running adslampooning Uber’s treatment of drivers, hoping to lure away Uber drivers—and convince conscientious riders they should prefer a company that treats its drivers better.

RELATED: Snap’s IPO may be a huge vote for privacy

Strategically, Kalanick and his team seem guilty of constant overreach. Does anybody ever order a falafel from UberEats? Who at Uber thought it was a good idea to take on Seamless? Not only did Kalanick buy Otto to get into self-driving cars, but in February he hired a former NASA scientist to develop flying cars. Trump likes to say we always lose to China—well, Uber proved him right by going into China ill-prepared. Last summer, Uber cut a deal with China’s Uber clone, Didi Chuxing, to leave China in exchange for 17.5 percent of the Chinese company and a $1 billion investment by Didi. Is that setting up Didi to eventually beat Uber worldwide? Trump will have a seizure if the day ever comes when U.S. riders no longer say they’re going to “Uber” somewhere and instead say they’re going to “Didi.”

And then there is Uber’s financial picture. The company is private, but some of its numbers have been leaked. Bloomberg reported that Uber lost $800 million in the third quarter of 2016. Some speculate Uber may have lost $3 billion last year. Uber is a costly business to run. To serve more customers, it needs to bring in and pay more drivers, so the company can’t take advantage of economies of scale. It has little pricing power because it still faces competition from Lyft and taxis and other newcomers including Maven, which is a unit of General Motors. In order to have the cash to fund operations and expansion, Uber has brought in round after round of private investment, pumping up the valuation of the company to nearly $70 billion. That would make Uber worth more than GM. Raise your hand if you think that makes sense.

The sky-high valuation may be haunting Uber. Kalanick has famously refused to take Uber public, even though the company, at eight years old, is in the sweet spot of when many tech companies do an initial public offering. He makes his stance sound like a maverick’s declaration of independence from public markets, but whispers now are that Uber’s finances might not justify an IPO at a valuation high enough to make current investors happy. If that’s true, Uber is in a hole. It won’t be able to raise money from anyone who has passed sixth-grade math.

03_17_Uber_01Travis Kalanick, billionaire and chief executive officer of Uber Technologies Inc., pauses during the opening of “Startup Fest”, a five-day conference to showcase Dutch innovation in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on May 24, 2016.MARLENE AWAAD/BLOOMBERG/GETTY

If Uber stalls, it isn’t going to be saved by a loyal consumer fan base. There is no stickiness to Uber. It has no frequent-rider program. It has no social component. It prevents users from forming bonds with drivers. No one gets a heightened sense of self by identifying as an Uber rider versus some competitor. We’ll stick with Uber as long as it continues to get us where we want to go at a price we like. Someone else comes along with a better service or lower price, we’ll use it.

Drexel of the 2010s?

..Uber is .. spending $250 million on new offices.. 

[They don’t pay their Drivers – so they can build hundreds of millions of dollars of office space for people to sit on their high horse, and send harassing messages to the workhorse drivers. They rip off and don’t pay drivers what they are owed whilst spending THAT kind of money on one of the most Expensive Cities ? Let’s keep the pheasant drivers POOR, keep them jumping through good, and to exhausted and frustrated to file up on what you owe they, so you can build luxury offices for the greedy rest.

…Uber has proved to be a flawed company..go back to Drexel Burnham Lambert in the 1980s.. defined and dominated junk bonds as a category of finance. This changed Wall Street and business forever.. company had a flawed..so employees took sketchy risks that ultimately led to criminal charges. ..the company fell from the pinnacle of Wall Street power to filing for bankruptcy. Milken went to prison for securities fraud.

The category Drexel created lives on. Today, junk bonds are a $1 trillion market — without Drexel.

Kalanick has built the Drexel of the 2010s.

The 45th president: Making sense of Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated accusations against his predecessor | The Economist

http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2017/03/45th-president?fsrc=scn/pn/te/bl/ed/

— excerpt below —

The 45th presidentMaking sense of Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated accusations against his predecessor
There are three explanations for Mr Trump’s accusation that Barack Obama ordered his phones to be tapped. None of them is comforting

Democracy in America

Mar 5th 2017
by LEXINGTON
American democracy has suffered a wound that, however it heals, will leave nasty scars. On March 5th the White House announced that President Donald Trump is asking congressional intelligence committees to probe unspecified “reports” that the administration of Barack Obama abused its executive powers to launch, “potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election”.
The formal White House statement was, in effect, an attempt to comb the hair and clothe in a suit and tie a string of four wild and unsubstantiated tweets by the president of America. In those tweets, issued around dawn the day before, the 45th president accused the 44th of a “Nixon/Watergate” plot to tap the phones at Trump Tower, his campaign and business  headquarters in New York. This alleged wire-tapping was an attempt to meddle in the “very sacred election process”, and shows Mr Obama to be a “bad (or sick) guy!” charged Mr Trump. “Nothing” was found by this spying, he added, concluding: “This is McCarthyism!”
There are a number of explanations for Mr Trump’s allegations, none of them cheering. The first is that Mr Trump’s stated suspicions are well-founded, and Mr Obama and his administration did, in fact, illegally spy on the nominee of one of the two main political parties.
Mark Levin, a conservative media firebrand, is said to have provoked Mr Trump’s outburst with a broadcast on March 2nd. Mr Levin cited a series of news reports from 2016 and 2017 that federal investigators at various times sought warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to monitor communications involving Mr Trump and several of his advisers, seeking evidence of potentially troubling business or espionage ties with Russia. Mr Levin called this “police state” tactics and suggested that Congress should probe this “silent coup” by the Obama administration, rather than allegations that Russia interfered in the election. Mr Levin’s show was later written up by the right-wing website Breitbart News, whose former chairman, Stephen Bannon, is now Mr Trump’s chief strategist. Roger Stone, a flamboyant political operative and informal adviser  to Mr Trump, declared: “The buck stops here. Obama responsible for illegal surveillance of @realDonaldTrump—must be charged, convicted and jailed.”
The second explanation is that the FBI or other federal investigators legally spied on Trump Tower, the Trump campaign or figures close to the president. The bar for obtaining a FISA warrant is high—typically requests come from the attorney-general, a deputy attorney-general or the head of a spy agency, and must show a federal judge that there is probable cause that a target for surveillance is an “agent of a foreign power”. A spokesman for Mr Obama pushed back hard at Mr Trump’s claim that the former president, or his White House team ordered such surveillance, saying “neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any US citizen”, adding that it was a “cardinal rule” of the Obama White House not to interfere in any investigation led by the Department of Justice.
In an intervention that did little to unfurrow the brows of those following this tale, James Clapper, who was until January the Director of National Intelligence, told NBC television that he knew of no FISA warrants against Trump Tower, at least for the spy agencies that he oversaw. “There was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president, the president-elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign,” he said. Mr Clapper added that he stands by his formal finding, issued in January, that the Russian government meddled in the presidential election to help Mr Trump, but said he had seen no evidence of active collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians.
A third explanation for Mr Trump’s outburst is that he was trying to rally his supporters and discomfort his opponents after a bumpy few days, once again involving furtive contacts between Team Trump and Russians. This time the problem involved Mr Trump’s attorney-general and ideological mentor, Jeff Sessions. To Mr Trump’s semi-public fury Mr Sessions felt obliged to recuse himself from overseeing federal investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. This decision to step aside from any probes came after Mr Sessions had to concede that his testimony to senators during his confirmation hearings had some large holes in it, roughly the same size and shape as Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s burly ambassador to America. Sleuthing by the Washington Post and other news outlets revealed that Mr Sessions met Mr Kislyak twice during the campaign, despite telling senators he had “no communications with the Russians”.
Under this theory of events, Mr Trump’s dramatic tweets bring to mind the owner of a Chicago speakeasy, who while being questioned by G-Men about why so many Mob bosses drink at his establishment, bellows: “FIRE!” and pulls the fire alarm. For when Mr Trump’s tactics are examined coolly, his claims of treachery by Mr Obama are a way to make Americans focus on a large, invented allegation—that Democrats, the media and other “enemies of the people” are conspiring to destroy or at least delegitimise his presidency. In fact, the allegations about Russia that continue to dog Mr Trump are narrower but still troubling.

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In a world of political smoke and mirrors, here are some things that definitely happened. During the presidential election campaign Mr Trump repeatedly broke with Republican Party orthodoxy to advocate friendlier ties with the Russian government of Vladimir Putin, in part because Mr Putin had the good judgement to praise Mr Trump (“Putin called me a genius” Mr Trump noted at rallies), and in part because Russia might, in his words, be willing to “knock the hell” out of the Islamic State extremist group in Syria and other theatres of war, sparing America much blood and treasure.
During the summer of 2016 WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of e-mails stolen from the servers of the Democratic National Committee and from the e-mail account of the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. American officials accused Russian hackers of being behind these leaks, as did Mrs Clinton but Mr Trump poured scorn on such claims, calling them an attempt to smear him, and wondering whether the hacker might be somebody “sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds”. In a press conference in July, Mr Trump invited Russia—“if you’re listening”—to search e-mail servers belonging to Mrs Clinton or government archives and find thousands of e-mails that the Democrat had deleted as private, after leaving her post as Mr Obama’s secretary of state. Mr Trump later said that this was a joke.
These events are beyond dispute. Lots of e-mails embarrassing to Mrs Clinton were stolen and appeared online, to Mr Trump’s public glee: “I love WikiLeaks”, he said in October. Someone hacked them, and after a lot of havering around Mr Trump, in January of this year, did at last say he believes that the culprit is Russia. Mr Trump gave Russian officials ample reason to think that their country might benefit from his election.
If so much smoke still swirls, it is because it remains unclear whether a natural coincidence of interests between Russia and Team Trump was buttressed by actual collusion. The Trump administration has suffered some of its worst early blows as a result of obfuscation around Russia. Michael Flynn, a retired three-star general, had to resign as Mr Trump’s first national security adviser after misleading the vice-president, Mike Pence, among others, about his own contacts with Mr Kislyak. Though he initially denied any substantive contacts, it emerged that Mr Flynn had spoken to the ambassador several times in late December, urging Russia to be patient and not to retaliate after Mr Obama imposed sanctions on Russians as punishment  for election meddling.
Trump partisans are currently lining up behind their man. But to return to that analogy with a Chicago bar-owner trying to avoid tough questioning, Mr Trump may be about to discover that when you pull a fire alarm in a crowded beer-hall, there are real-world consequences, some of them hard to control.
Though most Republicans remain intent on passing long-cherished bills and sending them to Mr Trump’s desk for signing, some members of his party are already signalling disquiet. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a thoughtful and principled conservative, issued a statement saying: “We are in the midst of a civilization-warping crisis of public trust, and the president’s allegations today demand the thorough and dispassionate attention of serious patriots.  A quest for the full truth, rather than knee-jerk partisanship, must be our guide if we are going to rebuild civic trust and health.” A member of the Senate intelligence committee, Marco Rubio of Florida, told NBC television he had seen “no evidence” to back Mr Trump’s claims. “The president put that out there, and now the White House will have to answer as to exactly what he was referring to,” said Mr Rubio.
The Florida senator is correct. In coming days the White House will have to explain what the president meant in his early-morning tweets on Saturday. Some observers felt that Mr Trump himself seemed to tire of his own outburst, tweeting his thoughts about a casting change on a reality-television show some 30 minutes after accusing his predecessor of something close to treason. Others see sincere rage, even paranoia. A conservative media boss and old friend of Mr Trump’s, Chris Ruddy, claims that the president believes his own allegations about wire-tapping with a fierce rage, telling him this weekend: “I will be proven right”.
Either way, the president has told his country and the world that American democracy came under a serious attack. He cannot now wish that charge away.

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In Video, Uber CEO Argues With Driver Over Falling Fares – Bloomberg

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-02-28/in-video-uber-ceo-argues-with-driver-over-falling-fares

— excerpt below —
In Video, Uber CEO Argues With Driver Over Falling Fares

Travis Kalanick tells a driver to take responsibility for his problems and boasts about a tough culture.

by Eric Newcomer

Tue Feb 28 12:39:48 2017

Tue Feb 28 18:30:32 2017
Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick
When Uber Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick takes an Uber, he prefers a black car, the high-end service his company introduced in 2010. On this particular night in early February—Super Bowl Sunday—Kalanick is perched in the middle seat, flanked by two female friends. Maroon 5’s “Don’t Wanna Know” plays, and Kalanick shimmies. He clutches his smartphone as the three make awkward conversation. The two women ask when his birthday is, and marvel that he’s a Leo. One of his companions appears to say, somewhat inaudibly, that she’s heard that Uber is having a hard year. Kalanick retorts, “I make sure every year is a hard year.” He continues, “That’s kind of how I roll. I make sure every year is a hard year. If it’s easy I’m not pushing hard enough.”
There’s no question that it’s been a hard year for Kalanick and Uber—or really, a bad year compressed down into an awful three months. And it keeps getting worse. That pleasant conversation between Kalanick and his friends in the back of an Uber Black? It devolved into a heated argument over Uber’s fares between the CEO and his driver, Fawzi Kamel, who then turned over a dashboard recording of the conversation to Bloomberg. Kamel, 37, has been driving for Uber since 2011 and wants to draw attention to the plight of Uber drivers. The video shows off Kalanick’s pugnacious personality and short temper, which may cause some investors to question whether he has the disposition to lead a $69 billion company with a footprint that spans the globe.
In an email to staff Tuesday after publication of this story, Kalanick apologized to Kamel for treating him disrespectfully. “To say that I am ashamed is an extreme understatement,” Kalanick wrote. “My job as your leader is to lead…and that starts with behaving in a way that makes us all proud. That is not what I did, and it cannot be explained away. It’s clear this video is a reflection of me—and the criticism we’ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up. This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.”
In December, Uber pulled its self-driving cars off the road in San Francisco after the California Department of Motor Vehicles said they were operating illegally without an autonomous vehicle license. In January, more than 200,000 people uninstalled their accounts, and #DeleteUber trended on Twitter, after the company was accused of undermining a New York taxi union strike protesting President Donald Trump’s refugee ban. On Feb. 2, Kalanick reluctantly left his spot on Trump’s business advisory council to appease the company’s liberal-leaning employees and users—not to mention its many immigrant drivers. On Feb. 19, a former software engineer at Uber wrote a blog post alleging that she had been propositioned for sex by her manager and that when she’d taken the issue to human resources, an HR rep had said that he wouldn’t be punished, in part, because he was a “high performer.” On Feb. 23, Alphabet’s autonomous car company Waymo sued Uber and its self-driving car company Otto, accusing an Uber employee of stealing trade secrets by downloading 14,000 files onto an external hard drive. On Monday, Uber’s head of engineering resigned after the company said it learned that he had faced a sexual harassment complaint at Alphabet, his former employer. He denied the allegations.
“Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit.”
The company has responded to the former engineer’s allegations by hiring the former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder to investigate the female software engineer’s claims. “What’s described here is abhorrent & against everything we believe in. Anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired,” Kalanick wrote on Twitter. On Waymo’s claims that Uber has stolen trade secrets, an Uber spokeswoman said, “We have reviewed Waymo’s claims and determined them to be a baseless attempt to slow down a competitor, and we look forward to vigorously defending against them in court.”
Despite it all, Uber’s business is growing, week after week. This is the service that Kalanick and his friend, Garrett Camp, dreamed up. Get a car in an instant, just like James Bond. They weren’t the first people to have that idea, but they were the ones who won—or at least the ones who have gotten the furthest. Camp stepped back and became chairman of the board, while Kalanick turned Uber into a global endeavor that operates in more than 400 cities. The company, which has its headquarters on Market Street in San Francisco, has more than 11,000 corporate employees. It has many more drivers—millions of them, scattered all over the world, working as independent contractors, without the health care and other benefits typically provided to full-time employees.
And the gig has gotten harder for longtime drivers. In 2012, Uber Black cost riders $4.90 per mile or $1.25 per minute in San Francisco, according to an old version of Uber’s website. Today,  Uber charges $3.75 per mile and $0.65 per minute. Black car drivers get paid less and their business faces far more competition from other Uber services.
“That’s kind of how I roll. I make sure every year is a hard year. If it’s easy I’m not pushing hard enough.”
Kalanick has a reputation for being ferociously competitive and hard-charging. He’s the guy who has bragged about having earned the second-highest rank on Nintendo’s Wii tennis game. He’s still dogged by the fact that he once referred to Uber as “Boob-er” because it improved his dating prospects. Current and former employees say he can be empathetic when the mood strikes—or tyrannical when it doesn’t. Kalanick loves fighting over a good idea, which sometimes means admitting that his isn’t the best one. “Toe-stepping” is one of Uber’s cultural values.
Kalanick is trying to be a better listener. He met with more than 100 of Uber’s female employees at a meeting last week meant to address the morale crisis that followed the former software engineer’s blog post. Kalanick sounded some of the right notes, standing in front of the crowd. “There are people in this room who have experienced things that are incredibly unjust,” he said, according to a recording obtained by Buzzfeed. “I empathize with you, but I can never fully understand, and I get that. I want to root out the injustice. I want to get at the people who are making this place a bad place, and you have my commitment to make that happen, and I know it doesn’t end there.”
 
Like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg before him, Kalanick is trying to learn how to empathize and communicate. But Kalanick at 40, compared with 32-year-old Zuckerberg, is having to change his ways later in life, and he’s often reluctant to tread too far from his intuitions. Even when Kalanick tries to empathize in his own way—which often means jumping into a dialectical argument of sorts— his temper can occasionally flare.
In Kamel’s car, for example, Kalanick is seemingly at ease as the ride ends and his friends hop out of the car.
“You have a good one,” says the driver.
Kalanick says with an air of familiarity, “Good to see you man.”
Kamel replies, “Good to see you, too.”
Kalanick thinks the ride is over. But having the CEO in his car is an opportunity Kamel has been waiting for.
“I don’t know if you remember me, but it’s fine,” Kamel says. The pair begin talking shop, and Kalanick explains that they’re going to cut down on the number of black cars, which will reduce competition and should be good for Kamel.
Then Kamel says what every driver has been dying to tell Kalanick: “You’re raising the standards, and you’re dropping the prices.”
Kalanick: “We’re not dropping the prices on black.”
Kamel: “But in general the whole price is—”
Kalanick: “We have to; we have competitors; otherwise, we’d go out of business.”
Kamel: “Competitors? Man, you had the business model in your hands. You could have the prices you want, but you choose to buy everybody a ride.”
Kalanick: “No, no no. You misunderstand me. We started high-end. We didn’t go low-end because we wanted to. We went low-end because we had to because we’d be out of business.”
Kamel: “What? Lyft? It’s a piece of cake right there.”
Kalanick: “It seems like a piece of cake because I’ve beaten them. But if I didn’t do the things I did, we would have been beaten, I promise.”
The two bat that idea around, and Kamel brings the conversation back to his losses.
Kamel: “But people are not trusting you anymore. … I lost $97,000 because of you. I’m bankrupt because of you. Yes, yes, yes. You keep changing every day. You keep changing every day.”
Kalanick: “Hold on a second, what have I changed about Black? What have I changed?”
Kamel: “You changed the whole business. You dropped the prices.”
Kalanick: “On black?”
Kamel: “Yes, you did.”
Kalanick begins to lose his temper. “Bullshit,” he says.
Kamel: “We started with $20.”
Kalanick: “Bullshit.”
Kamel: “We started with $20. How much is the mile now, $2.75?”
Kalanick: “You know what?”
Kamel: “What?”
Kalanick: “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit. They blame everything in their life on somebody else. Good luck!”
Kamel: “Good luck to you, but I know [you’re not] going to go far.”
The door slams. Kamel drives away. Later, the Uber driver app prompts him to rate Kalanick, as he does all his riders. Kamel gives him one star.

Before it’s here, it’s on the Bloomberg Terminal.

We No Longer Have Three Branches of Government – POLITICO Magazine


POLITICO Magazine

THE BIG IDEA

We No Longer Have Three Branches of Government

I served in Congress for 16 years and taught civics for 13 more. Our government no longer looks like the one I told my students about—or the one the Constitution describes.

 

February 27, 2017

For more than a dozen years, teaching government classes to graduate students at Harvard and Princeton, I filled my students’ heads with facts that no longer seem to be true. They have become “alternate facts,” or perhaps just outdated ones.

It has been my habit to begin each semester by slowly taking students through the Constitution, each article and section in turn, emphasizing not only each provision but why it was included. Fundamental to the constitutional process, I taught, was the unique delineation of authority and responsibility: the separation of powers that so cleanly distinguished American government from those that had gone before it. There were three branches, independent of each other, with varied duties and roughly equal. The greater power—overtaxing, spending, deciding whether to go to war, confirming members of the president’s Cabinet and justices of the Supreme Court—had been placed in the Congress, I said, because while the Founders had created a republic, they also added a sprinkling of democracy: The people would choose who would do the actual governing. I would underscore this point by noting the provisions that made clear the Framers’ deliberate rejection of a parliamentary system like the ones they had known in Europe, where legislative and executive power were joined. Here, it was to be the people, not the parties, that ruled, I told my students.

I believed it to be true—certainly it was what the Founders intended, and it was pretty close to the reality when I was first elected to Congress 40 years ago. But it’s no longer accurate. Instead of three equal, independent branches, each a check on the others, today’s federal government is, for practical purposes, made up of either two branches or one, depending on how you do the math. The modern presidency has become a giant centrifuge, sucking power from both Congress and the states, making de facto law through regulation and executive order. Yet the growing power of the executive is not merely a case of presidential power lust. For decades, the Supreme Court has consistently held that on most policy questions, foreign as well as domestic, statute trumps fiat (as recently as 2014’s decision Zivotofsky v. Kerry, the court declared that “the executive is not free from the ordinary controls and checks of Congress merely because foreign affairs are at issue”). But if Congress subordinates its constitutional duties to political concerns, what then?

Presidents have managed to accumulate such a prominent place at the top of what is now increasingly a pyramid rather than a horizontal structure of three connected blocks because for more than a generation, Congress has willingly abandoned both its constitutional responsibilities and its ability to effectively serve as a check on the executive even when it wishes to do so.

***

In the days after Donald Trump’s election, even after the new Congress was sworn in, congressional leaders waited eagerly to receive direction from the incoming president on budgetary, and even legislative, priorities. It is, at this point, a familiar pattern. When Barack Obama was president, Congressman Steve Israel, who had been tasked with overseeing House Democrats’ messaging, noted that Obama was, in fact, “our messenger in chief.” To a considerable extent, Republicans and Democrats in Congress have taken to seeing themselves not as part of a separate and competing branch of government, but as arms of their respective political parties.

Under the speakership of Newt Gingrich, in an attempt to demonstrate its new cost-cutting zeal, the Congress began to unilaterally disarm itself. Staffing (and thus expertise) was reduced. Foreign travel was scaled back, leaving members of Congress dependent on whatever information the executive branch wished to share with them about important international issues, or what they could discern from reading newspapers. That diminished capacity was further decreased in 2011, when Congress stripped itself of the ability to designate specific spending priorities through appropriations earmarks. As a result, members of Congress were not only deprived of an important tool for negotiating with their colleagues, but power over spending decisions—a fundamental congressional responsibility—was ceded to executive branch bureaucrats whose decisions about which government projects would be funded lacked any public transparency.

Congress’ abdication of responsibility predates Gingrich, however. The Constitution clearly provided that the United States would not send its children to fight and die in foreign wars unless the people themselves, through their elected representatives, thought the sacrifice necessary. Although presidents command the military, they do not decide when troops are to be sent into combat, except in the case of invasion or civil insurrection. Reacting to presidential overreach (beginning with Truman taking the nation to war in Korea without first seeking congressional authorization, and continuing through an undeclared war in Vietnam during the Johnson and Nixon years), Congress eventually stepped in, years later, in an attempt to reassert its authority but clumsily did the reverse: Under the 1973 War Powers Act, hailed by its sponsors as a means to restrain the executive, presidents were given free rein to go to war so long as they notified Congress first. Members of Congress congratulated themselves for providing that they could step in within 60 days to call a halt to a presidentially initiated conflict although it was not likely that Congress would pull back support with American troops engaged in combat. In that one spectacularly ill-considered action, the Congress stepped back from its single-most important obligation: deciding, as the peoples’ representatives, if and when America would wage war.

Other international issues speak to a similar trend of congressional retreat from constitutional responsibilities. During the just-ended presidential election, both Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders were sharply critical of international trade agreements that they believed disadvantage the United States. Since Congress is the only body authorized to write American law, it had acted over the years to provide safeguards on matters ranging from environmental protections to worker safety. But for decades, it has repeatedly surrendered its power to protect American interests in trade deals, bowing to presidents’ requests to simply accept whatever agreements the executive strikes with other countries (often without any congressional input). As a result, Congress has agreed to take up trade pacts on a “fast track,” denying its members the right to make any changes in the terms of the agreement, even though the Constitution explicitly gives Congress the authority to make the laws that govern international commerce. Congress has stripped itself of the power to insist that international trade be conducted in a way not harmful to American national interests and, specifically, the interests of American workers.

Americans have become accustomed to seeing Congress—especially when it’s controlled by the same party that holds the White House—wait for presidents to submit their proposed federal budgets before beginning serious discussions about spending decisions. But presidents prepare national budget proposals not because they are entitled to tell Congress what to do, but only because Congress has tasked the president with doing so in order to give the legislature a better sense of his thinking—and give members of Congress the chance to gather the information they need from the executive branch to decide how much to spend (and on what) and whether to increase taxes to pay for it. By stripping itself of sufficient resources to compete with the executive, Congress has made itself not the parent of the national budget, but a secondary player often forced by its own inadequacy to tinker at the edges with what presidents demand.

***

Of course, there remains another branch of government which, like the Congress, is theoretically and constitutionally separate and independent. But in reality the separateness is a bit fuzzy. That’s because even in this age of hyperpartisanship, there is at least one important area in which Democrats and Republicans think alike: both parties view the federal courts, and especially the Supreme Court, not as a neutral, Constitution-bound, arbiter, but as a de facto branch of the legislature.

Whether by a president, presidential candidate, or member of Congress, potential jurists are evaluated not on judicial temperament, quality of reasoning, or other examples of what were once considered “judicial attributes.” Today, the dominant question is how a nominee for the court will rule on controversial political questions. Last year, both Hillary Clinton and Trump, like presidential candidates before them, announced, as a part of their political campaigns, a “litmus test” for potential court nominees.

While many previous Supreme Court nominees were confirmed by the Senate with little or no dissent, Democrats and Republicans in today’s Senate announce their support or opposition at the instant of the nomination’s announcement—often even before a specific nominee is chosen—in anticipation of how the nominee will vote on questions of abortion, immigration, regulations, firearm ownership, and so on. Whether Merrick Garland or Neil Gorsuch, the question is not whether the nominee is qualified to function judicially, but whether he or she is “one of us”—that is, a fellow liberal or conservative. Each Supreme Court nominee is viewed as if he or she were to be a 101st vote in the Senate.

Today’s “separation of powers” is no longer between the three original, constitutionally created, branches of government, but between, on the one hand, a branch consisting of the president, his supporters in Congress and their mutual supporters on the federal bench; and on the other hand, a branch made up of the party in opposition to the president, his opponents in Congress and their co-partisans on the bench.

America’s Founders recognized the truth in Hobbes’ declaration that governments were needed to prevent abuses of the weak by the powerful. But they recognized that government, too, would need to be prevented from committing its own abuses—hence the need for the sometimes frustrating but nonetheless necessary divisions of authority between the state and federal governments and between the branches of the federal government. That is the system described in the Constitution and the system I taught. But it is not the system by which America operates today—a persistent war between competing political clubs.

I taught my students a system of government based on the Constitution. I thought I was teaching about current events. Instead, I now realize, I was teaching ancient history.

Mickey Edwards is a former eight-term member of Congress and chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee. After leaving office in 1993, he taught government for 13 years at Harvard and Princeton, and became a vice president of the Aspen Institute, where he directs a political leadership program.

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