Uber, the ride-sharing company that pretends it isn't a ride-sharing company, has started a massive PR campaign against the city of Chicago because Mayor Lori Lightfoot wants them to pay for the damage they're causing to the commons.
Let's unpack all of that.
Lightfoot has proposed a $3 tax on ride-sharing trips into the Loop, Near North, Lincoln Park, and other affluent areas, and a smaller tax on trips out of the center city, because trips in and out of those areas cause several kinds of damage to the city's infrastructure. This is the definition of "negative externalities." In fact, Uber's and Lyft's pricing model has caused the following problems:
- A glut of cars on the road during rush hour, with all the emissions and traffic they cause;
- Reduced public-transit ridership and revenue, which disproportionately harms less-affluent users;
- The destruction of the regulated taxi industry in Chicago, including thousands of bankruptcies due to taxi medallions losing more than two-thirds their value since 2014; and
- The enrichment of Uber's officers and shareholders on the backs of underpaid Uber drivers.
Lightfoot's tax will increase the cost of a trip from Lincoln Park to Chicago by $3. If that pushes people to use public transit instead, we win. If people pay the tax, we win. If Uber's board take home less money, that's a neutral result we can all cheer anyway.
Compared with the way London, for example, has dealt with the environmental damage of cars in the central city, Uber's getting off easy in Chicago.
But of course, having gotten very rich through exploitation of other people, they don't see i that way. (Why are billionaires so whiny these days? Even Carnegie built libraries.)
Because we don't have Satanic mills employing thousands of 9-year-old orphans any more, it's hard to see the direct similarities between companies like Uber and companies like those portrayed in Dickens novels. But guess what? They're fundamentally the same. And Lightfoot's tax is only the first, modest step in Chicago government making life better for everyone in the city in the aggregate. The people complaining the most about the Uber tax are the people to whom $3 hardly matters. You can tell because $3 is more than the price of a CTA ride, and less than the current cost of an Uber ride.
If some Uber shareholders have to suffer a little so that people on the South and West Sides can get to work more reliably, I'm OK with that.
Today's crop of articles:
And now, back to coding.
I realized this morning that I've missed almost the entire season of The Good Place because I don't seem to have enough time to watch TV. I also don't have enough time until Friday to read all of these pieces that have crossed my desk only today:
And now, I must finish correlating two analyses of 1.48 million data points using similar but not identical algorithms. It's as much fun as it sounds.
On 4 November 1979, "students" stormed the American Embassy in Tehran:
After a three-hour struggle, the students took hostages, including 62 Americans, and demanded the extradition of the deposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was receiving medical treatment in the United States for the cancer that ultimately would kill him. Some hostages would later be released amid the crisis, but it would take over a year for all to be freed.
It would take 444 days—until the last day of President Jimmy Carter's term—for Iran to release the hostages.
NPR this morning had an interview with Ambassador John Limbert, one of the hostages.
It's the first day of November 2019, the month in which the 1982 classic film Blade Runner takes place. Los Angeles has a bit of haze today from wildfires in the area, but I'm glad to report that it isn't the environmental disaster portrayed in the movie. No flying cars, no replicants, and no phone booths either.
In other news:
The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal points out that while PG&E has some responsibility for California's wildfires, the real culprits are the voters and elected officials who have ignored routine maintenance for two generations:
A kind of toxic debt is embedded in much of the infrastructure that America built during the 20th century. For decades, corporate executives, as well as city, county, state, and federal officials, not to mention voters, have decided against doing the routine maintenance and deeper upgrades to ensure that electrical systems, roads, bridges, dams, and other infrastructure can function properly under a range of conditions. Kicking the can down the road like this is often seen as the profit-maximizing or politically expedient option. But it’s really borrowing against the future, without putting that debt on the books.
In software development, engineers have long noted that taking the easy way out of coding problems builds up what they call “technical debt,” as the tech journalist Quinn Norton has written.
Like other kinds of debt, this debt compounds if you don’t deal with it, and it can distort the true cost of decisions. If you ignore it, the status quo looks cheaper than it is. At least until the off-the-books debt comes to light.
In the same vein—or, perhaps, in a root-cause analysis—Vox recently interviewed author Bruce Gibney about his 2017 book A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America:
[T]he damage done to the social fabric is pretty self-evident. Just look around and notice what’s been done. On the economic front, the damage is equally obvious, and it trickles down to all sorts of other social phenomena. I don’t want to get bogged down in an ocean of numbers and data here (that’s in the book), but think of it this way: I’m 41, and when I was born, the gross debt-to-GDP ratio was about 35 percent. It’s roughly 103 percent now — and it keeps rising.
The boomers inherited a rich, dynamic country and have gradually bankrupted it. They habitually cut their own taxes and borrow money without any concern for future burdens. They’ve spent virtually all our money and assets on themselves and in the process have left a financial disaster for their children.
We used to have the finest infrastructure in the world. The American Society of Civil Engineers thinks there’s something like a $4 trillion deficit in infrastructure in deferred maintenance. It’s crumbling, and the boomers have allowed it to crumble. Our public education system has steadily degraded as well, forcing middle-class students to bury themselves in debt in order to get a college education.
Then of course there’s the issue of climate change, which they’ve done almost nothing to solve. But even if we want to be market-oriented about this, we can think of the climate as an asset, which has degraded over time thanks to the inaction and cowardice of the boomer generation. Now they didn’t start burning fossil fuels, but by the 1990s the science was undeniable. And what did they do? Nothing.
There's a reason the latest meme sweeping Gen Z is "ok, boomer."
American late-night host Jimmy Kimmel wondered if there were differences between President Obama's announcement that we had assassinated Osama Bin Laden and President Trump's announcement that we had assassinated Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. He only found a few:
To quote The Untouchables, "We laugh because it's true."
That's American for the English idiom "penny in the air." And what a penny. More like a whole roll of them.
Right now, the House of Commons are wrapping up debate on the Government's bill to prorogue Parliament (for real this time) and have elections the second week of December. The second reading of the bill just passed by voice vote (the "noes" being only a few recalcitrant MPs), so the debate continues. The bill is expected to pass—assuming MPs can agree on whether to have the election on the 9th, 11th, or 12th of December. Regardless, that means I'll be in London during the first weekend of the election campaign, and I'm elated.
Meanwhile, a whole bunch of other things made the news in the last day:
- Writing for the New Yorker, Sam Knight argues that before Boris Johnson became PM, it was possible to imagine a Brexit that worked for the UK. Instead, Johnson has poisoned UK politics for a generation.
- Presidents Trump and Obama came to Chicago yesterday, but only one of the personally insulted us. Guess which one.
- That one also made top military officers squirm yesterday when he released classified information about our assassination of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, including a photograph of the dog injured in the raid. The dog's name remained classified, even as it seemed clear that he was a very good boy.
- Grinnell College in Iowa released polling data today showing just how much people don't like President Trump. Moreover, 80% of those polled thought a presidential candidate seeking election help from a foreign government was unacceptable. Adam Schiff cracking his knuckles could be heard all the way to the Grinnell campus.
- An appellate court in North Carolina ruled that the election maps drawn up by the Republican Party unfairly gerrymander a Republican majority, and must be re-drawn for the 2020 election.
- Grubhub's share price crashed today after the company released a written statement ahead of its earnings call later this week. The company made $1.0 million on $322.1 million in revenue during the 3rd quarter, and projected a loss for the 4th quarter.
- The City of Atlanta decided not to pay ransom to get their computers working again, in order to reduce the appeal of ransomware attacks.
Finally, it looks like it could snow in Chicago on Thursday. Color me annoyed.
Benjamin Wittes, writing for Lawfare, points out that Alexander Hamilton predicted exactly how an impeachment would bring partisan differences into even sharper relief than ordinary politics. So Republicans in Congress have to change the subject:
Yes, Trump’s approval numbers show there are cracks in the wall, as every pundit is busily pointing out. But the larger point, it seems to me, is that there is still a wall. And as Hamilton argued, it is the comparative strength of that wall, not any demonstration of Trump’s innocence or guilt, that will regulate the decision as to the president’s fate. The president’s defense, in other words, has been reduced to raw political power; it is not a genuine examination of facts but rather a numbers game to assemble enough elected officials aligned with the president’s faction to refuse to look reality in the eye and thus to ensure Trump’s acquittal.
Of course, no senators or members of the House of Representatives can say this outright. Despite this era of shredded norms and broken taboos, it is still verboten to state what is so obviously true: “I refuse to support Trump’s impeachment because, however merited it may be, I am a Republican and he is a Republican and the advantage of my party would be ill-served by his removal—which might also threaten my own prospects of reelection, which depend on voters who like the president more than they like me.”
There just isn’t any good argument for Trump at this stage. So what is a poor Republican member of Congress or senator, animated by Federalist 65 but unable to admit it, to do?
Their answer is to make noise.
In other words, get ready for a lot more sound and fury, signifying nothing, from the Republican caucus.
While my work computer chews through slightly more than a million calculations in a unit test (which I don't run in CI, in case you (a) were wondering and (b) know what that means), I have a moment to catch up:
- Boris Johnson has asked MPs to dissolve Parliament on Monday, which, if 2/3 of Commons agrees, means there would be an election on December 12th. The EU will vote tomorrow on whether to accept the UK's Brexit extension request, which is the Labour Party's condition for agreeing to new elections.
- Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, in a good position to win the award for Worst Cabinet Secretary of 2019, may end up costing President Trump re-election (beyond what he's doing to ensure a Democratic victory). It turns out people in Michigan do not want their tax money to go to private education companies like hers. The cherry on top of that is she might actually go to jail in the next few days.
- Josh Marshall argues that the goal of the interrupted-by-being-arrested-at-the-airport plan of Rudy Giuliani's friends might have been simply to get Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to go on TV and say Ukraine was opening an investigation into Hunter Biden. Just having a head of state say that could tank the Biden nomination on its own, even if everyone knows there really is nothing to see.
- A group of 30 Republican House members burst into a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) in the Capitol building yesterday to hold up the testimony of Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper. Ordinarily, if you violate a SCIF, the intelligence services quickly remove your security clearance. I wonder if that'll be the case here.
- With Lake Michigan water levels consistently over 100 cm above average this year, the city will need billions of dollars to prevent and correct significant erosion of the shoreline.
- Finally, scientists have taught rats how to drive little cars. Seriously. It's adorable.
The first 30-minute calculation is done, and now I'm on to the second one. Then I can resume writing software instead of testing it.