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Blinders are poor garb for politicians and reporters

Without doing a lot of homework first, the Reno City Council last month passed a resolution calling on state government to smooth the way for Uber-­type ride services at the same time that the Nevada attorney general’s office was in court trying to shut the service down because it was allegedly violating state law.

A couple of days after the council resolution was approved, Bay area Uber driver Claire Callahan Goodman’s account of her treatment at Uber’s hands was posted by Salon. She wrote that the company took weeks on end to approve simple background checks like insurance that cab companies do quickly.

Uber estimates of ride time were wildly wrong.

Uber equipment could not distinguish between Oakland’s Piedmont Avenue and Berkeley’s Piedmont Avenue.

Uber equipment for drivers to contact the rider is nonexistent.

And then there’s the money:

“It’s physically painful to read about Uber’s ridiculously high earnings. They charge less than taxis for the same service, then deduct their 20 percent before paying their drivers. The driver assumes the expense of insurance, fuel and maintenance. I can only assume the other drivers have not done the math. This business model could work, and the quality of drivers would be much better, if Uber reduced its percentage of the take to 10 percent. That will only happen when enough drivers do as I have done – and quit.”

When Tesla was looking for a site for its battery plant, and before Nevada forced Tesla CEO Elon Musk to accept almost three times his asking price, electric car buffs were taking pleasure in the corporation’s pitting state governments against each other and the willingness of those governments to screw their taxpayers.

For example, Gas2, a green website (“Green cars that don’t suck”) was almost gleeful over the competition by the states to soak their populaces:

“It’s been fun watching each state inch ahead only to be overtaken – at least in the news – with promises and offers from another. We previously put our money on a table in the Silver State. But then Arizona inched forward with personal invitations to Elon Musk, easy access to raw materials, and pending legislation to change the state’s franchise laws. And now it’s Texas’ turn.”

Environmentalists seem less than sympathetic to hard-­pressed workers who provide the bulk of state revenues. Since its arrival in Fernley in 1999, Amazon has pretty much gotten a free ride from state journalists, who tend to be easily blinded by corporations that lay some claim to one of our era’s mightiest buzzwords – “innovative.” As a result, scrutiny of the corporation that appears elsewhere is not repeated in Nevada. And not much is generated elsewhere, because web world buffs don’t go looking for trouble.

“Of course, technically, you don’t actually work for Amazon,” former Texas agriculture commissioner Jim Hightower wrote recently. “You’re hired by temp agencies and warehouse operators with Orwellian names like ‘Amalgamated Giant Shipping.’ This lets Amazon deny responsibility for your treatment—and it means you have no labor rights for you are an ‘independent contractor.’ No health care, no vacation time, no scheduled raises, no route to a full­time or permanent job, no regular schedule, no job protection, and—of course—no union. [Amazon CEO Jeff] Bezos has gone all out with intimidation tactics and hired a notorious union­busting firm to crush any whisper of worker organization.”

Yet a national business website, Quartz, recently “reported”, “Amazon is a unique company in many ways. It does not seem to care about profits, for example.”

Wha–?

The viewpoint of these corporations gets plenty of attention. That of their critics, not so much. Just because we are in a new world of commerce does not mean that either public officials or journalists should ignore their responsibilities.

Giant corporations in particular need scrutiny because economic history has shown that bigness is a threat to the public.

Dennis Myers is an award winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.

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