Category Archives: Economy

Petition to tell Walgreens it will lose customers with Switzerland move

Working America has started a petition in protest of Walgreens’ intent to relocate their corporate offices to Switzerland.

Walgreens is not actually going anywhere. Its corporate leaders will still be here in America. It will still depend on our roads and bridges, our educated workforce, our legal system and many other things that its taxes are supposed to help pay for. It will still get one-quarter of its sales dollars from Medicare and Medicaid. And it will still need us to shop at our local Walgreens in order to make a profit.

 

If Walgreens doesn’t pay its fair share of taxes, the rest of us will have to make up the difference.

 

Let Walgreens know that if it deserts America, you’ll desert it, too.

Photo by JeepersMedia

Uber has a fight on its hands in Maryland

I’ve noticed that Uber like Google is not above getting political when it comes to protecting their business. In addition to the struggles the ride-sharing company is having in Virginia , the state of Maryland also appears to be going against them.

The following is from an email Uber sent out about the Maryland Public Service Commission:

The PSC wants to classify Uber as a traditional transportation company, imposing antiquated regulations on our modern service. The PSC’s attempt to regulate Uber as a “common carrier” – a fancy way of saying transportation company – is like the FAA trying to regulate Orbitz, an online travel booking platform, as an airline, simply because the company books flights out of BWI.

The email continues to say that all UberBlack and UberSuv drivers are already licensed by the public service commission, so there is no need to put Uber itself under the PSC.

In this case I would have to agree with Uber but there are some caveats. They are much more heavily involved in working with their partner drivers than Orbitz is with airlines. With their UberX and UberXL drivers one could aruge that these drivers wouldn’t be employed without Uber as these are just regular drivers doing ride-sharing. But I’m not sure that Maryland even allows UberX and UberXL to operate so this might be a moot point.

Photo by Steve Rhodes

Why I’m fighting like hell to save a local Virginia coffee shop

In my head I may dream that I’m Jane Jacobs trying to save Greenwich Village from Robert Moses, but in truth my goal is much less audacious. No, I’m just one activist trying to organize a neighborhood to save a valuable treasure, its local coffee shop. Although my opposition is not as formidable as Moses, I am up against a real estate developer with tons of resources in B.M. Smith.

As an article in the Columbus Underground mentions:

“Independent coffee shops take on the character of their communities and cater to the needs of community members,” says Greg Ubert, President of Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea. “A great coffee shop becomes a hub for social interaction, and all kinds of great things can happen as a result of these interactions. People feel more connected and less stressed, friendships are formed and strengthened, community problems are solved, and business deals are struck.”1

If you believe that a community as a whole, and not just business interests should have a say in how development is handled, then fights like these are worth having. Even if you lose at least you know that the effort was worth it.

How it all started

Last year, B.M. Smith and Associates submitted plans to Arlington County to build a new six-story luxury apartment building. This new building would demolish a strip of retail establishments, with the Rappahanock Coffee shop being included.

In recent years the Penrose community of Arlington, Virginia has seen a number of luxury apartments built and none of them are even near capacity. Meanwhile, the need for affordable housing has been ignored thus forcing people out of the area and possibly the county itself.

Rappahanock Coffee is one of the few remaining communal spaces in the area. Furthermore, it exists as an independent coffee shop at a time when chains like Starbucks overrun communities.

For the people who come here, the Rappahanock Coffee shop provides more than just a cup of coffee.

Learn more and if you live in Arlington County or Virginia itself check out the petition hosted on MoveOn.org.


1: Evans, Walker. “The Important Role of Coffee Shops in Neighborhood Development” Columbus Underground. http://www.columbusunderground.com/the-important-role-of-coffee-shops-in-neighborhood-development

How come when a CEO gets a raise, people don’t lose their jobs?

The wrong headed right wing conservative bloc in this country and some corporate liberals, often espouse the lie that raising the minimum wage costs people jobs. They say if you raise the wage this would result in companies being unable to hire more people at the lower wage level.

Not so says Robert Reich:

Research by Michael Reich (no relation) and Arindrajit Dube confirms these results. They examined employment in several hundred pairs of adjacent counties lying on opposite sides of state borders, each with different minimum wages, and found no statistically significant increase in unemployment in the higher-minimum counties, even after four years. (Other researchers who found contrary results failed to control for counties where unemployment was already growing before the minimum wage was increased.) They also found that employee turnover was lower where the minimum was higher.

What I’d also like to ask is what about the raise that the board of directors give CEOs? I’m sure that money has to come from somewhere too right? That’s money that is not going back into the company to hire more people or even to pay shareholders. Those millions you’re giving your executives would change a lot of lives within the company.

via Robert Reich (Seattle is Right).

Capital: Thomas Piketty channels Gar Alperovitz

In this excerpt from an interview with the Gothamist blog that Thomas Piketty did, he touches on the subject of property and ownership and how they can be used to democratize wealth.

Q: Private property in the form of a home has always been an integral part of the American Dream. Do you think real property will continue to be the main way for the middle and lower classes to claw back some share of capital from the upper 10%?

A: I think there are a number of complimentary ways to move in this direction. Access to private property in the form of home and company shares is one way, but that’s not exclusive of other ways. Access to skills and education is of course another way. Maybe it’s equally important to consider the development of new forms of ownership and new forms of collective government systems.

For me personally, Piketty sounds a lot like Gar Alperovitz in his book America Beyond Capitalism.

Unlike many books that reserve a few pages of a concluding chapter to offer generalized, tentative solutions, Alperovitz marshals years of research into emerging “new economy” strategies to present a comprehensive picture of practical bottom-up efforts currently underway in thousands of communities across the United States. All democratize wealth and empower communities, not corporations: worker-ownership, cooperatives, community land trusts, social enterprises, along with many supporting municipal, state and longer term federal strategies as well.

Alperovitz has been talking about different forms of ownership for years. For more information visit this website.

Photo by Parti Socialiste du Loiret

Virgina’s DMV commissioner says Uber and Lyft no good but why?

Here’s what Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner had to say about Uber and Lyft:

“I urge the citizens of Virginia to protect their families by using only companies that appear on DMV’s website as licensed transportation services. If it’s not on the list, it’s not recommended,” -DMV Commissioner Richard Holcomb.

I’m not going to say whether this is the right or wrong approach to dealing with Uber and Lyft, but what I’d like to know more about is why using services not on the DMV”s list is not recommended. What does being a licensed transportation service in the state of Virginia ensure exactly? The important thing is to be commercially insured which Uber and Lyft are even though they’re not on the DMV’s list. Am I right?

Furthermore, Uber is a application and service that many commercially licensed and insured cab drivers in D.C. use. When you use the Uber smartphone app you can select Uber Taxi, Uber Black and Uber SUV. Actually, as far as Virginia goes Uber Black should be fine as those are commercial drivers.

Today the D.C. Taxi Operators Association that is affiliated with the Teamsters put out a statement:

We applaud the Commonwealth of Virginia for taking this step and we are asking the District of Columbia to follow suit. The Washington, D.C. Taxi Operators Association is in continuous contact with District officials and we continue to urge the District to take similar action until fair regulations are approved. Until those fair regulations are approved, the private sedan services should not be allowed to operate in the District.

Again, I’m not going to say the D.C. Taxi Operators are wrong, but what I’d like to know is: what are “fair regulations?”

Photo by Steve Rhodes

Virginia cracks down on Uber and Lyft

Today the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles issued a cease and desist order to companies Uber and Lyft. The website ARLnow.com reports that Arlington County, VA will enforce the order right away. This is probably no different than what other counties in Virginia will be doing.

The problem here is really with Uber’s “Uber-X,” “Uber XL” and Lyft’s entire business model (don’t forget Sidecar). These ride-sharing drivers in the DMV area do not have “hack” licenses. They also do not have commercial driver’s insurance. They are however covered by Uber’s $1 million dollar per incident insurance and their riders are covered by this too. So in terms of insurance it appears that both drivers are on equal footing.

If Uber were to just operate its other services in the DMV area, they would be fine because all the other services such as “Uber Black,” “Uber Taxi (real taxi drivers)” and “Uber SUV” are commercially licensed and insured.

I’ve listened to the plight of the licensed “hack” and there is something to it. They work long hours and they feel that these ride-sharing drivers are now undercutting them. It’s not so much about Uber because there are a lot of “hacks” and private car (limo, town car), commercial drivers using Uber. The technology is amazing, that’s why people love it. You don’t have to call or flag down a cab; all you do is use your smartphone and you get to see where your ride is and how long it will take to get there. Right now Uber and Square are indeed revolutionizing how we do transactions in this space.

Absent from this discussion are the fees that cab companies extract from their drivers. Some charge as much as $100-$200 a day for use of a company-owned taxi. A lot of drivers have issues with this. I spoke with one “Uber Black” driver who told me he used to drive for a cab company and now he feels like he’s been freed from captivity. I suppose he had to go out and buy his own car to earn that freedom however.

As for the discussion of job creation or job-killing, the Uber X drivers I’ve talked to all say that they do this job on a part time basis. This is a side job for them. The few I’ve met who do this full time are doing it because the job market remains difficult otherwise.

In the end it comes down to the question of how important is the commercial driver’s license. Does it really bestow upon someone a higher professional ability to drive? Do they acquire a knowledge of driving that separates the men from the boys and the women from the girls?

Far be it from me to support some kind of race to the bottom, where all drivers end up working for extremely cheap fares. But that’s why the question of professional “hack” vs. joe driver is important. One comes with inherent costs built in that are reflected in the fares, the other is simply less costly. But then again, does it have to be that way? Is there no way for cab companies to lower fares without hurting their drivers financially?

Another point worth making is that traditional cab drivers in the area cannot remain anti-technology or anti-change. For example in DC if we go back a few years, you’ll see that there was a fierce resistance by some drivers to the installation of meters and being made to accept credit cards. These were both changes that customers really wanted and while customers shouldn’t get everything they want, you have to remain open to the idea of change.

Photo by Tribute/ Homenaje

Google’s self-driving prototype car is here

I for one cannot wait for the day when the majority of the vehicles on the road will be self-driving.  I don’t own a car nor do I have a driver’s license, but this technology will open up a new market for people like me in the future. Even if you don’t go out and purchase one, the taxi or limo of the future will also be using this technology.

What’s also important for the world is that these cars be electric vehicles.

Also let’s not forget this point:

https://twitter.com/manjulamartin/status/471530300200062977