Uber: Surge Pricing, and an F from the Better Business Bureau

Fascinating analysis from former UberX driver doubleman in the comments. ... - promoted by Bob_Neer

Huffington Post reports:

Of course, Uber is far from the first company to engage in surge-pricing. Airline companies and hotels are known for jacking up prices during holidays and other busy travel times. But Uber riders complain that they’re not adequately informed of how high their trip’s cost will be. In the early months of the company, customers were livid after being charged hundreds of dollars for rides on New Year’s Eve. In some cases, users claimed they weren’t notified about surge pricing until after the trip.

This was brought to my attention by writer Crystal King, via Twitter. She said:

Crystal King @crystallyn
I had a $170 bill during a NYC blizzard from surge pricing. Not cool.

Not cool indeed.

I think this puts me firmly on the anti-Uber side of the fence. I rode it once (on someone else’s cyberdime), and it was very pleasant, much better than a cab. But these guys are bad news. I think we need to view them more like we view Amazon — as a threat to local businesses. Sure, we dislike cabs and we love independent bookstores (most of them anyway), but the principle is the same. Yes they’re innovative (so is Amazon), but they use hardball tactics.

Is it possible that Uber’s getting a bad rap? Certainly. But at this point I consider them guilty until proven innocent. I won’t use it.

Charlie Baker's outsourcing problem

The photograph – apparently taken in late summer of 2008 (it’s undated, but that’s when the story it accompanies was published), when the economy was teetering on the edge of catastrophe – says it all.  There’s Charlie, in a tux, holding his award for his awesome outsourcing work.  LOL

Today’s Globe has most of the key details.  In brief: in the course of his work at Harvard Pilgrim, Baker outsourced most of Harvard Pilgrim’s IT work to Perot Systems (yes, that Perot).  Nothing wrong with that, exactly – Harvard Pilgrim apparently couldn’t handle the work on its own and needed outside expertise.  But then it gets dicey.

This relationship [between Harvard Pilgrim and Perot Systems] includes some offshoring components. [Harvard Pilgrim Deputy CIO Bob] Trombly explains that healthcare insurance is a low-margin business; “a one percent annual fluctuation can make or break us. There is constant pressure from employers and regulators to reduce administrative costs. In our recent contract renegotiation, we challenged Perot Systems to help us aggressively reduce costs. One of the things they brought to the table was a proposal to reduce administrative costs by sending some of the work offshore.” …

Trombly is the first to admit he had “fears and misgivings” at the outset. But his view changed when he visited Perot Systems’s facilities in India. When he came home, he told his oldest son, who is heading to college this fall, “You better get off your butt because the rest of the world is ready to compete. It’s one thing to read The World is Flat; it’s another to see it in real time.”

He says “the staff in India is very well trained, doing great work, and eager to take on more. I think that’s a sobering lesson to everyone about the global marketplace.”

Charlie Baker sent Massachusetts jobs to India.  There’s a campaign ad that writes itself.

You might wonder (I did, anyway) why the story of Baker outsourcing jobs to India and getting an award for it has not surfaced before now.  After all, Baker has already been involved in a hard-fought statewide campaign in which his work at Harvard Pilgrim was a major topic of discussion.  The answer might be as simple as this: Baker’s name does not appear in the “Outsourcing Center” story reporting the details.  So if you (or a hypothetical opposition researcher) were spending all your time Googling “baker outsourcing” or the like, this story probably wouldn’t come up.

One way Massachusetts is helping its West

Very interesting story, and hopefully one that ends happily for a place like Springfield. - promoted by david

I have been quick to point out the many ways this state has been neglecting its Gateway Cities, so I am happy to describe a way the state has potentially helped less prosperous Western Massachusetts recently. Since this is probably below the radar screen of most, I thought it might spur some other creative ideas if people knew about it.

In 2013, Governor Patrick announced a transportation infrastructure upgrade; the state, via the MBTA, would spend $1.3 billion to replace and upgrade Red Line and Orange Line train cars. The RFP for the project contained something very important, a condition that the assembly of these cars must be completed in Massachusetts. The state actually declined federal funding to include this clause. This small, subtle clause has the potential for a great impact.

A Plan to Stop a Silent Killer

  - promoted by david

A Plan to Stop a Silent Killer

By Senator Edward J. Markey

Heroin and prescription drug addiction is an equal-opportunity destroyer of lives and families across Massachusetts are struggling with the recent scourge of overdoses that are claiming lives at an unprecedented pace.  Today, drug overdoses are the leading cause of injury deaths, surpassing car accidents nationwide.

This dramatic rise in addiction to heroin and prescription drugs, collectively known as opioids, is nothing less than catastrophic. And the magnitude of the harm that our communities are suffering is nothing short of an epidemic.  Families across the Commonwealth are experiencing the daily tragedies of addiction that are playing out in cars, in parking lots, in emergency rooms, and all too often silently in homes across our state. In Massachusetts, approximately 65,000 people are currently dependent on opioids—50,000 of whom need treatment but aren’t currently receiving it.

There is no doubt that the current opioid overdose crisis has been primarily driven by the health care system. In the past decade, the number of prescriptions written has increased by 400 percent. In 2012, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers, enough for every American adult to have their own bottle of pills. The United States makes up only 4.6 percent of the world’s population, but consumes 80 percent of its opioids — and 99 percent of the Vicodin, one of the more popular prescription opioids.

These statistics are deeply disturbing. While there are legitimate uses for these prescriptions in the treatment of chronic pain, the excess pills that are flooding our homes and sitting stagnant in medicine cabinets are only fueling the current crisis.  Once an individual is addicted to prescription pain pills, they may be driven to use illicit substances that have similar effects, most notably heroin. Data collected by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), has found that four out of five heroin users started abusing prescription drugs first.

We need to prevent this rampant addiction before it takes hold. And we need to do it in a balanced way that ensures that people who need prescription pain medication have access to it while minimizing the negative consequences associated with the misuse and abuse of these pills.

Commonwealth Magazine profiles "Giant Slayer" Mike Firestone

Progressive champion Mike Firestone steps out of his back office in this month’s CommonWealth Magazine (if you don’t subscribe to their free The Download newsletter and other features, you should: click here to do it).

Gabrielle Gurley spoke with the historian and lawyer — a winning combination if ever there was one — who helped Maura Healey pull off the upset of the season and has provided invaluable services to many other Massachusetts progressives.

You’ve guided the successful campaigns of newbie candidates such as Deval Patrick, Elizabeth Warren, Boston city councilor Michelle Wu, and now Maura Healey. What’s your secret?

It’s all about doing the same direct, person-to-person voter contact that’s been done for 150 years in American campaigning, but doing it smarter. If Maura was going to be, let’s say, appearing at an event in the South Coast, we’d do door-knocking and phone calls into that community and work with our press team to maximize free media coverage in the area. We’d work over social media to engage, not just through Maura Healey on Facebook and Twitter, but with allies and supporters who live in those communities. We’d use our email list the same way.

Read the whole interview here.

A bad way to plan for Boston's future: bid for the Olympics

The curious new twist that Boston Olympics boosters – now including Mayor Marty Walsh – have added to their pitch is that an Olympics bid would be a terrific way to plan for Boston’s future.  From the story linked above:

preparing for an Olympic bid could be a powerful motivator to “push us to really do a comprehensive plan on what the future of Boston will look like,” Walsh said.

Well, a comprehensive plan for Boston’s future is a good idea.  And an Olympics bid would certainly be a motivator to do a particular kind of plan, namely, the plan that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) demands.  The big problem here is that the IOC’s priorities are not likely to line up with those of the city of Boston most of the time.  For a demonstration of why this is so, check out jconway’s excellent post detailing his experience working on Chicago’s unsuccessful bid.

For another explanation of why a “Boston’s future” plan probably doesn’t line up with a “Boston 2024″ plan, check out today’s Globe’s op-ed page.  Economist Andrew Zimbalist has done some actual research into how cities fare when they bid for the Olympics.  And, to the above point, he sensibly points out:

If Boston wants to plan properly for its future, it must have a lengthy discussion about the city’s developmental, architectural, environmental, and financial possibilities. Beginning that conversation with the need to create more than 30 competition venues — plus an Olympic village, a media center, and special traveling lanes for IOC officials — is not the way to do this planning.

One venue that will have to be built is the Olympic Stadium, with an 80,000-person capacity. There are no venues in greater Boston that will meet IOC standards. The stadium needs a track and a field, plus all the luxury accoutrements of a modern sports facility. It will also need some 20 acres of land, complete with special access roads and parking. Such a stadium is likely to cost upwards of $1 billion.

Where would it go? Is it wise to sacrifice these 20 acres for the next several decades? What would be its use when the 17-day event is over? Perhaps the New England Revolution could play there, but the capacity would have to be reduced to 25,000 and the track removed. London is spending more than $320 million to “remodel” its Olympic Stadium for the West Ham soccer club.

Pretty good questions.  But wait, you say – didn’t LA and Barcelona do pretty well?  Yes.  Zimbalist explains why.

Los Angeles 1984 is one exception. Back then, Los Angeles was the only bidder. City officials told the IOC that it would only host if the IOC guaranteed the organizing committee against any losses. The Los Angeles plan was to use the existing sports infrastructure (plus a few smaller, privately-funded venues), and Peter Ueberroth, the head of the organizing committee, introduced a new corporate sponsorship model to help cover operating expenses.

Barcelona 1992 is another exception. The city began to develop a plan for its renovation after the death of former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. The plan had several components, including the opening of the city to the sea. Crucially, the plan preexisted the bid to host the Olympics, and the Olympics were fit into the plan, reversing the typical sequence.

I love LA’s idea of getting the IOC to guarantee losses.  Let’s start by seeing if we can get them to sign onto that.  I also love what Barcelona did, namely, create a plan regardless of the Olympics, and then, if an Olympics bid can be worked into it, great.  But that’s not at all what’s on the table in Boston right now.

So, let me be clear.  My position isn’t “no Olympics, no way, no how.”  My position is that the future of Boston should not be planned around a 17-day party for the 1%, to be held ten years from now, whose requirements are dictated by a shadowy cabal of mysterious international jet-setters (a/k/a the IOC).  That strikes me as an absolutely terrible way to plan for the future of actual Bostonians who live here year round.

Joke Revue: "G.O.P. Says Five Million Forced Back to Work Under Obama"

Onion: Congressman Embroiled In Sexting Scandal Explains: ‘I Wanted That Girl To See My Penis’

David Connors sits down for an exclusive interview with Congressman Bart Handford, who is finally opening up about the nude photo scandal that has threatened his career.

Borowitz:

G.O.P. Leader: Five Million Forced Back to Work Under Obama

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—In a blistering indictment of the Administration’s economic policies, the chairman of the Republican National Committee has accused President Obama of forcing five million Americans back to work since he took office, in 2009.

“When President Obama took office, there were five million Americans at home all day who are now, sadly, not at home,” said Reince Priebus, on Sunday’s edition of “Meet the Press.” “They have to go to work five days a week and they’re mad as hell about it.”

He said that he expected G.O.P. candidates in the midterm elections to hammer away at the President’s greatest vulnerability, which he called “the ugly side of employment.”

“You don’t take five million Americans, uproot them from their families, and make them leave their homes for eight hours a day,” Priebus said. “This isn’t a dictatorship. This is America.”

He added that the President’s failure on this issue has helped sharpen the Republican Party’s message to voters. “If you’re sick and tired of employment, vote for us,” he said.

Man Infected with Ebola Misinformation Through Casual Contact With Cable News

CANTON, OH (The Borowitz Report)—An Ohio man has become infected with misinformation about the Ebola virus through casual contact with cable news, the Centers for Disease Control has confirmed.

Tracy Klugian, thirty-one, briefly came into contact with alarmist Ebola hearsay during a visit to the Akron-Canton airport, where a CNN report about Ebola was showing on one of the televisions in the airport bar. “Mr. Klugian is believed to have been exposed to cable news for no more than ten minutes, but long enough to become infected,” a spokesman for the C.D.C. said. “Within an hour, he was showing signs of believing that an Ebola outbreak in the United States was inevitable and unstoppable.”

Daniel Kurtzman:

“Archaeologists in Arizona have discovered the remains of a 1,300-year-old village. They found dwellings, stone tools, and hundreds of ballots cast for Senator John McCain.” –Seth Meyers

“On Saturday the San Francisco Giants beat the Nationals in Washington in 18 innings. It was the longest postseason game in baseball history — proving that even in sports, it takes forever to get something done in Washington.” –Jimmy Fallon

“Secret Service Director Julia Pierson has resigned, and in her closing statement she said, ‘I’m leaving, not because of the breaches in security, but I don’t think I can take the pressure of the upcoming trick-or-treaters.’” –David Letterman

“After a photographer was accused of harassing the royal baby Prince George, lawyers for Prince William and Kate Middleton said that their son ‘must be permitted to lead as ordinary a life as possible.’ They then added, ‘Now get away from our castle!’” –Seth Meyers

If it's October, Mass Republicans must be rolling out a new GOTV fix...

A comparison of today's Globe story to the one from 2006, to which John links in the piece, is hilariously revealing. - promoted by david

This morning’s Globe triumphantly announces the $2 MILLION (!!) Baker-Polito-MassGOP plan to counter all of us talking to our friends and neighbors and knocking on #DemDoors.

Now you know why I don’t worry that they always out-raise us. They spend it foolishly. Globe reporter Jim O’Sullivan puts this secret strategy in the context of Mitt’s infamous ORCA project, but what it reminded me most of was Kerry Healey’s vaunted 2006 response to grassroots organizing.

Not only are Charlie and Karyn recycling failed GOP policy proposals, they’re recycling failed GOTV strategies — and Globe headlines!

#23Days. Talk to your friends and let’s GOTV them to another defeat!

Chamber of Commerce, Widmer, MTF Urge No Vote on Question 1!

  - promoted by david

“This is not a partisan issue, it is a public safety issue.Republicans and Democrats care equally about being protected from dangerous roads and bridges.”

–Mayor Kevin J. Dumas, R-Attleboro.

Agree on the facts and at least some of the analysis, and you know you’re talking to someone in the same political community. Even if you are different sides. I haven’t always agree with Michael Widmer’s policy choices, but I have come to respect what I regard as his reality-based, if corporately-tinged, perspective.

I recently came across a press release urging voters to reject of Question 1, which would repeal the indexing of the gasoline tax to inflation. Although I’m sensitive to its geographically regressivity (it hits hard Western Mass, particularly rural communities), we need the money. And in this screwed up political era, we have to take what we can get.

A coalition called The Committee for Safer Roads and Bridges, a coalition has a broad spectrum of supporters ranging from Massachusetts AFL-CIO to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, says VOTE NO. 

Massachusetts residents should vote NO on Question 1 because this ballot measure would eliminate a key part of the funding that has been set aside by the state Constitution to pay for transportation projects across the state. It would jeopardize $1 billion in transportation improvements over the next decade – putting our public safety at further risk.

Question 1 would mean our roads and bridges will continue to deteriorate – threatening the safety of Massachusetts drivers and their families. That’s why Massachusetts voters should vote NO.

Some endorsers of this ballot initiative stand to benefit from a defeat of the question–union workers, construction companies–but we all stand to lose if we don’t have enough money to repair our bridges and roads.

After decades of neglect, the poor condition of Massachusetts’ roads and bridges is now a major public safety crisis. The problem is startling: according to the Federal Highway Administration, 53% of all bridges in the state are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete – ranking us second-worst among the 50 states.  A NO vote will send a clear message: we’re against crumbling roads and bridges, and the risk they pose to Massachusetts drivers and their families.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, Massachusetts’s infrastructure ranks second worst among the 50 states for structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges. Already, twenty seven bridges have been closed because they are unsafe and another 447 are under traffic load restrictions. Roadways conditions play a significant role in one-third of all traffic fatalities in Massachusetts and motor vehicle crashes cost Massachusetts $6.3 billion a year in medical and other costs.

Timely infrastructure crisis

These are good questions. - promoted by david

More than SEVEN HUNDRED of our most needy residents were put on the street Wednesday after government officials were no longer willing to ignore the safety issues of the ONLY bridge linking the city’s largest homeless shelter to the mainland. Of the 700 people displaced, about 400 are residents of the now-closed homeless shelter and 300 more used recovery programs hosted on the now-isolated island.

There are SO many questions to be asked about this absolutely necessary closure. Here are some of them (I saved the most important for last):

1. Would government officials block THREE HUNDRED wealthy residents of Manchester-by-the-sea or Marblehead from their homes instantaneously because of a failing bridge that had been flagged for YEARS? Of course not.

2. Would government officials allow a failing bridge to a wealthy community to literally fall apart like this? Of course not.

3. Would government officials put a government asset vital to a more prosperous group of people on an island isolated by a single aging two-lane bridge? Of course not.

4. Will government officials fast-track a replacement for this bridge (like the program for I93 between Boston and Woburn) or the vital resources now isolated on the island behind it? Or course not.

5. Will either campaign admit the urgency of our public infrastructure crisis, and commit to funding its solution? Of course not.

Here’s a suggestion:

State government officials should IMMEDIATELY seize the property and buildings of Suffolk Downs, and make a new homeless shelter and recovery programs IMMEDIATELY available at this new location. State officials can assure Mr. DeLeo that these temporary facilities will be relocated as soon as long-term alternatives are in place elsewhere.

Call me cynical, but I think that if Mr. DeLeo actually WANTS to find the money for programs like this, he will find a way to raise the necessary taxes in order to fund them.

We hear much talk about “passion”, “vision”, and even “morals” from our several gubernatorial candidates. I wonder if any of them will touch any of the questions raised by this timely crisis. Of course not.

Your top 5

A splendid diversion. - promoted by david

When things are slow in the sports world, the guys (almost all guys) on sports talk debate their “top 5″ lists: quarterbacks, all-time basketball greats, etc. Much of the time they talk about people I only vaguely know. I root for the home team – usually – but am not a fantasy junkie. To relieve my frustration, I risk of interrupting the electoral imbroglios and debate deconstructions to get BMGers’ answer to this question:

Who are the 5 politicians currently active, in order, who you believe are best at their craft?

I will not define “politician”; I thought about saying “officeholder” but realized that it would leave out luminaries such as Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. I’ll leave it as someone working to advance their ideals, whatever they may be, through the elected and political process.  Whether you agree with their beliefs or not. Below I’ve put my top 5…who are yours?

 

54% say the deficit has increased

More progressive blogs needed! :-) - promoted by Bob_Neer

In a recent poll, Americans were asked whether they thought the deficit had decreased or increased since Obama took office in 2009. 54% of Americans thought in increased  and a mere 19% thought it decreased. Even a plurality of Democrats (32%) thought it increased with 21% thinking it stayed the same and 30% thinking it dropped. Perhaps this accounts for the majority disapproving of how Obama handled the deficit.

However, the deficit has indeed dropped not risen – and dropped substantially. In 2009, it stood at $1.4 trillion and 9.8% of GDP. In 2013, in 2009 dollars, it had shrunk to $680 billion or 4.1% of GDP. This year it is projected to be lower still. At $486 billion, it’s the lowest it’s been since 2008.

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How about health insurance? Health insurance premiums have tended to rise every year. In the period 2004 to 2009, they rose 34%, i.e., 6% per year. In the period 2009 to 2014 that fell to 26%. In 2013, the increase was only 3% for families and 2% for individuals. This is a significant improvement. Nonetheless polling from back in May by Gallup shows Americans disapprove of the ACA by a 51% to 43% margin. So even though it shows signs of reining in costs and has clearly widened coverage, a majority disapproves of it. This month, Gallup found that 27% of Americans thought the ACA had hurt them and 16% thought it helped them. They also found Americans expected the ACA to make things worse over the long term by a 46% to 36% margin.  (This margin has remained stable going back at least to June 2013.)

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This suggests that Democrats are — as usual — doing a terrible job of running on the issues. If majorities of Americans think that the ACA has worsened healthcare and Obama has worsened the budget, someone at the Democratic National Committee is not doing his or her job.