Opinion

The Great Debate

How Uber can help the GOP gain control of the cities

Taxi drivers protest against transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft along with Assembly Bill 2293 at the State Capitol in Sacramento, California

Republicans occupy the governor’s mansion in a majority of states and control both chambers of state legislatures where a majority of Americans live. In a country that is becoming more urban, however, Democrats have a major advantage: Their party runs most big U.S. cities. Of the 15 largest U.S. cities, only two — San Diego and Indianapolis — have Republican mayors, and 13 of the 15 have Democratic-controlled city councils.

Yet despite the Democrats’ urban dominance, cities may soon be up for grabs. For the party’s refusal to embrace the innovative technology and disruptive businesses that have greatly improved city life presents a challenge to Democrats — and an opportunity for Republicans.

Democrats are facing a tough choice. A big part of their base is the unions now facing off against such disruptive innovations as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and charter schools. Do Democrats support the regulations pushed by taxi and other unions that help to protect the status quo but can also stifle competition? Or do they embrace innovative technologies and businesses that expand transportation options, create jobs and are increasingly welcomed by another key Democratic constituency: urban dwellers, particularly young urban dwellers?

Transportation app Uber driver Shuki Zanna waits for rides in his limousine in Beverly HillsConsider Uber, the popular ride-sharing service just valued at $18 billion. The news has been filled recently with stories about how state and local governments are dealing with this disruptive business. Ridesharing companies are the focus of legislative and regulatory officials in Chicago, New Orleans, Miami, Boston, Pittsburgh and other cities across the country. June began with Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s administration sending a cease and desist letter to Uber and ended with Washington taxi union members protesting the competition.

Many of these innovative new businesses were birthed in California’s Bay Area, a Democratic stronghold. They are favorites of city dwellers, which means most of the leading Democratic constituencies — including educated professionals, gays, minorities, single women and working mothers.

France says ‘Non’ to the digital age

France has kicked off 2014 with an array of skirmishes against Amazon, Google and other U.S. Internet companies, in what is shaping up as a classic battle between comfortable Gallic tradition and disruptive modernity.

On Thursday, Jan. 9, the French Senate unanimously approved a bill that would ban Amazon from offering free shipping on books in France. Strongly endorsed by the Ministry of Culture, the legislation is supposed to safeguard the existence of the country’s 3,500 bookstores, about 800 of which are independent.

A few hours earlier, France’s national agency for data protection, known by its acronym CNIL, announced that its sanctions committee had found Google to be in breach of national privacy laws, based on the company’s March 2012 decision to merge different privacy policies for each of its services — including YouTube, Gmail, Google Maps and Google Docs — into one policy. CNIL, along with data protection agencies in five other EU nations, argued that Google doesn’t sufficiently inform its users about how or why their data is processed. It ordered the Internet giant to pay a fine of 150,000 euros (about $200,000) and to publish a communiqué on its French home page informing users of the sanction.

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