An Uber Corrupt State of Affairs

Ahmed Ghoneim US

I have been visiting the Mid-West since I was a teen and suffice to say that I have had many memorable experiences here. But until my most recent trip last month, I had never really not contemplated the level of corruption and injustice prevailing in this supposed beacon of the free world. The dirt reaches right to the top and affects everyone in the city. And no, this is not a story about Al Capone and his gang but rather about the mayor and his entourage.

Uber X or Uber Scam?

This is how the story starts. On 6 April 2016 I was asked to represent 16 small to mid-level limousine companies at City Hall in their complaint about Uber X. According to them Uber X is:

  • receiving unfair benefits,
  • monopolizing the transport business,
  • not abiding by the rules,

and, as a result:

  • leading all the other taxi and limousine businesses to bankruptcy.

These companies were mostly made up of Arab, Latino and African American drivers who entrusted me to represent them to the best of my ability in front of some of the city’s most reputed public officials.

Before we continue this story, here is a copy of my planned speech which details the Uber X scam:


With over 300 drivers and millions of dollars in taxes annually it is my belief that we have a pertinent concern to convey to you today. Since the start of 2015 and the launch of Uber X all our companies have come to the brink of bankruptcy; unfair competition by a corporation that clearly plans to monopolize the market place has put as all at risk. The word ‘risk’ here is not an exaggeration as you may already know our companies engage in an intense process of vetting and licensing. Nevertheless, Uber X evades all these procedures and does not carry out any form of thorough vetting either in the form of drug testing, criminal background checks or any of the licensing fees that we pay to the city of Chicago. As such, it goes without saying that the safety of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of passengers, has been endangered because of this irresponsible process that only aims to profiteer from the consumer. In other words, Uber X is not playing by the rules whilst we struggle to get by, because of our commitment to go by the book.

As normal citizens, employers and employees we do not have the power to directly change this unfortunate reality. As such, we kindly urge you to apply your influence and power as respected public officials to change this present conundrum. We believe it is only just that in a country which has been built on the ideals of equality, justice and a free market place that such practices of greed, profiteering and monopolization come to a suitable end. Of course our trust is wholeheartedly placed with you, and it is not our place to suggest methods or ways for you to go about your work, but we would like to once again kindly remind you to bear in mind not only 300 struggling drivers but more than a thousand family members; a majority of which are children whose livelihoods have been put at risk because of the irresponsible actions of a few. This is not a unique example, after all it’s such small acts of irresponsibility that shook our country in 2009 and brought about a catastrophe of seismic proportions across the nation. So let us not allow once more the profits of a few to negatively affect the majority at the bottom.

Thank you for taking the time and listening we appreciate it greatly. 


That Wednesday I entered City Hall escorted by some of the managing directors and employees of the limousine companies to attend a meeting with the city’s Transportation and Public Way Committee. The meeting was to be held at 11am in Room 201-A.

The first man who took the stand was an old African American man who was debating a sidewalk project in the downtown area. The man spoke with a tone and passion reminiscent of one of those legendary black activists from the 60’s and 70’s. Nevertheless, underestimated due to his looks and habiliment, the powerful speech turned into a running joke amongst the officials as well as the audience. I looked over to my colleague and said ‘they better not laugh at me like that’.

To my surprise my two minutes never came. Instead, a staff assistant came and informed us that we had been taken out of the schedule.

Why?

The gentleman looked at me and said “well, you see, it isn’t us. It’s something political. And you see Uber…”. I stopped him right there. ‘Political’ and ‘Uber’ in the same sentence? ‘Is this also a matter of national security?’ I retorted. The man dismissed my sarcasm and went on to explain that the public discussion on Uber had been “indefinitely delayed” and in an effort to co-opt me and guarantee my compliance, he passed me his card and asked me to e-mail any concerns I had.

I haven’t been to many fancy restaurants but I am guessing this is how it feels to be powerlessly shut down because someone more important than you has just walked in. Unfortunately for City Hall however, as a writer and researcher, I have decided to take to the media to tell the story.

‘Political’ Uber

After some digging into how Uber could possibly be ‘political’, I very quickly came across a link that it seems everybody here seems to know, but dare not write or speak out about; at least not in mainstream media. What is this dark secret? Very simple really; The mayor, Mr Rahm Emmanuel who happens to be a former Chief of Staff of the United States of America, appears to be actively colluding with his brother Ari Emmanuel. And the latter apparently has a stake in Uber, and receives a lucrative return on his investment.

Ari Emmanuel has a stake in Uber and has benefitted from the legislation passed under his brother's term as mayor.

Ari Emmanuel has a stake in Uber and has benefited from the legislation passed under his brother’s term as mayor.

S-‘uber’ schmoozing

I must say after reading about how the mayor – thought to be one of the most powerful Chiefs of Staff in US history – I was surprised at the intensity of the love affair between him, his brother and Uber.

Emmanuel has passed a series of Uber-friendly legislation which includes creating their own free lane to pick up passengers from O’Hare international Airport, whilst taxis and Limos pile up in the parking lot and get a disproportionate fine if they decide to step into this yellow state-marked Uber territory. To the naked eye this is just a yellow lane in front of the arrival and departure gates, but it is imperative to read between the lines here in order to understand this major case of corrupt statesmanship.

Some of you reading may think, so what? I like the lane, makes it easier and cheaper to get into a cab. Yes, well apart from the fact that before the legislation Uber was valued at $300 million and just days after the favorable ride-share legislation was passed – such as that yellow lane – the company announced a whopping $1.2 billion raise from institutional investors like Fidelity and a stunning $18.2 billion valuation. As pointed out by William Kelly, a correspondent at Digital Daily News, the value of Ari Emmanuel’s WME’s asset is now approximately 60 times its original investment (2014). ‘Once Uber goes public, WME’s investment could be as much as 100 times its original investment or more’ explains William Kelly.

In other words, ladies and gentleman, the Emmanuel’s were rich and they just got much richer. But this is not the only shameful hallmark of the Rahm regime.

All Lives Matter

Apart from a few hundred licensed drivers, Emmanuel has done nothing meaningful for the young African Americans dying every day on the streets of the Southside and West Side of Chicago. Videos showing excessive and discriminatory use of violence by police officers from across the US have gone viral, exposing the deep rooted institutional racism. In Chicago, Laquan McDonald was shot more than 16 times in the back, igniting huge controversy that transcended Chicago and even the United States, as millions spoke out against this crystal-clear case of police brutality. Unsurprisingly, City Hall’s contribution was to conduct a rather brief and unsubstantive token meeting on the issue. Rather than addressing the implications of this problem that clearly has deep roots in society, Mr Emanuel decided to hand out ‘fat settlements’ of $5 million in order to silence the already voiceless family of an innocent victim. For Mr Emmanuel this was just another pre-electoral crisis management session that needed to be dealt with, without any objections and as far away from the mainstream media as possible.

Vilification of #BlackLivesMatter

The reality is that the #Black Lives Matter movement has sent shockwaves across the US and across all of society, reaching even the elites in Washington DC. The movement has shaken the reputation of the police force on both a state and federal level. As such many have sought to discredit, defame and divide the activists to perturb and derail the movement from its revolutionary ambitions and goals, including former President Bill Clinton who suggested that movement was defending criminals, murderers and drug dealers.

Clinton’s wading into the subject serves only to reinforce the fact that the #BlackLivesMatter movement has become arguably the most powerful civil rights movement since the days of Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X. The problem for Rahm, Clinton and the rest of the elites is that the explosive manner in which the movement has gained momentum has shaken the very social structure and framework of Chicago and the rest of the US. And with that, it threatens to send the vested interests of those such as Ari and Rahm Emmanuel tumbling down as tensions in Chicago continue to grow in the relationship between minorities and the state and police authorities.

Chi-Raq

When I was still in my childhood I did not know why the city’s nickname went by Chi-Raq. Even after I thought I had understood after conducting social work in the now demolished projects, it seems I still did not understand. Because it is not the gun crime and murder rates alone that grant the Mid-west’s jewel its nickname. In reality, it is those sitting at the top, manipulating the state apparatus and filling their pockets at the expense of the rest who fight for the leftovers between themselves.

 

To Read more about the Emmanuel Uber Scam, click here

 

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Political and Security Risk Analyst at a London-based risk management firm that works extensively with NGO’s, Developmental agencies, multinational corporations and humanitarians worldwide. Ghoneim’s work has focused more widely on the Mediterranean, Middle East, and North Africa regions with a particular focus on Greece, Egypt and Syria. He has also produced numerous reports and analyses on the Sahel and West Africa regions covering developments in Nigeria, the Lake Chad basin, Mali, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast. Ahmed is also engaged in grassroots initiatives in the UK and abroad, he is currently Head of Communications for Ramadan Tent Project an award winning charity whose patron is renowned writer and professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford Dr Tareq Ramadan. Ghoneim is also a regular contributor to international media outlets which have included MEED, BBC Arabic, The Arab Weekly, The International Interest and the European Interagency Security Forum. Fluent in English, Arabic, Greek and French; Ahmed has completed his undergraduate degree in Sociology at the University of Surrey and an MA in International Studies and Diplomacy at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS University of London).