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By Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times

LONDON — A smartphone app designed to keep people on the go brought parts of Europe to a standstill as cabbies protested Wednesday against what they view as an unfair, unsafe threat to their livelihoods.

Uber, a California-pioneered app that allows users to hail rides from participating drivers at the touch of a button, has run into vociferous opposition on both sides of the Atlantic from taxi companies resentful of the invasion of their patch.

Here in London, drivers of the city’s iconic black cabs vented their anger by converging on Trafalgar Square by the hundreds early Wednesday afternoon. They slowed to a halt, honked their horns and blocked traffic on streets leading to government offices, the Thames and the West End during the busy lunch hour on one of the warmest days of the year so far.

“It’ll decimate the industry,” Grant Davis, 50, who has driven a black cab for more than half his life, said of Uber. “This is the dollar coming from Silicon Valley and saying to our mayor, Boris Johnson: ‘We’re coming in and we’re going to operate private-hire vehicles, and you’re not going to complain about it.’ ”

Similar demonstrations hit Berlin and Madrid. In Paris, arteries feeding into the French capital were choked by taxis that deliberately slowed to a crawl.

At least one European city has already put the brakes on Uber, which began in San Francisco and has quickly spread to other parts of the United States, as well as overseas. In April, a court in Brussels banned Uber from operating there, calling the app unfair competition and ordering a $13,500 fine for Uber drivers for every fare they pick up. A European Union official slammed the ruling as a ridiculous move to “protect a taxi cartel.”

Uber’s opponents say the app offers an inferior, unregulated and potentially dangerous service.

In London, for example, aspiring cabbies are famously tested on their mastery of “the Knowledge” — their familiarity with the city’s crazy web of streets and alleys, popular destinations and shortcuts — and must meet safety and other standards to earn their medallions. Uber’s fleet of freelance chauffeurs won’t be subject to the same level of scrutiny.

“Licensed taxi drivers … go through a rigorous regime to get their license and the right to be publicly hired,” said Mick Bailey, chairman of the London branch of a union representing transport workers. “That licensing has been in place for 300 years” — its roots hark back to horse-and-buggy days — “and we don’t intend to give it up.”

London is home to about 25,000 black cabs; the average cabbie makes about $40,000 a year. Tens of thousands of minicabs, which operate on fixed fares rather than meters, also ply the roads.

Uber insists it’s just one more option on the transportation menu.

The app “offers another choice to customers and for drivers. It increases competition, which is good for all of us,” Jo Bertram, Uber’s general manager in Britain, told the BBC.

Whether Wednesday’s protest will succeed in throwing Uber into reverse in London remains to be seen. Both sides are awaiting a court ruling on whether Uber fixes its fares on a mileage basis that too closely approximates a taxi meter, which only licensed cabs are allowed to use.

In Madrid, about 1,000 cabbies marched down the city’s main thoroughfare, tying up traffic as they rallied in front of a government building.

“I love this job, and I don’t want other people out there to ruin it for us,” declared Maria Eugenia Hernaz, 37. Hernaz said she paid $185,000 for her taxi license — “more than my house.”

“It’s amazing that taxis without insurance or taxes can do this,” she said. “And also the people, how can they feel safe getting into those other cars? I’m sad, very sad.”

Photo via Flickr

President Trump and former Vice President Biden at first 2020 presidential debate

Screenshot from C-Span YouTube

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Donald Trump is claiming that he will still debate despite the rule change that will cut off the candidates' microphones while their opponent delivers his initial two-minute response to each of the debate's topics. But everything else Trump and his campaign are saying sounds like they're laying the groundwork to back out.

"I will participate," Trump told reporters Monday night. "But it's very unfair that they changed the topics and it's very unfair that again we have an anchor who's totally biased." At his Arizona rally Monday, Trump attacked moderator Kristen Welker as a "radical Democrat" and claimed she had "deleted her entire account," which is false. Trump's campaign manager, Bill Stepien, went further in his whining about the debate.

Stepien touted a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates as "Our letter to the BDC (Biden Debate Commission)." That letter came before the CPD announced that it would mute microphones for portions of the debate in response to Trump's constant interruptions at the first debate, though Stepien knew such a decision was likely coming, writing, "It is our understanding from media reports that you will soon be holding an internal meeting to discuss other possible rule changes, such as granting an unnamed person the ability to shut off a candidate's microphone. It is completely unacceptable for anyone to wield such power, and a decision to proceed with that change amounts to turning further editorial control of the debate over to the Commission which has already demonstrated its partiality to Biden."

Shooooot, here I thought it was generous to Trump that the microphones will only be cut to give each candidate two uninterrupted minutes, leaving Trump the remainder of each 15-minute debate segment to interrupt.

But what did Stepien mean by "other possible rule changes," you ask? What was the first rule change? Well, it wasn't one. Stepien wrote to strongly complain that "We write with great concern over the announced topics for what was always billed as the 'Foreign Policy Debate' in the series of events agreed to by both the Trump campaign and the Biden campaign many months ago." Welker's announced topics include "Fighting COVID-19, American families, Race in America, Climate Change, National Security, and Leadership," Stepien complained, using this as a launching pad to attack Biden on foreign policy.

Except this debate was never billed as a foreign policy debate. It's true that in past years, the third debate has sometimes focused on foreign policy, but here in 2020, the CPD's original announcement of debate formats and moderators said of the third debate, "The format for the debate will be identical to the first presidential debate," and the first debate "will be divided into six segments of approximately 15 minutes each on major topics to be selected by the moderator."

So even before the CPD finalized the decision to prevent Trump from interrupting for two minutes in each of six segments, so 12 minutes out of a 90-minute debate, Team Trump was falsely complaining that the debate was rigged. No wonder—as a Biden campaign spokesman noted, the Trump campaign is upset "because Donald Trump is afraid to face more questions about his disastrous Covid response."

Trump has lost one debate and backed out of one debate. If he goes into this one with the attitude he's showing now—attacking the moderator, attacking the topics, enraged that he can't interrupt for two entire minutes at a time—he's going to lose this one, badly, once again hurting his already weak reelection prospects. So which will it be? Back out and have that be the story, or alienate one of the largest audiences of the entire presidential campaign by showing what kind of person he is?