President Obama's former campaign manager has gone to work for Uber. The ride-sharing start-up based in San Francisco has hired David Plouffe in hope that the political strategist who helped elect a president can steer the company through a thicket of local regulatory disputes.
This new power couple raises some questions:
Why does Uber need one of the best political strategists in the country?
First off, they can afford him. The company is valued at $18 billion. NPR tried to find out what Plouffe is getting paid, but Uber won't say.
They need the muscle, though. CEO Travis Kalanick is spinning this as one epic campaign of Silicon Valley innovation against the "big taxi cartel." Cabbies say that Uber is just a smartphone-enabled taxi and should be subject to all the same rules as they are. That level of regulation would really hurt Uber's business.
Take the question of how to insure part-time drivers, for instance. Uber's taken out a million-dollar insurance policy, but it's very limited. Some insurance companies have said they won't cover a car that's being used for commercial ride sharing. The rules are all over the map.
Plouffe could help Uber come up with a federal strategy to address regulatory attempts, so the company could lobby more efficiently than the current city-by-city campaigns. Kalanick talked about that at an Atlantic Live forum last November.
"I'm trying to find some angle where I can just say all this corrupt stuff just comes down to the federal thing," he said. Perhaps Plouffe can help get the Federal Trade Commission to intervene.
How might Plouffe campaign for Uber?
Uber won't get into the details, but presumably Plouffe is going to lead a big marketing push. That's what both of them hinted at when they appeared together on Bloomberg TV this week to talk about the partnership. Kalanick says he wants "to tell a story in the cities that we're going to."
Obama's 2008 campaign was a social media home run well before the app ecosystem on smartphones took off — remember all the homegrown sites and personal testimony.
We might see a MyUber app and stories about dads and moms able to pay the bills. Kalanick likes to tell a story about a dad who built an entire fleet — not just one cab on the Uber app — and he's paying for his daughter to go to Stanford.
Is this part of that revolving door between Silicon Valley and Washington D.C.?
Yes. It's a high profile example of a pretty consistent trend. The former mayor of D.C., Adrian Fenty, came to Silicon Valley to be a special advisor to a leading venture capital firm. Facebook has hired former Hill staffers. The cybersecurity start-ups in Silicon Valley are full of former Pentagon and NSA employees.
One unique thing about this partnership is that both parties are exceptionally good at spin. That's not always the case; Facebook is really struggling with how to frame its work as not creepy or manipulative, for example.
Uber sticks to a talking point that it's fighting for big principles like 'economic freedom.' Some people in Silicon Valley mock that a bit, saying the company is also just trying to get around driver safety regulations.
As Obama's campaign manager, Plouffe was the guy who told Politico about how rival John Edwards spent $400 on a haircut. That story came to define Edwards' unsuccessful campaign, and showcased Plouffe's savvy for opposition research. The taxi versus Uber narrative probably has lots of room for vivid, unflattering stories, too.
What's Uber's master plan?
Uber plainly wants to be more than a car service. Just this week they started delivery service in D.C., experimenting with the transportation of goods as well as people. The so-called "Uber Corner Store" is a move into on-demand delivery services.
Also remember that Uber's money comes from Google Ventures. Google is in search of "moonshots," so maybe we'll see Uber fully integrate with Google Maps to connect people going in the same direction in a new, paid car-pooling service. That wouldn't just disrupt the taxi industry; it could affect buses and trains, too.
As for Plouffe, he's a political operative who loves technology. Right now, there are a bunch of tech start-ups making get-out-the-vote apps. Maybe Plouffe will do his stint at Uber, milk all the amazing Silicon Valley contacts and bounce to his own start-up.
The United Nations is calling for action to prevent what it's describing as a possible massacre in Iraq's northeastern city of Amerli, which has been under siege for two months by Islamic State militants.
The city's population is largely Turkmen Shia, seen as apostates by the hardline Sunni Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
The situation in Amerli, where people are reportedly without electricity or drinking water and said to be running low on food, bears a striking similarity to what occurred at Mount Sinjar earlier this month: Yazidis there were surrounded and many killed by militants largely because of their minority religious beliefs. The U.S. conducted airdrops of humanitarian aid to the trapped Yazidis at Sinjar and airstrikes against the Islamic State fighters besieging the mountain.
In a statement issued in Baghdad today, Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N. special representative in Iraq, described "unspeakable suffering" in Amerli.
Immediate action is needed "to prevent the possible massacre of [Amerli's] citizens," he said.
"The town is besieged by ISIL and reports confirm that people are surviving in desperate conditions. I urge the Iraqi Government to do all it can to relieve the siege and to ensure that the residents receive lifesaving humanitarian assistance or are evacuated in a dignified manner. Iraq's allies and the international community should work with the authorities to prevent a human rights tragedy," Mladenov said.
Amerli, with an estimated population of about 18,000 has been besieged by Islamic State insurgents for weeks.
Iraq's most influential cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani also expressed concern Friday over the plight of Amerli, according to Reuters.
"The plight of the Shiite villages, about 100 miles north of Baghdad, is among several crises the U.S. is evaluating to gauge whether American airstrikes could help. But so far, no plans have been presented to the Pentagon for an imminent operation, according to Defense Department officials.
"An intervention to save the population could raise pressure on the U.S. to address a number of other looming humanitarian disasters that Iraq's military has been helpless to prevent."
As we reported Friday, U.S. officials have declined to rule out expanding airstrikes against the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State and have become increasingly alarmed over the group's "growing capacity" in recent months, as it has made significant territorial gains in Iraq.
Also on Friday, gunmen killed dozens in a Sunni mosque in the northeastern Diyala province.
Earlier this week, Islamic State murdered U.S. journalist James Foley, posting a video of the beheading on social media. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said the group is "beyond anything we've seen."
The Pentagon has released a photo of the Chinese fighter jet it says made a "dangerous intercept" of a U.S. Navy maritime patrol aircraft, flying close passes, performing barrel rolls and flying wingtip-to-wingtip with the American plane in what officials described as an "aggressive and unprofessional" manner.
As we reported Friday, the Chinese interceptor, now identified as an Su-27, came within 20 to 30 feet of a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon in international waters about 135 miles east of Hainan island in the South China Sea.
U.S. officials said they had made their concerns about the unsafe actions clear to Beijing through diplomatic channels.
The incident has remarkable similarities to a 2001 incident in which a propeller-driven U.S. Navy P-3 Orion was clipped mid-air by a Chinese fighter jet and forced down on Hainan. The crew of 24 Navy personnel on the aircraft were detained and questioned for more than a week before being released by China.
Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors, and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:
Prepare For 'The Simpsons' Marathon With Interviews From The 'Fresh Air' Archives: Starting Thursday, FXX will air all 552 episodes of The Simpsons in the longest single-series marathon in TV history. Fresh Air listens backs to interviews with the show's creator, writers and actors.
'Sweetness #9' Satirizes Food Wars And Artificial America: The novel is about a flavor chemist who tests a sweetener on lab rats and monkeys and finds side effects the company covers up. Author Stephan Eirik Clark says he was inspired by Fast Food Nation.
You can listen to the original interviews here:
Relative calm and restraint prevailed for a third consecutive night on the streets of Ferguson, Mo., as confrontations subside between authorities and those protesting the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old.
The Associated Press reports: "A small stream of protesters marched in the St. Louis suburb as night fell Friday, but instead of confrontations with police, several stopped to talk one-on-one with officers about the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown and tactics used by authorities during previous demonstrations."
And Reuters says:
"After dwindling in numbers, the protesters, marshaled by volunteers from the clergy, made their way to a parking lot across from the police station, where they prayed and chanted while about 20 officers stood in a line outside.
"Earlier at St. Mark Family Church, a hub for protest organizers, activists and residents met to pray and work on plans to improve the predominantly African American community of 21,000 in the wake of unrest that has focused international attention on often-troubled U.S. race relations.
"Despite a notable easing of tensions in recent days - police made only a handful of arrests on Wednesday and Thursday - authorities braced for a possible flare-up of civil disturbances ahead of Brown's funeral, which is planned for Monday."
NPR's David Schaper, reporting from Ferguson, says while the number of protesters appears to be diminishing, others are trying to chart a course for a more lasting change in the community.
At Red's Barbeque, which was severely damaged in the first nights of unrest that followed Brown's shooting in Ferguson, community activists have set up a voter registration booth.
"If more people participate in the election process, they will have individuals that are elected to office that they believe actually represent their best interests, whether they look like them or don't look like them," says Deborah Ahmed of the non-profit Better Family Life.
NPR's Schaper says only about one in ten eligible voters turned out in Ferguson's last municipal elections and the percentage was even lower among African-Americans, who make up two-thirds of the population.