Sunday, September 13, 2015

Colbert on 9/10: two footnotes

I watched clips from the show on YouTube, and two things of interest came up.

Everybody has been talking about that extraordinary conversation between Colbert and Biden about personal grief and faith, but I want to bring up something else. At the beginning of the second segment, Colbert asked Biden about the Vice Presidency. And Biden said, "There is no inherent power in the Vice Presidency. ... It is directly a reflection of your relationship with the President." This is the same point Biden made back in the debate with Palin when he was first running, and it is exactly right. Biden knew personally every Vice President going back to Hubert Humphrey, and he understands the office. He understands it better than Dick Cheney, who postulated a monstrous and absurd theory that the VP was exempt from any oversight. Biden understands it better than Palin, who wondered publicly what the VP does all day: she should have asked McCain, who could have told her what he'd have her do. Biden understands it better than the fools who told Palin to look in the Constitution, where it says the VP presides over the Senate. That today is an occasional ceremonial job, and not a day-to-day duty. The Vice President is the President's only staff member who can't be summarily fired, and consequently is either the President's most trusted adviser, as most recent VPs have been, or else he is nothing, which VPs used to be and is the reason the office became the subject of jokes.

The other item of interest was the interview with Travis Kalanick of Uber. Kalanick defended Uber from the charge of destroying the taxi industry on the grounds that it's better for drivers because they don't have to pay to rent their cab (cabbies have to do that? news to me), they can use their own cars (as if they didn't have to pay for those, too), they can set their own hours instead of being stuck to a shift (although cabbies in Donald Westlake novels can always clock off), and that they can make more money (though studies have claimed that they don't). But then Colbert, in specific response to this claim that Uber is good for the drivers, asked about the prospect of self-driving cars: how does it help drivers if you replace them with robots? And Kalanick said that driverless cars are coming anyway, and a tech company shouldn't try to "resist the future" or it'll go the way of taxis. Well, you can say that, though it's also an arguable point. But if you do say that, then you reveal that you have no interest in benefiting the drivers: anything they get is just largesse, crumbs for the birds falling from your sandwich. The drivers are your useful tools, and as soon as they're no longer useful you'll drop them without a care, because you shouldn't "resist the future," a future in which only a few wealthy people will be able to take Uber rides because nobody else will have a job and be able to afford it. And that is why Travis Kalanick, whether he knows it or not, is a reversion to a 19th-century robber baron.

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