Category Archives: Random Ramblings

Armchair Explorer: Pripyat, Ukraine

Today I visited Pripyat, Ukraine, also known as one of the most interesting places on the planet – simply because it is largely off-limits to unrestricted exploration.  The reason for taboo travel in and around Pripyat is, of course, because it was located in the fallout zone near Chernobyl, the Ukranian nuclear power plant that experienced a meltdown (allegedly due to flawed reactor design and poorly trained staff) in 1986.

When I say I ‘visited’ Pripyat, I actually mean that I played the role of Armchair Explorer and traveled the streets and examined the sights courtesy of Google Street View I love abandoned places populated by the shells of society and devoid of humanity.  There is something both eerie and peaceful about being in a place once well-populated and now totally deserted.

While I was meandering through the streets of Pripyat, I noticed something unusual.  At latitude/longitude 51.4004125,30.0526197, there are some structures that are intentionally blacked out at street level.  See the image below:

If you move slightly to the right (when facing this blacked-out structure), the image comes back into view unobstructed and looks like this:

An aerial satellite image of the area reveal nothing unusual or seemingly secretive – just more abandoned buildings that look like every other abandoned building in the area.  What is covered by the black box and why?

    

    

There are several large apartment buildings in Pripyat, and most of the windows are either wide open or have been broken out.  Since the town was evacuated right after the Chernobyl accident and was not fully secured for some time afterward, it may be likely that vandals and looters opened or broke the windows while scavenging around the modern ruins.

    

Most people who explore Pripyat want to go straight to the amusement park and the Ferris wheel.  It has become the most photographed object within the city limits of Pripyat, leaving a large part of the city and surrounding area neglected and ignored in favor of popular media.

    

Along the outskirts of town, the rusted hulks of power line support structures jut up above the overgrown trees, grass, and other plant life.  With no human presence in the area for 30 years, the landscape is slowly taking over once more and creeping onto and over the concrete and metal buildings scattered here and there.  Time will continue its slow march onward and eventually these structures, no matter how sturdy, will succumb to decay unless they are manually demolished before being reclaimed by the land.

    

Pripyat has become a tourist attraction over the past several years, with visitors being allowed to explore with a guide.  Visits to the area are time-restricted due to the possibility of contamination from the radiation fallout of Chernobyl.  While the risk is minimal, government officials and designated tour guides elect not to take risks with the health and safety of visitors and tourists.

    

Studies of the area have shown that proximity to the fallout has had little long-term impact on the flora and fauna in the area; plant life is obviously abundant, and the wild and feral animals observed and studied have shown little to no signs of permanent damage from exposure to radiation.  Long-term effects on humans is another matter entirely, however.

    

Despite guards around the area and the fact that Pripyat is a forbidden zone, urban explorers still find their way – unescorted – to the city to wander through the silent ghost town.  The advantage they have over an Armchair Explorer using Google Street View is that urban explorers can wander in and out of the buildings and through areas that are not accessible to vehicles.

    

Google is, unfortunately, restricted to streets, trails, paths, and other vehicle tracks – at least until such time that they manage to install Google mapping cameras on wildlife or miniature, self-guided exploratory drones.  You can go where guides don’t usually take you, however, when you explore with Street View.  The Pripyat guided tours often visit the most popular destinations – Ferris wheel, amusement park, shopping mall, school, etc.

    

Even though I am unable to explore inside the buildings to see how life essentially stood still (at least what remains now after scavengers and looters have laid claim to quite a bit of it) when the people of Pripyat were told to drop what they were doing and leave – basically with little more than the clothes on their backs – it is still enjoyable to explore the streets via Street View.  It’s a place I may never get to explore in person, so Google Street View is certainly the next best thing (until they create a virtual reality street simulator!).

The image above is a roof-top view of the city of Pripyat.  The silver dome-shaped object on the horizon just to the left of center is the containment dome for the #4 reactor at Chernobyl, which is the reactor that experienced a malfunction.  While this image captures just one direction of view from a roof in Pripyat, it gives you a sense of just how big the city itself was.  Thousands of people lost their homes and livelihoods when the Chernobyl accident occurred.

    

There is so much more to see at Pripyat than the Ferris wheel and bumper cars….

    

…places you simply don’t get to see on a guided tour, not even from a distance.

And if you aren’t able to make the trip yourself, whether you plan on having a guide or guiding yourself, you can always explore via Google Street View.  It might not be the same as being there, but it’s better than never getting to ‘see’ it at all (or trying to see it by looking at someone else’s photographs while blocking out their ‘fascinating’ commentary for every picture).

    

If you visit Pripyat in person, you can also visit Chernobyl itself and view the power plant, reactors, and containment dome used to cover the failed reactor until the irradiated contaminants can be safely disposed of.

    

    

If you have an hour or two to kill and you’d like to see more of the world without spending a dime, check out Google Street View and visit those far-away destinations you have always wanted to go to.  You can also add your own photos to Google’s Street View ‘library’ – just check out the application information and help file to find out how.  That way, you can contribute to the experiences of other explorers and give them more than just a bird’s eye view of a destination they have only dreamed about!

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Self-Inflicted Body Shaming

I was perusing the news around the internet this morning and came across an article that seems innocent enough.  Published on The Guardian, it is in their section of stories about ‘a moment that changed me’ – along with a large variety of other personal stories about pivotal moments in the lives of different people.

The article in question is written by a woman who used to weight 365 pounds and lost a significant amount of weight.  She claims in her article that she was ignored and basically viewed as a non-entity until her weight dropped to society’s version of ‘appealing’ or ‘normal.’

According to this woman’s article, men did not open doors for her, help her pick up dropped items, or do other ‘common courtesy’ gestures when she was obese.  When she lost a significant amount of weight, according to her, men started doing those things.  Also according to her, this change of attention was a direct result of her impression that she had now become a woman of appealing body size, rather than the fat and unattractive self she’d been before.

I have personally witnessed a great many men open doors for women of all sizes, ages, races, and appearances.  I’ve seen them let those same women take their spot in a checkout line.  I have seen them help those women pick up items dropped in a store or parking lot.  I have also seen them smile pleasantly when doing so and politely say ‘you’re welcome’ when the woman says ‘thank you.’

The only type of people I have seen intentionally disregard other people – men and women included – are those who appear to be under the age of 25 to 28.  The younger they get, the more disregard they have for others.  This is a tragic reflection of a parental disconnect in our society today, and mirrors back to us the deplorable condition of the society in which we live.

I don’t know where this article writer has been that she’s been so horribly and intentionally disregarded by other people (allegedly), but based on my experience, her experience is not the ‘norm.’  I am also aware that where you live does make a difference in the way you are treated by others.

Typically, in the southern parts of the United States and in many locations in the central and western parts of the country, people are much more easy-going, laid back, and respectful toward others.  Not so much in the northeastern part of the country – but New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians have a bad reputation as being aggressive, impatient, hateful jerks anyway.

Perhaps this woman’s experiences are a reflection of how she expects to be treated.  You expect kindness and exude it yourself, you will often get it back in return.  If you walk around with an obvious unhappy chip on your shoulder, other people will have a tendency to reflect your ‘attitude’ back toward you unconsciously.  Perhaps her ‘body shaming’ encounters are more of an outward result of her inner dialogue.

You reap what you sow, whether you are planting seeds of positive well-being or negative self-destruction.

The Ocean Belongs To Us

Fox News posted an article today (August 27, 2016) about a presidential action taken by Barack Obama to enlarge a protected marine area near Hawaii.  Normally, I could really care less about what Barack Obama or anyone else in the political realm decides to do, because single voices have no impact on national and global issues – like I once said to a police officer who was giving me a ticket for allegedly not wearing a seat belt, you can’t argue with a badge.  Or a politician.  Or a president.

The thing that sparked my ire, however, with this article is a comment attributed to former Hawaiian governor, George Ariyoshi.  In the Fox News article, the cite him as saying:

The ocean belongs to us.  We ought to be the ones to decide what kind of use to make of the ocean.

I beg to differ.  I strongly beg to differ. The ocean belongs to no one.  The ocean belongs to the planet.  The ocean belongs to the creatures and plants that call it ‘home.’  It most certainly does not belong to a bunch of small-minded, self-serving, destructive-in-the-name-of-progress homo sapiens who are so overwhelmed with hubris that we dare to think we hold dominion over anything on this planet other than our own future annihilation.

In my opinion, the entire width, breadth, and depth of all the oceans on the planet should be protected habitats.  You want fish?  Build a hatchery.  You want oil?  Tap into the northwestern part of North America; Alaska and western Canada are a veritable oil goldmine.  Something you might not know – Texas is actually the most oil-producing state in the U.S., with almost 5 times the production and reserves as Alaska.  Texas Pipeline, anyone?  The U.S. actually has the largest untapped oil reserve in the world.

But we can’t drill for oil on land, can we?  Have you ever stopped to wonder why that is?  Why we are so upset when someone wants to build an oil rig and run a thousand-mile long pipeline across the broad expanse of North America’s ‘untamed wilderness’?  It’s because we can see and feel the destruction when it’s sitting in our backyard.  Who cares about what happens in the depths of the sea, right, because we don’t see it happening.

The proof is in the numbers – roughly 13 percent of the Earth’s land surface is protected, while only 2 percent of the Earth’s oceans are.

Would you like to know what you are doing to the ocean?  How you are killing hundreds and thousands of marine species every year because of your selfish consumerism?  How the powers-that-be are destroying fragile oceanic ecosystems because we are addicted to technological advancement and industrialization?

The human impact on ocean life, where we rarely venture compared to how often we tread (and damage) the land-based parts of the planet, is accelerating to a point where a mass extinction is entirely possible, almost probable.  In another 20 years, it will undoubtedly be a foregone conclusion.

We have already destroyed almost half the natural coral reefs on the planet.  ALMOST HALF.  It takes years (and years and years) for reefs to build themselves up, and here we come – bent on having a nice cruise anchored above some pretty reef somewhere where we can get some great underwater selfies with a stingray or dolphin – and just like that, we destroy decades and centuries of ecological habitat in a year or two.

By the way, did you know that cruise ships dump their waste (trash, garbage, human waste, fuel waste, bilge water, etc.) directly into the ocean?  The Environmental Protection Agency conducted a study that discovered cruise ships dump 150,000 gallons of sewage into the ocean EVERY WEEK.  One ship dumped half that amount all by itself IN A SINGLE DAY.

Every year, more than one billion gallons of raw, untreated, contaminated, toxic, harmful sewage is being dumped directly into the ocean that you are so flushed with sun-bathed bliss to see from atop the upper decks of that luxurious cruise liner.  Why don’t you get a selfie of that.

Princess Cruises has an environmental responsibility statement on their website discussing how they ‘treat’ waste water before dumping it into the ocean.  It’s still waste.  It’s still harmful.  It still contaminates the ocean.  I’m sure if they have to dump it into their bathtub and then bathe in it, like marine wildlife are forced to do, perhaps they’d think differently about their high-and-mighty (and so-called) environmental conscientiousness.  No matter how they dress it up in pleasant wording, they are still engaged in a massive pollution campaign that dumps hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic sludge into the ocean every year.

In the past sixteen years, contracts for seabed mining operations have laid claim to 460,000 square miles of ocean floor.  Sixteen years ago they had contracts for ZERO square miles of ocean floor.

The United States, all by itself, produces 32 millions tons of plastic waste each year, with only NINE PERCENT being recycled and a large percentage of the rest of it ending up, eventually, in the world’s oceans – where it is significantly contributing to the extinction or future extinction of hundreds of marine species.  In fact, there is an estimated 270,000 MILLION tons of plastic floating around at sea right now.  That’s 270,000,000,000 tons of plastic for those who are where-do-the-zeroes-go-in-a-million challenged.

The poetic justice about the entire situation is that we are now discovering that a lot of what we’re dumping in the ocean is ending up in the foods we eat that are harvested from the ocean, so our own “me-me generation” hubris is killing us.  A big ol’ belly laugh is appropriate here.

That plastic bottle or cell phone battery or Styrofoam cup you threw out on the side of the road five years ago is going to kill your grand-kids one day.

Just in the past 40 years, we have eliminated more than half of the planet’s wildlife.  Not just in the oceans, but on the entire planet.  More than half.  In just forty years.

We are wiping out between 100 and 1,000 species per million every single year.  The number is hard to pin down because some species live and die without us ever knowing they existed, while others whose numbers have become so human-depleted retreat to hard-to-reach habitats where we can’t continue killing them off (or finding them to know they still exist).

By comparison, before we evolved from hunter-and-gatherer grunting idiots (thousands of years ago), less than ONE species per million was eliminated annually, and usually not due to human intervention.

In a few more decades, we will have to create vertical forests and vegetable farms (like they are doing in China right now) just to have oxygen to breathe and organic foods to eat, because we are too consumed with consumerism right now to remember a simple little fact from middle school science class – trees and plants, among other things, create oxygen.  What do you think we are going to breathe when we’ve clear-cut all the forests on the planet just so we can have new houses and new parking lots and new shopping centers?

Going back to our headlong rush to poison our oceans – here’s a fun fact for you.  Phytoplankton, delicate and small marine creatures, create half of the world’s oxygen.  Some scientists believe they actually contribute up to 85% of the world’s oxygen.  So let’s keep dumping waste into the oceans while we enjoy that Princess or Carnival cruise, conducting underwater drilling and marine habitat destruction, and tossing out truckloads of non-biodegradable waste that ends up in the ocean because we are too lazy to find a trash can or recycling bin.

Why do these numbers and statistics not bother you?  You should be horrified at what you, personally, are doing to the planet and the plants and animals that are struggling to survive the reckless stupidity of humankind’s complete and total arrogance.

The bottom line is that, no, the oceans do not belong to us – and who the hell are we to think so?

The Big Deal About the Burkini

When I want to know what’s going on in the news, I usually just go to Google News and poke around for a bit.  In general, I find the news distasteful because it’s always about something controversial, horrible, or ridiculously asinine.  It really isn’t ‘news’ for the most part, at least not the news I grew up on (over three decades ago).

A small firestorm has been brewing lately over a clothing item that is causing a bit of a stir – the burkini. One would think that it is a bathing suit that leaves nothing to the imagination, since practical nudity remains more offensive than an inability to see any flesh at all.

First of all, what the heck is a burkini?

It is a bathing suit designed for women who wish to enjoy the beach but remain modestly covered while doing so.  According to Aheda Zanetti, the designer and person who trademarked the name ‘burkini’ – it’s a marriage between modest dress and an active (and beach-going) lifestyle.  Something like a cross between a burka and a bikini (but not really), it allows Muslim and Orthodox Jewish women, and other women who prefer not to engage in public displays of excessive flesh, the ability to remain true to their modesty, faith, or other personal, social, ethical, or religious mores – and still enjoy a day at the beach.

Apparently, some countries and people have a big problem with a woman wanting to enjoy a relaxing day at the beach while exercising the freedom of choice and staying modestly covered from (primarily) head to toe.  The ironic thing about this is that bathing suits were almost identical 150 years ago.

A quick primer on head-coverings for Muslim women, for the uninitiated (which included me): There are actually several different types and styles of head-covering that a Muslim woman can wear.  While it is considered ‘mandatory’ based on the principles of Islam, there is much debate about whether or not the Qur’an actually and specifically states that a woman is required to cover practically every inch of flesh when she is out in public.  We will get back to that shortly.

At the most basic level, Muslim female body-covering is done to essentially avoid any potential for sexual impropriety or attention based on desires of the flesh (aka: lust).  A woman’s body is reserved for her husband’s enjoyment, and Muslims (and some others) take that to the extreme.

Obviously.  I mean, look at how slutty many of the girls and women look in the United States, including pre-teens (and younger), running around in bootie shorts and sports bras, acting coquettish around men (and not even knowing what that word means), and worrying more about the opposite sex than about getting an education and becoming an adult worthy of respect.  Of course, they also end up pregnant at 14, infected with an STD by 16, and strung out on drugs by 18, with 3 more kids by 3 different guys, to boot, and living out their uninspired lives on government assistance and welfare at the taxpayers’ expense.  (I am stereotyping in the worst possible way, but the basic concept is there – a large percentage of younger American women dress and act like low-paid whores.)

Well, look who has a problem with female modesty and/or freedom of choice…

Apparently, the country of France hates modestly-attired females, especially when they are hanging out at the beach.  People living along the French Riviera don’t want to see clothing – they want flesh!  The Prime Minister of France, a 54-year old named Manuel Valls, feels the same way and supports the bans against burkinis on French beaches.  (He’s a Swiss Spaniard who supports Scandinavian-style socialism.  Say that five times fast.)

At least France’s high court is populated with a few intelligent people who support personal freedom. Germany is now looking into banning the burkini and the burka (actual spelling is ‘burqa’), but the German government has run into a bit of a snag with their knee-jerk phobic reaction – there really aren’t any people in Germany (or elsewhere in the entire world, actually) who wear a burka.

Something you need to know at this point – a burka is different from a Muslim head-covering.  A burka is actually a full body drape, like a giant tent, with a thin mesh screen for the wearer to see out of.  It truly is a complete and total flesh-covering piece of apparel.  However, not a lot of people wear them, tending instead to stick to more comfortable, conventional, or less restrictive coverings.

WWMD?  (What would Mohamed do?)

This section’s sub-heading is slightly tongue-in-cheek, but the information has been earnestly and diligently researched.  For those who don’t know, Mohamed is to Islam like Jesus is to Christianity.  Pretty much.

Is head-to-toe body covering mandated by the Qur’an?  Some say yes, some say no, others say it’s a matter of interpretation, and yet others say that the references to body covering are part of the Qur’an that is considered ‘weak’ (without an accessible narrator or source attribution) and therefore not mandatory.

Typically, a Muslim woman’s head covering is called a ‘hijab.’  Traditionally, it was not always part of their culture and faith to wear a hijab or cover their ‘ornaments’ (Qur’an reference) and/or allow their head covering to obscure their breasts.  In fact, Muslim women used to bare their breasts to departing husbands and lovers when the men were heading off to battle.  The only reference in the Qur’an (as revealed by an Internet search) that actually mentions the covering of a woman’s body specifically states that she is to utilize her head covering to keep her bosom covered.  It doesn’t mandate the head covering, however.

Numbers don’t lie…

According to burkini designer Aheda Zanetti, she has seen a surge in sales since the French ban, so the controversy is helping her business.  She has also stated that a whopping 40% of her customers are non-Muslim.  Kind of blows the traditional stereotyping out of the water, doesn’t it?

In the end, who really cares?

If a woman wants to wear a body-covering bathing suit to the beach, who cares?  Some proponents of the French ban argue in support of prohibiting burka-style clothing because it permits the face and other body parts to be obscured, thus possibly concealing a terroristic weapon of mass destruction AND preventing the identification of the potential perpetrator.  Really?  Good grief.

Motorcycle helmets, jackets, hats, babushkas, and hoodies ALL do the same thing.  If I go to the beach wearing footie pajamas, no one cares.  If I go to the beach wearing an oversized hoodie and sweat pants, no one cares.  If I go to the beach wearing a Santa Claus costume, no one cares.  So can we please NOT care if a woman wants to dress modestly on a damned beach in France, or anywhere else in the world?

A word to any Muslims or Islamic followers who have read this post:  If I have gotten any facts or other information about the Islamic faith incorrect within this text, I apologize.  My intention was not to offend or misinform.  Please send a message with properly-sourced corrections and I’ll be happy to make changes.

The Future of Bathroom Door Labels

Because it’s apparently too complex and confusing for some people to figure out which doorway to enter when they need to use the bathroom in a public place.

If you stand up to urinate, use the men’s room.  If you sit down, use the women’s.

Before you read much more, be aware that this post is somewhat inflammatory.  It does not cater to anyone’s special feelings nor does it subscribe to the currently accepted dogma that voluntary social pariahs or willing victims of cultural ostracizing should be treated like delicate and fragile snowflakes.   Despite their thoughts to the contrary, that they somehow ‘deserve’ to be singled out and showered with sycophantic ass-kissing just because they knowingly choose not to fit neatly into a category, label, class, or other distinctive and segregated division, they are no more or less ‘special’ than anyone else on the planet – whether you stand up or sit down to take a leak.

Even if the only thing these special snowflakes have done was declare confusion about gender identity or demonstrate gender expression in a particular way, it is still a choice.

Everything in our lives is measured by the choices we make, and even when we actively avoid making a choice, we are still making a passive one.  Good or bad, we are where we put ourselves.

Now, back to the subject at hand…

The gender on your birth certificate, your self-labeled gender identity, or your own personal feelings about what you think you are have absolutely nothing to do with the physical act of using the bathroom.  The status of your ‘plumbing’ should be the determining factor because no matter how much estrogen or testosterone you ingest, how large your man-boobs grow or how much facial hair you can develop, or whether you like to wear lacy thongs and lipstick or Timberlands and Huskies with a flannel button-up shirt – you still use the bathroom like a man or like a woman.

If you are a man transitioning into a woman (transsexual) and you get turned on or feel your inner pervert threatening to unleash itself when you visit the restroom associated with your self-labeled gender identity rather than the one associated with your native biological gender, then you need a therapist, not separate and ‘special’ bathroom facilities.  The same goes for women transitioning into men.

How has it become such a difficult decision, fraught with insecurity, social stigma, personal embarrassment, and all the other adjectives and catchphrases applied to those who seem to think they are so uniquely special that they deserve a ‘private’ public bathroom all to themselves, just to figure out whether or not to go in the restroom with condoms or Kotex being offered in the wall dispenser?

Do you whip it out or wipe it off when you go tinkle-tinkle?

Must we get even more blatant, blunt, and obvious about the issue?  Do you have a penis or a vagina?

Guess what – if you have a penis, you are a man, no matter how you feel about it.  You will be a woman when – and only when – your penis is removed and replaced with as functional and visually distasteful a vagina as it is medically possible to install on an anatomical specimen not originally designed for one.

If you have a vagina, you are a woman, no matter how you feel about it.  You will be a man when – and only when – your vagina is stitched up and replaced with as flaccid and aesthetically unappealing a penis as it is medically possible to install on an anatomical specimen not originally designed for one.

Getting way off track for a minute or two…

This brings to mind the separate issue of why most lesbians really aren’t.  While that’s another story for another day, it can basically be summed up like this – if you are a female claiming to be a lesbian but your significant other dresses, acts, talks, or otherwise mimics the characteristics of the opposite sex (such as using a strap-on during intercourse, scratching an imaginary scrotum, shaving non-existent facial hair, etc.), you really aren’t a lesbian.  You want a man, otherwise your ‘girlfriend’ wouldn’t be trying so hard to be your ‘boyfriend.’  And your ‘girlfriend’ wants to be a man (aka: gender identity), or at least wants to dress and act like one (aka: gender expression), which means she isn’t a lesbian, either.

Not surprisingly, GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian something-something-something) has a “media reference list” on transgender issues containing what they claim is the ‘correct terminology’ for identifying men becoming women, women becoming men, men dressing like women, and so on.  What is surprising about the list, however, is how extremely vague it is.  It really doesn’t give a thorough or detailed definition.

You’d think an organization that supports gays and lesbians would be significantly more expressive regarding how LGBT individuals would like to be referred to.  They also don’t inform the site visitor what GLAAD stands for (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, thanks be to Google and Wikipedia), and their mission blurb at the bottom of their web pages uses meaningless and trendy buzzwords in an attempt to sound eloquent and forward-thinking.

As a dynamic media force, GLAAD tackles tough issues to shape the narrative and provoke dialogue that leads to cultural change.

Really?  They might want to shape their narrative to be a bit more specific and descriptive about what they do.  Could they be any more vague?  Dynamic media force.  Tackles tough issues.  Shape the narrative.  Provoke dialogue.  Leads to cultural change.  It’s like the standard boilerplate text for a generic business web page, not a meaningful statement describing who they are, what they do, or what they stand for.  And why is their logo a fancied-up  speaker sound or volume indicator icon?

Here’s my version of GLAAD’s mission blurb, off-the-cuff and thrown together in a minute or two of rooting around in an online thesaurus:

As a progressive topical auditor with perceptive awareness of the media pulse, GLAAD aspires to encourage provocative and meaningful engagement that leads to a functional shift in societal dynamics and cultural paradigms.

Pretty much says nothing at all, just like their original mission blurb, but it sounds more hefty and aggressively visionary, in my opinion.  (My version of the mission blurb is © 2016 SiouxSays and © 2017 Siouxology, all rights reserved, not to be used without express written consent, yadda-yadda-yadda.)

Getting back on track with the main subject again (finally)…

I get it.  Some people feel like they are a man trapped in a woman’s body and vice versa.  Honestly, no one cares except YOU, so stop dithering about it, decide what gender you want to be, get to the point where you are as anatomically correct as possible, and use the damn bathroom designed for your physical gender.  Not necessarily birth gender or dream gender or one-day-I-will-be gender.  You’re standing in front of the bathroom doors right now.  The one you choose should be totally and entirely and utterly based on the way you have to urinate because of your physical abilities and limitations right now.

This crap, and that’s exactly what it is – crap – about different public and private places, businesses, institutions, agencies, and other locations creating or segregating bathroom space especially for transgender individuals is utterly ridiculous.  Next thing you know, there will be a horde of black people demanding their own bathroom because, as they would put it, bathrooms that don’t specify ‘persons of color’ are viewed as primarily being for the privilege of ‘white’ people only and #blacklivesmatter (but no one else’s does) so they deserve their own bathroom because it’s the least that the American government can do after centuries of oppression, by god.

Call me insensitive, prejudicial, discriminatory, whatever.

What I am, as a matter of fact, is completely weary of all the crybaby political correctness that has infested every nook, cranny, and crevice of America.  It is well past time for people to put on their big girl panties, suck it up, and deal with life instead of crying and whining about every little thing under the sun that hurts their poor little feelings.  Wait, what?  Life’s not fair?  Who ever said it would be?

A large percentage of adults under the age of 30 should have their parents charged with child abandonment, abuse, and neglect – simply for raising such a horrid generation of Americans.  If you are an exception to the rule, hug your parents and thank them for giving you the freedom to screw your own life up all by yourself. (Well, I guess let’s hit the ‘publish’ button and start making some people angry…)

Angie’s (Waste of Time) List

A few years ago (2013) I published a post entitled Why I Hate Angie’s List. (I would provide a link to the original but my blog is currently undergoing reorganization; once I’ve got it sorted out, I will link to that first review.)

While the post was rather short, it did cover the foundation for my intense dislike of Angie Hicks and her online abomination, also known as Angie’s List.  I literally cringe when I hear this woman’s voice on the television, hawking her cash cow and pretending that the intention behind it is to offer a beneficial service to consumers.

My dislike was largely based on the fact that Angie’s List was supposed to be a consumer-oriented, consumer-driven, crowd-sourced ‘review’ site that offered meaningful and informative reviews of local businesses to aid a potential consumer’s decision-making process.  It is anything but consumer-focused, because the very people it claims to want to help are forced to pay for a membership to the site before they can even read reviews about various businesses, much less post comments regarding their own experiences.

  • If I want to provide a statement of my experiences with a particular business in order to assist and possibly educate a future consumer of that business, I shouldn’t have to pay to do so.
  • If I want to read what other consumers have experienced at the hands of a company I am thinking about patronizing, I shouldn’t have to pay to do so.

A truly consumer-focused organization would espouse the cause of freely shared information to provide better experiences for potential consumers, enabling those consumers to avoid negative business-to-consumer interactions or to enter into an arrangement with a company armed with foreknowledge about what they might encounter (positive and negative).

In recent months, Angie’s List has begun offering free memberships.  I guess she has made enough money from gullible consumers to comfortably retire, so she can now offer reviews for what they should have been all along – free of charge.

At a glance while poking around on the How It Works page of Angie’s List, I noticed something right away that doesn’t sit right with anyone who actually knows how to use a computer and log on to the Internet.  Angie’s abomination claims that their data is certified and goes on to say:

With a review collection process certified annually by BPA Worldwide, Angie’s List prevents companies from reporting on themselves or their competitors – which means you get authentic feedback from fellow consumers.

Angie’s List is the simple, trusted way to get things done.

Does anyone actually believe this?  Since I am most certainly not going to pay money to join a consumer review website just to see how the review process works, I am assuming that a person signs up for a membership using their name, email address, and possibly a telephone number.  If more information than that is required, I like the site even less than before.

At any rate, the newly signed up individual is then free (after paying, of course) to find the listing for the business they wish to provide a review for, and they then write up and submit their review.  What “certification” is performed on the reviewer or the review content?

Anyone with a computer and Internet access can create an online identity (via an email address), join Angie’s List, and submit a positive review for his or her own company or a negative review for his or her competitors.  It isn’t like the Certification Gestapo arrive on your doorstep and verify your authenticity before you are permitted to post a review.  The only way that kind of self-reviewing and competitor-slamming could be avoided is if ‘members’ still need to provide credit card information (and/or pay for membership) when they create an account.  The requirement of a payment method via credit card would prevent someone from creating multiple accounts under different aliases and email addresses, and littering the List with false reviews.

Angie’s List offers a “fair price and service quality guarantee” that is stated as being ‘member-exclusive.’  Since everyone is now allegedly able to become a member via the ‘free’ membership, there is no longer any such thing as a ‘member-exclusive’ guarantee because, in essence, everyone on the planet is now a member (or has the opportunity to become one with very little effort and, allegedly, no cost).

After further review of the Guarantee FAQs, it is stated that members with a Basic or Green Plan are not eligible for the fair price and service quality guarantee.  I am assuming that a Basic or Green Plan is the free option, while other mentioned plans (like Silver and Gold) are the upgraded and paid-for memberships.  Still ridiculous, to pay for the ability to READ consumer reviews.  What a greed-inspired Internet black hole that is, and how prejudicial – to exclude certain ‘members’ just because they didn’t pay enough to join her pocket-lining, consumer-fleecing digital enterprise.  Oh, I’m sorry, but you aren’t the ‘right kind’ of member, so you don’t get the benefit of our ‘members only’ guarantees.  But we still want to make sure you have the best access to the best reviews for the best companies!

We want eligible members to get the benefits of the offer they purchased.

Eligible members.  Paying members.  Not the vagrant members, cheap members, poor members, or the members who just want to know they are picking a business that won’t screw them over since they can’t afford to choose a more costly option or pay again to have the work done over if it isn’t done right the first time.

The Terms and Conditions document relating to service providers contains numerous typographical errors.  Interesting to note, the T&C document states that Angie’s List is “solely an advertiser of the Service Provider’s goods and services,” and goes on to disclaim any liability in connection with a member’s purchase from a service provider.  This is essentially the same disclaimer that torrent sites use, that they are merely an advertiser of the existence of a torrent somewhere on someone’s personal computer, but they remain liable for any criminal or potentially criminal acts relating to the downloading of torrents.  Apples and oranges, I know, but the basic concept remains the same.

NOR ANY OF THEIR RESPECTIVE EMPLOYEES, AGENTS, MERCHANTS, THIRD-PARTY ONTENT PROVIDERS OR LIECENSORS, OR ANY OF THEIR OFFICERS, DIRECTORS, EMPLOYEES OR AGENTS SHALL BE RESPONSIBILE OR LIABILE WITH RESPECT TO ANY OF THE OFFER SERVICES

The above excerpt is from the Terms and Conditions document and is part of a single sentence.  There are FOUR incorrectly spelled words, just in that portion of the sentence (highlighted in bold green).  Has anyone provided a certified review of the inability of Angie’s List to provide a professional, diligent, and conscientious impression to the members and other interested persons?  Likely not.

Another interesting thing to note on the Terms and Conditions document – one of the main (and highlighted) special features offered by Angie’s Abomination is spelled wrong.  It’s a proper name for a proprietary special feature, and the person who wrote the document couldn’t even spell that correctly.  I’m surprised they were able to properly spell and punctuate “Angie’s List” throughout the entire document.  (The feature is LeadFeed, which is spelled “LeedFeed” in the T&C document.)

The Membership Bill of Rights is an interesting piece of fiction.  The very first sentence states that ‘our members come first.’  They need to change that so it reads, ‘our paying members come first.’  Also, as with other pages on the web site, there are typographical errors.

Would you really trust a business review located on a business review web site that is rife with so many unprofessional and sloppy typos?

The page is also alternately referred to as the “Membership” and “Member” Bill of Rights, and they claim it has ‘clear and easy-to-understand language,’ if you can overlook the typographical mistakes, I suppose.

The About Us page states that members are only permitted to report on a service experience once every six months, to prevent ‘stack[ing] the deck’ in favor of a particular company.  Another thing to dislike.  What if I patronize the same establishment on a monthly basis, or I had a string of car problems and had the same mechanic shop fix my car several times (for different reasons) in the span of six months?  As a member, especially if I am stupid enough to pay for the membership, I would expect to be able to report on whatever I choose and how often I choose to do it.

Unfortunately, the Careers page doesn’t show any openings for a Web Content Editor.  It is clearly a position that is desperately needed.

I am not the only Internet mouthpiece with a bone to pick against Angie’s Abomination.

The New York Times published an interesting article (A Complaint Registered, Then Expunged) about the Abomination in December 2013.  The article primarily focuses on the fact that a consumer’s negative review of a business is removed by Abominable Agents after the company has addressed the consumer’s grievance to some level of satisfaction, however grudgingly accepted the company’s resolution may have been.  After that, the consumer may submit another review – but it can only reflect a rating of A or B for the company, nothing less, and negative review commentary is not permitted.

Talk about one-sided and in the name of the almighty dollar.

The negative reviews are removed because over 60% of Angie’s List revenue comes from advertising dollars spent by those same companies that consumers are complaining about.  Wouldn’t want to piss off the money machine, would we?

In 2015, Angie’s List was the topic of a Forbes magazine article (regarding the allegations of fraud and ‘pay-to-play’ on the List), and a representative told Forbes:

Angie’s List’s policy is to not modify, suppress, or alter service provider ratings or member reviews, positive or negative.

We already know, from the 2013 article, that Angie’s List DOES in fact make it their ‘policy’ to modify, suppress, or alter service provider ratings.

Cheryl Reed, who – judging from her statements in the article – is likely the same person that wrote much of the inaccurately spelled content on the Angie’s List website, claims that the bad review, resolution (however pitiful it may be), removal of bad review, permission to file good review process is because they ‘want everybody to have as much information as they can have.’  Uh, say what?  Did that make sense to anyone?  Especially considering what we now know about disappearing reviews all in the name of making a buck?

If they wanted everybody to have as much information as they can have, then every single review ever posted, good or bad, would be provided on a company’s page, no matter what was done by the company to right the wrongs perpetrated against the disgruntled consumers.

The problem with removal of negative reviews, regardless of whether or not the company eventually ‘made good’ with the consumer, is that the initial problem no longer exists on the ‘crowd-sourced’ review site.  This means that a company that has pissed off hundreds of consumers in the past year can still have an A-plus rating simply because they offered up a paltry appeasement that appealed to Angie’s List executives as being acceptable (and likely also offered to buy some more advertising).  So you can find an A-plus company that actually has a terrible, horrible, worse-than-the-worst track record, but the ‘honest and reliable’ reviews on Angie’s List won’t reveal the dark side of your future dealings with the company from hell.

After some discourse with the Times writer, the Abomination’s inelegant and significantly less-than-eloquent mouthpiece said that they are ‘always taking feedback, and it has an impact on operations.’  That’s funny, because on the Angie’s List website, a message from the Abomination’s founder herself stated that they do not accept suggestions, criticism, feedback, creative ideas, or other types of SOP-modifying commentary because they do not want it, won’t use it, and generally don’t solicit it.  You’d think they would at least get their ducks in the same pond, since they are obviously, oh so obviously, not in a row whatsoever.

Angie’s List advertises that they offer thousands of ‘unbiased ratings and reviews.’  That is clearly not the case, if they delete negative reviews FOR ANY REASON other than that the consumer submitting the review was providing factually inaccurate or vengefully spiteful falsehoods.  The reviews are very much biased, often in favor of the company, especially since many of the listed companies are paying the bills for the website through advertising dollars.

Here’s the settlement agreement from a class action lawsuit filed against Angie’s List because, among other things, Angie claims that ‘businesses can’t pay’ to be on Angie’s List yet many businesses that are on the list pay via advertising dollars, and that those businesses receive favorably weighted reviews (including the deletion of negative reviews) because they do, in fact, ‘pay’ to be on Angie’s List (via advertising).

Like rats jumping from a sinking ship…

In the past year alone, over 200 employees at Angie’s List have sought out jobs at the Abomination’s rival, former Colorado-based company HomeAdvisor.  HomeAdvisor’s parent company offered to buy Angie’s List in November 2015 for over half a billion dollars with plans to merge it with HomeAdvisor, but the List executives declined the offer.  The funny thing is – Angie’s List is supposedly a flat-broke company.  Why would anyone want to buy it?  (In October 2015, the company reported its first profitable quarter, of a measly $82,000, in the entire 20 year history of the company’s operation.)

Wouldn’t it be easier to just create a competing company, do a better job at things like allowing consumers to post negative reviews, not kissing the asses of the companies that are getting bad reviews just because they buy advertising space, and spelling words correctly on the web site and technical documents – and then just let the S.S. Abomination slowly sink to the bottom of Internet infamy, soon to be as forgotten as Badger, Badger, All Your Base Are Belong To Us, and The End of the World (“fire ze missiles!!!”).  Actually, those things are pretty cool and just as cool as they were two decades ago.  The List has never been cool.

One disgruntled consumer who had his negative review of a company removed after the company provided him with a refund (as they should have), had this to say about Angie’s List:

I don’t know about you, but not knowing how many negative reviews were deleted from a business’s overall rating or how many positive reviews were the result of solicitation doesn’t make me trust their reviews anymore.

Exactly so.  The problem is, Angie herself – advocate of crowd-sourced and freely shared consumer reviews – defends the company’s removal of negative reviews.  No wonder her company is in the financial gutter, if that’s her benchmark business model.  I agree with the consumer quote.  Even if a company provides a refund, the consumer was still unhappy and had every right to leave a negative review and bad rating.  Not according to Angie and her godawful list, however.

In another article, this quote was found:

Fortune Magazine says Angie’s List is doing this not out of the goodness of its heart, but to expand its customer base and get more people to hire a contractor directly through Angie’s List. The company now makes most of its money through contractor advertising and getting a small cut each time someone hires a preferred contractor by going through the site.

That article’s author advocates not wasting your money on Angie’s List.

I advocate not wasting your money or your time, since you won’t receive truly unbiased reviews of any of the companies listed on the site.

At any rate, I still hate Angie’s List.  Even more so now that I’ve actually done more research on it since the last time I posted an article about my dislike of the abominable online list.

Uber, the FTC, and Taxi Drivers (Oh My!)

This post was originally published on February 3, 2017 by SiouxSays

It is 2017 and, by now, everyone with even the most tenuous link to global connectivity has at least heard of Uber, the app-based ride-hailing company that has been connecting private drivers with private riders since the company’s founding in 2009.  More formally known as Uber Technologies, Inc., the company seeks, screens, and approves individuals as Uber Drivers, provided they meet certain criteria for their geographic area.  For example, the driver’s vehicle must be a particular model year or newer, and must seat a specific number of passengers comfortably.  Some cities, such as Myrtle Beach, have even more specific requirements for the vehicle, including an initial vehicle inspection and annual follow-up inspections, before a driver from that city can be approved to drive.

Through the use of a mobile app available from the Apple Store, Google Play, or Microsoft, people who need to get from Point A to Point B can hail an Uber Driver and enjoy a comfortable ride to their destination.  Uber also offers luxury and SUV services, as well.  Passengers provide payment at the end of their ride and Uber distributes fares to drivers on a periodic basis, minus their cut for connecting drivers to riders (which typically amounts to 20% of the total fare).

Many people who use public transportation (buses, taxi cabs, commuter trains, and so on) and do not own their own vehicle have found that using Uber to go to work, shopping, out on the town, or over to their friends’ house is significantly preferable to taking a bus or calling a cab.  A large number of those people enjoy using Uber for transportation so much that they have recommended it to friends, arranged transport for family members through Uber’s app, and refuse to go back to the other transportation options (especially taxi cabs) ever again.

Reasons Why Passengers Prefer Uber Instead of a Taxi Cab

There are several reasons why a significant number of public transportation passengers prefer Uber over a taxi cab.

Uber Drivers respond more quickly than most cab companies, and do so in a more personable and ‘friendly’ manner.  Uber Drivers will contact you via text or call to introduce themselves and describe their vehicle, give you an ETA on their arrival, and find out exactly where you want to be picked up; they will also let you know when they have arrived to pick you up and where they are parked and waiting (and in what type/color vehicle).  You can even track your Uber driver using the Uber app.  Cab drivers just show up at or near the pick-up address, honk their horn a couple times, and then leave to find another fare.

An Uber ride is in someone’s privately-owned vehicle, which means the ride is much more comfortable.  Most taxi cabs are either a minivan or large mass-production car similar to a Ford, Buick, or Oldsmobile sedan, and you ‘get what you’re given’ when it comes to the cab that picks you up (unlike Uber, which provides you with an option to even choose the make/model/type of vehicle you want to ride in).  There is often a strange odor unique to taxi cabs (not to mention the ever-present stale cigar/cigarette odor), a less-than-loquacious driver who may barely speak English, and a notable lack of creature comforts like spacious and plush seats, heat or air conditioning, or even operable windows.  Because an Uber vehicle is a privately-owned vehicle, the driver is naturally and personally invested in maintaining a clean, comfortable mode of transportation simply for their own personal use, let alone that of their Uber passengers.  How many people do you know that have bed bugs in their personal car?  Bed bugs have found their way into taxi cabs, which do not get cleaned thoroughly or frequently.  In fact, bed bugs acquired via taxi cab is not as uncommonly rare as you might think.  To further illustrate how easy it is to get bed bugs while riding in a taxi cab, an article citing 67 ways to avoid getting bed bugs in New York City tells you that the most important tip is to avoid taxi cabs altogether.

Uber drivers are motivated by positive experiences (more praise equals more rides equals more money) rather than simple greed (as many trips as possible via the longest routes possible to maximize profit per ride), and thus find the quickest routes to their passengers’ destinations.  Taxi drivers could care less if you have a pleasant trip and they often look for ways to extend the miles-per-trip to increase their earnings, even if only by a few blocks.  Uber ‘rewards’ good drivers and ‘punishes’ bad passengers via a mutual driver-passenger rating system, which motivates both the driver and passenger to be on their best behavior for the duration of the trip.

Uber drivers, because they are driving their personal vehicle and using their personal auto insurance, are generally more attentive and careful while ferrying passengers around town.  This is dramatically different from most taxi drivers, who often spend the entire ride chatting on their phone, texting while waiting at red lights, and performing other ‘distracted driving’ activities; after all, if they get into an accident it is often the cab company that pays for repairs, lawsuits, and increased insurance rates.  You might be interested to know, as a potential passenger of a Chatty Cathy (on a cell phone) cab driver, that talking on the phone while driving – even hands free – has been found to be more dangerous and unsafe than driving while intoxicated.

Uber requires that drivers be able to converse fluently in the native language of the country in which they drive.  For many people this can be an important factor because it is difficult to communicate certain details about your destination if the driver is unable to competently comprehend what you are saying.  While some people argue that this is somehow a ‘racist’ viewpoint, those same people would not move to a foreign country and refuse to learn the local language.

The Federal Trade Commission Versus Uber Technologies, Inc.

On January 19, 2017, the United States’ Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a complaint against Uber Technologies, Inc., alleging that the company had engaged in misleading or deceptive trade practices.  The case was filed with the San Francisco Division of the United States District Court, and the court subsequently ordered a $20 million judgment against Uber Technologies, Inc.  (The complaint and order are on the FTC’s website in PDF format, along with a statement of dissent by FTC Commissioner Maureen K. Ohlhausen.)

Uber is referred to in the FTC complaint as a “mobile ride-hailing business.”  This may be technically correct on the most basic level, but it describes only one part of what Uber does, and it also ties them more closely to an industry they are most trying to avoid – the taxi business.  In reality, Uber is a ride-hailing and ride-providing business, despite its claims that it is nothing more than an innovative “technology” company that developed a nifty app.  The complaint describes Uber they way the company itself wishes to be defined, as a company that “distributes a mobile software application that connects entrepreneurial consumers who are transportation providers with consumers seeking those services.”  (Item 9, FTC complaint.)  That description is only one part of what Uber does, however, and much of their activities cast doubt on whether or not Uber drivers are independent contractors (so says Uber) or employees.  That particular question is covered later in this post.

Uber Drivers: Independent Contractors or Employees?

The question of whether or not someone can be legally classified as an independent contractor or employee is one that has been debated for as long as there have been employees (and independent contractors).  The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) provides official business guidance on whether or not those who perform work at a company’s behest are independent contractors or employees (common law or statutory).  In the United States, this designation is a federal question because labor relations are regulated at a federal level rather than being left in the hands of the individual states, and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) offers guidance on status and classification, as well as several myths associated with being improperly classified as an independent contractor and several problems with misclassification.

The basic conclusion is that an individual is not an independent contractor if he/she performs services that are or can be directed/controlled by an employer.  While the determination is generally made on a case-by-case basis when it presents itself to a court of law or a representative of the IRS, the bottom line is that it does not matter what the employer chooses to call those who perform services under that employer’s direction; if certain criteria are met, those individuals are still legally considered ’employees’ at the end of the day, rather than ‘independent contractors.’

Uber Technologies, Inc. claims that those who drive for them are independent contractors.  Even without an in-depth examination of the arrangement, it is obvious that this classification is factually and legally incorrect.  The only ‘freedom’ Uber Drivers have when it comes to offering ride-providing services through Uber is that they choose the times of day (and days of the week) when and geographical location where they will offer their services (and drivers in the U.S. can choose how often they get paid). The United States’ Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) defines an employee and criteria that establish the existence of an employer-employee relationship, as opposed to the designation of independent contractor.  The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has a ‘20 factor test‘ used to determine whether or not an individual is to be classified as an employee or independent contractor; different versions of this test and the criteria used to classify an individual apparently vary from presenter to presenter, with the 20 factors officially used by the IRS provided in a May 2007 report on worker classification prepared by the federal Joint Committee on Taxation.  (As per the report itself, it should be cited as: Joint Committee on Taxation, Present Law and Background Relating to Worker Classification for Federal Tax Purposes (JCX-26-07), May 7, 2007.)

There have been several lawsuits in various courts across the country (and globe) to have drivers classified as employees of Uber rather than independent contractors.  While the facts of the business arrangement are clear and clearly illustrate an employer-employee relationship, courts have continued to permit the ‘independent contractor’ designation.  While Uber and similar companies (like Lyft) are able to circumvent the facts when it comes to having courts continue to permit the definition of worker status as independent contractors, thus enabling the companies to also side-step regulations that cover their business practices, those who drive for Uber are – in fact – employees and should be classified as such.  (Their claim of being a ‘technology company,’ to avoid regulations that apply to livery and taxi companies, is slowly withering away in the face of persistent scrutiny and media attention, as well.)

The true legal test determining the worker classification of Uber Drivers is noted in the next section, which examines a 1997 report by the Internal Revenue Service relating to the limousine industry.  As noted below, there are two critical factors that are first examined to determine worker status and the absence of one of these two factors clearly indicates that the driver is an employee. Because Uber Drivers only meet one of these two critical factors, they must be legally classified as employees.

A 1997 IRS Document About Limousine Drivers Says…

In March 1997 the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) prepared a report titled Employment Tax Procedures: Classification of Workers Within the Limousine Industry.  The first paragraph of the body of this report states:

The purpose of these guidelines is to enable examiners to make accurate and consistent determinations of employee/independent contractor status in the limousine industry (the “Industry”).  For purposes of these guidelines, the term “limousine” includes sedans, vans and stretch limousines used in a livery service, but does not include any vehicles licensed by any jurisdiction as a “taxi” or “taxicab.”  Taxicabs are generally authorized by this license to pick up customers any time and anywhere within the licensing agency’s jurisdiction, without prearrangement.  Limousines, as a matter of local law, generally are limited to picking up passengers only by prearrangement.

As noted previously, Uber does not offer nor license a ‘taxi’ service.  In general, Uber rides are limited to picking up passengers only by prearrangement, although there are some larger metropolitan areas that have Uber ride-hailing stands where the general public can obtain a ride from a random Uber driver.  That practice, however, is a deviation from the standard mode of operation. The Employment Tax Procedures report goes on to state:

In addition to the worker classification issue addressed by these guidelines, there is an additional compliance issue concerning the reporting by companies to the [Internal Revenue] Service of payments made to workers.  A company that treats a driver as an employee is required to report the wages on Form W-2.  A company that treats a driver as an independent contractor is required to report payments (if they equal or exceed $600 in a year) on Form 1099.  While these reporting requirements are analytically separate from the worker classification issues, an examiner should confirm that payments have been reported for all drivers, even if they have been misclassified.

Either way, Uber is required to provide to the IRS an annual year-end reporting of all payments made to Uber drivers if those drivers have earned $600 or more during that fiscal year.

The legal description of the limousine industry, as stated by the IRS report, provides a clear parallel between limousine services and Uber services.  According to the report, “the limousine industry provides two distinct services: (1) the dispatch service, which links the client to the car; and (2) the transport service, which delivers the client to the destination.”  This is identical to the service provided by Uber’s ride-hailing app.  The report goes on to state, on pages 3 and 4, that those two services create three separate service-delivery models:

  • Pure dispatch service provider
  • Pure transport delivery provider
  • Mixed or typical service provider

Nearly all limousine services provide a mixed, or typical, service provider arrangement. The IRS report refers to the ’20 factor test’ established to help determine whether or not a worker was an employee or independent contractor, and goes on to say (with bold emphasis added):

To meet this goal [of promoting efficiency in classification], the Service tried to identify “critical factors” for determining whether a driver within the Industry is properly classified as an employee or an independent contractor.  Two critical factors were identified: 1) significant investment; and, (2) realization of profit or loss.  The absence of either critical factor indicates that a driver is an employee and no further analysis is necessary.  If both critical factors are present, the driver may be an employee or an independent contractor, and the analysis must proceed to a second level of “significant factors.”  The significant factors consist of factors which generally differentiate between employees and independent contractors.  A third group of factors, which bear the least weight, have been deemed to be generally less significant or not applicable to the determination of driver status in this Industry.

The IRS report provides a detailed description of the operation of pure dispatch and pure transport service providers, and states that nearly all limousine industry entities operate in the middle, conducting business in a way that incorporates elements of both dispatch and transport services.  Where a pure dispatch operation would be able to classify workers as independent contractors and a pure transport operation as employees, the mixed service provider lies in a gray area where definitive classification becomes more challenging.  The report states:

In the usual disputed case, the Service maintains that the limousine company operates a business for which the driver merely provides the driving, while the Industry maintains that both the company and the driver have independent businesses. The disagreement often arises because the activities of the company and the activities of the drivers overlap and blend together.

The report also states that while there may exist certain documents or contracts that define a driver as an independent contractor, the actual classification is determined by ‘all the facts and circumstances,’ which includes but does not wholly rest upon the language used in any written agreements.  (The IRS and U.S. Department of Labor have also stated that a worker is not necessarily classified as an independent contractor simply because a written agreement exists stating that the worker is such.)

On page 8 of the IRS report on the limousine industry, it states:

Under the common law rules, the key question is whether a business has the right to direct and control a worker as to the details of when, where, and how work is to be performed. If so, the worker is an employee. If, instead, the business merely specifies the result to be achieved, the worker will be an independent contractor.

The report emphasizes that it is not necessary that the business actually direct and control a worker, only whether or not it has the right to do so.

Page 12 of the report, within a section relating to determining driver classification, states (with bold emphasis added):

As noted, there are two critical factors that must be analyzed before a limousine driver can be classified. Under the common law standard, these factors alone do not establish the degree of control necessary to treat a driver as an employee. However, in practice, one or both of these factors is absent in situations where the limousine driver is an employee.

The two critical factors are noted above and are:

  • significant investment, and
  • realization of profit and/or loss.

Because a limousine driver, like an Uber Driver, typically owns (or leases in his/her name) the vehicle used to provide services, this constitutes a ‘significant investment’ and is indicative of independent contractor status.  Uber does not own and maintain a fleet of vehicles for use by Uber Drivers, thus the company itself does not have a ‘significant investment’ in the mode of conveyance used to transport passengers to and from their destinations.

The ‘significant investment’ factor is obviously quite straight-forward.  If the driver does not own the vehicle (as is almost always not the case), he/she is an employee.  If the driver does own the vehicle, however, the second factor – ‘realization of profit/loss’ – then must be examined.  The IRS report states (with bold emphasis added):

An employee has no opportunity for a profit or loss because he or she is paid for services rendered on a time basis. An independent contractor, on the other hand, controls the variables which can result in a profit or a loss. This is the second critical factor and is to be evaluated after it is determined that the driver owns or leases the vehicle.

The opportunity for a driver to realize profit or loss must be distinguished from simply generating receipts to compensate the driver for driving. The opportunity to realize profit or loss means that the driver is using his capital investment to generate gross receipts. To realize profit or loss, the driver employs capital, markets services, controls expenses, and makes business decisions.

If it is determined that the driver has a significant investment in the vehicle and can realize a profit or loss [other than profit through generating receipts as compensation for driving], the three [additional] significant factors must be considered.

Beyond the two critical factors noted above, there are additional factors in descending weighted order, that assist in determining if a driver is an independent contractor or employee.  According to the IRS report, if a driver does have a significant investment (through vehicle ownership) and can realize profit or loss (beyond simply generating receipts as compensation for driving), a driver can be classified as an independent contractor if he/she meets at least one of the subsequent three significant factors.

It should be noted at this point, however, that Uber Drivers need not examine any further factors to determine their worker status.

Uber Drivers are employees because they do not have the opportunity to realize profit or loss beyond that which is generated as payment for their driving services.

As previously stated, the IRS report clearly determines on page 12 that the absence of one of the two critical factors (‘significant investment’ and ‘realization of profit/loss’) creates a situation where the driver is an employee.

The Final Word

I do not agree with the $20 million judgment against Uber Technologies from a legal standpoint.  The judgment is compensation for drivers who allegedly did not earn the income advertised as possible by Uber in various advertisements (“make $15/hour driving for Uber”).  The FTC complaint clearly shows that the advertised earning potential is – in fact – possible because it provides a percentage of Uber Drivers who attained that level of income.  Thus the allegation that Uber’s advertising claims are false or misleading is simply not true.  If someone did earn a specific amount of money as an Uber Driver then the claim that it isn’t possible is without any merit whatsoever.

What does have merit, however, is any claim that Uber Drivers should be recognized as and compensated as employees, not independent contractors.  The 1997 IRS report on the limousine industry clearly and unequivocally states that a driver-for-hire who does not have the opportunity to realize profit or loss beyond earnings generated from receipts for driving services is an employee, not an independent contractor.  There is no way around that argument and Uber Technologies cannot classify drivers as independent contractors just because they want to.