Uber Knowingly Leased Unsafe Cars To Its Drivers In Singapore, Report Says

Uber leased cars it knew were unsafe to its drivers in Singapore, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. Above, Uber’s San Francisco headquarters in June.

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Eric Risberg/AP

Uber knowingly leased unsafe cars to its drivers in Singapore, The Wall Street Journalreported Thursday.

One of those cars, a recalled Honda Vezel with an Uber driver at the wheel, spouted flames from its dashboard in January, melting the car’s interior and cracking its windshield. The driver had just dropped off a passenger when he began smelling the smoke.

Uber had bought more than 1,000 of the defective cars, which were recalled by Honda in April 2016 due to an electrical component that can overheat and catch fire.

And though Uber knew the cars needed repairs to make them safe, the company continued to lease them to drivers unfixed, according to the Journal.

The newspaper says it reviewed internal Uber emails and documents, and interviewed people familiar with the company’s operations in Asia.

And those emails show executives knew the vehicles had been recalled, but didn’t want to take them off the roads. “Asking drivers to give up their keys with no suggested fix will send panic alarm bells to the mass market,” wrote Uber’s Singapore general manager in an email, the Journal reported.

Word of the fire apparently reached Uber’s executives in San Francisco shortly after the company’s insurer in Singapore said it wouldn’t cover the damage to the scorched Vezel due to the known recall.

When Uber launched in Singapore in early 2013, it marked the company’s first expansion into Asia.

It was a good market to enter: In addition to all the rain you might expect in a tropical climate with two monsoon seasons, owning a car in Singapore is extremely expensive. The government requires owners to buy a certificate of entitlement, which represents “a right to vehicle ownership and use of the limited road space for 10 years.” The certificates are released through competitive bidding, and recently they’ve fetched prices from $44,000 and up.

That kind of expense made it hard for Uber to find drivers, the Journal reports, and so the company created a unit, Lion City Rentals, that would lease cars to drivers. It represented a new approach for the company, which avoids owning assets.

Instead of buying cars from authorized Honda and Toyota dealers, the company reportedly began importing hundreds of used cars a month from small dealers in the “gray market”, where safety standards are hard to enforce. At least one of those dealers didn’t get the Vezels fixed before selling them to Uber. While Uber was aware of the problem and asked the dealer to hasten its repairs, the company continued to lease the defective vehicles to drivers without warning them of the safety issue.

Even after the fire, Uber told drivers that the Vezels needed “immediate precautionary servicing” — without mentioning the risk of fire and overheating.

In a statement to NPR, Uber says it took action, but “could have done more.”

“As soon as we learned of a Honda Vezel from the Lion City Rental fleet catching fire, we took swift action to fix the problem, in close coordination with Singapore’s Land Transport Authority as well as technical experts,” Uber said in the statement. “But we acknowledge we could have done more—and we have done so. We’ve introduced robust protocols and hired three dedicated experts in-house at LCR whose sole job is to ensure we are fully responsive to safety recalls. Since the beginning of the year, we’ve proactively responded to six vehicle recalls and will continue to do so to protect the safety of everyone who uses Uber.”

Uber lost nearly $3 billion in 2016 but is nevertheless is one of the largest privately held companies, valued at nearly $70 billion.

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'There Is A Question Mark Over Poland's European Future Today'

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council and a former Polish prime minister, arrives at the prosecutor’s office in Warsaw to deliver testimony Thursday on the 2010 plane crash that killed President Lech Kaczynski.

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Lately it’s been impossible to miss.

In Warsaw and Brussels, deep in primeval forests and overlooking the soccer pitch, the bad blood between the Polish government and the European Union officials appears to be seeping into just about every evident interaction — and as European Council President Donald Tusk observed Thursday, it’s threatening to rend their relationship apart.

“There is a question mark over Poland’s European future today,” Tusk told reporters outside a prosecutor’s office in Warsaw, where the former Polish prime minister was grilled for hours about the 2010 plane crash that killed 96 people, including the country’s president at the time, Lech Kaczynski.

Kaczynski’s twin brother, Jaroslaw, now happens to be the most powerful man in Poland. At the head of the conservative Law and Justice party, which holds nationalist views and a deep skepticism toward the European project, Jaroslaw Kaczynski has led the country far to the right and farther from the strictures of the EU, where his domestic rival Tusk holds the reins.

Late last month alone, Poland defied several commandments from Brussels, plowing ahead with its logging program in the Bialowieza Forest despite an injunction and pursuing controversial reforms that would place its judiciary squarely under presidential control. Those reforms, which Tusk criticized as likely to create a “black scenario,” made it all the way to the Polish president’s desk.

President Andrzej Duda, a member of Kaczynski’s party, surprised onlookers by vetoing two of the bills — but signed the third, which reorganized the judiciary on a local level. That wasn’t good enough for the EU, which launched punitive measures against the country just days later.

“It smells like an introduction to an announcement that Poland does not need the European Union and that Poland is not needed for the EU,” Tusk said Thursday of increasing disputes between the organization and its member state. “I am afraid we are closer to that moment.”

For Tusk and Kaczynski, that friction is not simply geopolitical; for years it has been personal, too.

Kaczynski has long held Tusk and his center-left government, which held power in Poland from 2007 to 2014, morally responsible for the tragic death of his twin and the failures of the investigation afterward, The Guardian reports. Hence Tusk’s presence in Warsaw on Thursday: Kaczynski’s party took control of the prosecutor’s office in 2015, pledging to re-investigate the plane crash and its aftermath, including Tusk’s alleged negligence.

Tusk’s lawyer, for his part, dismissed Thursday’s hearing as politically motivated.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, arrives for a Mass in Krakow in April, marking the seventh anniversary of the death of his twin brother, President Lech Kaczynski.

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NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Still, the mounting animus has owed to more than the conflict of two men — more, even, than just the events of recent months. Many Poles have lately harked back much further, to the violence of World War II.

The “Polish government is preparing itself for a historical counteroffensive,” Kaczynski said last week, according to The Associated Press. He and other Polish lawmakers have renewed calls for war reparations from Germany, which today is the centerpiece of the EU but decades ago represented the Nazi invader that killed nearly 6 million Poles.

Germans must “pay back the terrible debt they owe to the Polish people,” said Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz. He reasons that Poland’s 1953 decision to waive its right to financial reparations — “in the spirit of democracy and peace,” notes the German publication Deutsche Welle — is invalid because Poland was at that time no more than a “Soviet puppet state.”

“If Jews have gotten compensation — and rightly so — for loss of property, why shouldn’t we too make claims?” one Law and Justice party lawmaker said.

And those bitter feelings are not confined simply to the halls of power.

UEFA, the governing body of Europe’s premier international soccer tournament, disciplined the Polish club Legia Warsaw on Friday after its fans raised a vast banner commemorating Polish victims of the Nazi invasion at a recent match.

“During the Warsaw Uprising Germans killed 160,000 people,” the banner read, according to an AP translation. “Thousands of them were children.”

The divide between Kaczynski and Tusk, however, shows no sign of easing. Tusk, who recently defied Polish government objections to win a second term atop the European Council, won’t be stepping down until 2019. At which point he will be free once more to run for office in Poland — and bring his rivalry with Kaczynski a little closer to home.

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Content And Connection: Arcade Fire On 'Everything Now'

Despite what the critics might say, Will and Win Butler of Arcade Fire say the band’s new album, Everything Now, is “direct and heartfelt.”

Guy Aroch/Courtesy of the artist

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Guy Aroch/Courtesy of the artist

Like many bands, Arcade Fire started out small: an indie band from Montreal, founded in 2001 by Win Butler and former member Josh Deu. Three years later, the band’s debut album Funeral propelled it to fame:With its singalong anthems and soaring choruses, that album became the soundtrack of a moment. Fast forward to 2011: Arcade Fire’s third album, The Suburbs, beat out pop juggernauts Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Lady Antebellum to win the Grammy for Album of the Year.

In those years, Arcade Fire filled stadiums and won critical acclaim with songs that felt urgent and sincere. But when the band’s fifth album, Everything Now, was released this July, some fans and listeners felt things had taken a turn for the detached and ironic. (One review called the album “joyless” and “riddled with cliche.”)

Brothers Win and Will Butler of Arcade Fire joined All Things Considered‘s Ari Shapiro to talk about their childhoods, how they manage touring with family and how — despite what some might think — Everything Now is really a “direct and heartfelt” album about people and connection. Read on for an edited transcript and hear an abridged version of the conversation at the audio link.

Ari Shapiro: You’ve been side by side for the last 30-odd years. What were you like as little kids? How was your relationship as brothers — inseparable or constantly fighting?

Will Butler: Both. When we were young, we scrapped a lot. Actually, we both went to boarding school when we were respectively 15 years old. And actually, when Win left the house, our relationship improved. [Laughs.]

Was there a moment when you realized you could coexist, both in life and on a stage?

Win Butler: I think when I went away to school. We were living in Texas, and I went to boarding school in New Hampshire. Leaving the house, I think I really got a really deep appreciation for how close Will and I were; like, the second I left, I was like “Oh, crap — maybe I didn’t appreciate what a good thing we had going!” We connected a lot on a musical level — like, we’re kind of born from the same fire.

Will: Our mom was actually a musician. She grew up on a variety show on ABC with 40 of her cousins, and her parents, and six aunts and uncles and great- aunts and -uncles.

I interviewed somebody once who said the way he survived touring on the road was by turning his bandmate into a coffee table every now and then. Win, your wife is also in the band; the two of you are brothers. When there’s this much family in the band, you can’t just turn each other into a coffee table. How do you do it?

Will:[Laughs.] We’re a big enough band — we’ve always been seven or eight or nine on the road. And, say, if I’m rubbing against Win the wrong way, I can go hang out with Richard, or Jeremy, or Regine; it tends to ebb and flow in a nice way.

As long as we’re talking about family: The spark for this song “Peter Pan” came from your father. Tell us about this.

Win: Both of my grandfathers were 96 when they passed away, so we got a lot of really good time with our grandparents. And I have a son now. You start to realize that your parents are getting older, and the realization that they’re not always going to be there: It’s a different way of facing mortality.

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I think [the character of] Peter Pan, in a lot of ways, is emblematic of the modern man: He’s kind of the dream of being young forever, always dressing like a teenager and always feeling young. But [this song] was trying to get a more direct, less ironic take on the desire to not have the people you love die.

So much of this album is about stuff; it seems like a real contrast to that.

Win: I don’t agree. I mean, even “Everything Now” is super emotional.

Tell me about that. To me, it feels like inundation.

Win: Take the lyric, “Every inch of road’s got a town / Daddy, how come you’re never around? / I miss you.” It’s not really about stuff — it’s about longing for connection and longing for love. I think that a conceptual framework around the record is trying to come to some sort of understanding about the moment we’re in, and trying to have some peace with it. But the actual record is really about people and it’s really, I would say, very direct and heartfelt.

There was a line in a Salon article about this album that said, “To watch Arcade Fire thumb its nose at the world like this is like hearing a parent swear for the first time.” I don’t know if you think of this as thumbing your nose at the world, but that seems to be how people are taking it — and they seem to be surprised by a band that they think of as earnest relating to the world in this way.

Win: I don’t know that we’ve ever made a more earnest record. Like, even “Infinite Content” is just, like, a dirge of pain, you know? [Laughs.] It’s literally: I don’t know what else to say except to say this, over and over again. It’s genuinely an expression of pain.

Pain about what? What’s the cause of the pain?

Win: Having everything that you’ve ever cared about just reduced to a piece of content is kind of painful to me, in a sense. Anyone involved in music [is told] “we need more content for this thing,” or, “the content of these photos is amazing.” You thought you were making records and then everything ends up being about content. It’s like filling up a hard drive in a weird way, and you’re kind of just trying to kick against it.

When you’re creating a thing that you care about, a piece of music, and you have no choice but to do it from within this big old machine, do you have any small rituals, or practices, or something that helps you connect with the big invisible audience out there that wants to appreciate your art in the middle of this machine?

Will: In high school, I took a class on cathedral architecture. There were all these anonymous medieval stone masons carving gargoyles that go on the roof of the cathedral that nobody will ever see for 500 years until tourists start going up onto the roof of the cathedral to take pictures of it. And there’s a part of making art that I relate to as a medieval stone mason where I’m just carving this gargoyle for God — or a question mark — and whatever happens in the next 500 years is up to everybody else.

The album ends with a ballad that sounds different from a lot of the other songs on the album: “We Don’t Deserve Love.” Will you tell me about how you built this?

Win: There’s a synthesizer called a Hymnotron that I got for Regine for her birthday — it was a really good birthday gift! [Laughs.] It’s a really cool synth — you don’t really play it like a normal synth, it’s just these weird buttons and knobs. And [I was] just turning it on and trying to figure it out how it worked. Our engineer at the time — our friend Korey [Richey], that worked on Reflektor — he left, and it was a really teary goodbye. He was like, “Well I’m going, I have to go take this other job,” and I was like, “Well, I’m really going to miss you,” and he was like, “Oh, well that thing you were playing the other day — I hope one day in my life I make something as beautiful as that.” And I was like, “What thing?” [Laughs.] And he was like “That thing you played on the synth the other day!” And I pulled it up and I was like, “Oh, this is really cool.”

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Just you, figuring out how to use the instrument?

Win: Yeah. Korey was sitting in the corner almost crying, like “Oh this is so beautiful!”while I was like “How does this thing work?!” [Laughs.] Afterwards, when he pointed it out, I was like, “Oh, right” — and then that was the song, pretty much. The vocal is the first time I ever sang it, and everyone in the band just went in the studio and put on a layer, and then that was the song.

It also just feels like such a different and yet totally appropriate way to end the album after you’ve been talking about “everything now” and “infinite content,” to come down to a sentiment as intimate as this: “We Don’t Deserve Love.”

Will: Yeah, it’s our heartbreaker, that one.

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We Miss You: Europol Writes Postcards To Its Most Wanted Fugitives

Croatia’s postcard


Europe’s Most Wanted
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Europe’s Most Wanted

Police forces across Europe are penning whimsical postcards to their most-wanted fugitives this summer, in the hopes that more awareness will lead to more arrests.

The fugitives addressed in “Wish you were here” postcards are accused of serious crimes in 21 EU countries, and are believed to be outside of the countries where they allegedly committed the crimes.

“While most of us are enjoying a well-deserved summer break, criminals are not taking time off from crime,” European law enforcement agency Europol writes. “Holiday destinations have proven to be popular hiding places for criminals on the run from law enforcement. They might even have chosen the same destination as you…”

The digital cards are posted on the Europe’s Most Wanted Fugitives website, and people can click to see a photo of the fugitive and more information about them. They cheekily attempt to entice their subjects back by pointing out things they might be missing.

“Servus, Tibor, We haven’t seen you in a while!” Austrian police write to Tibor Foco, who is wanted for murder. “We have one more space left on our next ski trip. Please come back to enjoy our beautiful Alps.”

Romania’s postcard


Europe’s Most Wanted
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Europe’s Most Wanted

To Marco Di Lauro, accused of murder, drug trafficking and robbery, Italian police write: “Don’t you miss the taste of real Italian cuisine, prepared with love by someone who really loves you? Come back to the sun-kissed shores of Italy for a truly authentic (food) experience that you’ll never forget!”

Of course, it’s highly implausible that the fugitives will answer the fawning messages from law enforcement. Police are hoping that the members of the public will share the postcards: “The more the postcards are seen, the better the chance of police locating these criminals and putting them behind bars!”

Hungary’s postcard


Europe’s Most Wanted
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Europe’s Most Wanted

European authorities say crowdsourcing has become increasingly important as a law-enforcement tool. EU police launched the Europe’s Most Wanted Fugitives site in 2016. Since then, Europol says “36 criminals featured as most wanted fugitives have been arrested, of whom at least 11 were apprehended as a direct result of information provided by the public via the EU Most Wanted platform.”

As The Guardian writes, “one of those caught after featuring on Europol’s list was Salah Abdeslam, who was arrested in Molenbeek, Brussels, on 18 March 2016 after being on the run for 126 days following the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015.”

Belgium’s postcard


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Episode 787: Google Is Big. Is That Bad?

European competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager announces antitrust charges against Google in 2015.

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John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

Earlier this summer, a European official walked into a roomful of reporters and answered a question that some people have been asking for a long time now:
Is Google abusing its power over the Internet?

Google—which is now technically owned by a company called Alphabet — is one of the biggest corporations on the planet. It controls the information billions of people see when they want to know: who was FDR’s secretary of state, or where the nearest gas station is, or where to order a Sony Digital Camera.

The European Commission spent the last seven years looking specifically at that last kind of search — shopping — and asking: Did Google abuse its power over the Internet?

Europe’s answer? Yes.

European officials say Google violated antitrust rules that govern how companies can compete with each other. The EC hit Google with the largest antitrust fine of a single company in European history. And it ordered Google to change the way they do business.

On today’s show: The case for Google, the case against Google. And how the Google case helps us think about competition and the biggest corporations on the planet.

Music: “Forever and Ever” and “No Ordinary Love.” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

Subscribe to our show onApple Podcasts or PocketCast.

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