Notorious Obama Birther Philip Berg Now Driving UberX in Philly
Conor Corcoran, a lawyer who lives in Philly and L.A., was bar-hopping a few weeks ago during one of his Philadelphia trips, when he had an experience he found profoundly unsettling.
“I was deep in my cups, as they say, having a few late-night cheeseburgers with a friend at Fountain Porter,” he recalls. “As you’re wont to do in the middle of the night, you call on Uber to go to the next place. And I ordered an UberX because I like to save my money for tipping bartenders.”
The car that showed up, Corcoran says, was a somewhat beat-up Mercedes, driven by a man in his 60s, who — within 60 seconds of normal passenger-driver chitchat — asked Corcoran and his friend what they thought of President Obama.
“That immediately started setting off bells. I gave my friend a look because my friend is black and here was this white guy at 3 in the morning asking us what we thought of Obama on a dark corner in South Philly.”
Corcoran and his friend said they liked Obama, and the driver suggested they check out his website. He then reached into the backseat and procured a business card with the site’s URL: Obamacrimes.com. It also had the driver’s name on it: Philip Berg. “I said to him, ‘I recognize your name from the newspapers,’ and he admitted that he was the Philip Berg behind all those lawsuits and news stories.”
Before he was suspended from practicing law by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and resigned from the bar of the U.S. Supreme court, Berg became a pivotal figure in the birther movement because he filed a lawsuit in 2008 against Barack Obama challenging his legitimacy as a candidate. The lawsuit was dismissed — its claims were called “vague,” “frivolous” and “not worthy of discussion” by the judge — as was Berg’s other most famous case, a 2004 RICO lawsuit against Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, FEMA, DHS and many more individuals and departments in the U.S. government, who Berg claimed conspired on the 9/11 bombings.
Now, as an UberX driver, Berg was hawking his most recent venture, a book titled ObamaScare and a website that both continue to insist that Obama is not constitutionally eligible to be president. It also takes Obama to task for smaller infractions:
Remember, Obama did not wear an American flag pin; and did not place his hand on his heart while our national anthem was playing. Obama went around the world apologizing for the United States; Obama knelled [sic] down to the Saudi King, the emperor of Japan and the head of China — no other U.S. President has every done that!
Corcoran said he felt distinctly uncomfortable after realizing who Berg was, and felt it didn’t fit in with the way Uber positions itself as a safe harbor. “Given what Uber’s representation is to the general public, it shouldn’t have drivers who push racist agendas and suggest to passengers at that time of night in those locations that they should look into his racist agenda. It’s unsettling and it’s not what Uber represents itself to be, that’s for sure.”
Corcoran complained to Uber and got what he calls a boilerplate response, but he apparently wasn’t the only one. Berg, who drives UberX about 40 hours a week now, says Uber did tell him they’d received a complaint from a passenger, a woman, who “really went crazy,” Berg says. “So I’ve toned down, I’m not giving my card out now.” When he does talk about politics, he keeps it general, like chatting about Donald Trump. “Everyone’s talking about Trump,” he notes.
Still, he feels the restriction is a little unrealistic. “It’s like a bartender. You’re not supposed to talk in a bar about politics, religion or family life but invariably when you talk to a bartender, what are the topics that come up? Politics, religion and family life.”
Corcoran feels that Uber should have done a more thorough background check on Berg before letting him drive for them. “Uber is supposed to be this fantastic 21st-century company. If they just Googled who Philip Berg was, they would have seen that they shouldn’t have hired him.” But Googling is not, apparently, part of the background check. Uber spokesperson Taylor Bennett provided a statement after I asked him for comment on Corcoran’s experience.
“It is Uber’s goal to make the rider experience as smooth and comfortable as possible. As outlined in our terms of service, we expect our driver-partners to maintain high standards of professionalism, service and courtesy. Our rating system and two-way feedback loop is important to ensuring that high-quality experience and maintaining a safe and respectful environment for riders and drivers. Real-time feedback about drivers means we can correct for issues big and small while ensuring that only the best drivers stay on the road. We take this feedback seriously — depending on the circumstances, rider feedback may lead to deactivating a partner from the system.”
As for background checks, Uber would not necessarily have disqualified Berg even if they knew exactly who he was. After all, isn’t this kind of thing subjective? Corcoran did admit, in fact, that if a driver was trying to promote a creative endeavor, like a band, he wouldn’t have objected. But he says that’s different. “Drivers shouldn’t be promoting politics, no matter what the point of view,” he says. “I don’t want to hear some namby-pamby liberal shit that’s right up my alley either when I’m out having a good time with my friend. It would have been okay if he told me he was doing a Jesus for Trump album or something like that — I would have ignored that too as just being colorful. It was this particular point of view, someone who actively litigated a racist agenda.”
Berg, a lifelong Democrat and self-described NAACP member, would certainly quibble with Corcoran’s characterization of his book and website. And he thinks he should be able to talk politics with the passengers, though he understands he’s got to rein it in. “If you and I disagree on politics, we can either say, ‘Look, let’s just change the subject,’ or ‘I disagree with you.’ Anyone who’s done that to me, I’ve said, ‘Well that’s the beauty in this country. We can talk about it.’ On the other hand, from a business standpoint, I guess, Uber doesn’t need problems.”
And Berg doesn’t want Uber to have problems, as he thinks it’s a fantastic service and enjoys his job as a driver very much. In fact, he prides himself on his passenger relations skills, including dealing gracefully with drunken passengers who are going to throw up, and insisting to stubborn young women that he take them right up to the front door and wait until they’re safely inside.
In fact, he touts Uber’s safety and ability to hold him accountable as one of its great strengths. “For a safety reason it’s terrific because they know who I am. The converse is, I’m able to know that the person’s credit-worthy. So I don’t have to worry about someone getting in the car to rob me. I know who they are, they know who I am, and everyone knows there’s no cash involved. So it’s a fabulous system.”
He also enjoys the conversations he has with people, political or otherwise. “You get all kinds of interesting people, from students to professional people to retired people, and it’s a good camaraderie. You know, people talk — what they do, what I do, and stuff like that. People are very nice, very cooperative. I take what I think is the extra effort to make sure everyone has a nice ride.” Berg says his ratings are good.
As for that Obama stuff? Some would say it’s extreme, he says, but he doesn’t think so. “I think I’ll be proven right about 90 percent of what I say about him,” he says.
But for the moment — much to the relief of passengers like Conor Corcoran — Berg is going to keep those ideas to himself.
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