Another view of Uber

Uber and Lyft have been creating quite the uproar recently in Houston politics, openly challenging the current regulations for taxis and private cars. It seems that taxi operators are concerned that Uber will undercut their fares and drive them out of business. However, there is also concern with Uber’s “price gouging” by charging more at peak business times. I see no reason for these fears, but I do think it is important that we review how these companies operate to ensure the safety of those who use them.

First of all, I’ve had very good experiences with Uber in other cities. You simply enter your destination in the Uber app; and it tells you exactly how much the fare will be, when your driver will arrive and charges the fare to your credit card upon arrival at your destination. When you reach your destination you say thank you and step out of the car. In my opinion, this system is infinitely better than that of traditional cabs.

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Undervaluing Public Service

As Noah M. Horwitz already reported a few days ago, Governor Rick Perry tapped Associate Justice Nathan Hecht as his pick for Wallace Jefferson’s replacement as Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court.  Hecht will serve until the next election, at which point he intends to run for a full term.  Chief Justice Jefferson has indicated that he will not run for another elected office, but will rather seek employment in the private sector.

Jefferson pushed hard during his term for an increase in judges’ salaries, an argument met with a moderate amount of approval with lawmakers increasing judicial salaries by 12% this year.  While these salary increases are a great improvement, the low salaries of judges serve as a highly visible indication of how little our society values the vital work our judges perform – much like the pitifully low salaries of teachers.  A judge can make significantly more in the private sector, a factor Jefferson himself said influenced his decision to resign.

It is a sad state of affairs to see that we, as a society, generally do not value public servants.  Teachers, judges, firemen, police officers and other public servants are frequently forced to choose between taking a lower paying job that makes our society a better, safer place and making a living for themselves in the private sector.  Although these individuals still receive some compensation for their invaluable service, it is a shame that they are still underpaid for their service to society.

Brazilians, Christie and medicine

On Thursday August 22nd, a few representatives of the Editorial Board met with a Brazilian delegation of youth leaders, and other officials representing the City of Houston, in an effort to share information about youth civic activism.  Olivia Arena, Noah M. Horwitz and I were asked to join in the meeting to give our perspective on the Mayor’s Youth Council –the organization we all met each other serving on– from the position of alumni.  Councilmember Jack Christie presided over the meeting and provided the Brazilian delegates pertinent background about Houston and its importance globally.  He was chosen for this important position because of his recent trip with Mayor Annise Parker to South America, where they participated in a cultural exchange.

Councilmember Christie dominated the conversation for the first twenty minutes or so, explaining Houston’s prominent place in the oil industry and giving a brief overview of its history.  He also took it upon himself to give a brief history of South America and the importance of oil there.  While Christie made an important connection pointing out our similar interests in the energy economy, it seemed rather strange to be telling people from Brazil about their homeland.

Each member of the Brazilian delegation then introduced themselves, followed by a short comment from Councilmember Christie.  The first delegation member explained his involvement with providing health services to members of his community and encouraging youth to maintain a healthy lifestyle.  At that point, Councilmember Christie launched into an extended rant on his abhorrence towards modern medicine, stating that this country is “over-medicated” and explaining that he tells his children not to even take aspirin because it’s only a gateway drug to other medications.  He proceeded to repeatedly bring up his revulsion towards modern medicine, making it apparent that he actually does not believe in proven medical treatments of legitimate diseases.  After the Brazilian delegation finished introducing themselves, Councilmember Christie was called into another meeting and he politely excused himself after we took some group photos.

We finished up the meeting by each of us explaining what the Mayor’s Youth Council meant to us and what the Council does on a monthly basis, after which we opened up the meeting to a much more open discussion.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of time after the extended introductions to truly delve into the open discussion, but I feel we did convey much of the feel of the Mayor’s Youth Council in this brief hour and a half meeting.

What perplexed me long after I left that meeting, however, was why a public official such as Jack Christie would go out of his way to bash the virtues of modern medicine. Given that this is not Coucnilmember Christie’s first experience with the controversial position, I would have expected better from him. However, these comments are systemic of a troubling trend: a rejection of science. Such a position is dangerous.

An expanded curfew is unwise

Like so many ordinances, the county’s curfew regulations have reached their three year expiration date.  The county must now revisit the specifics of the ordinance, and reinstate it.  The Houston Chronicle reports Sheriff Adrian Garcia has proposed a daytime curfew in addition to the nighttime one already in place.  While this would not affect incorporated City of Houston areas, which already have a daytime curfew, this would add more curfew hours to those under the age of 17 in unincorporated Harris County.

Sheriff Garcia believes that such a curfew would give his officers the ability to decrease daytime burglaries since juveniles are sometimes involved in daytime crime.  It would be a means for police officers to “intervene when they think the law applies,” thereby stopping crimes before they happen.

There is strong opposition to the new curfew hours by home-schooled students and their families, who fear they will be unduly affected by the new law, but there are exemptions for home-school students, as well as any student with reasonable cause for being out.  No, there are greater reasons why the curfew should not be expanded aside from the potential for a few home-school students getting tickets.

There is no reason why the crimes committed by juveniles during the day should not be addressed by the laws currently in place.  Furthermore, there is a significant difference between a nighttime curfew and a daytime curfew.  While there are few justifiable reasons a juvenile would be out at 3am, there are countless reasons a teenager would be out at noon during a normal weekday.  Those young adults who are legitimately out of school during normal school hours should not be hindered by a police officer questioning where they are going and what they are doing just because they look to be a certain age.

Sheriff Garcia is essentially asking for a blank check for his officers to stop juveniles and give them citations as they please during school hours, just for being under the age of 17.  While it’s easy for an adult to say yes to such a sweeping gesture, it is important to note that it hinders on the rights of responsible teenagers and could potentially encourage age profiling.  Besides, there do not appear to be significant statistics backing the claim that such a curfew would even significantly decrease daytime crime in unincorporated Harris County.  Nonetheless, early reports indicate that it is likely the ordinance will be reinstated unchanged as many members of the Review Board have indicated a preference to keep the policy as is.

Back in 2009, when I worked at City Hall, I debated this very issue among my contemporaries (including Andrew, Noah & Olivia). At that point we were only discussing the City of Houston curfew, not unincorporated Harris County, but the point remains the same. We ultimately came to the conclusion that the curfews, especially those during the day, did more harm than good.