• Latest Council action goes too far

    On Thursday, the Austin City Council unanimously passed an ordinance that banned any use of hand-held electronics — including cell phones, music players and navigational devices — behind the wheel of a car. Texting while driving had already been banned, but this ordinance takes it a couple more steps, being called a "common next step after texting ban" by one local political activist.

    The Council did, however, carve out an exception for if the car has come to a complete stop. Additionally, a hands-free device exception was also implemented. But otherwise, all use of the aforementioned electronics is prohibited. Dialing a phone call is now illegal. If you still possess a car phone, for whatever reason, all use of it will be disallowed as well.

    This ordinance is just another example of good-hearted progressive causes going too far, for no other reason than because "they can." Banning texting while driving is a good and noble pursuit, one that Austin was right to accomplish a few years ago and other entities, such as the state of Texas and my hometown of Houston, should strive toward sooner rather than later. But the complete prohibition of cell phone use while driving is not only illogical, it's just plain silly.

    Study after study has shown that looking away from the road for the perilous few seconds it takes to send or receive a text message are particularly dangerous, perhaps just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. The results, though, are far more inconclusive for clicking the "next song" button on your iPod. The same thing goes with holding a phone up to your ear.

    There are plenty of distractions that we put up with in the car for convenience or comfort. Radios take our eyes, minds and hands off the steering wheel. Eating and drinking soda can sometimes sidetrack us. Only a Big Government, nanny-state micromanager would ever think all these activities should be banned in order to make us nominally safer.

    Well, micromanagers and the Austin City Council, evidently.

  • City council redistricting won't do much for students

    In November, voters will choose 10 city council members, one from each of the geographical districts shown in this map.
    In November, voters will choose 10 city council members, one from each of the geographical districts shown in this map.

    On August 18, the Austin City Council released the 78-person list of hopeful Austinites running for mayor and 10 council positions. District 9, the district encompassing the majority of campus as well as neighborhoods where the population is primarily students, is the only district with any incumbents running. In fact, incumbents make up two of the three candidates. The third candidate, Erin McGann, does not appear likely to win at this point, if the first round of three planned financial reports — and in the case of a run-off, one additional report — are any indication, although it is possible that she raised a significant amount of money shortly after the first deadline to file financial reports, which was July 15. This seems unlikely, though, partly because of her lack of name recognition when compared to the two other candidates, councilman Chris Riley and councilwoman Kathie Tovo. The Daily Texan Editorial Board plans to interview all three candidates at our earliest convenience.

    The fact that, come January, the only council member who knows all the ropes of the city council will likely be charged with representing the student population may sound appealing at first, but while these incumbents might have a better idea of what students care about than do people brand new to the council, this by no means indicates that they will work to ensure students' interests are represented. Obviously, I would love to see the council consider students more in their decisions, but from a political standpoint, why should they? College-aged people don't really vote at any significant rate, and students are such a transient population that although the candidates have said they will work to represent students' interests, we don't know who will hold the District 9 representative accountable in the long run. Students don't stick around for long, and while people who work at universities, such as councilman Bill Spelman, an LBJ School of Public Affairs professor, may prioritize students' interests, we can't simply rely on non-students to voice our concerns.

  • End of daily print for the Daily Cougar a sad day for student media

    Last Friday, a publication at the University of Houston formerly known as "The Daily Cougar" made a sorrowful announcement. The student newspaper would convert from daily publication to weekly, renaming itself simply "The Cougar." While the publication, which was founded in 1928, did not convert to five days of print until a full 50 years later, the paper had been printing at least four days a week since the early 1960s.

    The decision to ax the flagship student newspaper of Texas' Gulf Coast down to the studs is a painful one, but it is all too familiar. Earlier this year, the Texas Student Media Board of Operating Trustees flirted with the same idea for the Texan, though thankfully relented and allowed this publication to continue on with its near-continuous 101-year tradition of printing the news each and every business day throughout the academic year.

    The Cougar insists that it will live on in spirit, hoping to be "digital daily and print weekly." The claim is to focus on the shifting needs of students for consuming information, while at the same time cutting back on expenditures. Both are legitimate ideas, but they invariably lead to the decline of the publication's quality.

    The Cougar could have continued publishing complete PDF editions online every day, maintaining the same journalistic excellence that marked it for years while still saving costs. Instead, the amount of new news released per day on the website is reduced, and the weekly site has converted into tabloid format, significantly less concerned with delivering breaking news.

    The demise of the Daily Cougar leaves only three truly "daily" student newspapers left in the State of Texas: The Battalion, Texas A&M University's newspaper; The Daily Toreador, Texas Tech University's newspaper; and the Texan. The reduction of student press not only hurts journalistically minded young individuals trying to cut their teeth in the business, it also harms the students themselves, who all lose an invaluable resource for local issues on campus.  

    Horwitz is an associate editor.

  • Don't call it "Briberygate"

    (The Associated Press)
    (The Associated Press)

    Last Friday, a grand jury in Travis County indicted Governor Rick Perry on two felony charges: abuse of political office and coercion of a public servant. The controversy stemmed from the threat made to Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg, giving her an ultimatum of resigning or facing severe budget cuts as blowback. Lehmberg's controversy started when she was arrested for drunk driving.

    There is a great deal to be said about this issue, and it has prompted very different reactions from individuals depending upon their political persuasion. Democrats, thus opponents of Perry, have reacted by saying this indictment is a vindication of what they have claimed all along, that Rick Perry is a nefarious evil-doer. Republicans, who have rallied behind their compatriot in the Governor's mansion, have taken the opportunity to praise Perry as a moral crusader who has defended the public from an irresponsible and drunken prosecutor. Like many other high profile issues, the information gap between the two sides is nearly insurmountable, and this is reflected best in the different names used to describe the scandal.

    Democratic activists have settled on the name "Briberygate." If this causes you to scratch your head, you aren't the only one. Their rationale is that Perry attempted to get Lehmberg to resign in exchange for not denying her office funds, which constitutes a quid-pro-quo related to finances. Furthermore, the San Antonio Express-News reported in April that some of Perry's aides allegedly would have offered Lehmberg another job in exchange for resignation.

    Accordingly, when the grand jury was seated to consider charges against Perry, one of the allegations was a violation of the bribery statute. Pointedly, the grand jury no-billed Perry on that allegation, though they moved forward on aforementioned two. Still, prominent Democratic organizations have moved forward with the slogan and hashtag. It's hard to find a left-wing Facebook post, be it on Burnt Orange Report or the Travis County Democratic Party, which does not include it.

    Such a descriptor is damaging to the case against Perry, which is admittedly tepid at best. While I do believe that Perry violated the coercion statute, and that a fairly well-reasoned case can be made to that point, he did not attempt to bribe anyone. It cheapens all the good arguments in this case to fall back on a catchy, though factually flawed, soundbite.  

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