Bergdahl and Lyft

5 JUN 2014 – bergdahl and lyft playlist by William Pate on Grooveshark

Facebook just isn’t the right venue for me to express my thoughts, ideas and opinions. It’s too restrictive — even in its seeming ease of publication and assurance of an audience. It’s probably because my writing tends to run long, and I honestly have never felt like composing a super-long Facebook post (though that would probably live longer in the hive-mind than anything I write on this site). Instead, I think to myself, I should write this down elsewhere in long form — like on my blog.

On Facebook, I end up throwing out one-liners. It’s easier. Thus, I oftentimes think, coming off as strident. Or I just share a news story or meme, leaving the impression that either could express my opinion for me given I haven’t done so myself. I haven’t mastered the art of the mini-narrative [my wording] as some friends. I’m thinking specifically of my friend Drew, who has the ability to compactly express a coherent opinion on a (sometimes dry to others) subject while also inviting comment. Two paragraphs and he’s done. A few minutes later there are 24 comments in response. I envy his ability to do that.

But this is me. This is how I do it.

I haven’t sufficiently expressed my thoughts on two controversies — one riling the nation; the other, the city of Austin. I’m talking of Bergdahl and Lyft.

My brevity on Facebook in response to these controversies may make it appear I haven’t thought through my positions or that I lean one way or another. In fact, in both cases, I’m rather in the middle. I’m hewing toward the law — and allowing the Department of Defense and justice system on the one hand and the political rulemaking and intelligence of the citizens on the other — to lead us toward solutions in both cases.

On Bergdahl, many likely see me as a liberal who thinks he’s a hero and who doesn’t care about any of the opportunity costs paid by his comrades and others. I don’t ignore those who died fighting for his release and the trading of the five Taliban leaders. I think it’s crucial to remember the Taliban are not al Qaeda — they did provide safe haven to them prior to 9/11, however — and were, in all respects, the government of Afghanistan until shortly after our invasion. Thus, they are legitimate negotiating parties. And, ultimately, something has to be done about Gitmo. P.O.W. trades have a long history. Getting a U.S. soldier back — and we leave no soldier behind, whether you think he should or not — is paramount. The human intelligence he can provide — and the knowledge he has that his captors can no longer access — is of damn-near as much importance.

My deepest response is that this isn’t Homeland and Bergdahl will be held up (as he already is) to a helluvalot of scrutiny. His story — and history — will come out sooner than we think. The U.S. military, Sen. John McCain and pretty much every other person connected to the military will prevent a fraud from receiving that medal or designation until the matter is clear. Let the investigations continue until we know what happened. It’s far too early to be calling for his blood or to be hailing him as a hero.

I’m similarly dancing in the middle of the controversy surrounding Lyft’s launch of service last week and the resulting citations and impoundment of drivers’ vehicles for offering rides via the company’s app. Many who judge from my previous posts on this subject probably think I’m knee-jerking in opposing Lyft’s actions. That’s not it.

My disagreement is merely with the companies’ approaches to the city and its citizens — from illegally starting the service (Lyft) to the CEO of SideCar ignoring offers to consult on a city ridesharing recommendations report on the subject (he decided to sue instead). There are regulations for reasons. We can undoubtedly find a way to allow ridesharing apps to coexist with cabbies and bus drivers and rail operators. But if my home-based design business required over a million dollars in liability insurance, I think it may be necessary to consider the full ramifications and needed regulation of these services’ drivers.

As for the law, Lyft’s executives, of course, knew that Austin is launching an app-based ridesharing pilot program and considering ways to integrate companies like their own and others (SideCar, Uber, etc.) into the city’s transportation options. The services are definitely needed given the city’s deficit in mass transit and taxis and excess of drunk driving. For now, however, such apps are not allowed. Nonetheless, Lyft chose to break the law. I disagree with that. They should engage in the process. Claiming “innovation” and “technology” and “sharing economy” does not exempt one from existing – but evolving – laws. Instead, such claims demand positive civic action by their speakers.

I’m not siding with the cabbies, the unions, the city or the companies. I’m also not siding with the hero-worshippers, chicken-hawks, conspiracy theorists or those quick to convict of treason. These things will work themselves out. We will find out what happened with Bergdahl (better to have him alive than dead for that) and we will find a compromise in the city’s transportation regulations that will legally bring ridesharing apps into compliance.

For once, I actually think the system may work if we let it.

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