Ok, I am clearly not getting to the right places for why people are upset/worried/excited about scooters

Andy and I headed up the coast this week, going from Venice to Pismo Beach, Pismo Beach to Monterrey/Marina, and landing finally in San Francisco.

Each day, in each location, I’ve seen one, maybe two scooters. What’s the deal? Am I not sampling the right locations? In SF I’m staying on Embarcadaro. I’d assume that would be a likely local. I’ve been sketching at the park across from my hotel for a couple hours every day, and I’ve hardly seen any.

Am I reading the media reports of this wrong? Do I just have too many haterz/loverz in my feed? Looking for them in the wrong spots? Or am I just not getting lucky?

White supremacy playbook: the law is for you, not for me

The law, the law, the law is the law.

Anybody who thinks the law is the law has never, ever studied law.

We dispense with this simple-minded approach to governance in my justice class the first day, in which we discuss the differences between law and justice. The readings we use include some of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s writing, Plato’s Crito, and Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, perhaps the last word on the subject we need. This distinction between law and justice is an important one not just for those who would study law, but for public administrators as well. As Donald Trump’s Zero Tolerance (blergh) policy demonstrates, bureaucratic discretion can be a big deal in the hands of a people who don’t feel constrained by norms or prior practices. Or decency.

We’ve had a little army of Donald Trump’s worshippers explaining to us liberals, with our faux outrage about separating parents and children, I mean child actors, that none of this atrocity would have happened had Their Parents Not Broken THE LAW.

My brother, who has grown into a kind gentleman despite what I am about to relate to you, used to take my own hand and hit me with it and say “Stop hitting yourself! Stop hitting yourself!”

Power sets up the rules, controls the situation, and then blames the powerless for the wrongs power enacts.

These people set a toe over the border. For that, they can have their children taken away to be watched by whomever wherever. It’s an atrocity, plain and simple, and no, it was not Obama’s policy. (Obama’s administration, again using discretion, used family detention, and while it stunk, too, it’s not the same.) First-time border crossing is a misdemeanor.

So we are taking children away from families for the legal equivalent of public intoxication, trespassing, or first-time possession of a dime-bag.

These followers, however, will apparently make any excuse for Donald Trump’s unlawful behavior. Generously read, his legal record is dodgy. He’s a thief who screws over the small businesses he has contracted with. He patronizes prostitutes and hands out hush money like it’s Halloween candy. Less generously, he’s allegedly engaged in election fraud and money laundering–and I think the goods are there. He’s an admitted serial sexual abuser. Like Barack Obama, his policy in Yemen puts him in shady territory with international law and into war crime territory. At worst, evidence of treason looms.

Unlike Donald Trump, the border families are just breaking the Law. Sure, they can’t be struggling with some of the most vicious cartels and gangs operating in the world today. Nope. They are mere law-breakers. They have no back story, no context. There is no excuse for them, no grace, no mercy.

But white people? Oh, they have complicated back stories for why they do what they do, the mistakes they make, the problems they have. Sure, Donald Trump has taken a long time to come to Jesus, he’s a redeemed sinner, just like King David, and he’s beloved of God. So he’s made some mistakes. We’re saved by grace, not works.

(I am trying, really hard, to keep the sarcasm out of my tone here, but it’s hard for me granted the self-indulgent, self-important way some American Christians have come to practice their faith using cheap grace as a rationale.)

A white guy opens fire and kills women while after issuing misogynist rants online? Poor, mentally ill man. What a shame, what an unfortunate thing. He is an exception. We should try to understaaaaand him.

A Muslim religious extremist kills people on a plane? All Muslims everywhere are violent and out to get us they hate us for our freedom and it’s in their religion. That’s all you need to know.

A white woman gets addicted to painkillers? That’s so sad, she’s struggling. We should try to understaaaaaand her.

A black woman addicted to crack? Jail. She’s a threat to her children. She is weak.

White people unemployed or underemployed? They are victims, victims I tell you of an unjust system, immigrants who came and stole the jobs, and coastal elite with their confusing, fancy hams. We should try to understaaaaand them, and take them to lunch in places with less confusing menu items.

Unemployed black people? Lazy. Shiftless. Gold-bricking. Absent fathers who don’t instill discipline. Were better off under the yoke.

So no, asylum seekers aren’t people running from terrible conditions at home. Amid political violence and desperate poverty, a responsible asylum seeker would have gotten on a computer and Googled US border law before fleeing the soldiers destroying their villages. Or they would have well-developed social networks of people who can arrange asylum for them because it’s not like violence and forced immigration would have an effect on social networks or anything.

This is the logic of dehumanization. Strip people of their real lives, refuse to see their real lived conditions, and construct them as you need them to be to justify your treatment of them.

Farewell Mr. Ross

USC Price and our Lusk Center for Real Estate have lost a good friend this summer in Mr. Stan Ross. He did a lot for the school, and he did a lot for our students.

His obituary is here. I didn’t know Mr. Ross well, save for two things. I deeply respected his targeted gifts to the school. He enabled the Ross Minority Program in Real Estate, which is a credit to our school both in its mission to help people get the skills and credentials to engage in development and as well as pedagogically.

Again, though I did not know Mr. Ross well, he would smile and wave at me, but we never really had a chance to chat, as pretty much every time I encountered him in RGL, he had students with him, talking in earnest about various things. That image of him talking to students, nodding and engaging, means that every memory I have of him makes me smile.

He shall be missed.

Responsibility and climate refugees

I’m trying to fight my way out of a really bad depression. So this may not make a lot of sense.

I’d forgotten that I owed a blog post on climate change, and it’s one of those things that I regret saying yes to. I said yes because I like the person asking, without really reflecting on the problem that I don’t really know much about climate change other than I trust what people like Phil Berke and Deb Niemeier tell me about what we ought to do about it.

However, I do have some things to reflect on with environmental justice, accountability, and refugees. We’ve been confronted this week with families split at the US-Mexico border, and it is sickening. At the risk of being a scold, we should probably, along with our renewed outrage, remember that the state routinely breaks up families via the prison system and “family services.” It would be nice if the people organizing the women’s march would turn their attention here.

The thread that ties climate, DACA, Syria, and Central American refugees together is US power and our refusal to live with the consequences of our exercises of power. Last year in my classes on social welfare and social justice, I used DACA/DREAMERS as an exemplar of our failures in accountability and the moral problems those present, but the logic is equally applicable to Syrian and Central American refugees, and those who will be displaced by our contributions to and nonresponse to climate change.

At the time, I made an argument–and I still think it’s valid–that DREAMERS deserve special moral concern in policy ethics because they, as a class, exist because of policy. I get the critiques: that Dreamers are an appealing group of migrants, and that appeal of American integration, etc. privileges them already. Yes, we should respect the human rights of all migrants, and regular readers know I am of the “if capital can move across borders, why can’t workers” camp on migration. All that said, DREAMERs exist because of bad policy formulation, and bad policy formation should be disciplined by our ethics and willingness to assume democratic responsibility–in Iris Marion Young’s usage of the word. Power and responsibility have to be key democratic practices and virtues, instead of what the US typically does: creates policy that harms subgroups and benefits either elites or majorities, and then washes its hands of the consequences.

That is unacceptable, for many reasons. First off, taking in refugees as a matter of simple humanitarianism sounds like a more generous proposition than taking refugees because of our responsibility, and the former is kind and all that. Bbut altruism has limits, as our current wave of xenophobia and nationalism suggests. What is worse, altruism in this case obscures the relationship between power and accountability.

That problem replicates. Americans are provincial, willfully; few people you stop on the street are likely to be able to locate Syria on a map, talk about how a devastated Syria is strategically useful to for the Israelis, or how our activities in Afghanistan since forever have contributed to the elevation of ISIS. I strongly suspect that the response to any question about whether America should admit Syrians will come down to assessments of desert, both liberal (“they are human beings, we should care”) and conservative (“only once they have been thoroughly vetted, if at all) , rather than assessments of US culpability.

It is virtually impossible for me to cite an example where US policy culpability is more obvious than for the Dreamers. Yes, you can say, as many do, that their parents are culpable for entering the US illegally. But the people in question were children, guilty only of being with their families. We also then passed a policy that made it impossible for these children to apply for citizenship later. Policy created them as a class of migrants, and yet Americans still seem incapable of accepting responsibility for these policy decisions and making things right.

Responsibility for accepting and accommodating climate refugees looks like a pretty unrealistic proposition here in a country that has refused to acknowledge climate change as a problem, let alone govern itself with that reality in mind. The treaties and agreements governing how refugees are to be treated* were written for refugees seeking asylum from violent conflict. As a result, implicit in much refugee policy is that a) host countries are being altruistic instead of accountable, and b) a refugee might be able to return home once things have settled down. For climate refugees, home is unlikely to be habitable without large investments in adaption or at all, and they are likely to be perceived as being victims of unfortunate natural disasters rather than victims of a systematic failure in governance.

*in theory; these rules are flouted pretty regularly as they are unfunded mandates and voluntary agreements).

Could we also can it with the “virtue signaling” call-outs in housing , please?

So I have noticed one of the trends in debates, particularly about housing since that’s all I hear about anymore*, have become riddled with assumptions about everybody else’s “bad faith” arguments.

Yes, it is possible that people argue in bad faith.

It also possible they just don’t agree with your ideas, either positively (about what will happen in the future if we implement a policy) or normatively (about whether what we think will happen is normatively good, or will normatively have benefits that outweigh the costs.) The idea that people who disagree with you are making a bad faith arguments strikes me is lazy argumentation, a form of ad hominem.

Of course, these problems are all over any debate, from assumptions that one knows what will happen in the future. Don’t even at me with this. My entire profession lives in this future knowledge space, and we are full of smartest urbanists who promote the idea “if we do this, this will happen and this will happen and this will happen and hooray us!” Then only part of any of it happens, but it’s not planners’ fault because…overpromising is democratic politics and the ass-kicking complexity of real-world contexts makes fools of us all (including economists).

“Virtue signaling” is, as far as I can tell, the right-y version of “performative wokeness” (the lefty version). These call-out are simple dust-raising, and I’m tired of reading them. Look, people, you are reading attempts to influence on social media. It’s all performative. But worse than that, virtue is always signaled. Wokeness is always performed. Why? Because all social behavior, including all normative claims and moral behavior, are social. Since “being woke” is a virtue, let’s just collapse everything into virtue discussions.

Virtue is meant to be displayed in social contexts. Yes, we all love the billionaire who quietly gives to charity instead of tooting his own horn or using it as yet another self-branding exercise.**

But…virtue is demonstrated socially for a whole bunch of highly functional reasons. We all take social signals from peers, we learn what groups and societies expect from us via social behavior, role models, praise for role models’ virtue, etc. It’s not like we have secret athletic events where nobody is allowed to watch, or ever learn, who won the gold medal. How are other wealthy people supposed to give to charity if they don’t see others doing so? And all the hush-hush around giving creates information asymmetries that allow free-riding.

As with many issues, whether virtue is undertaken for strategic, self-interested reasons or truly altruistic reasons, poses an information problem. Some twitter jerk, for instance, accused me of performative wokeness, and one of my students replied; the former can take cheap shots because they live far away and know only the blog and a social media presence. The student knows me and–at the risk of virtue signaling–knows what I stand and fight for on campus and off, how, and why.

As with other ad hominem, making a bad faith argument doesn’t mean a person has made an objectively bad argument. Deal with the argument, let the other people worry about their souls.

*My husband gave me his phone to take to work when I lost mine in the house somewhere and I thoughtlessly flipped open his Fboo…and it’s all math, history, and cute animal pictures. Mine is all housing politics, Donald Trump, animal torture cases, and other depressing stuff. I am clearly doing Fboo wrong.

**I could do with fewer buildings named after rich people and corporations and more that retain names for people who showed other virtues than good business sense. Moderation in everything, except moderation.