Personal Justice Denied

How to muddle through fairly?

Front edge of the Sutro Baths seen from southwest edge of the ruins. Ocean surf seen at left is held back by a wall studded with stumps of rusty steel bars. Rubble has been filled in between that and a wall with a flat top about 18 inches wide on which people are walking in the distance. The inner wall holds in an extensive pond, seen to the right. Cliffs ahead, headlands in the distance.

We were out at Ocean Beach yesterday. Beautiful weather. Lots of families and tourists out exploring the ruins of the Sutro Baths. As part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the ruins are affected by the shutdown, but they’re open. Yesterday visitors kept edging past each other on the uneven tops of those old masonry pool walls. It made me nervous: no handrails, and in places those narrow walking surfaces run between open box-sided pits full of rain and salt water. No rangers in sight. But the gift and coffee shop was open at the top of the old cement stairs — the nonprofit Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy runs it.

As Sarah Kendzior has argued, the shutdown serves Republican privatization goals. The longer this goes on, the more we’ll substitute private systems for public ones. Fewer public entitlements could mean more privately invented rules about who counts as a member of society — and what it means to be left out. More latitude for discrimination and corruption. Less traction for assertions of rights — to benefits, to services, to equal protection of the laws.

So if the shutdown drags on, and charities start to fill in for more governmental functions, the charities in turn have some thinking to do about rights and governance. Continue reading

8th and Mission, last night

Deep puddle, green traffic light, illuminated bus stop, ghostly impression of a bicyclist. Windowless PG&E building with spiked iron fence and strip of bright light. So very Fritz Lang.

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P.S. Been seeing that SFSU banner ad everywhere: “We make discovery happen. ” Clearly not written by lawyers.

A lesson for Harvey from the Katrina housing recovery

I’m reading and retweeting the Harvey news, thinking of Hurricane Katrina.

[Update 8/28/17: This post is a “lessons learned” comment, not current advice. For early news you can use, see:

Although Houston had no initial mass evacuation, some people in the Harvey flood zone are going to need temporary places to live if their housing has become unusable, especially as mold begins to form.

Whatever keeps people closest to their own homes is best — if people in low-density areas can get trailers to live in next to their houses or apartments, for example, that’s great — but it seems likely some may have to leave the area outright in search of a safe place to stay while they recover. Continue reading

The ‘Great Red North’ vs Northern CA

Early this month the New York Times‘ Thomas Fuller wrote up a round of interviews with prominent men from the old-school power structures of Northern California inland towns. He portrayed them as speaking for a “Great Red North” (red as in Republican) that feels unrepresented by California state government, viewing it as dominated by urban liberals.

Casey Michel, a writer focused on right-wing nationalisms, almost immediately noted that one interviewee in the article, Mark Baird, was not identified as a leading figure in the State of Jefferson secessionist campaign. A proposed statewide ballot initiative to remove California from the Union is again in early qualification stages with the California Attorney General’s Office. Continue reading

Worrying about jitneys

Monday’s Twitter Urbanism Bone to Pick was about Lyft reinventing the bus line. If the Lyft “shuttle” wasn’t a public bus exactly, then — as suggested by Tarin Towers and Ed Parillon among others — it sounded a lot like a private jitney. A really exclusive kind of private jitney. As Jeremy B. Merrill wrote, “it’s a bus route that excludes people without a smartphone or plastic money.”

I’ve been bellyaching for a while about how jitney services might do harm in the wrong hands, especially if they’re not taken up as nonprofit or public services. Because if unscrupulous van route operators are just out for profit at all costs, they may find extortion pinch points in the expulsion of poor, disabled and aging people from conveniently walkable center cities to low-density, service-deprived places like Vallejo or Tracy.

The cheap housing is now where transit isn’t. The people being cast out by rich cities are often carless or unable to drive. Some with mobility impairments. Some getting by on narrow margins of safety, with low tolerances for paperwork and administrative fuss. To get to the supermarket, the doctor, the Social Security office, the senior lunch program — ex-urban expellees will have to travel long, inconvenient routes: timing trips according to bus schedules, changing routes by way of lonely bus benches, asking rides from family, neighbors and caregivers.

So if there’s a good paratransit service, great. If there’s a nonprofit public health shuttle, especially with light case management such as appointment reminders, that’s lovely. If there’s a nice person with a van who doesn’t charge too much, great. But if there’s a hard-souled greedhead running a fleet of vans, charging what the market will bear? It would be too easy for someone like that to cause too much harm.

Hence the worry about jitneys. Looking at results from this Twitter search link, I see I’ve been repetitive about it, going back to some thoughts on my old blog in October 2012.

So, I won’t repeat myself further here except to say, this is an issue to watch.

 

A reluctant UBI dissent

I’ve been posting mostly on Twitter for a long time. A problem with Twitter is, when you manage to say a thing right, it slips away down the timeline at the same rate as everything you said wrong or halfway.

So this morning I wrote a short Twitter essay on why proposals for a universal basic income are riskier in the United States than in some other places. UBI talk seems likely to persist, so my worries might bear revisiting. Here’s a link to the thread.  Midway in, it mentions an article about how UBI payments helped a village in Kenya. Here’s the link.

Would add that as an old public benefits advocate, I know means tests are terrible things. They’re intrinsically bureaucratic, demeaning and unfair. So it would be great if we could give everyone money instead of making poor people jump through hoops for cash aid. But in the United States of 2017, a UBI bill would be exploited to convert uncapped entitlements into individual block grants. In which case, what would happen to public support for long-term medical and disability needs?

It’s the old story: if we could trust each other in America, we could have nice things. It would be great if we could trust U.S. legislators to enact a UBI, but common sense says they would try to end more public entitlements in exchange. That’s an unpayable price.

What was going on at the Whitcomb Hotel

IMG_3625detailThe Whitcomb Hotel is one of these grand-old-lady buildings with a past that’s often forgotten or, at best, remembered selectively. One less remembered fact is that it served as West Coast headquarters for the systematic exclusion and incarceration of Japanese Americans from the West Coast, beginning in 1942.

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Whitcomb Hotel, side view

In a way the Whitcomb’s story is reminiscent of the history at Moscow’s Metropol. It’s not so dramatic — the Metropol was besieged for six days in 1917 and later hosted many of Lenin’s speeches — but there’s something parallel in the buildings’ 20th-century histories as hotels and head offices by turns. Both buildings are huge old piles created at the turn of the last century to serve as respectable long-term residences and meeting places as well as for overnight stays. Each has been an administrative center for painful and harmful official decisions, has outlasted a period of badly faded elegance, and today serves tourists and business travelers who may know little about previous occupants. Continue reading