Biden our time

It's starting to feel like an eternal recurrence: Covid is still bad, the Supreme Court is somehow worse. Leadership is spotty at best. But at least a famous basketball coach did something unexpected.

We’re way too old to add anything to the Blues Clues discourse that happened this week. Despite having zero connection to the show, the video left us with a strange feeling of calm. A feeling that disappeared the moment the video ended because, no, buddy, everything is definitely not working.

Still, you gotta admit Hank Azaria is looking really good for his age. — Luke

DACA DENIED

In mid-July, Federal Judge Andrew S. Hanen of Texas struck down DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), calling it “an illegally implemented program.” The decision leaves thousands of Washington State DACA applicants in legal limbo, some unable to work, attend college, or freely visit loved ones without fear of deportation. 

Ushered into law under the Obama administration in 2012, DACA grants work permits, Social Security cards, and deportation pardons to certain undocumented people who initially entered the U.S. as children. The State of Texas, taking an economic-interest stance (that smells of xenophobia), argued that DACA “granted people work permits who could then get driver’s licenses and compete with Americans for jobs.” 

Judge Hanen will allow the over half-million people in the U.S. currently protected by DACA to remain under the program’s umbrella. However, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security — while still technically accepting new DACA applications — is now...

prohibited from granting (emphasis mine) initial DACA requests and accompanying requests for employment authorization. Also consistent with that order, DHS will continue to grant or deny renewal DACA requests, according to existing policy.”

That means DACA renewals and first-time applications are collecting dust, unless The Supreme Court decides otherwise. 

Calling July’s ruling “deeply disappointing,” President Biden says the DOJ plans to appeal the decision “in order to preserve and fortify DACA.” Biden is also pressuring Congress to pass legislation that would give DREAMers a reliable pathway to citizenship, something Congress hasn’t been able to do in two decades of trying. 

The Biden administration could really use a policy win, especially to offset its immigration blunders and questionable practices: In June, Vice President Kamala Harris told Guatemalan migrants “Do not come” to the U.S. Under the pandemic emergency order 42, immigrants attempting to cross the Southern border illegally are returned directly to Mexico instead of being allowed to seek asylum. 

Immigrant apprehensions at the Mexico border have risen dramatically under Biden, especially for unaccompanied minors. Over a third of people turned away at the border in June had previously attempted to cross in the past year.

This isn’t the first time DACA has been threatened. In 2017, the Trump administration announced it would no longer accept new DACA applications. Even after the Supreme Court ruled the move “arbitrary and capricious” in 2020, Trump defied the court (shocker!) and continued to refuse new applications. 

But DACA was always a temporary, flawed fix for a legal immigration system that remains in shambles. DACA’s precarious standing points to the need for comprehensive, permanent and inclusive improvements to the U.S. immigration system. — Elissa

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO J&J? 

What a dramatic rollercoaster the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been. First, the one-and-done shot — authorized by the FDA for emergency use — was hailed as a convenient way to get jabs in arms, particularly for populations like ultra-rural, transient, or unhoused people. Unlike Moderna and Pfizer, the J&J variety didn’t require super-cold refrigeration equipment either. 

Then in April of 2021, the FDA “paused” the J&J vaccine following reports that it caused fatal blood clots in a tiny number of cases and added “increased risk of a rare adverse event called thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS),” especially in women under 50. Oh, and it also increased the risk of “Guillian-Barré Syndrome, a very rare disorder in which an individual’s immune system damages their own nerves.” 

Weeks after the pause, the FDA decided the vaccine’s benefits outweighed its blood-clotty risks and put the jab back on the market. 

But then, also in April, cross-contamination and other dangers discovered at the J&J manufacturing plant in Detroit lead to 75 million doses of the vaccine rendered unusable. Not even the EU would take them, so the shots were destroyed. 

Perhaps back-to-back negative headlines for the same company, about the same product, proved too scandalous to shake off. After the contamination controversy, the J&J shot sort of fell off the map. These days, it’s practically impossible to locate a dose of J&J. 

That may change, as just this week, the FDA gave the green light for the Baltimore plant to manufacture more doses. Johnson & Johnson is even talking about manufacturing a booster packed with higher levels of antibodies. But can the J&J shot really bounce back? Despite the vaccine’s conveniences, only 8% of vaccinated adults in the U.S. have received the Johnson & Johnson shot. And the vaccine still doesn’t have FDA approval. I wouldn’t bet on a full comeback. — Elissa

PREVIOUSLY, ON THE PODCAST

It’s a little outside our coverage area but it’s 100% our beat: the town of Snoqualmie, about a mile from the famous falls of the same name, is in a battle over the proposed redevelopment of its former sawmill, one of the most polluted sites in Washington.

Seems odd, you say. Surely developers in a land-rich area like Snoqualmie could find less tainted land. And wouldn’t residents welcome the cleanup and reinvigorated use? Welcome to the contradictions of late capitalism. 

The pollution is partly the point, and follows a tried-and-true pattern that has been transforming the west for decades: a town’s primary industry goes away, often through deindustrialization brought on by market consolidation or globalization. There’s a period of decay until land values become sufficiently low (and clean up funding becomes sufficiently high) to attract capital for redevelopment. The problem is the people who have lived in these small communities their whole lives tend to get pushed out by the rising prices brought by the developments. Especially when the trade off is decent-paying union logging jobs for precarious minimum wage service work. 

The phenomenon is called rural gentrification. We spoke with Sociologist Ryanne Pilgeram about this at length a couple weeks ago. Nearly an identical game plan to Snoqualmie was used to railroad through a high end resort development in Dover, Idaho. In Dover’s case, the developers essentially extorted the town with fixing its polluted drinking water. Now residents whose families who have lived there for generations can scarcely afford to stay. -- Luke

RELATED: For the next two months, The Foley Institute at WSU is hosting a lecture series examining American Inequality, welcoming professors from around the nation. The talks are free and will be hosted on The Foley Institute’s YouTube page. The first two lectures are already live.

MU VARIATIONS

Another week, another Coronavirus variation. Sigh. As we continue our depressing slide down the Greek alphabet of Covid remixes, we reach the twelfth letter, “Mu.” That’s the name the World Health Organization has given the variant it recently added to its watchlist, the organization’s first addition since June. 

First detected in Colombia in January, Mu has since been spotted in over 40 countries. But unlike the dominant delta variant, Mu isn’t thought to be responsible for a significant number of infections globally. Yet.

So far, the WHO has classified Mu as a “variant of interest” (VOI). It joins four other VOIs that the WHO is also tracking. If Mu proves to have sneaky little properties like higher transmissibility, more severe symptoms, or ability to evade certain vaccine antibodies or previous immunity, then the WHO might upgrade Mu to a “variant of concern” (VOC). 

For now, the fine folks in lab coats will continue to monitor Mu and compare it to other variants. Let’s hope Mu remains merely “of interest” and doesn’t become a full-blown “concern.”

— Elissa

SAYS IT ALL

“U.S. [Native boarding] schools had a very specific purpose: They helped the government acquire Indian lands. … How can the United States make amends for a half-century of boarding schools? The boarding school era stripped American Indian landowners of 90 million acres; we have never recovered.”

Brenda J. Child, “U.S. boarding schools for Indians had a hidden agenda: Stealing land

FROM THE WEALTH & RIBEYE DESK

For as long as there have been column inches to fill, there have been exhausted columnists pitching (or exasperated editors assigning) holiday trend pieces. Sometimes they are a punishment for a writer’s bad ideas. Sometimes they are the writer’s bad idea itself. (Increasingly, in the age of analytics, they’re also a reliable way to mine clicks.) 

The result is often drivel, but we wanted to call out an interesting variant of the form: Seattle Times columnist Eugene Balk used the Cost of Living Index to find the cheapest and most expensive places to host that American standard, the Labor Day barbecue, comparing the cost of ribeye steak, ground beef, pork sausage, and chicken across 258 cities.

Most expensive place in America? Kodiak Alaska. Number 2 with a bullet? Our soggy siblings in Seattle, at 150% of the national average. Kodiak is an isolated island off one of our most isolated states (Honolulu is also up there, for similar reasons), so the logistics alone make sense. Seattle, though? It’s less clear. 

Balk, who goes by “FYI Guy,” doesn’t spend any time investigating the cause, but maybe we can hazard a guess, using our dude’s previous column, brutally titled: Wealth without working: King County ranks 8th in U.S. for income from assets. New York City — 4th on the labor day list — has 4 of the top 10 counties for wealth. California, which is high in income from wealth but not especially remarkable in meat prices, is a top 12 producer of beef. Washington and New York state are 32nd and 39th, respectively.

So there’s some relative scarcity — and relative distance from the really big cattle, pork and poultry regions of the midwest and south — and enough idle wealth floating around that Seattle plant nerds soothe their pandemic nerves with obscenely expensive plants, like the philodendron billietiae variegata, on sale at a store in Fremont for a cool $18,888.

Balk does declare — with a hint of jealousy — that the cheapest city to buy Labor Day meats in Washington is good ol’ Spokane, where your average animal protein clocks in at a breezy 94% of the national average. 

Hazarding a guess here, Spokane has two things going for it: 

  1. A lot less disposable wealth means fewer car-priced philodendrons and more modest household meat budgets.

  2. Proximity to Idaho and Montana, America’s 22nd and 7th producers of beef means chuck spends less time on the truck. 

We’re sending our pitch to VisitSpokane for a Labor-Day-only campaign: Near Angus, Near Privation. — Luke

THE WEEK IN BIDEN

Extremely mixed week for Grandpa Joe and his various assigns. 

BAD | With the one-two punch of the DACA decision (see above), striking Biden’s eviction moratorium, Trump’s Supreme Court is running roughshod over executive actions, which could be negated if Congress could actually pass legislation, but … 

GOOD | After last week’s devastating Supreme Court non-decision on Texas’ draconian new abortion law, the Justice Dept. sued Texas in an attempt to escalate the conflict and force the Supreme Court to actually rule on the law’s constitutionality.

BAD | Speaking of Labor Day, it’s a special kick in the nuts to working people that the Biden administration picked Monday as the day 9 million people lost jobless benefits.  

GOOD | Biden vaccine mandates that push deeper than ever into the private sector, requiring workers at companies of 100 employees or more to require vaccination or weekly testing, a move that made the conservative Twitterati big mad. He also mandates shots for healthcare workers, federal contractors and almost all federal workers. In all the mandates effect over 100 million Americans. 

BAD | Speaking of our feckless congress: efforts to pass the 3.5 trillion dollar budget are flagging, and Biden’s approval ratings aren’t helping. — Luke

Lastly, let’s wrap up the week with a good old fashioned

LINKATHON

One last thing

Gonzaga Men’s basketball coach Mark Few got caught driving drunk, got dangerously close to resisting arrest, and got off with a slap on the wrist this week.

We’re working on a column about this one and stay tuned: our take isn’t what you’re expecting (unless you follow Luke on Twitter).

Have a good weekend everyone