Cases 📈 Bankruptcies 📉 Prices 🚀

This week, we dig into pandemic bankruptcies, mixed environmental news and a welcome nominee to lead the National Parks System

LET ME GOOGLE THAT FOR YOU

As the latest wave of COVID kicks off, we’ve been noticing an uptick in people extremely mad online — even madder than usual! If that’s possible! — trying to relitigate the effectiveness of all the preventative measures that have been taken the last 18 months, from “lockdowns” (nowhere in America really locked down) to vaccine mandates. These folks go around in web comment sections or replying to media outlets on social media decrying all manner of harms to people, society and — worst of all! — commerce!!!!

Classic “the cure is worse than the disease” argument. Here’s a representative tweet:

It’s a general rule of the Internet that, if a username is mostly random numbers, they might be a bot. But this possible bot made an argument we see a lot and, since we’re now 8 months into 2021, it’s an argument we could pretty easily verify with … y’know … data. 

Let’s start with commercial bankruptcies, where we have clear state-level numbers:

In this report by the American Bankruptcy Institute, not only did commercial bankruptcies drop in literally every state in the nation, Washington State was singled out for having a precipitous, 75% drop in bankruptcy filings. The previous year, 2019, had already been a 19-year-low.

We personally care more about people than business, but considering the reopen right focusing almost exclusively on business impacts, as though mandates designed to keep people safe were committing business genocide — indiscriminately wiping out all businesses everywhere, this stat really allows the truth of the situation to walk out from behind the veil of the rhetoric.

But, seriously, how are the people doing? Nationally? Better than might have been expected:

Despite a needle-like spike in unemployment far beyond ‘08, personal bankruptcies were lower in 2020 than they had been since 2006.

And while state-specific numbers for personal bankruptcies are harder to parse, compared to other states, Washington had among the fewest in the nation, ranking 38th out of 50 states in bankruptcies per capita. Idaho, by contrast, was 20th. 

Staying home is hard, masks can be annoying. It’s normal and natural to be worried about our collective mental health as we get ready for our second COVID winter. But pushback strongly on any “the real victim is business” narrative. 

It’s a phantom, and a diversion from real human suffering that has a clear, simple, free solution: getting everyone vaccinated. — Luke

WELCOME TO THE FUTURE (DIRECTOR)

On August 18th, President Biden nominated Charles F. "Chuck" Sams III — member of the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla — to serve as director of the National Park Service. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Sams will become the first Native American to hold the position. Currently Sams lives near Pendleton, OR, and serves on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, a role that Oregon Governor Kate Brown appointed him to in April of this year. 

Sams’ dynamic resume is already packed with public service and nonprofit leadership roles. He served in the U.S. Navy as an intelligence specialist, held the titles of executive director and vice president of the Earth Conservation Corps, and executive director of the Community Energy Project. Sams was president/CEO of Indian Country Conservancy and held many titles at the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR). 

From 2006-2010, he worked as national director of the tribal and native lands program at the Trust for Public Land. Sams was also an adjunct professor at Whitman College and Georgetown University. That’s not even a complete list. He’s done a lot.

Remarking on Sams’ nomination, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said: 

The diverse experience that Chuck brings to the National Park Service will be an incredible asset as we work to conserve and protect our national parks to make them more accessible for everyone.

— Elissa

OVERVALUED AND IT FEELS SO GOOD

Not to keep banging the housing gong every time we show up on a national list, but two items that came across our transom this week have us feeling like we’re trapped in a paradox. On the one hand, according to a new study by researchers at Florida Atlantic University and reported last week in Fortune, Spokane is the 6th most overvalued housing market in the nation: 

We aren’t alone. 80% of the list are cities of the interior west, underscoring last week’s item about Bozeman and the increasing unaffordability of previously affordable places. And of the 100 cities surveyed, only 5% are “under” valued — a signal that the real estate market was just as bonkers nationwide as it seemed. 

The report’s methodology is straightforward: using sales data collected by the real estate app Zillow since 1996 to create an theoretical trend line based on past value, and compare that against actual home sales. Which means cities like ours are experiencing housing price increases way outside 25-year norms. 

That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but it also makes the word choice —  “overvalued” — kind of interesting. Being overvalued suggests a correction should be coming (if markets are rational, which they most certainly are not). A correction would certainly be a relief for a lot of people in our area, but it also doesn’t seem likely given other pieces of news. Which brings us to a piece from July in the descriptively named National Mortgage News, which pegged Spokane as the #8 market expected to boom through 2022

Many of those same interior west cities made the booming list as well, suggesting that if you’re priced out now, it’s only going to get worse, no matter where you look, and despite how overvalued things are. — Luke

JUST COVID THINGZ

Let’s keep this bulleted list of chaos and small moments of hope going, shall we? 

SOME GOOD NEWS (FOR ONCE)

Susannah Scaroni of Tekoa, WA, (a tiny town in Whitman County) not only won the gold medal at her 5,000-meter race at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics on August 28th, but she also set a new record time for the event. Scaroni crossed the finish line at 10:52.57, breaking the previous record set by her teammate Tatyana McFadden in 2016. 30-year-old Scaroni — paralyzed in an auto accident at age five — competed in two previous Paralympics, but this was her first gold medal win. The following day, she also took the bronze at the 800-meter race. — Elissa

ENVIRON-MENTAL HEALTH

GOT THE LEAD OUT

That’s a wrap for leaded automobile gas, folks! Algeria, the last country on Earth still selling leaded gasoline for standard cars, officially got the lead out in July. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) spent the last 20 years working with oil companies and countries in Africa to make leaded gas a thing of the past. On August 30th, UNEP declared Algeria’s production and last leaded drops finished

Once a common fuel additive in the 1970s used to enhance engine performance, dreaded lead saw a slow-but-steady global phase-out starting in the 1980s (Japan was first to ban it) after scientific studies linked leaded gas exhaust with severe health problems, especially in children. 

While leaded gas is still used for piston-engine aircraft, some boats, and certain race cars around the world, by 2014 the harmful heavy metal had vanished from all but six countries’ standard car gasoline supplies. Now the final domino has fallen. 

GREEN DIVIDEND

In Spokane, city planners are responding to the realities of traffic congestion and fossil-fuel-driven climate change with an eye on the future. Spokane is looking to cultivate higher-density development in areas that fall along frequent-service STA (Spokane Transit Authority) bus routes. 

Developers have already cranked out more mixed-use developments and high-density housing near the future City Line bus routes scheduled to run next year. The goal is to foster more walkable neighborhoods with rapid, reliable public transit. Spokane is also making slight changes like adding more sidewalks that link to bus stops and improving water-line infrastructure to ease future developments slated to go up near popular transit paths. 

The Spokesman says that by looking to mixed-use, rapid-transit transitions in cities like Portland, OR, our city can create, quote:

a ‘green dividend’: a pay off that can be measured not only in reduced carbon emissions but also in the money in the pockets of residents who commute less, due to the increased proximity of amenities in mixed-used developments, and who spend less to do it, because they drive less frequently.”

GOING ELECTRIC

For Memorial Day weekend 2022, Walla Walla is plugging in like Dylan going electric at the ‘65 Newport Folk Festival. 

On Aug. 23rd, the Walla Walla City Council signed a letter of intent to host the electric-vehicle-centered Electric Revolution festival from May 27-30, 2022. Headed by automobile historian and electric vehicle expert Paul d’Orleans, the event is meant to “highlight the power and ingenuity of electric vehicles while showcasing the charm of the Walla Walla valley.” 

The fest will feature panels, test rides, food (obviously), and possibly even electric car-and-bike races. This isn’t d’Orleans’ first electric rodeo either. A similar event he organized in Europe drew more than 20,000 people. As long as Elon Musk stays out of the picture, we’re all for it.

WHERE THERE’S SMOKE

Of course, no amount of movement toward ending fossil fuels is too much, especially as we come to understand the full effects of climate change. This week, The Seattle Times reported that a study published inthe peer-reviewed Environmental Research journal has confirmed the dangerous effects of wildfire smoke on pregnancy. By tracking births in California from 2007-2012, researchers found wildfire smoke attributed to 3.7% (roughly 7,000) of all preterm births (babies born 37 weeks or earlier, as opposed to a full 40-week term). Scientists believe that, because wildfire smoke particles can provoke an inflammatory response in the human body, inflammation may play a role in preterm births.

— Elissa

It’s going to be a beautiful weekend. Enjoy the holiday, everyone.

And if our mention of the Symphony perked your ears up, they have two free outdoor concerts this weekend