Assorted dystopias

ADDITIONAL CONTEXT | This week brings rent spikes, surveillance states, a real threat of salmon extinction, and, in some relative good news: the return of the Boss Baby

Well that went well! Thanks to everyone who wrote in with your feedback on our inaugural issue of ADDITIONAL CONTEXT. People seem to really like it, which is awesome, because Elissa and I are havingfun writing it. Keep the feedback coming! — Luke

COST OF LIVING

Last week, we highlighted Spokane’s home sales market, which is among the tightest, most competitive, and inflationary in America. We’ve known the rental market is extremely tight for a while, as well. This week, though, new numbers demonstrated how bleak it really is. 

But first, a word on the eviction moratorium. Washington State’s moratorium officially ended on June 30, though the CDC extended the federal moratorium through the end of July. Governor Inslee announced a “bridge” designed to cover the span between the end of the state moratorium and the implementation of the tenant protections passed earlier this year under SB 5169. In theory, even tenants drastically behind on rent would be safe from eviction until their local jurisdiction put those processes and protections in place, but lots of people on all sides remain dubious about the plan

What if, though, your rent just rises? 

We learned this week that Spokane had the highest rate of rent inflation in the nation in June, a whopping 8.1%, capping a jump of more than 31% since the start of the pandemic.

Much of this pressure is landing on renters entering into new leases — 59% of whom came from outside Spokane according to Kiemle and Hagood — but rents are going up nearly as much for those who would rather not move. 

In one particularly gut-wrenching set of tweets on July 2, a half-dozen or so young journalists commiserated over rent hikes that would be hard to endure.

Daniel Walters of the Inlander, noted that this was happening to the sort of stable renters landlords prefer.

That point is well taken: The dismal pay of journalism notwithstanding, if that’s the plight of young professionals in this city, what possible hope does the working class have? 

That’s the truly tangible difference between the plight of renters and the plight of owners. For homeowners, if your mortgage is affordable, you can be safe in the knowledge that your housing costs aren’t going to jump radically due to the whims of the market. Unless you’re trying to cash out your equity for a one-way trip to Elon Musk’s Mars colony, it’s a terrifying time to play the real estate market. 

If you’re a renter, though — let’s keep the space metaphor going here — the feeling is more akin to being Laika: propelled against your will into a stratosphere that is suffocating and potentially deadly.

We really do mean deadly. 

A study conducted at the end of 2020 found that, after controlling for differences in the application of stay-at-home orders, school closures and mask mandates, jurisdictions that lifted their eviction moratoriums early were responsible for between 8,900 and 12,500 excess deaths. With Washington State’s eviction moratorium sunsetting, the efficacy of the bridge uncertain, and the increase in rents discussed above, local renters are being thrown into that churn. 

And so, while the highly transmissible Delta variant of COVID hasn’t hit the Inland Northwest as hard as other places yet, experts expect it to fuel a new wave of death in the late summer and early fall, peaking in mid-October

Inslee’s bridge only lasts through Sept. 30 and these rent hikes are happening now, leaving renters scrambling to make ends meet or find new housing — brutally difficult, both — at the risk of becoming one of those excess deaths. 

Fortunately, there are a number of programs in place to help make ends meet. State Legislator Jesse Johnson pulled them together in a recent legislative newsletter. 

Please make use of any of these that apply to you, and stay safe. 

RESOURCES

THOUGHT CRIMES

Soon, your trips to Yakima will be a smidge more dystopian. The city is installing 10 new automated license plate readers at the city’s entry points to scan and track drivers comings and goings. Five additional plate readers will be installed in “high-crime areas,” as determined by two (to-be-hired) data analysts, all in an effort to prevent violent crime and gang activity before they occur. These “data-driven policing” methods aim to track people with a criminal record and intercept potential offenders. Feel like you’re in a Philip K. Dick novel yet? 

Also called predictive policing, “data-driven” sounds neutral, but in practice, it can over-police communities already living under heightened surveillance, target citizens by religion or political views, and lead to chilling abuses of power

Those abuses of power are often of the racial and religious profiling variety. In 2017, the Electronic Freedom Foundation made a withering, exhaustive case against the use of ALPRs. Here’s a snippet of the role race, religion and class play in the deployment of this tech:

Police officers in New York drove down a street and electronically recorded the license plate numbers of everyone parked near a mosque. Police in Birmingham targeted a Muslim community while misleading the public about the project. ALPR data EFF obtained from the Oakland Police Department showed that police disproportionately deploy ALPR-mounted vehicles in low-income communities and communities of color.

And would it surprise you to learn the data isn’t always accurate

While a Yakima-Herald editorial described the city’s newly approved plan as “unsettling” and “creepy,” they also called it an “intelligent approach” that will require transparency. The ACLU was a little less fence-sitty, voicing concerns similar to the ones they expressed about Spokane’s 2013 surveillance equipment ordinance. Spokane later expanded the use to parking meter patrols.

In a fun bit of turnabout: Yakima police will work with the FBI to collect and share license plate data as part of a federal task force. This is the same FBI that raised privacy concerns about plate readers in 2012.

When discussing the proposed program at a July 6th Yakima City Council meeting, Councilmember Brad Hill said, “In 2021 United States of America, you are kind of ridiculous if you think you have any real personal privacy left.” Hill’s why-fight-it stance is a single instance of what can feel like a collective shrug of defeat. 

Yet in June, King County Council did fight it by unanimously banning government use of facial-recognition technology, a tool they deemed “invasive, intrusive, racially biased and full of risks to fundamental civil liberties.” 

Spokane and Yakima’s positions on these technologies are the more familiar ones: that any step toward being tough on crime -- no matter how fraught, ineffective or outright racist — is better than no step at all. 

But King County’s ban is a good reminder that, while the ways in which we are surveilled — from ALPRs to Ring doorbells to our own smartphones — sometimes seem unavoidable, we still have the power to consider the harms and demand our leaders make an ethical choice to opt out.

Overdose Data  

The grim numbers are in. The CDC recently released statistics on drug overdose deaths that occurred in the 12-month period ending in May 2020. What they found was a frightening acceleration: 81,000 people in the US died from drug overdoses, the highest total recorded in any 12-month period and over 38% more than the previous year. CDC Director Robert Redfield said, “The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard.” 

In 2020, Spokane County counted 102 overdose deaths — 24 of which were attributed to Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid about a hundred times stronger than morphine. CDC data show “10 western states reported over a 98 percent increase in synthetic opioid-involved deaths.” Fentanyl can be found in illicit pills sold as oxycodone and even laced in cocaine. But it’s hard to know if Fentanyl is present in street drugs. It’s a serious shame that DOH funding for the Fentanyl Test Strip Project ran out in 2020. *Cue internal screaming*

Meanwhile, pharmaceutical oligarchs like the Sacklers are getting off relatively easily for their role in the opioid crisis, and are using the system to do so. The big-three pill peddlers (and Johnson & Johnson) will pay a $26 billion settlement to states, but over a period of 18 years (*internal screaming intensifies*), and with certain protections. Washington is one of the few states rejecting the strings-attached settlement and pushing for a trial instead.

ACTION

Consider carrying Naloxone, an opioid-reversal drug, in case you encounter someone having an opioid-related emergency. Also known as NARCAN, naloxone is available across Washington at pharmacies without a prescription. It’s also covered by Medicaid with no copay and many other health plans with a copay.

Quasi-Extinction Threshold

Salmon already have it rough, what with swimming against river currents, navigating deadly dams, and brushing off smelt it/dealt it jokes. Now record high temperatures in the Northwest are exacerbating an already critical extinction threat.

Some of the most endangered salmon populations are here in the Snake River system and lower Columbia River. The Snake’s spring and summer Chinook salmon are inching close to a “quasi-extinction threshold,” a population disaster point they could reach as soon as 2025 without serious intervention. They’re not the only salmon at risk. California’s drought could kill “nearly all” salmon in the Sacramento River. If salmon die out, that also spells doom for the orca who rely on salmon for sustenance. 

In other words, ecosystem collapse. 

So how are we humans, the ones with the opposable thumbs and the insatiable appetite for carbon, responding to this worsening crisis? Well Canada cut commercial fishing. In Western Washington, Northwest Tribes held a two-day conference on salmon and orca in early July, urging State and Federal politicians to breach all four dams of the lower Snake river. Though Idaho Republican Congressman Mike Simpson is ready and willing to breach the dams, Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Dan Newhouse continue to repeat misleading data that paints their district’s salmon picture as, uh, not so bad really. 

ACTION

Add your name to this Change.org petition to support removal of the Snake River dams.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING
COMPLETELY WHOLESOME

The Garland Theater announced it will reopen today, marking the return of a Spokane landmark.

Have a good weekend everyone.