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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 28, 2020

Why should you wear a mask? Wrongo’s FB friend (an MD) explained it well:

 “We don’t wear the mask to keep ourselves safe or even to make other people comfortable. We wear masks so the germs that spill out of the holes in our faces via water droplets and aerosols get caught in the mask and don’t get into other people’s eyes, nose or mouth or land on their wounds, clothes, hands or face….That way transmissions end with us. We stop the spread and can go about life almost like usual. Masks are also a great visual reminder of what’s going on…people stay back a bit. I actually wonder if that visual reminder is what so many people hate about masks. Do they want to pretend this is not happening or not a big deal or that they aren’t utterly failing society in every way?”

From Pew Research: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are about twice as likely as Republicans and Republican leaners to say that masks should be worn always (63% vs. 29%). Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to say that masks should rarely or never be worn (23% vs. 4%).

Republicans also are less likely than Democrats to say they have worn masks in stores or other businesses always or most of the time in the past month.”

Fact Tank says that only 49% of conservative Republicans say they have worn a mask all or most of the time in the past month, compared with 60% of moderate Republicans.

All of this explains where the virus is expanding:

Wearing a mask is more threatening than an attack by terrorists:

Europe thinks we should wear masks:

A tough year gets tougher:

Times like these call for better drinking choices:

The presidential race is shaping up to be a real fight:

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Saturday Soother – June 27, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Mt. Rainer from the Whiteriver campground – 2020  photo by np2fast

Good morning fellow disease vectors!

Now that Florida and Texas have again closed their bars, you’re probably wondering: “Can Joe Biden’s lead in the polls get any bigger”?

Here’s your answer. On Thursday, the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to invalidate the Affordable Care Act. They did this without any plan for replacing it, at what appears to be the height of new cases of the COVID pandemic. From Charlie Pierce:

“Imagine, for a moment, you’re a Republican. You already know that your party has hitched its wagon to the biggest ass in the history of American politics, and that he has proceeded to bungle a response to the worst public health crisis in a century, touching off a deep recession in the bargain….Perhaps you’re thinking to yourself this morning, y’know, maybe this isn’t the best historical moment to take healthcare away from tens of millions of Americans.”

Political gurus say that timing is everything.

Trump is doing this despite the fact that 487,000 new people signed up with HealthCare.gov last month after losing their company-provided health insurance coverage because of the pandemic-induced recession. That was an increase of 46% in sign-ups compared to the same month last year.

And Trump’s trying this stunt in the week when the US hit a new record for the highest daily total of reported COVID-19 cases – more than 45,500! He’s picked the perfect time to try again to throw an estimated 20 million Americans off of their insurance coverage.

This has been the GOP plan all along: we’re trimming the rolls of people on entitlement programs. We’re doing it through the courts, through legislation and by allowing the COVID-19 infection to spread.

It’s no longer clear which is the greater threat to lives in America: The Coronavirus, or Donald Trump.

This should remind all of us that we need to make Medicare for All, or another form of single payer insurance, a top priority after the November election.

Biden said it all in a speech this week: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Amazingly, he [Trump] still hasn’t grasped the most basic fact of this [COVID] crisis: to fix the economy we have to get control over the virus. He’s like a child who can’t believe this has happened to him. All his whining & self-pity…his job is to do something about it.”

We desperately need new leadership. Maybe we’ll get it next January.

Now it’s time to forget the Sahara Dust storm for a few minutes. You should also ignore the fact that the Dixie Chicks changed their name to “The Chicks”. How exactly does THAT rebranding improve our world, or their career?

Time to take our masks off, sit at an appropriate physical distance, and kick back: It’s time for our Saturday Soother.

Let’s start by brewing up a huge mug of Ethiopia Nano Genji Agaro Gera coffee ($21.00/12oz.) from Sacramento CA’s Temple Coffee roasters. The roaster says you will experience notes of nectarine and apricot with your first sip.

Now find a comfortable lawn chair, and settle in to listen to “Summertime”, written by George and Ira Gershwin, and Dubose Edwin Heyward, in 1935. It’s performed here by George Winston from his album “Restless Wind”:

It was also memorably performed by the late, great Sam Cooke in 1957, released as the B-side on the single of Cooke’s big hit, “You Send Me”.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Pandemic Is Getting Worse

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Green County WI – June 2020 photo by Keith D. Leman

Last Tuesday, VP Pence rejected the idea that the country was seeing a second spike in coronavirus cases as the pandemic continued. He wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal, entitled “There Isn’t a Coronavirus ‘Second Wave’”.  

Maybe he thinks that’s the case.

The US and the EU have comparable populations, but the current state of their respective COVID-19 outbreaks are vastly different. New data released by the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that there are around 3,000 new COVID cases in the EU each day.

In America, we’re now recording about 30,000 new cases of the virus each day, ten times higher than Europe. And while some US politicians in the US say the difference is due to discrepancies in testing, the US and the EU are conducting roughly the same number of tests per million people.

And new cases are growing in the US. Here’s a look at the seven-day rolling average of new COVID cases in the EU and the US since March:

It looks like a second US wave is on its way, regardless of what Pence or Trump says. Everything out of the White House on the pandemic has been bullshít. The pandemic has revealed that we have no leadership, no self-control, and no willingness to sacrifice for the common good.

The federal government’s response to the virus has been misguided. We could have undertaken a national effort to produce N95 masks for every person. With those masks, which reduce the chances of inhaling the virus by 95%, along with proper instructions on how to wear and handle them, the country could have remained open, and people remained safe. Of course, that assumes mask wearing isn’t considered an affront to our freedoms.

Now, the country has opened back up. We are almost as ill-prepared as when the pandemic started. Many of us have gone back to our former ways, pretending the virus is gone. Yes, we can go back to work, but we need the protection of high-quality masks.

Here’s Calvin with some truth:

America is doomed.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Tulsa Edition, June 22, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Trump Tulsa loyalist – photo by: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

(Blogging for the rest of the week will be light and variable, as Wrongo and Ms. Right embark on our first trip since COVID entered our lives)

Wrongo’s initial reaction to the smaller-than-expected crowd in Tulsa on Saturday was that quite a few Trump supporters actually had common sense, despite what they might have said to the press about COVID.

CNN said the venue estimated that 6,200 people were in the arena. The blue section where the lone Trump supporter above is seated, is the highest level of the arena. It holds 9,000, and was largely vacant. Despite that, the Trump campaign said that 12,000 went through the metal detectors.

Wrongo was wrong about the Trumpets. It turned out that teenage users of TikTok were behind the early huge crowd estimates by the campaign:

“TikTok users and fans of Korean pop music groups claimed to have registered potentially hundreds of thousands of tickets for Mr. Trump’s campaign rally as a prank.”

And the NYT reports there’s a story behind the story:

“Mary Jo Laupp, a 51-year-old from Fort Dodge, Iowa, said she had been watching black TikTok users express their frustration about Mr. Trump hosting his rally on Juneteenth. (The rally was later moved to June 20.) She “vented” her own anger in a late-night TikTok video on June 11 — and provided a call to action. ‘I recommend all of those of us that want to see this 19,000-seat auditorium barely filled or completely empty go reserve tickets now, and leave him standing there alone on the stage’….When she checked her phone the next morning…the video was starting to go viral. It has more than 700,000 likes, she added, and more than two million views.”

This will be spun many ways over the next few days, but a few days ago, the campaign claimed the equivalent of a quarter of Oklahoma’s population had requested a ticket. Today, they blamed invisible Antifa’s for both the cancellation of the planned overflow outdoor speech, and that the indoor venue was not even half full.

This shows how far the Trump campaign has to go in the next 132 days.

Today’s real topic is AG Barr’s firing of the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), Geoffrey Berman. First, Berman was asked to resign, and he refused to comply. Then Barr said that Trump had fired Berman, so Berman then agreed to leave.

Wrongo has no position on Berman’s worth as a federal prosecutor. He was the Assistant US Attorney for the SDNY while Rudy Giuliani was the US Attorney. He later became a partner at the law firm, Greenberg Traurig. Still later, Rudy Giuliani also joined Greenberg Traurig.

The SDNY has pursued a series of highly visible cases that are Trump-adjacent. It handled the arrest and prosecution in 2018 of Michael D. Cohen. Then there was the indictment last year of a state-owned bank in Turkey. Turkish president Erdogan wanted Trump to quash the investigation. Bolton’s book says Trump promised Erdogan that he would get rid of the current leadership of SDNY, and then they’d “take care of it.”

Berman also has an inquiry into Rudy Giuliani and his henchmen, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.

Berman’s dismissal seems to be either questionable judgment, or an effort to obstruct ongoing investigations. We’re way past the point of optics. Trump and Barr are in a scramble to do ANYTHING to get re-elected. Their hope is to keep the conspiracy going for four more years.

And their latest effort, to short-circuit the ongoing criminal investigations of Trump’s affiliates and associates, is only the most recent evidence. If Barr continues down this road, he will make John Mitchell, Nixon’s disgraced attorney general, who did time for his transgressions, look like a man of principle.

When Barr was up for Senate confirmation, he was the old Washington hand everyone respected and who, we were assured, had nothing but respect for the law. Now it’s clear that he’s someone who had a pedigree and the right connections, but no moral center.

Trump plans to replace Berman with the head of the SEC, Jay Clayton. Clayton is a lawyer who doesn’t have any criminal experience. His former client, Deustche Bank, is party to a Trump tax return case that is before the Supreme Court.

Time to Wake up America! None of Trump’s people have a moral center. We have a few weeks remaining to register and turn out voters in such overwhelming numbers that these bastards are thrown out of office.

To help you wake up, consider this quote from John Adams:

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

And right now, we have a government without ethics or morals.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 21, 2020

Tulsa, Oklahoma, June 20, 2020: Come because you love Trump. Leave with the Trump virus. Wrongo isn’t a futurist, but as this is written on Saturday, there’s reason to be concerned that there may be an increase in COVID-19 infections in Tulsa:

“Six of President Trump’s staffers, who were part of the campaign’s advance team for the president’s Saturday rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, have been quarantined after testing positive for the novel coronavirus…”

Wrongo has a bad feeling about the aftermath:

  • People are coming from several states, some with rapidly-rising hospitalizations
  • It’s indoors, with no way to effectively distance
  • There will be cheering, singing, and chanting
  • Some attendees will have spent hours, possibly days interacting with each other outside the venue, and will spend an hour or two in line just to get in
  • These aren’t people who have a belief in masking and distancing

Speaking of bad feelings, the Guardian reports that armed militia members and bikers are gathering outside Trump’s venue. The National Guard has been activated in Tulsa. What could go wrong?

On to cartoons. Bolton’s book inspires the rest of Trump’s team:

Trump says Bolton’s book is all lies, and they are state secrets:

They knew it and did nothing:

GOP complains about demonstrators:

LGBTQ ruling angers the elephant:

Chart shows COVID in the US, based on which presidential candidate won in 2016. Notice anything?

The cure:

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Saturday Soother – June 20, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Morning surf casting, Nauset Off Road Beach, Orleans MA – May 2020 photo by Chef Bob

Happy Summer Solstice fellow disease vectors!

The political scene remains in flux. There are 135 days to go until the November election, and while things look encouraging for Biden, there’s plenty of time for Trump to mount a successful counter-attack. We’ll see the start of that effort tonight in Tulsa.

The 2020 Senate races are the most important to Wrongo. If Biden wins, Democrats need to pick up just three seats to control the Senate. If Biden loses, they need four seats, actually five, since Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) is likely to lose his seat.

The Cook Political Report just moved Montana Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s race against incumbent GOP Sen. Steve Daines to toss-up status from “leans Republican”. A race of the two Steves. Daines won the seat in 2014 by 18 points.

Montana has become competitive in part due to Bullock’s successful handling of the COVID-19 issue, and because the pandemic has limited campaigning. Bullock has seen his approval ratings rise to 75% in one poll. Montana has one of the lowest per capita infection rates (49th out of 50), with only 20 deaths as of June 17, and Bullock has gotten credit for closing the state early. From Cook:

“Recent private Democratic polling in the contest gives Bullock a small lead and finds that Bullock’s approval ratings are more than 20 points higher than Daines…”

That’s fine, but Cook also reports that:

“GOP polling also shows that it’s a close race, but one where every internal poll for them has still shown Daines leading. “

Remember that Trump won Montana by 20 points in 2016. Democrats argue that Biden isn’t as toxic in Montana as Hillary Clinton was in 2016, and that Obama only lost the state by 2 points in 2008, so if Biden could get close, he’ll help Bullock.

Bullock has outraised Daines by about $2.1 million in the first fundraising quarter, and again outraised Daines ahead of the June 2 primary by a nearly two-to-one margin. But Daines retains a $1.6 million cash on hand advantage.

The national state of play: There are now five GOP Senate seats rated as toss-ups: Daines, Susan Collins in Maine, Cory Gardner in Colorado, Thom Tillis in NC and Martha McSally in Arizona.

There are another four Republican seats in play, albeit where they have leads in the polls. Both Georgia senators (Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue), Joni Ernst in Iowa, and Kansas’s open seat could swing to the Dems. That totals nine Republican Senate seats within reach.

Notice that Mitch McConnell (R-KY) isn’t in the Dem’s competitive column.

If you gave money to centrist Democrat Amy McGrath, she’s trailing progressive opponent Charles Booker in the polls for the chance to go against McConnell despite raising $41 million.

It’s nearly certain that the GOP picks up Jones’s (AL) Senate seat. They’re expecting to hold on to the four seats above, so the Dems would have to win all five of the toss-ups to gain Senate control if Trump won reelection.

That could be a heavy lift. Remember that the GOP gained two Senate seats in 2018, despite the Democratic wave moving control of the House to the Democrats.

Enough calculating about what may be happening in a few months. It’s time for our Saturday Soother!

The summer solstice is Wrongo’s least favorite day of the year, since the days start growing shorter tomorrow. Temperatures at the Mansion of Wrong look to be in the high 80s to low 90s for the next week, so summer seems to have finally arrived.

In honor of summer let’s make a cold brew. Try The Dredger ($16/12oz.) from Jersey City, NJ’s Modcup brewers. The Dredger is said to have a deep toffee like sweetness and a slight fruity undertone. Note that Modcup refuses to sell any coffee 18 days after its roast date.

Now take your cold brew, settle back at an appropriate physical distance, and enjoy the hot sun. Today, you can hear a classic pop song that speaks about the power of “dreamers” in honor of the Supreme Court’s decision on DACA.

Here is Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run” from the 1989 soundtrack of the movie “Working Girl”. Simon won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for it. At the link, you’ll see throwback haircuts and shoulder pads on women’s clothes from the 1980s and a few poignant scenes of the WTC:

Sample lyric:

We’re coming to the edge

Running on the water

Coming through the fog

Your sons and daughters

Let the river run

Let all the dreamers

Wake the nation

Come, the New Jerusalem

 Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Monday Wake Up Call – June 15, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Bright Angel Trail, in the middle foreground, Grand Canyon NP – photo by glowrocks

The chickens are coming home to roost. Michael Flor was originally the longest-hospitalized COVID-19 patient. Somehow, he survived. He came close enough to death that a night-shift nurse held a phone to his ear while his wife and kids said their final goodbyes.

Today, he’s recovering at home in West Seattle, WA. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he just got the bill. From the Seattle Times:

“The total tab for his bout with the coronavirus:…$1,122,501.04, to be exact. All in one bill that’s more like a book because it runs to 181 pages.”

More from the Seattle Times:

“…the charge for his room in the intensive care unit was billed at $9,736 per day. Due to the contagious nature of the virus, the room was sealed and could only be entered by medical workers wearing plastic suits and headgear. For 42 days he was in this isolation chamber, for a total charged cost of $408,912.

He also was on a mechanical ventilator for 29 days, with the use of the machine billed at $2,835 per day, for a total of $82,215. About a quarter of the bill is drug costs.”

Those charges don’t include the two weeks of recuperating he did in a rehabilitation facility.

Since Flor has Medicare, it is unclear how much he will actually have to pay out of pocket. Further, since Congress set aside more than $100 billion to help hospitals and insurance companies defray the costs of the pandemic, it’s possible that Mr. Flor may not have to pay even the out-of-pocket charges normally billed by his Medicare Advantage policy, but that remains to be seen.

The insurance industry has estimated treatment costs of COVID-19 could top $500 billion, so unless Congress steps up with more money, co-pays for COVID will soon become injurious.

One outcome of the pandemic may be that America takes a closer look at universal health insurance. There are many detractors in Congress, but the sticker shock that so many families will see from COVID-19 cases may restart the discussion. Medicare for all could work: A single payer with a set system of prices would be good for employers and employees alike.

It will be hard. Universal health insurance is such a tough problem to solve that only 31 out of 32 developed nations have managed to do it.

A second issue for today is the killing of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta over the weekend. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“Officers were called to the restaurant after receiving a complaint about a man asleep in his vehicle, which forced other customers to go around his car to get their food at the window. The man, Atlanta resident Rayshard Brooks, was given a field sobriety test, which he reportedly failed…”

Brooks grabbed a cop’s Taser. More:

“…surveillance footage from the Wendy’s appeared to show Brooks turn toward the police and attempt to fire the Taser as he ran away. That’s when the officer chasing Brooks pulled out his gun and shot him…”

Tasers are a form of de-escalation instead of using firearms. The Taser momentarily incapacitates, but ultimately doesn’t threaten life. So shouldn’t it follow that if a suspect steals a cop’s Taser and threatens to use it, the cop can’t just shoot him dead since he’s being threatened by an ultimately harmless weapon?

The cops had his car, it’s likely they knew where he lived. They could have picked him up at any time. Instead, they killed him. The police tried to do something, the suspect resisted, and in the heat of the moment, the cop escalated to show that he’s in charge. It was a terrible reason to kill someone.

Time to wake up America! We have both out-of-control policing and out-of-control capitalism harming our society. To help you wake up, listen to Sly and the Family Stone’s 1969 song, “Everyday People”. This is Playing for Change again, along with Turnaround Arts students. Trust Wrongo and watch:

Sample Lyric:

Sometimes I’m right and I can be wrong
My own beliefs are in my song
The butcher, the banker, the drummer and then
Makes no difference what group I’m in
I am everyday people, yeah, yeah

And different strokes for different folks
And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo-bee
Ooh, sha sha
We got to live together
I am no better and neither are you
We are the same whatever we do

Of course there was racism back in 1968, but the musicians were preaching integration. Despite the racism back then, people were optimistic. Compare that to today.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Will the Demonstrations Lead to a Wave Election?

The Daily Escape:

Lenticular clouds over Utah Lake, UT – 2020 photo by jephriB. It’s Utah’s largest freshwater lake.

One thing that is giving Wrongo hope amongst the (mostly) negative voices about the protests against police violence is how universal these protests have become. People have protested in all 50 states and DC, including in hundreds of smaller towns and cities that have not been in the spotlight during previous nationwide protests.

On Sunday, our little town of 25,000 had a demonstration supporting Black Lives Matter. Here are a few photos:

Photo by Pame Ortega

Photo by Pame Ortega

There seems to be something happening on the ground that may have electoral implications in November. Wrongo’s home town is in a very conservative part of Connecticut. It voted 75% for Trump in 2016, and is 94% non-Hispanic White. The town Facebook page is a cesspool of right wing comments. Yet the march was well-attended, and the marchers skewed young, white and female. It was completely peaceful:

Photo by Pame Ortega

The speakers on the town green included politicians, police, local clergy and rally organizers.

Wrongo has regularly scheduled Monday morning meetings with the town’s mayor, a conservative Republican. The mayor had attended the march, and we spoke in passing about the demonstration. He was pleased by the strong attendance, and was happy with the response by his police, fire and public works departments. He was also happy to see peaceful engagement by the citizenry.

Are things changing in America?

The WaPo reports that the closer someone lives to a protest, the more likely it is to change their vote. Moreover, protests influence not just election turnout, but also what types of issues rise to the top of party platforms, and who gets elected to local, state and federal offices.

Demo Memo reports that most Americans believe in the right to protest, but a surprisingly small share of the public has ever demonstrated. According to a 2018 Gallup survey, just 36% of adults have ever felt the urge to organize or join a public demonstration. That is much higher than it was during the fractious 1960s. In 1965 when Gallup asked the same question, only 10% of Americans said they had ever felt like organizing or joining a protest.

What’s driving the change in the willingness to demonstrate? Maybe it’s the growing polarization of our society. Or perhaps our growing diversity and the relative youth of our population are behind the change.

WaPo also shows that young people in the outer suburbs and small towns are becoming less conservative. They report that statistical analyses suggest that rural voters age 18 to 29 went from supporting Donald Trump by a 17-point margin in 2016 to supporting Democratic congressional candidates by an eight-point margin in 2018. Votes by their older neighbors (40s and older) barely budged.

Even the smallest cities have shifted leftward in recent years.

We’re in a new era. First, COVID-19 brought home to us who were the truly essential members of the American workforce, and how many of them were minorities. Now, we’re seeing first-hand how those same people are forced to live, and how they’re mistreated by our police and by American society at large.

As they say, you can’t unsee this.

Much of what is working to bring about change is the Black Lives Matter movement, which has been an organizing force working on these issues at least since 2014. Add to that, white suburban disgust with Trump and his goon-like behavior around both the pandemic and the protests.

It has become clear to white people that Trump would have zero issues with shooting them in the street, beating them, or pepper spraying them, or turning dogs on them.

And when most families are spending concentrated time at home together, their kids are asking them unanswerable questions.

The only answers are at the ballot box. Vote for change in the White House, the Senate, in your statehouse, your county seat, at city hall and on your school board.

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The Coming Disaster for America’s Colleges

The Daily Escape:

New Navajo Falls, Supai, AZ – 2020 photo by wanderin-wally. These falls were formed by a flash flood in 2008.

Colleges and universities are scrambling to figure out what to do this fall if their students can’t return to campus. Some students are reconsidering going to college. If they don’t return, what will happen to schools that are tuition-dependent?

Even before the pandemic hit, student enrollment for the spring 2020 had fallen for the ninth year in a row. Wolf Richter reports that the number of post-secondary students fell by more than 83,800 students (-.05%) to 17.18 million students. Worse, compared to the spring semester in 2011, enrollment is down by 10.6%, or 2.03 million students. Here’s Wolf’s chart:

Demo Memo says that college enrollment in the United States peaked in 2010 at just over 21 million, and as the chart shows, it has drifted downward ever since. For 2020s spring semester enrollment declined in all sectors compared to spring 2019:

  • Public two-year: -2.3%
  • Private for-profit four-year: -1.9%
  • Private nonprofit four-year: -0.7%
  • Public four-year: -0.6%

Public two-year schools have seen a 25% drop in enrollments since 2011, while enrollment in private for-profit colleges is down 55.2% for the same period.  The drop in for-profit enrollment accounts for 44% of the total drop in enrollment in all institutions since 2011.

Nathan Grawe says in the Harvard Business Review that demographics will not be a friend to higher education in the future:

“….since the onset of the Great Recession in 2008, the total fertility rate…has fallen by almost 20%….Tracing forward 18 years from the 2008 recession, we can anticipate a sizable decline in prospective college students beginning in 2026.”

He says that two-year colleges and non-selective four-year schools can expect to see falling enrollments, because these schools serve a demographically representative subset of students, so they will face the inevitable demographic arithmetic. This will be true particularly in the Northeast and Midwest, where declines are already well underway.

This will lead to price competition, which is precisely what Scott Galloway, professor at NYU’s Stern business school said on CNN recently. Galloway points out that schools in the top tier (Like Stanford, Oxford, Harvard and MIT) have deep waiting lists, and therefore will not be damaged by a smaller pool of college-age students. This means that the top-20 universities globally are going to become even stronger, as will universities between numbers 20 to 50.

At the other limit, for the Tier III schools who are tuition-dependent and who have no wait list, there will be carnage. The Upshot wrote about a college consultancy called Edmit that follows financial solvency of colleges:

“Edmit examined financial trends at 937 private universities and added a conservative estimate of the Covid-19 impact: tuition losses of 10% in 2020 and 20% in 2021, a 20% decline in endowment earnings, and an offsetting 10% reduction in spending on salaries.”

Their work shows that the number of colleges ranked with “Low” financial health (defined as being on track to run out of money within six years) was 345, more than one-third of all private colleges studied.

Beyond demographics, the fundamental question is today’s perceived value of a college degree. An MIT degree may be worth $250k in tuition, but is a Boston College degree worth that?

Since 1998, overall inflation is up 54%, while college education costs are up 150%. There’s now more student loan debt than credit card debt. Former students are in the hole for $2 trillion in student loan debt, a lot of which may eventually need to be written off. And the average price of a textbook has increased 812% in the last 30 years.

Galloway says that higher education has raised its prices at a faster rate than the health care industry! This, for a product/experience that is substantially unchanged in the past four decades.

The four-year public schools will survive, because they provide a better price-to-value proposition than the mid-tier private schools.

Dozens, maybe hundreds, of private middle tier schools will close, or partner with other schools, or possibly with businesses. They face huge price pressure, with many competitive alternatives available to the dwindling pool of students.

Many of the third-tier private, tuition-driven schools will simply shut down, continuing a trend that is already under way.

Change is sometimes the only way to make a service more efficient and affordable. The physical store is on the verge of disappearing. The physical office is disappearing. Similarly, colleges and universities need to understand the economic logic they’re facing, or else Mr. Market will educate them.

The questions to wrestle with are:

  • Is the statement “everyone should/needs to go to college” still true?
  • Does higher education still require a physical presence to be effective?

If the paradigm changes, what should it change to?

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Churchill’s Lessons For Our Time

The Daily Escape:

Algodones Dunes, CA – 2020 photo by _christopherjs. The Algodones Dunes cover 1,000 square miles of Sonoran Desert, making it the largest dune system in the US.

Wrongo fears that some of our country’s problems may be intractable. Blog reader Fred VK agrees:

“I’ve been distressed lately by how seemingly brain dead so much of the US population seems, not only regarding COVID-19 but more, the fragile state of our nation and what the forces of Trump have done and are doing. Some say we will never get back due mostly to lack of resolve. Years ago, I developed this notion that Americans were so complacent about our country and government because they believed that everything was so set in stone that nothing could shake it and that the republic was good to go as is forever.”

Things aren’t set in stone, and they don’t go to hell in a straight line, But from where we stand today, it’s questionable whether America can (or will) be able to solve its biggest problems.

So the question is: What should we be doing when we live in a country where you know bad things will continue to happen, and you can’t stop them?

Worse, in the time of COVID-19, we’re seeing that our efforts to prevent, or to moderate what’s wrong are failing. It’s worth considering that all of our efforts are barely slowing down the worst of what is happening to the climate, to inequality, to the re-emergence of racism, and the rising threat that factionalism presents. For many of us this hits home. We or our loved ones are among those suffering: losing our lives, homes, livelihoods, or living in despair.

We are far from the first to contemplate a civilization’s decline. From Ian Welsh: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The Roman Empire went through multiple periods of decline…stoics and epicureans debated how to live the good life in an evil world. The Chinese practically had dealing with declining and corrupt imperial eras and warring…periods down to an art: When no good could be done in the world, one returned to one’s private life to write poetry, drink wine, and care for those close to one while refusing as much as possible to be complicit in the evil of the times.”

Words to live by: Avoid being complicit in the evil of the times. This can’t all be blamed on Republicans, but they are primarily responsible for the wrong that’s occurred in America since the 1980s. Can we work together to pull out of our current nose dive? It will require far better leadership than we have now.

Wrongo is reading Erik Larson’s book about Churchill and the Blitz. Larson focuses on Churchill’s first year as prime minister. On his first day, Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. Dunkirk was only two weeks away, and the blitz was about to begin.

Britain was woefully unprepared. They had just 45 fighter aircraft when Churchill took office, and no one thought Britain could hold out for long against the Nazis. Churchill managed to convince the British people of the “art of being fearless”. He bludgeoned his government and the military on to the same page. Many in England wanted to concede Europe to Hitler, if that meant even a temporary peace, and they had to be brought to see the fight was worth having.

This picture is from a London library during the blitz. It is also the frontispiece in Larson’s book, and shows how people try to normalize even under the worst of circumstances:

Via Shorpy

But we should no longer normalize. Churchill was able to bring his country together despite all the factionalism, and we must make that our goal. Reading Larson’s book puts our own political dysfunction in focus. It’s clear that today, when the stakes are very high (not as high as England in WWII), we also need robust and top quality leaders.

What is our job as citizens, if leadership is to be the difference? Wrongo isn’t saying we shouldn’t fight the big fights. The best way to lose the big fights is to not fight.

We need to cajole, or force if necessary, a few of our politicians to step forward and be the heroes we need.

Many heroes have emerged as the COVID-19 fight has unfolded. We’ve seen good people brought closer together. We’ve felt the pain that comes when we know we must transition from a weaker to a stronger place, but we know we’re not where we need to be.

Sadly, few if any of our current heroes have been politicians.

Some of them need to step forward, and take the chance to be the leader who can teach Americans the “art of being fearless” much like Churchill taught the British.

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