Dispatches From Behind Enemy Lines (Covid-19 edition)

“The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN)
is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”
Donald Trump, February 17, 2017

It  has been a while (a few years) since I have posted a last Dispatch. I thought though with most (sane) people finding themselves at home it may be a good time to restart the thread, with a particular focus on Covid-19 issues.  The effort, as always, is to periodically highlight smart pieces that you might have been missed and otherwise merit further discussion.  (Please feel free to suggest additional articles/columns in the comments below or by Kosmail.). Here we go:

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The depths of unemployment associated with this pandemic can be hard to truly grasp.  So this terrifying animated graph of the joblessness numbers is required viewing for any person looking to be reasonably informed.  (Also  …..  Holy Shit!)

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Will universities ever be the same?  The Coronavirus pandemic has had a particularly strong impact on a certain institution and life experience — the college experience — and it is not clear whether universities and colleges will ever (or should) return to normal.  If not, this will entail a significant change for American culture.  In “The Coming Disruption,” Scott Galloway predicts that “a handful of elite cyborg universities will soon monopolize higher education,” as well as a number of other interesting insights:



There’s a recognition that education — the value, the price, the product — has fundamentally shifted. The value of education has been substantially degraded. There’s the education certification and then there’s the experience part of college. The experience part of it is down to zero, and the education part has been dramatically reduced. You get a degree that, over time, will be reduced in value as we realize it’s not the same to be a graduate of a liberal-arts college if you never went to campus. You can see already how students and their parents are responding.

At universities, we’re having constant meetings, and we’ve all adopted this narrative of “This is unprecedented, and we’re in this together,” which is Latin for “We’re not lowering our prices, bitches.” Universities are still in a period of consensual hallucination [emphasis added] with each saying, “We’re going to maintain these prices for what has become, overnight, a dramatically less compelling product offering.”

In fact, the coronavirus is forcing people to take a hard look at that $51,000 tuition they’re spending.

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The entire article is worth a full read, and it does not paint a rosy picture:

It will be like department stores in 2018. Everyone will recognize they’re going out of business, but it will take longer than people think. There will be a lot of zombie universities. Alumni will step in to help. They’ll cut costs to figure out how to stay alive, but they’ll effectively be the walking dead. I don’t think you’re going to see massive shutdowns, but there’s going to be a strain on tier-two colleges.

There will be a dip, the mother of all V’s, among the top-50 universities, where the revenues are hit in the short run and then technology will expand their enrollments and they will come back stronger. In ten years, it’s feasible to think that MIT doesn’t welcome 1,000 freshmen to campus; it welcomes 10,000. What that means is the top-20 universities globally are going to become even stronger. What it also means is that universities Nos. 20 to 50 are fine. But Nos. 50 to 1,000 go out of business or become a shadow of themselves. I don’t want to say that education is going to be reinvented, but it’s going to be dramatically different.

Both the immediate and long-term future of getting a college degree is greatly complicated and uncertain these days.  Please comment below if you have any strong thoughts on this.

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Google and Apple may be balking at contact tracing software.  Are they right?  While many of us lament the lack of a plan to “test and trace” to combat Covid-19, that program — when fully explained — does require a fairly intrusive, “Orwellian” program that would use our cell phones to record, and then use, location data to identify everyone whom an infected person came near — and then advise those people to self-quarantine.  So, under an ideal version of this program, if you were in a McDonalds in NYC at the same time as someone (entirely unrelated) infected with Covid-19, the “twinning” cell phone data would reveal that interaction, and you would be notified to get testing and/or stay home yourself for two weeks (or so).  It is an effective concept, but requires a massive amount of privacy violations and disclosure of personal date.  

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And the recent news is that Google and Apple are not on board with that:

Apple and Google’s announcement last month of a joint effort to track the coronavirus by smartphone sparked a wave of excitement among public health officials hoping the technology would help alert them to potential new infections and map the pandemic’s spread.

But as the tech giants have revealed more details, officials now say the software will be of little use. Due to strict rules imposed by the companies, the system will notify smartphone users if they’ve potentially come into contact with an infected person, but it won’t share any data with health officials or reveal where those meetings took place.

. . . But Apple and Google have refused, arguing that letting the apps collect location data or loosening other smartphone rules would undermine people’s privacy. The companies are also concerned that easing the restrictions around apps’ Bluetooth use would drain phone battery life, which could irritate customers. That unbending stance has led some health authorities to abandon hopes of building a fully functioning contact-tracing app.

To me, this is not such an easy question.  It’s another issue that I would love to hear other’s thoughts in the comments.  

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Keep your eye on the big picture.  In “The Dawn of the BlackRock Era,” Alexander Sammon of The American Prospect explains how  “the world’s largest asset manager is poised for overwhelming influence no matter who wins the next presidential election.”

BlackRock is the world’s biggest asset manager, handling $7.4 trillion in customer assets. It’s twice as profitable as Goldman. It’s got offices in 30 countries and clients in a hundred. The company’s Aladdin risk-management system, an industry-standard software tool that monitors trading, watches over another $20 trillion in assets for 200 other financial firms, as well as the Federal Reserve and European central banks. This makes BlackRock part money manager, part institutional investor, part software platform, and part government partner. It’s a pioneer in junk bonds, and has often been referred to as the world’s largest shadow bank.

In March, the Federal Reserve announced that it had tapped BlackRock to serve as an investment adviser and asset manager for multiple debt-buying programs on behalf of the U.S. central bank as part of the CARES Act bailout program, a money pot worth hundreds of billions of dollars. With BlackRock’s advisement, the Fed committed to buying unlimited purchases of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities, as well as buying agency commercial mortgage-backed securities. Of course, that decision put BlackRock on both sides of a multitrillion-dollar bailout windfall: As Bloomberg reported, “Under the arrangement [BlackRock] could buy some of its own funds on behalf of the central bank.”

Read the full piece, or else you won’t know what is really happening.  As the author notes, this is a reprise of Goldman Sachs and the 2008 crisis — only on a much, much larger scale.

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Michael Flynn isn’t a martyr. He is a crook and a crackpot.  A Michael Flynn post isn’t strictly about Covid-19, except that it is.  It is part of President Trump’s scattershot efforts to distract from any discussion of his non-existent pandemic response — and has the added significance of being part of Trump’s corruption of the Department of Justice.  In any event, proper reading on this subject does not concern the in’s and out’s of the legal arguments, but rather is best summed up by Paul Waldman:    

But Michael Flynn? He’s the one they want to portray as a victim? What’s next — Jeffrey Epstein was framed? Bernie Madoff was a humanitarian? Al Capone was misunderstood?

Here’s the truth: Flynn should never have been allowed within 10 miles of the White House. He was a dangerous, dishonest and shady operator who was also kind of a loon. For a moment, it appeared that everyone in the Trump administration realized it, which was why he was booted from his position as national security adviser after only 24 days on the job.

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Billionaire Michael Bloomberg rolls his eyes after being NAILED by Senator Elizabeth Warren on the unknown number of NDAs he's "consensually" made women sign.

Bloomberg may be going full-in for Biden.  (But this campaign-finance system is rotten).  As he has promised from the start, former NYC Mayor (and frmr. presidential candidate) Michael Bloomberg is signaling some major financial support for the Biden campaign — perhaps a quarter billion or more of such support:

Though it’s unclear how much Bloomberg will eventually spend, some of the people familiar with the matter noted that they anticipate Bloomberg to end up spending in excess of $250 million to support Biden, the apparent Democratic nominee. Any major financial support from Bloomberg backing Biden does not include what he could put toward assisting congressional Democrats. After dropping out of the Democratic primary for president in March, Bloomberg endorsed Biden and later announced his campaign would transfer $18 million to the DNC.  

. . . The former New York mayor has previously said he would not rule out spending up to $1 billion against Trump, whether he was running for president or not. Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, has said they plan to spend at least $1 billion defending the president and getting him reelected.

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We don’t have a president or a plan.  For those who have missed it, Ezra Klein’s recent piece is required reading:

What we want to avoid in the reopening process is creating the conditions that led to us having to stay home in the first place,” writes Caitlin Rivers of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. That was the Trump administration’s job — either they needed to do it or they needed to support and empower the states to do it.

They have failed. It is the most profound and complete failure of presidential leadership in modern history.

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For those inclined to history:  Andrew Sullivan writes about “The Very First Pandemic Blogger”Samuel Pepys (pronounced Peeps), who was “a man about town in the London of the late 17th century” and kept a journal during the 1665 plague.

BOULDER, CO - OCTOBER 28:  Presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs up during  the CNBC Republican Presidential Debate at University of Colorados Coors Events Center October 28, 2015 in Boulder, Colorado.  Fourteen Republican presidential candidates are participating in the third set of Republican presidential debates.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

    

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Friday Night Misconduct Dump.  As reported by CNN, Trump has fired another independent inspector general:

President Donald Trump on Friday fired State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, the latest in a series of dismissals of independent government watchdogs that have come in the wake of the President's acquittal on articles of impeachment earlier this year. . . . 

The late-Friday-night announcement mirrors the dismissal of former Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson last month and comes as Trump continues his attacks on internal government oversight. The President has shown repeated hostility to any independent oversight from within the government, often targeting officials he sees as holdovers from President Barack Obama's administration or part of the so-called “deep state,” which he believes is aligned against him.

. . . . A State Department spokesperson confirmed Linick's dismissal and said that Ambassador Stephen Akard, an ally of Vice President Mike Pence, will take on the role. Akard's ties to Pence, which date back to when he worked under then-Indiana Gov. Pence as the head of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, have previously rankled former diplomats who see him as a part of the politicization of the State Department.

This is a collection of blatant wrongdoing.  Let’s all keep informed and defeat the willfully ignorant..