|Good morning || March 23, 2020|
Leading the News
Senate Democrats Vote To Block Republican Stimulus Proposal
The Wall Street Journal (3/22, Andrews, Wise, Subscription Publication) reports that Senate Democrats blocked a $1.3 trillion stimulus package on Sunday over disputes about bailouts included in the bill, with a second vote to be held on Monday morning. The proposal includes $75 billion for distressed companies, including air carriers, cargo airlines, and suppliers, which could go to help companies including Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Boeing, and General Electric. The bill also included $425 billion that could be used by the Treasury Department to provide loans that could potentially be forgiven if companies keep workers on their payroll. The Washington Post (3/22, A1, Werner, Kim, Bade, Stein) reports that the bill “does appear to prohibit stock buybacks at firms that receive the emergency loans and gives the Treasury Department the opportunity to take equity stakes in the firms so that taxpayers could benefit if a firm regains its financial footing.”
Bloomberg (3/22, Dennis) reports that both Republicans and Democrats “want an immediate and extensive rescue for” the economy, yet “they continue to differ on key sections, including a $500 billion chunk of the bill that could be used to help corporations, including airlines, or state and local governments.” The Hill (3/22, Bolton) reports that Democrats expressed concern that the bill “doesn’t do enough to require companies to keep workers on payroll,” as the bill only requires companies receiving assistance to retain employees “to the extent possible.” The provision “could result in mass layoffs after companies accept billions of dollars in taxpayer-guaranteed loans.” Democrats “have countered with a proposal that corporate loans could be forgiven if major companies such as United Airlines, which has seen its market share plunge in recent weeks, retain more than 90 percent of their workers through the crisis.”
Reuters (3/22, Shepardson, Rucinski) reports that the bill would have “set aside in grants $10 billion for grants to airports, $20 billion for transit systems and about $1 billion for Amtrak.” Passenger airlines would be eligible to receive up to $50 billion in loans or loan guarantees in the bill, and cargo airlines could receive $8 billion in loans. A spokesperson for Airlines for America said on Sunday, “direct financial assistance is needed immediately – other forms of liquidity are rapidly evaporating.” A4A is seeking $29 billion of the $58 billion in assistance to come in the form of grants. Airlines have said they would be able to avoid job cuts through the end of August if they received cash, and they would not increase executive pay, pay dividends, or buy back stocks. Airline unions also advocated for grants to the airlines.
Coronavirus Pandemic Transforming American Higher Education System
USA Today (3/20, Quintana) reported in the “span of roughly two weeks, the American higher education system has transformed” and its future is “increasingly uncertain.” Most universities have a “reputation for being reticent to change, especially in a short amount of time.” But the coronavirus has “changed all that.” In fact, colleges have “tried to react quickly to enact measures that would help to stop the virus’ spread.”
Coronavirus Crisis Prompts Increasing Number Of Colleges To Extend Yes-Or-No Deadline For Admitted Students
The Washington Post (3/20, Anderson) reported that May 1 has, for a long time, been high school seniors’ “primary deadline to choose a college.” However, the Post reports that the coronavirus crisis is prompting an increasing “number of colleges and universities to extend the yes-or-no deadline for admitted students to June 1 or even later.” The movement is an indicator “of mounting strains on admission and enrollment systems amid the global health emergency and economic shocks that are causing layoffs and ravaging college-savings accounts.”
Following Coronavirus, Western Universities May No Longer Be Able To Rely Upon Tuition From Chinese Students
The New York Times (3/21, Mueller) reported universities in English-speaking nations, particularly the US, Australia, and Britain, have become more and more reliant “on tuition from Chinese students, a business model” which could be destroyed by the coronavirus. The Times says that “with qualifying exams postponed, travel bans spreading and anger rising among Chinese students and parents at the West’s permissive attitude toward public health, enrollment could plummet in the coming years, experts said, potentially leaving countries with multibillion- dollar holes in their universities’ budgets.” Analysts are already discussing the possibility “of government bailouts of higher education if Chinese students stay home, starving universities of the often-exorbitant overseas tuition fees that keep their less-profitable departments afloat.”
Growing Number Of Universities Suspending Nonessential Research
The Washington Post (3/21, Svrluga) reported a “growing number of universities are suspending nonessential research, another sign of the vast disruption the pandemic is wreaking, with faculty members and graduate students racing to close labs.” The decisions – which would have “seemed unthinkable even months ago – are being swiftly implemented at Harvard, Stanford, Duke and Rice universities, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and elsewhere.” Meanwhile, many schools are “pouring support into labs studying the novel coronavirus as part of the effort to find ways to combat it.”
Longer-Term Financial Impacts Of Outbreak On Colleges Remain Unclear
Inside Higher Ed (3/20) reported concerns about university finances are “not the most urgent questions at the moment for many college leaders who have been scrambling with clearing out campuses, mass migrations to online or remote learning delivery, and various other steps that need to be taken to minimize harm from the spread of COVID-19.” But the issue “still looms over everything colleges are doing.” And the US higher education system had “already been showing signs of stress, including relatively flat net tuition revenue at many institutions, a lack of growth projected among the high school graduates that make up the bulk of students and anemic growth in lucrative international enrollments in recent years.” Now, “add to the mix the sudden operational jolts and likely global recession being prompted by the pandemic.”
ASEE's Online Collaboration Forum During Virus Crisis
ASEE has created Facebook groups for collaboration during this unique period. Join the Collaborative Discussion Forum, the P12 Instructors and Parents Forum, the Online Teaching Repository, and the Research Operations Repository.
Webinar – Storytelling to Advance Research and Teaching
April 9 at 1 PM, ET: What’s your story? Tune in for a free webinar to learn how storytelling techniques can be used to propel your research and teaching, helping you communicate research impacts, write proposals, share best teaching practices, and teach difficult concepts. Register today at http://bit.ly/3c99jba
Webinar – Training Tomorrow’s Engineers to Combat Climate Change
April 15 at 1 PM, ET: In support of Earth Day 2020, tune in for a new webinar and learn how two NSF-funded projects, RISE-UP and ReNUWIt, are training tomorrow’s engineers to build resilience and combat the effects of climate change through robust interdisciplinary initiatives. Register today: http://bit.ly/2Tlt4F9
Research and Development
More US Companies Building Commercial Electric Vehicles
The Detroit Free Press (3/21, Phelan) reports on the construction of commercial electric vehicles, saying, “there’s a gold rush going on to produce electric commercial vehicles like buses and Amazon vans, with everybody from huge automakers to independent customizers.” Fontaine Modification “takes Ford F-59 and 53 rolling chassis...and adds electric systems.” Motiv Power Systems “provides the vehicles’ batteries, controls and motors.” They are used for school buses and shuttles. The Free Press adds, “Ford is preparing to build electric versions of its big Transit delivery van in the United States and Europe.” Next year, says the Free Press, Rivian plans to build “delivery vans for Amazon, the most eager convert to e-vans with 100,000 ordered.”
US Successfully Tests Hypersonic Weapon
Reuters (3/20, Stone) reported that DoD “on Friday said it had tested an unarmed hypersonic weapon in Hawaii, as both China and Russia develop similar military and defense capabilities.” After “being lifted into the sky on a rocket to altitudes of between 25 miles (40 km) and 62 miles (100 km), a hypersonic glide vehicle detaches and flies at up to five times the speed of sound along the upper atmosphere toward its target.” The Navy and Army “jointly executed the launch which ‘flew at hypersonic speed to a designated impact point,’ the Pentagon said in the statement.” DoD’s Missile Defense Agency “monitored and gathered tracking data from the flight experiment, to inform its ongoing development of systems designed to defend against adversary hypersonic weapons, the statement said.”
The Daily Mail (UK) (3/20, Liberatore) reported that Navy’s Director of Strategic Systems Programs Vice Admiral Johnny Wolfe said, “In this test we put additional stresses on the system and it was able to handle them all, due to the phenomenal expertise of our top notch team of individuals from across government, industry and academia.” He continued, “Today we validated our design and are now ready to move to the next phase towards fielding a hypersonic strike capability.”
Soyuz Rocket Launches 34 OneWeb Satellites
Spaceflight Now (3/21, Clark) reported that a Soyuz “rocket and Fregat upper stage lifted off Saturday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, delivering 34 more satellites to orbit for OneWeb’s space-based Internet network in the company’s second launch this year.” The “Fregat carried a multi-payload dispenser produced by RUAG Space in Sweden, which released the 34 satellites in groups of two or four.” OneWeb “is one of two companies currently launching large constellations of satellites into low Earth orbit to beam Internet signals to consumers around the world,” with the other being SpaceX. Arianspace CEO Stéphane Israël said, “I am very proud of the teams at Arianespace, Starsem and their partners here in Baikonur and also in French Guiana for having performed four successful launches within a 10-week period, including two on behalf of OneWeb.”
United Airlines Cuts International Flights By 95 Percent For April
Reuters (3/21) reports United Airlines will be reducing its international flight schedule by 95 percent in April. The airline will suspend all flights to Canada and continue to reduce its trans-Atlantic, trans-Pacific, and Mexico flights. USA Today (3/21, Ali) reports United’s last trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific flights are scheduled for March 28. United will provide refunds to all passengers whose flights have been canceled, “even if they have nonrefundable tickets, including those restrictive basic economy tickets.”
Autonomous Truck Firm Starsky Robotics Shuts Down After Focus On Safety Fails To Excited Investors: CEO
Jalopnik (3/20) reports on the collapse Of Starsky Robotics. The self-driving truck firm “was the first company to run an unmanned semi on a public highway. It’s now shutting down though, and its co-founder has some unusually sensible and honest things to say about the industry, unusual only because the industry is stuffed with charlatans.” Starsky co-founder Stefan Seltz-Axmacher says the company focused most of its efforts on “safety engineering. The company was the first autonomous trucking company to submit a Voluntary Safety Self Assessment to the U.S. Department of Transportation. But a problem emerged: that safety focus didn’t excite investors. Venture capitalists, Seltz-Axmacher said, had trouble grasping why the company expended massive resources preparing, validating and vetting his system, then preparing a backup system, before the initial unmanned test run.”
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Engineering and Public Policy
Trump Proposes NASA Budget Of $25.2 Billion, Scientists Seeking More
The Houston Chronicle (3/20, Leinfelder) reported that President Trump’s “proposed NASA budget of $25.2 billion is heralded as one of the strongest budgets in NASA history, including a hefty $6.3 billion for science. But it lacks funding for a few key missions, prompting scientists to look to Congress for support.” The “proposed budget includes funding for more than 40 missions being planned, including money to return samples from Mars and for lunar science and technology that would complement NASA’s Artemis program seeking to return humans to the moon in 2024.” Some of the proposed cuts include “the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, which the astrophysicist community in 2010 named a top priority for the decade,” the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem mission, and the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory Pathfinder mission.
Coronavirus Shifting Climate Change Conversation
Bloomberg (3/20, Petri) reports the coronavirus pandemic “has shifted the conversation around climate change” in a variety of ways. Globally, there is the fear that efforts to curb pollution “are taking a back seat to the more immediate threat of Covid-19.” If an economic recession or depression takes hold, “governments may abandon the renewable energy revolution and revert back to the familiar and dirty: fossil fuel.” Still, despite the pandemic, “attention is already shifting to a post-virus world” in which green initiatives take precedence.
US Utilities Implementing Disaster Response Plans Due To Pandemic
The Los Angeles Times (3/19, Roth) reports American electrical and natural gas utilities are rolling out their disaster plans in response to the coronavirus pandemic’s growing impact on the US economy. The sector “started developing more detailed pandemic plans over a decade ago, in the wake of SARS and other contagious disease outbreaks, said Scott Aaronson, vice president of security and preparedness for the Edison Electric Institute, a utility trade group.”
Educators Facing Numerous Challenges As They Ramp Up Distance Learning Across The US
The Washington Post (3/22, George, Natanson, Stein, Lumpkin) reports schools across the DC metropolitan region are “moving toward distance learning, but the ramp-up has been gradual in many cases, posing an array of challenges.” For one, the effort is “complicated by uncertainties about whether schools are closed for two weeks, a month – or, some worry, until the school year ends in June.” What’s more, some students “don’t have computers or Internet at home” and others, with disabilities, “must be given equal access to education under law – and yet remote learning can be complex because of special needs.”
In California, reports the Los Angeles Times (3/22, John, Kohli, Esquivel, Blume), things are also “complicated.” Again, there is “uneven access to technology, difficulties communicating with students and parents, and uncertainty about expectations at a time when many families are suffering.” And even for educators “who have long used online learning tools and whose students have easy access to them, it is challenging to rely solely on technology.” Many teachers are “grappling with this while also adapting to the tough realities of working from home.”
Friday's Lead Stories
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