US Department of Education opens investigations in 5 states over mask bans in schools!


Dear Commons Community,

The US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has opened investigations in five states regarding the prohibitions of universal indoor masking.

Chief state school officers in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah received letters yesterday from the OCR questioning the states’ decisions to not mandate masks in schools. The Education Department maintains that mask-mandate bans discriminate against students with disabilities who are at heightened risk for severe illness from COVID-19 by preventing them from safely accessing in-person education.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona says that not mandating masks may put students with underlying medical conditions and disabilities at particular risk.  As reported by Yahoo News and other media organizations.

“It’s simply unacceptable that state leaders are putting politics over the health and education of the students they took an oath to serve. The Department will fight to protect every student’s right to access in-person learning safely and the rights of local educators to put in place policies that allow all students to return to the classroom full-time in-person safely this fall,” Cardona said in a statement.

The letter also points out that not mandating masks may prevent the schools “from meeting their legal obligations not to discriminate based on disability and from providing an equal educational opportunity to students with disabilities who are at heightened risk of severe illness from COVID-19.”

At the center of the Education Department’s investigation is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The federal law protects students with disabilities from discrimination. Section 504 guarantees qualified students with disabilities the right to a free and appropriate public education in elementary and secondary school.

The department states that this includes the right of students with disabilities to receive their education in a regular educational environment, alongside peers without disabilities, to the maximum extent appropriate to their needs. The investigation will also explore Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. That federal law prohibits disability discrimination by public entities, including public education systems and institutions.

The department has yet to open investigations in Florida, Texas, Arkansas, or Arizona because masking bans in those states are enforced as a result of court orders or other state actions. However, the Education Department says that it will take action if needed if leaders in those states prevent universal indoor masking in schools.

I give credit to Secretary Cardona and the USDOE for moving forward with these investigations but I am not sure how timely or effective they will be.


Video: America’s Longest War is Officially Over!  Thank You, President Biden!

Dear Commons Community,

The United States completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan yesterday, ending America’s longest war and closing a chapter in military history likely to be remembered for colossal failures, unfulfilled promises and a frantic final exit that cost the lives of 180 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members.

Hours ahead of President Joe Biden’s today’s deadline for shutting down a final airlift, and thus ending the U.S. war, Air Force transport planes carried a remaining contingent of troops from Kabul airport late yesterday. Thousands of troops had spent a harrowing two weeks protecting the airlift of tens of thousands of Afghans, Americans and others seeking to escape a country once again ruled by Taliban militants. 

Gen. Frank McKenzie (see video above), head of U.S. Central Command, said the last planes took off from Kabul airport one minute before midnight in Kabul. He said a number of American citizens, likely numbering in “the very low hundreds,” were left behind, and that he believes they will still be able to leave the country.

Biden said military commanders unanimously favored ending the airlift, not extending it. He said the United States would work with international partners in holding the Taliban to their promise of safe passage for Americans and others who want to leave in the days ahead.

The airport had become a U.S.-controlled island, a last stand in a 20-year war that claimed more than 2,400 American lives.  As reported by the Associated Press.

“The closing hours of the evacuation were marked by extraordinary drama. American troops faced the daunting task of getting final evacuees onto planes while also getting themselves and some of their equipment out, even as they monitored repeated threats — and at least two actual attacks — by the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate. A suicide bombing on Aug. 26 killed 13 American service members and some 169 Afghans. More died in various incidents during the airport evacuation.

The final pullout fulfilled Biden’s pledge to end what he called a “forever war” that began in response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and rural Pennsylvania. His decision, announced in April, reflected a national weariness of the Afghanistan conflict. Now he faces criticism at home and abroad, not so much for ending the war as for his handling of a final evacuation that unfolded in chaos and raised doubts about U.S. credibility.

The U.S. war effort at times seemed to grind on with no endgame in mind, little hope for victory and minimal care by Congress for the way tens of billions of dollars were spent for two decades. The human cost piled up — tens of thousands of Americans injured in addition to the dead.

More than 1,100 troops from coalition countries and more than 100,000 Afghan forces and civilians died, according to Brown University’s Costs of War project.

In Biden’s view the war could have ended 10 years ago with the U.S. killing of Osama bin Laden, whose al-Qaida extremist network planned and executed the 9/11 plot from an Afghanistan sanctuary. Al-Qaida has been vastly diminished, preventing it thus far from again attacking the United States.

Congressional committees, whose interest in the war waned over the years, are expected to hold public hearings on what went wrong in the final months of the U.S. withdrawal. Why, for example, did the administration not begin earlier the evacuation of American citizens as well as Afghans who had helped the U.S. war effort and felt vulnerable to retribution by the Taliban?

It was not supposed to end this way. The administration’s plan, after declaring its intention to withdraw all combat troops, was to keep the U.S. Embassy in Kabul open, protected by a force of about 650 U.S. troops, including a contingent that would secure the airport along with partner countries. Washington planned to give the now-defunct Afghan government billions more to prop up its army.

Biden now faces doubts about his plan to prevent al-Qaida from regenerating in Afghanistan and of suppressing threats posed by other extremist groups such as the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate. The Taliban are enemies of the Islamic State group but retain links to a diminished al-Qaida.

The final U.S. exit included the withdrawal of its diplomats, although the State Department has left open the possibility of resuming some level of diplomacy with the Taliban depending on how they conduct themselves in establishing a government and adhering to international pleas for the protection of human rights.

The speed with which the Taliban captured Kabul on Aug. 15 caught the Biden administration by surprise. It forced the U.S. to empty its embassy and frantically accelerate an evacuation effort that featured an extraordinary airlift executed mainly by the U.S. Air Force, with American ground forces protecting the airfield. The airlift began in such chaos that a number of Afghans died on the airfield, including at least one who attempted to cling to the airframe of a C-17 transport plane as it sped down the runway.

By the evacuation’s conclusion, well over 100,000 people, mostly Afghans, had been flown to safety. The dangers of carrying out such a mission came into tragic focus last week when the suicide bomber struck outside an airport gate.

Speaking shortly after that attack, Biden stuck to his view that ending the war was the right move. He said it was past time for the United States to focus on threats emanating from elsewhere in the world.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “it was time to end a 20-year war.”

The war’s start was an echo of a promise President George W. Bush made while standing atop of the rubble in New York City three days after hijacked airliners slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

“The people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!” he declared through a bullhorn.

Less than a month later, on Oct. 7, Bush launched the war. The Taliban’s forces were overwhelmed and Kabul fell in a matter of weeks. A U.S.-installed government led by Hamid Karzai took over and bin Laden and his al-Qaida cohort escaped across the border into Pakistan.

The initial plan was to extinguish bin Laden’s al-Qaida, which had used Afghanistan as a staging base for its attack on the United States. The grander ambition was to fight a “Global War on Terrorism” based on the belief that military force could somehow defeat Islamic extremism. Afghanistan was but the first round of that fight. Bush chose to make Iraq the next, invading in 2003 and getting mired in an even deadlier conflict that made Afghanistan a secondary priority until Barack Obama assumed the White House in 2009 and later that year decided to escalate in Afghanistan.

Obama pushed U.S. troop levels to 100,000, but the war dragged on though bin Laden was killed in Pakistan in 2011.

When Donald Trump entered the White House in 2017 he wanted to withdraw from Afghanistan but was persuaded not only to stay but to add several thousand U.S. troops and escalate attacks on the Taliban. Two years later his administration was looking for a deal with the Taliban, and in February 2020 the two sides signed an agreement that called for a complete U.S. withdrawal by May 2021. In exchange, the Taliban made a number of promises including a pledge not to attack U.S. troops.

Biden weighed advice from members of his national security team who argued for retaining the 2,500 troops who were in Afghanistan by the time he took office in January. But in mid-April he announced his decision to fully withdraw.”

I am glad that the United States has ended this war and I thank President Biden for having the courage and resolve to stop wasting American lives, time, and financial resources in Afghanistan.


Video: Dr. Anthony Fauci Rips Ron DeSantis Fundraising Site Selling Anti-Vax Shirts Amid COVID Crisis!


Dear Commons Community,

Dr. Anthony Fauci attacked a fundraising website for Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that is selling merchandise mocking COVID-19 vaccines and other health measures amid the state’s deadly COVID crisis.

“We have an extraordinary problem that’s killing people in the United States — killing us and putting us in the hospital,” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union” yesterday (see video above). “There’s no place” for “that kind of politicization” when “you’re dealing with a public health crisis,” he added.

The DeSantis campaign team website raising funds for the governor is currently selling T-shirts and drink coolers featuring the phrase “Don’t Fauci My Florida.” Vaccines against COVID-19 are often referred to as the “Fauci-ouchie” in a humorous nod to the man who has relentlessly encouraged them — as well as other COVID-19 safety precautions like social distancing and masks.

One of the beverage coolers for sale features DeSantis’ photo and his own quip: “How the hell am I going to be able to drink a beer with a mask on?”

After the merchandise triggered an uproar last month, an unrepentant DeSantis declared: “Florida chose freedom over Fauci-ism. I wasn’t about to let the state get Fauci’d.”

Helen Aguirre Ferre, executive director of the Republican Party of Florida, called the merchandise — particularly callous in the face of Florida’s skyrocketing COVID-19 cases — “lighthearted fun,” in a statement to Newsweek.

“While this isn’t an official campaign website, as Gov. DeSantis hasn’t filed papers for his re-election, we view it as a great opportunity to have some lighthearted fun and give his supporters a chance to feel even more connected with his message of keeping Florida free,” she said.

She insisted that DeSantis’ “official staff” wasn’t involved with the site, Newsweek reported.

Florida is tallying the highest daily case numbers and deaths of the entire pandemic. The states’ cases jumped nearly 152,000 over the week ending Aug. 26, and deaths increased more than 1,700. 

Hospitals are running out of ICU beds and are now being overwhelmed with bodies. Fourteen portable morgues have been sent to hospitals in central Florida to help, and some have already rented refrigerated units to store the dead.

Tapper asked Fauci about the DeSantis merchandise in light of his state’s COVID crisis.

“Just in the six weeks since the governor’s reelection campaign launched those products, more than 5,000 Floridians have died of coronavirus,” Tapper stated. “What do you make of the way some of these governors and politicians are attacking you?” 

Fauci said he’s attacked because he’s highly “visible,” but emphasized that he’s “merely articulating the proper public health practices that are recommended” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“They like to pick out a certain person because they can make that person the personification of political divides, which is so unfortunate. We should put all of that aside,” Fauci said.

Just over 52% of Floridians have been fully vaccinated. DeSantis has instead been pushing the monoclonal antibody treatment Regeneron, which can only be used once people are sick with COVID-19. He also issued an executive order banning mask mandates in schools which were intended to protect children who can’t yet be vaccinated.

A Florida judge on Friday blocked his ban, ruling that DeSantis had overstepped his authority and violated the state constitution.

In his interview, Fauci also discussed COVID-19 boosters and vaccines for schoolchildren on the horizon. He supports mandating COVID vaccines for children in schools, just as other vaccines are required before they can attend.

He also warned people not to take ivermectin — a drug commonly used to deworm livestock and is currently being peddled on Fox News — to fight COVID-19.  Some poison control centers are being overwhelmed with concerned calls about dangerous effects from the drug.

Fauci rocks while DeSantis has become the poster boy for dereliction in dealing with the pandemic. 



COVID Crisis Gripping Hawaii!

An app to track Hawaii's COVID 19 cases - Honolulu, Hawaii news, sports  & weather - KITV Channel 4

Dear Commons Community,

A COVID-19 crisis is gripping Hawaii as hospitals are overflowing with a record number of patients, vaccinations are stagnating and Hawaiians are experiencing a disproportionate share of the suffering.  As reported by the Associated Press.

Hawaii was once seen as a beacon of safety during the pandemic because of stringent travel and quarantine restrictions and overall vaccine acceptance that made it one of the most inoculated states in the country. But the highly contagious delta variant exploited weaknesses as residents let down their guard and attended family gatherings after months of restrictions and vaccine hesitancy lingered in some Hawaiian communities.

On Friday, the state reported a record high 1,035 newly confirmed cases. There was a higher amount reported earlier this month, but it included cases from multiple days because of lab reporting delays.

Now, the governor is urging tourists to stay away and residents to limit travel, and leaders are re-imposing caps on sizes of social gatherings. And in an effort to address vaccine hesitancy, a group of businesses and nonprofits launched a public service campaign Thursday aimed at Native Hawaiians, many of whom harbor a deep distrust of the government dating back to the U.S.-supported overthrow of the monarchy in 1893.

The campaign reminds Hawaiians that they were nearly wiped out by disease in the 1800s and that the kingdom’s rulers at the time pushed people to get vaccinated against smallpox.

About 20 Hawaiian leaders stood in rows 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart Thursday at a statue of Queen Liliʻuokalani, the kingdom’s last monarch, imploring people to wear masks and get vaccinated to ensure the survival of the Indigenous people of Hawaii.

“Not only was I afraid of the needles and just putting it off, putting it off, but I didn’t have enough information about the vaccine and that distrust was just very real,” said Perreira-Keawekane.

She now plans to get vaccinated. Still, she doesn’t consider herself pro-vaccine, or anti-vaccine.

“Having to choose one or the other is the root of trauma for native people,” she said. “You can shout data at the top of your lungs, but if it has nothing to do with people we know, it’s not real.”

Overall, 62.1% of Hawaii is fully vaccinated. But Native Hawaiians have among the lowest rates; estimates show it’s at about 40%.

Native Hawaiians make up about 21% of the state’s population, and from the start of the pandemic until July 10, 2021, they accounted for 21% of cases as well. But from July 11, 2021, to Aug. 16, 2021, that figured increased to 28%, according to state data.

Honolulu Emergency Services Department Director Jim Ireland said that on a recent morning, there were four COVID-19 patient 911 calls in a row for Nanakuli, a community that’s home to many Native Hawaiians. He noted that vaccination rates are lower on the west side of Oahu.

The thought behind the campaign focusing on increasing Hawaiian vaccination rates is that messages to the public so far haven’t been adequate, said Nāʻālehu Anthony, director of COVID Pau, a collaborative of businesses and nonprofit organizations delivering public health messages during the pandemic.

“We’re telling people to get the vaccine ’til we’re blue in the face,” Anthony said. “But that’s not necessarily all of the story as to why it’s important to get a vaccine. And part of that is the relationship to who’s asking you to do it.”

At a Monday news conference, Gov. David Ige, who is not Hawaiian, acknowledged he’s not the ideal messenger: “We do know that sometimes my making statements are not the most motivational for many others.”

Earlier in the pandemic, Native Hawaiians had among the lowest rates of infection and embraced safety measures such as trading honi, a traditional forehead-to-forehead greeting, for elbow bumps or shakas from a distance.

That changed around May during the time of year when people celebrate graduations and weddings.

The irony is not lost on some that a popular reason for Hawaii family parties today originated during a time when Hawaiians would hold big celebrations for a baby’s first birthday, which was a real feat in the face of measles until a vaccine was available.

“I do think that it’s sad and kind of a little bit ironic that luau, in a lot of cases, have become places where people get sick,” said state Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole.

Andria Tupola, a Hawaiian city councilwoman who represents west Oahu, said one way government leaders are out of touch with her constituents is not respecting people who want to make their own decisions.

She recently disclosed that she wasn’t vaccinated because she had tested positive while visiting Utah, but felt healthy enough to go running every day. She has also been instrumental in organizing vaccination clinics.

The backlash she faced over her vaccination status isn’t helping convince people in her community to get vaccinated, she said.

“If you have to crucify me and make an example out of me in front of my community … if you think somehow that’s going to make people want to do it, it’s like that’s the opposite because people trust others and they respect others in our community,” she said.

Keaweʻaimoku Kaholokula, chair of the Department of Native Hawaiian Health at the University of Hawaii’s medical school, said he didn’t expect some Hawaiians to shun the vaccine. “It’s very American, which is ironic — very individualistic — to behave this way,” he said.

“I think our people need to remember that a part of our culture is protecting each other over our own self-interest,” he said.

We need to protect each other all over the country. Get the shot!


Paul Krugman on the Gentrification of Blue America!

A giant Brooklyn Heights?

Dear Commons Community,

New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, has an essay today entitled, The Gentrification of Blue America, in which he analyzes the economics of housing in the country especially as it has played out in California and other blue states that employ large numbers of high-paid tech and service workers.  Here is summary.

“The result is that there are now, in effect, two Americas: the America of high-tech, high-income enclaves that are unaffordable for the less affluent, and the rest of the country.

And this economic divergence goes along with political divergence, mainly because education has become a prime driver of political affiliation.

It may seem hard to believe now, but as recently as the early 2000s college graduates leaned Republican. Since then, however, highly educated voters — who have presumably been turned off by the G.O.P.’s embrace of culture wars and its growing anti-intellectualism — have become overwhelmingly Democratic, while non-college-educated whites have gone the other way.

As a result, the two Americas created by the collision of the knowledge economy and NIMBYism correspond fairly closely to the blue-red division: Democratic-voting districts have seen a big rise in incomes, while G.O.P. districts have been left behind.”

His conclusion:  “There are hints of movement toward less restrictive housing policy; California’s legislature has just passed a bill that would, in essence, force suburbs to accept some two-unit buildings alongside single-family homes. Even this modest measure would make it possible to add around 700,000 housing units — roughly the same number added in the whole state between 2010 and 2019.

We need much more of this. Restrictive housing policy doesn’t get nearly as much attention in national debates as it deserves. It is, in fact, a major force pulling our nation apart.

The entire essay is worth the read and is available here.



One Unvaccinated Teacher Caused COVID Outbreak That Infected Half Her Class!


Why schools probably aren't COVID hotspots

Dear Commons Community,

As schools reopen, the concern for COVID infections keeps growing among students, teachers and staff.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on Friday that a single unvaccinated teacher at a Northern California school triggered a COVID-19 outbreak in May that infected 26 others, including a total of 18 students.

News of the rapid spread in the school and to students’ families emerged as administrators grappled with vaccine and mask regulations for another school year in the face of Republican governors blocking mask mandates.  As reported NBC News and the Huffington Post.

“At least 90,000 students across the nation have already been quarantined at the start of this school year after contracting COVID-19 or being potentially exposed to the coronavirus. Children accounted for more than 1 in 5 new cases last week, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The recent case examined by the CDC involved a Marin County school with 205 students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

Although teachers and students at the school were required to wear masks and maintain social distancing indoors, the unidentified teacher who caused the infections had removed her mask “on occasion” to read aloud in her class, the CDC noted. Student desks were placed six feet apart, windows were left open, and all classrooms had high-efficiency air filters, the study noted.

The teacher worked on May 19 and 20 while experiencing early COVID-19 symptoms before testing positive and taking sick leave. By May 22, students also began experiencing symptoms, the CDC reported.

Of the teacher’s 24 students, 12 tested positive; eight of them were seated in the first two rows of the classroom.

An additional six students in another grade also tested positive. Parents and siblings of students in both grades were also infected. Three of the adults who tested positive were fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

“The introduction of the virus into the classroom by a teacher … while she was both symptomatic and unvaccinated, and who was unmasked when reading aloud to the class, resulted in cases within the classroom, across the school and among families of students,” CDC Director Rochelle Walenksy said at a White House COVID-19 briefing Friday. 

“We know how to protect our kids in school,” she added. “We have the tools.”

Dr. Lisa Santora, deputy health officer for Marin County, said officials had been urging teachers to be vaccinated since January, but many had not done it. “We saw firsthand that it wasn’t kids who were going to get teachers sick. It was going to be the reverse,” Santora told CNN.

Among those who tested positive in the outbreak, 81% reported symptoms, including fever, cough, headache and sore throat, the CDC reported. No one was hospitalized.

The outbreak “highlights the importance of vaccinating school staff members who are in close indoor contact with children ineligible for vaccination as schools reopen,” the CDC study warned, as well as the delta variant’s “increased transmissibility and potential for rapid spread, especially in unvaccinated populations.” 

In addition to getting vaccinated, “strict adherence to non-pharmaceutical prevention strategies — including masking, routine testing, facility ventilation, and staying home when symptomatic — are important to ensure safe in-person learning in schools,” the study added.

Meanwhile, Republican Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida, among others, have signed executive orders banning mask mandates in schools, even as the number of COVID-19 cases skyrockets in their states.

A court blocked DeSantis’ mask mandate ban on Friday, ruling that he had overstepped his authority. Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper ruled that freedoms — such as not wearing a mask — are restricted when they negatively affect others. People have a right to drink alcohol, for example, but are barred from driving drunk and imperiling others’ lives and safety, he noted.

At least 10 Florida districts had already defied DeSantis and imposed mask mandates at their schools. Texas schools are also ignoring Abbott’s ban on mask mandates.”

As the school year progresses, I am afraid that we are going to see outbreaks of COVID throughout the country even in those states that have tried to take precautions to keep everyone safe.



US Retaliates – Drone Strike Targets and Kills Islamic State Member in Afghanistan!

US drone strike targets IS 'planner' in Afghanistan - Times of India


Dear Commons Community,

Acting swiftly on President Joe Biden’s promise to retaliate for the deadly suicide bombing at Kabul airport, the U.S. military said it used a drone strike to kill a member of the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate this morning.

The strike came amid what the White House called indications that IS planned to strike again as the U.S.-led evacuation from Kabul airport moved into its final days.  As reported by NBC News and the Associated Press.

Biden authorized the drone strike and it was ordered by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, a defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to provide details not yet publicly announced.

The airstrike was launched from beyond Afghanistan less than 48 hours after the devastating Kabul attack that killed 13 Americans and scores of Afghans with just days left in a final U.S. withdrawal after 20 years of war. U.S. Central Command provided few details; it said it believed its strike killed no civilians.

The speed with which the U.S. military retaliated reflected its close monitoring of IS and years of experience in targeting extremists in remote parts of the world. But it also shows the limits of U.S. power to eliminate extremist threats, which some believe will have more freedom of movement in Afghanistan now that the Taliban is in power.

Central Command said the drone strike was conducted in Nangahar province against an IS member believed to be involved in planning attacks against the United States in Kabul. The strike killed one individual, spokesman Navy Capt. William Urban said.

It wasn’t clear if the targeted individual was involved directly in the Thursday suicide blast outside the gates of the Kabul airport, where crowds of Afghans were desperately trying to get in as part of the ongoing evacuation.

The airstrike came after Biden declared Thursday that perpetrators of the attack would not be able to hide. “We will hunt you down and make you pay,” he said. Pentagon leaders told reporters Friday that they were prepared for whatever retaliatory action the president ordered.

“We have options there right now,” said Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff.

The president was warned Friday to expect another lethal attack in the closing days of a frantic U.S.-led evacuation. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden’s national security team offered a grim outlook.

“They advised the president and vice president that another terror attack in Kabul is likely, but that they are taking maximum force protection measures at the Kabul airport,” Psaki said, echoing what the Pentagon has been saying since the bombing Thursday at Kabul airport.

Late Friday, the State Department again urged Americans to stay away from airport gates, including “the New Ministry of Interior gate.”

Few new details about the airport attack emerged a day later, but the Pentagon corrected its initial report that there had been suicide bombings at two locations. It said there was just one — at or near the Abbey Gate — followed by gunfire. The initial report of a second bombing at the nearby Baron Hotel proved to be false, said Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff; he attributed the mistake to initial confusion.

Based on a preliminary assessment, U.S. officials believe the suicide vest used in the attack, which killed at least 169 Afghans in addition to the 13 Americans, carried about 25 pounds of explosives and was loaded with shrapnel, a U.S. official said Friday. A suicide bomb typically carries five to 10 pounds of explosives, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss preliminary assessments of the bombing.

Biden still faces the problem over the longer term of containing an array of potential extremist threats based in Afghanistan, which will be harder with fewer U.S. intelligence assets and no military presence in the nation.

Emily Harding, a former CIA analyst and deputy staff director for the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she doubted Biden’s assurances that the United States will be able to monitor and strike terror threats from beyond Afghanistan’s borders. The Pentagon also insists this so-called “over the horizon” capability, which includes surveillance and strike aircraft based in the Persian Gulf area, will be effective.

In an Oval Office appearance Friday, Biden again expressed his condolences to victims of the attack. The return home of U.S. military members’ remains in coming days will provide painful and poignant reminders not just of the devastation at the Kabul airport but also of the costly way the war is ending. More than 2,400 U.S. service members died in the war and tens of thousands were injured over the past two decades.

The Marine Corps said 11 of the 13 Americans killed were Marines. One was a Navy sailor and one an Army soldier. Their names have not been released pending notification of their families, a sometimes-lengthy process that Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said involves “difficult conversations.”

Still, sorrowful details of those killed were starting to emerge. One Marine from Wyoming was on his first tour in Afghanistan and his wife is expecting a baby in three weeks; another was a 20-year-old man from Missouri whose father was devastated by the loss. A third, a 20-year-old from Texas, had joined the armed services out of high school.

Biden ordered U.S. flags to half-staff across the country in honor of the 13.

They were the first U.S. service members killed in Afghanistan since February 2020, the month the Trump administration struck an agreement with the Taliban that called for the militant group to halt attacks on Americans in exchange for a U.S. agreement to remove all American troops and contractors by May 2021. Biden announced in April that he would have all forces out by September.

Psaki said the next few days of the mission to evacuate Americans and others, including vulnerable Afghans fleeing Taliban rule, “will be the most dangerous period to date.”

The White House said that as of Friday morning, about 12,500 people were airlifted from Kabul in the last 24 hours on U.S. and coalition aircraft; in the 12 hours that followed, another 4,200 people were evacuated. Psaki said about 300 Americans had departed and the State Department was working with about 500 more who want to leave. The administration has said it intends to push on and complete the airlift despite the terror threats.

Kirby told reporters the U.S. military is monitoring credible, specific Islamic State threats “in real time.”

“We certainly are prepared and would expect future attempts,” Kirby said. He declined to describe details of any additional security measures being taken, including those implemented by the Taliban, around the airport gates and perimeter. He said there were fewer people in and around the gates Friday.

Drones are a far more desirable way to fight in Afghanistan than ground troops.



Robert F. Kennedy Assassin Sirhan Sirhan Granted Parole!

Parole Board Votes to Release RFK Assassin Sirhan Sirhan

Sirhan Sirhan (1968) – Robert Kennedy – Sirhan Sirhan (Today)

Dear Commons Community,

The California parole board voted yesterday to free Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin after two of RFK’s sons said they supported releasing him and prosecutors declined to argue he should be kept behind bars. As reported by the Associated Press.

“Douglas Kennedy was a toddler when his father was gunned down in 1968. He told a two-person board panel that he was moved to tears by Sirhan’s remorse and that the 77-year-old should be released if he’s not a threat to others.

“I’m overwhelmed just by being able to view Mr. Sirhan face to face,” he said. “I’ve lived my life both in fear of him and his name in one way or another. And I am grateful today to see him as a human being worthy of compassion and love.”

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has spoken in favor of Sirhan’s release in the past and met with him in prison, wrote in favor of paroling Sirhan.

“While nobody can speak definitively on behalf of my father, I firmly believe that based on his own consuming commitment to fairness and justice, that he would strongly encourage this board to release Mr. Sirhan because of Sirhan’s impressive record of rehabilitation,” he said in a letter submitted to the board.

Sirhan smiled, thanked the board and gave a thumbs-up after the decision to grant parole was announced. It was a major victory in his 16th attempt at parole. But it does not assure his release.

The ruling will be reviewed over the next 90 days by the board’s staff. Then it will be sent to the governor, who will have 30 days to decide whether to grant it, reverse it or modify it. If Sirhan is freed, he must live in a transitional home for six months, enroll in an alcohol abuse program and get therapy.

Robert F. Kennedy was the U.S. senator from New York and the brother of President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1963. RFK was seeking the Democratic presidential nomination when he was gunned down at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles moments after delivering a victory speech in the pivotal California primary. Five others were wounded.

Sirhan, who insists he doesn’t remember the shooting and had been drinking alcohol just beforehand, was convicted of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to death after his conviction, but that sentence was commuted to life when the California Supreme Court briefly outlawed capital punishment in 1972.

At his last parole hearing in 2016, commissioners concluded after more than three hours of intense testimony that Sirhan did not show adequate remorse or understand the enormity of his crime.

This time, prosecutors declined to participate or oppose Sirhan’s release under a policy by Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, a former police officer who took office last year after running on a reform platform. Gascón, who said he idolized the Kennedys and mourned RFK’s assassination, believes the prosecutors’ role ends at sentencing and they should not influence decisions to release prisoners.

The Los Angeles Police Department, relatives of some of the victims and members of the public submitted letters opposing Sirhan’s release, Parole Board Commissioner Robert Barton said at the start of Friday’s proceeding, held virtually with Sirhan appearing on camera from a San Diego County prison.

“We don’t have a DA here, but I have to consider all sides,” Barton said, noting it would consider arguments made in the past by prosecutors opposing his release, depending on their relevance.

Sirhan’s lawyer, Angela Berry, said the board should base its decision on who Sirhan is today and not what he did more than 50 years ago. She said he is not a threat to the public.

Sirhan said he had learned to control his anger and was committed to living peacefully.

“I would never put myself in jeopardy again,” he told the panel. “You have my pledge. I will always look to safety and peace and non-violence.”

Sirhan, a Christian Palestinian from Jordan, has acknowledged he was angry at Kennedy for his support of Israel. When asked about how he feels about the Middle East conflict today, Sirhan broke down crying and temporarily couldn’t speak.

“Take a few deep breaths,” said Barton, who noted the conflict had not gone away and still touched a nerve.

Sirhan said he doesn’t follow what’s going on in the region but thinks about the suffering of refugees.

“The misery that those people are experiencing. It’s painful,” Sirhan said.

If released, Sirhan could be deported to Jordan, and Barton said he was concerned he might become a “symbol or lightning rod to foment more violence.”

Sirhan said he was too old to be involved in the Middle East conflict and would detach himself from it.

“The same argument can be said or made that I can be a peacemaker and a contributor to a friendly nonviolent way of resolving the issue,” said Sirhan, who told the panel the hoped to live with his blind brother in Pasadena, California.

Paul Schrade, a union leader and aide to RFK who was among five people wounded in the 1968 shooting, also spoke in favor of Sirhan’s release.”

If RFK’s children can forgive Sirhan and support his parole, the Board’s decision makes sense.


Ezra Klein:  “Let’s Not Pretend That the Way We Withdrew From Afghanistan Was the Problem”

Credit…Bryan Denton for The New York Times

Dear Commons Community,

Ezra Klein had an opinion piece in yesterday’s New York Times entitled, “Let’s Not Pretend That the Way We Withdrew From Afghanistan Was the Problem.”  It analyzes well the United States withdrawal from the beleaguered country.  Here is an excerpt:

“To state the obvious: There was no good way to lose Afghanistan to the Taliban. A better withdrawal was possible — and our stingy, chaotic visa process was unforgivable — but so was a worse one. Either way, there was no hope of an end to the war that didn’t reveal our decades of folly, no matter how deeply America’s belief in its own enduring innocence demanded one. That is the reckoning that lies beneath events that are still unfolding, and much of the cable news conversation is a frenzied, bipartisan effort to avoid it.

Focusing on the execution of the withdrawal is giving virtually everyone who insisted we could remake Afghanistan the opportunity to obscure their failures by pretending to believe in the possibility of a graceful departure. It’s also obscuring the true alternative to withdrawal: endless occupation. But what our ignominious exit really reflects is the failure of America’s foreign policy establishment at both prediction and policymaking in Afghanistan.

“The pro-war crowd sees this as a mechanism by which they can absolve themselves of an accounting for the last 20 years,” Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, told me. “Just think about the epic size of this policy failure. Twenty years of training. More than $2 trillion worth of expenditure. For almost nothing. It is heartbreaking to watch these images, but it is equally heartbreaking to think about all of the effort, of lives and money we wasted in pursuit of a goal that was illusory.”

Emma Ashford, a senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, phrased it well: “There’s no denying America is the most powerful country in the world, but what we’ve seen over and over in recent decades is we cannot turn that into the outcomes we want. Whether it’s Afghanistan or Libya or sanctions on Russia and Venezuela, we don’t get the policy outcomes we want, and I think that’s because we overreach — we assume that because we are very powerful, we can achieve things that are unachievable.”

Klein is on target.  His entire piece is below.




The New York Times

“Let’s Not Pretend That the Way We Withdrew From Afghanistan Was the Problem”

By Ezra Klein

Opinion Columnist

August 6, 2021

In 2005, two of my colleagues at The American Prospect, Sam Rosenfeld and Matt Yglesias, wrote an essay I think about often. It was called “The Incompetence Dodge,” and it argued that American policymakers and pundits routinely try to rescue the reputation of bad ideas by attributing their failure to poor execution. At the time, they were writing about the liberal hawks who were blaming the catastrophe of the Iraq war on the Bush administration’s maladministration rather than rethinking the enterprise in its totality. But the same dynamic suffuses the recriminations over the Afghanistan withdrawal.

To state the obvious: There was no good way to lose Afghanistan to the Taliban. A better withdrawal was possible — and our stingy, chaotic visa process was unforgivable — but so was a worse one. Either way, there was no hope of an end to the war that didn’t reveal our decades of folly, no matter how deeply America’s belief in its own enduring innocence demanded one. That is the reckoning that lies beneath events that are still unfolding, and much of the cable news conversation is a frenzied, bipartisan effort to avoid it.

Focusing on the execution of the withdrawal is giving virtually everyone who insisted we could remake Afghanistan the opportunity to obscure their failures by pretending to believe in the possibility of a graceful departure. It’s also obscuring the true alternative to withdrawal: endless occupation. But what our ignominious exit really reflects is the failure of America’s foreign policy establishment at both prediction and policymaking in Afghanistan.

“The pro-war crowd sees this as a mechanism by which they can absolve themselves of an accounting for the last 20 years,” Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, told me. “Just think about the epic size of this policy failure. Twenty years of training. More than $2 trillion worth of expenditure. For almost nothing. It is heartbreaking to watch these images, but it is equally heartbreaking to think about all of the effort, of lives and money we wasted in pursuit of a goal that was illusory.”

Emma Ashford, a senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, phrased it well: “There’s no denying America is the most powerful country in the world, but what we’ve seen over and over in recent decades is we cannot turn that into the outcomes we want. Whether it’s Afghanistan or Libya or sanctions on Russia and Venezuela, we don’t get the policy outcomes we want, and I think that’s because we overreach — we assume that because we are very powerful, we can achieve things that are unachievable.”

It is worth considering some counterfactuals for how our occupation could have ended. Imagine that the Biden administration, believing the Afghan government hollow, ignored President Ashraf Ghani’s pleas and began rapidly withdrawing personnel and power months ago. The vote of no-confidence ripples through Afghan politics, demoralizing the existing government and emboldening the Taliban. Those who didn’t know which side to choose, who were waiting for a signal of who held power, quickly cut deals with the Taliban. As the last U.S. troops leave, the Taliban overwhelms the country, and the Biden administration is blamed, reasonably, for speeding their victory.

Another possible scenario was suggested to me by Grant Gordon, a political scientist who works on conflict and refugee crises (and is, I should say, an old friend): If the Biden administration had pulled our allies and personnel out more efficiently, that might have unleashed the Taliban to massacre their opposition, as America and the world would have been insulated and perhaps uninterested in the aftermath. There have been revenge killings, but it has not devolved, at least as of yet, into all-out slaughter, and that may be because the American withdrawal has been messy and partial and the Taliban fears re-engagement. “What is clearly a debacle from one angle may actually have generated restraint,” Gordon told me. “Having spent time in places like this, I think people lack a real imagination for how bad these conflicts can get.”

Let me offer one more: Even though few believed Ghani’s government would prevail in our absence, and the Trump administration cut them out of its deal with the Taliban, there’s widespread disappointment that the government we supported collapsed so quickly. Biden has been particularly unsparing in his descriptions of the Afghan Army’s abdication, and I agree with those who say he’s been unfair, underestimating the courage and sacrifice shown by Afghan troops throughout the war. But put that aside: Americans might have felt better seeing our allies in Afghanistan put up a longer fight, even if the Taliban emerged victorious. But would a multiyear civil war have been better for the Afghans caught in the crossfire?

Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, put it simply: “I think there’s a lot of cognitive dissonance, and smart people are struggling with how to rationalize defeat. Because that’s what we have here in Afghanistan — a defeat.”

I will not pretend that I know how we should have left Afghanistan. But neither do a lot of people dominating the airwaves right now. And the confident pronouncements to the contrary over the past two weeks leave me worried that America has learned little. We are still holding not just to the illusion of our control, but to the illusion of our knowledge.

This is an illusion that, for me, shattered long ago. I was a college freshman when America invaded Iraq. And, to my enduring shame, I supported it. My reasoning was straightforward: If George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and Tony Blair and Hillary Clinton and Colin Powell and, yes, Joe Biden all thought there was some profound and present danger posed by Saddam Hussein, they must have known something I didn’t.

There’s an old line: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” And so it was with the Iraq war. Bush and Clinton and Powell and Blair knew quite a bit that wasn’t true. As Robert Draper shows in his book “To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq,” they were certain Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Only he didn’t. They were also certain, based on decades of testimony from Iraqi expats, that Americans would be welcomed as liberators.

There were many lessons to be learned from the Iraq war, but this, for me, was the most central: We don’t know what we don’t know, and, even worse, we don’t always know what we think we know. Policymakers are easily fooled by people with seemingly relevant experience or credentials who will tell them what they want to hear or what they already believe. The flow of money, interests, enmities and factions is opaque to outsiders and even to insiders. We do not understand other countries well enough to remake them according to our ideals. We don’t even understand our own country well enough to achieve our ideals.

“Look at the countries in which the war on terror has been waged,” Ben Rhodes, who served as a top foreign policy adviser to President Barack Obama, told me. “Afghanistan. Iraq. Yemen. Somalia. Libya. Every one of those countries is worse off today in some fashion. The evidentiary basis for the idea that American military intervention leads inexorably to improved material circumstances is simply not there.”

I wrote a book on political polarization so I am often asked to do interviews where the point is to lament how awful polarization is. But the continuing power of the war-on-terror framework reflects the problems that come from too much bipartisanship. Too much agreement can be as toxic to a political system as too much disagreement. The alternative to polarization is often the suppression of dissenting viewpoints. If the parties agree with each other, then they have incentive to marginalize those who disagree with both of them.

At least for my adult life, on foreign policy, our political problem has been that the parties have agreed on too much, and dissenting voices have been shut out. That has allowed too much to go unquestioned, and too many failures to go uncorrected. It is telling that it is Biden who is taking the blame for America’s defeat in Afghanistan. The consequences come for those who admit America’s foreign policy failures and try to change course, not for those who instigate or perpetuate them.

Initially, the war in Afghanistan was as broadly supported and bipartisan as anything in American politics has ever been. That made it hard to question, and it has made it harder to end. The same is true of the assumptions lying beneath it, and much else in our foreign policy — that America is always a good actor; that we understand enough about the rest of the world, and about ourselves, to remake it in our image; that humanitarianism and militarism are easily grafted together.

The tragedy of humanitarian intervention as a foreign policy philosophy is that it binds our compassion to our delusions of military mastery. We awaken to the suffering of others when we fear those who rule them or hide among them, and in this way our desire for security finds union with our desire for decency. Or we awaken to the suffering of others when they face a massacre of such immediacy that we are forced to confront our passivity and to ask what inaction would mean for our souls and self-image. In both cases, we awaken with a gun in our hands, or perhaps we awaken because we have a gun in our hands.

To many, America’s pretensions of humanitarian motivation were always suspect. There are vicious regimes America does nothing to stop. There are vicious regimes America finances directly. It is callous to suggest that the only suffering we bear responsibility for is the suffering inflicted by our withdrawal. Our wars and drone strikes and tactical raids and the resulting geopolitical chaos directly led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis.

This is the deep lacuna in America’s foreign policy conversation: The American foreign policy establishment obsesses over the harms caused by our absence or withdrawal. But there’s no similar culpability for the harms we commit or that our presence creates. We are much quicker to blame ourselves for what we don’t do than what we do.

My heart breaks for the suffering we will leave behind in Afghanistan. But we do not know how to fix Afghanistan. We failed in that effort so completely that we ended up strengthening the Taliban. We should do all we can to bring American citizens and allies home. But if we truly care about educating girls worldwide, we know how to build schools and finance education. If we truly care about protecting those who fear tyranny, we know how to issue visas and admit refugees. If we truly care about the suffering of others, there is so much we could do. Only 1 percent of the residents of poor countries are vaccinated against the coronavirus. We could change that. More than 400,000 people die from malaria each year. We could change that, too.

“I want America more forward-deployed, but I want it through a massive international financing arm and a massive renewable energy arm,” Senator Murphy told me. “That’s the United States I want to see spread across the world — not the face of America today that’s by and large arms sales, military trainers and brigades.”

The choice we face is not between isolationism and militarism. We are not powerful enough to achieve the unachievable. But we are powerful enough to do far more good, and far less harm, than we do now.


Arthur Levine and Scott Van Pelt – Five Ways Higher Education Will Be Upended!

COVID-19 and Higher Education: Education and Science as a Vaccine for the Pandemic | United Nations

Dear Commons Community,

As a prelude to their upcoming book, , The Great Upheaval: Higher Education’s Past, Present, and Uncertain Future, Arthur Levine and Scott Van Pelt have an article in this morning’s Chronicle of Higher Education  entitled, “5 Ways Higher Education will be upended. “ Their predictions are that colleges will lose power, prices will go down, and credentials will multiply — among other jarring shifts.  They are not the first to paint this dire prediction of higher education’s future.  However, they rightfully comment that the pandemic has accelerated a movement in this direction.  The entire article is below.  Anyone interested in the future of our colleges and universities should read it.



The Chronicle of Higher Education

“5 Ways Higher Ed Will Be Upended”

By Arthur Levine and Scott Van Pelt


August 25, 2021

After campuses closed, in the spring of 2020, we spoke with college presidents, the heads of higher-education associations, policy makers, and accreditors about Covid-19 and their post-pandemic plans. There were few surprises. Anxiety was sky high, and everyone expected the financial toll and enrollment losses to be extraordinarily high (how high remained a guessing game).

Most viewed the pandemic as a natural disaster. They wanted to get back to business as soon as possible, clean up the damage, and restore what had been lost. In this sense, most misunderstood the nature of the pandemic, viewing it as an interruption of business as usual rather than an accelerator of changes already underway. They expected to turn back the clock to 2019 and recreate their pre-Covid colleges. They wanted to recapture the past.

That urge is understandable, and yet misguided. The pre-pandemic state of higher education was in flux, with five profound and jarring new realities — none of higher education’s making — already beginning to shape its future. The pandemic has accelerated those changes, and it’s imperative that academic leaders grasp the import of this shifting landscape.

  1. Institutional control will decrease, and the power of consumers will increase.

When we speak of higher education today, we think of colleges. Everything else is ephemeral — knowledge evolves; faculty members, students, and programs change. Colleges are a constant. They create, sustain, and disseminate knowledge. They are the engines that drive the enterprise.

During the industrial era, major players emerged in the knowledge industries: In music, that meant labels like Motown were ascendant; in film, that meant studios like Disney; and in news, papers like The New York Times. Over time, the specific labels, studios, and newspapers changed — and so did the regulations that governed them, the competition they faced, and the technologies that emerged around them. But it was always a recording label, a studio, or a newspaper on top. As with colleges today, those institutions defined how we thought about the industry and its business models.

But for the music, film, and journalism sectors, the advent of the global, digital knowledge economy upset the balance. Consumers have more choice over what, where, when, and how they consume information and entertainment. The focus shifted from institutions to consumers. As the consumer became the dominant force in each industry, institutional control declined. That same transition is underway in higher education.

  1. With near universal access to digital devices and the internet, students will seek from higher education the same things they are getting from the music, movie, and newspaper industries.

In all three of those industries, consumers chose on-demand over fixed-time access and universal, mobile access over fixed locations. They selected unbundled rather than bundled content — a track instead of an album, an article instead of a newspaper. Apart from luxury goods, they opted for low-cost instead of high-cost options. The same trends apply to our sector.

College students favor these changes. Generation on a Tightrope, a book one of us (Arthur Levine) wrote with the higher-education scholar Diane R. Dean, found that in contrast to traditional higher education, digital natives preferred anytime, anyplace access. That book also found that older adults, largely working women attending college part time, sought affordable, unbundled, or stripped-down versions of college. When those students were asked what they wanted from college, they invoked convenience, service, quality, affordability, and the importance of being charged for only the services and activities they used. They did not want to pay for facilities they didn’t use, events they didn’t attend, or electives they didn’t take. They wanted to buy a single track, not an entire album.

Those preferences make sense in the context of an ongoing retreat by undergraduates from campus life. The proportion of students living in college housing has dropped continuously since at least 1969. Indeed, only about 16 percent of undergraduates resided on campus before the pandemic. Less than a third of college students took part in on-campus social activities, used the campus fitness center, attended athletic contests, went to meetings of academic, student, or professional clubs, or watched campus lectures, debates, or other academic events at least once a month. More than a third of students never did any of those things.

The trend was particularly significant at community colleges, where 80 percent of students had never attended academic or professional meetings and 57 percent had never been to social events. In the nationwide 2020 Community College Survey of Student Engagement, only 28 percent of respondents identified student organizations as being “very” important.

Students’ lives are increasingly filled by demands beyond college. More of them are working, and they are working longer hours. Particularly among nontraditional students, there is a growing tendency to visit the campus only to attend classes, commuting in just before their start and commuting out immediately afterward. That places a premium on convenience: They’re looking for an education that fits their circumstances at an affordable price.

  1. New postsecondary entities will enter the marketplace, driving up competition and driving down prices.

A host of new institutions, organizations, and programs have cropped up to serve those nontraditional students — and constitute a harbinger of things to come. Coursera offers an instructive example.

Coursera is an online-learning platform, a MOOC pioneer that was launched in 2012. By 2019 it was valued at well over a billion dollars, according to its chief executive. Today it offers 77 million users more than 4,000 courses and specialty studies in fields like data science, engineering, business, and health.

Coursera’s view of education is more pragmatic and career-oriented than traditional higher education is, and that’s what both traditional and nontraditional students increasingly want from college. While it does offer a panoply of degree programs and courses in the liberal arts, its website touts a 2020 survey showing that 87 percent of those who enrolled received a salary increase, a promotion, or the capacity to begin a new career.

Coursera also differs from traditional higher education in terms of who provides its content, which is an eye-popping list of more than 200 of the world’s leading universities and businesses. Its higher-education partners include the California Institute of Technology, Columbia, Duke, École Polytechnique, Hebrew University, Johns Hopkins, Moscow State University, and Peking University, just to name a few. Then there are its business and nonprofit partners. You can learn technology from Cisco, finance and management from Goldman Sachs, and merchandise and sales from Alibaba. The nonprofit and government-sector partners, which are of equal renown, include the American Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Modern Art, and the World Bank.

Consider the value these new providers offer. Google’s Information Technology Certificate Program, offered through Coursera, consists of a five-course sequence, on computer networking, operating systems, system administration, IT infrastructure, and IT security, each of which is rated 4.7 or better on a five-point scale by students. It’s a subbaccalaureate program, in a field commonly offered at two- and four-year colleges, worth 12 college credits and a Google badge, which is an accepted employment credential.

Hundreds of thousands of students have enrolled in the program, which Google says can be completed in six months or less with 10 hours of study a week at a cost of $49 per month. The first week is free, and students commit to only a month at a time. During the pandemic, Google added two new certificate programs, in data analytics and program management.

Or consider another Coursera offering, the Museum of Modern Art’s “In the Studio: Postwar Abstract Painting.” One of the museum’s 10 classes offered through Coursera, it is 27 hours long and priced at Coursera’s $49-per-month subscription fee. It has a 4.9 rating and has enrolled more than 100,000 students. It’s described as an in-depth, hands-on look at the materials, techniques, and thinking of seven New York School artists: Willem de Kooning, Yayoi Kusama, Agnes Martin, Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, Ad Reinhardt, and Mark Rothko. There are studio demonstrations and gallery walk-throughs, rounded out by readings and other resources that provide a broader cultural, intellectual, and historical context. The course description reads like any university’s modern-art course — and yet 55 percent of the course’s alumni who completed surveys claimed to have derived a tangible benefit for their careers.

The two courses could not be more different — one is purely vocational, and the other is straight-up liberal arts. But they have several things in common: They are inexpensive, convenient, highly rated, heavily enrolled (though their completion rates are unreported), and they are being offered by entities other than colleges. They are also accessible 24/7, and do not adhere to an academic calendar.

The Coursera programs are just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to the two certificate programs Google offers through Coursera, it has dozens and dozens more of its own, as does Microsoft. The American Museum of Natural History has its own graduate school, which offers a Ph.D. in comparative biology and an M.A. in teaching. It also provides six-week online courses on subjects such as the solar system, evolution, climate change, and water for $549 each (there’s an extra fee for obtaining graduate credit). The courses also qualify for professional-development credit for teachers. PBS has a wealth of professional-development courses for teachers, lasting from 1.5 to 45 hours in subjects including reading, math, leadership, and instructional technology.

The looming issue for higher education is not just the explosion of alternative providers, but their world-class quality. Students have the option of obtaining certification from Google or getting classroom credit from a more-expensive regional university. They are choosing between the Museum of Modern Art and a local college.

  1. The industrial-era model of higher education, focusing on time, process, and teaching, will be eclipsed by a knowledge-economy successor rooted in outcomes.

A shift from teaching to learning and from fixed-time to fixed-outcomes will occur for a few reasons. First, it’s common sense to focus on the outcomes we want students to achieve, not how long we want them to be taught. Imagine taking your clothes to a drop-off laundry service. The service doesn’t ask how long you want them washed. And for good reason: It’s an absurd question. Your only concern is that the clothes be clean when you pick them up. The outcome is what matters, not the process. The same is true of education.

The second reason for the shift is an evolution in our understanding of equity. In our current system, equity means enabling all students to have access to comparable facilities, professors, and programs. And yet inequities persist. Real equity would entail making it possible for all students to achieve the same outcomes by giving them the differential resources they need to attain them.

For more than a century, all education experiences have been translatable into units of time — courses, credit hours, semesters. This model worked well, but that period is over. The explosion of new education options has generated a grab bag of disparate curricular practices, which is growing increasingly heterogeneous and cannot be translated into uniform time or process measures.

That will gradually render the traditional academic currency of process and time irrelevant and leave higher education searching for a replacement. In the short run, this will require colleges to become bilingual, operating on two different standards (one, courses and credits; the other, outcomes and learning). In the longer run, higher education will have no alternative but to embrace outcomes and learning as its primary accounting system.

  1. The dominance of degrees and “just in case” education will diminish; nondegree certifications and “just in time” education will increase in status and value.

American higher education has focused on degree-granting programs in part to prepare students for careers and life beyond college. This is “just in case” education, teaching students the skills and knowledge that colleges believe will be necessary for the future.

In contrast, “just in time” education teaches students the skills and knowledge they need right now. They may need to learn a foreign language for an coming trip or business deal. They may need to learn an emerging technology. “Just in time” education comes in all shapes and sizes, but diverges from traditional academic time standards, uniform course lengths, and common credit measures. Only a small portion of such programs award degrees; most grant certificates, microcredentials, or badges.

Will such credentials replace or erode the dominant status of a college degree? Nondegree certifications aren’t new to higher education — Yale established the first certificate program more than two centuries ago for students who took only scientific and English-language classes. Subbaccalaureate programs in technical fields are common. And yet degrees have always enjoyed a far higher status and been regarded as the far-more-valuable credential. That balance of power will be reset.

Why? Degrees are declining in value in the labor market. Google, Ernst and Young‘s U.K. office, Penguin Random House, Hilton, Apple, Nordstrom, and IBM have all announced they will no longer require college degrees for employment. A slew of high-profile technology titans, including Michael Dell (founder, Dell Computers), Daniel Ek (cofounder, Spotify), Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, David Karp (creator, Tumblr), Steve Wozniak, and Mark Zuckerberg, did not graduate from college. A 2019 Gallup Poll reported a decreasing proportion of Americans consider a college degree to be very important — 51 percent in 2019 versus 70 percent in 2013.

A second cause for a possible reset is that periods of profound change produce curricular flux. During the Industrial Revolution, new degrees were established such as the Ph.D., the associate degree, and the earned master’s degree, which was previously more honorary than academic. Scores and scores of new discipline-based baccalaureate degrees came into being, most notably the bachelor of science, which was developed as a means of distinguishing between students who had completed a rigorous arts program and those who had studied a lesser scientific curriculum. Programs awarding certificates multiplied, too, particularly after the development of continuing-education units in the late 19th century. We will see a similar shakeout in the wake of the pandemic.

Those five new realities will transform our sector. Competency-based education will become the norm. Carnegie units and credit hours will give way. Certification will broaden: It will be granted both for mastering a single competency (such as a foreign language) and for achieving a set of related outcomes (such as the Google IT grouping of skills).

There are two important caveats here. First, competency-based education is now an umbrella term for a panoply of differing practices with strong proponents and opponents. The blurred meaning and controversy surrounding it may doom the term, but the focus on learning and outcomes will persist, regardless of what it is called.

Second, the transition to competency-based education will be as disorderly and chaotic as the shift to the Carnegie unit in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We are in the early days of a new system. The process of formulating and gaining consensus for competences will not be quick. Initially, a multiplicity of differing conceptions for the same competency will emerge. Only movement toward common definitions and practices will abate the chaos.

Assessment will become largely formative and individualized. Transcripts will become records of the competencies people achieve throughout their lives and the certifying authority for each.

Faculty members, whose numbers can be expected to decline, will also undergo a shift. Currently composed of subject-matter experts engaged in teaching and research, the ranks will be diversified to include learning designers, instructors, assessors, and technologists, and will more accurately reflect the demographics of the nation. The competition for this talent both within and outside higher education will be fierce. As in the film industry, talent is likely to overshadow institution, and with an abundance of competing providers, the ability to sell one’s talents to a variety of outlets may be more valued than tenure.

Tuition, which is now largely credit-based, will become subscription-based and tied to outcomes, as it is at Coursera.

Other historical practices will join credit hours in what Henry Adams called the “ash heap” of history. Take A-F grading. It is a comparative measure of student performance relative to peers and the subject matter being taught. However, competency-based education, rooted in absolute measures, is pass-fail at its core. Either students have mastered a competency or they have not. As a result, A-F grading and corollary measures such as GPA, the dean’s list, class rankings, and graduation honors will atrophy.

As familiar practices fall by the wayside, new methods of quality control will emerge. Because of the multiplicity of new providers, new certifying or validating institutions will rise to assess, guide, certify, and record student learning. In the short run, we can expect different organizations using different definitions of competencies. But as consensus grows, standards and practices will become increasingly uniform.

The current model of accreditation also is at risk. Accreditation’s focus is and has always been on providers, which are still assessed largely on the basis of the industrial era’s best practices. Accreditors are increasingly viewed as slow, outdated, change-resistant parts of our sector. That is not surprising — the reason for creating a self-policing arm of the academy was to standardize. And yet unless accreditors are able to shift their focus from the process of education to its outcomes and from institutions and programs to students, they will lose their utility.

Anticipating such upheaval, some institutions are already evolving. Arizona State’s “Fifth Wave” university combines research excellence, cutting-edge technology, and a culture of diversity and access. Purdue focuses on affordability, data, and technology, and fusing postsecondary and higher education. Southern New Hampshire University and Western Governors University emphasize affordability, access, online instruction, and competency-based learning.

Other institutions have become known for a specific innovation. Standouts include Georgia State University (student success), Hostos Community College (bilingual education), Ivy Tech Community College (access and scale), Minerva (international video seminars), Olin College of Engineering (redesigning engineering education), Paul Quinn College (turnaround), PennFoster College (career education), University of Maryland-Baltimore County (math/science and underrepresented populations), and the University of Texas at El Paso (Latino and binational education). Coursera and the University of the People excel at affordability and mass access.

There is also one institution that stands poised to lead the diffusion of new models to mainstream higher education, just as Johns Hopkins did during the Industrial Revolution: MIT. It has led higher education into the global, digital, knowledge economy with a series of major innovations in technology, learning sciences, curriculum, instruction, and credentialing.

To look forward rather than backward is no easy feat. Colleges must confront their tendency toward magical thinking — their belief that institutional challenges will somehow vanish. Another trap is complacency and an assumption of institutional exceptionalism — the idea that each college is special, shielded, somehow, from the woes confronting other institutions. Colleges must also stress genuine long-term thinking: Despite the frequency of five-year plans, they tend to think about their future a year at time, which discourages investing in the future.

Two other barriers to progress are the tendency to view failed attempts at innovation to be an affirmation of current practices, and the trust gap — the divide between administrators, faculty members, and trustees, which exacerbates the difficulty of long-term planning.

The future of every institution depends on overcoming those barriers. It’s the responsibility of presidents and boards to lead their institutions into the future and to educate their communities about the challenges and opportunities ahead. The pandemic provides the teaching moment to do it.

This essay is adapted from the authors’ forthcoming book, The Great Upheaval: Higher Education’s Past, Present, and Uncertain Future (Johns Hopkins University Press).