Pandemic Journal (# 33): More Thoughts on the New Normal

Victor Davis Hanson, the Martin and Lile Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and an avowed Trump supporter, [1] has commented on whether changes we already are seeing in the U.S. reaction to the COVVID-19 Pandemic will be part of the new normal after we hopefully survive that pandemic. First, we will look at Hanson’s commentary, and then examine a Minneapolis perspective.

Hanson’s Commentary[2]

Initially Hanson notes, “Rents, home prices and office occupancy rates in major cities, especially on the two coasts, are dropping fast. Techies and young professionals have discovered that they can work from home without paying sky-high housing costs in order to be close to the office.”

Moreover, “Those more fortunate wonder why they should get bogged down with commutes and urban traffic — or navigate city sidewalks amid homelessness, crime, racial tensions and urban unrest — when they can make as much money while staying distant in quieter landscapes. Some react by moving to quieter, low-tax states such as Idaho, Tennessee or Utah. Others flee New York City or the Bay Area/Silicon Valley corridor to upstate New York or California’s Central Valley. Who would have ever believed that housing prices in picturesque San Francisco would be falling while housing prices in pedestrian Sacramento and Fresno are soaring?”

“Worries about COVID-19 in high-density cities, and unreliable city services add to the unhappiness. Residents want less dependence on mass transit and elevator living. Constant human contact is seen more as risky than desirous.” In addition, “gun sales are at record highs. When some cities take steps to defund police and some soften bail laws, citizens quietly go to the local gun store and stock up on ammunition. Many of the people who have never before owned firearms are no longer clamoring for gun control. A ‘man’s home’ is now becoming his armed castle.”

“As a general rule, any business or activity that does not bother, judge or lecture Americans and instead allows them to work or relax in peace is preferred. That may explain why Zoom and Skype use is soaring while TV ratings for the woke NBA and NFL are down.”

“Why are Amazon and Walmart booming while smaller businesses are going broke? Largely because home delivery better serves those who are barricaded at home, terrified both of the virus and government reaction to it. Family businesses [on the other hand] are not vertically integrated. They have few cash reserves and no special insider exemptions from government officials. How ironic that in our quest to become safe and in control of our own destinies, we empower the anonymity of huge conglomerates and erode the viability of reliable, service-friendly, mom-and-pop stores.”

“For the first time in their careers, many teachers and professors are careful not to go off-topic and rant to their high school and college students. Their video streams are not only seen by captive classroom audiences but occasionally peeked in on by the parents and taxpayers who pay their salaries.”

“This is the first autumn in memory that a huge percentage of college students are staying home. And no one is sure of the ensuing consequences. Will students revolt over borrowing money simply to watch lectures on their basement computers? Will they be less likely to vote in November when they are isolated at home, rather than congregating on campus near polling places and subject to constant peer pressures to vote — and to do so in predictable ways?”

“With college revenues dropping, will ambitious promises to hire more diversity administrators, build more self-segregated racial theme houses and increase campus social services be seen as just more costly overhead that shorts classroom teaching?”

“During the pandemic, government has become more intrusive and yet seemingly more impotent and incompetent. Pick a month and some government official issues yet more contradictory orders on mask wearing, social distancing and lockdowns — all to be soon reversed. Taxes stayed high and yet urban services got worse. Increasingly, American city dwellers don’t always count on the power going on when they flip the switch, or the bus or train always showing up, or the police always answering 911 calls.”

Hanson concludes, “We still do not know the full consequences of these radical changes in American life, especially whether they will continue after the COVID-19 virus abates and quarantines end. The cultural currents are often contradictory. They defy easy political analysis and seem at times counterintuitive.”

“But there is one historical constant. When institutions and politicians cannot accommodate radically changed circumstances, people will no longer value institutions and politicians. In their place, citizens will seek to ensure their own livelihoods, leisure and safety in ways that are more reliable and affordable — with their circumstances in their own hands rather than in those of distant others.”

“And their adjustments won’t always be calm or polite.”

Comments

I agree with Hanson that “We still do not know the full consequences of these radical changes in American life, especially whether they will continue after the COVID-19 virus abates and quarantines end.”

Here is a perspective on this issue from downtown Minneapolis, which is seeing positive developments despite current difficulties. First, the business news. Then, a look at residential real estate.

Local Business Developments[3]

Our local newspaper, the StarTribune, reports, “Creating that feeling of safety is job one for Minnesota employers hoping to woo back thousands of virus-leery staffers after months of working from home. It’s been slow going. To date only one in 10 workers in Minneapolis and St. Paul office towers have returned to the office hub. Most businesses expect more to follow sometime next year.”

One of the major downtown employers, Target Corporation’s headquarters, is essentially closed with virtually all of its personnel working remotely and currently not scheduled to return to their offices until next June.

Another downtown employer is the headquarters for Delta Dental of Minnesota, one of the largest providers of dental benefits in the Upper Midwest, serving more than 8,800 Minnesota- and North Dakota-based purchasing groups and 4.1 million members. It recently completed a remodeling of its Minneapolis offices: installation of an automated temperature and face-scanning station that reminds . . . [everyone]  to ‘wear a mask,’ . . . portable air filters, . . . automatic doors that open with the wave of an ID badge or hand, and . . . 180 workstations encased in 6-foot-tall plexiglass.” Now there are only three employees working on one of its floors.” https://www.deltadentalmn.org/about-us

“Commercial tenants inside [downtown Minneapolis] office venues such as the IDS Center, City Center, . . . Capella Tower and the SPS Tower. . .— each home to more than 2,000 workers — are laboring to keep people distanced from one another in elevators, cubicles and conference rooms and adopting motion sensors and software so workers can keep germs to themselves and stagger their attendance.”

When the pandemic hit earlier this year, Buhl Investors, was in the process of “converting a former 1883 railroad warehouse and soap factory” in the downtown (renamed Switch House). To respond to enhanced concerns over virus transmission it installed a ”needlepoint bipolar ionization system,” which produces “electrically charges ions in the air that cling to viruses, allergens, mold and other particles, rendering them inert.”

The 10-story Nordic building, also downtown, installed a different Covid-19 inspired technology. This will allow  the Chicago-based technology consulting firm, West Monroe, to move its 120 Minneapolis employees into its 42,000 square-feet second and third floor offices with 40 phone and meeting rooms.

Other positive news for downtown Minneapolis are the recent announcements by Deluxe Corp., which has expanded its business to include more than its initial check-printing, has decided to move its headquarters to downtown Minneapolis and by Principal Financial’s decision to lease 45,500 square feet of space in a downtown tower.

The most significant and flashy downtown development is the completion of the construction of the $125 million project for the headquarters of Thrivent Corporation, a nonprofit financial services organization (formerly known as Lutheran Brotherhood) with more than $16 billion in assets under management. With 264,000 square feet of open work spaces in a “new, airy , eight-story glass-and-stone building,” it features open work-spaces, sprawling breakrooms, credit union, library, chapel, art gallery (with works from the 13th century to the modern day), coffee shop, gym and underground parking. I look forward to walking around this new building.

John Breitinger of Cushman & Wakefield’s Minneapolis Real Estate Development Advisory practice is in charge of selling Thrivent’s new building with a 20-year leaseback as a means for Thrivent to recoup its investment in constructing this new building and redeploying the capital to grow and serve more clients. According to Breitinger, “Downtown Minneapolis is still seen as a safe bet by institutional real estate investors, given the diversity of our [institutions] and the quality of our workforce.”

These “efforts suggest that reports of the death of the American office may be premature. Many businesses ‘had this notion that we can do [remote work] forever,’ said Jim Montez, Minnesota leasing vice president at Transwestern. ‘But increasingly, what I’m hearing from business leaders is ‘We can’t do that forever because I am losing the bond that I have with my team. I am losing the culture [and] the brand identity of my enterprise. To maintain that, we need our people back together.’ ”

Local Residential Real Estate Developments[4]

 Jim Buchta of the StarTribune, starts, “As in many U.S. metro areas, the suburbs of the Twin Cities have enjoyed surging interest from home buyers as the global pandemic has upended how and where people work. Amid rising crime and lingering unease following spring riots, many suburban buyers have relocated from the urban core of Minneapolis and St. Paul, where the number of homes for sale has swelled.”

But “this doesn’t mean a new urban exodus is underway. Also on the rise in both of those cities: home sales, driven in part by record low mortgage rates that have enticed entry level buyers despite a grim economy. ‘If there is an exodus’ of buyers exiting urban neighborhoods, says sales agent Pat Paulson, ‘there’s an inflow as well.’

“In Minneapolis, there’s been an 11% increase in listings through the first nine months of this year, buoyed in part by a recent rise in condos for sale. Pending sales, or signed purchase agreements, are also up 3% . . . . In the suburbs, where listings are off 2%, pending sales have increased 7%. In both areas, houses are selling at a record clip and median prices are at an all-time high.”

Conclusion

As a Minneapolis downtown citizen and resident. I hope that these positive developments will continue.

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[1] Victor Davis Hanson, Hoover Institution; Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers, Hoover Institution.

[2] Hanson, Will changes to American life after pandemic become permanent, Washington Times (Oct. 21, 2020); Hanson, Let’s count the ways 2020 will change our lives, StarTribune (Oct. 26, 2020).

[3] DePass, Workers return warily to the office, as employers embrace slew of safety measures,  StarTribune (Oct. 24, 2020); DePass, All Thrivent’s new Minneapolis headquarters needs now is employees, StarTribune (Oct. 26, 2020); Kennedy, Deluxe moving its headquarters from Shoreview to downtown Minneapolis, StarTribune (Sept. 14, 2020); DePass, Safety issues just add to uncertainty facing Minneapolis commercial real estate, StarTribune (Oct. 4, 2020).

[4] Buchta, Minneapolis, St. Paul housing exodus more myth than reality, StarTribune (Oct. 24, 2020).

Five More States Have Consented to Refugee Resettlement     

A website from the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service has a list of 39 states that so far have consented to refugee resettlement with hyperlinks to the relevant documents. This list includes five states that have so consented (three Republican governors (Idaho, Maryland and Missouri) and two Democratic governors (California and Nevada)) in addition to the 34 previously identified in a post to this blog:  [1]

Justifications for Consents

These five additional states provided justifications for their consent. Here they are along with those from four of the previously identified 34 states (Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee and West Virginia).

Arkansas.[2] Governor Asa Hutchinson on December 23 issued a consent letter to Secretary Pompeo, stating, “Arkansans have a history of welcoming refugees. While we fully support control of our borders and oppose illegal immigration, we also value the contribution of immigrants and understand the importance of America continuing to be a welcoming nation for those truly seeking refuge and following the legal path to our land. Immigrants bring energy, a thirst for freedom, and a desire to pursue the American dream. This is America’s strength and part of our future.”

California.[3] In a December 20, 2019, letter to Secretary Pompeo, Governor Gavin Newsom said, “the State of California is proud to be a welcoming state, and is committed to the continued resettlement of refugees in partnership with local jurisdictions and community partners. California recognizes its resettlement programs and services are an indispensable lifeline to refugees who have been forcibly dispatched from their home countries and cannot rebuild their lives where they first fled.”

Governor Newsom added, “The refugee resettlement program has a long history in California, spanning over 40 years and successfully resettling over 700,000 men, women and children. During these four decades, refugees continuously have contributed to the enrichment of our economy, culture, and society. California’s communities have flourished because of their diversity and ongoing ability to embrace refugees and immigrant families. . . . Refugees deserve our support and we will keep our doors open to these families and people to sustain  an inclusive California for all.”

Idaho.[4]  Governor Brad Little’s December 30, 2019 letter to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo merely said the state consented after all of its counties had consented.

Indiana.[5] Governor Eric Holcomb’s December 13th letter to to Cole Vega (Executive Director (Exodus Refugee Immigration, Inc.), “Indiana is a destination of certainty, stability and opportunity. As a state, we are on course to become the absolute best place in America to grow as an individual, a family, a business and as a community. Our long tradition of welcoming and helping to resettle refugees with support from our federal partners, shows the world the compassion of Hoosiers and our willingness to give others the ability to grow and prosper in the great state of Indiana.”

“In just the last five years, State based non-profit agencies have resettled thousands of deserving, qualified individuals in the Hoosier state, who have been fully and carefully vetted by relevant federal government agencies. These are . . . individuals who have gone through all the proper channels, were persecuted for their religious or political beliefs in their homeland and have sought and been granted refugee status in our nation of immigrants.”

Maryland.[6] On December 30, Governor Larry Hogan’s consent letter to Secretary Pompeo said, “Providing more flexibility to states has been one of my key priorities, and I appreciate the administration’s renewed emphasis on state and local engagement in determining policies that affect our security and resources.”

Governor Hogan also stated, “With proper diligence and in conjunction with the continued cooperation of local jurisdictions in our state, Maryland consents to receive legally vetted resettlement refugees in Fiscal Year 2020, per the terms of the Executive Order. We are willing to accept refugees who the federal government has determined are properly and legally seeking refugee status and have been adequately vetted. This, as you know, is different from any kind of ‘sanctuary’ status for those in the United States unlawfully. Maryland’s approach is consistent with both our laws and our values.”

A local newspaper article about this decision stated that Maryland had accepted nearly 10,000 refugees since 2016.

Missouri.[7] Governor Michael Parson’s December 30, 2019 letter to Secretary Pompeo said, “Missouri has a long and rich history of immigration, dating back to America’s earliest explorers, fur traders, and missionaries. Today, Missouri’s population includes thousands of former refugees who have become vital members of our communities. Since 2002, nearly 18,000 refugees from 45 countries have resettled in Missouri.”

The Governor continued, “In Missouri, state organizations and faith-based groups work tirelessly to support refugee resettlement. Currently, there are five agencies that integrate refugees in St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia, and Springfield, where they have helped strengthen local economies, especially through entrepreneurship. These groups do an excellent job of transitioning newly settled populations, ensuring they are educated, trained, and prepared to assimilate into their new community. In fact, St. Louis boasts one of the largest Bosnian populations outside that country itself. Community volunteers, especially faith-based partners, continue to be an integral part of such local resettlement efforts.”

The Governor concluded, “We will continue to work hard to ensure refugees become a thriving part of our communities, and I am confident this demonstration of compassion will mark the first step in these immigrants becoming  patriotic and productive fellow Americans.”

 Nevada.[8] Governor Steve Sisolak in a December 18, 2019 letter to Secretary Pompeo stated, “Nevada is proud of our long-standing tradition of resettling refugees. Since the 1970s, Republican and Democratic Governors from Nevada have welcomed these individuals into our state with open arms. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to meet with dozens of refugee children in the State Capitol. . . . While their unimaginable experiences of suffering and hardship may have originated in different areas around the globe, the personal stories they shared were defined by courage, hope and resilience. These stories embody the dignity and values of this country. Such is the story of Nevada Assemblyman Alexander Assefa. Mr. Assefa came to the U.S. as a refugee with similar hopes and dreams. After a lot of hard work, he became a pilot, a small business owner, and he now proudly serves in the Nevada State Legislature. Above all, he is a proud American.”

“We need not forget that refugees fled for their lives after enduring persecution, war and dire humanitarian conditions. Many waited several years in remote places, while undergoing extensive background checks and security clearances, for the opportunity to start a new life in the United States. Once here, refugees become productive, responsible and self-sufficient members of society and account for an important part of our workforce and that drives our economic engine.”

Tennessee.[9] After a perfunctory consent letter to Secretary Pompeo, Governor Bill Lee was more fulsome in a December 18 letter to the state’s Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of its House of Representatives that stated, “Resettlement will be facilitated by the Trump Administration and non-profit organizations with extensive experience in this area. The refugee population in Tennessee is small, and I believe our consent to cooperate and consult with the Trump Administration to provide a safe harbor for those who are fleeing religious persecution and violent conflict is the right decision. The United States and Tennessee have always been, since the very founding of our nation, a shining beacon of freedom and opportunity for the persecuted and oppressed, and particularly those suffering religious persecution. My commitment to these ideals is based on my faith, personally visiting refugee camps on multiple continents, and my years of experience ministering to refugees here in Tennessee.”

West Virginia.[10]  Governor Jim Justice’s December 20, 2019 letter to Secretary Pompeo, said, in part, “West Virginia has had great success with our refugee resettlement agency, which has been in operation since 1978. Refugees who have resettled here have become productive citizens and are welcomed into our West Virginia family.”

Conclusion

Now we wait to learn whether the other 11 states will also consent to such resettlements. They are nine states with Republican governors (Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont [11] and Wyoming) and two states with Democratic governors (Hawaii and New York). The following  colored map on the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service’s website showing the consenting states in green and the 11 remaining states in gray emphasizes that the most of the remaining states are in the Deep South.

Consent Map Refugee Resettlement

 

This blogger believes it safe to assume that the three remaining Democratic  governors will consent and that it is more problematical whether the eight remaining Republican governors, primarily from the Deep South, will do so.

In the meantime those of us who support refugees should celebrate and congratulate those states that have consented and shared the many contributions to their states by previously resettled refugees.

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[1] Lutheran Immigrant & Refugee Service, Consents to Refugee Resettlement.

[2 ] Letter, Governor Hutchinson to Secretary Pompeo (Dec. 23, 2019); Gov. Hutchinson agrees to allow refugees into Arkansas, THV (Dec. 24, 2019).

[3]  Letter, Governor Newsom to Secretary Pompeo (Dec. 20, 2019).

[4] Letter, Governor Little to Secretary Pompeo (Dec. 30, 2019); Blake, County, Little offers support for refugee resettlement, but questions over jurisdiction remain, 6KPVI (Dec. 30, 2019); Assoc. Press, County, governor support refugee resettlement in Idaho, Id.Bus.Review (Jan. 3, 2002). /

[5]  Letter, Governor Holcomb to Cole Vega (Exec. Dir. Exodus Refugee Immigration, Inc.) (Dec. 17, 2019);

[6] Letter, Governor Hogan to Secretary Pompeo (Dec. 30, 2019); Sanchez & Hutzell, Maryland Gov. Hogan agrees to continue accepting refugees, Capital Gazette (Jan. 1, 2020).Tan, Maryland Gov. Hogan issues written consent for refugee admissions in response to Trump order, Wash. Post (Jan. 2, 2020).

[7] Letter, Governor Parson to Secretary Pompeo (Dec. 30, 2019); Suntrup, Gov. Mike Parson says Missouri will continue accepting refugees, St. Louis Post -Dispatch   (Jan. 1, 2020).

[8]  Letter, Governor Sisolak to Secretary Pompeo (Dec. 18, 2019).

[9]  Letter, Governor Lee to Secretary Pompeo (Dec. 18, 2019); Letter, Governor Lee to Lt. Gov. McNally & Speaker Sexton (Dec. 18, 2019).

[10] Letter, Governor Justice to Secretary Pompeo (Dec. 20, 2019).

[11] This blog’s 12/30/19 post erroneously listed Vermont as consenting.

 

U.S. Governors Call for Ending the U.S. Embargo Against Cuba

On October 9, nine U.S. governors sent a letter to congressional leaders calling for decisive steps to open up trade with Cuba and put an end to the embargo.[1]

They expressed their “support for an end to current trade sanctions levied against Cuba. It is time for Congress to take action and remove the financial, travel, and other restrictions that impede normal commerce and trade between our nation and Cuba.”

Federal legislation in 2000,“ they stated, “allowed for the first commercial sales of food and agricultural products from the U.S. in nearly half a century.” Since then “Cuba has become an important market for many American agricultural commodities. Thus far, our country’s agriculture sector has led the way in reestablishing meaningful commercial ties with Cuba, but a sustainable trade relationship cannot be limited to one sector or involve only one-way transactions.”

Nevertheless, the Governors added,  “financing restrictions imposed by the embargo limit the ability of U.S. companies to competitively serve the Cuban market. Our thriving food and agriculture sectors coupled with Cuba’s need for an affordable and reliable food supply provide opportunities for both our nations that could be seized with an end to the remaining trade restrictions. Foreign competitors such as Canada, Brazil, and the European Union are increasingly taking market share from U.S. industry, as these countries do not face the same restrictions on financing.”

“Ending the embargo will create jobs here at home, especially in rural America, and will create new opportunities for U.S. agriculture. Expanding trade with Cuba will further strengthen our nation’s agriculture sector by opening a market of 11 million people just 90 miles from our shores, and continue to maintain the tremendous momentum of U.S. agricultural exports, which reached a record $152 billion in 2014.”

In addition, “bilateral trade and travel among citizens of both nations will engender a more harmonious relationship between the U.S. and Cuba, while providing new opportunities for U.S. interests to benefit economically from improved relationships. The benefits of fully opening Cuba to free market trading with the U.S. go beyond dollars and cents. This positive change in relations between our nations will usher in a new era of cooperation that transcends business. Expanded diplomatic relations, corporate partnerships, trade and dialogue will put us in a better position to boost democratic ideals in Cuba. This goal has not been achieved with an outdated strategy of isolation and sanctions.”

“While normalized trade would represent a positive step for the U.S. and Cuban economies, we appreciate and support the Administration’s executive actions taken thus far to expand opportunity in Cuba and facilitate dialogue among both nations. We now ask that you and your colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate take decisive steps to support U.S. commerce and trade relations and fully end the embargo on Cuba.”

The letter is signed by Governors Robert Bentley (Rep., AL), Jerry Brown (Dem. CA), Butch Otter (Rep., ID), Mark Dayton (Dem.MN), Steve Bullock (Dem., MT), Thomas Wolf (Dem., PA), Peter Shumlin (Dem., VT),Terry McAuliffe (Dem., VA) and Jay Inslee (Dem., WA).

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[1] Letter, Governor Robert Bentley (and eight other Governors) to Senate Majority Leader McConnell, et al. (Oct. 9, 2015); Bullock, Governor Bullock Encourage End to Trade Sanctions with Cuba (Oct. 14, 2015); Shumlin, Governor Shumlin Urges End to U.S. Trade Sanctions with Cuba (Oct. 13, 2015); Governor supports trade with Cuba, Great Falls Tribune (Oct. 14, 2015); Thurston, Could Farmers Cash in with More Open Trade with Cuba? Necn (Oct. 14, 2015); Prentice, Otter, Eight Other Governors, Urging Congress to Lift Cuba Trade Embargo, Boise Weekly (Oct. 14, 2015); Nine U.S. governors call for an end to the blockade, Granma (Oct. 14, 2015).