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WVU researchers address election integrity with $300K Mellon Foundation grant

Two journalism professors at West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media will lead a series of collaborative community events throughout Appalachia…

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Two journalism professors at West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media will lead a series of collaborative community events throughout Appalachia to explore voting rights and engage young people in democratic processes with the support of a $300,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation.

Credit: WVU Photo

Two journalism professors at West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media will lead a series of collaborative community events throughout Appalachia to explore voting rights and engage young people in democratic processes with the support of a $300,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation.

Dana Coester and Joel Beeson have a 20-year track record of working with key community members — faith leaders, veterans, educators, parents, youth and civic leaders — throughout Appalachia, specifically in West Virginia. These relationships will be the bedrock of a series of nonpartisan virtual and in-person workshops, presentations, panels and screening events that will help build community resilience to off- and online disinformation, manipulation and political violence threatening election integrity and community stability.

Coester and Beeson’s goals include developing community pride and learning regional histories as part of helping young voters understand the importance of informed, civic engagement with democratic processes. They also hope to foster collaboration between communities and academia that furthers trust in local institutions.

Beeson said this engaged scholarship will look at the region’s longstanding issues from a new perspective.

“Appalachia has had a lot of research done on it as a subject and this project isn’t that,” he said. “It centers community members’ cultural knowledge, history and lived experiences in addressing the real challenges a generation of young people face as they are beginning to define their civic lives.”

Much of West Virginia’s population has suffered shared generational trauma, in part due to the long decline of extractive industries and population loss, compounded by the opioid epidemic and COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, many residents harbor a well-founded mistrust toward government, institutions and leaders that have failed to support them. This skepticism can lead to a susceptibility to manipulation and the spread of disinformation which, in turn, can result in voter suppression and intimidation, the researchers believe. 

Coester and Beeson said they hope to address Generation Z’s experiences and perspectives on their roles, rights and access to democratic processes. Young people who spend time online are exposed to sophisticated mis- and disinformation.

“Young people are experiencing their world like no other generation before them and the technology generation gap is accelerating divides,” Coester said, adding that the solution is not as simple as reducing access to technology. The researchers want to connect with young people about how their online culture affects their view of democracy and their place in it. 

“We would never ask young people to get off their phones. But we do ask them to consider all the ways that technology shapes their civic lives and the way that democracy takes shape around them. We want young Appalachians to be influencing how that plays out in their tech spaces, not the other way around.”

Through oral history and other non-traditional sources, the nonpartisan discussions will utilize empathy and deep listening to reach across divides in race, religion, class and politics. However, the process will come with challenges. In addition to the existing divide between residents’ attitudes and politics, rural West Virginia itself creates physical barriers to connection and peer-to-peer networking. The state’s rural nature and the distance between communities make travel and convening difficult.

The researchers’ focus will be on re-engaging communities that may lack connection with academic and formal humanities activities but whose lives and expertise are rich with humanities-based knowledge. They hope their efforts will result in increased participation and engagement in the 2024 election cycle both on local and national levels.

“When we work with young people, they don’t necessarily have a shared understanding of what ‘democracy’ means — and why would they?” Beeson said. “This project asks young people to engage deeply with history as a first step in defining their own and their community’s futures through democratic processes.”

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, founded in 1969, awards grants in four core program areas including Arts and Culture, Higher Learning, Humanities in Place and Public Knowledge. The 2022 Higher Learning Call for Concepts was open to all accredited, non-profit, four-year degree-granting institutions and focused specifically on civic engagement and voting rights, race and racialization in the United States and social justice and the literary imagination. Of the 280 submissions, Coester and Beeson’s proposal was one of 26 to receive funding.


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Spread & Containment

What’s Still Missing on Royal Caribbean Cruises Post Covid

The cruise line has almost fully returned to normal after the covid pandemic, but one very popular activity hasn’t been brought back.

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The cruise line has almost fully returned to normal after the covid pandemic, but one very popular activity hasn't been brought back.

In the early days of Royal Caribbean Group's (RCL) - Get Free Report return from its 15-month covid pandemic shutdown, cruising looked a lot different. Ships sailed with limited capacities, masks were required in most indoor areas, and social distancing was a thing.

Keeping people six feet apart made certain aspects of taking a cruise impossible. Some were made easier by the lower passenger counts. For example, all Royal Caribbean Windjammer buffets required reservations to keep the crowds down, but in practice that system was generally not needed because capacities were never reached.

Dance parties and nightclub-style events had to be held on the pool decks or in larger spaces, and shows in the big theaters left open seats between parties traveling together. In most cases, accommodations were made and events more or less happened in a sort of normal fashion.

A few very popular events were not possible, however, in an environment where keeping six feet between passengers was a goal. Two of those events -- the first night balloon drop and the adult "Crazy Quest" game show -- simply did not work with social-distancing requirements.

One of those popular events has now made its comeback while the second appears to still be missing (aside from a few one-off appearances).

TheStreet

The Quest Is Still Mostly Missing

In late November, Royal Caribbean's adult scavenger hunt, "The Quest," (sometimes known as "Crazy Quest") began appearing on select sailings. And at the time it appeared like it was coming back across the fleet: A number of people posted about the return of the interactive adult game show in an unofficial Royal Caribbean Facebook group.

It first appeared during a Wonder of the Seas transatlantic sailing.

Since, then its appearances continue to be spotty and it has not returned on a fleetwide basis. This might not be due to any covid-related issues directly, but covid may play a role.

On some ships, Studio B, which hosts "The Quest," has been used for show rehearsals. That has been more of an issue with the trouble Royal Caribbean has had in getting new crew members onboard. And while that staffing issue has been improving, some shows may not have had full complements of performers, so using the space for rehearsal has been a continuing need.

In addition, while covid rules have gone away, covid has not, and ill cast members may force the need for more rehearsals.

Royal Caribbean has not publicly commented on when (or whether) "The Quest" will make a full comeback

Royal Caribbean Balloon Drops Are Back   

Before the pandemic, Royal Caribbean kicked off many of its cruises with a balloon drop on the Royal Promenade. That went away because it forced people to cluster as music was performed and, at midnight, balloons fell from the ceiling.

Now, the cruise line has brought back the balloon drop, albeit with a twist. The drop itself is appearing on activity schedules for upcoming Royal Caribbean cruises. Immediately after it, however, the cruise line has added something new: "The Big Recycle Balloon Pickup."

Most of the dropped balloons get popped during the drop. Previously, crewmembers picked up the used balloons. Now, the cruise line has made it a "fun" passenger activity.

"Get environmentally friendly as you help us gather our 100% biodegradable balloons in recycle baskets," the cruise line shared in its app. 

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Spread & Containment

Royal Caribbean Brings Back Popular Event; Adult Favorite Still Missing

The cruise line has almost fully returned to normal after the covid pandemic, but one very popular activity hasn’t been brought back.

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on

The cruise line has almost fully returned to normal after the covid pandemic, but one very popular activity hasn't been brought back.

In the early days of Royal Caribbean Group's (RCL) - Get Free Report return from its 15-month covid pandemic shutdown, cruising looked a lot different. Ships sailed with limited capacities, masks were required in most indoor areas, and social distancing was a thing.

Keeping people six feet apart made certain aspects of taking a cruise impossible. Some were made easier by the lower passenger counts. For example, all Royal Caribbean Windjammer buffets required reservations to keep the crowds down, but in practice that system was generally not needed because capacities were never reached.

Dance parties and nightclub-style events had to be held on the pool decks or in larger spaces, and shows in the big theaters left open seats between parties traveling together. In most cases, accommodations were made and events more or less happened in a sort of normal fashion.

A few very popular events were not possible, however, in an environment where keeping six feet between passengers was a goal. Two of those events -- the first night balloon drop and the adult "Crazy Quest" game show -- simply did not work with social-distancing requirements.

One of those popular events has now made its comeback while the second appears to still be missing (aside from a few one-off appearances).

TheStreet

The Quest Is Still Mostly Missing

In late November, Royal Caribbean's adult scavenger hunt, "The Quest," (sometimes known as "Crazy Quest") began appearing on select sailings. And at the time it appeared like it was coming back across the fleet: A number of people posted about the return of the interactive adult game show in an unofficial Royal Caribbean Facebook group.

It first appeared during a Wonder of the Seas transatlantic sailing.

Since, then its appearances continue to be spotty and it has not returned on a fleetwide basis. This might not be due to any covid-related issues directly, but covid may play a role.

On some ships, Studio B, which hosts "The Quest," has been used for show rehearsals. That has been more of an issue with the trouble Royal Caribbean has had in getting new crew members onboard. And while that staffing issue has been improving, some shows may not have had full complements of performers, so using the space for rehearsal has been a continuing need.

In addition, while covid rules have gone away, covid has not, and ill cast members may force the need for more rehearsals.

Royal Caribbean has not publicly commented on when (or whether) "The Quest" will make a full comeback

Royal Caribbean Balloon Drops Are Back   

Before the pandemic, Royal Caribbean kicked off many of its cruises with a balloon drop on the Royal Promenade. That went away because it forced people to cluster as music was performed and, at midnight, balloons fell from the ceiling.

Now, the cruise line has brought back the balloon drop, albeit with a twist. The drop itself is appearing on activity schedules for upcoming Royal Caribbean cruises. Immediately after it, however, the cruise line has added something new: "The Big Recycle Balloon Pickup."

Most of the dropped balloons get popped during the drop. Previously, crewmembers picked up the used balloons. Now, the cruise line has made it a "fun" passenger activity.

"Get environmentally friendly as you help us gather our 100% biodegradable balloons in recycle baskets," the cruise line shared in its app. 

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International

How far could UK property prices drop and should investors be concerned?

The more pessimistic analysts believe that UK house prices could drop by as much as 30% over the next couple of years.…
The post How far could UK property…

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The more pessimistic analysts believe that UK house prices could drop by as much as 30% over the next couple of years. Property prices leapt alongside most other asset classes over the long bull market that ran relatively uninterrupted over the 13 year period from the start of the recovery from the international financial crisis in 2009 and last year.

Average prices across the country almost doubled from £154,500 in March 2009 to just under £296,000 in October last year, when the market hit its most recent record high. Global stock markets had been in a downward spiral for almost a year while property prices kept climbing.

Source: PropertyData

However, a combination of rising interest rates, up from 0.1% in late 2021 to 3.5% in January 2023 and further hikes expected this year, soaring inflation putting pressure on household budgets and nerves around a recession has seen house prices ease. There still not far off their record highs of late 2022 but the trend is downward.

chart

Source: BankofEngland

The big question for homeowners and property investors is just how far could UK residential property prices drop over the next couple of years? How long prices might take to recover from a drop is another important unknown.

First time buyers struggling to get onto the property ladder may welcome a significant drop in UK house prices. Even if higher interest rates mean monthly mortgage costs don’t change much, lower sales prices should reduce the minimum deposits required to secure a mortgage.

However, for anyone who currently owns a home, especially if purchased in the past couple of years towards the top of the market, a significant drop in valuation would be extremely unwelcome. That is particularly the case for home owners at risk of falling into negative equity, which means the market value of their property is lower than the outstanding sum due on the mortgage.

Falling house prices, if the decline is steep, could also create a wider economic crisis and spill over into other parts of the economy and financial markets.

But not everyone agrees UK house prices will drop by anywhere near 30%. Let’s explore the factors that would affect the residential property market over 2023 and beyond and different opinions on how serious a market slump could be. As well as the wider potential consequences that could result if the dive in home valuations turns out to be in line with more negative forecasts.

How much will UK house prices fall by?

The short answer to that question is that we don’t know but the most pessimistic outlook is for drops of up to 30% over the next couple of years. However, there are a number of factors that mean there is a high chance valuations will slide by less. But let’s look at the negative scenario first.

A 30% drop in home valuations sounds like a lot and it is. However, against the backdrop of the last couple of years that kind of fall looks a little less extreme. Prices are up 28% since April 2019 and a 30% fall would take the average price of a home in the UK to around £210,000, where it was in 2016. A less severe 20% drop in prices would see the average price settle at around £235,000, where it was just before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Bank of England dropping interest rates to just 0.1%.

Mid-term interest rates are likely to have the biggest influence on house prices. At the BoE’s current 3.5% base rate, the best mortgage deals available are 2 years fixed at 4.8% compared to 1% deals available until recently. At an LTV of 60% on a £400,000 mortgage, that would push the monthly rate up to £2300 a month from £1500 a month.

For some borrowers, that is likely to prove problematic. It is also likely to mean lower demand for properties from buyers who might have otherwise decided to move up the property ladder and first time buyers. A drop in demand at higher price brackets due to affordability thresholds being passed will see property prices fall.

Will demand drop enough to lead to a 30% fall? That depends on factors that are currently unknown. How high interest rates go will have a huge influence and that will depend on inflation. There are signs inflation is easing and today the Fed’s preferred gauge for inflation, the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index, rose 5.0% in December from a year earlier. That was slower than the 5.5% 12-month gain as of November and the lowest level since September 2021.

In the UK, inflation has also eased from 11.1% year-on-year in October to 10.5% in December. It’s still much higher than in the USA but will hopefully now maintain a consistent downward trend helped by easing energy prices.

There are hopes the Fed will pull back on further interest rate rises from March and that would set a tone that the Bank of England may well follow with a slight delay. The Fed’s base rate is also already higher than in the UK at 4.25% to 4.5%.

If interest rates and, more importantly, mortgage rates do not rise by more than 1% from where they are today it is unlikely valuation drops of as much as 30% eventuate. But if they did what would the consequences be?

What happens if UK house prices fall 30%?

The good news is that even a house price fall as extreme as 30% would be unlikely to lead to systematic issues in the UK’s financial services sector. More people own their homes outright than have a mortgage – 8.8 million to 6.8 million homes. Lloyds Bank, one of the UK’s biggest mortgage lenders recently reported the average LTV of its mortgage portfolio is just 40%.

Even if average LTV is a little higher for other banks, a wave of defaults is unlikely to threaten their stability and infect other areas of financial markets or the wider economy. Mortgage lenders are also reluctant to repossess homes they’ve lent against as it’s an expensive process for them. They will do as much as they can to work with borrowers who are struggling to meet increased mortgage payments.

What does falling property prices mean for investors?

For property investors, it’s really a case of if rental income will continue to cover mortgage payments, or get close enough to mean the investment still adds up. If mortgage payments are likely to exceed realistic rental income over the next few years investors may consider selling up. Unless the property was purchased in the last 2-3 years, that could still mean walking away with a reasonable return.

For investors in the wider financial markets, it seems unlikely that falling property prices, even if up to 30% is knocked off valuations, will see serious contagion spread and spark a crisis.

It’s not impossible that UK property prices could fall by as much as 30% over the next couple of years as a result of higher interest rates and tighter household budgets but the likelihood is the average drop will be less. And in the worst case scenario, wider fallout should be limited. A repeat of the systemic crash that led to the 2008 financial crisis does not seem like a real prospect. Lenders are well capitalised and the system looks strong enough to cope.

The post How far could UK property prices drop and should investors be concerned? first appeared on Trading and Investment News.

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