Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for March 2nd, 2018

Europe Scopes Out Its Trade Retaliation Options

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Read Kevin Drum’s post. Spot-on.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2018 at 6:36 pm

Good questions from Brian Stelter’s newsletter

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He writes:

Just a few of the questions at the end of this wild week:

— Why did John Kelly once again mislead reporters about the Rob Porterscandal timeline on Friday?

Chuck Todd on MSNBC: “Can you believe this White House? Really. Can you
‘believe’ it? Can you believe this president on guns, or on tariffs? Can you believe the White House’s attempts at cleaning up both? How can you?”

— When will Hope Hicks’ resignation take effect? FT’s Courtney Weaver writes:“She leaves a huge void. The question is, who will fill it?”

Jake Tapper: “One friend of President Trump’s told CNN that Hicks’ departure would send the president into a ‘tailspin,’ which of course prompts the question: She hasn’t even left yet. If this isn’t a tailspin, what is it?

Jennifer Rubin’s prediction: “Don’t worry — it’ll get worse. It always does.” What’s next?

Sounds like they’ve had it up to here, and they’re angry, and they’re not going to take it anymore. You recall Network. It’s like that: Mad as hell, and I’m not taking it any more! Life imitates art.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2018 at 6:33 pm

The ripple-on effects of the Parkland massacre: Organizing advances

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WBAL’s column by David McFadden explains what’s happening and how it’s happening: for late teens social media is their native tongue: they speak it fluently and understand it easily, and so they are connecting and building a major organization through social media.

Somehow I’m reminded of the opening of The World of Null-A, one of many A.E. van Vogt science-fiction novels that I loved. I don’t quite know what it was, but he was definitely one of my favorites. I think I recall reading that he typed so fast he had single keys for “the”, “she”, and “and”.

At any rate the novel opens with an invasion by hostiles, and the protagonist immediately takes effective action and knows that all others who have mastered the mystic art of Null-A are likewise taking action: not yet coordinated, but all immediate. They knew not what each other thought but instead what turns out to be just about as good, how each other thought, so I suppose it gives them a hive-mind sort of intelligence (as an ant or termite colony is smarter by magnitudes than any individual ant/termite—for example, the colony knows how to do ant farms and build towers optimally oriented wrt the sun), only this hive mind are all those people connected in parallel instead of in series. That society had, in effect, an immune system to isolate society against malignant memes. In fact, exactly this sort of societal immune response is explicitly discussed in Susan Blackmore’s The Meme Machine.

So we see society’s immune system kick into action. We’ll probably run a fever (or the societal analogue) to help ward off infection. I’m not talking violence: there’s also conversions and ultimately social change in attitudes: thus perhaps the decline in drinking and smoking in public. Neither are gone, but both are greatly diminished, because those became less popular memes.

That seems to be what’s happening with the Parkland event. And I think in part because the language of media has been taught in schools and experience by older practitioners, but those younger immersed in the language and thus learned it deeply, as a language. In linguistics, I believe the new native speakers create a creole.

At any rate, the young communicate effectively by media without having to think about it. They just have the thought and know how to present it as well as you (touch typists) can think the word and let the fingers do their thing with no conscious thought required.

With social media as the distribution channel, the new memes are copied far and wide, and spread rapidly: that’s what “going viral” means: rapid and extensive reproduction of the meme. These new memes are better adapted to modern (today’s… this minute’s) technology, so they are more successful in this environment than memes not so well adapted.

That’s fairly abstract, but it hangs together, I think. And it’s an interesting way to view what we see happening, as exemplified by the account in his column, which begins:

Inspired by the impassioned activism of Florida students who survived last month’s mass shooting, teenagers at one Maryland high school are organizing an effort to provide host families for out-of-town peers attending a late March rally for gun control legislation in the U.S. capital.

The students brainstormed ways to help after a shooting rampage left 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. They were also stirred to act after a Feb. 21 threat led to the evacuation of their own school in Bethesda, just northwest of Washington, D.C.

“We kind of decided we’re tired of feeling like we can’t do anything,” said 16-year-old Mai Canning, one of the handful of students at Bethesda’s Walter Johnson High School behind the effort.

Canning and her friends now have a network of roughly 200 host families — primarily homes with students at Walter Johnson and some other local high schools — in neighborhoods along the Washington-area Metro system. Some have said they will provide free meals or provide Metro cards.

They caution their area peers: “If you are a student, do not indicate your ability to host without asking your parents first.”

The students’ social media post about their hosting effort has been shared thousands of times, including by Parkland, Florida, high school students dealing with the intense emotional fallout of the Feb. 14 shooting rampage. So far, some teens who have sought host families are coming from as far away as California.

“We all live in the D.C. area, we have homes, and it would be really nice to connect with students from all over the country that are passionate about this kind of thing while giving them a place to stay,” said main organizer Gabrielle Zwi, a 17-year-old senior at Walter Johnson.

Marcus Messner, an associate professor of journalism at Virginia Commonwealth University, noted in an email that teens today are “digital natives” who grew up with online social media. He said that enables them to organize quickly around an issue, “as the students at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda are demonstrating.”

He added, “The question always is whether the digital activism can be turned into tangible real-life results. In this case, organizing a mass protest in the capital via social media is an important first step for them. In addition, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students in Florida have also demonstrated how savvy they are at organizing via social media while at the same time getting their message out to a national audience via traditional news outlets as well.”

Organizers of the March 24 gun control rally dubbed “March For Our Lives” sought a permit for the National Mall in Washington, but that location was already reserved. The Washington Post reported that a redacted permit application revealed that a “student project” for “filming for a talent show” got the Mall site where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.

In an email to The Associated Press, National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst clarified that the “March For Our Lives” organizers have since informed officials that they will hold their rally on Pennsylvania Avenue, between 3rd and 12th streets. The federal agency will “work with the organizers to issue permits for affected properties under our jurisdiction,” he said.

The application for the March 24 rally says more than 500,000 attendees are expected.

Oprah Winfrey recently matched a $500,000 donation by George and Amal Clooney to support planned marches of the Florida school shooting survivors and their supporters, including the one expected on March 24 in Washington. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2018 at 6:26 pm

A brief Trump history of February

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Worth reading: a Twitter stream of 8 tweets.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2018 at 5:22 pm

The Role of Luck in Life Success Is Far Greater Than We Realized

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Scott Barry Kaufman writes in Scientific American:

What does it take to succeed? What are the secrets of the most successful people? Judging by the popularity of magazines such as SuccessForbesInc., and Entrepreneur, there is no shortage of interest in these questions. There is a deep underlying assumption, however, that we can learn from them because it’s their personal characteristics–such as talent, skill, mental toughness, hard work, tenacity, optimism, growth mindset, and emotional intelligence– that got them where they are today. This assumption doesn’t only underlie success magazines, but also how we distribute resources in society, from work opportunities to fame to government grants to public policy decisions. We tend to give out resources to those who have a past history of success, and tend to ignore those who have been unsuccessful, assuming that the most successful are also the most competent.

But is this assumption correct? I have spent my entire career studying the psychological characteristics that predict achievement and creativity. While I have found that a certain number of traits— including passion, perseverance, imagination, intellectual curiosity, and openness to experience– do significantly explain differences in success, I am often intrigued by just how much of the variance is often left unexplained.

In recent years, a number of studies and books–including those by risk analyst Nassim Taleb, investment strategist Michael Mauboussin, and economist Richard Frank— have suggested that luck and opportunity may play a far greater role than we ever realized, across a number of fields, including financial trading, business, sports, art, music, literature, and science. Their argument is not that luck is everything; of course talent matters. Instead, the data suggests that we miss out on a really importance piece of the success picture if we only focus on personal characteristics in attempting to understand the determinants of success.

Consider some recent findings:

The importance of the hidden dimension of luck raises an intriguing question: Are the most successful people mostly just the luckiest peoplein our society? If this were even a little bit true, then this would have some significant implications for how we distribute limited resources, and for the potential for the rich and successful to actually benefit society (versus benefiting themselves by getting even more rich and successful).

In an attempt to shed light on this heavy issue, the Italian physicists Alessandro Pluchino and Andrea Raspisarda teamed up with the Italian economist Alessio Biondo to make the first ever attempt to quantify the role of luck and talent in successful careers. In their prior work, they warned against a “naive meritocracy”, in which people actually fail to give honors and rewards to the most competent people because of their underestimation of the role of randomness among the determinants of success. To formally capture this phenomenon, they proposed a “toy mathematical model” that simulated the evolution of careers of a collective population over a worklife of 40 years (from age 20-60).

The Italian researchers stuck a large number of hypothetical individuals (“agents”) with different degrees of “talent” into a square world and let their lives unfold over the course of their entire worklife. They defined talent as whatever set of personal characteristics allow a person to exploit lucky opportunities (I’ve argued elsewhere that this is a reasonable definition of talent). Talent can include traits such as intelligence, skill, motivation, determination, creative thinking, emotional intelligence, etc. The key is that more talented people are going to be more likely to get the most ‘bang for their buck’ out of a given opportunity (see here for support of this assumption).

All agents began the simulation with the same level of success (10 “units”). Every 6 months, individuals were exposed to a certain number of lucky events (in green) and a certain amount of unlucky events (in red). Whenever a person encountered an unlucky event, their success was reduced in half, and whenever a person encountered a lucky event, their success doubled proportional to their talent (to reflect the real-world interaction between talent and opportunity).

What did they find? Well, first they replicated the well known “Pareto Principle“, which predicts that a small number of people will end up achieving the success of most of the population (Richard Koch refers to it as the “80/20 principle“). In the final outcome of the 40-year simulation, while talent was normally distributed, success was not. The 20 most successful individuals held 44% of the total amount of success, while almost half of the population remained under 10 units of success(which was the initial starting condition). This is consistent with real-world data, although there is some suggestion that in the real world, wealth success is even more unevenly distributed, with just eight men owning the same wealth as the poorest half of the world.

Although such an unequal distribution may seem unfair, it might be justifiable if it turned out that the most successful people were indeed the most talented/competent. So what did the simulation find? On the one hand, talent wasn’t irrelevant to success. In general, those with greater talent had a higher probability of increasing their success by exploiting the possibilities offered by luck. Also, the most successful agents were mostly at least average in talent. So talent mattered.

However, talent was definitely not sufficient because the most talented individuals were rarely the most successful. In general, mediocre-but-lucky people were much more successful than more-talented-but-unlucky individuals. The most successful agents tended to be those who were only slightly above average in talent but with a lot of luck in their lives.

Consider the evolution of success for the most successful person and the least successful person in one of their simulations: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2018 at 3:17 pm

Qatar Refused to Invest in Kushner’s Firm. Weeks Later, Jared Backed a Blockade of Qatar.

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Jared plays hardball, but this is not an appropriate use of his government position. Eric Levitz writes in New York magazine:

Jared Kushner’s father met with Qatar’s minister of finance last April, to solicit an investment in the family’s distressed asset at 666 Fifth Avenue, according to a new report from the Intercept.

The Qataris shot him down.

Weeks later, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates organized a blockade of Qatar. The Gulf monarchies claimed that this act of aggression was a response to Donald Trump’s call for the Arab worldto crack down on terrorists — after taking in the president’s majestic sermon in Riyadh, the Saudis simply couldn’t live with themselves if they didn’t take action to thwart Qatar’s covert financing of Islamist extremism.

In reality, the Saudis’ primary aim was to punish Doha for asserting its independence from Riyadh by, among other things, engaging with Iran and abetting Al Jazeera’s journalism. This was obvious to anyone familiar with the Saudis’ own affinity for (shamelessly) exporting jihadism — which is to say, anyone with a rudimentary understanding of Middle East politics.

And it was equally obvious that the United States had nothing to gain from a conflict between its Gulf allies. Qatar hosts one of America’s largest and most strategically important air bases in the Middle East. Any development that pushes Doha away from Riyadh pulls it toward Tehran. Thus, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — and virtually every other arm of the U.S. government — scrambled to nip the blockade in the bud.

But Jared Kushner was (reportedly) an exception. Donald Trump wasmore than happy to endorse the idea that his speech had moved mountains, and commended the Saudis for punishing Qatar — first on Twitter, and then during a press conference in the Rose Garden. According to contemporary reports, his son-in-law was one of the only White House advisers to approve of this stance.

Perhaps, Kushner’s idiosyncratic view of the blockade had nothing to do with Qatar’s rejection of his father. Maybe the senior White House adviser simply wanted to tell Trump what the latter wished to hear.

But the government of Qatar, for one, thinks otherwise. As NBC Newsreports:

Qatari government officials visiting the U.S. in late January and early February considered turning over to Mueller what they believe is evidence of efforts by their country’s Persian Gulf neighbors in coordination with Kushner to hurt their country, four people familiar with the matter said. The Qatari officials decided against cooperating with Mueller for now out of fear it would further strain the country’s relations with the White House, these people said.

It’s worth noting that the project the Qatari foreign minister refused to finance wasn’t just one more item in the Kushner family’s portfolio; it was Jared’s baby — his misbegotten, sickly, drowning baby.

In 2007, Jared Kushner decided that the real-estate market had nowhere to go but up. And so the 26-year-old mogul decided to plow $500 million of his family’s money — and $1.3 billion in borrowed capital — into purchasing 666 Fifth Avenue for twice the price it had previously sold for. Even if we’d somehow avoided a global financial crisis, this would have been a bad bet: Before the crash, when the building was almost fully occupied, it generated only about two-thirds of the revenue the Kushners needed to keep up with their debt payments.

After the crisis, however, things got really hairy. The Kushners were forced to sell off the building’s retail space to pay their non-mortgage debt on the building — and then to hand over nearly half of the office space to Vornado as part of a refinancing agreement with the real-estate giant.

The office space that the Kushners retained is worth less than its $1.2 billion mortgage — which is due early in 2019. If their company can’t find some new scheme for refinancing and redeveloping the property by then, Kushner will have cost his family a fortune.

And Jared really doesn’t want that to happen. In the months between his father-in-law’s election and inauguration, Kushner divided his time between organizing the transition, and seeking capital from (suddenly quite interested) investors aligned with foreign governments: During that period, . ..

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2018 at 2:31 pm

SEC dropped inquiry a month after firm aided Kushner company

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This stinks. Stephen Braun, Bernard Condon, and Tami Abdollah report for Associated Press:

The Securities and Exchange Commission late last year dropped its inquiry into a financial company that a month earlier had given White House adviser Jared Kushner’s family real estate firm a $180 million loan.

While there’s no evidence that Kushner or any other Trump administration official had a role in the agency’s decision to drop the inquiry into Apollo Global Management, the timing has once again raised potential conflict-of-interest questions about Kushner’s family business and his role as an adviser to his father-in-law, President Donald Trump.

The SEC detail comes a day after The New York Times reported that Apollo’s loan to the Kushner Cos. followed several meetings at the White House with Kushner.

“I suppose the best case for Kushner is that this looks absolutely terrible,” said Rob Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Without presuming that there is any kind of quid pro quo … there are a lot of ways that the fact of Apollo’s engagement with Kushner and the Kushner businesses in a public and private context might cast a shadow over what the SEC is doing and influence consciously or unconsciously how the agency acted.”

Apollo said in its 2018 annual report that the SEC had halted its inquiry into how the firm reported the financial results of its private equity funds and other costs and personnel changes. Apollo had previously reported that the Obama administration SEC had subpoenaed it for information related to the issue.

The SEC, which often makes such inquiries of financial firms, declined Friday to comment on the probe or its decision to halt it.

Apollo said the company founder who met with Jared Kushner did not discuss with him “a loan, investment, or any other business arrangement or regulatory matter involving Apollo.” It added that the Kushner loan to refinance a Chicago skyscraper went through the “standard approval process” and that the founder was not involved in the decision.

Kushner Cos. said in a statement that the implication that Kushner’s position in the White House had affected the company’s relationships with lenders is “without substantiation.”

Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Jared Kushner attorney Abbe Lowell, had no comment on the dropped SEC inquiry or whether it was influenced by Kushner’s contacts with Apollo. He added that Kushner has “had no role in the Kushner Companies since joining the government and has taken no part of any business, loans or projects with or for the Companies after that.”

According to the Times report, Kushner also met with the CEO of Citigroup at the White House early last year. Property records show that Citigroup lent $325 million in March to Kushner Cos. and two partners for a collection of buildings in Brooklyn.

Both lenders had important business before the federal government last year, according to lobbying records and regulatory filings. Both Apollo and Citigroup were pushing for tax breaks in the recently passed overhaul, and Citigroup was lobbying for a rollback of some financial crisis regulation.

Combined, the two companies spent nearly $7 million on lobbying last year. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2018 at 2:18 pm

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