November 8, 2017

If you were only to read one thing…

What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer – Max Fisher and Josh Keller 11/7

  • “When the world looks at the United States, it sees a land of exceptions: a time-tested if noisy democracy, a crusader in foreign policy, an exporter of beloved music and film.”
  • “But there is one quirk that consistently puzzles America’s fans and critics alike. Why, they ask, does it experience so many mass shootings?”
  • “Perhaps, some speculate, it is because American society is unusually violent. Or its racial divisions have frayed the bonds of society. Or its citizens lack proper mental care under a health care system that draws frequent derision abroad.”
  • “These explanations share one thing in common: Though seemingly sensible, all have been debunked by research on shootings elsewhere in the world. Instead, an ever-growing body of research consistently reaches the same conclusion.”
  • “The only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.”
  • “The United States also has some of the world’s weakest controls over who may buy a gun and what sorts of guns may be owned.”
  • “Switzerland has the second-highest gun ownership rate of any developed country, about half that of the United States. Its gun homicide rate in 2004 was 7.7 per million people — unusually high, in keeping with the relationship between gun ownership and murders, but still a fraction of the rate in the United States.”
  • “Swiss gun laws are more stringent, setting a higher bar for securing and keeping a license, for selling guns and for the types of guns that can be owned. Such laws reflect more than just tighter restrictions. They imply a different way of thinking about guns, as something that citizens must affirmatively earn the right to own.”
  • The United States is one of only three countries, along with Mexico and Guatemala, that begin with the opposite assumption: that people have an inherent right to own guns.”
  • “The main reason American regulation of gun ownership is so weak may be the fact that the trade-offs are simply given a different weight in the United States than they are anywhere else.”
  • “After Britain had a mass shooting in 1987, the country instituted strict gun control laws. So did Australia after a 1996 incident. But the United States has repeatedly faced the same calculus and determined that relatively unregulated gun ownership is worth the cost to society.”
  • “That choice, more than any statistic or regulation, is what most sets the United States apart.”
  • “’In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate,’ Dan Hodges, a British journalist, wrote in a post on Twitter two years ago, referring to the 2012 attack that killed 20 young students at an elementary school in Connecticut. ‘Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.’”

Perspective

NYT – How Business Titans, Pop Stars and Royals Hide Their Wealth – Scott Shane, Spencer Woodman, and Michael Forsythe 11/7

Visual Capitalist – Animation: The Rapidly Aging Western World – Jeff Desjardins 11/7

WSJ – Coming Soon to Campus: The $100,000 Hotel Room – Laine Higgins 11/6

  • “Texas A&M is charging alums six figures for the right to book a hotel room next to the football stadium, as universities look for extra perks to market for wealthy donors.”
  • Why, because they can. LSU appears to have initiated this approach in 2011, but not for as much money nor for a set term. Rest assured, they quickly fixed that.

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Economist – Why you should remember Mueller’s job description – Leaders 11/4

  • “Unlike the three separate congressional inquiries into Russian government meddling in last year’s election, Mr Mueller is authorized to prosecute anyone who committed a federal crime. The purpose of Mr Mueller’s investigation is not to take down Mr Trump. It is to make it harder for foreign governments to interfere in future elections.
  • “That is an aim all Americans should be able to unite behind. Instead, Mr Mueller’s probe has become the latest territory for an uncomprehending shouting match between partisans. The keyboard warriors at the Internet Research Agency in St Petersburg, Russia’s best-known troll farm, might like to imagine that this is all their doing. In reality, though, the Russian meddling in America which, in the judgment of the intelligence services, took place last year is now being followed by open season for Americans to turn on each other.”
  • “To gauge the degree of partisan intoxication, recall that, as recently as 2012, the Republican presidential candidate identified Russia as America’s number one foreign-policy threat. Mr Trump’s election has turned this on its head. Republicans are now half as likely to say that Russia poses a big threat to national security as Democrats are. Around 35% of Republicans express ‘confidence’ in Vladimir Putin. No, that is not a misprint. The power of partisan thinking has created a favorable audience for the idea of firing Mr Mueller.”

Economist – Should regulators block CVS from buying Aetna? – Leaders 11/4

  • “America has a competition problem. Market concentration has risen in more than three-quarters of industries since the late 1990s. Concentration has led to higher profits and higher returns for shareholders at the expense of consumers. Antitrust authorities have become more supine: between 1970 and 1999, regulators brought an average of 16 cases a year in order to prevent big firms from becoming even bigger; between 2000 and 2014, that number fell below three.”

Inc. – 20 Years Ago, Jeff Bezos Said This 1 Thing Separates People Who Achieve Lasting Success From Those Who Don’t – Jeff Haden 11/6

NYT – The ‘Click’ Moment: How the Weinstein Scandal Unleashed a Tsunami – Jessica Bennett 11/5

Project Syndicate – How Americans Became Vulnerable to Russian Disinformation – Kent Harrington 11/7

  • “Social media moguls’ disregard for facts may have facilitated Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. But Russia’s success in peddling bogus news via Twitter and Facebook exposed more fundamental problems: a poorly educated electorate and a news industry that has become concentrated in ever-fewer hands.”
  • “Last week, Congress unveiled legislation that would force Facebook, Google, and other social media giants to disclose who buys online advertising, thereby closing a loophole that Russia exploited during the election. But making amends through technical fixes and public promises to be better corporate citizens will solve only the most publicized problem.”
  • “The tougher challenge will be strengthening institutions that are vital to the functioning of democracy – specifically, civics education and local journalism. Until gains are made in these areas, the threat to America’s democratic process will grow, resurfacing every time the country votes.”
  • “Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intelligence operatives chose wisely in mounting their social media attack. Facebook hosts nearly 80% of all mobile social media traffic, while Google accounts for close to 90% of all online-search-related advertising. By inundating these two platforms with automated messages from tens of thousands of bogus user accounts, Russia was able to stoke discord along economic, racial, and political lines.”
  • “Moreover, they did it cheaply. According to one analysis, with only modest ad purchases on Facebook, Russian agents gained access to a goldmine of online advertising data – such as Facebook’s customer targeting software – which enabled the ‘sharing’ of Russia’s fake news hundreds of millions of times. At one point during this clandestine assault, an estimated 400,000 bots – software applications that run automated scripts – sent millions of fictitious political messages, which in turn generated some 20% of all Twitter traffic during the final month of the campaign.”
  • “It is bad enough that the technology world’s marquee names were not prepared to parry foreign meddling in America’s most important election. But the social media giants’ persistent denial of responsibility for the volume of distorted and false information delivered as news, even as Russia’s role has grown clearer, is more troubling.”
  • “Strip away the technobabble about better algorithms, more transparency, and commitment to truth, and Silicon Valley’s ‘fixes’ dodge a simple fact: its technologies are not designed to sort truth from falsehoods, check accuracy, or correct mistakes. Just the opposite: they are built to maximize clicks, shares, and ‘likes’.”
  • “Still, Russia’s success in targeting American voters with bogus news could not have succeeded were it not for the second problem: a poorly educated electorate susceptible to manipulation. The erosion of civics education in schools, the shuttering of local newspapers – and the consequent decline in the public’s understanding of issues and the political process – conspire to create fertile ground for the sowing of disinformation.”
  • “Consider the evidence: In 2005, an American Bar Association survey found that 50% of Americans could not correctly identify the country’s three branches of government. By the time the Annenberg Center for Public Policy asked the same question in 2015, the percentage of such respondents had grown to two thirds, and a staggering 32% could not name a single branch. This slippage is apparently age-dependent; a 2016 study of Americans with university degrees found that those over 65 years of age know far more about how their government works than those under 34.”
  • “High school or university courses by themselves will not keep gullible voters from falling for bogus news or inflammatory disinformation. But the viral spread of fake news stories initiated by Russian agents made one thing clear: an electorate lacking a basic civics education is more likely to fall for provocations designed to inflame partisan tensions.”

A Teachable Moment – TIAA, You’re No Vanguard – Anthony Isola 11/6

Real Estate

WSJ – Mall Landlord Taubman Sues Saks Fifth Avenue Over Puerto Rico Store – Esther Fung 11/3

  • It appears that Saks is dragging its feet in repairing its store in the Mall of San Juan. Taubman is using a condition of its lease to prod it along.

WSJ – Millennial Home Buyers Send a Chill Through Rental Markets – Peter Grant and Laura Kusisto 11/7

  • “Rising homeownership is adding to the jitters in the residential rental market, which has slumped recently after a long stretch near the top of the commercial real-estate industry.”
  • “For most of the current economic expansion, declining ownership rates have enabled landlords of apartments and single-family homes to raise rents far faster than the pace of inflation. Demand has been fueled by the millions of people who haven’t had the money, credit or desire to pursue the traditional American dream.”
  • “But amid a hot housing market, the homeownership rate is now rising, in part because millennials are reaching the age when they’re forming families and settling down.”
  • “The Census Bureau last week reported that ownership increased to 63.9% in the third quarter, the highest level since 2014. The rate was up from 63.7% in the second quarter and 63.5% a year earlier. It remains below the 69% clocked at the peak of the housing bubble a decade ago.”
  • “Still, the recent trend is causing analysts and investors to wonder whether the rental market’s good times are coming to an end.”
  • “One early warning sign came last week, when American Homes 4 Rent, which owns more than 50,000 single-family properties across 22 states, reported disappointing revenue growth for the third quarter. Analysts will be closely watching earnings from two other big companies with similar portfolios. Invitation Homes Inc. and Starwood Waypoint Homes , which agreed in August to merge, will both report results on Wednesday.”
  • “Many analysts predict that any pain that rising homeownership causes to the rental sector will be felt by these companies first, before renters of luxury apartments in big cities, for two reasons. First, house-for-rent companies tend to own properties in more affordable, nonurban markets. Second, people living in such homes have already opted for the single-family home lifestyle and so are more likely to become a homeowner.”
  • “Some multifamily investors aren’t too worried about rising homeownership, however, because new housing construction continues to lag behind the rate of household formation, even with the surge in rental housing development taken into account. Since 2010, household formation has outpaced construction by about 3.5 million units, according to CoStar Group Inc.”
  • “But Wall Street is closely watching demographic trends, particularly marriage rates among millennials—a life change often accompanied by a shift from renting to owning.”
  • “Millennials have been getting married later in life, often waiting until their late 20s, according to Mr. Chang (John Chang, head of research), of Marcus & Millichap. Their marriage rate over the next five years will likely play an important role in demand for apartments and houses.”
  • “We’re at the leading edge of transition.” – John Chang.

 

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