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Divorce and inheritance litigation meets the #MeToo movement


“Before There Was #MeToo, There Was Mary Cunningham” (nytimes):

Ms. Cunningham, one of the first women ever to hold a leadership role at a Fortune 100 company, became the subject of a media frenzy in the early 1980s amid speculation and innuendo that she had slept her way to the top of Bendix Corporation, the auto parts manufacturer that Mr. Agee then helmed.

People assume “that must be a very unhappy couple that started out all about sex in the workplace,” Ms. Cunningham Agee said of her marriage. The house, she said, and the friends who filled it in the days after Mr. Agee died were a testament to “the beautiful marriage we had.”

One of the great things about the U.S. is that we can litigate the extent to which a marriage was “beautiful” even after the death of one spouse:

In October, less than two months before he died, a frail Mr. Agee, who suffered from scleroderma, a degenerative disease of the immune system, reconnected with his first family. Legal documents show that he gave Suzanne Agee power of attorney (along with his 32-year-old daughter with Ms. Cunningham Agee, Mary Alana Kurz), filed for divorce and rewrote his will to divide his assets among Ms. Cunningham Agee and his five children. (Previously, the will had left everything to Ms. Cunningham Agee.)

Ms. Cunningham Agee said that until those final weeks, her marriage had been blissful, but people close to the family said the couple had been living in separate wings of their St. Helena home, comparing the arrangement to the 1989 movie “War of the Roses.” Ms. Cunningham Agee confirmed that they lived on different floors, but said it was because Mr. Agee, whose illness had taken its toll, walked with a cane and couldn’t climb stairs.

In her version of the story, she was the consummate caregiver, bestowing on Mr. Agee chocolate milkshakes and foot massages in the middle of the night.

According to Wikipedia, Ms. Cunningham retired from the world of business and parked her MBA following her second marriage (to the rich guy) at age 31 (the family and probate court litigation, according to the Times, keeps her from “lunches she regularly organized with girlfriends or from working on the charity causes she supports”).

Separately, note that the (happy?) couple were smart enough to live in California, where the state constitution prohibits the imposition of an estate or inheritance tax (they still would have to pay federal death taxes, of course).


Permanent Club Med actually is cheaper than current U.S. refugee settlement?


“The Fiscal Cost of Resettling Refugees in the United States” says that U.S. taxpayers spend roughly $80,000 per year per refugee resettled in the U.S.: “The cost per refugee to American taxpayers just under $79,600 every year in the first five years after a refugee is resettled in the U.S.” Demonstrating American commitment to innumeracy and illiteracy, the authors later say “This totals $15,900 per refugee, annually, or just under $79,600 per refugee over their first five years in America.” So they’ve calculated the cost… to within a factor of 5X.

Given a fixed budget and a desire to help as many people as possible, I never understood how it made sense to settle people in one of the world’s most expensive and inefficient (in terms of use of natural resources) countries.

If we assume the refugees arrive, on average, in a family of 4, that’s $320,000 per family per year at the high end of the article’s estimate. That’s $6,154 per week. The Club Med web site shows that typical prices in Caribbean or Mexico are about $125 per night per adult or about $4,300 per week for two adults and two older kids. For Muslim refugees who might prefer an Islamic environment (do they really want to read about Erica Garza and her lifestyle choices, hang out with opioid addicts, or put their children at risk in the society where kids are least likely to have two parents?), Club Meds in Morocco, Tunisia, and Senegal are available for about 20 percent less.

For refugees who don’t want to swim, windsurf, snorkel, and play tennis at the same resort year after year, Carnival offers cruises for $59 per day per person. Even if there is no discount for children, that’s $86,140 for a year for a family of four. In other words, for a given budgeted amount, it looks as though roughly 4X as many refugees could be rescued by putting them on cruise ships rather than bringing them into the U.S. to live?

Is it obvious that a permanent vacation is better than a standard American lifestyle? The same report says that “approximately 54 percent of all refugees will hold jobs that pay less than $11 an hour” (presumably this is limited to those refugees who actually do work). Low-wage jobs actually are worse for mental health than being unemployed. (Atlantic)

So… even if there were no discount for long-term vacations, taking the higher estimate of cost from the article, both refugees and the U.S. taxpayer would be better off financially and emotionally if refugees were given lifetime vacations at all-inclusive resorts and on all-inclusive cruise ships rather than being settled in the U.S.

What about at the low end of the article’s estimate? What if a refugee family of four costs only $63,600 per year in taxpayer cash? That’s not enough for Club Med and not quite enough for permanent Carnival cruising, absent a discount for buying five-year blocks. On the other hand, there are plenty wonderful countries for tourism where budget travel for a family of four costs less than $63,600. A refugee family could be on a permanent holiday in Thailand, for example, for about $24,000 per year ($18,000 per year is the estimate for a “couple” in budgetyourtrip.com).

(Note that I think that any estimate of the cost of immigration understates the true costs. The U.S. is incapable of building new infrastructure. Therefore the result of larger population is traffic jams, delayed or packed-beyond-useful public transport, etc. Americans lost 6.9 billion hours and $160 billion (ABC) from traffic jams in 2014, and trashed the planet by burning up an extra 3 billion gallons of fuel. See How much would an immigrant have to earn to defray the cost of added infrastructure?)

Potential issues: the cited report lumps together “refugees” and “asylees” such as the Tsarnaev brothers. (the Tsarnaevs collected welfare in Massachusetts, e.g., housing subsidies to live in Cambridge, otherwise one of America’s most expensive places to live, while hunting down the un-Islamic in Waltham and planning jihad); the report tracks the welfare consumption of refugees/asylees over a 5-year period and therefore we don’t know if they all decided to leave public housing, pay full price for health insurance, shop for food without an EBT, etc., starting in Year 6.


The Aerobatics lecture from our ground school


YouTube has the Aerobatics lecture that we hosted for our ground school at MIT. Our young heroine wishes to remain anonymous due to friends and family members who would be frightened by her hobby if they knew about it. We had a USAF F-22 pilot who was great, of course, and a Brazilian Air Force F-16 pilot. But I think when bringing new folks into the fraternity/sorority of aviation it is better to have someone newer and more junior talk about what flying aerobatics means to her and show it happening in an aircraft that they might reasonably rent within their lifetimes.

[Actually I realize that “the fraternity/sorority” reflects a binary gender assumption/prejudice. What’s another way to say this? “brotherhood of aviation” is plainly out. The FAA’s “Airmen” designation is unhelpful.]

How do hospitals collect money from the uninsured?


I’m spending this month down among Boston’s largest cluster of hospitals. One thing that I’ve noticed is that the people who do the work are completely disconnected from the people who collect the money.

I sat with a group of medical students looking at some insurance data. There were 12,000 claims for one patient. I said “What a disaster for the insurance company.” The students were bewildered. They had been thinking only about the hardship for the family and patient, i.e., bringing someone in for 12,000 procedures, medications, tests, etc.

A suburban friend’s cleaning woman came into one of these hospitals, told them she had no job, and they delivered her baby for free. One of the beauties of the U.S. system is that nobody can say what the value of this service was or what it would have cost if she had tried to pay. (For example, see “The Real Cost Of Giving Birth In The U.S.” (HuffPost) in which you won’t actually learn either what it costs or what the hospitals charge!)

A friend of a friend is married to a Honduran. Every time one of her extended family members is 8 months pregnant she will come to Boston. After labor begins, “they drop her off and drive away; that way nobody can ask for her address or insurance information.”

[Aside from the free hospital services, what’s the value in this system? The US Govt offers permanent residence to anyone whose child is a citizen at least 21 years old (see this helpful federal web page on the subject). In most states permanent residents are eligible for nearly all welfare benefits. Thus the “anchor baby” eliminates the need to save for retirement and the parent can spend 100 percent of his or her income prior to retirement.]

Given that doctors don’t make too much use of past test results, and therefore there is no medical value in supplying a real name, I’m surprised at the horror stories that we sometimes read in the media about hospitals chasing down former patients for non-payment of bills. At least in urban environments, how was it that any hospital ever gets the full name, address, and Social Security number of an uninsured patient? Why aren’t Americans simply saying “I’m undocumented” when asked invasive personal questions by a hospital administrative staffer?

Private Equity looters and Donald Trump bankrupt 202-year-old Remington


Remington Arms was founded in 1816 (Wikipedia). It survived ups and downs in the U.S. economy until the private equity looters got their hands on it starting in 1993. After the extraction of roughly 200 years of built-up enterprise value, the debt-laden company was fragile and had a tough time weathering the Trump Firearms Slump (see “Cerberus’s Remington Debt Fizzles as Trump Cools Firearms Fervor”). Now it is time to cheat all of the bondholders via a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing: “U.S. gunmaker Remington seeks financing to file for bankruptcy: sources” (Reuters).

When will investors learn not to buy bonds from these crippled-by-private-equity companies?

[How does private equity looting work? PrivateCo “buys” a company from the existing shareholders for $300 million. Then the company borrows $800 million, of which $750 million is paid to PrivateCo as advisory or management fees and/or dividends (PrivateCo is the only shareholder). A few years later it turns out that the company can’t pay principal and interest on the $800 million in debt so it is time to go Chapter 11 and wipe out the bondholders. That’s the classical approach, but it needs to be disguised a bit so that the bondholders can’t sue. Donald Trump actually tried to shut down this party by (a) making private equity guys pay taxes at the same rates as everyone else (closing the “carried interest” loophole), and (b) eliminating the deductibility of interest for corporations. Congress, however, wouldn’t go along. It is tough to see what value is created via leveraging up these ancient companies. If an investor wanted a leveraged investment in a stodgy company, he or she could simply buy the stodgy company on margin.]

Healthy American dog runs up a larger health care bill than a slightly sick Mexican


Mindy the Crippler recently had her annual checkup. With a year’s supply of heartworm and anti-tick meds, plus vaccines (but not rabies, since that causes dog autism (also only needed once every three years), the bill came to $594.56.

In my personal health care reform plan, I estimated the average cost of caring for a Mexican human to be $800 per year. In that average are Mexicans with severe and critical medical issues. So the cost for a healthy Mexican is presumably no higher than $300 per year. Ergo, if Mindy were to remain in perfect health (which I pray that she does), her veterinary care will correspond in price to that of a somewhat sick Mexican.

World GDP will shrink during the Olympics?


NBC alone will broadcast 2,400 hours of mind-number waist-expanding television during the 2018 Olympics (source). That’s more than one year of “full time” work.

Of course it is inspiring to watch the accomplished and disciplined. But on the other hand, who among us has embarked on a multi-year training program and stuck to it after being inspired by the Olympics?

Readers: Will world GDP fall during this event? People who glued to the TV aren’t working or buying stuff.

Men willing to place risky business bets are also more likely to generate complaints by women?


One of my friends from grad school and I swapped tales of yesterday’s meetings.

She had a meeting with a CEO who dropped unsubtle hints about (a) his wife being away, (b) this resulting in a lack of sexual activity, (c) maybe it was therefore time for an affair.

[Note that, statistically, the wife being away should not be relevant to the “no sex” situation; roughly half of married women are uninterested in sex with their husbands after four years of marriage (Good Housekeeping).]

I had a meeting with some “data scientists” at an insurance company. There was certainly no discussion of anything sexual and the only risk was of falling asleep.

I was sorry that my engineer/entrepreneur friend had a negative experience with the lonely CEO (in order to reduce litigation risk, maybe the Board of his company should get him a plane ticket to a jurisdiction where prostitution is legal and fund a “party”?), but I pointed out that maybe the fact that he was willing to meet with her and talk about a super risky investment was correlated with the fact that he was considering taking the risk of mixing sex and business. I’m pretty sure that those insurance company folks wouldn’t be buying anything riskier than the S&P 500.

The recent SpaceX heavy rocket launch was yesterday (AVweb). Who was willing to take the insanely risky bet on this company? Steve Jurvetson, the recently disgraced venture capitalist (see this interview with him on the subject of SpaceX, made just before all that anyone cared about was which women he was having sex with).

What’s the answer? How about we give all positions of power to women? American guys have demonstrated a willingness to sit on the couch and play Xbox if someone else will pay the bills! (See Massachusetts Prenuptial Agreements for what else guys may be doing while the high-earning 50-year-old wife is at work exercising her power.)

And, finally, what do readers think about the SpaceX launch? Back in 2011, at least, it was said that SpaceX was spending only about 1/10th as much as if NASA had run the program (source).

Did Trump manage to spin a huge tax bite as a tax cut?


Congress passed some changes to the U.S. tax code back in December 2017. When Donald Trump signed these into law he said that he was cutting taxes on corporations and the media generally reported it as a “cut.”

Now that everyone is back from vacation, we’re seeing headlines such as “Microsoft 2Q18: Trump tax hit turns strong quarter into $6.3B loss”.

How is it possible that companies are paying more when their taxes have been “cut”?

From the article cited above:

The cause of this was a $13.8 billion tax bill courtesy of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), signed into law by President Trump late last year. Absent that change, net income would have been $7.5 billion, up 20 percent year-on-year, with earnings per share similarly up 20 percent to $0.96.

The TCJA imposed one-time tax rates of 15.5 percent on foreign-held cash and cash equivalents and 8 percent on non-cash, as if that foreign money had been repatriated to the US and hence subject to US corporate income tax. Many firms with large foreign-held cash piles are going to be taking big tax hits this quarter as a result; Citibank claimed a $22 billion charge, and Apple is expected to take a hit as big as $38 billion.

I can’t remember this being reported. Companies that weren’t smart enough to flee to Ireland years ago are now being hit with tax on 10 or 20 years of accumulated off-shore booty. This is a huge one-time boost to the U.S. government. Under the old system they could have left the money offshore indefinitely and never paid any tax. So it is tough to see how this can fairly be characterized as a “cut” even if tax rates for the next 10 or 20 years might be lower.

My Facebook friends put out a constant drumbeat of “Trump is stupid” and “Trump is an idiot,” but successfully spinning this huge tax bite as a “cut” looks more like genius, no?


If certain states are anti-gay, why do any gay adults live in them?


“Gay-rights groups say Amazon should avoid these 9 cities for second headquarters” (USA Today):

Gay-rights advocates ran a “No Gay? No Way!” campaign Thursday to pressure Amazon to avoid building its second headquarters in a state that does not protect its residents from discrimination for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Think about the implications for an existing employee who might be asked to transfer there. You move to one of these states and you’re looking for an apartment and you could be denied a lease because you’re gay,” said Gaughan.

One activist said the campaign is not meant to harm the gay people who live in the nine cities.

The last part seems interesting. If certain states are populated by citizens (“haters”) so anti-gay that an employer shouldn’t locate there, why do any gay adults live in those states? If we assume that gay adults are intelligent and possess agency, given that there are no restrictions on emigrating from a purportedly anti-gay state to a purportedly pro-gay state, why wouldn’t all of the gay adults have moved away some time ago? If things are as different from state to state as the folks quoted in the article contend, why wouldn’t these differences result in a more or less complete population exchange?

[Alternatively, if we do believe that there are gay people living in anti-gay states, that they are somehow stuck living there despite the pervasive prejudice, and that Amazon is LGBTQ-friendly, wouldn’t it make more sense to advocate for Amazon to set up a new facility in an anti-gay state? That gives the gay people who live there an opportunity to find a safe space for at least 40 (or 80?) hours per week.]

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