21 February 2019

Could Corporate Finance Manage Without Securities Laws?

In the late nineteenth century Britain had almost no mandatory shareholder protections, but had very developed financial markets. We argue that private contracting between shareholders and corporations meant that the absence of statutory protections was immaterial. Using approximately 500 articles of association from before 1900, we code the protections offered to shareholders in these private contracts. We find that firms voluntarily offered shareholders many of the protections that were subsequently included in statutory corporate law. We also find that companies offering better protection to shareholders had less concentrated ownership.
From here via Marginal Revolution.

I would also observe, however, that while private corporations were a fairly new and unregulated area in Britain in the 19th century, that Britain did have a very substantial body of private law and, in particular, commercial law, by the time that private corporations started to emerge. Corporations emerging in a context in which there was a large and well established class of urban merchants who were used to being regulated legally by a strong state that had very predictable approaches to resolving business disputes with long pedigrees of case law and economic practice behind them. It also had a substantial community of lawyers with business oriented practices who had a good understanding of what protections were important to have for shareholders in corporations, and a large class of sophisticated and experienced investors who were cognizant of the details enough to insist on corporate governance document provisions necessary to adequately protect their investments.

In contrast, in many countries that are economically developing or that have "Third World" economies, the country itself has only been independent of colonial rule since 1960 or later, there have been multiple post-independence regimes interrupted by successions of coups or civil wars or insurgencies, the country's boundaries often don't coincide with the geographic distribution of people who share of a common ethnic or national identity, the current regime is quite weak, and neither the leading economic actors nor the common people are accustomed to operating in a Western style elected government which implements its policies via a substantial bureaucratic structure and pervasive regulation of all facets of life by the courts.

It is one thing to have a laissez faire approach to high level business regulation, when at the local level, there are courts and sheriffs and police and local governments that enforce contract and property rights, sanction people who don't respect the rights of others, keep water and sewer systems operating smoothly, keep local roads in good repair, confirm that construction activity adheres to safety standards both in terms of what is built and worker safety, funds schools that provide universal education and a literate public, and so on. And, where, corruption in local government administration is not pervasive.

It is another thing to try to manage without formal business regulation without such a sound foundation and the norms reflected in securities laws and corporate law are already widely shared by the people who are affected by them. In Albania, for example, one of the very early problems it faced economically when it converted from Soviet style communism in its purest autarkic form to a market economy, was that its securities laws were inadequate to address the needs of the many newly privatized enterprises. Russia also faced serious problems in its privatization process that have caused it to develop a corrupt crony capitalist system run by oligarchs.

The study itself should also be taken with a grain of salt. Consider this comment to the Marginal Revolution post linked above:
clockwork_prior February 19, 2019 at 8:39 am

Always look at the generally carefully chosen dates for such studies, as that way, they avoid discussing things like this - 'Railway Mania was an instance of speculative frenzy in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in the 1840s. It followed a common pattern: as the price of railway shares increased, more and more money was poured in by speculators until the inevitable collapse. It reached its zenith in 1846, when no fewer than 272 Acts of Parliament were passed, setting up new railway companies, with the proposed routes totalling 9,500 miles (15,300 km) of new railway. Around a third of the railways authorised were never built – the companies either collapsed due to poor financial planning, were bought out by larger competitors before they could build their line, or turned out to be fraudulent enterprises to channel investors' money into other businesses.' https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Railway_Mania 
Bubbles come and go, but that fraudulent diversion just might have made a certain impression on both law makers and investors in the UK. Along with laying a lot of rail, of course.
Similarly:
Donald Pretari February 19, 2019 at 12:43 pm

We have financial oversight to protect the interests of average citizens, not to protect James Grant or George Selgin. Do you really expect the average citizen to be able to monitor banks, when experts can't agree about MMT? You need to keep up with current events. The recent crisis involved massive fraud and deception on the part of financial and investment concerns. Read "The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives" by Jesse Eisinger. And don't mention other countries unless you allow mention of them when it doesn't suit your purposes. I actually find comparing our country today and 18th Century Britain disturbing, although I agree its historically interesting. In any case, expecting banks and investment services to be trusted nowadays is not likely, nor should it be.
Along the same lines that I have suggested, see also this comment to the Marginal Revolution post (emphasis added):
jack February 19, 2019 at 8:58 am  
Britain still has almost no statutory shareholder protections and no governmental regulator like the SEC. Its companies law is is way less bureaucratic than the US's with far less lawyer involvement. It does have perhaps the best commercial courts in the world with judges not juries deciding commercial cases and cost shifting. It also has a culture that values probity -- perhaps more than the US.
Indeed, even the word "probity" is so uncommon in the U.S. that I feel the need to provide this definition of it (the featured one in a Google search):
pro·bi·ty
/ˈprōbədē/
noun 
FORMAL
the quality of having strong moral principles; honesty and decency.
"financial probity" 
synonyms: integrity, honesty, uprightness, decency, morality, rectitude, goodness, virtue, right-mindedness, trustworthiness, truthfulness, honor, honorableness, justice, fairness, equity . . .
Britain does have a "Financial Conduct Authority" (the FCA) whose role is somewhat analogous to the SEC and state securities regulators in the U.S., but it regulates with a lighter hand.

Emoji's In Court

It is common these days for conversations via text messaging or similar means to contain emojis. Indeed, 30% of all cases in all time, in which emojis have been discussed in judicial opinions occurred in 2018. But, while they can add important content to a message, their meaning is not as settled as ordinary words and can be more context dependent than many words.

In these cases, explaining the true meaning of a message containing an emoji can be important for interpreting the meaning of the entire message. Not only can they add content themselves, they can also modify the meaning of the text portion of a message, conveying, for example, if the message is meant sincerely or in jest.

20 February 2019

Are U.S. Intelligence Agencies Useless?

G. Cochran, at West Hunter, makes the case that the capacity of U.S. intelligence agencies to evaluated technical issues, like the viability of the claim that Iraq had a nuclear program. is pretty dismal.

To be clear, he says lots of things I disagree with, and this post is no exception to that rule. But, the case he makes that the intelligence agencies that the U.S. spends vast amounts of money on have serious blind spots does sound plausible.

15 February 2019

Better Ways To Make Housing In Denver Affordable

Denver's Affordable Housing Strategy Is Expensive And Ineffectual

One of Denver's main ways to encourage the creation of affordable housing is to require or encourage buildings to create new owner occupied housing units that only moderate income people are eligible to buy and that can't be resold for a greatly appreciated price to the next buyer. Buyers who want to benefit from the city's affordable home program must meet income guidelines, generally between 50 and 80 percent of Denver's median income, and not exceed a monthly housing cost debt-to-income ratio of 30 percent.

Programs like this one are not a good solution. They are bureaucratically cumbersome to implement (which makes both buying and selling an affordable home harder and disqualifies people who actually still need them), they deny low income property owners the same return on their housing investment that everyone else receives, and they do little to increase the available housing stock. For what the city is spending on these programs (either directly, or indirectly by mandating that developers of large numbers of units), the city could build, and then rent or resell its own affordable housing units for less.

In the end analysis, programs like these are a very inefficient way of turning city dollars into new housing. 

Remove Regulatory Barriers To Creating Affordable Housing

Lack of affordability is fundamentally a matter of supply not keeping up with demand.

Most importantly, if Denver wants to make housing more affordable, it needs to relax zoning codes (especially those prohibiting accessory dwelling units in some zones, multifamily use of existing residents, minimum lot size and square footage, density limitations and parking requirements) and repeal building code that are aesthetic rather than legitimately designed to protect health and safety (e.g. minimum square footage requirements that effectively ban tiny homes without case by case city approval). 

As another example of deregulation that would make a difference, the city should allow shared bathroom (and kitchen) facilities (or shared baths and showers with separate toilets) in properties like tiny home communities and single occupancy hotels (f.k.a. flophouses), rather than requiring that there be a toilet, sink and shower and kitchen in each unit. This is not some radical proposal. It is routinely done in college dorms or cooperatives full of the young adult children of upper middle class families, in houses designed to be single family homes that are shared by multiple roommates, and at camp grounds and cabin complexes in state and national parks. Historically, it was the norm in single occupancy hotels (formerly known as flophouses), and in many countries (e.g. Japan) during the time period where indoor plumbing was just starting to be widely adopted. The City could, for example, modify its building code and zoning regulations to make it easier to convert heated storage unit buildings into rental properties with shared bathroom and kitchen facilities.

Along the same lines, the city could also streamline the process to use existing property for housing, such as temporary shelters, short term rentals, and long term rentals of properties originally built for use as single family homes.

Denver can also waive permit application requirements that drive up costs, like providing multiple paper copies of plans to city agencies, and automatically put lower priced new housing at the "top of the pile" for processing permits so that these projects can get to market faster than luxury projects.

Use Scarce Housing Dollars More Efficiently

There are other more efficient ways that the city can spend money (or reduce its revenues) to make housing more affordable than the status quo.

The city can waive development fees and other city charges for lower priced new housing.

The city can use it funds for programs that help people needing housing get over the hurdle of needing a security deposit or down payment, such as with zero interest loans that can be repaid over the duration of a lease or the first ten years of a mortgage, with repayment waived in the event of an eviction or foreclosure so that landlords and mortgage lenders can treat it as a gift for underwriting purposes. 

Another far more efficient way to spend limited affordable housing dollars would be to pay landlords to make their units Section 8 housing subsidy eligible, something that takes a fair amount of time and money for landlords to do while providing little reward to landlords in a hot rental market. The city could also pay participating landlords to waive application fees for prospective tenants  a small reward per unit newly rented in a given year at significantly below median rental rate. 

The city could also waive lodging taxes and eliminate ownership and number of rental unit requirements for short term rentals (and motel units) offered, for example, for under $35 a night per bedroom rented, without changing its short term rental policies targeted at higher end Air BnB type rentals.

14 February 2019

Polygamy In The U.K.

The British family court rules have a provision which hasn't attracted much fanfare that tells its family courts how t deal with polygamous marriage cases. It says (in its entirety):
PRACTICE DIRECTION 7C – POLYGAMOUS MARRIAGES
See also Part 7, Practice Direction 7A, Practice Direction 7B, Practice Direction 7D 
PRACTICE DIRECTION 7C – POLYGAMOUS MARRIAGESThis Practice Direction supplements FPR Part 7 (procedure for applications in matrimonial and civil partnership proceedings), Part 9 (applications for a financial remedy) and Part 18 (procedure for other applications in proceedings) 
Scope of this Practice Direction 
1.1 This practice direction applies where an application is made for –

(a) a matrimonial order;

(b) an order under section 27 of the 1973 Act;

(c) an order under section 35 of the 1973 Act;

(d) an order under the 1973 Act which is made in connection with, or with proceedings for any of the above orders; or
(e) an order under Part 3 of the 1984 Act,
and either party to the marriage is, or has during the course of the marriage, been married to more than one person (a polygamous marriage). 
Polygamous marriages 
2.1 Where this practice direction applies the application must state –

(a) that the marriage is polygamous;

(b) whether, as far as the party to the marriage is aware, any other spouse (that is, a spouse other than the spouse to whom the application relates) of that party is still living (the ‘additional spouse’); and

(c) if there is such an additional spouse –

(i) the additional spouse's name and address;

(ii) the date and place of the marriage to the additional spouse. 
2.2 A respondent who believes that the marriage is polygamous must include the details referred to in paragraph 2.1 above in the acknowledgment of service if they are not included in the application. 
2.3 The applicant in any proceedings to which this practice direction applies must apply to the court for directions as soon as possible after the filing of the application or the receipt of an acknowledgment of service mentioning an additional spouse. 
2.4 On such an application or of its own initiative the court may – 
(a) give the additional spouse notice of any of the proceedings to which this practice direction applies; and 
(b) make the additional spouse a party to such proceedings. 
2.5 In any case where the application or acknowledgment of service states that the marriage is polygamous (whether or not there is an additional spouse) a court officer must clearly mark the file with the words "Polygamous Marriage". The court officer must also check whether an application under paragraph 2.4 has been made in the case and, where no application has been made, refer the file to the court for consideration. 
References in decrees to section 47 of the 1973 Act 
3.1 Every decree nisi and decree absolute which is made in respect of a polygamous marriage must refer to the fact that the order is made with reference to section 47 of the 1973 Act. 
Updated: Monday, 30 January 2017

Neo-Liberals Are Not Republicans

Statement (from my Facebook feed):
bennett legislates pretty much like a republican! Horrible choice! I’d NEVER vote for him! EVER!!!

My Response: 

This isn't accurate. 

U.S. Senator Michael Bennett (D-CO) Does Not Legislate Pretty Much Like A Republican

U.S. Senator Michael Bennett (D-CO) votes with D's on issues with a partisan divide about 92% of the time.  

Bennett has a more liberal than conservative voting record on every kind of issue, but is more conservative on economic issues than on social issues and foreign policy. See the National Journal's analysis from 2013 and a summary of issue by issue single issue voting scores for Bennett from myriad organizations. 

Bennett is a comparative moderate within the Democratic caucus in Congress, but he is to the left of even the most moderate Republican in either the House or the Senate.  

Inaccurate Hyperbole Like This Is Actively Harmful To A Liberal Agenda

The kind of inaccurate hyperbole that says that Bennett "legislates pretty much like a republican", undermines everyone on the left, from the most progressive to the most moderate, and helps Republicans, by ignoring the meaningful differences that exist between candidates from the two parties, causing people with solidly liberal political views to fail to participate in keeping unequivocal conservatives who actively and fiercely oppose everything that they believe in, out of power. 

Ultimately, I'd prefer to have more reliably liberal voting elected officials who are Democrats to moderate Democrats, and it is legitimate to work to make that happen. 

But, that cause is not well served by inaccurately describing the facts about any particular moderate/neo-liberal/corporatist/conservative Democrat's voting record. Using inaccurate statements to eat our own only helps the bad guys.

Few Democrats Overlap Republicans In Political Ideology, Especially After The 2018 Election

There are only 2 actual Democrats in the Senate (and one independent who caucuses with the Democrats) whose voting records overlap with any Republicans in the House or the Senate: Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jon Tester (D-MT), and finally Angus King-I-ME who caucuses with the Dems. Tester and King are to the left of every Republican in the Senate except Senator Susan Colins (R-ME). But, Michael Bennett (D-CO) absolutely isn't one of them. And all three of these moderates are more liberal than the Republican candidates that they have faced in elections in their home states. Collins is much less conservative the the runner up as the most moderate Republican in the U.S. Senate, who is Sen. Robert “Rob” Portman (R-OH).

In the House, there are 7 Democrats who more conservative than even one Republican in the House or Senate. They are from most conservative to less conservative are: Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN7); Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ); Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX28); Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI3); Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ5); Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA16); Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR5). And, all seven of them are more liberal than the Republican candidates that they have faced in elections in their House Districts. The least conservative Republican in the House is Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA23). The runner up to McCarthy in the House GOP caucus with an almost identical political ideology is Rep. John Curtis (R-UT3). Four of the seven "overlap" moderate Democrats in the House are more liberal than every Republican in the House except for these two men.

The Democrats and Republicans became significantly more distinct as legislative parties in terms of political ideology in the 2018 election because moderates on both sides, died, retired, lost in a primary, or lost in the general election. The Senate lost a total of six Senators who could arguably be considered moderates (some from both parties). The House lost 53 moderates (some from both parties). Essentially no freshmen in the House or the Senate from the 2018 election are fairly described as having moderate voting records so far.

Elected Officials Are More Partisan Than Democrats

It is also worth noting that while the political ideology of elected officials in the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate is bimodal, with one peak in the middle of the GOP caucus and the other in the middle of the Democratic caucus, that the political ideological of voters nationwide is a single bell curve with a peak between the GOP and the Democratic party peaks. 

The median U.S. voter is closest to Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR5) in the House (only three Republicans in the House are less conservative than him and only five Democrats in the House are more conservative than him) and in the Senate the median U.S. voter is closest to Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) who is the least conservative Republican in the Senate (two Democrats and one independent caucusing with the Democrats are more conservative than her). Bennet votes well to the left of what would be expected for a Senator from Colorado in a model based on voter political leanings in each state

Footnote

I'm not naming the person who made the statement or linking to it because many people say similar things and calling someone out for saying something like this isn't the point. But, to avoid a "straw man" argument I'm quoting a real FB comment rather than my own paraphrase of one.

13 February 2019

When Is Revolution Necessary?

Politics is not simply a matter of opinion.

If voters choose bad politicians in elections, and those politicians are able to implement bad policies, those bad policies will cause bad things to happen.

If voters choose good politicians in elections, and those politicians are able to implement good policies, those good policies will cause good things to happen.

Some outcomes driven by policy decisions are objective better than other outcomes which different policy decisions would produce.

But, our existing political system does not consistently elect good politicians and even when it does does not consistently make it possible for those good politicians to implement good policies.

Suffice it to say that the U.S. political system not only fails to consistently produce among the best available policies. It also consistently fails to produce policies as good as better designed, more modern political systems. The U.S. political system isn't just the Windows of political systems, compared to the MacOS of political systems. It is the Dos of political systems.

This isn't to say that the U.S. political system is by any means the worst in the world. But, there are currently about 50 other countries that have political systems that function better.

The State Of The Nation

Now, fortunately for us, the situation could be worse. 

While we aren't truly "at peace" the magnitude of U.S. involvement in "hot" wars is small and even if we fail in the conflicts that we are currently involved in on a "hot" basis, this is not a huge threat to domestic security. Nobody is even seriously thinking about a military invasion of the United States or a concerted effort to use military force to disrupt our global economic trading any time soon.

The economy could be doing better and there are dark clouds on the horizon. But, unemployment is low, inflation is under control, we aren't in a recession, Obamacare is continuing to provide more access to health care for average Americans than was available before the ACA was enacted even as this slowly deteriorates. The U.S. has not defaulted on the national debt. We have deferred a lot of maintenance on our nation's infrastructure and have failed to actively improve it, but it isn't in a shambles yet. Oil and gasoline prices are low. Technologies like IT and new medical discoveries have and continue to improve. The divorce rate for college educated families has fallen even as working class families continue to fall apart.

We face some serious environmental problems like climate change and the Trump administration is rolling back environmental regulations as fast as he can. But, the U.S. has made huge gains in reducing pollution and protecting the environment relative to the 1970s. Mass produced electric cars have a significant share of the market for motor vehicles in California. More electricity is being produced with renewable sources and less is being produced with coal. Recycling is much more widely done than it used to be.

Worker and consumer safety have significantly increased since the 1970s.

Yes, there are signs that the economy could take a turn for the worse. Trump's trade war has done harm to the national economy, especially to farmers and blue collar auto workers. Defaults on car loans are rising. Student debt levels are climbing. The national debt is soaring due to irresponsible tax cuts. While overall inflation isn't out of hand, the cost of housing in desirable markets, of health care, and of higher education have surged. Private sector unions have never been weaker. Life expectencies are falling.

There are far too many gun deaths, but crime including violent crime is still down dramatically relative to the early 1990s. Gay marriage is legal nationwide. The number of people who are Evangelical Christian is falling and even among them, the younger generation is much less crazy than the current generation. More people are going to college.

What If?

So, anyway, in the status quo, where the courts haven't completely rolled over to the Trump administration, even with conservatives in charge of the U.S. Supreme Court, and where Democrats control the House of Representative and deny Republicans a 60% majority in the U.S. Senate, and where many states have effective state legislative action underway, there are means to hold back the worst of the worst new policies that the Trump administration would like to propose. So, now may be the time to let the political process work.

But, it grows easier by the day to imagine a situation so dire and urgent that American civilization is at imminent risk of collapse, even though we aren't there yet. At some point, putting up with politicians with power in the U.S. could easily reach the point where bad policies with a real chance of presenting an existential threat to the nation could bring us to the point where the life according to the U.S. Constitution could become a suicide pact. And, at some point, many people might come to the conclusion that our nation is stepping in the wrong direction in an urgent way that would not be survivable.

So, the real question, which has taken a long time to set up with background and framing in this post, is: 

At what point is breaking the rules of the process to get a better result with a particular set of policies and a particular set of politicians, that a break from the authority of the regime might be the only way to save our nation. How bad does it have to get before a coup occurs, or a civil war breaks out.

I'm comfortable that there is such a threshold, however.. Maybe to head off a global thermonuclear war. Maybe we need to become tress, together forever, even if we have to bend or break the rules of the U.S constitution to achieve that. The flaws in the constitution as currently implemented, may lead to bad policies that imminently affects us with bodily harm on a widespread basis. And, at that point someone would have to intervene and either engineer a coup, or run street protests. But, what is that threshold and what can we instead, live with. 

09 February 2019

Religion And Parenting

The team analyzed data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS)-Kindergarten Cohort to complete the study. They examined the effects of parents' religious attendance and how the religious environment in the household (frequency of parent-child religious discussions and spousal conflicts over religion) influenced a nationally representative sample of third-graders. They reviewed the children's psychological adjustment, interpersonal skills, problem behaviors, and performance on standardized tests (reading, math, and science). 
They found that third-graders' psychological adjustment and social competence were positively correlated with various religious factors. However, students' performance on reading, math, and science tests were negatively associated with several forms of parental religiosity. 
The findings suggest that parental religiosity is a mixed blessing that produces significant gains in social psychological development among third-graders while potentially undermining academic performance, particularly in math and science.
From here.

Personally, I'm skeptical of both the positive and negative effects that were observed. 

Performance in academic subjects could simply reflect the fact that higher IQ parents have higher IQ kids and are also more likely to be non-religious. 

Psychological adjustment and social competence effects could likewise be spurious correlations. For example, they may have to do with the fact that in the social context measured, the religious kids are part of a majority culture and the non-religious kids are part of a minority culture.

The linked article notes other caveats and limitations expressed by the authors. The paper is:

John Bartkowski, Xiaohe Xu, Stephen Bartkowski. "Mixed Blessing: The Beneficial and Detrimental Effects of Religion on Child Development among Third-Graders. Religions" (2019); 10 (1): 37 DOI: 10.3390/rel10010037

Unwinnable Criminal Defense Cases

There are criminal cases where winning at the guilt-innocence phase is almost impossible. This is one of them, and I'm blogging it mostly for future reference as an example of such a case.
PHOENIX (AP) — A long-term care facility in Arizona where an incapacitated woman was raped and later gave birth announced Thursday that it would shut down operations. 
. . .

Authorities have charged Nathan Sutherland, a former licensed nurse, with sexually assaulting the 29-year-old victim. They determined his DNA matched a sample taken from the newborn boy.

Sutherland, 36, pleaded not guilty earlier this week to sexual assault and vulnerable adult abuse.
There is basically a 0% chance of showing consent in the case of a woman who has been in a coma for many years as attested by many years of medical records entered by myriad physicians and nurses and by family members, most of whom are available to testify. There is basically a 0% chance of not being able to prove the identity of the perpetrator in the face of a DNA test match with someone who worked at the facility and had access to the victim. There is basically a 0% chance that a woman in a coma will not count as a "vulnerable adult" under the law, or that having sex with her without her consent will not constitute "abuse."

To be clear, I'm not criticizing the criminal defense attorney for entering a not guilty plea while negotiations go on between prosecutors and the criminal defense attorney over an appropriate sentence for the defendant. Procedurally, this s a sensible choice, and if the defendant wants to plead not guilty, he is entitled to do so, no matter how overwhelming the evidence may be. But, this is one case where the prospects for being acquitted are basically zero. The only way the defendant could avoid a conviction is by dying before a trial is held, causing the criminal case to be moot and be dismissed.

One expects that the criminal defense attorney knows that fact and will focus his or her efforts of any possible means to mitigate a harsh sentencing decision (something that is a particularly high risk when the case for guilt is so absolutely clear). But, even that is an uphill battle given that national outrage that this case has generated.

06 February 2019

U.S. Navy Developing Ghost Fleet

The U.S. Navy is currently developing two new unmanned drone warships, a "large" USV (unmanned surface vessel) a.k.a. LUSV, and a "medium" USV a.k.a. MUSV.  The "small" and mine sweeping models are already further along in development.

At this point the details are cloudy:
Autonomy and human-led command and control systems form the basis of the Navy’s rapidly evolving, multi-year “Ghost Fleet” project to engineer a fleet of coordinated, interoperable surface drones able to share time-sensitive combat information in real time across the force. In development now for many years by the Office of Naval Research and Naval Sea Systems Command, Ghost Fleet is engineered to leverage the most advanced AI and machine-learning technologies available. The intent is to enable swarms of synchronized drones to capture, organize and disseminate key targeting and sensor data, such as the location of mines, submarines, surface vessels or incoming enemy attacks.

There are not yet hull designs under construction or specific configurations, but the Navy has begun a dialogue with industry to explore technical options and requirements for the new vessels. The service has released a formal RFI - request for information - to industry for the MUSV.
It seems almost inevitable that a large share of all military systems will be replaced by unmanned systems, in the Air Force, in the Navy, in artillery units, and perhaps even in armored forces, transport systems, and medical evacuation roles. They will range from tiny to gigantic. But, nobody has yet worked out how to fit drones into a nation's military in a comprehensive way. There are lots of solid and viable particular drone ideas, but few comprehensive plans that set forth the entire suite of drones that could be used.

04 February 2019

Quote Of The Day

Harry Temple: All right, pop quiz. Airport. Gunman with one hostage. He's using her for cover; he's almost to a plane. You're a hundred feet away. Jack? 
Jack: Shoot the hostage.
- Speed (1994).

Being Sick Still Sucks!

I've been sick for almost four weeks!

I've missed about a week of work and not been fully productive when I've been at work, despite every available medication under the sun and many days with 20 or so hours of sleep in a day (which suck because they deprive you of any ability to work or play in those lost hours).

Maybe, after all of this, I am finally turning the corner and at 90%. But, it is so, so, so damn frustrating to try to function and then to be held back by coughing, headaches, giddiness, hives and more.

Grr.......

02 February 2019

Darling in the Franxx

The anime series "Darling in the Franxx" has a captivating premise - the Mecha that are necessary to protect their community from hostile menacing monsters can only be operated by a teenaged girl and teenaged boy, who are compatible with each other, working together; with a one winged bird that can only fly when a male and female lean on each other giving it two wings acting as a metaphor.

Most anime in this genre are about action and little more. This one brings intimate cooperation to the table to give it depth and create interest.

01 February 2019

Evaluating Lawsuit Settlement Offers

The expected value formula involves multiplying the estimated dollar amount of each possible outcome by the estimated probability of that outcome adding up the result for every possibility. The results for each outcome have to include the ability to pay if you win and the cost of collecting if you win and the time value of money if not settling delays getting you paid.

This formula is routinely used in litigation to evaluate settlements, but it is only a starting point, it isn't the only factor that should be considered.

You need to consider the margin of error in the estimates. A big margin of error in the best or worst case scenario, or in a small probability, can make a huge difference. You also need to recognize that it is well known that the best lawyers who ultimately get the best results, routinely overestimate the strength of their own cases, and that clients usually overestimate the strength of their own cases as well. This is a well known cognitive bias and you need to correct for it.

You need to include reaching a settlement later on, but before trial, in your list of possibilities. Often, even if it make sense to settle, making an offer at just the right moment instead of a less opportune time can make a big difference. Similarly, you have to consider the case from the other side's point of view to get a realistic sense of what the other side might be willing to pay. If it seems very likely that they would be willing to pay more, you might not want to accept an offer even if the amount offered would be good enough to be an acceptable result for you.

You need to consider the future litigation costs that are avoided by settling, both in terms of dollars paid to lawyers and litigation costs, and in terms of lost time, expense and opportunity costs to you or your firm.

You need to consider the economic harm that you may suffer from not having the matter resolved now rather than later. For example, suppose that your firm is about to have a public offering of stock, and if the litigation is not settled, the litigation will have to be disclosed and will have a disproportionate negative effect on the price investors will be willing to pay in the public offering. It may pay to settle a case for "more than its worth" to avoid the economic harm caused by having the litigation still outstanding.

You need to consider the economic harm potentially caused by information disclosed in the context of a public trial which would reveal information that there is economic value in keeping secret, or that might encourage others to bring additional lawsuits.

You need to consider the long term strategic impact of each possible outcome when considering each possibility and in considering settlement, and not just the impact in the immediate transaction. Once something has been proven in court, that loss in one case can frequently be held to have been judicially established in future cases in many circumstances.

For example, if a contract term is determined to have a particular meaning in a lawsuit, and the court interprets it in an unfavorable way, that could influence the economic value of another 200,000 outstanding contracts with the same language where the meaning of this term has not been resolved in litigation, and it could open the door to a class action lawsuit against you on behalf of a class consisting of all 200,000 counter-parties with you on this contract. If it the contract interpretation makes only a $5 difference in each case, the incentive to prevent that from being resolved against you in court could be huge.

On the other hand, if a corporation that engaged in many transactions gets a reputation for easily settling weak cases for generous amounts, they will be bombarded with frivolous lawsuits.

Expected value really only makes sense with these adjustment and also only for repeat players in cases where the outcome of any particular case will not materially affect the person considering a settlement and there are no long term strategic effects, such as large employers and large companies in consumer cases that try to force other parties to resolve disputes with them on a case by case basis in confidential arbitration hearings that don't create precedents.

It is less useful for one time participants in the legal system in a case with life changing consequences, as the benefits and costs of an outcome may be non-economic or may be non-linear (although this can be solved by more accurately valuing the dollar amounts in an expected value formula to consider the total impact of a particular result rather than the naive immediate payment).

This non-linear factor is critical in these cases, however, because the personal utility value of an outcome is not strictly a matter of average dollar return. To give a simple and fairly common example, suppose that you have a case where you have a 70% chance of winning and a 30% chance of losing. If you lose you get nothing and pay nothing. If you win, you get $10,000,000. The expected value is $7,000,000. But, if you have someone who has never had real money in their life and will never have an opportunity to get real money in their life ever again, settling for a 100% chance of getting $3,000,000 could very well be better than getting a 70% chance of getting $10,000,000, because to that person the difference between getting $3,000,000 and $10,000,000 may not be very important, but the difference between getting at least $3,000,000 and getting $0 would be huge.

One of the reasons that plaintiffs like to use class action lawsuits is that handling one big all or nothing cases causes businesses to stop thinking like expected value repeat player robots, and to start thinking like individuals who participate in litigation one time with high stakes, causing them to accept less optimal settlements for them relative to expected value to avoid the risk of a big disaster. Paying settlements or losing a modest percentage of small cases now and then won't harm anyone's career. Losing a big life or death of the company case after going to trial when a settlement that was a better deal was an option will cost the entire management team their careers and get many of the lawyers at the firm handling the defense of the case fired as well.

Laws Regarding Alcohol Consumption By Minors Are Better In Germany

According to German law (Jugendschutzgesetz), §9:
  • Minors 14 years of age and older may drink undistilled alcoholic beverages, such as wine and beer, when accompanied by a Custodial Person,
  • Minors 16 years of age and older may drink undistilled alcoholic beverages, such as wine and beer, without accompaniment, and
  • Adults (18 and older) may drink distilled spirits without restriction as well.
Note that the act of drinking itself is not illegal for a minor. It is only the offering or facilitating of alcohol that is illegal (and punishable).
From here.

This law would make more sense than the current legal regime in the United States. Consumption of alcohol by a minor "regulatory" offense (it has no "victims") and is among the least serious in the U.S. (it doesn't even count against you in a law school admissions evaluation), but these offenses are probably the single biggest reason that people who would otherwise not have criminal records end up in the criminal justice system.

Eliminating a reason for law enforcement intervention reduces the risks of myriad very seriously bad things that can happen any time that they happen, so an opportunity to greatly reduce the number of law enforcement contacts and people with criminal records, by decriminalizing behavior that is legal in most of the world would be a positive development.

Joke Of The Day

Q: What do you get when you put 40 cows on a boat in a hurricane?

A: Milkshakes.