Monday, 28 March 2011

Educational Securitisation

Could financial engineering techniques be used to solve the problems of sub prime schools?

Take the lowest graded pupils in a school. Destroy the link between the pupil and the grades and forget about the pupils – they are irrelevant. Take all the individual exam grades you have and cherry pick the best ones. You are bound to have an A in art here and a B in general studies there. Out of a hundred underachieving students, you should have enough decent grades there to create a dozen or so “super-senior” students. Plenty more will be investment grade (5 or more C level passes).

Hey presto. Financial engineering has been used to turn sub prime students into high value students - or Educational Diploma Backed Securities (EDBS). Triple A rated EDBS can be be sold on to top schools to boost their presence in the league tables.

Inevitably there will be a few tranches of sub investment grade – or junk – EDBS left over. Junk-rated EDBS is high risk but there might be some hedge funds who fancy their chances turning these students around. Obviously any junk-rated EDBS that went on to pass A levels or get good jobs would constitute a considerable achievement and the returns would be considerable, in terms of league table recognition.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Egypt riots. Made in America

I copy here a very interesting comment in response to a WSJ article on Egypt. The author is Nikos Retsos, a retired professor:

Egypt’s turmoil is made in America. Here is what I see:
It has been announced in Cairo that the Egyptian army has asked the protesters to quit their protest and go go home. “Your voices were heard,” an army spokesman told demonstrators on Egyptian TV. “Go home now.” And that Egyptian army spokesman just reiterated Barack Obama’s statement to Egyptians earlier, which was “We heard your voices!” Was that a coincidence?

How the Egyptian army, which has promised earlier “it won’t quash the legitimate demands of the Great Egyptian people” became the mouthpiece of Barack Obama, and now tells the Egyptians to forget it? Well, politics have “TWO” phases: The “PUBLIC PHASE” which is usually a deceptive tactic to outmaneuver the enemy, a TROJAN HORSE, so to speak, and the “BEHIND TH SCENES” phase, which is what actually “the maneuver [the Trojan Horse] contains “INSIDE!”

Well, here is what happens in Egypt: Mubarak’s statement that he is leavings in September was a “Trojan Horse” designed by the U.S. and Israel with the same blueprint the Greeks used in Troy. “The Greeks told the Trojans that are leaving -like Mubarak did. And when the Trojans relaxed and let their guard down, the Greeks got out of the horse’s belly, attacked and conquered them!

The American Trojan Horse plan was brought to Egypt by the U.S. Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, whom the U.S. dispatched to Egypt to salvage Mubarak with this plan: Step 1. Convincing the Egyptian army to publicly side with the demonstrators - TO GAIN THEIR TRUST! Step 2. Have Mubarak promise that he will be leaving when his term expires in September, and, until then, he will preside over an orderly transition - probably to pass control of the government to other strong pro-U.S. Egyptian politicians approved by the U.S. Step 3. Have the Egyptian army afterward tell the demonstrators: “Go home now. You have achieved your goals!”

And as the Trojan Horse helped the Greeks to achieve their goal, the American Trojan Horse seems to work for the U.S. and Mumarak by dividing the Egyptians. Will the Egyptians swallow the bait? The involvement of the Egyptian army on this plot to outmaneuver the revolution is quite treacherous, and I hope the Egyptian army will re-think the consequences, and it will have the guts to tell Admiral Mullen: Sorry, Sir. We cannot slaughter out people to save to save “your fetch boy” Mubarak!

Let’s not forget why the U.S. trains and equips foreign armies: TO CONTROL THEM! And it does not do that only with military hardware and training, but also with huge bribes, plus a guarantee of asylum to the U.S. with a hefty U.S. pension if need be. All former pro-U.S. South American dictators, and other military officials who formed “death Squads” with the CIA, are living luxury lives in sunny Florida. And that includes Luis Posada, a terrorist on CIA payroll who blew up a Cuban airliner. But Posada, and anyone killing U.S. foes, is considered a hero. Mubarak has killed hundreds of his people to keep Egypt under U.S. control, and he is a hero of the U.S. Industrial and Military Complex which controls Barack Obama and the US foreign policy. Neither the American people, nor Barack Obama, have control on what the U.S. government does globally. The investment barons and multinational corporations do under the so called “American Interests” which are above political parties and politicians.

The only question that remains in Egypt now is: Will the Egyptian army act like a U.S. puppet army to save Mubarak? Will the Egyptian generals become CIA puppets reminiscent Latin American generals Augusto Pinochet, Anastasio Somoza, Rios Mont, Jorge Videla, Alfredo Stroessner, and Raul Cedras, or the Vietnamese generals Nguyen Van Thieu and Nguyen Van Cao Ky, and slaughter their people to protect American interests? We will see?

The Egyptian people shed their blood now, like the South Americans and the Vietnamese did in the last 50 years to shake off American puppet regimes. And if Obama is not an insidious hypocrite, he owns it to the Egyptian people to call Admiral Mullen in Cairo, and tell him to reverse course and tell the Egyptian army to protects the people, and force Mubarak out - like the Tunisian army chief, General Rachid Ammar did. There is history made in Egypt now. And I hope the Egyptian army follow the example of the Romanian army which relieved Romanians from Nicolae Ceausescu, and of the Tunisian army which relieved the Tunisians from Ben Ali. I hope the Egyptian generals remains on the right side of history, and that side is only inside the spirit of Gamal Abdel Nasser - not inside the American Trojan Horse of Admiral Mullen. The adage: “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts [Trojan Horse],” should sound to Egyptians now as “Beware of Americans and Mubarak bearing democracy plans for you.”

Friday, 7 January 2011

The phone is taking over!

My first smartphone had implications for the other appliances I own but my recent upgrade to a Desire HD has signalled the real onset of a form of electronic colonisation in my life. The phenomenon occured to me in bed, shortly after retiring for the evening, when I noticed a surprising and at-first inexplicable resentment of my radio alarm clock. Thinking about it for a moment I realised I no longer wanted my alarm clock by my bed. Of course, my DHD is not the first phone I have had with alarm functionality. But it is the first phone I have had that has instilled in me the aggressive urge to consolidate all my electronic needs onto one device. Why should I use an alarm clock when I have my phone charging beside the bed? I thought. What is the point of sullying the area with unnecessary leads and clutter when my beautiful, portable phone does it all for me?

This thought brought with it the realisation that my phone was doing everything in its power to push everything else out of my life. The most obvious and immidiate casualty, and one that demonstrates that no appliance, no matter what status they hold in your life, is truly safe, is my Ipod: with the purchase of a 32gb SD card, the executive decision was taken that I would no longer carry around two gadgets, when one did the job. Obviously it has the added advantage of ensuring I do not miss phone calls when I am listening to loud music. The other obvious redundancy was my camera, although there will always be a time and a place for a dedicated camera and camcorder on special occasions, given the higher quality on offer, so perhaps in that instance redundancy is going a little too far. My old camera has been kept on in a consultant capacity.

The most tragic victim of the smartphone's increasingly expansionist domestic empire building is the laptop, which cuts a rather pathetic figure, lonely, all-but-forgotten in the corner of the room. For all the woes of the ipod, at least its fate was swift and sudden. Final. Like a top footballer whose career is ended prematurely by injury, it can, for all its sadness, reflect on a glorious career. But the laptop has seen its status reduced beyond all recognition, without the mercy of full retirement. It can go for weeks without being turned on or even thought of, before some task that can neither be done at work or easily on the phone comes up one evening and the poor thing has the dust blown off it and is brought back into the room. What is so bad about this? you might ask. It has, after all, retained a niche purpose, a role it can serve better than other products. And yet, like a warrior lying injured on the battlefield, slowly but surely bleeding out, its fate is inevitable. It is hard to see the laptop surviving the next generation of smartphones and tablets. Every day for the laptop is another day on electronic death row, without even the comfort of knowing the date of its execution.

The TV stands smugly, confident its 32 inch screen represents an offering no smartphone can ever hope to replicate or replace, but for its cousins, the remote controls, life is not so comfortable. The sky remote has already been stripped of one major responsibility, thanks to the Sky+ app. The fear has got to be that other functions will be lost over time.

Torches. Portable games consoles. Satnav. The list of territories conquored is already impressive. Your diary, note book, A-Z and newspaper would testify the injury has not been confined to the electronic. The question now is where it will end. The logical conclusion has got to be the complete elimination of all other electronic devices, so that each and every person can carry a single "phone" with them at all times, that can satisfy every need that can be envisaged over the course of the day. It is already easy to imagine the demise of DVDs and other media players, with files streamed off phones onto TVs. But eventually, although we are some way off it, presumably the phone could project high quality images onto projectors or blank walls, replacing televitions themselves. Will the Playstation 4, 5 or 6 be a desktop device, confined to bedrooms or living rooms, or will it be encapsulated within a pocket sized device, complete with all telecommunications, camera and other needs added on? The brightest minds in science are presumably already focussed on how to ensure vital appliances such as fridges and ovens can one day be squeezed out of the home.

Thursday, 29 July 2010


See today that Melanie Phillips has joined Twitter. Will have to follow her. That woman fascinates me. Her views are so abhorant I sometimes find it hard to believe the whole thing isnt a joke - like a more realistic Punch and Judy show. "SHE'S BEHIND YOU!"

Monday, 24 May 2010

The cutting agenda

I have found Clegg’s repositioning on the issue of cuts this year disappointing. As I have said, I have no problem with compromises or changed minds. But politicians need to be more open and honest with the voters if they want to avoid being seen as just another lot of lying, power-hungry opportunists, doing what is necessary to keep themselves in power.

I would love to have heard Clegg say: "As you know the LDs were against making the cuts too soon. We still believe this to be the case. However, our Conservative partners won the most votes on a platform of promising cuts sooner rather than later, and therefore we feel they have a mandate to do that. We have made our concerns very clear, and have indicated the areas we think would be most harmful to an economic recovery.” Hopefully exceptions could be made if they had concerns in specific areas and they could say they had managed to influence policy in those areas, but conceded there was perhaps a little room for cutting in some other areas.

Another option, of course, would be to say: “Now we have seen the books, and considering what has happened with Greece, we feel we lost the argument on this one. In the current circumstances, the Tory position has been vindicated. Let’s get cutting.” Some kind of hybrid of the two would be perfectly acceptable too.

I guess the second option is more or less what they are saying, but I would like to see it put a little more explicitly. I just don’t buy this argument that they didn’t really know what was going on with our books: they might not have had the specifics but they must have known things were dire. Likewise, while the Greece situation has taken us by surprise with its ferocity, we all knew it was on the cards. That’s what this whole debate about the urgency of cutting has been about – maintaining the confidence of the markets. Greece is just a live show – a reminder about what the stakes of this game are.

Surely coalition government doesn’t have to be about reinventing or glossing over the past, refusing to ever admit you got something wrong or pretending the two parties agree on everything.

Maybe Im in the minority on this. Presumably political PR believes any admission of having made an error will be a sign of political weakness, a chink in the armour that other parties will exploit. Maybe, taking everybody into account, it is better to keep trying to sound omniscient, rather than take a more plain-spoken approach. But I personally would find it refreshing.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Over egging the pudding

This whole "new politics" thing is starting to get a little cringeworthy now. As a soundbyte it did its job but it seems like too many people are being taken in by it, believing this is the start of a completely new political way of life.
It isnt. Its a marriage of convenience. If we are lucky it could lead to PR. There is every chance it wont. Whatever it is, it was imposed by political gridlock and financial crisis, not enlightened ideas about how to conduct the affairs of state.
Constantly going on about new politics like it is something tangible, some wonderful new idea conceived by Clegg and Cameron, just shows the Lib Dems (and Tories) to be as beholden to the other kind of PR (public relations) as Labour were. And that is what this whole thing is starting to remind me of: the new deal. What was that again? Some magic, hitherto undiscovered solution to society's ills? No, it was called living on borrowed money. Lets not go on and on about this until it is shown to be something equally vacuuous.
The Lib Dems and in government, in a coalition, with the Conservatives. Lets just see what they can get done and stop banging on about how clever we are, and how much better than Labour. Or we will end up just like them.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Banker bashing

There’s a lot of banker bashing and anti finance sentiment out there. I understand that well enough. In terms of the sentiment behind it – the outrage that a sector can have caused such a lot of problems, and yet be so utterly immune to the repercussions of them. Of course I want “them” to be held to account. But who exactly is “them”? And more importantly, what can we do to put it right without hurting ourselves as much as we hurt them?

Disclaimer: I have no idea what the answers to these questions are.

What I have a slightly better idea about it the much easier issue of what some of the main pitfalls we need to avoid are. The biggest and most obvious of these – and the one we are currently marching directly towards – is that decisions are made for political reasons, rather than sound economic/financial ones – to quench this widespread feeling of outrage.

It is easy to rush out regulation to make life more difficult for bankers and other fat-cat finance types. It is easy to sell that regulation to angry voters, and the chances are this is a vote winning strategy in the short term.

But it is much harder to implement rules that will a) prevent the problems we have had in the past occurring again in the future (which must, at the end of the day, be the number one priority) b) reign in the excessive tendencies of some elements within the financial markets without penalising everyone else, (remember, many players in the financial markets are trading with money that belongs to everyday people: some of the biggest investors in the world are pension funds and endowments of educational establishments, and many of the hair-brained regulatory initiatives feeding through the system right now are going to lose them money – that is pensioners and students, not just bankers, who are out of pocket.) And c) how to do a) and b) without crippling our own economies, causing unemployment or one of the dreaded ‘flations (in or de, which will it be?).

It is easy to believe the finance industry is trying to use the politics of fear to blackmail the rest of society to leave it alone, threatening social and economic Armageddon if anyone tries to take away their bonuses. I don’t believe that for a minute. There is a way to rein them in without the price to society being too high to be worth paying. We may have to sacrifice some growth, but that is not necessarily the end of the world, when that growth manifests itself in things like unaffordably expensive housing.

But if this is going to happen right, it is also going to happen disappointingly slowly, as far as the public is concerned. And the measures, when they come, may not be sexy or spectacular. Public bloodletting of bankers and hedge fund managers might be satisfying, but it wont be helpful. Most importantly, it will require politicians around the world to put their differences aside and work together, compromising for the good of global financial cohesion, rather than short sighted national interest. Perhaps the recent political developments of the UK can serve as an example to the rest of the world.