National / International News

Alan Bennett rejected 'gay label'

BBC - Tue, 2014-05-06 01:17
Writer Sir Alan Bennett explains how he guarded his sexuality for much of his career to avoid being pigeonholed as a gay playwright.

Iran 'blows up replica US warships'

BBC - Tue, 2014-05-06 01:06
Iran has been building replica US warships to practice blowing them up, an Iranian admiral says.

Not just another "chick with a ukulele"

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-06 01:00

Before you start reading about Merrill Garbus and her latest album as tUnE-yArDs, why don't you take a second to dance a little:

Got that out of your system? Those infections beats and catchy melodies arrive via her latest album, entitled "Nikki Nack." Fans of Garbus will notice more of a pop music feel to this new release, and that's partly due to the singer's increasing familiarity and use of drum machines.

It's a new step for Garbus, who is primarily known for looping drum beats with a pedal and microphone as a sort of low-tech/high-tech one woman band. The singer/songwriter took a disciplined approach to this album, setting aside blocks of time to focus on improving both her abilities on analog and acoustic instruments:

"To me, there’s got to be a balance between computers and everything else. So for me that’s between computers and then actually having drumsticks in my hand and improving myself as a human player of musical instruments."

Garbus particularly enjoys when mistakes, be they human or computer, create quirky music. In using an iPad to record beats, the drum machine's difficulty in keeping up with her finger tips created an imperfect beat - one that she ended up using in the first track on the album.

This aspect of the flawed human-machine interaction is what interests Garbus most, and where she prefers to exist when making music with machines.

Rise in adults taking part in sport

BBC - Tue, 2014-05-06 00:55
The number of adults regularly taking part in sport or physical activity are at their highest levels, according to a survey.

College prepared to return NI tapes

BBC - Tue, 2014-05-06 00:44
Boston College says it would return interviews to former paramilitaries after some of the material was used to question Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams about a 1972 IRA murder.

Thai PM in court over abuse of power

BBC - Tue, 2014-05-06 00:44
Thailand's prime minister appears before the Constitutional Court in Bangkok to defend herself against allegations of abuse of power.

Another Polish home attacked

BBC - Tue, 2014-05-06 00:40
Police are investigating the latest in a spate of hate crimes against Polish people in east Belfast.

Asset firm has no 'Yes' move plans

BBC - Tue, 2014-05-06 00:37
Aberdeen Asset Management, one of Scotland's biggest companies, says it has no plans to move its headquarters under independence.

China corruption campaign: On the trail of Zhou Yongkang

BBC - Tue, 2014-05-06 00:33
Does China's leader dare to bring down the former security chief?

Warning over unintentional file leak

BBC - Tue, 2014-05-06 00:25
People using file storage services like Dropbox and Box are being warned they are at risk of inadvertently leaking their own files.

Barclays quarterly profits fall 5%

BBC - Tue, 2014-05-06 00:23
Barclays first quarter profits fall 5% to £1.69bn, following a slump in revenue at its investment bank.

Collateralization is not a bad word

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-06 00:05

Oh my God! That financial product has a 'c' in front of it! It's toxic!

That seems to be the way regulators (and some journalists) are behaving when confronted with financial products that begin with the letter 'C.' And yes, it's true, the collateralized debt obligation and the credit default swap did play starring roles in the financial crisis, but that's no reason to brand every instrument that starts with a 'C' as a economic biohazard.

That's especially the case when it comes to anything starting with the word "collateralized."

Okay, I agree, it all looks pretty deadly: collateralized debt obligation; collateralized bond obligation; collateralized loan obligation; collateralized mortgage obligation. But securitizations like these aren't, by definition, a threat to the economy or the financial system.

Quite the reverse, in fact: they're essential.

If you don't believe me, ask yourself this question: How important is housing to the U.S. economy? Pretty important, right?

Certainly that’s what the President thinks. The economy is dependent primarily on consumer spending, and a large part of that consumer spending comes from people buying houses and filling them with stuff. Then there's all the construction activity, and the industries based on homebuilding. And then there are all the services associated with housing, too.

So housing is a big deal. And what's the engine of the housing market? It's debt; peoples' ability to borrow money in order to buy homes.  But if it wasn't for securitization, there wouldn't be any debt – or there'd be a lot less of it, anyway. The vast majority of the loans that are made to Americans to buy homes are packaged up by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, many of them in a big 'C' word: collateralized mortgage obligations.

CMOs have been around since the 1980s. And securitization has been around since Fannie Mae was started in 1938. So why is it that regulators and reporters are reacting with such revulsion when it comes to another kind of securitization, and another 'C' word: the collateralized loan obligation, or CLO?

Reading some of the reports about CLOs, you would be forgiven for thinking that, like the dreaded toxic assets otherwise known as CDOs, collateralized loan obligations are brimming with poisonous dreck that threatens to infect the entire financial system and bring our economy to its knees.

And it's true that some of the corporate loans in these CLOs will fail, just as some of the mortgages in Fannie and Freddie's portfolios will fail. But then, securitizations are not risk-free investments: CLOs depend on companies being able to make their interest payments, just as Fannie Mae's securitizations depend on me being able to make my mortgage payment.

It’s also true that these corporate loans are branded "junk," because they're not investment grade – in other words, they're rated below BBB, and its equivalent, by S&P and its peers. For the most part, though, these kinds of loans look pretty safe right now. Moody's says the rate of default on these loans is low, ending the first quarter at 1.4 percent, down from 2.2 percent the prior quarter and 3 percent in the first quarter a year ago. As for the CLOs themselves, while some did melt down during the financial crisis, they did so at a hugely-reduced rate in comparison.

CLOs provide the same kind of support for the economy that the securitizations run by Fannie and Freddie provide for the housing market. Where 'Fan and Fred' buy up mortgages taken out by Americans, CLOs buy up the debt of companies that might otherwise find it hard to get a bank loan. The results are a huge boon, both to those companies and to the economy.

When I covered the loan market at S&P back in the 90s, the "junk" companies that benefited from CLOs included Tricon, which is now YUM brands; Allied Waste, which was bought by Republic Services; and United Rentals. These companies employ large numbers of people and contribute significantly to economic growth. But without CLOs, they might not even exist today. Likewise, if Fannie and Freddie didn't buy up mortgages, fewer loans would be made, fewer houses bought and the economy would take a big hit.

I'm not saying that regulators (or reporters) should give CLOs a free pass. That's what happened to CDOs in the run-up to the financial crisis, and we all know what happened there. CLOs should be scrutinized and regulated just like every other securitization, to be sure they don't run amok or turn toxic on us.

But that starts with understanding exactly what they are. Regulators and reporters appear to be too quick to assume that just because CLO starts with the letter 'C,' it should be treated as toxic. And that's a poisonous attitude.

Eurovision 2014: The ones to watch

BBC - Mon, 2014-05-05 23:49
Who are this year's stand-out Eurovision contenders?

Can Student Journalists Ban 'Redskins' From Their School Paper?

NPR News - Mon, 2014-05-05 23:44

A Pennsylvania school board will decide this month whether students are allowed to ban "Redskins" from their paper. Student editors say it's a racist term and are ready to bring the case to court.

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Richmond, Va., Wrangling Over Future Of Historic Slave Trade Site

NPR News - Mon, 2014-05-05 23:40

More than 300,000 African and African-American slaves were sold in Shockoe Bottom. Today, residents and city officials are debating how to preserve the area: Memorial or stadium and museum?

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Chemist Turns Software Developer After Son's Cancer Diagnosis

NPR News - Mon, 2014-05-05 23:37

The parents of a young boy made a terrible discovery while looking through photographs they had taken of him as a baby. They noticed a white dot where a black pupil should have been.

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Drought-Stricken Texas Town Turns To Toilets For Water

NPR News - Mon, 2014-05-05 23:35

Wichita Falls may soon be one of the first cities in the nation where half the drinking water comes directly from wastewater. It will save water, but some residents find the process tough to swallow.

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Monterey Bay An 'Ocean Buffet Open For Business' This Spring

NPR News - Mon, 2014-05-05 23:31

Thanks to upwelling, an influx of marine and wildlife is taking place in one of the world's largest underwater canyons in California.

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'Lost' Mendelssohn song unearthed

BBC - Mon, 2014-05-05 23:30
A song written by the 19th century composer Felix Mendelssohn is heard for the first time in nearly 150 years.

Fleeing War At Home, Syrians Reach State Of Limbo In Greece

NPR News - Mon, 2014-05-05 23:30

The Greek government made grandiose promises to house Syrian refugees in empty resorts on Greek islands. It didn't work out that way. These days, Syrians have no hope for asylum or benefits there.

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