The Formula that Wrecked Wall Street April 13, 2009March 13, 2017 ALABAMA Remember the governor the Bush Justice Department hauled off to prison for seven years? Fred C.: “I’ve been waiting for you to give the latest on [former Governor] Don Siegelman here in Alabama. After all of your rants the past year about how he was treated, a Federal appeals court has upheld nearly all of the charges and he will be reporting back to jail shortly. As a longtime resident of Alabama I, along with most people of the state, realized in the beginning that the evidence against Mr. Siegelman was overwhelming (and I voted for him 3 times!). Now, it’s very possible that Karl Rove ordered a ‘hit’ on Siegelman and that there was plenty of prosecutorial misconduct, but he was clearly guilty! The “60 Minutes” and other reports notwithstanding, justice has been served. You’ve helped in my conversion from a moderate to a liberal, just wish you would be a bit more balanced.” ☞ I try to be fair – now you want me to be balanced, too? Sheesh! The reason I felt so comfortable railing about this case – and the reason I think you may still be a little off base – were all the Republicans quoted in the “60 Minutes” piece. E.g.: “I haven’t seen a case with this many red flags on it that pointed towards a real injustice being done,” says Grant Woods, the former Republican attorney general of Arizona. Woods is one of the 52 former state attorneys-general, of both parties, who’ve asked Congress to investigate the Siegelman case. “I personally believe that what happened here is that they targeted Don Siegelman because they could not beat him fair and square. This was a Republican state and he was the one Democrat they could never get rid of,” Woods says. . . . Now a Republican lawyer from Alabama, Jill Simpson, has come forward to claim that the Siegelman prosecution was part of a five-year secret campaign to ruin the governor. Simpson told 60 Minutes she did what’s called “opposition research” for the Republican party. She says during a meeting in 2001, Karl Rove, President Bush’s senior political advisor, asked her to try to catch Siegelman cheating on his wife. “Karl Rove asked you to take pictures of Siegelman?” Pelley asks. “Yes,” Simpson replies. “In a compromising, sexual position with one of his aides,” Pelley clarifies. “Yes, if I could,” Simpson says. She says she spied on Siegelman for months but saw nothing. Even though she was working as a Republican campaign operative, Simpson says she wanted to talk to 60 Minutes because Siegelman’s prison sentence bothers her conscience. ☞ So I’m still a little unsure Siegelman should be in prison for seven years* even as former Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska serves no prison time for his alleged $250,000 situation. Coincidentally, both cases involved roughly the same amount of money. One difference: no one alleges Siegelman took a single penny of that $250,000; it went to help fund a campaign the Governor was pushing to help fund education through a lottery. By contrast, Stevens’s alleged $250,000 went into his house. Rereading the full 60 Minutes transcript, it’s just dazzling to consider the difference between Karl Rove’s Justice Department and Eric Holder’s. One more reason to be proud of the new Administration. *The good news is that, although the Appeals Court found against Siegelman on most counts, they also opened the door to “resentencing,” so he is likely to get out with “time served.” If not, further appeals are likely and, it would certainly seem, justified. OUR HERO: HOW JACK BOGLE WOULD IMPROVE YOUR RETIREMENT This guy, who founded Vanguard, has done more for the average investor than just about anybody. Here’s a colorful write-up of his latest crusade. (He would greatly simplify all the various retirement regulations and make efforts to reduce the typical plan’s expenses.) CORRELATION: THE MATH MUDDLE UNDERLYING THE MESS This article – “Recipe for Disaster, the Formula that Killed Wall Street” – is deeply interesting for those trying to understand how such a calamity could have occurred. (In thumbnail: One really smart guy came up with one really nifty formula that the entire global financial world adopted without recognizing – or with choosing not to recognize – its limitations.) Even if you don’t have time to read it, you may find this part – explaining the essence of “correlation” – edifying on the concept of correlation: To understand the mathematics of correlation better, consider something simple, like a kid in an elementary school: Let’s call her Alice. The probability that her parents will get divorced this year is about 5 percent, the risk of her getting head lice is about 5 percent, the chance of her seeing a teacher slip on a banana peel is about 5 percent, and the likelihood of her winning the class spelling bee is about 5 percent. If investors were trading securities based on the chances of those things happening only to Alice, they would all trade at more or less the same price. But something important happens when we start looking at two kids rather than one—not just Alice but also the girl she sits next to, Britney. If Britney’s parents get divorced, what are the chances that Alice’s parents will get divorced, too? Still about 5 percent: The correlation there is close to zero. But if Britney gets head lice, the chance that Alice will get head lice is much higher, about 50 percent—which means the correlation is probably up in the 0.5 range. If Britney sees a teacher slip on a banana peel, what is the chance that Alice will see it, too? Very high indeed, since they sit next to each other: It could be as much as 95 percent, which means the correlation is close to 1. And if Britney wins the class spelling bee, the chance of Alice winning it is zero, which means the correlation is negative: -1. ☞ You need to read the whole article to see how this relates to what happened in the mortgage securtization fiasco.