Siddhant Pyasi

The UPU Dispute, a Dead Saudi Major General, and Hedge Fund magnate hedging his offsprings' college chances

Oct 2, 2019 | Read time: 9 min | 1631 words

Hello everyone! The last week was pretty intense, so I wasn’t able to write anything. Hopefully this one will make up for it.

A couple of weeks ago, you read in this very newsletter about the United States’ unhappiness at the state of affairs in the Universal Postal Union (UPU). It’s an obscure little organisation that decides international postage rates, and its rates were being gamed by shippers located in less developed countries (read: China), who were looking to ship their goods to more developed ones. The US made its displeasure clear, threatening to pull out of the UPU in October 2019 if the rates weren’t changed. In response, the UPU hurriedly convened a special congress, which unanimously agreed to change the rates. If the US had pulled out of the UPU, it would have had to bilaterally negotiate new rates with each member country of the UPU, and when I last wrote about this, I wondered if the US was willing to spend valuable time and diplomatic resources on this task, if push came to shove. Turns out that while the US was willing to do so, other countries weren’t. They all realised that with a combative American President, their own diplomatic resources were much better utilised at more valuable matters that he might throw at them, and they folded - and so I’m calling this fight in the US’ favour. Trump 1, World 0.

In any army, anywhere in the world, a Major General (Maj Gen) is a pretty high rank (heck, in countries like Israel and Singapore, a Maj Gen heads the Army). It is a 2-star rank, and in most countries this means that the holder of that rank commands anywhere between 10,000 to 20,000 soldiers. If the the person holding this rank is not commanding an active unit, then s/he is invariably holding a high powered job at HQ, which involves considerable interaction with the Army’s (or the country’s) decision making elite. The point of telling you all this is to impress upon you that a Maj Gen is no ordinary chap. So it’s always a shock when a Maj Gen of a country is killed by a bullet, and even more so when that bullet was fired within the country that the gent/lady serves. And that’s exactly what happened to Maj Gen Abdulaziz Al-Faghem, who had served as the personal bodyguard of 2 Saudi kings. Now wait a minute. If you can’t stay alive after being a Maj Gen AND after you chill with your king so much that the press calls you his “walking stick”, then how the hell can you stay alive? This incident marks the continuation of the purge that Mohammad bin Salman (the crown prince) had begun a couple of years ago, and there can only be more bad news to come.

In other news, I came across this chap who overstayed in the US for 20 years, without a valid visa. One day he needed to go somewhere, which is why he’s asking the kind folks at if something bad might happen to him should he choose to leave the States. Feel free to weigh in there with your opinions.

Forever 21 filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection! I have never been a fan of theirs, because their clothes rarely fit me (even the plus-sized ones). But yes, they had cashflow problems - they had $19m in cash on the date of the filing, which wasn’t enough to make payroll and rent. At one time things were bad enough that they ended up borrowing money from the founders’ daughters’ trust funds, and those funds have now been named unsecured creditors in the bankruptcy filing. Forever 21’s story is a familiar tale - take a healthy portion of unbridled expansion, add a dash of supply chain issues, and sprinkle a shortage of cash and unsold inventory to taste. They specialised in fast fashion, which is apparently industry-speak for “wash it once and it’s beat”. But they’ve worked quite a bit already on making things smoother for the restructuring - they negotiated with JPMorgan (their most senior lender) to give them $275m in bankruptcy financing, and have also announced an investment of $75m from TPG, the PE firm. Forever 21 also reached an agreement with 130 vendors to keep supplying stock at the same or better terms, and are currently negotiating with their four of their largest landlords to reduce their rent expenses. Let’s hope they emerge out of Chapter 11 a lean, mean, company.

ProPublica and New York Magazine gave us this gem about hedge fund magnate D.E. Shaw’s “hedging” strategy to ensure that his children went to the HYPs (Harvard-Yale-Princeton). Namely, chuck $1m at each of these colleges every year beginning from 2 years before the eldest kid starts college. Why three colleges? Why not just one? Because a hedge fund manager can’t not hedge his decisions, that’s why. Now see if his kids were duds who needed extra tuitions to learn long division, then this strategy would have been quite good. But they’re not! They’re pretty bright! His oldest daughter wrote and performed in this skit (this links to YouTube, so please have headphones on before clicking on it) with her boyfriend on Yale’s Commencement, and it’s a hilarious piece of work! (both the girl and the boy write for The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon now, where they write good jokes for Jimmy only to have Jimmy do his irritating fake laugh and ruin the moment for everyone). In another example, Shaw’s youngest kid was on Stanford’s Jazz Program for teens, which means he beat out a ton of highly-motivated and highly-resourced kids for the spot. Then why give the colleges the money, Mr. Shaw? You have fairly talented kids, who can probably make it into HYP on their own merit!

And then there’s the other bit about donating money to colleges that your child might attend - someone may say that that’s unfair and sue you. But will they win? Nope. Under the American legal system (and in other systems too), seats in a college are the college’s to give out, so if Harvard thinks that two goats and a camel are a good price for a seat at Harvard college, and gives your kid a seat after you make the aforementioned payment, then they’re not doing anything wrong/illegal. But if someone else named Thaddeus Sholto comes up to you and says that they can get your kid into Harvard for a fee by bribing a coach there who will specify that your kid is a long distance runner even though your kid couldn’t run from the bedroom to the bathroom in time, then that’s wrong, because Mr. Sholto is taking away Harvard’s prerogative to allot those seats in any way Harvard sees fit, and that I feel is a pretty brilliant loophole. The seats are the property of the college to give out, and even if the college gives them out in an unfair manner, there’s nothing anyone else can do about it.

Now this bit is purely optional reading, to be honest. But read on if you want to read the rant of a dope who misses home sometimes.

Today is the 2nd of October, which means it is the birthday of 2 great Indians - Mahatma Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri. Y’all know enough about Gandhi - it’s Shastri that I wanna tell you about.

Before you read further - yes, I’m partial to Shastri because 4 generations of his bloodline studied in the same high school that I went to (god bless St. Columba’s), but I’m also partial to Shastri because he was everything that Gandhi was not. Since he was born on the same day as Gandhi, Shastri tends to get the short end of the stick when it comes to remembrances. This rant is an attempt to remedy that. I sincerely believe that had he not died an untimely death, India would truly have been a different country.

He became the Prime Minister of India when we were in a bad way - we didn’t have enough food to feed our population, we were at war with Pakistan (a war that was initiated by them), and we had a currency crisis because of said war. And Shastri led us through it all without batting an eyelid. Standing tall at a diminutive 5’1”, he walked with his head held high, because of the way he was - a pragmatic gent, not afraid of taking hard decisions, who lived simply, and who practised what he preached. And when he spoke, India listened. He asked Indians to donate their household jewellery to help India tide over her currency crisis (starting with his wife, she gave away most of her gold jewellery), and Indians donated gold en masse for it. For the food crisis, he urged Indians to skip a meal a week, that’s how bad our food situation was. But before he asked the nation to do it, he made his family (himself, wife, 6 kids) go without dinner every night for an entire week, because he wanted to be sure that his children could bear to skip that meal. And when he did ask the rest of us to skip that meal, by god did we respond, because we knew that the man meant business, and that he’d never put us in harm’s way without putting himself there first. They don’t make ‘em like him anymore. A pity he passed away having only been the PM of India for about a year-ish.

And on that bombshell, it’s time to end. Thank you very much for reading, and have a lovely week ahead. Also, please wish us luck for our D&D performance. OOOOSSSSS.

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