Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Fool's Gold

Water froze in buckets in the greenhouse last night, so obviously the compost heap isn't heating things up very well. The lettuce sprouts don't seem to mind, so it's not a bother. I suppose the folks who asked me to keep their plants in the greenhouse over the winter might not be too happy, although they were warned.

Is a warning enough? Adam, our son, probably would have recommended a waiver because assumption of risk seems to have become a thing of the past since the suit against McDonald's over a coffee spill.

On the other hand, we probably wouldn't get very far if we sued our investment advisors for losing money over the past 10 years. By now, most of us feel lucky to see a 2% gain instead of a downtick. Maybe that's why we let the executives who presided over the subprime lending fiasco walk away scot-free. It's the Golden Rule and a giant waiver.

Someone's looking out for us. Judge Rakoff, a federal judge in New York, recently refused to approve a consent judgment filed in his court by the SEC and Citigroup. He thought the proposed $285 million settlement was not reasonable, fair, adequate, or in the public interest. The complaint filed by the SEC had alleged fraud -- that Citigroup Global Markets had realized in early 2007 that the market for mortgage-backed securities was beginning to collapse, so it created a billion-dollar fund that allowed it to dump lousy assets on misinformed investors. According to the SEC, Citigroup said the assets in the fund were attractive investments that had been carefully selected by an independent investment advisor, although in fact Citigroup had arranged to include in the portfolio a bad bundle and had then taken a short position in those very assets. Citigroup netted profits of around $160 million, while the investors lost more than $700 million. The proposed consent judgment wanted to treat it more like negligence than fraud, so the judge sent the parties back to the drawing board and scheduled their case for trial. The Rolling Stone offered this summary of the case: "Just imagine a mugger who steals $70 from some lady’s wallet being sentenced to walk free after paying back twelve bucks.”

"It's the golden rule," says Virginia.

Right, the folks with the gold make the rules.

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