Letting the genie out of the bottle

Disney's Aladdin I loved the movie Aladdin.  Great songs, lovable characters and of course Robin Williams as the Genie.  According to IMDB, most of his dialogue was ad-libbed, and I recall an interview with one of the animators who said they just let him do his thing, and then drew around the result.  The result was a ton of fun.  We still have group hugs in my family and someone has to mention a hairball.

Disney chose to make the genie one of the good guys.  The original, and indeed most genies (genii?) of classic literature are not.  Yes, they possess powers to grant wishes, but do so in a malevolent manner, seeking to harm the wisher who overlooked an aspect of their wish.

Following a moment of inattention by the Captain, a ship sank in the middle of the ocean. Two guys managed to inflate a rubber life raft and grab a box of provisions before the ship slipped gently below the surface. After floating under blazing heat for six days they ran out of food and water.

On the tenth day, bleary eyed and half dead from heat, thirst and starvation, they spotted a small object floating toward them in the water. As it drew near, they were ecstatic to find that it was an ancient lamp. They grabbed the lamp and rubbed it. Out popped a tired old genie.

“OK, so you freed me from this stupid lamp, yadda, yadda, yadda. But hey, I’ve been doing this three wishes stuff for a long time now and quite frankly, I’m burned out. You guys get only ONE wish and then I’m OUTTA here. Make it a good one”.

The first guy, without hesitation or thought blurted out, “Give us all the beer we can drink for the rest of our lives!!!”

“Fine,” said the genie, and with a wave of his hand, the entire ocean turned into beer.

“Great move Einstein!” said the second guy, slapping the first guy in the head. “NOW we’re gonna have to pee in the BOAT!”

The federal government has passed another financial reform bill.  Poof (picture that ‘poof’ with a lot of fluffy, pink, billowing clouds accompanying it), the genie named Littleus Guyus appears, destined to fulfill your wish that the financial industry be more end user friendly.  We’ve had the usual parade of self-congratulating politicians who talk about how they are in service to you.  Toot, toot go the horns, and then we all settle back into life as usual.  And then …

Someone reads the bill/new law.  And finds stuff.  Stuff nobody bothered to read.  Or chose not to make any stinks about.  Too late, the ink is dry.

It appears that buried beneath the warm fuzzy blanket of protecting the little guy, there is a provision which exempts the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) from the Freedom of Information Act. 

The SEC has governmental oversight of all sorts of financials.  In a search of the Wall Street Journal this morning, I found over 300 references in the past 7 days to the SEC.  They are a generator of a lot of print!  The Freedom of Information Act was passed to allow investigate probing of documents, shedding light on things normally hidden from public view.  Rose Law Firm records, military service records …. whatever you wanted to investigate.  In passing this bill, the Congress and President have given the SEC a doff of cap.  Should anyone want to question what sort of arrangement Citigroup and the SEC came to and how, that information now does not need to pass public scrutiny; they are allowed to wheel and deal in back rooms.

Even people who wanted to rub the Littleus Guyus lamp should be infuriated at the Congress as whole.  It doesn’t matter what letter sits behind their name (R. D. I), either your Senator and Representative were lazy and did not read the bill before voting (or at least have their staff read it), or worse, they were in some manner coerced, cajoled or bribed into looking the other way.  No mention ahead of time.  None.  Nada.  That should make you angry.  It makes me angry.  Clearly.

How does this fit in with the whole scheme of real estate?  The SEC is involved with mortgage backed securities or MBS.  Those happen when the note on your home is bundled along with Joe’s house in Houston, Fred’s house in Pittsburgh and Donna’s condo in Fargo and sold to a hedge fund in France.  They oversee it, regulate it and take corrective action, but that will all now be only as transparent as the SEC wants it to be.  If the people to whom you owe the repayment of your mortgage or deed of trust had some sort of shady transactions in acquiring it, you may no longer legally pursue any paper trail the SEC has on it.

The Freedom of Information Act is now to the SEC as speed limits are to policemen in marked cars.  Think about it.  Maybe Robin Williams can ad-lib a cheerful solution.

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