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The Federal Reserve Suffers a Rare Defeat

August 25th, 2009

Under the tutelage of Chairman Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve system has achieved the heights of power, while simultaneously the economy it  presides over has descended to the depths of  despair. This Zen paradox sums of the inexplicable success of Ben Bernanke. Having ignored or mistakenly assessed all the warning signs that the American housing bubble had burst and was set to take down the Wall Street investment banks, the panicky and massive policy measures undertaken by Bernanke in the wake of the collapse of Lehman Brothers last year have made him the improbable hero of the global financial and economic crisis. With Bernanke set to be reappointed as Fed Chairman by President Barack Obama, it seems both he and the Federal Reserve have successfully consolidated their monetary and economic omnipotence.

Yet, some cracks in the foundations of the Fed’s  previously unassailable power have begun to emerge. Manhattan Chief U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska has issued a ruling in the case of Bloomberg LP v. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System that marks the first challenge to the virtual dictatorship on monetary policy that Bernanke has been able to impose on Congress and the media. The lawsuit had been filed by the Bloomberg news organization after the Federal Reserve refused to disclose the recipients of $2 trillion in emergency loans it provided to troubled banks. The rationalization used by the Federal Reserve for its refusal to follow the legal requirements of the Freedom of Information Act truly defines the meaning of arrogance. If the American taxpayers, who are ultimately on the line for the loans, were to know the identity of the banks receiving financial aid from the Federal Reserve, they would act irresponsibly and perpetuate a run on those very institutions, claim Bernanke‘s minions. In other words, Nixonian logic applied to the massive indebtedness of the American taxpayer, who is not entitled to know for whom the balance sheet of the Federal Reserve is being overloaded with toxic assets.

In its lawsuit, Bloomberg stated that disclosing the beneficiaries of the Federal Reserve‘s largesse is “central to understanding and assessing the government’s response to the most cataclysmic financial crisis in America since the Great Depression.”  However, Bernanke and company are not interested in illuminating the public in their understanding of the government’s role in the crisis, especially that of the Federal Reserve. Full disclosure might very well contradict the image being crafted by the Fed’s aggressive public relations program to portray Ben Bernanke as the saviour of the American economy and global financial system.

The Fed may still appeal Judge Preska’s ruling. However, if the ruling prevails and becomes precedent, it will mark a rare but important defeat for the Federal Reserve’s cone of silence and lack of transparency.


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