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Fed Lends $1.1 Trillion, Won't Say to Whom


Disclosure only for the privileged few.

So much for transparency.

Since September 14th, when the Federal Reserve relaxed collateral requirements for new lending, it's doled out over $1.1 trillion to faltering financial institutions. Now, Chairman Ben Bernanke and company won't say where the money went.

Bloomberg reports the Fed is refusing to release details on which banks took out loans, fearing such disclosure would be blood in the water for short sellers and other financial mercenaries. Bloomberg News even went so far as to file a lawsuit on November 7th under the Freedom of Information Act to try to force disclosure.

Speaking to the Senate Banking Committee on September 23rd, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson said of the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP: "We need oversight. We need protection. We need transparency. I want it. We all want it."

However, since the Fed's 11 new lending programs fall outside the scope of the bailout -- and indeed outside any federal supervision at all -- it can pretty much do whatever it wants, accountability be damned.

Regulators fear knowledge of which banks are short of cash could spark short-selling and additional runs on deposits, which arguably contributed to the demise of Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual. Market participants, however, argue disclosure of the Fed's pricing methods could help unclog dangerously illiquid markets.

Ever one to shed light into opaque government actions, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank told Bloomberg, "[Disclosure would] give people clues to what your pricing is and what they might be able to sell us and what your estimates are." I believe, Mr. Frank, that's precisely the point of disclosure.

Last month, the biggest banks in the country -- Citigroup (C), JP Morgan (JPM), Wells Fargo (WFC), Bank of America (BAC), Goldman Sachs (GS) and Morgan Stanley (MS) -- soaked up over $100 billion in capital injections from the Treasury Department under TARP. In order to obscure who needed the money most, Paulson forced the banks to accept similarly sized investments.

At a time when record amounts of taxpayer money are being put on the line to prop up the economy, elected and non-elected officials alike deem it necessary to keep us in the dark. Their concern for the integrity of the system and their desire to protect us from nefarious market participants seems to have blinded them to the concepts of accountability, transparency and simple honesty.

We're witnessing a dangerous period in which information is tightly controlled, available only to the privileged few, while the many wander aimlessly, groping for half-truths and innuendo transmitted via an elaborate game of telephone.

Some would argue this has always been the case, and this may very well be true. However, never have the stakes been higher; never have our livelihoods been so completely in control of the handful of people we've blithely sent up to Washington to control our collective fate.

This is a disturbing trend - one which we can only hope will be reversed come January.
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