April 1 (Bloomberg) -- After months of litigation and political scrutiny, the Federal Reserve yesterday ended a policy of secrecy over its Bear Stearns Cos. bailout.
In a 4:30 p.m. announcement in a week of congressional recess and religious holidays, the central bank released details of securities bought to aid Bear Stearnss takeover by JPMorgan Chase & Co. Bloomberg News sued the Fed for that information.
The problem is this: The Fed is not authorized to BUY anything other than those securities that have the full faith and credit of The United States.
In addition Ben Bernanke has repeatedly claimed that these deals would not cost anyone money. But the current value looks differently:
Assets in Maiden Lane II totaled $34.8 billion, according to the Fed, which set their current market value in its weekly balance sheet at $15.3 billion. That means Maiden Lane II assets are worth 44 cents on the dollar, or 44 percent of their face value, according to the Fed.
Maiden Lane III, which has $56 billion of assets at face value, is worth $22.1 billion, or 39 cents on the dollar, according to the Feds weekly balance sheet. A similar calculation for the Bear Stearns portfolio couldnt be made because of outstanding derivatives trades.
In other words, they have lost more than half of their value.
This was and remains a blatantly unlawful activity.
The Fed has effectively usurped Article 1 Section 7 of The Constituion which reads in part:
All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.
The Fed effectively appropriated taxpayer funds without authorization of Congress. At the time these facilities were put in place neither TARP or any other Congressional authorization existed for them to do so, and to date no bill has been put through Congress authorizing the expenditure of taxpayer funds, either through putting them at risk or via outright expense, for this purpose.
Nor does it stop with a "mere" Constitutional violation - The Federal Reserve Act's Sections 13 and 14 do not permit Fed asset purchases except, once again, for items carrying "full faith and credit" guarantees. Credit-default swaps and trash mortgages most certainly do not meet these qualifications.
I know I've harped on this for more than two years, but here we have a raw admission of exactly what was done - and there is simply no way to construe any of it in a light that conforms with either The Constitution or black-letter statutory law.
What's worse is that Tim Geithner, head of the NY Fed at the time, was very much involved in this - that is, he in effect personally, along with Ben Bernanke, usurped the power of the United States House.
The Fed has spent two years trying to hide this from the public and Congress. It has fought off both Congressional demands for disclosure and multiple FOIA lawsuits, the latter of which has resulted in a series of adverse rulings (and, it appears, was ultimately going to force disclosure anyway.)
These actions are unacceptable but promising "never to do that again" is insufficient. In a Representative Republic where the rule of law is supposed to be paramount - that is, where we do not crown Kings and relegate everyone else to the status of knaves, unlawful actions such as this demand that strong and unmistakable sanction also be applied to all wrongdoers in addition to protection against future abuse.
In this case this means that both Geithner and Bernanke must go - for starters.
Amending The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 (as Chris Dodd has proposed to prevent future lending bailouts) is not sufficient in that The Fed did not lend in this case, it purchased, and by buying what we now know were trash loans it violated the black letter of existing law.
There is only one effective remedy for an institution that has proved that it will not abide the law: it must be stripped of all authority that has been in the past and can be in the future abused.
This means that The Fed, if we are to keep it at all, must be relegated to a body that only practices and provides monetary policy - nothing more or less - and that all monetary operations must be performed openly, transparently, and within those constraints.
We cannot have a republic where an unelected body is left free to violate The Constitution with wild abandon and those acts are then allowed to stand.
One final thought: If the individuals responsible for this blatant black-letter violation of the law do not face meaningful sanction for these acts, and neither does The Fed as an institution, can you fine folks over at The Executive, Judiciary and Legislative branches of our government please explain to us ordinary Americans why we should obey any of the laws of this land when you will not enforce the laws that already exist?
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