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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

Category: Freedom of information
November 28, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Secret Fed bailout data show how banks saved status quo

Bloomberg fought for years to obtain 29,000 pages of Federal Reserve documents detailing the largest bailout in American history. They make for the must-read of the day, the month, the year. In its January issue, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports:

The Fed didn’t tell anyone which banks were in trouble so deep they required a combined $1.2 trillion on Dec. 5, 2008, their single neediest day. Bankers didn’t mention that they took tens of billions of dollars in emergency loans at the same time they were assuring investors their firms were healthy. And no one calculated until now that banks reaped an estimated $13 billion of income by taking advantage of the Fed’s below-market rates.

Saved by the taxpayers, the banks were able to effectively lobby against real regulation, such as a new Glass-Steagall Act. And:

While Fed officials say that almost all of the loans were repaid and there have been no losses, details suggest taxpayers paid a price beyond dollars as the secret funding helped preserve a broken status quo and enabled the biggest banks to grow even bigger.

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Comments | More in Bailout, Banking, Federal Reserve, Freedom of information

November 24, 2010 at 9:36 AM

An obscure case would keep corporate information deeper in the shadows

The Supreme Court already overturned a century of jurisprudence to give corporations the same free-speech rights as humans, in the Citizens United case, allowing them to give essentially unlimited sums in political campaigns. (The same applies to unions, but they are a fading power on the American scene). Now another case may extend the “personhood” of corporations even further.

In FCC vs. AT&T, the issue is whether a corporation can be protected from the Freedom of Information Act, the landmark legislation that allows citizens and the press to gain access to information involving the government. When a government contract with a corporation is involved, it may be subject to full or partial disclosure under FOIA. But safeguards already exist to protect a company’s proprietary details. FOIA has been critical to informing Americans about everything from bankster misdeeds to contractor issues in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now AT&T is claiming a corporation has “personal privacy” and should be exempt from FOIA under all circumstances, just as an individual human would be. The original case involves over-billing a school district.

Nell Minow, the famous shareholder activist, comments on AT&T’s position: “This is absurd. An amicus (friend of the court) brief filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center argues that the lower court ruling ‘is contrary to widespread understanding, and almost nonsensical….an outlier, untethered to common understanding, legal scholarship, technical methods, or privacy law.’ “

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Comments | More in Freedom of information, Shareholder rights