Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders had the right reaction to the news that President Barack Obama had nominated Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke to head the central bank for a second term. He balked.
"As a result of the greed, irresponsibility and illegal behavior of Wall Street, our country has experienced the worst economic decline since the Great Depression. Mr. Bernanke was head of the Fed and the nation's chief economist as this crisis, driven by reckless speculation, developed," said Sanders. "Tragically, like the rest of the Bush administration, he was asleep at the wheel during this period and did nothing to move our financial system onto safer grounds."
Sanders, who will appear Sept. 12 at Fighting Bob Fest in Baraboo, has worked with Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold and Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, who will also appear at Bob Fest, to hold the Federal Reserve and its chairman to account.
In recent weeks Sanders, Harkin and Feingold have led the fight against Federal Reserve secrecy, writing Bernanke to urge the release of a full list of Wall Street firms that have received secret loans worth more than $2 trillion.
That letter, signed by Democratic and Republican senators as well as Sanders, an independent, noted: "During the past year, the Federal Reserve Board took action to allow all of the major investment banks in the U.S. to effectively access direct lending from the Federal Reserve. It was the first time such action had been taken by the Fed. In addition to taking this unprecedented action, the Fed has decided that it cannot release information about which firms received the benefits of these emergency actions. Federal Reserve officials said that releasing this information could further destabilize our financial system and potentially cause a run on the banks that had asked for help."
"In light of recent announcements by Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan Chase, and others that are reporting very large profits after paying back the TARP funds to the U.S. government," the letter continued, "we don't believe there is now any reason for the Federal Reserve Board to refuse to share information about the companies that were helped by its activities as well as the specific amount of such help for each company."
Sanders, Harkin and their compatriots concluded: "The American taxpayers' funds have been placed at risk, and we believe the American people deserve a thorough examination of the Federal Reserve Board's Wall Street bailout activities to determine how these funds were used."
We have long believed that Bernanke, an unapologetic ally of the Wall Street speculators who have undermined the manufacturing and farm economies of the Midwest, is the wrong pick to chair the Federal Reserve.
But even if the Senate decides to approve Obama's misguided choice, it should not do so until after Bernanke has agreed to the transparency the senators seek.
Two decades ago, journalist William Greider wrote the groundbreaking book "Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country." In it, he outlined the extent to which an unaccountable Fed limited the authority of the people and their elected representatives to make decisions in the public interest. The circumstance has only grown more severe.
This is part of what makes the appearance by Sanders at Bob Fest on Sept. 12 all the more meaningful. This is a time when not just wise senators but organized citizens must call for fundamental change. We the people through our elected representatives should have as much say with regard to the direction of our economy - and the spending of our tax dollars - as Ben Bernanke.