NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Today, the world goes on hold. In Libya, the Gadhafis and the anti-Gadhafis put down their guns. The escapees from that Afghan jail stop running and turn on their radios. Here in the U.S., traffic stops, airports shut. Times Square is silent. Ben Bernanke is holding a press conference!
You have to understand that this is momentous news. That kind of thing just doesn't happen. Of all U.S. institutions, with WikiLeaks exposing foreign policy and the CIA an open book, the Federal Reserve is the last remaining bastion of secrecy. As a result, it has more conspiracy theories surrounding it than the Masons, the Jews, the Trilateral Commission and Area 51 put together. And the Fed has only itself to blame for that air of mystery.
Just take a look at the press release that the Fed issued a month ago announcing these new quarterly world-stopping events. "The introduction of regular press briefings is intended to further enhance the clarity and timeliness of the Federal Reserve's monetary policy communication," the statement says. That tells you a lot about the Fed right there. What clarity? What timeliness? If you go to the page, you can see the latest minutes from the Fed's discount rate meetings, which were held between Feb. 7 and March 14, and released a month later.
What we have here is an inherently opaque institution, not because it waits a few weeks to release discount-rate-meeting minutes, but because it is a powerful government agency that in important functions has all the accessibility of a Brooklyn crime family. The Fed's opacity has a logical basis on some stuff -- like the discount-rate meetings, for instance -- but it has become something of a fetish, and harmful to both the Fed and the public. It's possible that Ben Bernanke holding quarterly press conferences will bring a gust of fresh air into that institution, but I doubt it. The Fed has shown no inclination to change its ways.If you want an example of that, just look at the disgraceful way the Fed has fought efforts to identify the financial firms that borrowed through the discount window in 2008. A Freedom of Information Act request to that effect was promptly made by Mark Pittman of Bloomberg. The Fed, being the Fed, treated Pittman the way it treats all U.S. citizens under similar circumstances: It ignored him. I mean not even an answer for four months. So Bloomberg did something unexpected: It sued the Fed.