Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Obfuscating Power of Words

The first hint of confusion came for me when reading about the banking CEOs who recently appeared before congress. As live-blogged by the Wall Street Journal, several of the executives claimed no need for TARP funds; that they in fact had rather unwillingly taken billions of dollars from the feds at the request of the Treasury Department.

The executives made statements like, "...we did not seek TARP funds..." and "we were strongly encouraged to participate [in TARP] and we did."

And now Northern Trust.

This is the Chicago-based bank now made famous to most Americans through a story brought to us by TMz.com - the online gossip rag. As most of us know by now, thanks to the impeccable reporting of TMZ, the bank, which had received $1.6 billion in TARP funds, threw a lavish party recently as part of its commitment to host the Northern Trust Open charity event.

In an "open letter to Northern Trust Shareholders, clients and staff" issued to defend the institution's partying ways during the Northern Trust Open fundraiser, the bank also claims no need for the TARP funding they received:

"Northern Trust did not seek the government's investment under the U.S. Treasury's Capital Purchase Program, but agreed to the government's goal of gaining the participation of all major banks in the United States."

Until now, I did not realize that the Troubled Asset Relief Program required throwing billions of dollars at healthy banks. With all the buzz surrounding Paulson's bailout plans, I had thought that the program brought relief to institutions whose pipes were clogged with "troubled assets."

But I was wrong.

Interesting approach to fiscal policy, I suppose, to flood all banks with astronomical sums of money, not just the troubled ones.

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