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Bad Timing By The Dimon Dog At Davos

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Last week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland turned out to be a bad time for The Dimon Dog to stage a “righteous indignation” fit.  One would expect an investment banker to have a better sense of timing than what was demonstrated by the CEO of JPMorgan Chase.  Vito Racanelli provided this report for Barron’s:

The Davos panel, called “The Next Shock, Are We Better Prepared?” proceeded at a typically low emotional decibel level until Dimon was asked about what he thought of Americans who had directed their anger against the banks for the bailout.

Dimon visibly turned more animated, replying that “it’s not fair to lump all banks together.”  The TARP program was forced on some banks, and not all of them needed it, he said.  A number of banks helped stabilize things, noting that his bank bought the failed Bear Stearns.  The idea that all banks would have failed without government intervention isn’t right, he said defensively

Dimon clearly felt aggrieved by the question and the negative banker headlines, and went on for a while.

“I don’t lump all media together… .  There’s good and there’s bad.  There’s irresponsible and ignorant and there’s really smart media.  Well, not all bankers are the same.  I just think this constant refrain [of] ‘bankers, bankers, bankers,’ – it’s just a really unproductive and unfair way of treating people…  People should just stop doing that.”

The immediate response expressed by a number of commentators was to focus on Dimon’s efforts to obstruct financial reform.  Although Dimon had frequently paid lip service to the idea that no single institution should pose a risk to the entire financial system in the event of its own collapse, he did all he could to make sure that the Dodd-Frank “financial reform” bill did nothing to overturn the “too big to fail” doctrine.  Beyond that, the post-crisis elimination of the Financial Accounting Standards Board requirement that a bank’s assets should be “marked to market” values, was the only crutch that kept JPMorgan Chase from falling into the same scrap heap of insolvent banks as the other Federal Reserve welfare queens.

Simon Johnson (former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund) obviously had some fun writing a retort – published in the Economix blog at The New York Times to The Dimon Dog’s diatribe.  Johnson began by addressing the threat voiced by Dimon and Diamond (Robert E. Diamond of Barclay’s Bank):

The newly standard line from big global banks has two components  .  .  .

First, if you regulate us, we’ll move to other countries.  And second, the public policy priority should not be banks but rather the spending cuts needed to get budget deficits under control in the United States, Britain and other industrialized countries.

This rhetoric is misleading at best.  At worst it represents a blatant attempt to shake down the public purse.

*   *   *

As we discussed at length during the Senate hearing, it is therefore not possible to discuss bringing the budget deficit under control in the foreseeable future without measuring and confronting the risks still posed by our financial system.

Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the Troubled Assets Relief Program, put it well in his latest quarterly report, which appeared last week: perhaps TARP’s most significant legacy is “the moral hazard and potentially disastrous consequences associated with the continued existence of financial institutions that are ‘too big to fail.’ ”

*   *   *

In this context, the idea that megabanks would move to other countries is simply ludicrous.  These behemoths need a public balance sheet to back them up, or they will not be able to borrow anywhere near their current amounts.

Whatever you think of places like Grand Cayman, the Bahamas or San Marino as offshore financial centers, there is no way that a JPMorgan Chase or a Barclays could consider moving there.  Poorly run casinos with completely messed-up incentives, these megabanks need a deep-pocketed and somewhat dumb sovereign to back them.

After Dimon’s temper tantrum, a pile-on by commentators immediately ensued.  Elinor Comlay and Matthew Goldstein of Reuters wrote an extensive report, documenting Dimon’s lobbying record and debunking a good number of public relations myths concerning Dimon’s stewardship of JPMorgan Chase:

Still, with hindsight it’s clear that Dimon’s approach to risk didn’t help him entirely avoid the financial crisis.  Even as the first rumblings of the crisis were sounding in the distance, he aggressively sought to boost Chase’s share of the U.S. mortgage business.

At the end of 2007, after JPMorgan had taken a $1.3 billion write-down on leveraged loans, Dimon told analysts the bank was planning to add as much as $20 billion in mortgages from riskier borrowers.  “We think we’d get very good spreads and … it will be a drop in the bucket for our capital ratios.”

By mid-2008, JPMorgan Chase had $95.1 billion exposure to home equity loans, almost $15 billion in subprime mortgages and a $76 billion credit card book.  Banks were not required to mark those loans at market prices, but if the loans were accounted for that way, losses could have been as painful for JPMorgan as credit derivatives were for AIG, according to former investment bank executives.

What was particularly bad about The Dimon Dog’s timing of his Davos diatribe concerned the fact that since December 2, 2010 a $6.4 billion lawsuit has been pending against JPMorgan Chase, brought by Irving H. Picard, the bankruptcy trustee responsible for recovering the losses sustained by Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scam victims.  Did Dimon believe that the complaint would remain under seal forever?  On February 3, the complaint was unsealed by agreement of the parties, with the additional stipulation that the identities of several bank employees would remain confidential.  The New York Times provided us with some hints about how these employees were expected to testify:

On June 15, 2007, an evidently high-level risk management officer for Chase’s investment bank sent a lunchtime e-mail to colleagues to report that another bank executive “just told me that there is a well-known cloud over the head of Madoff and that his returns are speculated to be part of a Ponzi scheme.”

Even before that, a top private banking executive had been consistently steering clients away from investments linked to Mr. Madoff because his “Oz-like signals” were “too difficult to ignore.”  And the first Chase risk analyst to look at a Madoff feeder fund, in February 2006, reported to his superiors that its returns did not make sense because it did far better than the securities that were supposedly in its portfolio.

At The Daily Beast, Allan Dodds Frank began his report on the suit with questions that had to be fresh on everyone’s mind in the wake of the scrutiny The Dimon Dog had invited at Davos:

How much did JPMorgan CEO and Chairman Jamie Dimon know about his bank’s valued customer Bernie Madoff, and when did he know it?

These two crucial questions have been lingering below the surface for more than two years, even as the JPMorgan Chase leader cemented his reputation as the nation’s most important, most upright, and most highly regarded banker.

Not everyone at Davos was so impressed with The Dimon Dog.  Count me among those who were especially inspired by the upbraiding Dimon received from French President Nicolas Sarkozy:

“Don’t be accusatory of us,” Sarkozy snapped at Dimon at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“The world has paid with tens of millions of unemployed, who were in no way to blame and who paid for everything.”

*   *   *
“We saw that for the last 10 years, major institutions in which we thought we could trust had done things which had nothing to do with simple common sense,” the Frenchman said.  “That’s what happened.”

Sarkozy also took direct aim at the bloated bonuses many bankers got despite the damage they did.

“When things don’t work, you can never find anyone responsible,” Sarkozy said.  “Those who got bumper bonuses for seven years should have made losses in 2008 when things collapsed.”

Why don’t we have a President like that?


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2010 Jackass Of The Year Award

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Once again, the moment has arrived for TheCenterLane.com to present its Jackass of The Year Award.  Our 2010 recipient is Alaska’s Senatorial candidate, Joe Miller.

Joe Miller’s campaign to defeat Senator Lisa Murkowski in Alaska’s 2010 Republican Primary got a big boost when Governor Sarah Palin decided to leave office to become a full-time celebrity.  Palin’s decision was immediately criticized by Senator Murkowski.  Palin responded to the criticism by endorsing Murkowski’s opponent in the Republican Primary:  Joe Miller.  Miller then won the support of the Tea Party Express, who – according to The Washington Post – spent more than $150,000 on pro-Miller television and radio ads during the week before the primary.  In addition to the mobilization of the Tea Party activists, Miller benefited from an initiative on the Alaska Republican Primary ballot requiring parental consent before a girl aged 17 or younger could receive an abortion.  Alaska’s most conservative voters were out in force on Primary Day.  The Washington Post article highlighted some of Miller’s positions that helped him curry favor with Alaska’s “hard right” voters:

He has called for phasing out Medicare and Social Security, as well as eliminating the Education Department because it is not mandated in the Constitution.

Never mind the fact that neither the FBI nor the Department of Homeland Security has been mandated by the Constitution.  The “lack of a Constitutional mandate” litmus test is only applied to those bureaucracies considered repugnant to Joe Miller.

Because the deadline for filing as an “Independent” candidate on Alaska’s November (general election) ballot had already expired by the August 24 primary, it was necessary for Lisa Murkowski to run as a “write-in” candidate in order to retain her Senate seat.

During the course of the ensuing campaign, Miller’s foolishness provided the news media with plenty of entertainment.  Despite Miller’s rhetoric, which called for limited government and fiscal restraint, Anne Applebaum of Slate recalled that Miller’s background became an issue in the campaign, since it was so inconsistent with that of a Tea Party hero:

During the course of the campaign, it also emerged that he had once collected farm subsidies; that his wife had once collected unemployment benefits; and that his family had received state health benefits.

Upon hearing that Murkowski would not abandon her quest to retain her Senate seat after her Republican Primary defeat, Mr. Miller immediately made a foolish statement, which he attempted to blame on an unidentified staffer.  Jim Carlton of the Washington Wire blog provided this quote of the now-infamous message sent out from Joe Miller’s Twitter account:

“What’s the difference between selling out your party’s values and the world’s oldest profession?” said the message under Mr. Miller’s Twitter address early Friday.

Mr. Miller said the tweet was sent by a staffer who was temporarily manning his account.  He added that the remark was aimed not at the senator herself, but at suggestions that Alaska’s Libertarian Party might allow Ms. Murkowski to run under its banner in November if she ends up losing to him in a final count of absentee ballots.

He blamed the tweet on “poor judgment” by the unidentified staffer, who he “relieved of his duties.”  He said he quickly removed the message from his Twitter feed.

If  Miller had not already done enough to alienate female voters — his Halloween-themed campaign ad, likening Lisa Murkowski to a witch, immediately drew the ire of the New Agenda website, which embedded a YouTube feed of the ad in this posting.

The most infamous event of Miller’s campaign occurred on October 17, when Tony Hopfinger, editor of the Alaska Dispatch website was handcuffed by Miller’s private security guards, when he attempted to interview the candidate at the conclusion of a “town hall” meeting at the Central Middle School in Anchorage.  The incident caused Miller to become the butt of many jokes on national television.

Hopfinger was attempting to question Miller about an incident that had become the subject of an e-mail that had originated a few days earlier from Mike Rostad, a Republican activist in Kodiak, Alaska, based on a discussion between Rostad and Miller’s father, Rex Miller.  The Anchorage Daily News provided this report:

Joe Miller was a part-time Fairbanks North Star Borough attorney in 2008 when he led an attempt to oust state Republican Party chief Randy Ruedrich.  Rostad wrote in the email that Rex Miller told him there was a poll being conducted during that effort against Ruedrich.  Rostad wrote that Rex Miller told him what happened:

“One noon hour, on his own time at the borough, Joe participated in an online poll voting against Randy.  He used four office computers in the office to do it, thinking this was his chance to boost numbers to get rid of Randy.  He emptied the cache files on the computers so the users wouldn’t know what he had done.  When the users asked what had happened to their caches, (Miller) admitted to what he did.  He was reprimanded and docked in pay for several days, but was not suspended or fired.

Miller’s improper computer use as a part-time attorney for the Fairbanks North Star Borough has been an ongoing controversy, which was the subject of this December 31 article from the Anchorage Daily News.

The handcuffing of Tony Hopfinger was not the only misstep by Joe Miller’s campaign on October 17.  Shira Toplitz of Politico reported on October 29 that the Murkowski campaign was running an ad, critical of two October 17 blunders:

The same night as the incident with the journalist, Miller told an audience that if “East Germany could, we could” secure the borders of the country — a controversial statement that Murkowski also uses in the new spot.

“Joe Miller’s answer to illegal immigration:  Use East Germany as an example,” continues the narrator.  “Exactly what kind of America does Joe Miller live in?  . . .”

Miller had nobody else to blame for his stupid remark exalting East Germany as a model for border security.

Once it became obvious that Lisa Murkowski made history as the first write-in candidate to win a Senate election since Strom Thurmond in 1954, Joe Miller took his battle to the courts.  He initially filed an action in Federal Court, although U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline stayed proceedings pending resolution of the dispute in the State court, where the action should have been brought.  Once the case was filed in the State Court, Judge William Carey dismissed the suit and it was appealed directly to the Alaska Supreme Court.  U.S. News reported that when the ballots were still being counted, the Miller camp was determined to turn the election into a spelling bee:

Shortly after the second day of write-in ballot counting began on Thursday, a Miller observer challenged a vote for Murkowski that appeared to have her name spelled and printed correctly, though the “L” in “Lisa” was in cursive handwriting.  Later, at least 10 ballots in which Murkowski’s name appeared readable were challenged, including one in which the vote read:  “Lisa Murkowski Republican.”

Miller’s campaign said observers are simply challenging votes that don’t meet the strict letter of the law — including those with minor misspellings of Murkowski’s name or those with legibility or penmanship issues.

In addition to the “spelling bee” demand, Miller also attempted to pursue a claim of misconduct by election officials amounting to election fraud.  The Christian Science Monitor provided this report on Judge Carey’s dismissal of that count:

“Nowhere does Miller provide facts showing a genuine issue of fraud or election official misfeasance,” Carey wrote.  “Instead, the majority of the problematic statements included in the affidavits are inadmissible hearsay, speculation, and occasional complaints of sarcasm expressed by [elections] workers.  Nothing rises to the level showing genuine material facts of fraud.”

The stupidity of Miller’s “spelling bee” requirement became more apparent once the Alaska Supreme Court was asked to reverse the dismissal of that claim.  During oral arguments, Justice Dana Fabe directed a Why are you here? question to Miller’s attorneys.  Here’s how that moment was described by KTUU News:

With unofficial results showing Miller behind Murkowski by 10,328 votes, or 2,169 when ballots challenged by Miller observers are excluded, Justice Dana Fabe asked Miller’s legal team what — if any — impact the court’s decision would have on the outcome of the election.

“Even if you win on this argument and every one of the challenged ballots is set aside, it makes no difference in this count, and it makes no difference in the outcome of this election unless you win on one of your other counts — isn’t that correct?” Fabe said.

In other words:  even if the contested ballots were not counted in accordance with the guidelines advanced by Miller’s legal team – Miller still would have lost by over two thousand votes!

So seriously:  What was the point of filing suit?  Was Miller hoping to get some sort of deal from the Republican Party for conceding defeat?  His lawsuit was as idiotic as his entire campaign had been.  As late as December 27, Miller was vowing to continue his battle in the Federal Court to contest the election result.  Nevertheless, as Miller should have learned at Yale Law School, the pursuit of such a specious claim in a Federal Court, would likely result in rather expensive sanctions against Miller and his attorneys under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, once his case was inevitably dismissed.  If that concern had not been enough to motivate Miller to abandon his Federal suit, it should have been enough to convince Miller’s attorneys that the game was finally over.  Miller ultimately conceded his defeat in the election on December 30, although he never made a concession call to Lisa Murkowski.  He explained that he had not made the call because he did not have Murkowski’s phone number.

Joe Miller may not have won the election to the United States Senate —  but he did win the 2010 Jackass of The Year Award from TheCenterLane.com.  Congratulations, Jackass!



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