Is JP Morgan’s CEO Banking on Dodd Frank Repeal?

This article first appeared in the Huffington Post, on July 8, 2015.

As the fifth anniversary of the Dodd Frank financial reform law nears, Wall Street remains defiant at worst and flippant at best to addressing its malfeasance in the 2008 meltdown. A couple of weeks ago, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon gave career advice to young financiers at a UJA Federation fundraiser in New York.

Now, keep in mind that Dimon oversaw the bank through record-setting fines from the Department of Justice for a variety of financial frauds in 2013, including the now infamous London Whale fiasco. Subsequently his board rewarded him with a 74% raise.

Dimon regaled the crowd with an anecdote on the London Whale: how he ended up receiving a pep talk from New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady, who told him that everybody goes through rough patches. Dimon concluded, “Shit happens. Okay. And it’s going to happen to you.”

Financial crimes happen, as though there’s no personal culpability whatsoever. This is the gold standard to which young bankers aspire.

Jamie Dimon didn’t become Wall Street’s Wonder Boy by accident — he can be both brash and charismatic in defense of his proud, but beleaguered institutions. But he’s also frequently out of touch. Softly acknowledging fault for Wall Street’s role in the “catastrophe,” he said public ire was “somewhat” deserved and “a little bit understandable.” His analysis: “I do think it’s incumbent on all of us to do a slightly better job, so we don’t cause additional problems in the future.”

Slightly. 20 billion dollars in fines for financial crimes warrants more than a slight adjustment in behavior.

This flippancy to assuming meaningful responsibility, coupled with the drive to make as much money as possible, underpins the psyche of Wall Street. One would-be banker wanted to know just how lucrative a career in finance could still be:

I was wondering what the future of banking looks like from JPMorgan’s standpoint. Could it possibly be as attractive in the future for shareholders and employees as it was in the past with all, you know, this huge amount of government intervention and supervision?

Dimon assuaged his fears with a prediction: record profits in the near-term and dramatic growth in the financial industry in the next 15 years, with double the number of billion-dollar companies and double or triple the number of billionaires in emerging markets.

That’s just what impoverished countries in the throes of overwhelming income inequality need: more billionaires.

The finance industry, already enormous by percentage of the economy and corporate profits, and presumably individual banks like JPMorgan, will be getting even bigger if Dimon is right, which begs the question: Is JPMorgan too big to fail?

This reporter asked the vaunted banker whether a recent assessment by Goldman Sachs that JPM should be broken up was valid, and he explained that the current discount on his bank’s stock was caused by the “astronomical” regulatory, political, and legal burden on his bank, which “will go away.” Dimon did not explain how he came to that conclusion.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made no secret of his desire to repeal Dodd Frank. Now that Republicans have control of both chambers, the senator just might succeed. Is Jamie Dimon banking on it?

A full transcript of Dimon’s remarks can be found here. Subscribe to The Undercurrent on YouTube for more independent, on-the-ground reporting from Lauren Windsor.

The Pope vs. the Koch Bros

Pope GOPClimate change has been a hot topic on both the left and the right, with ongoing controversy at the Smithsonian and the release of the Pope’s encyclical on the environment.

On June 15, environmental activists gathered at the Smithsonian Castle for the institution’s Board of Regents meeting, and marched to the National Museum of Natural History to protest climate-denier-oil-baron David Koch being on the museum’s advisory board. The campaign to oust Koch from the board is being led by The Natural History Museum, a mobile museum bus that seeks “to include and highlight the socio-political influences that shape nature.”

The campaign is part of a larger effort aimed at natural history museums by scientists and climate activists, to demand that scientific institutions cut ties with climate-science denying fossil fuel funders.

On June 18, Pope Francis released his climate change encyclical, Laudato Si, putting the heat on religious conservative politicians here in the U.S. At the Road to Majority conference hosted by the Faith and Freedom Coalition in DC, this reporter asked Sen. Ron Johnson and Governor John Kasich whether they agreed with the Pope that climate change is a moral imperative requiring action. Their answers were surprising.

Watch them in the video segment below. Featuring interviews with Sen. Ron Johnson, Rep. Steve King, Gov. Jeb Bush, Gov. John Kasich, Director of The Natural History Museum Beka Economopoulos, and climate expert Joe Romm. Subscribe to The Undercurrent on YouTube for more independent, on-the-ground political reporting from Lauren Windsor.

Did John Kasich Just Call the Pope a Heretic?

Heretic

Ohio Governor, presidential aspirant, and Roman Catholic John Kasich took a swipe at the pope last Friday at a conference hosted by the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

Asked if he agreed with Pope Francis that climate change is a moral issue requiring action, Kasich told me that he agreed that protecting the environment is good. However, he disagreed with the pope’s economic conclusions, characterizing them as anti-free-enterprise. But the pope’s remarks in his climate change encyclical, Laudato Si, weren’t so much anti-free-enterprise as they were anti-consumerism and anti-profiteering.

It appears that Kasich interpreted the encyclical as pantheistic, because he made a strange implication:

I read a great book on St. Francis Assisi, who the pope kind of models himself after. The environment was given to us by the Lord, and it needs to be taken care of, and it shouldn’t be worshiped; that’s called pantheism.

Who is worshiping the environment here? Pope Francis? Is Kasich implying that the pope is a pagan, a heretic?

Countering the pope’s economic conclusions, the governor defended free enterprise as a solution for global poverty, perhaps suggesting that he worships the markets instead. Kasich did profess a desire to develop renewable energy, but that belies the fact that last year, he signed H.B. 310 into law, becoming the first governor to freeze his state’s renewable-energy standards. Many in Ohio believe the freeze will lead to a full repeal.

According to Mark Shanahan, an energy-policy adviser to Ohio’s previous governor, Ted Strickland, “On renewable energy, Kasich has good rhetoric, but his actions have seriously damaged renewable energy in Ohio.”

Gov. Kasich followed up on the renewables freeze by signing legislation that dealt a crippling blow to wind farms. Because it was a budget bill, the governor had the power to line-item veto the wind-farm provision, but he chose not to use it. If Kasich supports developing renewables, he has a funny way of showing it.

When I asked him what legislative action he would take with regard to climate change, Kasich said, “Let’s not get carried away.”

“Kasich saying he’s for renewable energy is like Kasich saying he’s for the letter Z,” said State Rep. Kent Smith (D-OH 8). “He’s OK if it exists; he just doesn’t want it used that much.”

Watch the exchange with Kasich in the video below, and subscribe to The Undercurrent on YouTube for more independent, on-the-ground reporting.

Jeb Bush: I Embrace Carbon Reduction

The encyclical on climate change released by Pope Francis this week is wreaking havoc for conservatives. At the Road to Majority conference hosted by Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, climate has been the top question on reporters’ lips.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) claimed to be an environmentalist; Rep. Steve King lost his temper with the executive director of Catholics United, James Salt; and Jeb Bush said that he embraces the reduction of carbon emissions.

Bush, a devout Catholic, made headlines earlier in the week for saying that he doesn’t take economic policy advice from the clergy. Watch the exchange with Bush below, and subscribe to The Undercurrent on YouTube for more independent, on-the-ground reporting.

Financial Foxes Are Guarding the Wall Street Henhouse

SEC Commissioner Slams SEC, and CFTC Commissioner Denies Role of Excessive Speculation in 2008 Crisis

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“Capital Unbound: The Cato Summit on Financial Regulation in New York City,” Tuesday, June 2, 2015, New York City 

Wall Street regulators recently spoke at a libertarian financial conference alongside economists advocating for abolishing the Federal Reserve, FDIC deposit insurance, and Dodd-Frank financial legislation.

Asked if the Securities and Exchange Commission had ever reduced investor losses in its entire history, SEC Commissioner Michael Piwowar replied, “Excellent question. The answer to that question can be answered in three words: I don’t know.” He also told the crowd that the job of the SEC should be to promote not investor confidence but investor skepticism.

Citing a lack of demonstrable data, Commissioner Giancarlo denied that overspeculation was a factor in the 2008 financial meltdown. He went on to say that it was less important what he thinks and more important what Congress thinks — that Congress could have found that excessive speculation caused the 2008 crisis but did not.

Á la Tony the Tiger, the director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives, George Selgin, said with unabashed glee that bank runs are “great.” This remark came during an extended schtick mocking George Bailey, the protagonist of the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life. Selgin concluded that Bailey’s bank should have been run on because he spent too much time talking to angels rather than managing his investment portfolio.

After the conference, I asked Selgin to explain why bank runs are a good thing, given that most people would find that assertion counterintuitive in the post-2008-crisis era. He said that bank runs are a natural response by consumers and a needed penalty for bankers, and that federal deposit insurance should be eliminated. Without the backstop of the FDIC, consumers would be forced to thoroughly research bank balance sheets — regardless of the financial savvy it would require for the average American to do so.

And Selgin thinks this is actually feasible — according to his worldview, any investor or consumer dumb enough not to have thoroughly researched his investments deserves whatever losses he may incur. The problem with that line of thinking is that even savvy investors get taken for a ride. Remember Bernie Madoff? Collateralized debt obligations? AIG and credit default swaps? If so-called “smart money” investors get scammed in a regulated market, imagine the field day Wall Street would have on the dumb money in a deregulated market.

From the libertarian praise heaped upon these regulators, and from their own statements, it appears that they are big fans of deregulation. These men are charged with creating and enforcing the financial rules of the road, but they are anti-rule. Or, to put it another way, they are financial foxes guarding the Wall Street henhouse.

Bank Runs Are Good?


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Bank runs are a good thing, according to George Selgin, the Director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives. Conventional wisdom holds otherwise — just ask anybody who lived during the Great Depression, or held an account at IndyMac Bank in 2008, or who is living in Greece now.

Selgin also thinks deposit insurance should be eliminated, forcing consumers to thoroughly research bank balance sheets — regardless of the financial savvy it would require for the average American to do so.

Cato is a Koch brothers-funded libertarian think tank that provides much of the intellectual ammunition for GOP deregulatory policy, and it often features like-minded regulators at its events. This summit featured Commodities Futures Trading Commissioner Chris Giancarlo and Securities Exchange Commissioner Michael Piwowar.

Watch the exchange with Selgin below and subscribe to The Undercurrent on YouTube for more independent, on-the-ground reporting…

Uncovered: Corporate Lobbying Funded by Your Tax Dollars

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Brendan Fischer of the Center for Media and Democracy tells us about CMD and Common Cause’s latest submission to the IRS showing that the American Legislative Exchange Council functions as a corporate lobbying group, in violation of the tax code for 501(c)3 charities. I talk to Common Cause legal associate Yael Bromberg about the tax man’s response…

The Undercurrent: Uncovered is a video collaboration with the Center for Media Democracy. Subscribe to the The Undercurrent on YouTube for more independent investigative reporting…

Donald Trump Will End Outsourcing If President

Trump ThumbAt the South Carolina Freedom Summit, Donald Trump said that he would impose a hefty 35% tariff on American multinational corporations like Ford Motor Company, in order to stop outsourcing to China and elsewhere. According to the Economic Policy Institute, between 2001 and 2013 the U.S. trade deficit with China cost 3.2 million jobs, with the majority of the losses coming from the manufacturing sector.

Flirting with a 2016 presidential bid, Trump is striking a populist chord with his stance on trade, and it’s a departure from that of the Republican establishment and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Both have been working with the Obama administration to push through a massive trade deal with Asia, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Trump’s stance is surprising, not only because of his background in business, but because it would reverse 30+ years of U.S. trade policy. Instituting such a policy reversal would be a Herculean if not impossible task, requiring the eradication of the neoliberal economic orthodoxy ingrained in the DNA of Washington.

Touching on the TPP, Trump said:

China is ripping us off and abusing us because we have leaders that don’t know what they’re doing, and the new trade pact is a disaster because they don’t talk about currency manipulation.

In a further break from the GOP, Trump decried the outsize influence of money in politics. With a personal fortune estimated at $4.1 billion, he said that he would “do the right thing” because he doesn’t need money from lobbyists or donors.

Watch the exchange in the video below, and subscribe to The Undercurrent on YouTube for more independent, on-the-ground political reporting…

GOP Hopeful on Budget: Cut Porno-Watching Gov’t Employees

I asked GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina what specific agencies and/or programs she would cut in order to streamline the federal government, at the South Carolina Freedom Summit. Rather than name specific agencies or programs, the former Hewlett Packard CEO named the following actions she would take:

1.  institute Zero Base Budgeting,

2.  “get after the hundreds upon hundreds of billions of dollars of fraud, waste, and abuse that has been documented year after year after year, and which no one has ever done anything about,” (One would think with all the documentation Fiorina would be able to cite specific examples.)

3.  and move to a pay-for-performance system for public employees. (This is where the porno-watching comes in.)

Watch the clip below for my exchange with Fiorina, and subscribe to The Undercurrent on YouTube for more independent, on-the-ground political reporting…

GOP Presidential Hopeful: Bruce Jenner Welcome to Campaign with Me

Carson JennerIn a recent and widely seen interview with Diane Sawyer about his transition to womanhood, Bruce Jenner surprised many people with the admission that he is also a Republican. At the South Carolina Freedom Summit, 2016 GOP hopeful Ben Carson was asked if he would campaign with Jenner if he expressed support for Carson’s presidential bid. The former pediatric neurosurgeon replied that all Americans are welcome.

The Republican Party has not been particularly accepting of the LGBT community – Carson himself opposes gay marriage, for example — so his answer raises some questions.

From the look on his face, perhaps Carson did not realize who Bruce Jenner is? If that’s the case, how does Carson not know? Beyond his fame as the Kardashian patriarch and the white-hot media speculation over his gender transition, Jenner is an American Olympic hero, having won the gold medal for the decathlon in the 1976 Montreal games… Has Carson been living under a rock?

On the other hand, if Carson does know who Jenner is, then welcoming him is an opportunity to differentiate himself from the crowded 2016 field as a social conservative who is also open-minded. Will other GOP hopefuls like Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, and Jeb Bush follow Carson’s lead?

Republicans like to talk about being a “big-tent” party. Jenner is their chance to prove it.

(Jenner prefers masculine pronouns and to be called by Bruce.)

Watch the video below to see Carson’s response: