For Jamie Dimon, it's a free country; others must pay

America's favorite banker is at it again.

At the posh gathering of the world’s global financial elite at Davos, Switzerland, J.P. Morgan Chase’s CEO has been whining that bankers have been scapegoated for the financial collapse.

You might be inclined to have some sympathy for Dimon, who got whacked with a 50 percent pay cut last year after his bank lost nearly $6.2 billion, and possibly up to $9 billion, in the notorious “London whale” trades, in which a J.P. Morgan Chase employee speculated with federally-insured deposits, as part of a hedging strategy gone awry – bets intended to reduce the bank’s risk increased it instead.

So Dimon was only paid $11.5 million and lost the distinction of being America’s highest paid banker.

If you don’t have your scorecard handy, Dimon is the one banker who managed to emerge from the financial collapse with his reputation intact, because of the widely held perception that J.P. Morgan had managed its risk well, avoiding the worst excessive behavior that typified too big to fail banks.

But since then Dimon and his bank have been tarnished by his continuing swaggering arrogance and revelations of the bank’s own numerous misdeeds.

He’s a fierce, if smooth, advocate for his fellow bankers against increased financial regulation. The “London whale” debacle, which he initially dismissed as a “tempest in a teapot” before going on Meet the Press to acknowledge the bank’s gargantuan mistakes, has not increased his capacity for introspection or self-criticism.  “Life goes on,” he observed blithely.

Federal regulators ordered the bank to improve risk management in the wake of its stupendous London whale losses and to tighten money-laundering controls. A Senate subcommittee is also investigating the London whale trades.

Nor did the London whale losses increase his humility. Last August, Dimon came out roaring in an interview with New York magazine, saying he was not going to be one of those wimpy bankers afraid to criticize increased bank regulation because of fear of retribution. “We recently had an event with a hundred small bankers here, and 85 percent of them said they can’t challenge the regulation because of the potential retribution,” he told New York’s Jessica Pressler. “That’s a terrible thing. Okay? This is not the Soviet Union. This is the United States of America. That’s what I remember. Guess what,” he said, almost shouting at Pressler. “It’s a free. Fucking. Country.”

It may be a free country, but taxpayers and customers are going to pay dearly for J.P. Morgan Chase’s business practices.

Here’s a list of some of the controversies surrounding J.P Morgan:

• The New York Times recently reported that when outside analysts discovered serious flaws in thousands of mortgages that were packaged into securities by J.P. Morgan Chase, the bank either ignored the criticisms or watered them down. Evidence of J.P. Morgan’s handling of the outside reviews surfaced in emails disclosed in a lawsuit brought by investors who said they were misled about the value of the $1.6 billion in the packaged mortgage investments.

• The bank is also one of three U.S. banks under investigation for its role in manipulating the LIBOR interest rate, which determines the interest charged for a wide variety of retail and commercial loans. Authorities have already fined the British Barclays Bank $452 million for its role in the manipulation. The cost of LIBOR rigging to taxpayers is estimated at around $3 billion.

  • J.P Morgan paid $228 million and admitted wrongdoing to settle accusations that it rigged bids to win municipal bond business. Prosecutors said the bank entered into secret agreements with bidding agents to improperly see competitors’ bids..
  • The bank has agreed to pay authorities about $2 billion to settle claims of  massive fraud and abuse in its foreclosure process across the country.
  • In 2011, the bank apologized for overcharging thousands of veterans on their mortgages and improperly foreclosed on others while they were on active duty overseas. J. P Morgan agreed to pay more than $30 million in damages.

In each of these cases, the amount of penalties is hardly going to worry J.P. Morgan, the country’s second-largest financial institution. In the fourth quarter of 2012, the company enjoyed record profits of $5.7 billion, up 53 percent over the same period a year earlier, on revenues of $23.7 billion.

Meanwhile, Dimon has found time to join with other top CEOs to champion a grand bargain to reduce the federal deficit, similar to the Simpson-Bowles plan that grew out of President Obama’s fiscal crisis commission. Dimon and other CEO’s have bravely concluded that the best way to reduce America’s debt is to shred the social safety net that Americans who suffered most through our deep recession have been clinging to.

Does Jamie Dimon’s track record really qualify him to offer us advice on the best way to fund the government and deliver essential government services like Social Security and Medicare. We can’t stop him from offering his two cents, but that’s about what’s it worth. While we’re free to ignore him, our politicians not so much, since J.P. Morgan’s PAC and individuals associated with the company spent $3.7 million on the 2012 elections. And while it favored Republicans, the bank still donated more than $236,000 to President Obama. Unless we decide to say otherwise, that could buy Jaime Dimon a lot of freedom.