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Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013 01:24 pm

Jamie gets punished

If you are sensitive to stories of human suffering and economic hardship, let me warn you that the following report contains material that could be upsetting, so discretion is advised.

It’s about a fellow named Jamie. He lives in New York City, and he has recently had a very rough go with a large financial institution. The giant in this case is JPMorgan Chase, Wall Street’s biggest bank, and it went after poor Jamie Dimon hard. In the end, the bank took more than half his income.

It was a bitterly painful experience, but Jamie’s story has turned from sad to uplifting! Luckily, he had something big going for him in this fight: JPMorgan is his bank. I don’t mean he banks there; he’s the CEO.

On Jan. 16, it was announced that JPMorgan’s board of directors had docked his pay, awarding him some $12 million less this year. But there’s no need to cry for Jamie. He still is hauling home $11.5 million.

He certainly did have a very bad year in 2012. He presided over a stunning $6.2 billion loss by the bank’s chief investment office, due to finagling or incompetence, or both – federal authorities are still investigating. But the high-rolling denizens of Wall Street were shocked by the level of punishment meted out by the bank’s board, widely condemning it as harsh. However, Dimon himself merely said of the board’s action: “I respect their decision.”

JPMorgan’s board told regulators it didn’t consider canning the chief because he had “accepted responsibility.”

Wow! He cost the bank’s investors six big ones, but by saying, in effect, “my bad,” his bungling still is rewarded with an outsized paycheck. And, get this, $10 million of the $11.5 million he got was awarded to him as a bonus!

Incredibly, the bank’s 12 board members are now actually celebrating themselves as a bold governing body. The unanimous vote to slash Dimon’s pay, they say, shows that – by gollies – we’re an effective, take-charge watchdog, keeping the top management of the nation’s biggest bank in check. That they can even say something so absurd speaks volumes about the laissez-faire myth that the corporations don’t need government regulation, since they have private boards to oversee them.

Perhaps you’re asking yourself: “Who are these toothless watchdogs?” Well, Dimon, himself, is one of them.

Most of the other 11 members of Dimon’s board are multimillionaires who are current or former top executives of such corporate powers as Boeing, ExxonMobil, Honeywell, Johnson & Johnson and NBC. They identify with one of their own and share the top dog’s sense of entitlement, so they are predisposed to lavish lots and lots of the shareholders cash on The Boss.

Lee Raymond, former CEO of Exxon, is one of JPMorgan’s most influential directors. He heads the compensation committee of the board and was in charge of giving Dimon his “haircut.” But Raymond is congenitally soft on CEO pay. In his 13 years at the helm of the oil giant, he pocketed a total of $686 million in pay. That’s $144,000 a day! Plus a car. Then he got a retirement package worth another $400 million.

“Corporate governance” is a joke, but it’s not at all funny. By pampering top executives, these brother-in-law boards are dangerously exacerbating income inequality in America. The joke’s on us.

Jim Hightower is national radio commentator, columnist and author.
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