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"There are a lot of banks that are actually pretty well-managed -- JP Morgan being a good example … I don't think [CEO Jamie Dimon] should be punished for doing a pretty good job managing an enormous portfolio."
--President Obama, yesterday
Aw, shucks, Mr. President. Just as the uproar over nationalization reaches epic proportions, you go and throw your support behind the nation's largest bank, JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) . Yesterday, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told Congress that, in light of the fragile state of financial markets, it was inappropriate to comment on any specific institution's health. I'm not a JPMorgan shareholder, but I'd imagine many of them would thank you for breaking that rule.
The president is right, of course. Of the major banks, JPMorgan is the only one that still resembles a live, breathing, bank. Its two major competitors -- Citigroup (NYSE: C ) and Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) -- are struggling to tread water. Of the three, JPMorgan is the only one that still pays a noteworthy dividend -- once the main appeal of bank stocks. The House of Morgan is down only 43% in the past year, while the other two have each plunged 87%. For shareholders -- and heck, taxpayers -- the difference is night and day.
But let's go back to the context on Obama's comment: CEO Jamie Dimon has been a bona fide rock star, and therefore doesn't deserve to be punished alongside his fail-happy peers. Sure, JPMorgan received $25 billion in TARP funds, but I'd throw it in the same pile as Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC ) : obliged to take money it probably didn't need.
So following Obama's logic that Dimon doesn't deserve punishment, does that mean Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit and Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis -- along with countless other gainfully employed Wall Streeters -- do deserve punishment?
YES! WE! CAN!
I believe it does. If the president found it appropriate to point out Jamie Dimon's success by name, why not address individual failures in an equally specific fashion? Why not stand before the nation and call for Ken Lewis to step down? Or better yet, why not just fire him personally, like Ronald Reagan did to 11,000 unruly air-traffic control workers in 1981? Face it: These companies are all wards of the state. Uncle Sam is one of the largest stakeholders, if not the largest. If someone from the government found a reason to justify waterboarding, I think someone can find a legitimate reason to fire the CEO of a bank that has singlehandedly mugged taxpayers.
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