Thursday, September 8, 2016

Hold the Applause

Do what thy manhood bid thee do,
From none but self expect applause.
Sir Richard Francis Burton

An ad that was run by the Trump campaign hours after the Republican convention ended answers a question that those of us who have watched speeches given by Mr. Trump have asked ourselves. The question is posed by the way in which Mr. Trump makes his appearance when coming on stage before giving a speech. There are, of course, countless ways that a person preparing to give a speech can come onto the stage.

Someone who is preparing to make an important speech about a substantive matter is often seated on the stage next to the person who is going to introduce the speaker. When the introduction is completed the speaker, and the person who has made the introduction shake hands or briefly hug, and the speaker, as expected, speaks.

In a more raucous setting such as Saturday Night Live or one of the late night television shows, the moderator announces the name of the next guest with great enthusiasm, and the guest comes running out onto the stage from the back, waves eagerly at the crowd, and enthusiastically shakes hands with the moderator before beginning to perform. (Sometimes the hand shaking occurs only after the guest has done whatever it was he or she was invited to do.)

The politician who attends a campaign event in which a speech is to be made, ordinarily passes by a throng of admirers arranged behind the podium, shakes hands and poses for selfies with that group, and waves enthusiastically to those in front of the podium, making eye contact with and smiling amicably at a few familiar faces the candidate spots in the crowd in order to let them know they have been recognized by the speaker. That is done in order to give the recipient of the smile a warm feeling, and inspires him or her to write another check to the candidate’s campaign.

Those are not the only ways in which speakers make their appearance before an audience they intend to address. Mr. Trump has introduced us to another. Frequently, when Mr. Trump appears in the kinds of settings described above, he engages extensively in self-applause. It is not so vigorous as to be audible but is a gesture of self-satisfaction and self-approval. Many of my readers may be unfamiliar with the term “self-applause” and it can best be understood by referring to synonyms for that word that are found on line. They include “pretentious, bombastic, cocky, pompous, arrogant, conceited, egotistical, know-it-all, puffed-up, snooty, vain glorious, full of hot air and swollen-headed.” Any one of those words is a perfect description of Mr. Trump. (For those who like to define words by referring to their antonyms, some of the antonyms that come up when searching the internet include “humble, modest, and self-deprecating.” None of those words comes to mind when considering Donald Trump.)

Although the act of self-applauding affords an excellent description of Mr. Trump when he appears before a crowd, the question remains why he finds it necessary to applaud himself instead of using the time dedicated to self-applause to shaking hands and waving at supporters as others in his position normally do. The answer is that he believes that applause is the most important part of an appearance, even if the applause comes in part from himself. Nothing shows the value he places on applause better that an ad he ran immediately after the Republican convention. The ad ran for 45 seconds and was simple, but effective, as any of my readers who takes the time to look at it, will agree.

There was no narrative in the ad. It starts with a picture of Mr. Trump with his mouth open and his thumb and first or second finger touching, to form an “O” that mirrors his open mouth. (The use of the thumb and forefinger touching is a typical gesture made by Mr. Trump when speaking and helps him emphasize the importance of what he is saying.) Following the opening picture of Mr. Trump, the first words to appear are “75 MINUTES Total Speech Time,” accompanied by an image of Mr. Trump talking, followed a few seconds later by images of an enthusiastic convention crowd over which the words “24 MINUTES total applause,” appear and then a few seconds later, the words “33% Time Spent Applauding.” (The ad first appeared only a couple of hours after the speech had been given, and there was not time for the mathematicians on Mr. Trump’s staff to check the time spent applauding which was, in fact, only 32% and not 33%. That, however, does not take away from the effectiveness of the ad.) None of the images accompanying the ad shows Mr. Trump self-applauding and it is safe to assume the time he spent doing that was not included in the calculation of total applause time since were it otherwise, the numbers would almost certainly be very different. (His words are usually preceded by long periods during which he acknowledges the adulation of his audience by self-applauding.) At first blush it seems odd that Mr. Trump would place more importance on the minutes devoted to applause than to the substance of his speech. Upon considering the substance of his speech, however, it makes perfect sense.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Dimon is Forever

A power has risen up in the government greater than the people themselves, consisting of many and various and powerful interests . . . and held together by the cohesive power of the vast surplus in the banks.
— John Calhoun, May 27, 1836 Speech

The purpose of this column is to try to help Morgan Chase credit card holders understand the reasons for the recent correspondence from that institution advising them of the increases in interest rates being imposed on them when they use their cards for cash advances as defined in the agreements they signed when obtaining the cards.

The notice that was sent out by the bank to many, if not all, its credit card holders, informs them that pursuant to the agreement they signed when they applied for their credit cards, the annual percentage rate they were being charged for things identified as cash advances that include, among other things, wire transfers, purchase of travelers checks, foreign currency, and similar transactions, will incur a new annual percentage rate that is approximately 5% higher than the old rate. Whereas the old rate was calculated by adding only 15.99% to the prime rate as published in the Wall Street Journal, the new rate will be calculated by adding 21.74% to the prime rate.

A number of you has inquired whether increasing the interest rate is an attempt by the bank to compensate for the fines and penalties the bank has regularly been paying for its assorted misdeeds since 2009. During that period Morgan Chase has paid $38 billion in penalties and fines as a result of 22 settlements it entered into with bank regulators.

Readers may wonder why a bank that has paid such enormous sums of money in fines and penalties is still in business. The reason it is still in business is that the fines it has paid since 2009 are, in the bank’s overall scheme of things, a mere pittance. In July 2015, for example, Morgan Chase paid $136 million to settle claims that it illegally used robo-signing of documents without verifying what was being signed and for providing inaccurate information to buyers of accounts it was selling. Notwithstanding the penalty paid in 2015, Morgan Chase had net income of $5.4 billion that year, an increase of 10% from 2014, and net revenue of $23.7 billion, an increase of 1% from 2014. (Some readers may also wonder why such enormous fines and penalties have not resulted in anyone at the bank going to jail. The answer is that often the matters settled are not criminal in nature though they might seem so to victims of the bank’s behavior. And even when criminal, corporations, although persons for purposes of sophisticated United States Supreme Court analysis, understood by only the authors of the Court’s opinion, are not persons when it comes to going to jail.

As the foregoing shows, the penalties and fines imposed on the bank for its misconduct do not explain the need for the rise in interest rates since the bank continued to be hugely profitable, those fines and penalties notwithstanding. Hence, the only other obvious explanation for the correspondence from the bank announcing the increase in interest rates, would be that the bank is taking steps to increase the bank’s income in order to help pay for Jamie Dimon’s salary. Mr. Dimon is president and CEO of Morgan Chase, dual roles he has held since 2006, and retained following a stockholders’ effort to force him to relinquish one of those roles in 2013. Followers of Mr. Dimon’s salary will recall that in 2007 his annual compensation was $30 million, in 2009 it was $15.2 million and in 2010 and 2011 it had risen to $23 million. In 2012 the board of the bank reduced his compensation to $11.5 million, believing he was partially responsible for the trading debacle known as the London Whale case. That one-year salary reduction was believed by the board to be adequate punishment, and in 2013 and 2014 his compensation was increased to $20 million and in 2015 to $27.5 million. Since his increased salary was announced in January 2016, it is unlikely that the July notice of increased interest rates on cash advances made using credit cards was needed to help pay for Jamie Dimon’s increased salary.

Since neither poor earnings by the bank nor a need to find the money with which to pay Mr. Dimon his $27.5 million annual compensation explains why the interest rate on credit card cash advances has increased, there has to be some other explanation and, in fact, there is. Morgan Chase raised the interest rate on those credit cards because it could.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Marcos Redux

But the father answered never a word,
A frozen corpse was he.
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,

The Wreck of the Hesperus

We interrupt election news just long enough to bring you breaking news of Ferdinand Marcos, deceased. As corpses’ sojourns go, his has been one of the most enduring, due in large part to the devoted attention of his wife, Imelda. To long time readers of this column, apologies are in order since some of what is described today was reported ten years ago in this very space.

Ferdinand moved to Hawaii in 1986, having been overthrown as president of the Philippines in a People Power Revolution. His move was assisted by President Ronald Reagan who arranged for the United States Air Force to provide two U.S. Air Force C-141s to carry the Marcos family, its retainers and belongings to Hawaii. Sadly, Mr. Marcos’s sojourn there was cut short by his death on September 28, 1989. His death marked the end of one adventure but the beginning of another, an adventure that will end on September 18, 2016, when he will come to rest in the Heroes Cemetery in Manila.

The question that was presented to the family, following Ferdie’s death in 1989, was what to do with his corpse. Imelda wanted him buried in the Philippines, but the government there would not permit the family or the corpse to return to the country. Barred from returning Ferdie to the Philippines, Imelda bought a refrigerated casket into which he was placed. In order to provide him with amusement, Imelda arranged for Handel’s Messiah to be played inside the casket 24 hours a day. Ever thoughtful, in 1990, on the occasion of Ferdie’s birthday, Imelda arranged for a birthday party and Ferdie was wheeled into the party to a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” sung by the guests in attendance at the festivities. Notwithstanding the pleasant surroundings and the musical casket, Imelda wanted to return to the Philippines with Ferdie so that he could be given a proper burial. In 1990 she was permitted to return in and 1992, the frozen corpse followed her.

Once he was back in the Philippines, Imelda wanted Ferdie buried in the Heroes Cemetery in Manilla but the country’s president refused the request, saying Ferdie could only be buried in his hometown of Batac. Accordingly, Ferdie was taken to Batac, and placed in a glass coffin beneath the Seal of the Presidency in front of an eternal flame. According to reports at the time, Handel’s Messiah was replaced by an unidentified piece by Mozart, a welcome substitution, one assumes, irrespective of how fond one is of Handel’s Messiah. For the ceremony in Batac, Ferdinand was wearing a white Barong long-sleeved shirt and a rainbow colored chest sash bearing medals from World War II. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Imelda said that the burial was only temporary. When, in the future, permission was granted for a burial in the Heroes Cemetery, she, ever the optimist said: “We’ll dig him up and move him down and bury him again. We do that all the time.” Following the Batac burial, the saga continued.

In March 1997, a dispute arose between the Marcos family and the Ilocos Norte Electric Cooperative that was keeping Ferdie cold and providing his musical entertainment. Ilocos was upset that there were $214,500 in unpaid electric bills for cooling and Mozart. The word on the street was that without cooling, Ferdie would last at most seven days. A utility company spokesman said after that, things would become, to use his words, “messy.” The dispute over the unpaid bill was resolved before that happened.

Following the dispute over cooling the family chilled out until September 12, 2006 when it was reported that Imelda had given up trying to put Ferdie in the Heroes Cemetery in Manila and was going to place him, instead, in a plot on the family property in his hometown. That, everyone thought, was that. But Ferdie’s peregrinations were not yet over.

On August 13, 2016, it was announced that Ferdie would once again be on the move. His new final resting place is to be in the Heroes Cemetery in Manila. This came about because on July 11, 2016, Philippines President, Rodrigo Duterte, said that Ferdie could be buried in the Heroes Cemetery. According to the announcement, the military is to provide “all necessary military honors that are accorded Presidents of the Philippines. . . .” The announcement further states that the Army is to provide: “vigil, bugler/drummer, firing party, military host/pall bearers, escort and transportation, and arrival and departure honors.” The “arrival and departure” honors are probably superfluous since Ferdie is, by anyone’s calculations, long gone. The rest of the ceremony, however, is certainly going to be a ceremony to behold. He will be buried in a solid bronze casket purchased from a company in the United States. Ferdie’s son expressed the hope that the burial would bring the saga of the corpse to an end. That would seem to be a reasonable thing to hope and expect. There is no better place left to send Ferdinand.