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Hullabaloo


Saturday, July 14, 2012

 
A tale of two scandals

by digby

Dave Johnson gives us a timely reminder of a previous personal financial "scandal" that absorbed the nation for years and which was considered by the entire Village evidence of disgusting greed and corruption. Those of you who are old enough surely remember this?

Hillary Clinton Futures Trades Detailed

By Charles R. Babcock

Washington Post Staff Writer

Friday, May 27, 1994; Page A01

Hillary Rodham Clinton was allowed to order 10 cattle futures contracts, normally a $12,000 investment, in her first commodity trade in 1978 although she had only $1,000 in her account at the time, according to trade records the White House released yesterday.

The computerized records of her trades, which the White House obtained from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, show for the first time how she was able to turn her initial investment into $6,300 overnight. In about 10 months of trading, she made nearly $100,000, relying heavily on advice from her friend James B. Blair, an experienced futures trader.

The new records also raise the possibility that some of her profits -- as much as $40,000 – came from larger trades ordered by someone else and then shifted to her account, Leo Melamed, a former chairman of the Merc who reviewed the records for the White House, said in an interview. He said the discrepancies in Clinton's records also could have been caused by human error.

Even allocated trades would not necessarily have benefited Clinton, Melamed added. "I have no reason to change my original assessment. Mrs. Clinton violated no rules in the course of her transactions," he said.

Lisa Caputo, Clinton's spokeswoman, said the documents were released yesterday "to give as complete a picture as possible" of her trades. She said Clinton had never before seen them.
Dave writes:
Take a look at the 350,000-or-so web references to cattle futures trades made by Hillary Clinton way back in the 1970s. This might give you an idea of how big a deal it was back in the mid-90's that Hillary Clinton had made $100,000 (!!!) on speculative investments back in the 1970s. (The number of stories located online is possibly reduced by the fact that the media swarm happened in the mid-1990s -- largely before the Internet.)

Look at the outlets that assigned teams of reporters to investigate: All the TV networks, the Washington Post, New York Times, Newsweek, and all of the rest of the jouranilmalism crowd were all over what was considered to be a major story.

This story was investigated, written about, investigated, written about, and investigated. No evidence of any wrongdoing was ever found -- which many in the media took as clear proof that there had been a massive cover-up.
And he makes a comparison:
Compare the magnitude of Hillary's $100,000 profit to the recent disclosure of as much as $100,000,000 -- one hundred million dollars -- turning up in Mitt Romney's IRA which is a personal retirement investment vehicle that is limited to a few thousand in contributions each year. (Remember, the gains made in an IRA are not taxed.) Romney is already retired, and the one completed tax return he has disclosed shows that he currently has an income of approx. $450,000 per week.

So how did $100 million end up an an IRA that is limited to deposits of a maximum $6,000 a year (after you reach a certain age)? How many reporters has each major news organization assigned to find out why he has up to $100 million in an IRA?
(read on...)

This is the one that gets me too. It's all horrific, the off-shore accounts, the refusal to release his tax returns, all of it. But this one --- the hundred million dollar IRA --- just slays me.

Dave's got a point about the media double standards. When the futures trades scandal broke the press corps went nuts. But I think there are some other factors at work here as well.

The first is that what made the Clinton cattle futures trade so exciting was the fact that it was a mere woman who had been dabbling in high finance and it was ridiculous to believe that she could have done it herself. Moreover, it was a woman the Villagers all considered to be a bitch, so they were happy to see her her alleged intelligence assailed as phony. It's taken for granted that Mitt, on the other hand, is considered to be some sort of financial genius so it's to be expected that he'd make zillions even in the most ludicrous situations. He's a Master of the Universe after all.

Second, the numbers are so big that nobody can wrap their mind around them. Hillary's little venture into trading was something everyone could relate to and presented a simple scenario. Mitt's shenanigans are complicated and, frankly, kind of awe-inspiring to the Villagers. These are not gothic, southern small town intrigues --- it's the Big Time featuring the Very Important Rich People. They are impressed by the grandeur of it all.

Finally, the country has changed. Over the course of the last two decades we've seen a rather dramatic degradation of political norms, generally. We've had partisan impeachments, stolen elections, bogus wars and massive financial failure. People are a lot more cynical. There was a time when it would have been a reckless act of chutzpah to nominate a Vulture capitalist in the wake of the 2008 meltdown, but now it's just par for the course.

Still, it's an interesting contrast. The Whitewater scandals were all parochial, small bore plotlines that served to reinforce the notion that the president and his wife were backwoods operators out of their depth in the glittering world of the big city.The Villagers relished it (as did a good part of the nation.) This is different. Mitt's a certified member of the .001%, the ultimate winners circle, the Big Club. While I'm sure they may a tiny element of fear involved in going after him, there's also the sense that he's entitled to game the system. That's what one in his position does in this era. Why, we couldn't really respect him if he didn't, could we?

It's much different for the lower orders who must be restrained lest they start thinking they are better than they ought to be. A penny-ante land deal, some cattle futures trades showed a couple who had no money, attempting to run with people who did. In the movies that might be considered plucky American ambition. In the Village, one simply doesn't let those seams show.

While it's true that every villager thinks he or she is someone right out of a Frank Capra movie, they certainly don't want anyone to see them as people who benefited by having the skids greased by wealthy benefactors. Like all elites, they are convinced they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, even if they were born into vast wealth or privileged to attend all the best schools and mingle with the upper classes.

As David Broder famously said of Bill Clinton:
"He came in here and he trashed the place and it's not his place."
There was a time when DC might not have been Mitt Romney's place either, but that time is in the past. Having his kind of money in this day and age, no matter how vulgar his ways of obtaining it, makes him a most welcome member of the club.

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