Bubba to Britain?
Death and Texas
Welcome to the Fund House
Multinational Legions
Sex Change in the Chapel
Elvis on the Line

Post-Presidential Clinton
Bubba to Britain?

As time runs out and Bill Clinton pulls heartstrings in nostalgia-laden speeches at Democratic fundraisers, details of his post-presidential plans are slowly emerging. First came reports that Clinton might not be spending much time at the family's Chappaqua estate. Last month, the president said he wanted to stay with his mother-in-law, Dorothy Rodham, in Little Rock while working on his library. Now the London press is reporting that Clinton is looking for a place to live while teaching at Oxford. Tony Blair is said to have launched security preparations for the president's arrival in the English countryside.

Death-house photo-op: Geraldo Rivera exits after "last interview" with Gary Graham.
photo: Andrew Lichtenstein
Death-house photo-op: Geraldo Rivera exits after "last interview" with Gary Graham.

Meanwhile, Clinton is reported to be taking steps to ease the painful return to private life among his inner circle. Soon after he was sworn in in 1993, Clinton signed a tough executive order requiring administration officials to wait five years after departing government before lobbying any federal agency for which they previously had any responsibility. The order also forbids lobbying for a foreign country. (Before Clinton took office, a ban on lobbying by former administration officials required only a one-year "cooling-off period.")

Washington being what it is, this effort to "uphold the highest possible ethical standards" didn't mean much, since any former official can sit in a K Street office hatching lobbying strategies and send out junior partners to do the dirty work.

Even so, it's been an annoyance, and now Clinton, who has caused his inner circle so much distress and embarrassment—not to mention legal expense—during the Lewinsky mess, is reported by a White House spokesperson to be reviewing the executive order with an eye toward relaxing its inconvenient details.

Dubya's Lethal Lessons
Death & Texas

People surely mistake the growing public obsession with the death-row lottery as some sort of precursor to reform and abolition. Nothing could be further from the truth. Only one state, Illinois, now has a moratorium on executions and another, Maryland, is considering one. Meanwhile, the tumbrels are rolling! Since the death penalty was restored in 1976, 625 people have been executed, 133 of them in Texas while George W. Bush has been governor. Illustrating the public's confusion on the matter, a recent Texas poll found that 55 percent of respondents think the death penalty is unfair, but 75 percent of them approve of it.

"We need the death penalty," one woman told CNN after Gary Graham's execution last week. "We need to teach our children . . . uh, our children are all spoiled rotten. . . . " Still, capital punishment is an expensive form of education, according to one Duke University study, which found that more than $1 billion has been spent in the U.S. since 1976 to administer the death penalty.

Public executions may come even sooner than we think—i.e., when the first TV reporter worms his or her way into a witness room and shoots the execution with a hidden camera in the manner of the infamous Daily News photo of Ruth Schneider being electrocuted in the 1920s. If the ratings are good, we might even see a new hit show, Nonsurvivor, with replays of killings around the world, from stonings in Saudi Arabia to hangings in Singapore to dismemberment in Afghanistan.

Gambling With Workers' 401(k)s
Welcome to the Fund House

The most significant story of the U.S. economy during the Clinton years is not the roaring bull market, but the deliberate dismantling of the pension system conducted under the watchful and approving eyes of the highest officials of the administration and their lapdogs in the labor unions.

Using the trillions of dollars held in trust for workers to build a mutual fund house of cards must amount to the biggest economic ripoff in U.S. history. To get an idea of just how America's new pension system, the 401(k), can be misused, consider a recent class-action lawsuit brought, under the RICO laws, against New York Life Insurance Co. by James A. Mehling, a respected former vice president of the the firm. It's seldom that top executives emerge from the boardroom to spill their guts in public, so the story is important.

The suit, filed in federal district court in Philadelphia, charges the insurance giant with manipulating its employees' retirement plans, and then sacking Mehling for trying to blow the whistle. (The company denies the charges.) Mehling alleges that, beginning in 1991, New York Life's top officials used employee retirement funds as seed money for separate mutual funds New York Life was attempting to launch. The suit claims that during 1994 and 1995, hundreds of millions of dollars were siphoned into these MainStay Institutional Funds. It also alleges that siphoning was key to the existence of the mutual funds, since the fees charged to investors were too small to cover costs, and the funds' market performance was spotty.

"For example," the complaint states, "when outside investors in the new International Equity [a mutual fund], who had held a majority of the assets. . . began fleeing the fund in 1997-1998, the defendants pumped tens of millions of dollars in pension plan assets into the fund to keep it from collapsing. During one year, when half of the fund's outsidemoney left . . . the pension plans went from having a $40 million stake in the fund, which represented 38 percent of the fund's assets, to having over $100 million, or 75 percent, of the fund's assets."

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