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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Republicans like taking problems out of Washington, DC and devolving them to the states. And damned if they don't practice what they preach!

Like the problem of GOP hokum-peddlers and their comically and offensively retrograde views on race, for instance.

Now that Trent Lott's out of the way, or at least out of the GOP Senate leadership, this 'problem' seems to be devolving to the several states in a big way. On Wednesday night we spotlighted the estimable Doug White, Republican President of the Ohio Senate, who has a tendency to use the word 'jew' as a verb and, apparently, rubs the heads of black people for good luck.

Now we're on to Randy Ridgel, a member of the Board of Directors of the California GOP, who just fired off a letter to GOP activists about Shannon Reeves, a black member of the Board, who recently said the GOP has treated blacks like "window dressing." (Reeves' comments were in response to the last California race imbroglio in which a candidate vying to head the state party, Bill Back, had to apologize for republishing an article which was a touch soft on slavery.) Ridgel, whom the Times calls "a retired white rancher from rural Lake County," might also be a future candidate for the 'cracker defense.' But, alas, we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Ridgel is mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore. According to today's LA Times Ridgel's letter read, in part ...

"I, for one, am getting bored with that kind of garbage. Let me offer this suggestion to Mr. Reeves: 'Get over it, bucko. You don't know squat about hardship.' ... I personally don't give a damn about your color ... so stop parading it around. We need human beings of all human colors in our party to pull their weight, so get in without the whining or get out."
Never one to go on the defensive, Ridgel also endorsed the earlier pro-confederate, sorta-kinda pro-slavery article. "Most of the poor devils [i.e., newly-emancipated slaves] had no experience fending for themselves, so they fared worse than before the war and during the war," Ridgel opined in his letter. Ridgel says he might even republish the original article. "You sure as hell won't see me apologize to these turkeys," he insisted.

No doubt, we'll soon be hearing more from the D.W. Griffith wing of the Republican party.

This morning's Times Op-Ed page has one of those examples of just how important a voice Paul Krugman's is. Don't miss it. The Bush administration promised their fiscal policy wouldn't lead to deficits. When it did they made excuses and said it wouldn't be for long. Now that the deficits are huge and there as far as the eye can see, they say deficits never really mattered in the first place. Bad policy, bad character, and eventually -- one has to assume and hope -- bad politics.

The Cracker Defense! Why didn't Trent Lott think of that?

Ohio Senate President Doug White recently got into trouble for using the phrase "Jew them down" at a fundraising event just before last November's election. When called on the remark, White said he wasn't aware the phrase was considered offensive and pled his rural upbringing as a defense. "Hillbillies use certain ways, briar-hoppers use certain ways. I'm a hillbilly." The phrase, White said, only meant "to be a sound bargainer, to be an effective bargainer - I wish I were a better bargainer."

White later saw the error of his ways and apologized. "I said, 'Look guys, I'm as sorry as I can be. Call me ignorant, but don't call me anti-Semitic. That's just not me.' I'm rural."

But White's other rural ways may now be catching up with him too. It seems the aptly-named Mr. White has the rather archaic habit of rubbing the heads of nearby African-Americans in order to put himself on the right side of the fates. Dayton Mayor, and former state senator, Rhine McLin told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that White had now and again rubbed her head or shoulder for good luck when she served in the senate. "McLin, who is black, said the conduct dates back to a superstition that rubbing a black person brings good fortune," says the article in today's edition. "Although offended by the conduct, McLin said she never complained to White or asked him to stop. Instead, she said she tried to stay out of his way."

White is now disputing the head-rubbing charge. And his fellow senate Republicans are rallying to his defense.

Special thanks to TPM reader JDW for bringing this to TPM's attention.

Just how much evidence do we need? How much evidence that pretty much every miscue and goof that comes out of the Bush White House will sooner or later be found to have Dick Cheney's fingerprints all over it? The White House is now taking hits on two fronts -- hits which, by most accounts, are the driving factors behind the president's slipping job approval numbers. One of those hits is over the North Korea crisis, the other is tied to the increasingly negative reaction to president's stimulus package.

As we've noted earlier, the policy of confrontation on the Korean Peninsula, which the administration is now running away from and which has gotten the US into such a jam, was most forcefully backed by Cheney.

There is also a growing consensus that the president's new stimulus/tax cut plan is a loser both politically and in policy terms. Democratic opposition is to be expected, certainly, though perhaps not unanimous opposition. But the president's real problem is deteriorating support among Senate Republicans. Public support is tepid at best. Out of the gate with a quick gallop, the plan has been getting iffy to bad press ever since. (David Broder: "It Reeks of Politics," Jan. 12, 03 ... ) True, the 'dividend tax cut' doesn't have quite the sound of the 'yacht basin wet slip rental fee tax credit' but it still just doesn't seem to sell all that well.

Not surprisingly, the prime mover, as Major Garrett reports in the current issue of the Weekly Standard, was none other than Dick Cheney.

In spite of all the evidence most beltway chatterers still insist on seeing Cheney as the White House's shrewdest political hand. But they don't know Dick. Someday someone is going to put together an article cataloging just how many screw-ups Dick Cheney has been responsible for in the last two years. Or wait a minute ...

Some of the most sensible things said so far about the Korea situation and 1994 agreement are to be found in former Assistant Secretary of State Jamie Rubin's comments this morning on CNN (transcript to come later) and Colin Powell's comments to the Wall Street Journal in this morning's paper. The 1994 agreement was a stopgap, an agreement meant to address the immediate threat posed by North Korea's plutonium production facilities. It accomplished that and was followed by subsequent negotiations on ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons and other issues. (Conservatives, hawks, and yahoos who criticize the 1994 agreement or call it appeasement do so by comparing it to their imagined resolution of the 1994 crisis -- one brought about by force and/or their indomitable will and uncompromising moral clarity. The failure of that approach today is but one indication of its almost inevitable result back then.) The bright idea of the hawks, led by Dick Cheney, was to abandon that process or any effort to improve on the 1994 accords (Powell's approach) in favor of isolating the North Koreans into either submission or implosion (what Fareed Zakaria recently called "a policy of cheap rhetoric and cheap shots.") Powell and company are now trying to walk that policy back and replace it with one brought about by a mix of threats and inducements, which will build on and improve the 1994 Agreed Framework. If we're lucky we'll get the standard story: mess created by the Cheney and company, cleaned up by Powell, with the upshot of the detour being a lot of (hopefully remediable) collateral damage to our alliances and standing in the world.

Okay, I admit it. Even I'm a bit North Korea-ed out at this point. But let's run down a few quick points.

War may not be likely on the Korean Peninsula and not even a certainty in Iraq, but the White House's war against the English language is already into its second or third major engagement. Yesterday at the White House just about every reporter in the press corps, it seems, took a stab at getting Fleischer to explain why Jim Kelly's suggestion that energy aid might come in response to North Korean nuclear cooperation wasn't what it sounded like, i.e., a possible quid pro quo. It's an entertaining performance. Even some of the more adminstration-helpful members of the press couldn't help calling Fleischer out on this ridiculousness.

Meanwhile, we have another example of the administration's incompetence and disorganization which played a major role in getting us to this point in the first place. Yesterday, as we just noted, Jim Kelly laid out the possibility of a new aid-for-nuclear-cooperation agreement with the North. In this morning's Washington Post, however, an unnamed administration official from the hawk camp says "Kelly went off the reservation" and that "he should not have planted that seed."

Here's the point: if your chosen Korea point man (Kelly) goes to the region and makes a major announcement and is then undercut or repudiated by other officials back home, by definition, that's a screw up. Whoever's right, whoever's got the right policy, it's a screw up. One hand doesn't know what the other's doing. The administration can't negotiate effectively with its allies or 'talk' with the North Koreans because it hasn't even gotten to the bottom of its negotiations with itself.

And the game seems to be commenced on this issue of when the administration found out about the North Koreans uranium-enrichment program. In his comments yesterday Fleischer seemed to say that the administration was readying a new package, a new overture to the North Koreans last Fall, before it found out about their violation of the 1994 agreement ...

Q Ari, on North Korea, are you saying it is now okay for American officials to talk about what North Korea could expect from good behavior after it comes back into compliance?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's nothing new. American officials have said that since Jim Kelly went to Korea and met with Korean officials and said we are prepared to offer a bold package for North Korea, until it was clear that you had violated the existing agreements that you made.

However, as we've noted, former Clinton administration officials are saying this was known about in 1999 and 2000 and that they briefed the incoming Bush administration officials on this in January 2001. That raises the question of why the administration chose to press the matter when they did and, more importantly, why they failed to press it earlier. (We'll say more on what we think the answer to that question is in a subsequent post.) The administration's claim seems even more strained given the fact that this unclassified (i.e., public) CIA report to Congress, covering the second half of 2001, states...
"During this time frame, P'yongyang has continued attempts to procure technology worldwide that could have applications in its nuclear program. The North has been seeking centrifuge-related materials in large quantities to support a uranium enrichment program. It also obtained equipment suitable for use in uranium feed and withdrawal systems."
Perhaps it's possible that this report was retrospectively revised to cover information discovered later? But I find that unlikely. In any case, there's still that matter of Clinton's waiver, which seems to tell the story. If the CIA was saying in public reports back then that the North Koreans had embarked on a uranium enrichment program you have to figure that they had much more extensive information which they were not publicly disclosing. If that's the case, is it all credible that the administration didn't know about it until just a few months ago?

Second or third-level State Department appointees seldom get that much attention in the press. But the crisis on the Korean Peninsula has made Assistant Secretary of State James A. Kelly an exception.

It was Kelly, as noted in the post below, who just announced that the Bush administration is now willing to make a deal not unlike the one the Clinton administration made in 1994. Indeed, almost all the major exchanges between the US and the South Koreans and the North Koreans over the last couple months have been with Jim Kelly.

Now, let's run through some basic points about Jim Kelly.

I would argue that, broadly speaking and in the context of the Korea situation, Kelly is one the administration's good guys. (This is at least a bit generous of me since last March Kelly personally accused me of being a practitioner of "hack journalism" during a question and answer session after a speech before the US-China Policy Foundation. I had just written an article in the New Republic sharply critical of the appointment of Kelly's friend Douglas H. Paal as US envoy to Taiwan.) As Colin Powell's Asia policy person, Kelly has been one of those in the administration trying to keep the administration to something like a sensible policy in North Asia. In many respects they were unsuccessful. But they were on the right side of the debate and now it's left to them to clean up the mess the hawks made.

In any case, here are a few other issues which have come up during Kelly's tenure and place that tenure in some perspective.

Prior to joining the administration, Kelly was the head of something called the Pacific Forum, the Hawaii branch of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a major DC think tank.

Last year TPM's article in Salon and another in the Washington Post revealed that Kelly had used the Pacific Forum to help Taiwan's National Security Bureau funnel $100,000 to a former minister of the Japanese government, Vice Defense Minister Masahiro Akiyama, in return for his assistance, while in office, in helping Taiwan get included under the United States' proposed missile defense shield. The money was for Akiyama's support during a two-year stint at Harvard University after his forced resignation from the Japanese government in January 1998. The money was from a secret $100 million slush fund controlled by then-Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui and used to buy influence with governments, individuals and organizations in various foreign countries, including the United States. (The details of the arrangement -- and the ethical issues raised by it -- are quite complicated. I encourage you to read either my piece or the Post piece for more details.)

Another part of Kelly's background raised the hackles of DC's China-hawks. From December 1995 to January 2001, Kelly served on the board of Dan Form Holdings, a real estate and construction company with major holdings in Hong Kong and a number of major projects on the Chinese mainland. The CEO of Dan Form Holdings was a man named Dai Xiaoming, one of the accused in the 1997 Asian fundraising scandal. In fact, Kelly served on Dai's board at the same time Dai became a key subject of controversy. As the Washington Post reported on May 13th, 1997 ...

At a $100,000 DNC fund-raiser held by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and her husband, Richard C. Blum, in San Francisco, Huang showed up with Dai Xiaoming, a Hong Kong businessman with Beijing ties. Clinton was the featured guest.

Huang told DNC officials that Dai was a prominent California businessman who wanted to contribute $50,000 to Clinton's reelection, though no such contribution shows up in contribution records. In fact, Dai had bought control of a Hong Kong property development concern from Lippo two years earlier, with financing from the Bank of China, Beijing's largest state-owned commercial bank. "John misled us on that," a DNC official said. "He really wanted [Dai] to be there."

To the best of our knowledge, Kelly has never been asked about any of this.

Of more concern to DC's China-hawks is Dan Form Holdings' ties to Chen Yuan, one of the highest profile of China's so-called 'princelings,' the sons and daughters of the elite of the Communist Party. (In 1994, The Economist called Chen "the most powerful of the princelings.") By most accounts, Chen, now Governor of the China Development Bank, is the power and the source of money behind Dai. In other words, Dai is, shall we say, Chen's man in Hong Kong. For more on the Dan Form Holdings story, see this April 5th 2002 TPM Post.

As China-hawks look at the current situation and Kelly's role in it, that connection is sure to play into their thinking.

Several days ago we predicted that the Bush administration's awkward climb-down would end with their embracing a policy close to, if not identical to, that pursued by the Clinton administration: i.e., a mix of threats and offers of aid to induce the North Koreans to abandon their nuclear program. And now we have the other shoe dropping. After a meeting with South Korean officials this morning in Seoul, Assistant Secretary of State James A. Kelly said that "Once we get beyond nuclear weapons, there may be opportunities with the U.S., with private investors, with other countries to help North Korea in the energy area." It's a grudging statement. But the interpretation of Lee Chung Min, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Yonsei University, quoted in the Washington Post has it just right. "It is a concession, a change of position. It's an indication of the Bush administration really wanting to settle this diplomatically and probably under a lot of pressure to do so."

We've already been noting the unseemly manner in which the Bush administration and those close to it have started picking a fight with South Korea in part because of the administration's inability to grapple with the crisis with North Korea. Now -- predictably I guess, since this is the responsibility era -- at least one "senior Bush administration official" is telling the Washington Post that it's all Bill Clinton's fault.

In fact, the article itself doesn't include any clear argument on the part of the senior official as to why it's all Bill Clinton's fault. But to shed more light on this, let's look at some emerging information about just when the US became aware of the North Koreans' clandestine uranium-enrichment program.

Last week in The Nelson Report -- which is becoming the source for information on this whole evolving story -- Chris Nelson revealed that the Clinton administration first found out about the illicit program in 1999, though at the time the much more pressing issue was North Korea's ballistic missile program. Nelson quotes a staff source saying "The Clinton Administration was near an agreement on cutting off missile production, as well as a resolution of the [uranium-based] nuclear program, to ensure North Korea did not become a nuclear power."

Now, what sort of agreement were the Clintonites near in 1999 or 2000? I don't know. Nelson's reporting makes clear, however, that whatever plan or agreement the previous administration did or didn't have in the works, they fully briefed the Bush administration on North Korea's uranium enrichment program in January 2001.

In other words, when Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly confronted the North Koreans with evidence about their uranium-enrichment program, this wasn't information the Bush administration had just discovered. It was information they'd been sitting on for almost two years.

If the uranium-enrichment program was so important -- and it is -- why didn't they do anything about it until a couple months ago? Why did they sit on this information for almost two years?

The available evidence seems to suggest that while their main efforts were focused on the ballistic missile issue, the Clinton administration was trying to resolve the uranium-enrichment program issue by securing yet another deal. Conservatives may disagree with that strategy, calling it appeasement, or bribing the North Koreans, or whatever. But they seem to have been doing something -- even if it was something conservatives don't put much stock in. From the best we can see at the moment, however, the Bush administration found out about this information in January 2001 and went almost two years doing nothing about it at all.

I happen to know that at least one administration hawk is fiercely denying this rendition of events. But thus far, only with non-denial denials.

Some critics claim that what I have been arguing in these virtual pages is that the Bush administration simply shouldn't have called the North Koreans out on their uranium-enrichment program. This has never been my argument. What I am saying is, first, that the administration has spent the last two years pursuing a confused, provocative, and counterproductive policy which played a significant role in fomenting this crisis and, possibly, complicating a potential solution. Secondly, one has to question the timing of seeking a showdown over the North Koreans' uranium-enrichment program just as the US is girding itself for a major regional war on the other side of the globe. If we had just found out about it, then perhaps it's pressing enough to bring it up right now even though it complicates the Iraq situation and threatens to leave us awkwardly overextended. Perhaps. But if the administration had been sitting on the information for almost two years, what possible rationale could there be for choosing this moment to blow the whistle? What other explanation beside incompetence?

Another entry from the annals of oops.

Another crucial task for the United States is to focus on relations with other powerful states. Although the United States is fortunate to count among its friends several great powers, it is important not to take them for granted-so that there is a firm foundation when it comes time to rely on them. The challenges of China and North Korea require coordination and cooperation with Japan and South Korea. The signals that we send to our real partners are important. Never again should an American president go to Beijing for nine days and refuse to stop in Tokyo or Seoul.

Condoleezza Rice
Foreign Affairs
Jan/Feb 2000
Many analysts say the growing anti-Americanism here has emboldened North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il, to ratchet up the confrontation because he is secure that the Bush administration cannot wage war against him, or even contain him, without the support of South Korea, and equally secure that such support is lacking.

...

Through the Cold War and the last decade, governments in Washington and Seoul danced in lockstep. But that changed under the rule of South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, whose "sunshine policy" toward the North has relied upon engagement and reconciliation, expanding trade and aid while reuniting families divided by the Demilitarized Zone.

While Bill Clinton was in power, the sunshine policy caused no discord. But when President Bush came into office and branded North Korea part of an "axis of evil," along with Iraq and Iran, it embarrassed Kim and caused a cleavage in Seoul's dealings with Washington.

Peter S. Goodman and Joohee Cho
Washington Post
January 09, 2003
Oops ...

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