Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

So back to the burgeoning scandal in Taiwan and how it might make it to Washington, DC. At this point the details remain murky. But here's some of what's been reported.

According to reports in Hong Kong's Sing Tao Daily and the South China Morning Post, three years ago James Kelly -- now Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific -- helped high-ranking members of the Taiwanese government use secret slush fund money to take care of a friendly Japanese politician, Masahiro Akiyama, after he had been forced to resign from the government. Akiyama had helped Taiwan leverage its way into a proposed US Theater Missile Defense.

(This article in Singapore's Straits Times says the Taiwanese also paid off Masahiro and then-Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto for their assistance helping Taiwan on Missile Defense.)

What's being alleged about Kelly is very specific. So I'm just going to quote at length from the relevant passage in the article in today's South China Morning Post:

The documents said Mr Lee [former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui] in February 1999 authorised the NSB [the National Security Bureau] to pay US$100,000 (HK$780,000) to the Pacific Forum at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think-tank with close ties to the US military establishment, to support former Japanese vice-minister for defence Masahiro Akiyama's two-year study at Harvard University after his forced resignation in October 1998 in a defence contracting scandal. Mr Kelly was then Pacific Forum president.

The report alleges the funds served as a payback for Mr Akiyama's work with Taiwan and US military officials in pushing for Taiwan's possible inclusion in the Theatre Missile Defence System provision in the Japan-US Joint Declaration on Security treaty of 1998.

In the secret document dated December 15, 1999, then NSB director Ting Yu-chou authorised the NSB to give US$100,000 to Peng Run-tzu, president of the Taiwan Transport Machinery Corporation and a close personal confident of Mr Lee, to transfer to CSIS. Mr Peng allegedly deposited the US$100,000 into a CSIS account on December 20.

In another document dated February 2, 2000, Mr Ting confirmed the transfer occurred after Mr Kelly met Mr Peng in January 15, 2000, in a Los Angeles restaurant to confirm the deposit.

More to come...

Taiwan is being rocked by a big-time slush fund scandal. Is the scandal about to hit the Bush administration too?

For the last week or more, Taiwan has been in the throes of the early stages of a major, perhaps a watershed, political scandal.

Here's the essence of it: the Taiwanese government had a slush fund -- operated through part of the state security apparatus -- which the Taiwanese leadership used to pay off, support, and assist friends and allies in other countries who were friendly to Taiwan. Oh, and also for overseas lobbying and espionage.

The existence of these funds is hardly a surprise to those familiar with Taiwanese politics. But last week a collection of documents relating to the slush fund were leaked to the Taiwan press. And that's when, well ... that's when the you-know-what hit the fan.

The government of President Chen Shui-bian reacted by seizing copies of one magazine which was publishing the documents and banning the publication of a newspaper which reported the story. Protecting national security has been the justification for these actions. And charges of treason are even a possibility.

All of this may be only a matter of passing concern unless you're a devotee of Taiwanese politics. But the scandal is now spilling over onto several senior political appointees in the Bush administration. And, truth be told, it could reach quite a bit further into the American political system.

The Bush administration connection coming later tonight ...

There's a serious political scandal brewing in Taiwan centering on illegal slush funds used to lobby and patronize political figures in and outside of Taiwan. And the South China Morning Post (the major English language daily in Hong Kong) is apparently set to publish an article (likely tomorrow, which means later today in North America) tying a senior political appointee at the US State Department to the scandal.

We've been sitting for a couple weeks on our latest addition to the TPM Document Collection. So let me just introduce it now, though only with a minimal introduction. The new dossier is our first installment of the foreign agent's registration for Richard Schechter and Wyatt Stewart on behalf of Bogoljub Karic and the Karic companies.

Karic was a big-time crony of Slobodan Milosevic who made billions of dollars in the uneven, jagged privatization of the Yugoslav economy.

This filing illustrates an extremely common practice in the foreign agency game: foreign leaders who don't want to hire DC representation themselves will often get a businessman crony to do it for them. In this case what Karic et al. wanted was very clear: they were trying to get sanctions lifted.

Schechter is a lawyer and apparently something of a real estate developer. Stewart, meanwhile was pretty clearly brought on board because of the juice he had with Republican heavies in Washington, DC. Stewart is a storied DC Republican political operative who was with the National Republican Congressional Committee back into the mid-1970s. Here's Republican uber-insider Rich Galen calling Stewart the man "whom Washington insiders know as the man who, for all intents and purposes, invented the use of direct mail in politics."

I'm still working over these documents to get a handle on precisely what was going on. But the basic outline is pretty clear. Schechter and Stewart were trying to work the Contract-With-America-era Republican power structure to make the Yugoslav sanctions into a partisan issue and hopefully get them lifted.

Here you can see how one part of the deal was that Schechter was supposed to set up a front group called the "International Committee for Peace in the Balkans" in Washington, DC.

Here you can see how he's supposed to hook Karic up with Ted Turner and Larry King.

Here you can see how Schechter was trying to pitch Karic on some hot real estate properties in Texas.

And, finally, here you can see how Schechter and Stewart were trying to convince Karic that their "very substantial relationships with the large fruit companies active in South America" could help him set up some other lucrative venture. (Sort of sounds like a set-piece for a lefty college course on Latin America, doesn't it?)

More on this soon.

We've talked a lot about Tom White in recent weeks. White, of course, is the former career army officer and former Enron Energy Services vice chairman who now serves as Secretary of the Army. What I didn't know, though, is that White is also the "interim executive agent for homeland security." In other words, he's the guy at the Pentagon in charge of protecting the mainland until they devise a new appointive position and/or military command to oversee the task.

Also on the Tom White front, you'll remember that a couple weeks ago we reported that Public Citizen was preparing to unleash a report on White's service at Enron Energy Services. They were telling folks that the report would cost White his job. "A bombshell" was how one person familiar with the report described it to me.

A week later we reported that the Public Citizen report was focused on the company's role in fomenting or exacerbating last year's California energy crisis.

So where's the report? Good question!

I've been keeping tabs on this and the word has been that they're taking their time letting the lawyers go over the report with a fine-tooth comb to make sure that everything is kosher. But it's been a while now and you start to wonder.

Maybe White dodges this bullet? Is there some problem with the report? What's the hold up exactly?

I've gotten an amazing amount of feedback about my series of posts on dual-citizenship.

I'll try to address the various points in a series of posts.

The first question to tackle is whether what we're talking about is principally an issue of 'loyalty.' I don't think it is. Unlike many conservatives I'm not worried that today's immigrants are essentially different from those of 25, 50, or 100 years ago in their basic desire to become Americans and assimilate. We could dredge up the silly and well-worn question of whether Mexican-Americans would choose Mexico or America if the two countries went to war, or whether American Jews would fight for Israel or America, or Irish-Americans for Ireland or America.

But I find these scenarios as irrelevant as they are improbable. (I'm not saying it's never an issue, just not the most important one.) We've had a long national debate over whether it's a good thing that "ethnic" Americans (if we can use that deeply problematic phrase) maintain deep social and cultural attachments to their native countries. I think it's just fine. In fact, I think it's a very good thing, a very American thing.

But it's a different issue than the question of citizenship.

Many of the responses I've gotten have raised very good points. But what strikes me about most of the ones that disagree with me is that their authors have a quite thin and what seems to me impoverished idea of citizenship.

I've received a number of emails from dual citizens who have the status because of a foreign-born parent or spouse or some similar reason. And from many of these folks the response is something like this: 'I'm an American citizen but I've also got this French or German or Sudanese citizenship sort of in my back pocket, as it were. Why is it such a big deal?'

In a sense I suppose it's not a very big deal. But doesn't this trivialize what it should mean to be a citizen of one of those countries? It's sounds less like a civic, national identity than a sort of heritage knickknack or heirloom. Citizenship isn't just about having a standing right of residency or something you have because you have some attachment or family connection to a particular country. I think it's something more than that -- particularly in the context of American citizenship.

Let me try to sketch out my idea of citizenship. I see the American national community as a sort of club. A very large one, yes. A very diverse one. And one in which we'll only ever meet a very small fraction of the members. But a club nonetheless. It trivializes what this means to reduce it to questions of which side would you fight on if the two countries went to war. Or sneering questions about loyalty and disloyalty.

The basis of the club and our membership in it is our fundamental equality. And the essence of that equality, as I see it, is that we've all thrown in our lots together. Some of us who were born here do it implicitly others who are newcomers did explicitly. But we've all committed ourselves to this group, this enterprise, this club, this nation. If some of us are American citizens and others of us are citizens of this and another country then we're not quite equal anymore. The basis of our equality and citizenship is challenged.

More on the dual citizenship question in a bit, and also dual-citizenship in the context of 9/11 and globalization.

The Florida AFL-CIO's endorsement of Bill McBride should give pause to anyone who thinks Janet Reno is going to be the Democratic nominee to face Jeb Bush. The question is why McBride, a relative unknown, would get the nod over Reno. Is it because they think she can't win?

I'm glad to see that my earlier post on dual citizenship has sparked a lot of responses on various sites and in a number of emails.

Let me elaborate on a few points.

There are a number of people who believe that dual-citizens are so many potential fifth columnists, or that the current existence of many dual-citizens presents some real and present danger to our national fabric. I don't think either of these is true.

Another point. A number of people write in to say that this is largely an enforcement issue and that it's unenforceable. The point being that the United States can't dictate to France or Israel or Mexico or any other country who they do or do not consider to be their citizens.

This is true of course. But I think it's beside the point, because we do have quite a bit of control over and say about American citizens who either claim a second citizenship or, more importantly, exercise citizenship rights in another country. (I seem to remember once being told that the old Soviet Union deemed its own citizenship to be un-alienable. Once a Soviet citizen, always a Soviet citizen. But again, who cares?) Other countries can say whatever they want. The issue is what American citizens do.

One reader from the British Isles writes in to say that my sense of citizenship as unitary is a uniquely -- and perhaps revealingly -- American understanding of what citizenship is. I think is true. And actually that's part of the point.

More on this tomorrow.

I was wondering whether it might be a good idea to start a support group for progressives (or center-left types) who really believe in reining in the role of money in politics and also really believe that part of the current bill may be bad policy and unconstitutional.

It's no fun believing something on principle and finding yourself standing together with a bunch of wretches who merely believe in protecting the power of organized wealth to beat back popular and necessary reforms. But what are you gonna do?

I'm speaking of course about the part of the soon-to-be-law which places limits on advertising by independent issue advocacy groups in the lead-up to elections. We'll be saying more about this soon and also getting into the reluctant but growing reservations I have about the campaign finance laws we already have.

For the moment though let me touch on another point.

Why is Ken Starr the lead attorney for the legal challenge to McCain-Feingold?

For my part, I believe that Starr's ethical standing and integrity are deeply compromised by a host of things he did while he was Independent Counsel in the Whitewater investigation. Of course I'm not a neutral observer and I have strongly held views on the matter. But let's assume that you don't believe as I do. Still, why is he the lead attorney?

You don't have to believe that Starr did anything wrong as IC to recognize the unavoidable truth that he has become a deeply polarizing figure with a very high partisan profile. Fair or not, it's just a fact.

Doesn't selecting him to head up the legal team saddle the constitutional question with all of Starr's baggage and give the legal battle an even more partisan (in the worst sense of the word) color than it already does and inevitably will?

The decision is even more puzzling when you figure that Starr doesn't even seem particularly well qualified for the job. Starr is, as far as I knew, an appellate lawyer, not a first amendment expert -- as many of the other members of the team are. That doesn't mean his expertise is deficient, per se. But it certainly rules out any thought that his qualifications somehow trump his too-apparent liabilities.

It seems to me that Mitch McConnell has done everyone a great disservice with this pick. Why he's done so, I'm really not sure.

For some reason I hadn't heard of Joe Klein's new book The Natural until now. It's apparently Klein's non-fictional attempt to take stock of, evaluate, and place into historical context the Clinton presidency. I'm going to run out and get it. And from the descriptions I've now read I'd recommend it to you as well.

(I'm not recommending it per se, mind you. Or endorsing what it says. How could I? I haven't even read it yet. But I'm sure it'll be an interesting read.)

I've always had deeply conflicted opinions about Klein, particularly in his middle-1990s anti-Clinton phase. One of the first non-academic articles I ever wrote when I was trying to transition into political writing, circa 96-97, was a critique of Klein and several others I grouped with him. (The piece never even got submitted for publication, let alone appeared in print -- a long story.) But his long interview-based article in the New Yorker in 2000 turned a refreshingly new page on his decade long engagement with Clinton.

According to a post today on Kausfiles, Klein says he wrote this book partly because "it has become too fashionable to flatly reject Clinton as a kind of bad dream."

It pains me to admit the degree to which this is true. But it hasn't made me lose too much sleep or faith. I'm quite confident that the Clinton presidency will stand the test of time, media scrutiny and historical scrutiny. (Most media scrutiny and contemporary pundit-comment is ungrounded and shallow anyway.) And the current presidency, whatever its advocates and opponents may say, seems unlikely to me to efface many of the previous president's accomplishments.