Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

One of Talking Points' Hong Kong correspondents sends on links to two excellent articles ("China's Banks under a Cloud" and "The Bank of China's Black Hole") on a current scandal involving the Bank of China, the financial institution which, as we mentioned last week, loaned (US) $100 million to Dai Xiaoming to purchase Asia Securities International in 1994. For those readers who read the Dai post last Friday, one portion of the second Business Week article, though describing an unrelated deal, gives an indication why such transactions raise an element of suspicion:

In setting up their operation, the Kaiping gang allegedly used a scam common among Chinese companies in the go-go 1990s, when China-linked stocks boomed on the Hong Kong bourse. Many mainland Chinese set up so-called "window" companies to speculate in stocks and real estate in Hong Kong--China's window on the rest of the world. In local parlance, window companies that indulged in such speculation were "stir-frying" investments. According to investigators, Fan and his confederates cooked up a storm.

Some of the window companies were legal, while many occupied a gray area. All had to contend with strict Chinese laws against moving money from the mainland. Often, funds were diverted from mainland companies and banks by employees who wanted to play the markets. Those who "borrowed" this way would pay their employers back if they made money. If not, the scamsters relied on creative accounting to cover their tracks.

In the Bank of China case, Hong Kong authorities allege that Fan started skimming money in the early 1990s, when he worked at the Kaiping branch. In 1999, he was promoted to a managerial job at the Guangzhou regional headquarters. From 1999 until he fled last October, Hong Kong authorities assert, he conspired with two managers at the Kaiping branch, Xu Guojun and Yu Zhendong, to steal almost $75 million. What happened to the $405 million that disappeared before Fan's promotion isn't yet clear.

Fan's principal Hong Kong window company, authorities say, was Ever Joint Properties, founded in 1993. Fan is said to have recruited a relative, Hui Yat-sing, to set up Ever Joint. Hui was arrested in Hong Kong in October, along with his wife and two others. Contacted through a spokesperson, Hui refused to comment. The lawyers of the other arrested suspects couldn't be reached.

It's seems like only yesterday when a mere mention of your name in connection with the Asian money scandal of 1997 was enough to get you run out of this town on a rail. A business connection with a John Huang or a Charlie Trie and you were pretty much toast.

But apparently times have changed. Today you can have a close business connection with a leading figure in the '97 scandal and be a senior Bush administration appointee and it's pretty much no problem at all.

Want to know more?

Let me explain.

One of the more colorful episodes in the 1997 campaign finance and foreign contribution scandal centered on a man named Dai Xiaoming. In June of 1996 Dai attended a $50,000 a plate dinner in honor of then-President Bill Clinton at the San Francisco home of California Senator Diane Feinstein. According to Feinstein's husband Richard Blum, Dai was invited as a favor to DNC fundraiser John Huang, who was also there. "The DNC says John Huang had a guy who had written them a check for $50,000 that they wanted to bring to an exclusive event (sic), and could they bring him," Blum told the Wall Street Journal almost a year later.

Only Dai wasn't really a contributor. Or so said the DNC. He couldn't be. He wasn't even an American citizen. Dai was a Chinese national who had emigrated to Hong Kong in 1991. In 1996 he was the CEO of Dan Form Holdings Company, Ltd., a real estate investment and development firm with substantial holdings in Hong Kong and a series a property holdings and major construction projects in the People's Republic of China.

Throughout the 1997 investigations, Dai remained an enigmatic figure, with no one quite sure why he was at the Feinstein fundraiser, why Huang had brought him along, and what if any role he played in the larger, apparent efforts to launder money into the 1996 presidential campaign. "Chinese Guest at Clinton Dinner Proves to Be Vexing" ran the headline of one Asian Wall Street Journal article (April 9th, 1997) probing into Dai's story.

(The same article ran the next day in the US Wall Street Journal under the headline 'Sen. Feinstein's Husband, DNC Disagree Whether Chinese Guest Was Big Donor')

At the time there were seven members of the board of directors of Dai's company and one of them was James A. Kelly.

Who's James A. Kelly?

Kelly is the Bush administration's Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific Affairs, the administration's chief diplomat for East Asia. He's also the fellow who's been pushing hardest for Douglas H. Paal controversial appointment as America's chief envoy to Taiwan, which rumor has it is set to be announced early next week. (On Friday, Salon.com and the Washington Post raised questions about Kelly's involvement in the evolving Taiwan slush fund scandal.)

(In the interests of full disclosure, let me mention that James A. Kelly is also the one who recently called TPM a practitioner of 'hack journalism' for writing this article on Doug Paal in the New Republic.)

According to Mr. Kelly's public disclosure form, Kelly served on the board of Dan Form Holdings Company, Ltd. as a "compensated non-executive Director" from December 1995 until January 2001, just three months before President Bush nominated him to his current post. This apparently didn't come up at his confirmation hearing.

In other words, if congressional investigators or members of the press had wanted to find out what the score was with Dai Xiaoming, they could have just rung up Jim Kelly and he probably could have filled them in since he was a board member of Dai's company.

And there's more.

There's nothing wrong of course with a former and future American diplomat sitting on a board of Hong Kong real estate and investment firm, even one with substantial holdings in the People's Republic of China. But Dan Form Holdings Company wasn't just any Hong Kong-based concern. And Dai Xiaoming isn't just any CEO.

Dai's career began in Beijing almost twenty years ago. In the mid-1980s Dai worked as a mid-level bureaucrat in the municipal government of Beijing's Western District. His boss was Chen Yuan, one of the most prominent of the so-called 'princelings', the privileged progeny of China's revolutionary elite. Chen's father, Chen Yun, was one of the so-called 'eight immortals' who ruled China in the post-Mao era. The elder Chen was an orthodox Marxist and long served as a conservative counterweight to the reformist Deng Xiaoping.

In 1994 The Economist described Chen in this way: "The most powerful of the princelings is probably Chen Yuan, the vice-governor of the central bank and the son of Chen Yun, the country's second-most eminent revolutionary."

Dai Xaioming and Chen Yuan began their first business venture, Huayuan Development Company, in the municipal government. In 1988, Chen left the Beijing city government to become the deputy governor of China's central bank, The People's Bank of China. Not long after that, Dai left Beijing for Hong Kong where he started a whirlwind rise to become one of the port city's high-flying entrepreneurs. Not long after he arrived in Hong Kong Dai purchased Dan Form Holdings and set up a joint venture with aforementioned Huayuan Development Company to develop prime real estate in Beijing.

Then in late 1994 Dai secured a $100 million loan from the Bank of China to purchase Asia Securities International from the Lippo Group. At the time Dai had no apparent assets to justify such a massive loan and in Hong Kong it was widely assumed that Dai had high-ranking political connections in the PRC government who had secured the financing. Dai was apparently Chen's proxy.

A year later, in December of 1995, Kelly joined the board of Dai's company.

Since 1994 Dan Form Holdings and its various subsidiaries have been involved in building shopping malls, real estate developments and highways in and around Beijing and other major Chinese cities, in addition to acquiring overseas shipping vessels from one of the Chinese export ministries.

Today Chen Yuan is the Governor of the China Development Bank.

More on this soon.

This polling story by Josh Green -- and the RNC's ill-advised response to it -- is really going to be the wound that keeps on bleeding. Rather than just take it on the chin and move on, the folks at the RNC seem intent on coming up with dopey cover stories and obfuscations. You can see an example -- a run-down of my series of attempts to get RNC spokesman Jim Dyke to tell me how much the White House spends on polling -- in this brief piece I wrote tonight in Salon.

Maureen Dowd's column put it into the mix. And I figure we'll be seeing Green making the rounds on TV and radio. I hear he's going to be on C-Span to talk about it.

For a moment, though, let's touch on something related to polling, but different.

Remember 'astroturf' organizing? And the 'King of Turf' Tom Synhorst? Well, when Synhorst isn't out mugging John McCain with low-ball push-polls, cultivating smokers' rights activism, or just ginning up a new senior citizens' insurgency against prescription drug benefits, he apparently works his magic for the Republican National Committee.

Last October, the month after the 9/11 attacks, the RNC paid out $263,742.65 to Synhorst's firm for "telemarketing" and "phone calls."

For all of 2001, the tab was $720,979.35.

As regular readers know, Talking Points Memo concerns itself with American politics, grand strategy abroad, Enron, snarky comments about the likes of Maureen Dowd and Howard Fineman and the admittedly rather obscure matter of whether a gentleman named Douglas H. Paal will ever be appointed -- as long rumored -- to serve as the Director of the American Institute in Taiwan, America's de facto embassy in Taiwan.

In February in The New Republic, TPM outlined a series of controversies surrounding Paal's think-tank, the Asia Pacific Policy Center. That article played some role in continuing to hold up the nomination until now.

However, this article in today's China Post confirms a rumor that's been circulating on Capitol Hill: that the decision to appoint Paal has now been made and that the state department is simply waiting for Congress to reconvene to make the announcement.

Normally I'm really no fan of Maureen Dowd. But for today, just today, I'm making an exception. She devotes her whole column today to trumpeting Josh Green's new article on the Bush polling operation.

For all the horror going on in Israel right now, there are a still some bright, inspiring moments. One came yesterday when Christiane Amanpour interviewed Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, a Labour member of the current Israeli government.

This section of the interview, which I'm quoting at length below, points to the fissures in the current Israeli government, the firm determination even of supporters of the peace process like Ben-Eliezer not to give in to terror, and some slivers of hope for a way out of the current stranglehold of violence.

AMANPOUR: But what if there are more suicide bombings inside Israel? What do you do next?

BEN-ELIEZER: Listen, even if I will tell you that we are going for the separate operation, where they could just put fences, I don't think that this will really close the way from those who want really to penetrate to Israel. As I have said, we have to work very, hard simultaneously to what to our operation. We have to convince the Palestinian people as much as possible that our intention was and still to live with them together, to coexist with them together for a better future for the kids.

I am ready to say more than that. I am one of the few in the country that has accepted, for example, the Saudi proposal as a basis.

AMANPOUR: So if you as defense minister believe that, and Prime Minister Sharon as prime minister does not believe that...

BEN-ELIEZER: OK. Then I will move with this government until the minute that I will feel that I am prevented to do something that can be achieved. I hope that I -- you understand me. I will continue to be a partner in this government, in this coalition until the minute that I would realize that the breakthrough is possible and the fact that I am there I can do that. Then I will quit; we'll go.

All the labor party, we'll move out of this government. I want you to know that I, through my service -- I used to be the minister governor of the West Bank and government coordinator. I know hundreds of families and I feel sorry about them, really sorry. I want you to know that I care exactly as I care about our kids, I care about their kids as well. But someone has to come from the other side and listen to us and try to find a way how to sit and to find a solution.

AMANPOUR: Do you care that your soldiers go house to house and arrest little children's fathers and humiliate them? Do you care that your soldiers went into hospitals and separated nurses and doctors and kept patients unattended while they even removed injured people from their beds to check? Was that right?

BEN-ELIEZER: No, that's wrong. That's wrong. First of all, no one have prove it to me. I know my people, I know my soldiers. I think they are the most moral soldiers. But in such operation, such big operation, I cannot ignore that some accidents happen from them. It's a war.

It's happened, it is not right. And I can assure you more than that. The first indication that someone makes something wrong, we stop it. We just stop it.

AMANPOUR: And what would happen if it was proved right?

BEN-ELIEZER: Someone would have to be punished.

So today Ariel Sharon is hoping or somehow thinking that Yasir Arafat will solve his problem for him. He's offering him a 'one way ticket into exile.' Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, one of the really wise and good people on the Palestinian side, denounced the idea. And frankly, so do I.

I'm not certain that it's wrong (Arafat's done everything he can to justify Sharon's actions). But I'm quite sure that it's stupid.

And this is one of the great pities of the present moment. Right when Israel needs a great and strong leader, a Yitzhak Rabin, it has a weak and incapable one.

No doubt, Sharon is a man of great conviction -- unlike the charlatan and opportunist Bibi Netanyahu, who's again hitting the airwaves. And in a narrow military sense he has a touch of greatness. But he is also small-minded and brutal -- incapable, I think, of understanding the moment he's in. The problem isn't even really that Sharon has a bad plan. It would be bad if he did but he doesn't. It's that -- as the last 18 months have shown -- he has no plan.

In that regard, he shares a great deal with his nemesis, Arafat.

Contrary to what readers might imagine, my views of the current horror in Israel and the West Bank are not nearly black and white. What makes this tragic and not just terrible is that this current ratchet of flesh-rending and hopelessness is tied to mistakes -- some avoidable, some unavoidable, many fatal -- which both sides made over the last decade. And yet now those errors are layered over with so much mutual atrocity that the original errors are not only unrecoverable but in a sense irrelevant. After the recent surge in hideous suicide attacks on civilians, I don't see how the Israelis can do anything else but allow a non-holds-barred attack on the perpetrators. And it is equally difficult to imagine that the Palestinians can or will do anything but attack back.

One thing that seems regrettably undeniable is that President Bush, though bearing no responsibility for the origins of the crisis, is utterly unprepared to confront it.

A few undigested, unfiltered thoughts for the morning. I was sitting here at my desk getting ready to work when I noticed Andrew Sullivan's screeching remarks about the new Bill Clinton interview in Newsweek.

I have or I had shelved for some time -- perhaps permanently -- my book project about the 1990s phenomenon, sociology, etc., of Clinton-hating. But these blasts of the malady renew my interest and fascination or just my zeal for the task. In his screed about Clinton's remarks about bin Laden, Sullivan departs on a wild-eyed tear about this remark from the former president.

And we know at the same time he was training people to kill me. Which was fair enough—I was trying to get him.

Seems a rather refreshing nugget of honest reflection. The sort of unvarnished candor one can't get from elected leaders for a hundred different reasons. But here it's spun into knot of moral and situational relativism.

Sullivan's response ...

Here's Osama bin Laden, an evil man, training people in a despicable distortion of Islam to murder innocents. He's already killed Americans. He's planning the WTC massacre. And Clinton thinks it's "fair enough" for bin Laden to try and assassinate the president of the United States because the president "was trying to get him." You want to know why I'm glad Clinton isn't president right now? Statements like that.

The big zinging string of quotes out of the interview, so far at least, is about the Marc Rich pardon.

Clinton lets on to what I and others wrote more than a year ago, that the real story with the Rich pardon was Clinton's ingrained suspicions and resentments of zealous prosecutors. And how certain of his friends and confidants knew how to stroke that chord of Clinton's psyche.

Of course, not unexpectedly, Clinton says too much, at least too much for his own good in a narrow sense, though perhaps just enough in others. Asked if he would again pardon Marc Rich, Clinton's first words out of the box were ...

Probably not, just for the politics. It was terrible politics. It wasn’t worth the damage to my reputation

There is a complete absence of the forced contrition we expect of politicians. Frankly, what strikes me is how similar it is, how much it reminds me of that famous scene from Primary Colors. Clinton's moments of awkward, not-always-easy-to-deal-with, self-revelation retain the power to make his enemies stutter into ridiculous and vacant loathing.

A TPM reader (TW) writes in with a thoughtful critique of the article about Israel, Iraq & the United States I wrote yesterday in Salon.

He says I miss the point in criticizing the Bush administration's muscling of Iraq. If, as a result of our muscling, the other Arab states get together with Iraq and get the Iraqis to behave, that isn't a failure of US policy, but rather a success. I couldn't agree more.

For some time I've been skeptical of the criticism of the Bush policy on Iraq, even as I myself am critical of it. What if, at the end of the day, Bush's belligerence got the Iraqis to readmit weapons inspectors, perhaps with a brief even more robust than their previous one? Who could say the president's bluster wasn't successful? Where would that leave the critics? Or what if it spurred a change of regime in Baghdad? That's something I see as far less likely. But what if ...?

Here is why I think what happened in Beirut a couple days ago doesn't fall into that category. The Iraqis put little or nothing on the table in terms of complying with international resolutions -- as this article in the Times makes clear. Yet they have gotten the other Arab states to place themselves on the side of defending, rather than attacking the Iraqis. At least for now.

The error here -- as I see it -- is that the administration really wasn't pursuing a bluster strategy. It was pursuing a military strategy. Or at least it's focus was so solely on a military strategy that it undermined the bluster strategy. Rather than moving deftly and making the Iraqis worry that we might be successful in isolating them, the administration moved cavalierly and got the Arab states to preempt us.

The potency of our bluster is now rather diminished. As is our ability to use threats to get the weapons inspectors back in. At least that's how it seems right now. If your response is to tell me that our strategy has always been military and that that's exactly how it should be, well ... that's fine. But how does our military position look to you now?

Under the influence of Brooks and other conservative worthies, the president is trying to shape himself in the TR mold. And the White House has thought it was talking loudly and carrying a big stick. For the moment though I think we've been revealed to be all talk and no stick. And a bit foolhardy to boot.