Tuesday, February 24, 2009

ANOTHER SEEDY CABINET CHOICE

You'd think after the Bill Richardson mess, Obama would be a bit more careful, but in naming Gary Locke as Secretary of Commerce, he's revived some old and sorry tales.

Locke was admittedly only a minor beneficiary of a major scandal of the Clinton administration: highly questionable funding of American politicians from Asian sources. He was, in fact, cleared of any wrong doing. But one of the purported prospects of an Obama administration was that the ethical bar would be raised slightly above lack of actual indictment or conviction.

Locke received funding from two of sources involved in the Clinton scandals: Ted Sioneng's family and associates, and John Huang. Here's how Wikipedia describes the context:

The 1996 United States campaign finance controversy was an alleged effort by the People's Republic of China to influence domestic American politics during the 1996 federal elections. The issue first received public attention in early 1997, with news that a Justice Department investigation had uncovered evidence that agents of China sought to direct contributions to the Democratic National Committee in violation of U.S. laws regarding foreign political contributions. The Chinese government denied all accusations. Twenty-two people were eventually convicted of fraud or for funneling Asian funds into the United States elections, and others fled U.S. jurisdiction. Several of these were associates of Bill Clinton or Al Gore.

Here are some of the characters:

Charlie Trie: The most significant activity by Trie was a $450,000 attempted donation by Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie to Clinton's legal defense fund, which Trie delivered in two envelopes each containing several checks and money orders. The fund immediately rejected $70,000 and deposited the remainder, but ordered an investigation of the source. The investigation found that some of the money orders were sequentially numbered made out in different names but with the same handwriting. The fund then rejected the donation entirely, and returned the deposited funds two months after the initial contribution. . .

Johnny Chung: Born in Taiwan, Chung went from being the owner of a "blastfaxing" business (an automated system that quickly sends out faxes to thousands of businesses) in California to being in the middle of the Washington, D.C. elite within a couple weeks of his first donations to the Democratic Party. Called a "hustler" by a U.S. National Security Council aide, . . . Chung made forty-nine separate visits to the White House between February 1994 and February 1996. . . Between 1994 and 1996, Chung donated $366,000 to the DNC. Eventually, all of the money was returned. Chung told federal investigators that $35,000 of the money he donated came from Liu Chaoying and, in turn, China's military intelligence. . . Chung was eventually convicted of bank fraud, tax evasion, and two misdemeanor counts of conspiring to violate election law. Chung asserts that, after his guilty plea, the Chinese government attempted to assassinate him with "hit squads" three times, but the efforts were foiled by the FBI.

John Huang and James Riady: John Huang [was a] former employee of the Indonesian company Lippo Group's Lippo Bank and its owners Mochtar Riady and his son James (whom Huang first met along with Bill Clinton at a financial seminar in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1980, Huang became a key fund-raiser within the DNC in 1995. While there, he raised $3.4 million for the party. Nearly half had to be returned when questions arose regarding their source during later investigations by Congress. According to U.S. Secret Service logs, Huang visited the White House 78 times while working as a DNC fund-raiser. James Riady visited the White House 20 times (including 6 personal visits to President Clinton). . . Huang eventually pleaded guilty to conspiring to reimburse Lippo Group employees' campaign contributions with corporate or foreign funds.[20] James Riady was later convicted of campaign finance violations relating to the same scheme as well.

Maria Hsia: Taiwan-born Maria Hsia, a long time fund raiser for Al Gore, California immigration consultant, and business associate of John Huang and James Riady since 1988, facilitated $100,000 in illegal campaign contributions through her efforts at Hsi Lai Temple, a Chinese Buddhist temple in Hacienda Heights, California. This money went to the DNC, to the Clington - Gore campaign, and to Patrick Kennedy. After a trial, she was convicted in March 2000. . . [A] Temple event became particularly controversial, because it was attended by the Vice President Gore. In 1997 Gore said

Ted Sioeng: Another notable figure involved in the affair was Ted Sioeng, an Indoenesian entrepreneur, who illegally donated money to both Democrats and Republicans. Suspect contributions associated with Sioeng include $250,000 to the DNC, $100,000 to Republican California State Treasurer Matt Fong, and $50,000 to a Republican think tank. All the money was eventually returned. . . Attorney General Janet Reno and the directors of the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency told members of the Senate committee they had credible intelligence information indicating Sioeng acted on behalf of China. A spokesman for Sioeng denied the allegations.
This was not insignificant stuff, especially when you add in the national security damaging transfer of advanced technology to China during the time of these shenanigans.

Locke's role in all of this was as one of the secondary American political beneficiaries, with help coming from Huang and Sioeng. Locke returned $1,000 from Sioeng's daughter funneled through an associate with Locke's spokesman explaining, "We're not saying it was improper" and "we didn't want anything to do with it."

Locke bemoaned the issue in a talk to Asian journalists: "The fund-raising scandal will have repercussions for several years. It will make our efforts doubly hard to get Asian Americans appointed to top-level positions across the United States. If they have any connection to John Huang, those individuals will face greater scrutiny and their lives will be completely opened up and examined - perhaps more than usual."

Locke got a lot more from Huang - at least $19,000 - and attended a number of occasions that Huang helped organize. Other contributions to Locke, came from a Lippo consultant, a Commerce Department official who swore in a deposition that Huang had access to most of the agency's classified information, several other Commerce Department officials who came under suspicion, and several associates of Sioeng.

Central to the role of the Commerce Department in this period was that of its then secretary, Ron Brown, who helped the Chinese get more favorable trade regulations, as well as aiding the transfer of super computers and highly sophisticated radio phones to the Chinese Peoples Armed Police.

Locke was cleared of any wrong doing by state officials. A House committee could find no wrong doing on his part. Gary Locke was apparently just one more politician basking in the ubiquitous sleaze of the Clinton years. Still, given the moral professions of our new president, his appointment seems odd at best, especially since the department he's been selected to run was once headquarters for a major piece of that sleaze.

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PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM

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Your editor has been a musician for many decades. He started the first band his Quaker school ever had and played drums with bands up until 1980 when he switched to stride piano. He had his own band until the mid-1990s and has played with the New Sunshine Jazz Band, Hill City Jazz Band, Not So Modern Jazz Band and the Phoenix Jazz Band.

NOTES ON THE MUSIC

Here are a few tracks:

SAM SMITH'S DECOLAND BAND

'SHINE' 

JELLY ROLL

PHOENIX JAZZ BAND

APEX BLUES   Sam playing with the Phoenix Jazz Band at the Central Ohio Jazz festival in 1990. Joining the band is George James on sax. James, then 84, had been a member of the Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller orchestras and hadappeared on some 60 records. More notes on James

WISER MAN  Sam piano & vocal

OH MAMA  Sam piano & vocal