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As I reported here yesterday, the lobbying firm APCO was well-represented at Congressional hearings concerning Kazakhstan’s bid to chair the 56-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). A source who attended the hearings told me that APCO, which has been paid nearly $500,000 this year to represent Kazakh President-for-Life Nursultan Nazarbayev, dispatched at least four employees to the hearings.
APCO’s lead lobbyist yesterday was Don Bonker, a former member of Congress from Washington state. Indeed, he sat behind the panel, which was chaired by Congressman Alcee Hastings of Florida, and apparently buttonholed Hastings after the hearings.
I met former congressman Bonker back when I was a student at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Even then it was clear that he had the principles of a marshmallow. At liberal Evergreen he’d be so fervent in his opposition to American imperialism in Central America he’d come across like Che Guevera; then, a few days later there’d be a newspaper account of a speech he’d given to a conservative group in which he sounded like Ronald Reagan-lite. While I question his ethics in supporting Kazakhstan, I’m glad he’s working at full capacity.
For years Nazarbayev’s regime has been desperately seeking to head up the OSCE, but its efforts have always been blocked because of Kazakhstan’s poor record on human rights. Among the speakers who testified yesterday was David Merkel, a former staffer for Senator Jesse Helms who served as director for European and Central Asian affairs at the National Security Council under George W. Bush. At that post, he was a leading cheerleader for Nazarbayev. (Merkel, as I’ve previously reported, also once worked for the International Republican Institute in Moscow, where, according to people who knew him then, he learned almost no Russian and spent much of his time at the Starlight Diner, an expat hangout known for its cheeseburgers.)
Merkel has said that he’s not on the Kazakh payroll, so I would like to commend President Nazarbayev for lining up his services free of charge. He began his testimony by acknowledging “the indisputable fact that Kazakhstan has not held an election that the OSCE has found to meet international standards,” but that it should be allowed to chair the organization anyway. President Nazarbayev “has created an economic engine that is bringing an increased quality of life, better education and health services to more and more Kazakhstani citizens,” Merkel purred. “Kazakhstan is an exporter of stability in a region that is still too unstable.”
Despite APCO’s best efforts, the hearings did not amount to a victory for Nazarbayev. Robert Herman of Freedom spoke in opposition to Kazakhstan’s bid, saying it “would irreparably damage the OSCE’s legitimacy and ability to defend those working on the front lines for democratic change.” Taking the same position was Yevgeniy Zhovtis, head of Kazakhstan’s Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law.
Next month the OSCE will make a final decision on Kazakhstan’s bid. The United Kingdom, the Czech Republic and, more surprisingly, the U.S. State Department have all thus far said they will oppose Nazarbayev’s regime on the matter.
More from Ken Silverstein:
Perspective — October 23, 2013, 8:00 am
How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy
Postcard — October 16, 2013, 8:00 am
A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”