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For my book Turkmeniscam: How Washington Lobbyists Fought to Flack for a Stalinist Dictatorship, I posed as Kenneth Case, a businessman with energy interests in Turkmenistan. A number of beltway lobbyists I approached offered to represent that Central Asian country, and implement a PR campaign to help promote the Stalinist regime there to the American government and public.
Until he died in late-2006, President-for-Life Sapurmat Niyazov — the self-declared “Great Turkmenbashi” and easily a top-tenner on the list of the world’s major ruling lunatics of the post-World War II era – led Turkmenistan. He was replaced in a sham election by Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the Turkmenbashi’s personal dentist. Despite that, two major Washington firms – Cassidy & Associates and APCO – told “Mr. Case” they’d be happy to sell the Turkmen regime in America. (Placing bids of $1.5 million per year and $400,000 per year, respectively).
My pitch was, of course, bogus, but now the Turkmen regime has recruited real help in Washington: the US-Turkmenistan Business Council, which is primarily funded by American oil companies (Chevron, ExxonMobil, Marathon) hoping to do business in the country. The staff includes Diana Sedney, a Chevron lobbyist, and David L. Goldwyn, a consultant to energy companies who served at the State Department under George H.W. Bush and at the Energy Department under Bill Clinton. (Goldwyn also heads up the US-Libya Business Association, an oil-endowed entity helping promote Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.)
The USTBC’s program includes “Briefings with staff members from relevant House and Senate offices”; “Lunches and dinners in honor of visiting dignitaries from Turkmenistan”; and to generally “educate the public about progressive changes in Turkmenistan.” But are there any “progressive” changes taking place in the country under the inspired leadership of its new ruling dentist?
Very little, based on news reports and independent observers. “Politically motivated harassment, detentions and imprisonments continue unabated in Turkmenistan despite the government’s promises to uphold human rights,” Amnesty International reported earlier this month. Turkmenistan remains “one of the most repressive and authoritarian states in the world,” Human Rights Watch said last fall. “Its policies and practices are anathema to European values.”
Abuses have also been detailed by the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, which is headed by Farid Tukhbatullin, a former political prisoner who now lives in Vienna. (Political opposition is forbidden in Turkmenistan, and the entire opposition lives in exile. One opposition figure returned to the country after Berdymukhamedov took power; he was arrested and sentenced to 11 years in prison.)
I met yesterday with Tukhbatullin, who is in Washington to see officials at the State Department, USAID, and a number of private organizations. (His visit was coordinated by the Open Society Institute.) “The new president talked about reforms, but it’s been mostly cosmetic,” he said. “All the schools feature his portraits and quotations from his speeches are prominently displayed. The education system is still mostly about ideological indoctrination.”
Tukhbatullin said he feared that the Obama administration would prioritize energy interests and national security over human rights, especially as Turkmenistan borders Iran and Afghanistan. He noted that General David Petraeus visited Turkmenistan earlier this year to “discuss issues of mutual interest”. Turkmenistan’s proximity to Afghanistan may be especially important, as Obama is ramping up the war effort there and it looks like the U.S. is about to lose access to a key air base in Kyrgyzstan.
Berdymukhamedov’s ascension to power has been an “emotional blow” to the exiled opposition, Tukhbatullin said. “Niyazov was very old and there was hope we could outlive him,” he said. “The new president is relatively young; he may outlive us.”
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
For the past three years my dosimeter had sat silently on a narrow shelf just inside the door of a house in Tokyo, upticking its final digit every twenty-four hours by one or two, the increase never failing — for radiation is the ruthless companion of time. Wherever we are, radiation finds and damages us, at best imperceptibly. During those three years, my American neighbors had lost sight of the accident at Fukushima. In March 2011, a tsunami had killed hundreds, or thousands; yes, they remembered that. Several also recollected the earthquake that caused it, but as for the hydrogen explosion and containment breach at Nuclear Plant No. 1, that must have been fixed by now — for its effluents no longer shone forth from our national news. Meanwhile, my dosimeter increased its figure, one or two digits per day, more or less as it would have in San Francisco — well, a trifle more, actually. And in Tokyo, as in San Francisco, people went about their business, except on Friday nights, when the stretch between the Kasumigaseki and Kokkai-Gijido-mae subway stations — half a dozen blocks of sidewalk, which commenced at an antinuclear tent that had already been on this spot for more than 900 days and ended at the prime minister’s lair — became a dim and feeble carnival of pamphleteers and Fukushima refugees peddling handicrafts.
One Friday evening, the refugees’ half of the sidewalk was demarcated by police barriers, and a line of officers slouched at ease in the street, some with yellow bullhorns hanging from their necks. At the very end of the street, where the National Diet glowed white and strange behind other buildings, a policeman set up a microphone, then deployed a small video camera in the direction of the muscular young people in drums against fascists jackets who now, at six-thirty sharp, began chanting: “We don’t need nuclear energy! Stop nuclear power plants! Stop them, stop them, stop them! No restart! No restart!” The police assumed a stiffer stance; the drumming and chanting were almost uncomfortably loud. Commuters hurried past along the open space between the police and the protesters, staring straight ahead, covering their ears. Finally, a fellow in a shabby sweater appeared, and murmured along with the chants as he rounded the corner. He was the only one who seemed to sympathize; few others reacted at all.
Number of U.S. congressional districts in which trade with China has produced more jobs than it has cost:
Young bilingual children who learned one language first are likelier than monolingual children and bilingual children who learned languages simultaneously to say that a dog adopted by owls will hoot.
An Oklahoma legislative committee voted to defund Advanced Placement U.S. History courses, accusing the curriculum of portraying the United States as “a nation of oppressors and exploiters.”
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“He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.”