Subtitles and transcripts of podcasts

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ken Silverstein: Turkmeniscam: How Washington Lobbyists Fought to Flack for a Stalinist Dictatorship

HARPER's magazine's Ken Silverstein on foreign lobbying - Bill Moyers Journal, PBS: video, audio or transcript (video is optional, audio or transcript have most of the info).
This amazing podcast tells the story about two American lobbying firms competing to clean up the public image of a ruthless dictatorship. I found only the first interview (the first 26 min of the entire podcast) interesting.
Ken Silverstein is an investigative journalist and the author of the book Turkmeniscam: How Washington Lobbyists Fought to Flack for a Stalinist Dictatorship. Silverstein posed as a representative of a fictitious business group working for the country of Turkmenistan, and got two top Washington lobbying firms (APCO, and Cassidy and Associates - both well established companies) to propose a campaign to clean up Turkmenistan's image. Until one year prior to the publication of the story (Their men in Washington: Undercover with D.C.'s lobbyists for hire), the country was ruled by Saparmurat Niyazov, a notorious dictator. The self-declared “Turkmenbashi,” or “Leader of all Ethnic Turkmens,” Niyazov built monuments to himself (pictured on the right). Niyazov renamed the month of January after himself. Another month was named for his mother. Vodka and salt were named after the Turkmenbashi. Any opposition to the government was considered treason in Turkmenistan.
Amazingly, APCO said to Silverstein that, among other things, they would seek to arrange events highlighting Turkmenistan with leading U.S. think tanks, and recruit op-eds from academics. APCO would target organizations such as Heritage Foundation, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Endowment. Did this make you wonder how many of these events and op-eds are spontaneous vs. paid for?
The readiness of the lobbying firms to clean up  Turkmenistan's image is not too surprising after one learns that one of the clients of Cassidy and Associates is Equatorial Guinea, which pays the lobbyists $2.4 million a year. Its President Obiang has been in power since he executed his uncle. For years Equatorial Guinea had been on PARADE Magazine's list of the 10 worst dictators. Some of the successes Cassidy and Associates boasted about were that Cassidy got them off the top 10 list (they became number 11 at some point). Cassidy also were able to arrange a meeting between President Obiang and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. APCO in the 1990s worked for the Sani Abacha dictatorship in Nigeria. This was at that time one of the world's worst regimes. APCO was working for them as they were preparing the execution of the nine pro-democracy activists that were hung in 1995.
The price tag for cleaning up the image of Turkmenistan? $600,000 to $1.5 million per year, depending on the lobbying firm you choose.
This is all pretty surreal, and does sound a bit like "Borat" - but it is true...
So what is the solution? According to Silverstein, I'm not accusing them of breaking the law. But they certainly break the spirit of the law. They talked to me repeatedly about how the disclosure requirements are so weak that you don't have to worry about any undue publicity. ... So that's the point. Tighten the law.

1 comment:

  1. When it comes to politics, the truth is always ugly. Most of the people don't have analytical thinking nor time to look into details. Thank you for the post.