Monday, June 25, 2007

On Greed Street

By Libby

Bush makes a big deal about supporting human rights, often using it a justification for his imperial policies, but it's obvious to even the casual observer that his administration is selectively concerned. To be fair, this is not exclusive to the Bush regime. All our presidents have paid lip service to protecting the downtrodden while simultaneously propping up bloodthirsty tyrants who trample on their citizens.

Equally obvious it that our leader's blind eye on human rights violations are turned on those countries that offer something we want, whether it be natural resources or geo-political advantage. But how do they get away with it? In a word - good lobbyists. Ken Silverstein goes undercover to expose the inner workings of K Street and gives us a fascinating look at how the revolving door works.

APCO Associates and Cassidy & Associates are hardly household names but if you're a brutal despot with an image problem and a lot of disposable cash, these heavy hitters can open the back doors into the power structure of the beltway and buy you respectability. Ken posing as the spokesman for a group of interested businessmen with holdings in Turkmenistan takes us into the conference rooms of these opinion makers and allows us to eavesdrop on the strategy sessions.

It's a eye-opening peek into the process. Trading on their contacts on Capitol Hill to set up private meetings with legislators, planting favorable op-eds in the media and judicious use of think tanks to provide political cover in organizing conference events and sponsoring privately paid "fact finding" trips for Congressmen, these lobby groups can paint a pretty face on the ugliest dictators.

It's a long piece that doesn't easily lend itself to excerpting, but this I thought was especially revealing. In discussing on how to provide cover for an event, in order to disguise its sponsorship by Silverstein's fictional group, this was floated as possibility.

Another option, he explained, would be to pay Roll Call and The Economist to host a Turkmenistan event. It would be costlier than the think-tank route, perhaps around $25,000, but in compensation we would have tighter control over the proceedings, plus gain "the imprimatur of a respected third party." In order that the event not seem like paid advertising, the title for the event should be "bigger than your theme," Schumacher explained, even as it would be put together in a way "that you get your message across." So we wouldn't call it "Turkmenistan Day"? I asked.

No, Schumacher replied. "Energy Security" would be a better theme.
I don't know about you but, although I've long known that think tanks are mostly propaganda mills, I found it a little shocking to learn one could purchase the "respected imprimatur" of Roll Call or The Economist for only $25,000. They've lost my respect with that little revelation.

In any event, there's much more. Recommended reading for anyone who wants to learn more about how conniving corporate interests have corrupted our political process.