by Andrew Walden
For Mark Takai the campaign contributions are rolling in ... from the secretive union-busting Turkish Gulen cult.
When Reps. Rida Cabanilla and Mark Takai, took a free 2013 trip to the South Caucasian Republic of Azerbaijan together, the $8,000 gift raised eyebrows even in the fetid swamps of the Hawaii legislature.
The Daily KOS called the trip "an oil industry-funded junket to Azerbaijan," sponsored by the Houston-based "Turquoise Council" an organization with deep oil-industry connections co-chaired by the sister of Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry. The Turquoise Council is also one of dozens of US-based groups run by the Turkish Islamist Hizmet movement, controlled by secretive Imam Fethulla Gulen from his home-in-exile and headquarters in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania.
The Washington Post May 30, 2013 called it, "Time to Cash In".
Politico described the trip as part of "a multimillion-dollar industry of recruiting current and former U.S. officials."
The Washington Diplomat, June 26, 2013 explains, "Some state legislators may even one day end up in the halls of Congress. So courting them is important to Azerbaijan."
For Takai the campaign cash started rolling soon after he returned. Now twelve of his top 150 contributors are Turkish including several executives of identified Gulen cult organizations. The total payoff for Takai, $20,000 and counting.
Given the Gulen cult's predilection for labor law violations at cult-connected charter schools, it is possible that these contributions may be considered illegal false-name contributions from the Gulen movement itself. Cult members laboring for the Imam under "Tuzuk contracts" are obligated to kick back all of their salaries beyond a bare minimum needed to survive.
Gulen's illegal labor contracts are described as "ugly unionbusting" by the Chicago Federation of Teachers. A 2011 Gulen effort to take over Mokapu Elementry school on Kaneohe Marine Base was thwarted by HSTA members after they became aware of the organization's anti-labor ties.
Civil Beat July 11, 2013 reports: "Cabanilla and Takai said they aren’t particularly concerned about accepting such an expensive trip because it doesn’t violate their own personal ethics or state standards. They both said that they measure the appropriateness of accepting such junkets by weighing how the underlying donation might influence them.
“There’s nothing in the Legislature now that would directly benefit Azerbaijan,” Takai said, “so it passes the ethics concern.”
But Takai is running for Congress. And with thousands of Islamist foreign fighters flying to Ankara to cross the border and join ISIS, US-Turkish relations are front and center in efforts to avoid returning US ground troops to the region.
The Star-Advertiser August 30, 2014 says "(Takai) prefers a nonmilitary option...."
Stopping the influx of foreign fighters has got to be high on any list of non-military options. But it appears the influence peddling doesn't work both ways. Takai declined comment when Hawai'i Free Press asked if he had spoken to any Turkish or Azeri contacts about infiltration of foreign ISIS fighters into Syria and Iraq.
Its not a casual question. Even after a recent falling out with the Turkish government, the Gulen cult is believe to count amongst its members as many as 80% of Turkish police.
Azeri police detain an opposition supporter in Baku, October 12, 2013. David Mdzinarishvili / Reuters
Buzzfeed, June 3, 2014 points out that the Turquoise Council is a front group for Gulen, and asks, "Why has Baku teamed up with the Gulenist movement to win the hearts and minds of small-time US lawmakers?" Wyoming state Rep. Dave Zwonitzer told Buzzfeed, “You don’t get a free 10-day trip sponsored by the oil company without somebody asking for something.”
Maui News columnist Ben Lowenthal February 28, 2014 explains:
"Mark Takai doesn’t seem to have a problem with taking sides. Last year he—along with other American legislators—signed off on a birthday note to the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev. Takai congratulated Aliyev in his efforts to reduce crime within the country and promoting allegiances abroad.
"Aliyev has been criticized by many diplomats and those that follow international relations as an autocrat. After taking office in 2003, he eliminated term limits for himself from the constitution. He’s been accused of running a corrupt government, clamping down on a free press, and rigged elections. The infamous Wikileaks website released a cache of diplomatic cables in 2012 that compare him to a mafia crime boss. Surely, Takai was aware of this before congratulating him on reducing crime in his country eight time zones away, right?
"Takai hasn’t talked about the birthday note recently, but perhaps his views on foreign policy will be examined soon. After all, he is among the seven candidates running for Congress in the First District. What exactly does Takai think about Azerbaijan?"
Civil Beat February 11, 2014 reports, "Reps. Rida Cabanilla and Mark Takai...co-sponsored ... House Resolution 13 recogniz(ing) the 22nd anniversary of the Khojaly tragedy which, according to the resolution, involved the slaughter of hundreds of innocent civilians in Azerbaijan in February 1992 (and) House Resolution 9 call(ing) on the United States to strengthen its efforts to facilitate a political settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict."
Campaigning for Congress, Takai didn't make time for many committee meetings this session. But while racking up an impressive number of absences elsewhere, he did show up to chair the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Military, and International Affairs, and Culture and the Arts where his resolutions were referred.
In February 12, 2014 testimony before the committee, progressive activist Dr. Dawn Morais Webster points out, the "rather strange resolution ... will be used to strengthen a false representation of historical facts about the relationship between Azerbaijan and Armenia.... Since 1998 the United States has been rendering official assistance to Ngorno-Karabakh to help overcome the consequences of the devastating aggression by Azerbaijan.... (D)uring the Karabakh war, between 1993 and 1994, Azerbaijan used its connections with Islamic terrorist networks to hire thousands of Afghan mujahedeens and other Islamic mercenaries linked to various international terrorist organizations to fight against Armenia and Karabakh."
In a move unusual for Hawaii's chair-deferent legislators, both resolutions were rejected by members of Takai's own committee.
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