31 May 2008

Aren't we glad to be funding NGOs?

That is, needless to say, a rhetorical question. Apart from anything else, if we were glad to be funding them, we would do so and not have money compulsorily extracted from us for the purpose. NGOs are not charities that live on voluntary donations but are provided by taxpayers’ money.

This story comes via the Taxpayers’ Alliance blog, which quotes a recent report from NGO Monitor, to which they do not link. Tsk, tsk. But then, it is not always easy to do so, which makes me wonder how often NGO Monitor might suffer from hackers.

The Executive Summary, which is only one page, outlines the problem. The EU is, according to its own propaganda, committed to a peaceful solution that will not involve the destruction of Israel or the expulsion and worse of the Jewish population of that country. (Anyone who thinks that the destruction of Israel will bring peace to that part of the world has not been paying attention.)

That’s the propaganda. The reality is that
Between 2005 and 2007, the European Union provided tens of million Euros from public funds to numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs), many of which are politically active in the Arab-Israeli conflict. In addition to offering services, their reports are perceived as providing expert information to policy makers, journalists and others, and their campaigns have significant political impacts. These activities however, are often inconsistent with the stated objectives of both the NGOs and EU frameworks under which they are funded, including the use of funds ostensibly designated to promote peace, for pursuing political objectives which undermine the protection of human rights.
The Report gives details of the NGOs that have received money to promote their political agenda:
This detailed research documents the degree to which EUfunded NGOs exacerbate conflict and advance particular political agendas. Many of these groups participated in the NGO Forum of the 2001 Durban conference, and their reports and campaigns repeatedly refer to Israel as a “colonial entity”, and “racist and apartheid state”, while promoting boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS). Some EU-funded NGOs also consistently advocate a rejectionist Palestinian narrative of the conflict, erase the context of Palestinian terrorism, falsely accuse Israel of “war crimes” and seek to undermine Israel’s Jewish identity.
The chances of the next Durban conference, scheduled for 2009, being anything but another anti-Israeli, anti-American, anti-Western hatefest are slim.

Some of the problems are endemic to NGOs and all tranzis, particularly the European Union, the one fully political expression of tranziedom and it boils down to one word: unaccountability. Forget transparency – it means nothing. You can open up the odd meeting to audiences and publish any number of documents. As it happens the EU is quite good at publishing documents; considerably better than our own government or civil service. As long as there is no direct line of accountability to those who provide the money, which is the poor benighted taxpayers, corruption, both financial and political, is inevitable.

Whether the organization in question is a relatively small one like the London Development Agency, whose shenanigans played their part in Ken Livingstone’s downfall, or a much larger and better financed NGO or those über-tranzis, the EU and the UN, the result is always the same.

Naturally enough, the most ruthless and corrupt players take control. So far I have not seen any suggestions for reform that would overcome these problems as unaccountability is endemic to NGOs and tranzis, there being no direct link between funding, political decision making and specific project management.

After all, there is nothing particularly surprising about the following:
This report also examines the limited transparency and accountability in EU funding for NGOs. Despite the tens of millions of Euros provided by taxpayers, there is no uniform framework or central database for obtaining information regarding which NGOs the European Commission funds. Moreover, much of this funding information is unavailable or hidden beneath numerous bureaucratic layers. The various EC offices that do provide some information on NGO funding use different systems to display this data, making comparison and analysis particularly difficult. Although some EC officials cooperated in providing funding information to NGO Monitor, the difficultly in obtaining this data reflects the lack of transparency. Some requests for specific funding information went unheeded.

In addition, the official guidelines by which the NGOs are selected to receive public funds are very vague, allowing for a high degree of individual preference and bias on the part of EC officials. These (often) anonymous officials and outside experts decide on the allocation of millions of Euros to highly political NGOs, yet are not subject to any external process of accountability. The absence of specific performance indicators to evaluate the impact of EU-funded NGO projects adds to the accountability deficit.
Outrageous, maybe; surprising, no. To be fair, I do not get the impression that NGO Monitor is surprised.

While we are on the subject of NGOs, let us take another look at that interesting and self-righteous organization, Amnesty International. We have written about it on various occasions, for instance here and here. To sum up a long and tedious development, Amnesty International has fulfilled its exemplary role in O’Sullivan’s First Law – not being specifically a right-wing organization it became a left-wing one.

No longer does it limit itself to helping prisoners of conscience in various oppressive countries. The organization’s main role now seems to be, despite the research done by its overworked and underpaid staff (not, naturally enough SecGen Irene Khan), to attack the West, particularly the United States and Israel with other countries that have the temerity to fight terrorists and terrorism coming close behind.

NGO Monitor has been looking at Amnesty International in connection of that organization’s reports on the Middle East. Here is the summary of its latest findings:

NGO Monitor has systematically analyzed Amnesty International’s Middle East coverage in 2007, applying a quantitative methodology, similar to that used to examine the agenda of Human Rights Watch.
The results show that in 2007 Amnesty singled out Israel for more condemnation than Syria, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Lebanon, and Algeria.

More items were published condemning Israel, than the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Hezbollah combined. If detailed reports are used as an indicator, Amnesty ranks Israel and Iraq as equally the worst human rights abusers in the Middle East.

Israel’s democratic and open society ironically invites disproportionately negative reporting from Amnesty International. Access to information facilitates more comprehensive research than in less democratic regimes; democracy demands higher standards of human rights, according to Amnesty International’s Israel branch; external factors, such as media attention, dictate AI’s policy.

Amnesty's 2008 annual report (covering events in 2007) is yet another example of the NGO's highly biased approach. It presents a gross distortion of the conflict, selectively reports events to remove the context of terrorism and ignore human rights issues not related to its political agenda, while repeating un-sourced and anecdotal claims.
Not precisely what Amnesty International should be doing but as a tranzi NGO it has long ago abandoned its useful role of campaigner on a single but very important issue.

On the organization’s own website one can find all sorts of interesting matters. There is, for instance, the appeal to world leaders to do something about human rights. Well, not to the ones who can do something about it, with the exception of China and Russia, both up to a point, but leaders in general.
Amnesty International’s Report 2008, shows that sixty years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations, people are still tortured or ill-treated in at least 81 countries, face unfair trials in at least 54 countries and are not allowed to speak freely in at least 77 countries.
True enough, but then all those countries are in the United Nations and have all signed the Universal Declaration as well as any other declaration going. In any case, the collapse of the Soviet Empire has brought about a certain amount of alleviation on the subject of human rights though that event had little to do with the UN or that wretched Declaration, which had been strongly influenced by the Soviet Union back in 1948.

So, apart from bringing down unpleasant regimes, something AI does not approve of, as we know, what else can be done?
“The most powerful must lead by example,” said Ms Khan.

China must live up to the human rights promises it made around the Olympic Games and allow free speech and freedom of the press and end “re-education through labour”.

The USA must close Guantánamo detention camp and secret detention centres, prosecute the detainees under fair trial standards or release them, and unequivocally reject the use of torture and ill-treatment.

Russia must show greater tolerance for political dissent, and none for impunity on human rights abuses in Chechnya.

The EU must investigate the complicity of its member states in “renditions” of terrorist suspects and set the same bar on human rights for its own members as it does for other countries.

Ms Khan warned: “World leaders are in a state of denial but their failure to act has a high cost. As Iraq and Afghanistan show, human rights problems are not isolated tragedies, but are like viruses that can infect and spread rapidly, endangering all of us.”
An interesting list and even more interesting emphasis on what matters in human rights. Apparently, it is the war on terror that produces most of the crimes and they are the ones Amnesty International feels the need to emphasise. Iraq and Afghanistan, eh? Not Iran or Syria, one assumes, or is it to be assumed that those two countries are looking to the United States for leadership?

China and Russia are chided lightly and in a very limited fashion, particularly the former. We must not get too worked up about real tyrannies where free speech is suprressed and all critics of the political regime and of officialdom are imprisoned. Oh and it has the highest number of capital crimes and rate of executions after trials that are the shortest in history. Not something Amnesty International should pay attention to?

What of the latest annual report? The Introduction lives up to all one’s worst expectations. It seems that matters have become worse in the last sixty years despite the hope that was engendered by the end of the Cold War which “were dashed by the explosion of ethnic conflicts and implosion of states that unleashed a spate of humanitarian emergencies, marked by massive and vicious human rights abuses”.

So, um, how did the Cold War end, what were the immediate results, why were there these hopes and who unleashed the various conflicts? Indeed, why was there a fertile ground for those conflicts? And why is the name of the Soviet Union not mentioned in this rather sketchy outline of the last sixty years?

Could it be that the powers that be in Amnesty International actually share ex-President, now Prime Minister Putin’s view that the collapse of the Soviet Empire was the greatest geopolitical disaster?

Moving down we find that the worst human rights abuses happen in the United States (our old friend Guantánamo again) and the EU is rapped over the knuckles for not controlling the member states when they exercise “rendition” of terror suspects to countries where they might be ill-treated at the CIA’s behest. No, since you ask there is no particular evidence and no mention in the Introduction of the fact that there are human rights abuses in other countries. And since when have terrorists been political prisoners to be supported by international NGOs?

There is no question about it, Amnesty International sees the war against terror a far greater problem than the terrorism itself, no matter what some of the more detailed chapters in the Report might say. Their website talks far more about protecting rights in the fight against terrorism than about protecting rights against terrorists.

The real problem about NGOs is that they are not charities who live exclusively from private donations. There are big donors, of course, but a reasonable amount comes from government and tranzi funds, in other words, from the taxpayer, whether we like it or not.

28 May 2008

What the future might hold

Last Monday I attended no less than two separate talks on, as it turned out, related topics. In the morning Michael Barone, one of the best known American political commentators, author of many, many articles and columns and of several books, most recently, of “Our First Revolution: the remarkable British uprising that inspired America's founding fathers”.

Barone spoke about the presidential race in the United States, not a subject we cover too much on this blog for several reasons. In the first place, it is much written about in the main stream media, though I would not trust British journalists on the subject. They were, after all, convinced that Kerry would win in 2004, a position whose absurdity was clear to anyone who followed events in the American media and the blogosphere.

Secondly, it is a subject that is widely discussed in the American blogosphere. Nothing we say can rival the extensive knowledge and grasp of detail displayed by the likes of Barone himself, Michelle Malkin, Christopher Hitchens or Mark Steyn, to name just a few.

Thirdly, this is not really our subject, apart from the need to point out periodically, that there is this country in which the executive and legislative, properly separated, are both elected by the people of that country. Look upon it and despair about our own situation. No wonder people are gnashing their teeth in envy and calling for the rest of the world a.k.a. the great and the good as well as the tranzis and the NGOs to impose their decisions on the American people.

Still, the President of the United States is an important person for all of us and occasionally we need to look, at least in general terms, at the process that will decide who that person is going to be. A briefing by Michael Barone is a good opportunity for doing just that.

The first thing to be noted (and I do wish British commentators in both the old and new media would do so) is Michael Barone’s strong and reiterated assertion that the result of the presidential election is, at this stage, unpredictable. Obama is not about to be anointed as POTUS, though it is more than likely that he will be the Democratic nominee, not without some trouble there, as it happens.

I may add that Obama’s recent faux pas of threatening people with all sorts of nameless things if they keep quoting what his wife said in a public speech as part of her campaigning on his behalf “inappropriately” has not won him many supporters. The ones who have descended into Obamania are there and will stay there. He needs many more votes, though.

Michael Barone is not an Obama fan but that is not why he remains uncertain about the outcome. He is far too good a commentator to take the wish for the deed. The truth is that the outcome is uncertain because American electoral politics is once again experiencing a big shift and because there are many doubts about all the candidates, Barack Obama, in particular.

His description of American politics was that it has moved from trench warfare with clearly signposted lines and entrenched positions to open field warfare with politicians and voters moving around, separately or in groups.

It is true the President Bush’s approval rating is low but the Democratic Congress, elected with much fanfare in 2006, rates even lower. Recent by-elections have gone the Democrats’ way but, as in this country, people vote differently and less “responsibly” in by-elections than in general ones.

Another sign that the Democrats are doing well is a much higher proportion of people identifying with them than with the Republicans. This, however, is a tricky issue. Republican self-identification was at its highest in 2004 since the 1930s when these questions were first asked. What Mr Barone did not add, as all of us know, is that the Republicans did win the odd election or two during that period. So self-identification is not necessarily a guide to a more general voting pattern in the country.

Democrats this time round have shown themselves much better at fund raising, utilizing the internet for that purpose very successfully. But all indicators that there is a swing to them from the Republicans go fuzzy when it comes to the presidential campaign, whose intra-party bitterness has had a negative effect, so far as one can tell, on the electorate.

Above all, the presidential campaigns hinge on responses to specific candidates.

Within the Democratic Party there is tribal warfare being waged between the black and other groups (the latter including Hispanic and Asian ones as well as Jewish), between older and younger voters and between upscale and downscale ones. How that will play itself out when the candidate is finally chosen remains unpredictable. Notoriously, Obama is very unpopular among non-black working class voters, who still make up a very large part of the Democratic Party’s supporters. On the other hand, will any of them go so far as to vote for John McCain? It’s not impossible as McCain is centre-left but it is far from a given.

Much of Mr Barone’s talk concerned detailed analyses of figures and groupings, subjects that are not for this blog. He did mention that, so far, there has been little concentration on specific issues and a good deal of discussion as to whether this election will mean the end of the forty year long conservative political hegemony. Again, that is not a given, since in those forty years there were various electoral results.

However, it is fair to say that there is a new generation of electors who do not remember the horrors of the seventies and cannot be scared by them. We face a similar situation in this country and it is an inevitable one.

Voters of that kind in the States cannot see that big state is necessarily a bad thing. Voters of any kind in Britain find it hard to believe that big state is not a good thing so we part company from our brethren over the Pond.

However, the same generation of voters, added Mr Barone, wants to have choices and knows about them through the internet. This could mean a possible Republican opening to that generation. Oddly, he did not mention the widespread popularity and influence of right-wing blogs, who definitely do have a link with the post 1970s generation.

The economy, which is stubbornly refusing to sink as low as it has been predicted for some time, could give either candidate an advantage. If things are not as bad as people say, voters might want to stick with the existing party or they might decide to give the other guys a chance, knowing that things remain fairly safe.

Then there is the question of foreign policy, one that does concern us on this side of the Pond.

Foreign policy may or may not play an important part in the election though the question of security undoubtedly will. Again, one cannot quite predict the outcome as the situation in Iraq has improved considerably and not all the efforts of the MSM and of Democrat politicians can disguise that fact. McCain, as the man who had always advocated something like the present surge, may well reap the benefits.

This is one of Obama’s weak points as he stumbles from one idiotic statement to another and tries to bluster his way out of it. His extraordinary outrage at Bush’s general comments on appeasers in the Knesset, which stated to all the world that he thinks of himself as one, is one more thing that might harm him later on in the fight against McCain.

Barack Obama’s pronouncements on foreign policy have been muddled and full of contradictions as well as showing a distinct lack of knowledge or understanding. It is hard to decide on the biggest gaffe. Was it the reference to 57 states, excluding Alaska and Hawaii? Or was it his completely unhistorical assertion that in talking to the enemy, in this case Baby Assad of Syria and Ahmadinejad of Iran, not to mention various terrorists, he would be following in the footsteps of FDR, Harry Truman and JFK.

Sadly, neither Roosevelt nor Truman are known for too much parlaying with the enemy and the one time Kennedy tried it, in 1961 at the Vienna Summit with Khrushchev, the results were disastrous and he foreswore any future exercise of that kind.

A fascinating article in the IHT gives a good account of that event and its outcome, suggesting that Obama should pay a little more attention to what Kennedy really learnt from it all.

One interesting point about foreign policy ties up with the other talk I attended later that day. In his recent speech on foreign policy John McCain suggested that a new organization should be created perhaps in place of, perhaps in parallel to the United Nations – a league of democracies.

The Henry Jackson Society hosted Professor Thomas Cushman, Founding Editor and Editor-at-Large of the Journal of Human Rights and Professor of Sociology at Wellesley College when he spoke on that very subject.

The first part of that proposition is easy to outline and prove. Just a few examples to do with UN peacekeeping scandals and the Human Rights Commission, not to mention the Durban Anti-Racism Conference, and you have managed to prove to many people’s satisfaction that there is a great deal rotten in Turtle Bay, though the chap next to me did not really like Professor Cushman’s description of the UN as a league of autocrats. According to him matters could be improved if we could make the Security Council function better. When asked how he envisaged that he became somewhat coy.

The problem is, of course, with the second part of the proposition, the creation of a league of democracies, as proposed by Professor Cushman and various colleagues of his. The international community, as it exists, explained the good professor, is problematic in that it pays more attention to “international law” than humanitarian principles, which means that individual countries can do what they like with the UN, as representative of that community, powerless to act.

Which leaves us with the need to define "international law".

There is also the problem that the UN consists of those very countries that break all the supposed founding principles of the organization. The idea of setting up a parallel organization that would consist only of countries who agreed on certain principles and would accept that desirable interests, such as freedom, democracy and human rights, should also be vital interests, sounds tempting. I have heard it enunciated in general and not so general terms on several occasions. But the devil, if one may say so, is in the detail.

First of all, it is interesting to note that, though the idea of a parallel organization to the UN is seen by many on the left as being neo-con and, therefore, an emanation of Satan, it has actually become a talking point among politicians of differing hues. And the left with some exceptions, as Professor Cushman rightly pointed out, ceased to interest itself in human rights or freedom some time in the middle of the twentieth century if not earlier.

Thus there are suggestions from Democrat-supporting think-tanks of such names as Alliance of Democracies, Community of Democracies (this one from Madeleine Allbright) and Concert of Democracies. John McCain has suggested League of Democracies and mused about the possibility of about 100 members.

Given that the name League of Democracies irresistibly reminds one of the ill-fated League of Nations, it may not be the right one to go with but none of the others sound particularly attractive either.

Professor Cushman thinks that’s too many as it would be hard to find 100 certified democracies. I’ll say. His idea that at first the new voluntary organization should be restricted to just a few – number unspecified – of solid democracies that will not turn into anything else.

That raises one or two problems. How do you define a solid democracy? How long does it have to have been one? What are its characteristics? Let’s see now. We’ll have the Anglospheric countries, Britain, US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and India. India? Hmm. There are a few problems there but, I suppose, one could overlook them.

What of the other European countries? The Scandinavian ones, certainly. France, I suppose. Germany has been a successful democracy long enough to count. But what about Spain, Portugal, Greece and the East European countries? Russia, presumably, would not qualify and neither would China. Japan probably yes. But what of Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines and other South-Eastern countries? It exhausts me just to think of all the problems of definition.

Naturally, I was unimpressed by Professor Cushman assuming that the EU, of all organizations, could be a model for the new one in the way it has assimilated new members, first providing them with strong guidelines on how to become worthy of membership. The EU is not a loose organization of democratic states but a less than democratic state in the making and Professor Cushman, with all his astonishing qualifications, fails to realize that. How seriously should we take his other statements?

Furthermore, it is unclear whether this organization is to be anything more than just another talking shop, though this time not with an anti-American, anti-Western bias (maybe we had better keep France out, after all). When I asked whether he envisaged an integrated force that would intervene in countries that abused human rights most flagrantly, the good professor openly told me that he was being evasive because he sees that problem as being well into the future. I think not. If you set up an organization you need to decide at an early stage what the aim is and, in general terms, how that aim is to be achieved. Otherwise, you blunder into badly planned scenarios.

There are a few points to be made here, though. Firstly, it is good that the subject of how to by-pass the UN to the point when it might disappear, is becoming part of mainstream American political discussion. Of course, the best way of achieving that objective would be to stop giving the wretched organization money but, I suppose, it is reasonable for politicians to be able to say that there is an alternative to something that is completely rotten and corrupt but is seen as a shining star of human hopes, if only it could be polished up a bit.

On the other hand if Obama does become President (and with all those idiotic gaffes, McCain’s chances are looking better and better) he will not want to do anything. He, as Professor Cushman said, will be a hero at the UN.

Secondly, the idea of making it clear that countries that actually believe in certain principles, even if they do not always act on them, are basically different from those that merely sign up to agreements and proceed to violate them before the ink is dry is full of potential.

Thirdly, there is no harm in affirming that those principles, based on freedom and democracy should become part of the democratic countries’ interests. Nor is there any harm in creating some organization in which the United States will be merely first among equals and, surrounded by allies, will take cognizance of them. Actually, as we have written before, it is not true that President Bush or any of his predecessors refused to listen. He merely refused to listen to America’s enemies.

Fourthly, national sovereignty is a severely overrated concept. The only reason the UN is stuck with it is because the Soviet Union insisted on putting it into the founding charter (and the meeting that signed it was organized and managed by the well-known Soviet agent Alger Hiss), wishing to prevent any discussion of its own record on freedom and human rights. But if those concepts are to trump national sovereignty there has to be a decisiveness about the need to intervene if necessary, a way of defining when that necessity arises and a method of achieving that intervention. None of which, it seems to me, are even close to being discussed seriously by the potential founders of the League of Democracies.