Thursday, April 24, 2008

What is an “N”GO? Part I

An “N”GO, or “non”-governmental organization, is a institution that receives all or most of its funds from one or more governments and yet insists that it is NON-governmental organization. "N"GOs are not only in the business of surviving on governmental funds, they also specialize in sub-contracting funds to other organizations around the world who then claim: "No, we do not receive money from any governments, we receive them from "N"GOs!" The "N"GOs, therefore, are first and foremost supreme money launderers.

Take for example, the notorious NED, or National Endowment for Democracy, which has been the central topic of a number of bitter exchanges in the Iranian blogosphere. Anyone involved in Central and South American work, of course, has long known of the sinister role of NED in that region: starting with Panama soon after it was founded by Reagan and more recently in Venezuela, NED's disruptive interventionist role is no secret to Central and South American activists and intelligentsia. It seems that us Iranian are a bit of latecomers in discerning what is at work with such organizations, but it seems that many are slowly coming around.

Now NED receives nearly all of its funding via an annual appropriation from the US budget, i.e the US government. While some Iranian 'exiles'--not surprisingly themselves on the payroll of NED--have attempted logical acrobatics to obfuscate this by saying for example, that the funds come from congress are therefore bi-partisan (so?), the fact remains that institutions like NED are projects of the United States Government. They are, if you like, governmental non-governmental organizations.

I won't get into the good or bad of receiving governmental funding. Some people I like and respect maintain that it is not where you receive money, but what you do with it. I don't really accept this argument, particularly since usually the people making it are somehow a beneficiary of such funds, even if in indirect ways. But that is an argument for another time.

My focus here is to point out the lengths that these organizations go to in order to detract attention from the fundamentals of what they are.

A month or so ago, VOA Persian invited the president of NED, Carl Gershman, to talk about his organization. The smug VOA reporter, Bijan Farhoudi, said with a straight face that they were going to provide their audience with objective, factual information to counter the misinformation that has been spreading about NED and its intentions. In other words, the US government funded VOA gives a platform to the US government funded NED so that they can tell the Iranian audience "the truth" about what the US government is and is not doing.

One of the things that Carl Gershman was quick to point out was that NED is non-profit organization. What he didn't say, and what none of NED defenders who are also on the payroll will say to an Iranian audience, is that non-profit status is merely a technical legal category that indicates nothing about one's connections (or lack thereof)to any government, nor about one's political leanings. The National Rifle Organization, for example, is a non-profit, and so is the marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access.

Being a non-profit organization does not magically drain an institution from political positions or bias. Receiving funds from the congress, and therefore a "bi-partisan" source, is the same as getting money from the US government. Last time I checked, the US Congress was still a part of the US government! And finally, US government money that has been laundered between multiple organizations (sometimes going back and forth!), is still US government money.

The US government paid employees of NED, VOA, and other institutions receiving laundered and unlaundered monies should stop trying to confuse and pacify everyone with all of this wordplay and logical gymnastics. As we say in Persian, they are just trying to rub molasses on our heads.

But people are slowing starting to raise questions about these organizations and Gershman's appearance on VOA Persian looked like a desperate attempt to stop the inevitable tide of resistance.