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MintPress News
Mon, 08 Aug 2022 16:43:05 +0000

The Growing Movement to Liberate Julian Assange, with John Shipton



The MintPress podcast, "The Watchdog," hosted by British-Iraqi hip hop artist Lowkey, closely examines organizations about which it is in the public interest to know – including intelligence, lobby and special interest groups influencing policies that infringe on free speech and target dissent. The Watchdog goes against the grain by casting a light on stories largely ignored by the mainstream, corporate media.

On this week's edition of The Watchdog podcast, Lowkey explores the growing movement to free Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, and is joined by his father John Shipton, to do so. Imprisoned in Belmarsh high security prison in London since 2019, and before that confined to the Ecuadorian Embassy, Assange has spent a decade locked up. If extradited to the United States, he faces up to 175 years in prison.

Yet there are signs that his future might be brighter than his past. The global movement to free him, Shipton explains, is growing. In Australia, dozens of members of parliament have come together to lobby for Assange's release. In the United Kingdom, 23 MPs from across the political spectrum have done the same. Indeed, the parliaments of every single European nation have an Assange friendship group. And 26 major NGOs have signed a letter of support that was recently sent to President Biden.

But, as Shipton explained to Lowkey, these groups are not acting on their own accord, but rather are reacting to popular pressure. As he said:

These elements of institutions, parliaments and NGOs and governments represent an upwelling tide of support. They don't do it out of their own motivation. They do it because they either feel the injustice from the upwelling tide of support or realize as parliamentarians that their position is to carry this forward into the institutions of Parliament and resolve the situation."

The Biden administration is also coming under attack from Latin American nations. Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador recently publicly stated that if Biden extradites Assange, he should tear down the Statue of Liberty as freedom will be over.

"He is the best journalist of our time in the world and has been very unfairly treated, worse than a criminal..This is an embarrassment to the world," Lopez Obrador added.

Both Shipton and Assange feature in a new documentary film, Ithaka, which details the struggle to free Assange and the emotional toll it has taken on his family. The film is directed by Ben Lawrence and produced by Assange's brother, Gabriel Shipton. Late last month, Lowkey hosted a special screening of the film in London, alongside Shipton and Assange's wife, Stella.

Lowkey is a British-Iraqi hip-hop artist, academic and political campaigner. As a musician, he has collaborated with the Arctic Monkeys, Wretch 32, Immortal Technique and Akala. He is a patron of Stop The War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Racial Justice Network and The Peace and Justice Project, founded by Jeremy Corbyn. He has spoken and performed on platforms from the Oxford Union to the Royal Albert Hall and Glastonbury. His latest album, Soundtrack To The Struggle 2, featured Noam Chomsky and Frankie Boyle and has been streamed millions of times.

The post The Growing Movement to Liberate Julian Assange, with John Shipton appeared first on MintPress News.

MintPress News
Mon, 08 Aug 2022 14:43:55 +0000

The Intricate Fight For Africa: The Legacy of the Soviet Union vs Western Colonialism


Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's recent tour in Africa was meant to be a game changer, not only in terms of Russia's relations with the continent, but in the global power struggle involving the US, Europe, China, India, Turkey and others.

Many media reports and analyses placed Lavrov's visit to Egypt, the Republic of Congo, Uganda and Ethiopia within the obvious political context of the Russia-Ukraine war. The British Guardian's Jason Burka summed up Lavrov's visit in these words: "Lavrov is seeking to convince African leaders and, to a much lesser extent, ordinary people that Moscow cannot be blamed either for the conflict or the food crisis."

Though true, there is more at stake.

Africa's importance to the geostrategic tug of war is not a new phenomenon. Western governments, think tanks and media reports have, for long, allocated much attention to Africa due to China's and Russia's successes in altering the foreign policy map of many African countries. For years, the West has been playing catch up, but with limited success.

The Economist discussed 'the new scramble for Africa' in a May 2019 article, which reported on "governments and businesses from all around the world" who are "rushing" to the continent in search of "vast opportunities" awaiting them there. Between 2010 and 2016, 320 foreign embassies were opened in Africa which, according to the magazine, is "probably the biggest embassy-building boom, anywhere, ever."


Though China has often been portrayed as a country seeking economic opportunities only, the nature and evolution of Beijing's relations with Africa prove otherwise. Beijing is reportedly the biggest supplier of arms to sub-Saharan Africa, and its defense technology permeates almost the entire continent. In 2017, China established its first military base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.

Russia's military influence in Africa is also growing exponentially, and Moscow's power is challenging that of France, the US and others in various strategic spaces, mainly in the East Africa regions.

But, unlike the US and other western states, countries like China, Russia and India have been cautious as they attempt to strike the perfect balance between military engagement, economic development and political language.

'Quartz Africa' reported that trade between Africa and China "rose to a record high" in 2021. The jump was massive: 35% between 2020 and 2021, reaching a total of $254 billion.

Now that Covid-19 restrictions have been largely lifted, trade between Africa and China is likely to soar at astronomical levels in the coming years. Keeping in mind the economic slump and potential recession in the West, Beijing's economic expansion is unlikely to slow down, despite the obvious frustration of Washington, London and Brussels. It ought to be said that China is already Africa's largest trade partner, and by far.

An unidentfied Chinese national and a Zimbabwean man hug while welcoming Chinese President Xi Jinping upon his arrival in Harare, Zimbabwe, Dec. 1. 2015.(AP/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

A Chinese national and a Zimbabwean man hug while welcoming Chinese President Xi Jinping upon his arrival in Harare, Zimbabwe, 2015. Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi | AP

Russia-China-Africa's strong ties are paying dividends on the international stage. Nearly half of the abstentions in the vote on United Nations Resolution ES-11/1 on March 2, condemning Russia's military action in Ukraine, came from Africa alone. Eritrea voted against it. This attests to Russia's ability to foster new alliances on the continent. It also demonstrates the influence of China – Russia's main ally in the current geopolitical tussle – as well.

Yet, there is more to Africa's position than mere interest in military hardware and trade expansion. History is most critical.

In the first 'scramble for Africa', Europe sliced up and divided the continent into colonies and areas of influence. The exploitation and brutalization that followed remain one of the most sordid chapters in modern human history.

What the Economist refers to as the 'second scramble for Africa' during the Cold War era was the Soviet Union's attempt to demolish the existing colonial and neo-colonial paradigms established by western countries throughout the centuries.

The collapse of the Soviet Union over three decades ago changed this dynamic, resulting in an inevitable Russian retreat and the return to the uncontested western dominance. That status quo did not last for long, however, as China and, eventually, Russia, India, Turkey, Arab countries and others began challenging western supremacy.

Lavrov and his African counterparts fully understand this context. Though Russia is no longer a Communist state, Lavrov was keen on referencing the Soviet era, thus the unique rapport Moscow has with Africa, in his speeches. For example, ahead of his visit to Congo, Lavrov said in an interview that Russia had "long-standing good relations with Africa since the days of the Soviet Union."

Such language cannot be simply designated as opportunistic or merely compelled by political urgency. It is part of a complex discourse and rooted superstructure, indicating that Moscow – along with Beijing – is preparing for a long-term geopolitical confrontation in Africa.

Considering the West's harrowing colonial past, and Russia's historic association with various liberation movements on the continent, many African states, intelligentsias, and ordinary people are eager to break free from the grip of western hegemony.

Feature photo | African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat during a news conference following talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the Russian Foreign Ministry's Reception House. Dmitry Lebedev | Kommersant | Sipa via AP Images

Dr. Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of six books. His latest book, co-edited with Ilan Pappé, is "Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders and Intellectuals Speak out". Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

The post The Intricate Fight For Africa: The Legacy of the Soviet Union vs Western Colonialism appeared first on MintPress News.

MintPress News
Thu, 04 Aug 2022 15:21:04 +0000

Israeli Company and UN Human Rights Violator Energix Under Scrutiny for Environmental Violations in US


Israeli renewable energy firm and UN-designated human rights violator, Energix is under scrutiny from government agencies and activists alike for environmental violations stemming from its solar panel projects in Virginia. The company has been fined over $90,000 by ten counties and two state agencies for causing environmental damage and has faced pushback in implementing its solar projects.

According to data collected by the Virginia Coalition for Human Rights (VCHR), the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the State Water Control Board fined Energix about $92,000 on June 8 for environmental violations at its solar sites in Wythe and Buckingham counties. The violations are mainly attributed to sediment contamination, lack of proper sediment control measures, and erosion and stormwater runoff causing "land disturbing activities."

Courtesy | © Virginia Coalition for Human Rights

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), sediment is sand, clay, and other soil particles that stormwater carries into nearby bodies of water. The EPA classifies sediment as the most common pollutant in rivers, streams, and lakes; and downgrades the quality of drinking water, damages wildlife habitats, and can cause toxic algae blooms.

VCHR activist Jeanne Trabulsi explained that the fines are part of draft enforcement orders, so any actions and fines related to them are only proposed and not official yet.

As reported by local press outlet, The Farmville Herald, the consent orders must undergo a public comment period, ending Aug. 3, before decisions are finalized. VCHR has submitted a public comment regarding Energix's environmental and human rights concerns and requesting that the DEQ revoke its permit.

Energix did not respond to press inquiries regarding the fines and environmental concerns. However, Energix did admit to the violations in the consent orders.

The hefty fines are not the only obstacle Energix is facing in Virginia. In Rockingham County, landowners sued the Board of Supervisors (BoS), government officials overseeing county operations, and Energix over the planned Caden Endless Energix Caverns site because the project violated newly-passed solar zoning guidelines. The BoS in Dinwiddie County voted down Energix's bid to build an 80 megawatt "Lily Pond" utility due to environmental concerns.

In Franklin County, Energix was forced to withdraw its application for a proposed 20-megawatt solar project due to property owners' concerns over toxic runoff from its Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) solar panels. And in Buckingham, Caroline, Chesterfield, Madison, Prince George, and Spotsylvania counties, officials banned or prohibited Energix's installation of CdTe solar panels, which contain toxic heavy metals.

Energix only installs CdTe solar panels, which just 5% of the solar industry uses. CdTe is listed on the EPA's Toxic Substances List and the National Institute of Health's (NIH) hazard identification list. The NIH warns CdTe is harmful if swallowed, inhaled, or comes into contact with skin and is dangerous to aquatic life. CdTe is also considered hazardous by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In total, at least six of Energix's solar projects have been withdrawn, not permitted, or have not been submitted to county planning departments.

While Energix faces regulatory hurdles in Virginia, that has not stopped the company from engaging in energy projects in other states. In May, Energix took over the development, construction, and ownership of the Adams Solar project, which will provide 22% of Philadelphia's municipal electricity use. Philadelphia Energy Authority did not respond to media inquiries on whether it's aware of Energix's environmental and human rights violations.

Energix job posts on LinkedIn mention the company is involved in solar projects in West Virginia and Kentucky as well. The job description lists possible travel to these states. However, project details in Kentucky and West Virginia are not disclosed on Energix's website. The company also operates a wind farm in Poland.

Foreign government interference?

In 2001, the Virginia Israel Advisory Board (VIAB) was established as a state agency under the General Assembly of Virginia. VIAB's charter states its mission is to "advise the Governor on ways to improve economic and cultural links between the Commonwealth and the State of Israel, with a focus on the areas of commerce and trade, art and education, and general government." However, using Virginia taxpayer money, VIAB operates similarly to an Israel lobbying organization.

VIAB promoted Energix's business activities in the U.S. "VIAB should be a chamber of commerce, which is separate from the government," Trabulsi told MintPress News. "But because they are so closely enmeshed and have offices within the General Assembly, they are very active and very close to people who have power and make policy."

At a March 2022 conference on the Israel lobby jointly hosted by the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy, Trabulsi outlined Energix's strong governmental influences.

This included the fact that, in 2019, former Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and state Secretary of Commerce Brian Ball went on a VIAB-sponsored trade trip to Israel. Aviva Frye, Energix's director of governmental and public relations, served as the head of Energix's U.S. subsidiary while simultaneously serving on VIAB's board. In an email seeking a private meeting with former Virginia first lady Pamela Northam to discuss Energix, Frye signed it as "VIAB board." Recently, VIAB's budget was increased from $200,000 annually to $250,000 per year.

During the conference, Trabulsi said:

Energix credits VIAB with connecting it with senior leaders in the commonwealth, and credits VIAB with introduction to private and public entities and assisting in the identification of new projects. We [VCHR] believe that this gives Energix an unfair advantage over other Virginia solar companies."

Additionally, Energix — like other solar companies — receives a 30% federal investment tax credit. Through loopholes, the company has also obtained state and federal subsidies. In 2020, Energix applied for a Virginia Jobs Investment Program subsidy as well as federal Payroll Protection Program loans — receiving one-third of all PPP loans for the Virginia utility scale solar sector.

Energix, human rights and the environment

In 2020, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights designated Energix as violating human rights for conducting business in the occupied territories, specifically labeling it as a category G company for using natural resources, particularly water and land, for business purposes.

Energix seized land from Palestinians living in Masafer Yatta in the occupied West Bank in order to build the Meitarim solar facility in an illegal settlement industrial zone in 2014.

Meitariam

Energix's 2014 financial report refers to the Meitariam project in Judea and Samaria, a colloquial Israeli reference to occupied Palestinian territory

In December 2021, the Israeli Defense Ministry signed an agreement with Energix to build a massive wind farm in the occupied Golan Heights, consisting of 41 wind turbines standing at 656 feet tall. Energix's wind turbine project in the Golan has prompted significant backlash from local residents who say it will harm their health, housing, livelihoods, and the environment. The wind farm will be built on occupied Syrian agricultural land — disrupting local cultivation practices and preventing villages' expansion.

Experts also indicate that wind farms may cause health problems to the surrounding populations, such as infrasound and low-frequency sound waves measured below the audible threshold, which may lead to headaches, dizziness, and nausea. It is also suggested that wind turbines can harm wildlife, particularly by killing migratory birds.

With these violations in mind, VCHR is planning to notify Philadelphia officials of Energix's practices in hopes of stopping its takeover of the Adams Solar Project. Yet as Energix continues expanding in the U.S., the recent governmental opposition it has faced may signal it will have a harder time than expected in cementing itself in the American energy industry.

Feature photo | Graphic by MintPress News

Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist covering Palestine, Israel and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News.

The post Israeli Company and UN Human Rights Violator Energix Under Scrutiny for Environmental Violations in US appeared first on MintPress News.

MintPress News
Thu, 04 Aug 2022 14:08:39 +0000

Major Mask Maker 3M Found To Have Harmed 200,000 Troops


Once upon a time, there was a company called 3M. You might recall that name because everybody loved them when they made a billion face masks during the pandemic. Remember at the beginning everybody was like, "Where are we gonna get enough face masks?! We need roughly a quadrillion and the entire U.S. only has… seven. What are we gonna do?"

So people were wearing all kinds of weird shit on their faces. And then a few companies like 3M said, "We got it. We're national heroes. We're like the dudes who landed on the moon." And I was like, "No you aren't! You're fuckin' making a boatload of cash. You're not sacrificing your life, running into enemy fire with a knife between your teeth. No, you saw that you could make a trillion dollars by pumping out face masks. Stop acting like you cured polio with a third-grade chemistry set.

Anyway, 3M made a lot of the face masks. Not mine. Mine were made by Frito-Lay so that I could wear them on the bus but then, in a pinch, eat it. They were delicious. Do you have any idea how much guac you can fit on one of those things? It's great. But a lot of people were wearing the far less edible 3M masks.

But 3M doesn't only make pandemic masks. They also have a company called Aearo that makes industrial earplugs that our military wear so the soldiers can do their important work without being interrupted by the screams of their victims. (That's the worst — when you're trying to kill a bunch of people and they're all yelling about something or other and you're like, "I can't even hear myself THINK! Could you keep it down while we bomb?!"

But it gets even better. As American Prospect reported,

 Aearo and its parent company 3M had supplied millions of earplugs to nearly all troops who served between 2006 and 2015. Each pair of earplugs was faulty, due to a mechanical flaw discovered in 2000… and subsequently hidden. Now, more than 160,000 veterans, current service members, and civilians are suing 3M for hearing loss, in one of the largest litigations of its kind in U.S. history."

3M gave the troops earplugs that they knew failed to plug the ear — which is, like, their one job. So 160,000 former troops have hearing loss or tinnitus. And that 160,000 military personnel harmed is actually now up to 290,000. So how are those lawsuits going? Well, a few months ago Reuters reported 3M was ordered to pay $77.5 million to a single veteran in the latest earplug trial.

But 3M, like every major corporation, has a way to escape paying for their crimes. To learn the rest of the story, watch the full video HERE.

Lee Camp is an American stand-up comedian, writer, actor and activist. Camp is the host of Behind The Headlines' new series: The Most Censored News With Lee Camp. He is a former comedy writer for the Onion and the Huffington Post and has been a touring stand-up comic for 20 years.

The post Major Mask Maker 3M Found To Have Harmed 200,000 Troops appeared first on MintPress News.

MintPress News
Wed, 03 Aug 2022 16:12:55 +0000

Why Resistance Matters: Palestinians are Challenging Israel’s Unilateralism, Dominance


Until recently, Israeli politics did not matter to Palestinians. Though the Palestinian people maintained their political agency under the most demoralizing conditions, their collective action rarely influenced outcomes in Israel, partly due to the massive discrepancy of power between the two sides.

Now that Israelis are embarking on their fifth election in less than four years, it is important to raise the question: "How do Palestine and the Palestinians factor in Israeli politics?"

Israeli politicians and media, even those who are decrying the failure of the 'peace process', agree that peace with the Palestinians is no longer a factor and that Israeli politics almost entirely revolves around Israel's own socio-economic, political, and strategic priorities.

This, however, is not exactly true.

While it is appropriate to argue that none of Israel's mainstream politicians are engaged in dialogue about Palestinian rights, a just peace, or co-existence, Palestine remains a major factor in the election campaigning of most of Israel's political parties. Instead of advocating peace, these camps advocate sinister ideas, ranging from the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements to the rebuilding of the 'Third Temple' – thus the destruction of Al-Aqsa Mosque. The former is represented by ex-Israeli Prime Ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett, and the latter in more extremist characters like Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.

Hence, Palestine has always factored into Israeli politics in such a vulgar way. Even before the establishment of the state of Israel on the ruins of historic Palestine in 1948, the Zionist movement understood that a 'Jewish state' can only exist and maintain its Jewish majority through force, and only when Palestine and the Palestinian people cease to exist.

"Zionism is a colonizing adventure and, therefore, it stands or falls on the question of armed forces", Zionist ideologue Ze'ev Jabotinsky wrote nearly 100 years ago. This philosophy of violence continues to permeate Zionist thought to this day. "You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs. You have to dirty your hands," said Israeli historian, Benny Morris in a 2004 interview, in reference to the Nakba and the subsequent dispossession of the Palestinian people.

Until the war of 1967, Palestinian and Arab states mattered, to some extent, to Israel. Palestinian and Arab resistance cemented Palestinian political agency for decades. However, the devastating outcome of the war, which, once again, demonstrated the centrality of violence to Israel's existence, relegated Palestinians and almost entirely sidelined the Arabs.

Since then, Palestinians mattered to Israel based almost exclusively on Israeli priorities. For example, Israeli leaders flexed their muscles before their triumphant constituencies by attacking Palestinian training camps in Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere. Palestinians also factored in as Israel's new cheap labor force. In some ironic but also tragic way, it was the Palestinians who built Israel following the humiliating defeat of the Naksa, or the Setback.

The early stages of the 'peace process', especially during the Madrid talks in 1991, gave the false impression that the Palestinian agency is finally translating to tangible outcomes; this hope quickly evaporated as illegal Jewish settlements continued to expand, and Palestinians continued to lose their land and lives at an unprecedented rate.

The ultimate example of Israel's complete disregard for Palestinians was the so-called 'disengagement plan' carried out in Gaza by late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2005. The Israeli government believed that Palestinians were inconsequential to the point that the Palestinian leadership was excluded from any phase of the Israeli scheme. The approximately 8,500 illegal Jewish settlers of Gaza were merely resettled in other illegally occupied Palestinian land and the Israeli army simply redeployed from Gaza's heavily populated areas to impose a hermetic blockade on the impoverished Strip.

The Gaza siege apparatus remains in effect to this day. The same applies to every Israeli action in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.

Due to their understanding of Zionism and experience with Israeli behavior, generation after generation of Palestinians rightly believed that the outcome of Israeli politics can never be favorable to Palestinian rights and political aspirations. The last few years, however, began altering this belief. Though Israeli politics have not changed – in fact, pivoted further to the right – Palestinians, wittingly or otherwise, become direct players in Israeli politics.

Israeli politics has historically been predicated on the need for further colonialism, strengthening the Jewish identity of the state at the expense of Palestinians, and the constant quest for war. Recent events suggest that these factors are no longer controlled by Israel alone.

The popular resistance in occupied East Jerusalem and the growing rapport between it and various other forms of resistance throughout Palestine are reversing Israel's previous success in segmenting Palestinian communities, thus dividing the Palestinian struggle among different factions, regions, and priorities. The fact that Israel is forced to seriously consider Gaza's response to its annual provocation in Jerusalem, known as the 'Flag March', perfectly illustrates this.

As demonstrated time and again, the growing resistance throughout Palestine is also denying Israeli politicians the chance to wage war for votes and political status within Israel. For example, Netanyahu's desperate war in May 2021 did not save his government, which collapsed shortly after. Bennett, a year later, hoped that his 'Flag March' would provoke a Palestinian response in Gaza that would buy his crumbling coalition more time. The strategic decision by Palestinian groups not to respond to Israel's provocations thwarted Bennett's plans. His government, too, collapsed shortly after.

Still, a week following the dismantling of Israel's latest coalition, groups in Gaza released a video of a captured Israeli who was presumed dead, sending a message to Israel that the resistance in the Strip still has more cards at its disposal. The video raised much attention in Israel, compelling the new Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid to assert that Israel has "a sacred obligation to bring home" its captives.

All these new elements have a direct impact on Israeli politics, policies, and calculations, even if the Israelis continue to deny the obvious impact of Palestinians, their resistance, and political strategies.

The reason why Israel refuses to acknowledge Palestinian political agency is that, in doing so, Tel Aviv would have no other alternative but to engage Palestinians as partners in a political process that could guarantee justice, equality, and peaceful co-existence. Until this just peace is realized, Palestinians will continue to resist. The sooner Israel acknowledges this inescapable reality, the better.

Feature photo | Gunmen from Kitab al-Qassam march in formation a march against Israeli oppression in Gaza. Yousef Masoud | Sipa via AP

Dr. Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of six books. His latest book, co-edited with Ilan Pappé, is "Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders and Intellectuals Speak out". Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

The post Why Resistance Matters: Palestinians are Challenging Israel's Unilateralism, Dominance appeared first on MintPress News.

MintPress News
Tue, 02 Aug 2022 17:02:31 +0000

Most of the “Fact-Checking” Organizations Facebook Uses in Ukraine Are Directly Funded by Washington


Most of the fact-checking organizations Facebook has partnered with to monitor and regulate information about Ukraine are directly funded by the U.S. government, either through the U.S. Embassy or via the notorious National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

In light of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, an information war as bitter as the ground fighting has erupted, and Meta (Facebook's official name) announced it had partnered with nine organizations to help it sort fact from fiction for Ukrainian, Russian and other Eastern European users. These nine organizations are: StopFake, VoxCheck, Fact Check Georgia, Demagog, Myth Detector, Lead Stories, Patikrinta 15min, Re:Baltica and Delfi.

"To reduce the spread of misinformation and provide more reliable information to users, we partner with independent third-party fact-checkers globally," the Silicon Valley giant wrote, adding, "Facebook's independent third-party fact-checkers are all certified by the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN). The IFCN, a subsidiary of the journalism research organization Poynter Institute, is dedicated to bringing together fact-checkers worldwide."

The problem with this? At least five of the nine organizations are directly in the pay of the United States government, a major belligerent in the conflict. The Poynter Institute is also funded by the NED. Furthermore, many of the other fact-checking organizations also have deep connections with other NATO powers, including direct funding.

StopFake

Perhaps the most well-known and notorious of the nine groups is StopFake. Established in 2014, StopFake is funded by NATO's Atlantic Council, by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the British Embassy in Ukraine and the Czech Foreign Ministry. It has also received money from the U.S. via the National Endowment for Democracy, although that fact is far from trumpeted by either party.

One potential reason for this was alluded to in a 2016 article reprinted by StopFake itself. As the article notes, "in the case of StopFake.org when opponents want to insult the project, they immediately invoke National Endowment for Democracy donor support as evidence of U.S. government and CIA involvement."

In the wake of the Russian invasion, the NED pulled all public records of their Ukraine projects from the internet. Nevertheless, incomplete archived copies of those records confirm a financial relationship between the groups.

StopFake was explicitly set up as a partisan organization. As a glowing report on them from the International Journalists' Network notes, the majority of StopFake's fact-checks are on stories from Russian media, and the motivation for its creation was "Russia's 2014 occupation of Crimea and a campaign to portray Ukraine as a fascist state where anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia and xenophobia thrived."

While it is indeed incorrect to label Ukraine a fascist state, the country clearly has one of the strongest far-right movements anywhere in Europe. And unfortunately, StopFake itself is far from an apolitical bystander in that rise. Multiple established Western media outlets, including The New York Times, have reported on StopFake's ties to white power or Nazi groups. When local journalist Ekaterina Sergatskova exposed these links, death threats from far-right figures forced her to flee her home.

Indeed, according to some, one of StopFake's primary functions appears to be to promote the far-right. A long exposé by Lev Golinkin in The Nation cataloged what it called StopFake's history of "aggressively whitewashing two Ukrainian neo-Nazi groups with a long track record of violence, including war crimes."

Surely StopFake's most famous former host is Nina Jankowicz. Jankowicz was briefly head of President Biden's newly formed Disinformation Governance Board before public uproar caused her to resign. Dubbed the "Ministry of Truth", both the board and Jankowicz generated strong opposition. Yet few mentioned the fact that, while at StopFake, Jankowicz herself had, on camera, enthusiastically extolled the virtues of multiple fascist paramilitaries.

In a 2017 TV segment about the Aidar, Dnipro-1 and Azov Battalions, Jankowicz presented the groups as heroic volunteers deafening Ukraine from "further Russian separatist encroachment." As she stated,

The volunteer movement in Ukraine extends far beyond military service. Volunteer groups are active in supporting Ukraine's military with food, clothing, medicine, and post-battle rehabilitation, as well as working actively with the nearly two million internal refugees displaced by the war in Ukraine,"

This framing jars with multiple reports from human rights groups such as Amnesty International, who claim that the Aidar Battalion is guilty of a litany of abuses, "including abductions, unlawful detention, ill-treatment, theft, extortion, and possible executions." Amnesty also accuses Aidar and Dnipro-1 of "Using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare."

Azov, meanwhile, is the most infamous organization of the lot. The group's insignia is directly lifted from the 2nd Waffen-SS Panzer Division, a unit responsible for carrying out some of the worst crimes of Hitler's holocaust. The Azov Battalion also dip their bullets in pig fat before battle as a calculated hate crime, attempting to block Jewish or Muslim enemies from a better afterlife. Andriy Biletsky, the group's founder, said in 2010 that he believes Ukraine's mission is to "lead the white races of the world in a final crusade … against Semite-led Untermenschen" – the word Hitler used to describe Jews, Poles, Ukrainians and other peoples he designated for extermination.

In February, Facebook announced that it was changing its rules on hate speech to allow praise and promotion of the Azov Battalion. Was this on StopFake's recommendation? MintPress asked Meta/Facebook for comment on their fact checking partner's ties to far right groups and if StopFake had influenced their decision to allow pro-Nazi content on their platform, but did not receive a reply.

As Golinkin noted in his article for The Nation, StopFake has also defended C14, another fascist paramilitary, describing it merely as a "community organization", citing C14's own denial of its pogroms against Roma people as "evidence" of its innocence. This designation clashes even with the U.S. State Department, which classifies C14 as a "nationalist hate group." The "14" in its name refers to the "14 words" white supremacist slogan.

StopFake has made a number of controversial claims, including that the rise in anti-semitism in Ukraine is "fake" – even going so far as to brand well-established outlets like NBC News and Al-Jazeera as printing fake news about the Azov Battalion's role in this. In an article entitled "Russia as Evil: False Historical Parallels. Some peculiarities of Russian Political Culture," it also insisted that Hitler's concentration camps were modeled on Russian ones set up by Vladimir Lenin. In reality, the German government pioneered the use of concentration camps during their genocide of the Herero and Namaqua peoples between 1904 and 1908 in Namibia. The British and Spanish were also early adopters.

In addition, StopFake has close links with The Kyiv Post, a Ukrainian outlet directly funded and trained by the National Endowment for Democracy. Since 2016, the Post has published 191 StopFake reports.

Who is the NED?

Why receiving funding from the National Endowment for Democracy should immediately raise suspicions of any organization is because the NED was explicitly established by the Reagan administration as a front group for the Central Intelligence Agency.

Although it is funded by Washington and staffed by state officials, it is technically a private company and therefore not subject to the same legal regulations and public scrutiny as state institutions.

The CIA has used the NED to carry out many of its more controversial operations. In recent years, it has trained and funneled money to the leaders of the Hong Kong protesters to keep the insurrection alive, fomented a nationwide campaign of demonstrations in Cuba, and helped attempts to topple the government of Venezuela. Perhaps most importantly for this story, however, the NED was also involved in the 2014 coup that removed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych from power. Regime change is, in short, one of its primary functions.

The NED does this by establishing, funding, supporting and training all manner of political, economic and social groups in target countries. According to its 2019 annual report, Ukraine is the NED's "top priority". The agency has (officially) spent over $22 million in Ukraine since 2014.

In their more candid moments, NED leaders are explicit about the organization's role. "It would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the CIA," Carl Gershman, NED president from 1984 to 2021 said, explaining why his organization was set up. NED co-founder Allen Weinstein agreed: "A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA," he told The Washington Post.

VoxCheck

VoxCheck receives substantial monetary assistance from the U.S. government through both the NED and the U.S. Embassy. It is also funded by the Dutch and German governments. Incomplete NED records show VoxCheck receives substantial yearly grants and has accepted around $250,000 in total.

That sort of money goes an extremely long way in Ukraine, which is by quite some way the poorest nation in Europe. The country's GNI per capita of $3,500 per year is well below that of even Russia, which stands at $10,700. One $15,000 NED grant given to a Ukrainian media foundation, for instance, was enough to pay for over 100 articles to be written.

Despite its funding, Western media portray VoxCheck extremely positively. The Washington Post, for example, describes them as "a small group of independent fact-checkers." In common parlance, the word "independent" is usually reserved for any media group not owned or funded by governments (as if that is the only type of dependence). But even at this extremely low bar, VoxCheck falls.

VoxUkraine NED

An NED document shows a 2020 grant given to VoxUkraine

In the article, the Washington Post describes VoxCheck's fact-checking process, which largely consists of "sourcing credible news sources – such as a BBC article," and then labeling Russian claims as false on this basis. In other words, the official state mouthpiece of the British government – one that was instrumental in promoting the lies which led to the invasions of Iraq and Libya – is considered sacrosanct.

What comes across in the Post's glowing exposé is that VoxCheck staff have few pretensions about being neutral and see themselves as digital foot soldiers in a crusade against Russia. As one employee said, the mission is to "prevent someone from falling into Russian lies and manipulation." Indeed, one of the staff quit his job to volunteer for the Ukrainian Army. Other VoxCheck employees revealed that they felt guilty for not doing so themselves and only contributing virtually to the fight.

Of course, Russia has lied constantly during this war; the entire invasion was based on a lie. Throughout the winter, Russian officials consistently repeated that they had no intention of invading Ukraine. Russian media, meanwhile, claimed that President Zelensky had fled the country in the wake of the invasion. But in war, all sides lie. And when a fact-checking operation constantly critiques only one side and stays largely quiet about the other, it has clearly taken a side in the conflict and is therefore acting in a partisan fashion. People interested in thinking critically should be scrutinizing claims made by all sides.

Fact Check Georgia

Fact Check Georgia describes itself as "an independent and non-partisan website which offers readers researched, verified and evidence-based information." Yet it is bankrolled by a litany of dubious organizations, including the NED and the U.S. Embassy, the German Marshall Fund, the Dutch government and the European Endowment for Democracy, a European government-funded "private" organization explicitly modeled on the NED.

Fact Check Georgia's "About Us" section reveals just how independent the fact checking organization really is

Fact Check Georgia's independence is potentially undermined by the fact that at the bottom of every page of its website, it displays the crests of both the NED and the U.S. Embassy in Georgia. This is accompanied by the disclaimer, "The views and opinions expressed on this website belong to Factcheck.ge and are not the views and opinions of project support organizations" – a sentence that would not be necessary to attach if an organization was truly independent.

Furthermore, some of its staff have notable backgrounds. The first person listed on Fact Check Georgia's "our team" section was formerly the Deputy Minister of Defense for Georgia – a country that fought a war against Russia in 2008.

Myth Detector

Another Georgia-based company, Myth Detector, was funded by the U.S. Embassy to the tune of €42,000 in financial year 2021. German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle contributed €41,000. Also donating €41,000 last year, according to Myth Detector's financial report, is a group called "Zinc." This is quite possibly the Zinc Network, a shadowy intelligence firm that conducts information warfare operations on behalf of the U.K. and U.S. governments.

Demagog

Not only is the U.S. Embassy in Poland funding Demagog, it is also carrying out training in how to think. Demagog's website notes that the embassy established a "fact-checking academy" on "how to deal with false information." "Thanks to the [embassy] cooperation," it notes, "classes were conducted for students and teachers on fake news, reliable sources of information and fact-checking."

Alongside the U.S. government, Demagog also receives money from Polish government, European Union and European Economic Area organizations.

Together, these five organizations' operations are all directly bankrolled by Washington. However, many of the other fact-checking groups Facebook pays to serve as content police on their platform have similarly close connections to Western state power. Indeed, the only one of the nine that appears relatively free from direct government collaboration is self-funded outlet Lead Stories.

Patikrinta 15min

Lithuanian outlet Patikrinta 15min insist that they are an independent, non-partisan group. As their "About" section states: "Sponsors of Patikrinta 15min cannot be political parties, politicians, state organizations or companies or organizations related to politicians." They do, however, accept funding from the Poynter Institute, the journalism group that owns U.S. fact-checking organization Politifact. Since 2016, the Poynter Institute has sought for and received at least seven grants from the National Endowment for Democracy, totaling well over half a million dollars.

Notably, some of these grants are clearly a way of funneling cash to Eastern European fact-checking groups. As one NED grant summary for $78,000 notes, the goal of the money is to "promote the use of fact-checking websites as an effective accountability tool in Central and Eastern Europe, and strengthen the global fact-checking community." The NED goes on to note that Poynter will bring over 70 journalists to a training summit and afterward continue to "train" "mentor," "support," and help them and their organizations with "capacity building."

One of several grants given to the ostensibly neutral Poynter Institute by the US State Dept's NED

A cynic might conclude that the NED was simply trying to launder its money through Poynter. MintPress asked Patikrinta 15min to confirm or deny whether they were one of the Eastern European groups mentioned in the NED filings but has not received a response.

Like other groups, Patikrinta 15min's non-partisan veneer frequently slips. This can be seen in headlines such as "Russian cynicism knows no bounds" and the fact that they frequently defend Nazi groups like the Azov Battalion.

Like StopFake, n 15min has argued that Azov's use of the Waffen SS symbol is coincidental. It also presented Azov as an apolitical organization and has used quotes from Azov founder Andriy Biletsky – possibly the world's most infamous living neo-Nazi – as "proof" that charges against it are Russian disinformation.

Re:Baltica

While there is no evidence that Re:Baltica has a financial relationship with the United States government, the lion's share of its funding still comes from the West. As they note on their website, around two-thirds of their funding comes "from the institutions based in EU/NATO countries." They also list "the Kingdom of the Netherlands" as one of their "friends" – i.e., donors.

Re:Baltica is generously funded by western govt's and NGOs, including George Soro's Open Society Foundation

Delfi

Delfi is a major web portal in Eastern Europe and the Baltic. The company does not disclose if it receives foreign funding. It does, undeniably, however, have a close relationship with the NED. In 2015, Delfi interviewed Christopher Walker, a senior NED manager about the best way they could counter Russian propaganda. Two years later, NED President Gershman addressed the Lithuanian parliament, revealing that his organization had,

[W]orked with Lithuania in countering Russian efforts to subvert and destroy democracy in Lithuania, in Europe, and in Russia itself. We have supported the work of the Lithuania-based Delfi and the East European Studies Center in monitoring, documenting, and combatting Russian disinformation in Lithuania and the Baltic states."

Later that year, Delfi teamed up with the NED to hold the 1st Vilnius Young Leaders Meeting, whereby handpicked young activists were invited to rub shoulders with journalists and spooks from across Europe and the United States, in the hope of building up a Western-friendly force in civil society.

A chart showing the leadership structure of the EXPOSE network published as part of the Integrity Initiative Leak 7

Delfi, Re:Baltica and StopFake were all identified as proposed members of a "counter"-propaganda network hoping to be established by the EXPOSE Network. EXPOSE was allegedly a secret U.K.-government funded initiative that would have brought together journalists and state operatives in an alliance to shape public discourse in a manner more conducive to the priorities of Western governments.

As EXPOSE wrote, "An opportunity exists to upskill civil society organizations around Europe, enhancing their existing activities and unleashing their potential" to be the next generation of activists in the fight against Kremlin disinformation."

"Coordinat[ing] their activities," wrote EXPOSE, "represents a unique opportunity" for the British government in their fight against Russia. Unfortunately, they lamented, StopFake's "monomaniacal fixation" on Russia had hurt its credibility.

Remarkably, EXPOSE also wrote that, "Another barrier to combating disinformation is the fact that certain Kremlin-backed narratives are factually true" – an admission that underlines that, to many governments and media outlets, "disinformation" is rapidly coming to simply mean "information we disagree with."

The names of those individuals listed as potential employees of this network are a who's who of state-linked operatives, including the Zinc Network, multiple individuals from NED-funded investigative journalism website Bellingcat and Ben Nimmo, a former NATO spokesperson who is now head of global intelligence for Facebook.

Facebook's Cyber War

Nimmo is only one of a great many former state agents now working in the higher echelons of Facebook, however. Last month, MintPress published a study revealing that the Silicon Valley giant has hired dozens of ex-CIA personnel into influential positions within the company, especially in security, content moderation and trust and safety.

Given how influential Facebook is as a media and communications giant, this sort of relationship constitutes a national security issue to every other country in the world. And this is not a hypothetical threat either. In November, Nimmo led a team that effectively attempted to swing the Nicaraguan elections away from the ruling Sandinista party and towards the U.S.-backed candidate. In the days leading up to the election, Facebook deleted hundreds of accounts and pages of pro-Sandinista media.

This action underlines the fact that Facebook is not an international company existing only in the ether, but an American operation bound by American laws. And increasingly, it is moving closer to the U.S. government itself.

Who will guard the guardians?

Fake news abounds online, and we as a society are wholly unprepared to counter it. A study conducted by Stanford University found that the vast majority of people – even the digitally savvy youth – were unable to tell factual reporting from obvious falsehoods online. Many will fall for Russian propaganda. Russian media is indeed pumping out misleading information constantly. But so are NATO countries. And if the fact-checkers who have volunteered to sort truth from fiction for us relentlessly attack Russia but are quiet on their own side's spin, many more will fall for Western propaganda.

The implicit outlook of many of these fact-checking groups is that "only Russia lies." This is the position of a partisan organization, one that cares little about truth and more about imposing control over the means of communication. And this is all being done in the name of keeping us safe.

Who is fact-checking the fact-checkers? Unfortunately, it is up to small, independent media outlets to do so. However, MintPress has faced constant suppression for doing so, being blocked from communicating with our 400,000+ Facebook followers, suppressed algorithmically by the Silicon Valley giants, and being removed from financial transaction services like PayPal.

The solution is to teach and develop critical media literacy. All media outlets have biases and agendas. It is up to the individual to learn these and constantly scrutinize and evaluate everything they read. However, governments do not want their populations thinking critically; they want their message to be dominant, one reason why the NED has been quietly bankrolling so many fact-checking organizations to do its work for it.

Feature photo | Graphic by MintPress News

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.

The post Most of the "Fact-Checking" Organizations Facebook Uses in Ukraine Are Directly Funded by Washington appeared first on MintPress News.

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