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Meet Pierre Omidyar, billionaire patron of US regime change operations, neocons & activist media

Pierre Omidyar speaks at a ‘Technology For Citizen Empowerment and Human Rights’ panel at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, September 23, 2010 © AFP / Brian Harkin
RT | February 22, 2019

Amid the US push for regime change in Venezuela, RT speaks with investigative journalists who looked into the eBay founder and self-described “progressive” billionaire Pierre Omidyar, a major patron of regime-change operations.

An ongoing series in MintPress News, written by Alexander Rubinstein and Max Blumenthal, is a rare look into the projects undertaken by the “progressive philanthropreneur,” who has been praised by the liberal interventionist establishment for following in the footsteps of George Soros but attracts far less media attention.

“Part of the reason for doing this investigation was to inspire more scrutiny of Pierre Omidyar,” Rubinstein told RT. “There are mountains of newsworthy bits of information about many of the organizations he funds, but the sad reality is that it would require a team of at least half a dozen journalists working overtime to fully make sense of it all.”

Detail of a chart showing the connections between Pierre Omidyar and various media outlets, foundations, activists and outfits. ©  MintPress News

The second part in Blumenthal and Rubinstein’s series, published Wednesday, took a particular interest in Omidyar’s ties to organizations promoting “regime change.” In Ukraine, it was a TV station (Hromadske) that backed what turned into a violent 2014 coup against the government in Kiev. In Zimbabwe, Omidyar money funded a “cultural activist network” that campaigned for the ouster of President Robert Mugabe in 2017. And in the Philippines Omidyar is backing The Rappler, a news site opposed to President Rodrigo Duterte that is developing surveillance technologies like a “mood meter” of the audience to capture – and channel? – “non-rational reactions.”

Not progressivism but power

Omidyar is not doing this on his own, either, working hand in hand with US Agency for International Aid and Development (USAID) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

“He has the money and – for one reason or another– the desire to participate in such destabilizing policies,” Rubinstein told RT, noting that the billionaire’s embrace of such projects makes him “the perfect private partner for the US government” in seeking regime change abroad.

How does a self-described progressive find himself riding the horse of regime change? This is one of the questions Rubinstein and Blumenthal hope further research will answer. Their digging has found Omidyar’s money behind the Alliance for Securing Democracy and The Bulwark – projects led by NeverTrump neoconservative Bill Kristol that push “Russiagate” and carry the torch of interventionism.

“If partnering with the neocon think tank guru who was a main conduit for US government messaging in the lead-up to the Iraq War is ‘progressive’ then I think it’s time we retire the term,” Rubinstein told RT.

He believes that Omidyar is not driving the regime-change agenda, but going along with it in “the perfect alliance of convenience.”

“If you’re looking for a coherent ideology that permeates through each of Omidyar’s investments, it’s not progressivism: it’s power… and power lies with empire,” Rubinstein said.

More specifically, Omidyar is looking to manage all areas of modern life, from journalism and transportation to banking and finance and government administration, journalist Yasha Levine, author of ‘Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet,’ told MintPress.

To him it’s not just about running a single service, but integrating things together to give technocrats, business executives and government officials a God’s-eye view of the world – to manage and control society more efficiently.

The role of Omidyar and other billionaires – who would be called ‘oligarchs’ if they were Russian but keep being presented as ‘philanthropists’ in the West – in influencing media and politics around the world is woefully under-examined, Rubinstein and Blumenthal argue.

Controlled or ‘responsible’ opposition?

Part of the problem is that Omidyar funds a wide range of media outlets through foundations, nonprofits and other cutouts, and many journalists who consider themselves independent or progressive aspire to work at Omidyar-backed Intercept, famous for publishing (some of) the documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013.

“All of the media ventures funded by Omidyar have one thing in common: their slickness,” Rubinstein said, noting that the “cutting edge design, high production values, and the esoteric portrayal of the process of reporting” all contribute to creating the image of Omidyar-backed outlets as the “responsible opposition” in contrast to outlets with a more shoestring budget.

While Intercept editor Glenn Greenwald has been sharply critical of US foreign policy and the ‘Russiagate’ conspiracy theory, other writers at the outlet have “carried water for al-Qaeda in Syria” and pushed Russiagate, said Rubinstein.

He described as “incredibly troubling” the fact that The Intercept has rolled out only a portion of the Snowden documents, de facto making them serve the agenda of Omidyar and his First Look Media rather than be responsibly released to the public, as Snowden intended.

February 22, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Curious Bedfellows: The Neocon and Progressive Alliance to Destroy Donald Trump

By Philip Giraldi | American Herald Tribune | January 14, 2019

The Roman poet Ovid’s masterful epic The Metamorphoses includes the memorable opening line regarding the poem’s central theme of transformation. He wrote In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas corpora, which has been translated as “Of shapes transformed to bodies strange, I purpose to entreat…”

Ovid framed his narrative around gods, heroes and quasi-historical events but if he were around today, he would no doubt be fascinated by the many transformations of the group that has defined itself as neoconservative. The movement began in a cafeteria in City College of New York in the 1930s, where a group of radical Jewish students would meet to discuss politics and developments in Europe. Many of the founders were from the far left, communists of the Trotskyite persuasion, which meant that they believed in permanent global revolution led by a vanguard party. The transformation into conservatives of a neo-persuasion took place when they were reportedly “mugged by reality” into accepting that the standard leftist formulae were not working to transform the world rapidly enough. As liberal hawks, they then hitched their wagon to the power of the United States to bring about transformation by force if necessary and began to infiltrate institutions like the Pentagon to give themselves the tools to achieve their objectives, which included promotion of regime change wars, full spectrum global dominance and unconditional support for Israel.

The neocons initially found a home with Democratic Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, but they moved on in the 1970s and 1980s to prosper under Ronald Reagan as well as under Democrat Bill Clinton. Their ability to shape policy peaked under George W. Bush, when they virtually ran the Pentagon and were heavily represented in both the national security apparatus and in the White House. They became adept at selling their mantra of “strong national defense” to whomever was buying, including to President Obama, even while simultaneously complaining about his administration’s “weakness.”

The neoconservatives lined up behind Hillary Clinton in 2016, appalled by Donald Trump’s condemnation of their centerpiece war in Iraq and even more so by his pledge to end the wars in Asia and nation-building projects while also improving relations with the Russians. They worked actively against the Republican candidate both before he was nominated and elected and did everything they could to stop him, including libeling him as a Russian agent.

When Trump was elected, it, therefore, seemed that the reign of the neocons had ended, but chameleonlike, they have changed shape and are now ensconced both in some conservative as well as in an increasing number of progressive circles in Washington and in the media. Against all odds, they have even captured key posts in the White House itself with the naming of John Bolton as National Security Adviser and Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State. Bolton’s Chief of Staff is Fred Fleitz, a leading neocon and Islamophobe while last week Trump added Iran hawk Richard Goldberg to the National Security Council as director for countering Iranian weapons of mass destruction. Goldberg is an alumnus of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which is the leading neocon think tank calling incessantly for war with Iran.

Meanwhile, the neocon metamorphosis is nearly complete as many of the neocons, who started out as Democrats, have returned home, where they are being welcomed for their hardline foreign policy viewpoint. Glenn Greenwald reports that, based on polling of party supporters, the Democrats have gone full-Hillary and are now by far more hawkish than the Republicans, unwilling to leave either Syria or Afghanistan.

The neocon survival and rejuvenation is particularly astonishing in that they have been wrong about virtually everything, most notably the catastrophic Iraq War. They have never been held accountable for anything, though one should note that accountability is not a prominent American trait, at least since Vietnam. What is important is that neocon views have been perceived by the media and punditry as being part of the Establishment consensus, which provides them with access to programming all across the political spectrum. That is why neocon standard-bearers like Bill Kristol and Max Boot have been able to move effortlessly from Fox News to MSNBC where they are fêted by the likes of Rachel Maddow. They applauded the Iraq War when the Establishment was firmly behind it and are now trying to destroy Donald Trump’s presidency because America’s elite is behind that effort.

Indeed, the largely successful swing by the neocons from right to left has in some ways become more surreal, as an increasing number of progressive spokesmen and institutions have lined up behind their perpetual warfare banner. The ease with which the transformation took place reveals, interestingly, that the neocons have no real political constituency apart from voters who feel threatened and respond by supporting perpetual war, but they do share many common interests with the so-called liberal interventionists. Neocons see a global crisis for the United States defined in terms of power while the liberals see the struggle as a moral imperative, but the end result is the same: intervention by the United States. This fusion is clearly visible in Washington, where the Clintons’ Center for American Progress (CAP) is now working on position papers with the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

One of the most active groups attacking President Trump is “Republicans for the Rule of Law,” founded by Bill Kristol in January 2018, as a component of Defending Democracy Together (DDT), a 501(c)4 lobbying group that also incorporates projects called The Russia Tweets and Republicans Against Putin. Republicans Against Putin promotes the view that President Trump is not “stand[ing] up to [Vladimir] Putin” and calls for more aggressive investigation of the Russian role in the 2016 election.

DDT is a prime example of how the neoconservatives and traditional liberal interventionists have come together as it is in part funded by Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire co-founder of eBay who has provided DDT with $600,000 in two grants through his Democracy Fund Voice, also a 501(c)4. Omidyar is a political liberal who has given millions of dollars to progressive organizations and individuals since 1999. Indeed, he is regarded as a top funder of liberal causes in the United States and even globally together with Michael Bloomberg and George Soros. His Democracy Fund awarded $9 million in grants in 2015 alone.

Last week, the Omidyar-Kristol connection may have deepened with an announcement regarding the launch of the launch of a new webzine The Bulwark, which would clearly be at least somewhat intended to take the place of the recently deceased Weekly Standard. It is promoting itself as the center of the “Never Trump Resistance” and it is being assumed that at least some of the Omidyar money is behind it.

Iranian-born Omidyar’s relationship with Kristol is clearly based on the hatred that the two share regarding Donald Trump. Omidyar has stated that Trump is a “dangerous authoritarian demagogue… endorsing Donald Trump immediately disqualifies you from any position of public trust.” He has tweeted that Trump suffers from “failing mental capacity” and is both “corrupt and incapacitated.”

Omidyar is what he is – a hardcore social justice warrior who supports traditional big government and globalist liberal causes, most of which are antithetical to genuine conservatives. But what is interesting about the relationship with Kristol is that it also reveals what the neoconservatives are all about. Kristol and company have never been actual conservatives on social issues, a topic that they studiously avoid, and their foreign policy is based on two principles: creating a state of perpetual war based on fearmongering about foreign enemies while also providing unlimited support for Israel. Kristol hates Trump because he threatens the war agenda while Omidyar despises the president for traditional progressive reasons. That hatred is the tie that binds and it is why Bill Kristol, a man possessing no character and values whatsoever, is willing to take Pierre Omidyar’s money while Pierre is quite happy to provide it to destroy a common enemy, the President of the United States of America.

January 14, 2019 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Intercept Attacks WikiLeaks on Behalf of Democrats

By Daniel Haiphong | American Herald Tribune | November 29, 2017

The Intercept emerged during the Obama era to provide a service to whistle blowers. Journalist Glenn Greenwald, for example, helped form the Intercept in the aftermath of the corporate media backlash to Edward Snowden’s leaks about the massive surveillance machine possessed by the National Security Agency (NSA). The Intercept prided itself as a trustworthy source tailored to those interested in making state secrets a matter of public record. Then Donald Trump was elected and subtle changes to the content of the Intercept’s work became evident. By this time the Intercept was neither a safe for leaks nor a reliable source of journalism.

On November 15th, the Intercept attacked WikiLeaks, the most well-known publisher of Washington’s dirty laundry. The attack centered around WikiLeaks‘s communication with Donald Trump Jr. According to the Intercept, WikiLeaks has “given ammunition” to detractors of the group through its direct contact with Trump Jr. over Twitter. The tweets, which revolved around the release of Trump’s tax documents, are supposedly proof that WikiLeaks “advised” the Trump Administration and is thus in cahoots with it. However, sources such as MSNBC, the New York magazine, and The Atlantic do not give the Intercept’s claims much credibility.

WikiLeaks’ request for Trump Jr. to release tax information could be seen as a strategic move to pressure the Administration to respond to the broader attack on WikiLeaks. The fact remains that at the time of the accusation (October 2016), Trump’s tax history was already being scrutinized by the corporate press. WikiLeaks was also being attacked by the corporate press for releasing Podesta’s emails, many of which revealed key policy blunders of the Obama-Clinton machine. The emails revealed that the DNC had in fact rigged the Democratic primary against Bernie Sanders among a sea of evidence of Clinton’s servitude to Wall Street. The author of the Intercept article fails to mention this context at all.

Omitting the importance of the information leaked by WikiLeaks regarding the Clinton machine lays bare the partisan character of the Intercept’s attack. And this is not the first time that the Intercept has damaged its journalistic reputation with partisan politics. The Intercept was implicated in the exposure of Reality Winner’s identity in the insubstantial leak regarding Russian interference in the 2016 elections. It also published an anti-Syria hit piece comparing President Assad to fascists. Most recently, the Intercept was found to have withheld important Snowden leaks that may have changed the course of the war in Syria.

These instances of the Intercept’s alignment with US imperialism raise many questions. First, what is it that prompts the media source from publishing articles that do nothing but aid the Democratic Party wing of the empire? And furthermore, how do the Intercept’s recent journalistic blunders fit into the broader historical moment? These questions are vitally important as they point to the necessary approach to handling contradictions. This particular point in history is characterized by a crisis in every facet of US imperialism, making independent journalism that much more important to the development of a movement that can seize the time.

It turns out that the Intercept’s status as an independent media source has always been up for debate. The popular media source is a subsidiary of First Look Media. First Look Media is a venture of Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire tech capitalist and founder of eBay. Omidyar is well known for his investments in the non-profit and NGO industries around the world. He is also a staunch Democrat. In the 2016 elections, Omidyar gave hefty donations to an anti-Trump Super PAC. 

It should come as no surprise then that the Intercept provides stealth defense of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is arguably in a weaker position than it was last November when Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton. Top Democrats remain committed to the dying narrative that Russia influenced the 2016 elections in favor of Trump. Former DNC interim chair Donna Brazile confirmed the facts in the 2016 WikiLeaks dump that Hillary Clinton used the DNC to secure her nomination. Polls suggest that the Democratic Party may in fact be less popular than Donald Trump. That’s because the Democratic Party has nothing to offer except anti-Russian hysterics and pro-corporate candidates.

A defense of WikiLeaks is not necessary then because the source of the attack is dubious at best and illegitimate at worst. WikiLeaks may have committed an error over Twitter by communicating with Trump Jr. If this is about political strategy, then one could make the argument that tweeting to the Trump Administration shows a level of opportunism to use the Trump Administration for its own ends. It isn’t as if Julian Assange wouldn’t have a reason to do whatever it takes to curry favor with the current Administration. Assange is a wanted man and would likely serve a life in federal prison if extradited from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

However politically flawed, WikiLeaks has done humanity a service by exposing the Democratic Party as but another organ of the rich. The Republican Party has long been known for its staunch support for the most egregious manifestations of white supremacy and capitalism. Donald Trump’s election was in part a rejection of the Republican Party elite. The Republican Party’s base refused to support Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, or Marco Rubio. Trump took advantage of the chaos and won the Republican nomination, only to be confronted with a Democratic Party opposition in similar shape.

The role WikiLeaks played in the election cycle was thus a progressive one. Leaks such as Vault7 gave the masses an understanding of the Democratic Party’s true character. Clinton’s speeches to Wall Street, her “public” and “private” positions on Social Security, and her leadership in destroying Libya only added fuel to the fire sparked by the revelation that the Clinton campaign used the DNC to ensure its nomination. Any discussion about WikiLeaks cannot leave out the concrete developments that made the election so historic in the first place.

The enduring legacy of the 2016 elections is a reflection of the deep crisis that plagues US imperialism. Inequality continues to deepen, police repression continues to intensify, and a global confrontation with Russia and China remains a serious threat to the future of humanity. The Intercept’s decision to publish an attack on WikiLeaks is far more dangerous than the accusations leveled at WikiLeaks. It demonstrates a conscious neglect of progressive and radical politics in favor of the gossip that passes as news these days. The Trump-WikiLeaks connection has become just another talking point to draw readers into unsubstantiated conspiracies against the two-party elite.

This is not a time to pontificate Assange’s personal political views or those of WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks cannot drive a new movement for social transformation, only the people can. Still, it is a crime to negate the objective impact of WikiLeaks in weakening the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is the greatest obstacle to forging a real struggle against war, austerity, and racism in our time. Criticism of WikiLeaks that leaves out this critical point amounts to tacit support for the Democrats. And the Intercept’s criticism is just one example of a longer trend that shows just what kind of influence Democratic Party donor and billionaire Pierre Omidyar has on the organization.

November 30, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | 3 Comments

Anti-Trump groups fund ‘trust indicators’ to combat ‘fake news’ on social media

RT | November 17, 2017

Under pressure to stop the spread of false information, Facebook, Google and Twitter have turned to the Trust Project to inform users of the credibility of news sources. But the supposed nonpartisan effort is funded by deep-pocketed anti-Trump forces.

On Thursday, Facebook, Google and Twitter announced their participation in the initial phase of implementing the Trust Project’s “trust indicators,” notes attached to news posts to let the reader know if the post is an advertisement or to provide background information on the author or sources, including a publisher’s ethics policy and funding arrangements.

The Associated Press, the Washington Post, the Economist, Vox.com, and the Globe and Mail, and other outlets are among the select few currently permitted to use the indicators. Search engines and social media feeds are being improved to gravitate toward, not just what their users want to see, but also sources deemed respectable, and that’s what the indicators seek to influence.

The Trust Project is based at Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, but is funded by craigslist.com founder and philanthropist Craig Newmark, as well as Google, the Democracy Fund, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the Markkula Foundation.

Newmark, also a founder of the Trust Project, has poured millions of dollars into various vehicles aimed at restoring trust in the media. Earlier this year, he donated $1 million to ProPublica, saying, “As a news consumer, I won’t pay for news I can’t trust.”

The Trust Project, however, is not simply another way for Newmark to support news outlets with his own money. He has been looking to take stronger steps to boost the journalism he likes best since his favored candidate Hillary Clinton lost the presidential race to Donald Trump last year.

The 2016 election result stunned almost everyone, with many wondering if Americans had made a fully-informed choice. The influence of the internet had increased considerably since 2012 and 2008, just as trust in mass media declined to an all-time low. Gallup found that less than one-third of Americans held a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in mainstream news. Meanwhile, people’s enchantment with social media has seen both solid alternative reporting and “fake news” disseminated widely.

For Newmark, the added element of alleged Russian meddling made the issue of trust in media all the more urgent to address. In recent weeks, during and following testimony by Facebook, Google and Twitter representatives to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Newmark tweeted that it was “a huge deal” that the committee kept referring to the matter of “fake news” in terms of war.

Last week, Newmark tweeted a 1970 quote by Canadian media theorist, professor and philosopher Marshall McLuhan: “World War III is a guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation.”

Funding for the Trust Project also comes from the Democracy Fund, whose founder, Pierre Omidyar, also founded the online auction site eBay. Omidyar has contributed $1 million to the Clinton Foundation for HIV/AIDS treatment, but also donated $100,000 to the NeverTrump political action committee in April 2016.

Fact-checking news sources is not new to Omidyar. His Omidyar Network also funds projects of the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit school for journalism that owns the Tampa Bay Times, the home of Politifact, which has been criticized for having a left-leaning bias. Omidyar once went as far as comparing Trump to “the personal and political styles of early Adolf Hitler” in a tweet.

Joe Goldman, president of the purportedly bipartisan Democracy Fund, retweeted a video of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) during the November 1 Senate hearings with social media representatives on alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

The video showed the ranking committee member admonishing the tech companies for “not getting it.”

“We’re talking about the beginning of cyberwarfare,” Feinstein said. “We’re talking about a major foreign power with the sophistication and ability to involve themselves in a presidential election and sow conflict and discontent all over this country.”

“You’ve created these platforms, and now they are being misused,” she added, “and you have to be the ones to do something, or we will.”

Read more:

Google & Soros-backed ‘fact-checkers’ join forces to control news search results

Twitter, Google & Facebook grilled by Senate, try hard to find ‘Russian influence’

‘Zero collusion’: Trump says Russia probe a disgrace, many ads ‘bad’ for him

November 17, 2017 Posted by | Full Spectrum Dominance, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

ADL to Build Silicon Valley Center to Monitor & Fight “Cyberhate”

If Americans Knew | March 14, 2017

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has announced that it will build a “a state-of-the-art command center in Silicon Valley” to monitor and fight anything online that it determines is “hate.”

The ADL is known for attacking individuals who criticize Israel as allegedly “anti-Semitic.” Its website states: “ADL has always been a strong voice for Israel.”

Critics of the organization have noted that its fundraising strategy relies on finding “anti-Semitism” and charge that it often exaggerates this threat.

A former Israeli minister stated that Israel and its partisans often use the charge of anti-Semitism against those who speak discuss Israel’s oppression of Palestinians: “It’s a trick, we always use it.” The ADL was the initiator of hate crimes legislation in the United States, launching this campaign in 1981.

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt announced the new center on March 12 at a music festival in Austin, Texas. Accompanying him was Texas Tribune Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith.

According to the ADL’s press release on the project, the new center “will write reports, compile data, and “provide insights to government and policy makers.” The center will use the “best-in-class technology,” according to Greenblatt.

“This is a natural extension of the cyber hate work ADL has been doing for decades,” Greenblatt said, “and builds on the new presence we established last year in the Valley to collaborate even closer on the threat with the tech industry.”

The Omidyar Network is providing seed funding for the project. According to its website, Omidyar Network is a “philanthropic investment  firm” that works to “catalyze economic and social change.” Founded by Ebay creator Pierre Omidyar, the organization has dispersed over a billion dollars since its inception in 2004.

According to the ADL release, “The new center will leverage ADL’s long-standing relationships with law enforcement. It will evaluate artificial intelligence, big data, augmented/virtual reality, and other technologies as potential tools.

The center’s director will be Brittan Heller, who joined the ADL in September 2016 from the U.S. Department of Justice.

CEO Greenblatt came to the ADL from the tech word, with experience “starting ventures, raising capital, developing products, and crafting partnerships in Silicon Valley.

According to the ADL, “Over the next several months, Heller, Greenblatt, and the ADL team will engage with a wide range of stakeholders in Silicon Valley and beyond as they work to stand up this new center.”

Below is the trailer for a documentary on the ADL made by Israeli film director Yoav Shamir:

View full film

March 15, 2017 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , | 4 Comments

Pierre Omidyar: giving until it hurts

By David Matthew Carr | December 7, 2013

The new media venture from billionaire philanthropist Pierre Omidyar will enlist the muck-raking talents of Glen Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill. Omidyar’s record of promoting and funding “free-market solutions” to social problems is a good indicator of what the limitations of the project will be.

Pierre Omidyar is a Punahou school alumnus who holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science. He is also the multibillionaire philanthropist behind Hawaii-based Civil Beat, a Right-Libertarian, pro-business, pay-walled media website that focuses its critique on the shortcomings of democratic governance and the public sector. Omidyar’s Civil Beat offers analysis which seems to exist in a strange land without class conflict, where the ruling-class and the working-class struggle shoulder to shoulder against the forces corrupting liberal democracy. As a result, the editorial slant is marked by a distinct disconnect from the every-day lives of non-billionaire philanthropists, those who don’t stand to gain from the schemes of Omidyar, the “classless angel.”

Omidyar’s latest project is to launch a media group whose roster of reporters will include the muckraking talents of Glen Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill. To assess the potential for this new project, it is important to know his basic ideological outlook, which we can find in the projects he has participated in.

After striking it rich by helping to establish ebay, Omidyar decided to engage in targeted philanthropy to promote opportunity and a better world. He believes he earned his billions without taking anything from society, so his philanthropic impulse cannot be traced to a sense of guilt regarding his fortune. In fact it’s the other way around: “To Omidyar, ‘giving back’ implies that, before philanthropy, you were taking away. Not so, says Omidyar, who believes that people succeed when they create value for society.”

One of Omidyar’s “value creating” projects has been to invest heavily in the micro-loan industry, through groups like Kiva which allows investors to profit off of loans to the poor, especially in impoverished regions of India. The ideology behind this business venture saw free markets magically lifting all boats where government funding did not. The actual results were often financial collapse, leaving the borrowers prey to lenders demanding repayment. “It is tough to find a household in this village in an impoverished district of Andhra Pradesh that is not deeply in debt to a for-profit microfinance company.”

The Omidyar Network states on its website that it “is a philanthropic investment firm dedicated to harnessing the power of markets to create opportunity for people to improve their lives.” Omidyar is often identified as an “economist,” perhaps explaining his profoundly distorted idea of what markets do and how capitalism works. For him, markets seem to act as avenues which unleash people-power and democracy, especially when noble-minded entrepreneurs are navigating them.

But the misguided nature of Omidyar’s philanthropy comes into sharpest focus when looking at his projects around education. He has given ten million dollars to the Skoll Foundation, a major backer of “Teach For America“, which specializes in placing undertrained Ivy League idealists in classrooms in underperforming neighborhoods. They commit to two years on the job after graduation, and are (perhaps unwittingly) deployed as part of an end run around teachers unions. TFA promotes legislation that seeks to undermine tenure, and “reward good teachers” while making it easier to fire “bad” ones. They promote charter schools as inherently superior to public ones, and advocate for a business-model-of-education with school principals acting more like CEOs than head teachers.

Opponents of Teach For America have pointed out, that TFA is an “incubator for the privatization movement”:

TFA plays a key role in developing and connecting personnel, political support, and financial backing for neoliberal and market based policies, specifically charter school reform, the deregulation of teacher education, and accountability policies.

While TFA uses the rhetoric of justice and equity, these reforms in fact stifle democratic processes and are used to justify budget cuts and the takeover of public institutions by privately funded and privately run companies.

Jeff Skoll was Omidyar’s business partner and the first President of ebay. Skoll was a major funder of the movie “Waiting For Superman” which featured Michelle Rhee as its protagonist, giving her a national platform to attack teachers’ unions and promote her privatization agenda which has resonated with both Republicans and Democrats carrying out austerity-governance. Diane Ravitch’s description of the movie (and related education “reform” films) shows how it is a perfect fit for Omidyar’s vision of entrepreneurial genius coming to the rescue of a world mired in public sector programs that are alleged to have “failed”:

The message of these films has become alarmingly familiar: American public education is a failed enterprise. The problem is not money. Public schools already spend too much. Test scores are low because there are so many bad teachers, whose jobs are protected by powerful unions. Students drop out because the schools fail them, but they could accomplish practically anything if they were saved from bad teachers. They would get higher test scores if schools could fire more bad teachers and pay more to good ones. The only hope for the future of our society, especially for poor black and Hispanic children, is escape from public schools, especially to charter schools, which are mostly funded by the government but controlled by private organizations, many of them operating to make a profit

The Omidyar Network is behind “Teach For All,” the globalized version of the Teach For America model. A look at the Board of Teach For All, provides a clear illustration of both its detachment from the educational field, and the corporate world view it embodies. Its members include top brass from Rolls Royce, Visa, Goldman Sachs, the founder of Teach For America, and Dr. Rufus Black a “theologian and ethicist” who is presumably there to provide rationalizations for their atrocious attacks on working teachers, students, unions, and communities.

Especially appalling is the push by Omidyar and other corporate education “reformers” to link teacher assessments to their students’ scores on standardized tests, and then to utilize those assessments in determining whether a teacher retains employment or not. This correlates to the “business model of education.” A profile on the Omidyar Network states that “[t]he model of investing in social change organizations requires that measurable good flows from the investment, just as accounting methods tell executives whether a for-profit investment is producing profits.” This is the lens through which corporate reformers like Bill Gates, the Broad Foundation, and Omidyar see the world. Numerical data will reflect the “measurable good” provided by a teacher, but the data will be detached from factors like poverty, student access to nutrition, problems at home, the level at which particular schools are funded and the educational resources they have access to, etc. These aspects will be abstracted out, as is the fashion in the neoliberal economics that underpin Omidyar’s crusades to create social value. Teachers with students who are learning English as a second language, who have learning disabilities, or who face issues stemming from poverty, still the main determinant in negative educational outcomes, are assessed as “failing” if their students’ scores are low.

Omidyar, and the other billionaire philanthropists who push top down, non-democratic crusades to empower the people, genuinely believe they possess the knowledge that the “best minds” have to offer. One problem is that their money gives them the right to engage in these projects whether or not they have any kind of relevant expertise, or even a grasp on reality. The corporate-philanthropist take on reality amounts to little more than ideology; specifically capitalist:

Property rights are the keys to economic security, identity, and wealth creation. … Societies that enforce these rights benefit from greater economic growth, transparency, and political stability, as they encourage investment, promote the rule of law, and give people a stake in the future.

Any grounding of capitalism in history shows that, while it unleashed productive powers never before dreamed of, it cannot be a truly liberating force for humanity. Beyond whatever role it had in overturning feudal social relations, it came with inherent problems of its own, and the concept of “property rights” is one of them. From the English enclosures carried out by the landed gentry, enabled by laws created by the parliaments they owned, to the hangings of thousands of “vagrants” who had become criminalized via this process, capitalism’s beginnings were brutal by design. Property rights as enshrined in law has mainly to do with preserving the ownership of the “means of production” in a very few hands while the masses own little more than their own labor power, which they must sell to a boss. For every gain made via capitalist production, so to have these inequalities of the class system been reproduced. The hangings were part of a ruling class pedagogy, because people had to be taught to respect the new restrictive capitalist property relations which made it so hard for them to survive. With this in mind, its hard to get on board with Omidyar’s goal of creating value for society, when the system of value production he promotes as a panacea is the same one that reinforces the process of alienation.

The idea that property rights make people free should be especially offensive when Omidyar targets former colonies for philanthropic rehabilitation. With Teach For India, we see a project promoting markets as the savior of Indian social infrastructure. Unfortunately, the impact of the market system on India has a deeply disturbing history, completely relevant to Omidyar’s present efforts. In his book Late Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis has illuminated the incredible human toll markets unleashed on the subcontinent under British colonial rule: “Davis’ primary focus in fleshing out his story is the crown jewel of Britain’s colonial empire: India. Drought was the precipitating cause of the hardship faced by the Indian people. However, Davis demonstrates with statistics and anecdotes that it was the unregulated “free market” system imposed on India by Britain that led to the deaths of tens of millions in the mid-1870s and late 1880s.”

Aside from his ideologically dubious philanthropy, Omidyar has also drawn outrage closer to his present Oahu home from the residents of the island of Kauai, where he has proposed to develop a mixed residential and low-density hotel resort. “Despite 5,000+ petition signers, strong, visible community opposition, and several attempts to dialog directly with Mr. Omidyar, the Oahu resident and billionaire founder of eBay has thus far declined to personally dialog with concerned Kauai Community leaders.” It should be noted that Kauai’s population is roughly 68,000, so 5,000 signatures is proportionally significant. A member of Save Hanalei River Ridge, wrote to Omidyar, complaining that:

To introduce multi-million-dollar homes sitting on top of the ridge looking down on Black Pot, would break the hearts of the thousands of people who live here and also those who come to visit and enjoy the tranquility and beauty of the River and the Bay. A resort development on this massive scale on the Hanalei River Ridge opens the door to letting it become more like Laguna Beach and less like Hanalei; this Garden of Eden that so well defines Kauai.

Despite the fact that his projects consistently put him at odds with the poor and working-class, Omidyar still sees himself as a benefactor of the people. The new venture, he explains “was fueled by his ‘rising concern about press freedoms in the United States and around the world’.” Natasha Vargas-Cooper hit what is perhaps a more telling note about Omidyar’s interest in independent media when she wrote of Glen Greenwald in a profile of him for The Advocate. She believes that Greenwald’s “obsession with surveillance and privacy issues have made him into an ideological pillar of the rather sterile, unfriendly world of civil libertarian politics, a group not known for its warmth and humanism.” Omidyar’s union-busting politics, his focus on private sector saviors, his backing of disruptive land developments, and his misnomered “social entrepreneurship” put him in that world.

Reading Omidyar’s description of how his private sector experience will create success for his new media outlet, one would be justified in suspecting the blind spot toward working-class issues, so glaring in Civil Beat, will be replicated in the new venture: “Companies in Silicon Valley invest a lot in understanding their users and what drives user engagement. … That process got me thinking about what kind of social impact could be created if a similar investment was made in something entirely new, built from the ground up. Something that I would be personally and directly involved in outside of my other efforts as a philanthropist.” Omidyar’s idea of a community of readers empowered by truth is again seen through a commodified lens: “Users,” (themselves a product to deliver to advertisers and others who can utilize information they generate about themselves) are driven to engage with his product, in this case news.

For the working-class, Omidyar’s pursuit of freedom of both information and markets cannot be seen as inherently progressive. His top-down billionaire philanthropist/savior antics are as insulting as Andrew Carnegie’s public infrastructure campaigns, which created public libraries and parks from the private fortune he’d amassed repressing wages and workers’ movements. In Omidyar’s world a classless civil society fights the powers that impede the market’s ability to liberate human potential. In the real, historically grounded world there is an employing class and a working-class that “have nothing in common”. No billionaire media mogul is ever going to be in the service of working people, no matter how much rhetoric about freedom of speech is deployed in the promotion of his or her product.

David Carr is an organizer with LaborFest Hawaii and a History instructor at Leeward Community College.

December 7, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | Leave a comment