Notes from the Oligarch Era: Monetizing Charity, 'Managing' Democracy

Circumstances have prevented me from digging into the new Mark Ames article on the Omidyariazation of Ukrainian politics as I intended, so let me just point you to it again, with a few choice excerpts (see the original for copious links):

Ukraine just held its first post-revolution parliamentary elections, and amid all of the oligarchs, EU enthusiasts, neo-Nazis, nepotism babies, and death squad commanders, there is one newly-elected parliamentarian’s name that stands out for her connection to Silicon Valley: Svitlana Zalishchuk, from the billionaire president’s Poroshenko Bloc party.

Zalishchuk was given a choice spot on the president’s party list, at number 18, ensuring her a seat in the new Rada. And she owes her rise to power to another oligarch besides Ukraine’s president —  Pierre Omidyar, whose funding with USAID helped topple the previous government. Zalishchuk’s pro-Maidan revolution outfits were directly funded by Omidyar.

Earlier this year, Pando exposed how eBay billionaire and Intercept publisher Pierre Omidyar co-funded with USAID Zalishchuk’s web of nongovernmental organizations — New Citizen, Chesno, Center UA. According to the Financial Times, New Citizen, which received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Omidyar, “played a big role in getting the [Maidan] protest up and running” in November 2013. Omidyar Network’s website features Zalishchuk’s photograph on its page describing its investment in New Citizen. …

The president’s party tasked Zalushchik with publicly selling the highly controversial new “lustration law” — essentially a legalized witch-hunt law first proposed by the neo-fascist Svoboda Party earlier this year, and subsequently denounced by Ukraine’s prosecutor general and by Human Rights Watch, which described a draft of the law as “arbitrary and overly broad and fail(s) to respect human rights principles,” warning it “may set the stage for unlawful mass arbitrary political exclusion.”

The lustration law was passed under a wave of neo-Nazi violence, in which members of parliament and others set to be targeted for purges were forcibly thrown into trash dumps.

…Shortly before the elections, on October 17, Zalishchuk used her Omidyar-funded outfit, “Chesno,” to organize a roundtable with leaders of pro-EU and neo-fascist parties. It was called “Parliament for Reform” and it brought together leaders from eight parties, including Zalishchuk’s “Poroshenko Bloc” (she served as both NGO organizer and as pro-Poroshenko party candidate), the prime minister’s “People’s Party” and leaders from two unabashedly neo-Nazi parties: Svoboda, and the Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko, who was denounced by Amnesty International for posting YouTube videos of himself interrogating naked and hooded pro-Russian separatist prisoners. Lyashko’s campaign posters featured him impaling a caricatured Jewish oligarch on a Ukrainian trident.

Meanwhile, Zalishchuk’s boss, President Petro Poroshenko, has led a bloody war against pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country that left at least 3700 dead in a half year of fighting. Human Rights Watch recently accused Poroshenko’s forces of “indiscriminate” use of cluster bombs in heavily populated areas, that “may amount to war crimes.” Poroshenko’s forces include neo-Nazi death squads like the notorious Azov battalion.

Last month, Poroshenko further cemented his ties to the extreme right by hailing Ukraine’s wartime Nazi collaborators, the violently anti-Semitic UPA, as “heroes.” The fascist UPA participated in the Holocaust, and were responsible for killing tens of thousands of Jews and ethnic Poles in their bid to create an ethnically pure Ukraine. Many UPA members filled the ranks of the Nazi SS “Galicia” Division. The neo-Nazi Right Sektor, which spearheaded the violent later stages of the Maidan revolution, sees itself as the UPA’s contemporary successors…

This latest twist in Omidyar Network’s murky, contradictory or two-faced roles raises more disturbing questions about what the tech billionaire is up to. On the one hand, Omidyar plays the “adversarial” watchdog of the US National Security State, having privatized Snowden’s NSA files, the largest national security secrets leak in history, for his startup publication The Intercept with Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, the only two people entrusted with the complete Snowden cache.

On the other hand, Omidyar and his wife have been among the most frequent visitors to the Obama White House, intermingling with members of his National Security Council and State Deptartment. Meanwhile, in just the past year Omidyar Network has co-funded Ukraine revolution groups in Ukraine with the US government, and directly financed far-right, pro-business political actors in both Ukraine and in India, where a former top figure in Omidyar Network, Jayant Sinha now serves in the ultranationalist BJP Party and as close advisor to its controversial far-right leader, Narendra Modi.

Meanwhile, Tarzie offers a scathing analysis of the New York magazine article about the bizarre billionaire who has effectively bought off -- and disarmed -- mainstream dissident journalism with his money.

II.
One of the more important points that Ames has revealed in Omidyar's background -- a background that none of the "fiercely independent" dissident journalists who went to work for him, like Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill and the now outcast Matt Taibbi, bothered to check -- was his role as a prime mover in the monetization of philanthropy. Over the past decades, the whole world has been subjugated by the extremist doctrine of neoliberalism -- essentially, the monetization of every aspect of public and private life, turning every element of human reality into a source of profit for a very small, powerful elite.

Omidyar has been in the vanguard of this movement, as Ames reported, an article which we explored here: Omidyar and the Oligarch’s Code: Enabling Extremism, Monetizing Dissent. Ames alerts us to the ways that Omidyar's partnerships with foreign oligarchs have led not only to despoliation and destitution of those they are purporting to help, but also to mass suicides by people driven to the limits of desperation by our gilded, lauded philanthropists-for-profit.

Such horrific hijinks are not limited to Omidyar, of course. The Guardian reports today on how the world's most celebrated philanthropist, Bill Gates, has actually directed the vast majority of his 'philanthropy' not to the world regions ravaged for decades by colonialism and neoliberalism, but to -- surprise, surprise! -- the monied bosom of the West's richest powers. From the Guardian:

Most of the $3bn (£1.8bn) that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given to benefit hungry people in the world’s poorest countries has been spent in the US, Britain and other rich countries, with only around 10% spent in Africa, new research suggests.

Analysis of grants made by the foundation shows that nearly half the money awarded over the past decade went to global agriculture research networks, as well as organisations including the World Bank and UN agencies, and groups that work in Africa to promote hi-tech farming.

Note that last sentence: money is being given to groups that "promote hi-tech farming." Imagine that: a techno-billionaire's philanthropy for the world's hungry is directed mainly at …. the development of profitable technology. This is very much in keeping with Omidyar's "philanthropic" support of "dissident journalism," which, as Greenwald himself has admitted, is now aimed not at content but at "products": "new technologies for delivering and consuming news."

The Guardian has more on the report on Gates' largess:

“The north-south divide is most shocking, however, when we look at the $669m given to non-government groups for agriculture work. Africa-based groups received just 4%. Over 75% went to organisations based in the US,” says the report.

“When we examined the foundation’s grants database, we were amazed that they seem to want to fight hunger in the south by giving money to organisations in the north. The bulk of its grants for agriculture are given to organisations in the US and Europe,” said agronomist Henk Hobbelink, a co-founder of Grain.

“It also appeared that they’re not listening to farmers, despite their claims. The overwhelming majority of its funding goes to hi-tech scientific outfits, not to supporting the solutions that the farmers themselves are developing on the ground. Africa’s farmers are cast as recipients, mere consumers of knowledge and technology from others.”

What? The poor being treated as mere fodder for the personal profit (and public PR-preening) of the super-rich? How can this be? This dastardly situation obviously calls for "fiercely independent" journalists of a dissident ilk, unswayed by the power of Big Money. Where could we find a passel of those paragons? Oh, that's right: working for super-rich oligarchs, the ones out there monetizing philanthropy and "managing democracy" to their liking.