Pierre's Payday: Cashing In on a Sinister Agenda
Mark Ames has a follow-up to his story on Pierre Omidyar's extensive links with the rightwing extremist Narendra Modi who now controls India. (I wrote about and excerpted Ames' original story here.) As Ames pointed out in the first story, Omidyar's support for Modi was rewarded with a vow by the candidate to open up India's lucrative e-commerce market to foreign corporations and techno-oligarchs -- like Omidyar.
Now, Ames reports, Modi has made good on his promise. One of his first acts in power has been an order to draw up guidelines for cracking open Indian e-commerce to Omidyar and others. This was a move long resisted by the previous Congress Party government -- which had also refused to register a supposedly non-partisan NGO supported by Omidyar, accusing the group of illegal lobbying for a bid to … open up India's e-commerce market to foreign companies.
Congress was also fiercely opposed to giving Omidyar and other foreign oligarchs unfettered access to the country's e-commerce market. As Ames notes, Omidyar's good friend in the White House, Barack Obama, brought heavy pressure to bear on India to reverse this stance -- but Congress resisted. Now the party has gone the way of all those who interfere with the divine right of well-connected oligarchs to grab as much loot as they want, wherever they want, however they want: they're out, and a much more amenable party is now in office.
This same dynamic was recently played out in Ukraine, with some similar elements: "non-partisan" NGOs backed by a partnership between 'philanthropists' like Omidyar and White House agents (who were lining up a "replacement" government in the back room). And no, this doesn't mean that this partnership of domination controlled every element in the crisis in Ukraine or the election in India, where millions of people had legitimate grievances against the parties in power. But it does mean that this Unholy Alliance of oligarchs and imperialists is expending enormous amounts of money, energy and skullduggery to steer highly complex political developments in foreign lands in the direction they want them to go: toward the installation of friendly governments that will put the interest of financial elites and American dominance ahead of the well-being of their own people.
And the Alliance is getting better and better at doing this. They seize upon -- and manipulate -- legitimate grievances, then exacerbate them, distort them, confuse them and re-direct them toward the service of the elite's domination agenda. The Tea Party movement is a perfect example. Here the elite -- using media networks under oligarch control -- took a groundswell of legitimate anger at how the political-financial class had blown up the economy and plunged millions into misery, ruin and insecurity, and converted it into a giant, gnarled hairball of bellicose nativism, ignorance, racism and division devoted to preserving and expanding the power and privilege of the wealthy elite.
What could have been a power countermovement to roll back the excesses of the corporatism, oligarchy and militarism that have held bipartisan sway in America for more than 30 years was twisted into a tool to enhance the power of the already powerful. The chaos this unruly hairball has brought to the political system is also a plus for the Unholy Alliance: the more unstable the country is, the more people will long for "strong" leaders, like Modi, for rich and powerful figures who seem "above the fray" of petty politics and can bring "unity" to a troubled polity -- like the oligarch recently elected as Ukraine's president, or, indeed, like Michael Bloomberg in New York City.
(Or even Putin in Russia, a "strong man" who stepped in to offer "order" and "unity" after the murderous chaos induced in Russia by the neoliberal "Shock Doctrine" agenda. His ascent was at first warmly welcomed by Western elites -- George W. Bush famously looked into Putin's "soul" and saw a kindred spirit. But then Putin went rogue -- he wanted to set up an Unholy Alliance of his own, with himself in charge; he was not nearly as pliable and compliant as his predecessor; he wanted to be a partner in plunder and power with Western elites, not just their errand boy. He actually saw himself as their equal. This was not to be borne. And so today he is -- what else? -- the new Hitler. And the obvious next target of the regime change machine -- a fact which is giving him even more 'justification' for the increasing repression he's imposing on the Russian people.)
The presence of the Tea Party (used here as shorthand for the broad range of far-right extremists now rampant in the land) is also convenient for the Democrats, giving them a convenient hate figure to stir up fear (and scoop up donations) and, more importantly, to use as an excuse, a cover for their own faithful service to the wealthy elite. "Hey, we would like a more just society, but darn it, darn it, darn it, those Tea Party kooks won't let us do anything!" "That's all right, Mr. President, we understand," say the earnest progressive liberals and the gritty savvy 'dissidents' on the left. "We understand, and we still love you. You're still 'two percent less evil' than the kooks!" The Democrats get to protect their "brand identity" as the more caring, progressive party -- while deliberately and willingly advancing the same neoliberal agenda of elite domination also being pushed by "mainstream Republicans" and the Tea Party.
With "austerity" degrading the nation's physical and social infrastructure, the political system reduced to sinister buffoonery and slick PR puffery, and the rich and powerful increasingly beyond all reach of the law (which bears down harder and harder on the rabble at every turn), our elites seem hellbent on making the country ungovernable, plunging it into fear-ridden chaos. Meanwhile, the militarization of police forces around the country continues apace, abetted at every turn by the latest technology (sold as toys and glitzy gizmos to consumers -- "Google Glasses! Cool! Big Data! Wow!" -- but actually serving as incredibly powerful tools of repression and surveillance by the state …and as incredibly lucrative sources of profit for the corporations and techno-oligarchs who happily supply the state with repressive instruments -- and even work with the government to refine and expand the tools' effectiveness).
And now techno-oligarchs -- beneficiaries of and/or active participants in the Unholy Alliance of domination -- are moving into the commanding heights of media and politics. Jeff Bezos -- destroyer of bookstores and blackmailer of publishers -- controls the Washington Post. Omidyar, of course, is bankrolling the creation of a "dissident" media conglomerate, which decries "excesses" in the system here and there but never challenges the legitimacy of the neoliberal cult of elite domination. Rupert Murdoch rules the rightwing media, Omidyar will now dominate the left, Bezos will command the overchewed cud that constitutes the "centrist" position in American politics today. All sides will be covered beneath the broader neoliberal umbrella. Our elites not only own the ball, and the playing field, and the stadium, and the parking lot; they own both teams as well.
A private correspondent pointed out that my last piece on Omidyar and Modi was "not cynical enough," and did not draw out the connection between what oligarchs such as Omidyar, in partnership with Washington, have done in Ukraine and India -- and what they are up to on the home front. I think this critique is right. A sinister game is afoot, and its aim is not a more just, open and free society, or even the maintenance of the status quo, but the destruction of the common good and the imposition of an ever-tightening domination by an alliance of private elites and repressive governments. There are too many developments on too many fronts for the obvious trends in this direction to be seen as nothing more than happy accidents for the elite. Again, political and social situations have many different causes, many different factors at work, and are never in the sole control of any single force. But it seems increasingly obvious that our neoliberal elites are using their immense power, public and private, to manipulate (or at times create) situations of conflict and instability that they then try to bend to the service of their agenda.
Yet revelations of these machinations, of government/corporate crime or "excesses," have made no difference -- from the exposure of the deliberate falsification of the case for war against Iraq to the revelations of systematic torture in Abu Ghraib to the confirmation that the President runs a death squad out of the White House to the continuing torture of force-fed captives in the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp to the selective revelations of some of the abuses committed by the NSA. Nothing changes, because the commanding heights of politics and media are in the hands of people deeply committed to preserving the system that gives them wealth and power.
We live in an age of revelation. There has never been era in which so much clear and glaring evidence of so many horrific crimes and abuses by state and private power has been so widely and freely available. Year after year, the revelations pile up. None of it makes any difference. Instead, power doubles down.
This week, the UK government -- which was supposedly "rocked" and "shaken" by the Snowden revelations in the Guardian -- announced it will hold its first completely secret trial for hundreds of years. (It is, of course, a trial of two "suspected terrorists.") This is how "rocked" the UK government has been by the "scandal" of its eager cooperation with the NSA's secret Stasi-like operations. This is how effective these world-changing revelations have been in forcing more "transparency" in government. The UK is about to step back into medieval times, violating the principles laid down in the Magna Carta -- 800 years ago.
But this is all of a piece with the general trend, the ever-more obvious agenda of the ruling elite. From neoliberalism to neofascism to, ultimately, neofeudalism: a new dark age, where the rabble live in fear and want, at the mercy of powerful, unaccountable elites locked away in gated splendor. (Though to be sure, they will sally forth now and then in squabbles amongst themselves for a bigger share of loot and power -- squabbles which inevitably involve the death and ruin of multitudes of innocent people.) As noted here the other day, old evils -- fascism, racism, nationalism, feudalism -- don't die. They return in new forms, and have to be fought again, over and over.
But to return to the particular case of Modi and Omidyar, once more Ames has the goods. Here is an excerpt:
Today, Reuters is reporting that Modi is planning to open India up to global e-commerce firms like eBay next month, and that Modi’s industry minister has been drawing up the new guidelines with input from top eBay officials, along with their e-commerce counterparts from Google, Amazon, Wal-Mart and others. …
As we reported, the longtime managing director and partner for Omidyar Network India Advisors, Jayant Sinha, began working to help elect Modi since at least 2012, while publicly doling out tens of millions of Omidyar’s money to for-profits and to non-profits, at least one of which was involved in an anti-corruption campaign that undermined the center-left ruling government, and benefited Modi’s far-right BJP party.
Omidyar’s top India man also concurrently served as a director in a powerful BJP think tank, the India Foundation, chaired by Modi’s hardline National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval — “a giant among spies” according to the Hindustan Times. After stepping down from Omidyar Network in February of this year, Sinha worked full-time for Modi, the India Foundation, and for his own successful run as a BJP candidate for parliament.
Another NGO that Omidyar invested in, the Institute for Policy Research Studies (IPRS), was accused of illegally trying to lobby India’s parliamentarians to vote for opening up India’s e-commerce market in late 2012. The IPRS nonprofit ran a program in which their staffers provided India MP staffers with “nonpartisan” research. In 2012, India’s intelligence bureau accused the IPRS of “compromising national security” and described it as “shrouded in mystery.”
Omidyar Network had pledged $1 million to the IPRS, and the Ford Foundation pledged half a million more — but the Indian government rejected the IPRS’s application to register as a foreign-funded NGO, deeming it a threat to India’s parliamentary integrity, and its national security. Google’s corporate philanthropic arm, Google.org, had previously given $880,000 to the same NGO program, under Sheryl Sandberg’s watch. The co-founder of this controversial never-registered NGO, CV Mudhakar, is now, you might not be shocked to learn, Omidyar Network India’s director of investments in “government transparency.”
The previous, center-left Indian government not only nixed the Omidyar-Ford Foundation NGO-slash-e-retailer-lobby front, it also announced last year that it did not plan to allow e-commerce firms like eBay open access into its markets. … The answer to that business problem, of course, was changing India’s government — even if that meant installing a brutal figure like Narendra Modi, who spent nearly a decade on the US State Department’s visa ban list for his role in the violent persecution of minority Muslims and Christians.
That’s terrible and all from a human rights perspective, but when you consider the interests of eBay’s shareholders — like its number one shareholder, Pierre Omidyar — India presents not so much a problem as an opportunity. The majority of eBay’s revenues come from its overseas operations, and eBay has made no secret that it sees its future growth coming from India and the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China).
A story published in the Guardian today provides yet another telling example of the mindset of the faction that Omidyar has helped to power in India:
A state minister from Indian prime minister Narendra Modi's ruling party has described rape as a "social crime", saying "sometimes it's right, sometimes it's wrong", in the latest controversial remarks by an Indian politician about rape.
The political leaders of Uttar Pradesh, the state where two cousins aged 12 and 14 were raped and hanged last week, have faced criticism for failing to visit the scene and for accusing the media of hyping the story. A regional politician from Modi's own Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), said that the crime of rape can only be considered to have been committed if it is reported to police.
"This is a social crime which depends on men and women. Sometimes it's right, sometimes it's wrong," said Babulal Gaur, the home minister responsible for law and order in the BJP-run central state of Madhya Pradesh.
…Modi, who was sworn in as prime minister last week after a landslide election victory, has so far remained silent over the double killing in the village of Katra Shahadatganj, around half a day's drive east of Delhi.
The father and uncle of one of the victims said they tried to report the crime to local police but were turned away. Three men have been arrested over the killings. Two policemen have been held on suspicion of trying to cover up the crime.