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Pierre Omidyar: It Is Better to Receive than to Give

Dave Emory’s entire life­time of work is avail­able on a flash dri­ve that can be obtained here. (The flash dri­ve includes the anti-fas­cist books avail­able on this site.)

COMMENT: In the long FTR series on L’Af­faire Snow­den,  we not­ed that all of the play­ers were out­right fas­cists and/or expo­nents of cor­po­ratist eco­nom­ic the­o­ry. That includes Pierre Omid­yar, Nazi fel­low-trav­el­er Glenn Green­wald’s finan­cial angel and backer of First Look media.  Tout­ing the lais­sez-faire eco­nom­ics of the GOP and oth­er cor­po­ratist ele­ments around the world, Omid­yar has also helped to finance the rise of fas­cist ele­ments abroad, includ­ing assist­ing in the ascent of the OUN/B suc­ces­sor forces in the Ukraine, as well as Naren­dra Modi, heir to the RSS Hin­du fas­cists that spawned his BJP.

Omid­yar’s “phil­an­thropy” is cast in the lais­sez-faire eco­nom­ics to which he is wed. Build­ing on the lethal record of his SKS micro­fi­nance project in Andhra Pradesh state in India, Omid­yar Net­works has uti­lized the Rur­al Devel­op­ment Insti­tute, the child of Roy Proster­man, a coun­terin­sur­gency vet­er­an of the Phoenix Pro­gram in Viet­nam and sim­i­lar projects in places like El Sal­vador.

Omid­yar and his then-CEO Meg Whit­man (of EBAy) also were  under inves­ti­ga­tion: “. . . .  in return for giv­ing Gold­man Sachs the lucra­tive eBay IPO, the “vam­pire squid” bank set up pri­vate secret accounts for Omid­yar and CEO Meg Whit­man let­ting them spin dozens of tech IPOs before they went to mar­ket — rip­ping off both retail investors and start­up investors. Omid­yar set­tled a share­hold­er fraud law­suit in 2005 with­out admit­ting wrong­do­ing, iron­ic for a vision­ary who believes so deeply in account­abil­i­ty.

Omid­yar and oth­er EBay exec­u­tives are cur­rent­ly being inves­ti­gat­ed for anoth­er alleged scam: “Omid­yar was sub­poe­naed by a fed­er­al grand jury crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion into his and oth­er eBay exec­u­tives’ alleged roles in steal­ing Craigslist’s “secret sauce” for eBay’s prof­it.”

What a swell guy Omid­yar is. Read the arti­cle below for details on his (and oth­er cor­po­ratists’) vision for the mutat­ing of micro-finance into a prof­it-mak­ing vehi­cle, often at the lethal expense of the poor who are sup­posed to ben­e­fit from those pro­grams.

“EBay Shrugged: Pierre Omid­yar Believes there Should Be No Phil­an­thropy With­out Prof­it” by Mark Ames; Pan­do Dai­ly; 5/31/2014.

EXCERPT: This week, India’s new­ly-elect­ed ultra­na­tion­al­ist leader Naren­dra Modi unveiled his cab­i­net, three-quar­ters of whom come from a fas­cist para­mil­i­tary out­fit, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh) — includ­ing one min­is­ter accused by police last year of incit­ing dead­ly Hin­du-Mus­lim vio­lence that left over 50 dead.

The RSS was found­ed in 1925 by open admir­ers of Mus­soli­ni and Hitler; in 1948, an RSS mem­ber assas­si­nat­ed paci­fist Mahat­ma Gand­hi. In 1992, it was the RSS that orga­nized the destruc­tion of the Ayo­d­ha Mosque, leav­ing 2000 dead, most­ly Mus­lims; and in 2002, the RSS played a key role in the mass-mur­ders of minor­i­ty Mus­lims in Gujarat, accord­ing to Human Rights Watch, when the state of Gujarat was ruled by Naren­dra Modi — him­self a prod­uct of the RSS.

Ear­li­er this week, Pan­do report­ed that Modi’s elec­tion received help from unlike­ly sources in Sil­i­con Val­ley includ­ing Google, and to a much more seri­ous extent, Omid­yar Net­work, the phil­an­thropy fund of eBay bil­lion­aire and First Look pub­lish­er Pierre Omid­yar.

From 2009 through Feb­ru­ary of this year, Omid­yar Net­work India Advis­ers was head­ed by Jayant Sin­ha, a long­time Modi advis­er and new­ly-elect­ed MP in Modi’s ultra­na­tion­al­ist BJP par­ty tick­et. The Omid­yar Net­work part­ner and man­ag­ing direc­tor played a dou­ble role, invest­ing funds in Indi­an non­prof­its and for-prof­its, some with dis­tinct­ly polit­i­cal agen­das; while pri­vate­ly, the Omid­yar man “worked in Modi’s team” in 2012–13, and served as direc­tor in the ultra­na­tion­al­ist BJP party’s main think tank on secu­ri­ty and eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy, the India Foun­da­tion. This week, Modi appoint­ed the head of the India Foun­da­tion, for­mer intel­li­gence chief Ajit Doval, as his Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Advi­sor.

Modi was the “hi-tech pop­ulist” can­di­date: Lon­don techies man­aged Modi’s 3‑D holo­gram cam­paign, beam­ing 10-feet-tall Modi holo­grams to ral­lies across India. And India’s techies played a key role both in cam­paign­ing for Modi and vot­ing for Modi.

Despite the sun­ny pro­gres­sive Sil­i­con Val­ley gloss we’ve been fed these past few decades, Modi’s appeal shows that the tech indus­try is as prone to far-right author­i­tar­i­an pol­i­tics as any oth­er indus­try.

And that is what makes the Omid­yar Net­work sto­ry so reveal­ing: Per­haps no oth­er fig­ure embod­ies the dis­con­nect between his pro­gres­sive anti-state image, and his fac­tu­al col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Amer­i­can nation­al secu­ri­ty state and the glob­al neolib­er­al agen­da, than Pierre Omid­yar.

The role of Omid­yar Net­work in so many major events of the past week — help­ing elect India’s ultra­na­tion­al­ist leader Naren­dra Modi; co-fund­ing Ukraine regime-change NGOs with USAID, result­ing in a dead­ly civ­il war and Monday’s elec­tion of Ukrain­ian bil­lion­aire oli­garch Petro Poroshenko; and now, this week’s first-ever sit-down TV inter­view with Edward Snow­den, through an arrange­ment between NBC News and Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media — shows how these con­tra­dic­tions are com­ing to the fore, and shap­ing our world.

Omidyar’s cen­tral role in the US nation­al secu­ri­ty state’s glob­al agen­da may still come as a shock to out­siders and fans of First Look media’s ros­ter of once-inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists. But to White House for­eign pol­i­cy hawks, Pierre Omid­yar rep­re­sents the new face of an old impe­r­i­al tra­di­tion. . . .

. . . . . By tak­ing a clos­er look at Omid­yar Network’s invest­ments in India, we gain insight into where the com­mon inter­ests between Big Tech, the US nation­al secu­ri­ty state, and neolib­er­al­ism align — and Omidyar’s strate­gic think­ing align­ing eBay/PayPal with Omid­yar Net­work and First Look media.

Let’s start with Omid­yar Network’s invest­ments in the Rur­al Devel­op­ment Insti­tute, found­ed by one of the god­fa­thers of Amer­i­can coun­terin­sur­gency strat­e­gy: Roy Proster­man.

“Prop­er­ty Rights”: Omid­yar and “Phoenix Pro­gram” guru Roy Proster­man

Omid­yar Net­work iden­ti­fies “prop­er­ty rights” (or “prop­er­ty titling”) as one of its five areas of focus. One of Omidyar’s per­son­al heroes and largest grant recip­i­ents is neolib­er­al econ­o­mist Her­nan­do de Soto, the for­mer right-hand man to jailed dic­ta­tor Alber­to Fuji­mori. De Soto is the world’s lead­ing ped­dler of “prop­er­ty titling” as the answer to glob­al pover­ty: rather than giv­ing aid, De Soto says we should give the world’s poor pri­vate prop­er­ty titles, which slum dwellers can pre­sum­ably col­lat­er­al­ize into microloans for their slum-based star­tups. The results have often been cat­a­stroph­ic — but that hasn’t stopped De Soto from being admired by the world’s rul­ing elite, rang­ing from Bill Clin­ton, to the Koch broth­ers — to Pierre Omid­yar, who gave $5 mil­lion to De Soto’s neolib­er­al think tank . . .

. . . .India, like many devel­op­ing coun­tries around the world, has what Anglo-Amer­i­cans con­sid­er a weak legal struc­ture on prop­er­ty rights. In par­tic­u­lar, local indige­nous peo­ples lay ancient claims to lands they live on, and have resist­ed state attempts to forcibly evict them to make way for indus­try, min­ing, and oth­er pow­er­ful inter­ests. The Nax­al Maoist insur­gen­cies rag­ing in parts of India are fueled in part by dis­placed, land­less peo­ples. Since Modi’s elec­tion land­slide, glob­al investors have been hope­ful that India’s land will now be made eas­i­er to buy and sell. Omid­yar Network’s long­time top man in India, Jayant Sinha—now an MP in Modi’s far-right rul­ing par­ty — told CNBC that Modi’s first job should be mak­ing land acqui­si­tion eas­i­er:

We have to start with land acqui­si­tion. We have to make land acqui­si­tion a lot bet­ter in terms of both the peo­ple that are acquir­ing the land from the farmer’s and so on as well as for indus­try.

So per­haps it’s lit­tle sur­prise that Omidyar’s first major India grant, in 2008, went to the Rur­al Devel­op­ment Institute’s (renamed “Lan­desa”) pro­gram “to help secure land rights for the rur­al poor” in India’s Andhra Pradesh state. By 2009, Omid­yar Net­work had com­mit­ted $9 mil­lion to the RDI land rights pro­gram, the largest grant in the outfit’s his­to­ry.

And what a his­to­ry: The Rur­al Devel­op­ment Insti­tute was found­ed in 1967 by Roy Proster­man, whose land reform pro­grams were a key ele­ment in the Viet­nam War coun­terin­sur­gency strat­e­gy, the “Phoenix” assas­si­na­tion pro­gram. The Phoenix pro­gram became the tem­plate for mod­ern Amer­i­can coun­terin­sur­gency — vio­lent ter­ror, com­bined with soft-pow­er land “reforms” cooked up by Prosterman’s Insti­tute.

Dur­ing the Viet­nam War, Proster­man teamed up with USAID to imple­ment his “land-to-the-tillers” reforms, grant­i­ng land to peas­ants as the car­rot, while at the same time CIA death squads assas­si­nat­ed tens of thou­sands of Viet­namese vil­lage lead­ers and ter­ror­ized restive regions into sub­mis­sion. The result, Proster­man lat­er boast­ed, was that Viet Cong recruit­ment dropped 80 per­cent.

A decade lat­er, Proster­man sold the same land reform pro­gram to El Salvador’s jun­ta, just as the jun­ta was ramp­ing up its dead­ly attacks on rur­al civil­ians that left 75,000 killed by US-backed gov­ern­ment forces. Proster­man also served as “land reform” advi­sor to Philip­pines dic­ta­tor Fer­di­nand Mar­cos. And in the 1990s, Proster­man was con­tract­ed by Booz Allen to advise land reforms in Moldo­va, accord­ing to jour­nal­ist Tim Shorrock. . . .

. . . . . A few years ago, Prosterman’s Rur­al Devel­op­ment Insti­tute changed its name to Lan­desa. But Prosterman’s Cold War out­fit hasn’t changed its close coop­er­a­tion with USAID, or its core strate­gic mis­sion, tying land own­er­ship to secu­ri­ty (and coun­terin­sur­gency) — neat­ly summed by Landesa’s India director’s arti­cle: “Con­nect­ing the Dots Between Secu­ri­ty and Land Rights in India.”

Leav­ing aside the alleged ben­e­fits to India’s poor of giv­ing them land title to the com­mons — 400,000,000 Indi­ans live on less than $1.25 a day — for the more pow­er­ful inter­ests fund­ing land titling pro­grams, there are end­less advan­tages. It helps cre­ate a mass tax base for gov­ern­ments that want to shift more tax­es onto the mass­es; it for­mal­izes and legal­izes trans­fer of prop­er­ty from the com­mons to the strongest and rich­est; it makes for­eign investors hap­py; it helps the gov­ern­ment and busi­ness­es track and keep data on its cit­i­zens; and, to quote Omid­yar Net­work man­ag­ing part­ner Matt Ban­nick — recent­ly appoint­ed by the Oba­ma White House to a spe­cial task force — Prosterman’s land reforms made Omid­yar “excit­ed about how micro-land own­er­ship can empow­er women and help them to pull them­selves out of pover­ty.”

That’s because micro-land own­er­ship helps cre­ate the real focus of Omid­yar Net­work invest­ments in India: Micro­fi­nance.

“Finan­cial Inclu­sion”: Omid­yar, Micro­fi­nance & Sui­cide-By-Pes­ti­cide

Omid­yar Network’s ugli­est dis­as­ter — besides co-fund­ing Ukraine regime-change groups with USAID — was its role in fund­ing SKS Micro­fi­nance, whose preda­to­ry lend­ing and debt col­lect­ing prac­tices led to a rash of grue­some sui­cides in rur­al Andhra Pradesh.

First, a quick word on the the­o­ry and prac­tice of microlend­ing. In the­o­ry, the orig­i­nal micro­fi­nance con­cept — a non­prof­it extend­ing micro-loans to the poor, under favor­able terms, below mar­ket rates — could be ben­e­fi­cial, and under the right cir­cum­stances, it often was. But to the neolib­er­als, the orig­i­nal micro­fi­nance con­cept smacked of do-good­er state social­ism — so micro­fi­nance floun­dered in the mar­gins of the devel­op­ment com­mu­ni­ty until 1992. That year, USAID com­mer­cial­ized a Boli­vian micro­fi­nance non­prof­it called Pro­dem, cre­at­ing a new for-prof­it micro-lender, Ban­coSol in its place. Ban­coSol bal­looned overnight — both in loans and in prof­its, mak­ing mil­lion­aires of the for­mer non­prof­it direc­tors before Ban­coSol near­ly col­lapsed at the end of the decade.

USAID liked the for-prof­it neolib­er­al mod­el for micro­fi­nance, and it per­suad­ed the World Bank and oth­er glob­al finan­cial insti­tu­tions to load in and sing its prais­es. That brought micro­fi­nance to the atten­tion of Wall Street funds, even­tu­al­ly push­ing out “old” “unsus­tain­able” non­prof­it micro­fi­nance insti­tu­tions, and seduc­ing the likes of Nobel Peace Prize win­ner and micro­fi­nance indus­try guru Muham­mad Yunus into the for-prof­it sec­tor as well. As we now know, it end­ed in dis­as­ter — par­tic­u­lar­ly in India’s Andhra Pradesh state, where Omid­yar-fund­ed land title pro­grams had been busy cre­at­ing legions of rur­al poor “micro-land own­ers” now ready to load up on Omid­yar-fund­ed micro­fi­nance loans. The result would be scores of women dri­ven to gris­ly sui­cides, forced pros­ti­tu­tion, and despair.

It’s hard to over­state just how cen­tral the for-prof­it micro­fi­nance mod­el is to Pierre Omidyar’s “vision.” In a 2006 New York­er arti­cle detail­ing Omidyar’s near-reli­gious zeal for com­mer­cial­iz­ing micro­fi­nance, we learn that the eBay bil­lion­aire not only reject­ed the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s appeals to soft­en his mono­ma­ni­ac focus on prof­it­ing off the world’s poor — we also learn that Omid­yar was com­mit­ted to wip­ing out what­ev­er remained of char­i­ta­ble non-prof­it microlend­ing, so as not to “dis­tort the mar­ket.” Omid­yar reject­ed on prin­ci­ple entreaties from his fel­low bil­lion­aires to invest in a non­prof­it micro­fi­nance fund. Because on prin­ci­ple, Omid­yar refused to believe that good could come from any­thing but the self-inter­est­ed prof­it motive. Here’s the New York­er:

[Omid­yar] often cites Adam Smith’s doc­trine that unre­strained mar­ket forces and self-inter­est dri­ve the most efficient—and social­ly beneficial—use of resources. Omid­yar sees Smith’s prin­ci­ples at work in eBay; he believes that eBay’s com­mer­cial suc­cess was linked to a pro­found social good.

Omidyar’s faith in the eBay mod­el is so great that he is con­vinced that it can be applied to solv­ing humanity’s prob­lems, includ­ing pover­ty — and that is why Omid­yar sin­gled out for-prof­it micro­fi­nance as his life’s mis­sion. After reject­ing Yunus as an “old thinker” wed­ded to old do-good­erism non-prof­it think­ing, Omid­yar announced a $100 mil­lion dona­tion to Tufts Uni­ver­si­ty, the largest in school his­to­ry, with the stip­u­la­tion that the Omid­yar-Tufts Micro­fi­nance Fund went “specif­i­cal­ly” into “invest­ments that would pro­mote microfinance’s com­mer­cial­iza­tion.”

To man­age the fund, Omid­yar hired a Senior Cred­it Offi­cer from USAID — the agency that orig­i­nal­ly com­mer­cial­ized micro­fi­nance in 1992 — who chan­neled Joseph Schum­peter to the New York­er:

“One of the things we need and we will get is a cycle of cre­ative destruc­tion,” said Try­fan Evans, the direc­tor of invest­ments at the Omid­yar-Tufts fund, who pre­vi­ous­ly worked at U.S.A.I.D. “If you’re inef­fi­cient, you will get over­tak­en by com­peti­tors.”

What is rather shock­ing in hind­sight is how fanat­i­cal Omidyar’s faith is in the free mar­ket, to the point that he’s will­ing to risk exploit­ing the most vul­ner­a­ble poor on earth to prove that Adam Smith is right. The dan­gers of for-prof­it micro­fi­nance lend­ing to India’s poor were no secret: the New York­er arti­cle ref­er­ences a string of micro­fi­nance relat­ed sui­cides in Andhra Pradesh back in 2006, before Omidyar’s mil­lions poured oil on that fire. . . .

. . . . And so Omid­yar test­ed his the­o­ry: plow­ing mil­lions into India’s SKS Micro­fi­nance via  invest­ments into murky micro­fi­nance out­fit Uni­tus. In 2010, SKS Micro­fi­nance list­ed a $350 mil­lion IPO that net­ted insid­ers and ear­ly investors like Uni­tus obscene prof­its. The murky, inter­lock­ing non­prof­it/­for-prof­it struc­tures ensured that only those on the inside knew whether Omid­yar made mon­ey on his invest­ment.

The only sure thing was that the explo­sion of micro­fi­nance lend­ing in the state of Andrah Pradesh, led by SKS Micro­fi­nance, wound up sad­dling the world’s poor­est and most vul­ner­a­ble vil­lage women with debts they could not pay, caus­ing a wave of sui­cides. An AP inves­ti­ga­tion direct­ly impli­cat­ed Omid­yar-fund­ed SKS Micro­fi­nance agents in sev­er­al sui­cides:

One woman drank pes­ti­cide and died a day after an SKS loan agent told her to pros­ti­tute her daugh­ters to pay off her debt. She had been giv­en 150,000 rupees ($3,000) in loans but only made 600 rupees ($12) a week.

Anoth­er SKS debt col­lec­tor told a delin­quent bor­row­er to drown her­self in a pond if she want­ed her loan waived. The next day, she did. She left behind four chil­dren.

One agent blocked a woman from bring­ing her young son, weak with diar­rhea, to the hos­pi­tal, demand­ing pay­ment first. Oth­er bor­row­ers, who could not get any new loans until she paid, told her that if she want­ed to die, they would bring her pes­ti­cide. An SKS staff mem­ber was there when she drank the poi­son. She sur­vived.

An 18-year-old girl, pres­sured until she hand­ed over 150 rupees ($3) – meant for a school exam­i­na­tion fee – also drank pes­ti­cide. She left a sui­cide note: “Work hard and earn mon­ey. Do not take loans.”

In all these cas­es, the report com­mis­sioned by SKS con­clud­ed that the company’s staff was either direct­ly or indi­rect­ly respon­si­ble.

After the report, Omid­yar Net­work scrubbed SKS Micro­fi­nance from its web­site. An old cached web­page shows Omid­yar hail­ing SKS Micro­fi­nance for “serv­ing the rur­al poor in India” and claim­ing that the murky Uni­tus pri­vate equi­ty fund’s IPO “exit strat­e­gy” will “attract more cap­i­tal to the mar­ket.”

Instead, Uni­tus dis­solved its micro­fi­nance NGO, a wave of res­ig­na­tions and murky mil­lions moved hands, SKS Micro­fi­nance became a pari­ah, and Andhra Pradesh passed laws reg­u­lat­ing micro­fi­nance insti­tu­tions. A tiny hand­ful of insid­ers and investors pock­et­ed obscene mil­lions, over 200 killed them­selves, and entire Indi­an rur­al com­mu­ni­ties were dev­as­tat­ed. Self-inter­est and prof­it motive did not cre­ate the great­est social good that Omid­yar believed in; and yet, Omid­yar Net­work con­tin­ues to expand its port­fo­lio of micro­fi­nance — or “finan­cial inclu­sion” — invest­ments.

eBay Shrugged

 “Omid­yar stopped talk­ing about micro­fi­nance as a way to end world pover­ty, and instead described its mis­sion in a way con­gru­ent with the eBay expe­ri­ence.” —New York­er

The key to under­stand­ing the enig­mat­ic eBay bil­lion­aire and his many con­tra­dic­tions — an active par­tic­i­pant in Washington’s glob­al empire on a scale unri­valed in pub­lish­ing, while also founder of a quar­ter-bil­lion dol­lar “adver­sar­i­al jour­nal­ism” start­up and pri­va­tiz­er of the Snow­den NSA files, the largest cache of leaked nation­al secu­ri­ty secrets in US his­to­ry — is under­stand­ing Omidyar’s eBay-cen­tric vision.

Omid­yar is a vision man, as his star employ­ee Jere­my Scahill con­stant­ly reminds us. And his vision was shaped, for under­stand­able rea­sons, by his expe­ri­ence mak­ing ten bil­lion dol­lars overnight off of eBay, which Omid­yar believes is proof of a larg­er philo­soph­i­cal and moral struc­ture at work, rather than a com­bi­na­tion of smarts, luck, priv­i­lege… and oth­er less savory fac­tors.

In 2000, Omid­yar con­fid­ed to his New York Times biog­ra­ph­er, Adam Cohen, that he found­ed eBay to cre­ate a “per­fect mar­ket” after feel­ing cheat­ed by the way tech IPOs in the ear­ly 1990s let insid­ers “spin” IPOs for a quick prof­its before dump­ing them onto the mar­ket to reg­u­lar investors — like the pre-eBay Omid­yar. Cohen writes:

When 3DO announced plans to go pub­lic in May 1993, Omid­yar placed an order for stock through his Charles Schwab bro­ker­age account…. 3DO went pub­lic at $15 a share, but when Omid­yar checked his account, he learned that the stock had soared 50 per­cent before his order had been filled…. it struck him that this was not how a free mar­ket was sup­posed to operate—favored buy­ers pay­ing one price, and ordi­nary peo­ple get­ting the same stock moments lat­er at a size­able markup.

Omidyar’s solu­tion was an online auc­tion.

Cohen, a mem­ber of the New York Times edi­to­r­i­al board, found Omidyar’s sto­ry con­vinc­ing. There was only one prob­lem: At the very time Omid­yar spun this yarn to Cohen, Omid­yar was under inves­ti­ga­tion in the largest IPO stock spin­ning scan­dal in his­to­ry. Accord­ing to a House inves­ti­ga­tion, in return for giv­ing Gold­man Sachs the lucra­tive eBay IPO, the “vam­pire squid” bank set up pri­vate secret accounts for Omid­yar and CEO Meg Whit­man let­ting them spin dozens of tech IPOs before they went to mar­ket — rip­ping off both retail investors and start­up investors. Omid­yar set­tled a share­hold­er fraud law­suit in 2005 with­out admit­ting wrong­do­ing, iron­ic for a vision­ary who believes so deeply in account­abil­i­ty.

More recent­ly, Omid­yar was sub­poe­naed by a fed­er­al grand jury crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion into his and oth­er eBay exec­u­tives’ alleged roles in steal­ing Craigslist’s “secret sauce” for eBay’s prof­it. . . .


4 comments for “Pierre Omidyar: It Is Better to Receive than to Give”

  1. Well that was fast...

    Pan­do Dai­ly
    Just as we pre­dict­ed, India’s new leader is about to make Pierre Omid­yar a lot rich­er

    By Mark Ames
    On June 4, 2014

    Well that was fast. Two weeks ago, we report­ed that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s top man in India had secret­ly helped elect con­tro­ver­sial ultra­na­tion­al­ist Naren­dra Modi, impli­cat­ed by Human Rights Watch and oth­ers in the grue­some mass killings and cleans­ing of minor­i­ty Mus­lims. As we also revealed, short­ly after Omidyar’s man pub­licly joined the Modi cam­paign in Feb­ru­ary, Modi sud­den­ly began warm­ing up to the idea of let­ting glob­al e‑commerce com­pa­nies into the world’s third largest econ­o­my. Omidyar’s eBay, which draws the major­i­ty of its rev­enues from over­seas oper­a­tions, has been champ­ing at the bit to get into India.

    Now, just weeks after Modi’s elec­tion, it seems their prayers have been answered.

    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.

    Call­ing the move to allow for­eign e‑commerce into India “one of the first tan­gi­ble signs of eco­nom­ic reform by the busi­ness-friend­ly gov­ern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi,” Reuters reports that the sec­tor is expect­ed to quadru­ple its share of the over­all econ­o­my by 2020. India’s e‑commerce indus­try is grow­ing at 40–50% annu­al­ly. Those num­bers, and Modi’s accom­mo­dat­ing behav­ior, is mak­ing Pierre Omidyar’s under­lings sali­vate:

    “Deepa Thomas, spokes­woman for eBay in India, said it was excit­ed about the oppor­tu­ni­ty and believed in the need for a care­ful­ly cal­i­brat­ed approach to open­ing up the sec­tor.

    “The indus­try min­istry that drafts FDI rules recent­ly met offi­cials from com­pa­nies includ­ing Ama­zon, Google, eBay Inc, Wal-Mart and Indi­an e‑tailer Flip­kart to finalise the invest­ment guide­lines, the peo­ple said.

    “Glob­al online retail­ers like Ama­zon and eBay are cur­rent­ly banned from sell­ing prod­ucts they have sourced them­selves, and must rely on third-par­ty sup­pli­ers. Their plat­forms, which they own ful­ly, are mar­ket­places for these out­side sup­pli­ers.

    “The gov­ern­ment is like­ly to end this ban, paving the way for glob­al retail­ers to bring their for­mi­da­ble sup­ply chain, and cheap­er goods, into India, poten­tial­ly boost­ing con­sump­tion and ben­e­fit­ing small man­u­fac­tur­ers and traders.”

    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 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” 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.

    Note that Ajit Doval was just appoint­ed the head of Indi­a’s NSA.


    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.”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 5, 2014, 8:06 am
  2. It looks like Stan­ford, a Sil­i­con Val­ley insti­tu­tion, is giv­ing First Look’s man­age­ment style a sec­ond look. It’s not an approv­ing sec­ond look:

    The Wash­ing­ton Post
    Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty work­ing with First Look Media on man­age­ment

    By Erik Wem­ple Novem­ber 3 at 7:41 PM

    The man­age­ment phi­los­o­phy at First Look Media, the pub­lish­er behind the dig­i­tal mag­a­zine The Inter­cept, is wor­thy of exten­sive con­sid­er­a­tion (by the Erik Wem­ple Blog, among oth­ers). Last week, that man­age­ment came under scruti­ny after star First Look hire Matt Taib­bi quit and four oth­er mar­quee employ­ees wrote a remark­able post at The Inter­cept about the dys­func­tion with­in the oper­a­tion — par­tic­u­lar­ly between jour­nal­ists based in New York and com­pa­ny exec­u­tives with ties to Sil­i­con Val­ley, where First Look fun­der and eBay founder Pierre Omid­yar made his for­tune.

    One of those tak­ing a hard look at First Look, it turns out, is First Look itself. The fledg­ling news out­let is work­ing with a Sil­i­con Val­ley insti­tu­tion — Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty — to exam­ine man­age­ment strate­gies at the start-up, sev­er­al sources tell the Erik Wem­ple Blog.

    Nei­ther First Look nor Stan­ford is eager to talk about their col­lab­o­ra­tion. An inquiry to Justin Fer­rell, fel­low­ships direc­tor at Stanford’s Has­so Plat­tner Insti­tute of Design (known as the “d.school”), who is report­ed­ly involved in the study, fetched this reply from PR oper­a­tive Debbe Stern: “Thanks for reach­ing out to both me and Justin at the Stan­ford d.school. We don’t real­ly feel we have any­thing help­ful to add to your sto­ry. I am sor­ry we can’t be more help­ful.”

    And John Tem­ple, a top edi­to­r­i­al offi­cial at First Look, declined to pro­vide any infor­ma­tion: “Sor­ry Erik. Not now.” Before join­ing First Look as pres­i­dent of audi­ence and prod­ucts, Tem­ple was a senior fel­low at Stanford’s John S. Knight Jour­nal­ism Fel­low­ships pro­gram, “focus­ing on design think­ing as applied to jour­nal­ism chal­lenges.” (Tem­ple is also a for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of The Post). Sources with knowl­edge of the sit­u­a­tion con­firmed that Stan­ford is doing a study of First Look but didn’t pro­vide details.

    First Look has had trou­ble get­ting its jour­nal­ism into cir­cu­la­tion, and if there were any ques­tions that the com­pa­ny has man­age­ment issues, The Inter­cept destroyed them last week with its eye-open­ing account of Taibbi’s depar­ture. It detailed his clash­es with man­age­ment and cit­ed a “col­li­sion between the First Look exec­u­tives, who by and large come from a high­ly struc­tured Sil­i­con Val­ley cor­po­rate envi­ron­ment, and the fierce­ly inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists who view cor­po­rate cul­tures and man­age­ment-speak with dis­dain. That divide is a reg­u­lar fea­ture in many news­rooms, but it was exac­er­bat­ed by First Look’s avowed strat­e­gy of hir­ing exact­ly those jour­nal­ists who had cul­ti­vat­ed rep­u­ta­tions as anti-author­i­tar­i­an icon­o­clasts.”

    In oth­er words, there’s plen­ty of mate­r­i­al here to study.

    It just so hap­pens that the Stan­ford d.school has a class, “Design­ing Cre­ative Orga­ni­za­tions,” that would have a blast exam­in­ing First Look. Accord­ing to a descrip­tion, the course will teach par­tic­i­pants — pro­fes­sion­al fel­lows — about “how design think­ing applies to lead­ing cre­ative orga­ni­za­tions. They will learn and apply orga­ni­za­tion­al design mod­els that they can rely on in mak­ing their own lead­er­ship deci­sions. The project-based approach will allow them to exper­i­ment as they learn in a real-world envi­ron­ment, with­out the risk asso­ci­at­ed with­in their own orga­ni­za­tions.”


    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 4, 2014, 6:47 pm
  3. Oh no...

    Here’s Omid­yar sali­vat­ing over “vir­tu­al­ly untapped $14.5bn African edu­ca­tion mar­ket” which he’s busy pri­va­tiz­ing: https://t.co/ugxHVXCUhX— Mark Ames (@MarkAmesExiled) Decem­ber 18, 2014

    Yes, the Omid­yar Net­work and like-mind­ed phil­an­thropists have a gift for some of the poor­est chil­dren in the world. A for-prof­it gift

    Finan­cial Times
    For-prof­it school chains edu­cate Africa’s poor
    Tosin Sulaiman | Dec 17 06:37

    It’s a few min­utes into Mar­i­on Akinyi Onginjo’s social stud­ies les­son at Bridge Inter­na­tion­al Acad­e­my Gica­gi in Nairo­bi and the class 4 teacher is being drowned out by loud cheers next door.

    Class 4 final­ly gets its chance to make some noise when one stu­dent, Mar­garet, cor­rect­ly answers a ques­tion about sub­sis­tence crops. After Ong­in­jo tells the class, “let’s give Mar­garet the cow­boy cheer,” they stand up, spin imag­i­nary las­soes in the girl’s direc­tion and yell, “One, two, three, four, five, yee-hah.”

    Like the roller­coast­er cheer, the para­pan­da cheer (from the Swahili word for trum­pet) and the car­rot and grater cheer, it’s one of the ways teach­ers at Bridge, Africa’s largest chain of low-cost pri­vate schools, keep stu­dents engaged, inno­va­tion man­ag­er George Brackin explains. “The kids love that,” he says.

    Since open­ing its first school in Nairo­bi in 2009, Bridge has enrolled over 100,000 stu­dents in Kenya and, if it suc­ceeds in tak­ing its brand of afford­able pri­vate edu­ca­tion to some of the world’s poor­est coun­tries, mil­lions of school­child­ren in Africa and Asia could soon be imi­tat­ing cow­boys.

    The for-prof­it com­pa­ny, whose schools charge tuition fees aver­ag­ing $6 a month, will open its first acad­e­mies in Nige­ria and Ugan­da next year and plans to enter India by 2016. Its goal is to edu­cate 1m nurs­ery and pri­ma­ry-age chil­dren by 2017 and 10m by 2025.

    While pri­vate schools are grow­ing expo­nen­tial­ly in the slums of many African cities as fam­i­lies liv­ing on $2 a day or less opt out of gov­ern­ment schools, the emer­gence of chains like Bridge, which can dri­ve down costs through economies of scale, has encour­aged investors to enter the low-cost edu­ca­tion sec­tor. Low-fee pri­vate schools in sub-Saha­ran Africa make up a vir­tu­al­ly untapped $14.5bn mar­ket, accord­ing to Bridge co-founder Shan­non May, an esti­mate based on what poor par­ents are already pay­ing for nurs­ery or pri­ma­ry edu­ca­tion with­out brand­ed providers.

    Bridge’s back­ers include Bill Gates, JP Mor­gan, Omid­yar Net­work, CDC of the UK and the IFC, the World Bank’s pri­vate sec­tor arm. The com­pa­ny has also attract­ed ven­ture cap­i­tal firms New Enter­prise Asso­ciates (NEA), Khosla Ven­tures and Learn Cap­i­tal, in which Pear­son, own­er of the Finan­cial Times, is a lim­it­ed part­ner. Pearson’s $15m Afford­able Learn­ing Fund is also an investor in Omega Schools, a low-cost chain in Ghana with 38 schools and over 20,000 stu­dents.

    The investors believe low-fee pri­vate providers, along with gov­ern­ment schools, can help increase access to and improve the qual­i­ty of edu­ca­tion in devel­op­ing coun­tries, where an esti­mat­ed 130m chil­dren are in school but not learn­ing the basics. In African coun­tries like Nige­ria, Niger and Ghana, around 75 per cent of chil­dren who leave school after five or six years are unable to read a sen­tence, accord­ing to Unesco’s lat­est Edu­ca­tion for All report.

    “The address­able mar­ket for this com­pa­ny is almost infi­nite,” says Har­ry Weller, who led NEA’s invest­ment into Bridge. “If you’re able to deliv­er edu­ca­tion of a high qual­i­ty at this cost it’s a big mar­ket.”

    But even if suc­cess­ful, Bridge will still be out of reach to the very poor, some argue. Chris Khaem­ba, who is in charge of edu­ca­tion at Nairo­bi City Coun­ty, said the major­i­ty of res­i­dents in Nairobi’s infor­mal set­tle­ments can­not afford Bridge’s fees. “It tar­gets the high end of the slum dwellers, but there’s a sig­nif­i­cant socio-eco­nom­ic group that they will not get,” he says. “They are a for-prof­it com­pa­ny. There are share­hold­ers who expect a return. You don’t do that for slum-dwellers in Africa.”

    There could also be obsta­cles to Bridge’s ambi­tions to oper­ate in what has tra­di­tion­al­ly been the domain of gov­ern­ments. School chains may be viewed as a threat to pub­lic school sys­tems once they reach a cer­tain size, says Karan Khem­ka, head of inter­na­tion­al edu­ca­tion at the Parthenon Group, adding that one chain in Bangladesh came under greater gov­ern­ment scruti­ny once it hit 300,000 stu­dents and was unable to grow fur­ther.

    “The real­i­ty is that once you get very big the polit­i­cal inter­est becomes too great,” he says. “You can’t pre­dict these things with cer­tain­ty but nobody has hit 1m in the past and the rea­son is, it usu­al­ly becomes too polit­i­cal hav­ing those many kids in one sys­tem.”

    Bridge’s founders say they always planned for scale. The com­pa­ny needs a large cus­tomer base to enable it to amor­tise the cost of its invest­ments in tech­nol­o­gy, cur­ricu­lum devel­op­ment and teacher train­ing, allow­ing it to keep fees low, says May, who found­ed Bridge with her hus­band Jay Kim­mel­man. “The plan was always that we would have to be edu­cat­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of chil­dren – even­tu­al­ly more than a mil­lion – or else the busi­ness mod­el doesn’t work.”

    As in oth­er low-cost schools, Bridge’s teach­ers are high school grad­u­ates who live in the local com­mu­ni­ty, mak­ing them cheap­er than gov­ern­ment-trained teach­ers. They are giv­en tablets that con­tain script­ed lessons writ­ten by its cur­ricu­lum spe­cial­ists to be read word for word. That way, Bridge says, teach­ers can deliv­er lessons they would nev­er have been able to come up with by them­selves.


    The chain, which plans to dou­ble the num­ber of its schools with­in a year, charges a dai­ly fee of around $0.65 that includes tuition, lunch and uni­forms, which par­ents pay through vouch­ers sold in their neigh­bour­hoods, a con­cept bor­rowed from tele­coms com­pa­nies.

    “We like to say it’s a pay-as-you-learn mod­el,” says Donkoh, who start­ed Omega with his wife, Lisa, and James Too­ley, a pro­fes­sor of edu­ca­tion pol­i­cy at New­cas­tle Uni­ver­si­ty. “It’s more con­ve­nient to the poor because they plan on a dai­ly basis. The poor don’t want a month­ly con­tract. They want to pay for the ser­vice as they enjoy it.”


    When you read things like:

    “The address­able mar­ket for this com­pa­ny is almost infi­nite,” says Har­ry Weller, who led NEA’s invest­ment into Bridge. “If you’re able to deliv­er edu­ca­tion of a high qual­i­ty at this cost it’s a big mar­ket.”

    But even if suc­cess­ful, Bridge will still be out of reach to the very poor, some argue. Chris Khaem­ba, who is in charge of edu­ca­tion at Nairo­bi City Coun­ty, said the major­i­ty of res­i­dents in Nairobi’s infor­mal set­tle­ments can­not afford Bridge’s fees. “It tar­gets the high end of the slum dwellers, but there’s a sig­nif­i­cant socio-eco­nom­ic group that they will not get,” he says. “They are a for-prof­it com­pa­ny. There are share­hold­ers who expect a return. You don’t do that for slum-dwellers in Africa.”

    it rais­es a rather fun­da­men­tal ques­tion about the idea of using the for-prof­it mod­el to deliv­er ser­vices to the poor: what’s giv­en a high­er pri­or­i­ty in this mod­el? Ser­vice deliv­ery (a qual­i­ty edu­ca­tion) or prof­its for the share­hold­ers who expect a return on their invest­ments?

    And when you read things like:

    As in oth­er low-cost schools, Bridge’s teach­ers are high school grad­u­ates who live in the local com­mu­ni­ty, mak­ing them cheap­er than gov­ern­ment-trained teach­ers. They are giv­en tablets that con­tain script­ed lessons writ­ten by its cur­ricu­lum spe­cial­ists to be read word for word. That way, Bridge says, teach­ers can deliv­er lessons they would nev­er have been able to come up with by them­selves.

    you basi­cal­ly get your answer. Or you could read this.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 18, 2014, 3:50 pm
  4. Check out the lat­est Omid­yar Fel­low:

    Pan­do Dai­ly
    What the hell? Pierre Omid­yar selects one of Edward Snow­den’s for­mer Booz Allen boss­es to be an Omid­yar Fel­low

    By Mark Ames
    , writ­ten on
    Octo­ber 16, 2015

    Edward Snow­den was a Booz Allen Hamil­ton employ­ee in Hawaii when he worked as a sub­con­trac­tor for the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency and made off with hun­dreds of thou­sands of the spy agency’s files.

    Booz Allen, “the world’s most prof­itable spy orga­ni­za­tion,” is one of the NSA’s lead­ing pri­vate con­trac­tors; the direc­tor of US intel­li­gence, James Clap­per, was a Booz Allen exec­u­tive, and for­mer NSA direc­tor Michael McConnell is now a Booz Allen VP.

    In oth­er words, if you con­sid­er your­self an Edward Snow­den sup­port­er in any way, Booz Allen is the ene­my.

    So it may come as a sur­prise that bil­lion­aire Pierre Omid­yar — pub­lish­er of The Inter­cept, which owns the only com­plete cache of Snowden’s NSA secrets; financier of the Free­dom of The Press Foun­da­tion, where Snow­den serves on the board of direc­torshas just select­ed one of Snowden’s for­mer boss­es at Booz Allen’s Hawaii branch to join the Omid­yar Fel­lows pro­gram.

    His name is Robert Liet­zke, and he’s a “prin­ci­pal” at Booz Allen’s Hawaii branch, where he’s worked for over 15 years. In 2008, Liet­zke was report­ed in the local Hawai­ian press as one of “three prin­ci­pals [run­ning] day to day oper­a­tions” at Booz Allen’s Hawaii branch. Lietzke’s spe­cial­ty at Booz is infor­ma­tion sys­tems and tech­nol­o­gy, Snowden’s field. Before he joined Booz Allen, Liet­zke was a com­put­er sys­tems offi­cer in the US Air Force from 1989 through 1999.

    After join­ing Booz’s Hawaii branch, Liet­zke worked “sup­port” for the US Pacif­ic Com­mand, head­quar­tered out­side of Hon­olu­lu, on pro­tect­ing crit­i­cal infra­struc­ture and net­work oper­a­tions.

    Ironically—as if there isn’t already an entire aster­oid belt of irony in this story—Lietzke was fea­tured in a 2009 sto­ry on how dif­fer­ent Hawaii com­pa­nies learned to suc­cess­ful­ly man­age their employ­ees and build cor­po­rate cama­raderie. Under the sub-head­er “Employ­ee Feed­back,” Hawaii Busi­ness Mag­a­zine report­ed:

    “In a firm that employs 18,000 peo­ple world­wide, it’s easy to feel like a small voice that will nev­er be heard by ‘The Man.’ But at Booz Allen Hamil­ton, a tech­nol­o­gy con­sult­ing firm that main­ly ser­vices the U.S. mil­i­tary, employ­ees feel that high­er-ups are lis­ten­ing.

    “One way employ­ees pro­vide feed­back is through a ‘peo­ple strat­e­gy’ sur­vey every two years. ‘One of the things I’ve noticed is that the response rate is very, very high for that sur­vey,’ says Bob Liet­zke, prin­ci­pal at BAH’s Hon­olu­lu office. ‘It cer­tain­ly takes in inter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tions with­in the firm, folks talk­ing from the top all the way down, and this is real­ly your chance to be heard. I think it’s impor­tant that lead­er­ship stress­es it and, more impor­tant­ly, peo­ple are see­ing that there’s action tak­en after it.’”

    Speak­ing of “The Man”: Lietzke’s descrip­tion of his cyber-intel­li­gence exper­tise on his LinkedIn page gives a pret­ty good indi­ca­tion of just how close his and Snowden’s paths would’ve crossed when Snow­den worked for Booz Allen in 2013:

    “At Booz Allen Bob is apply­ing his knowl­edge of telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tems and joint mil­i­tary oper­a­tions to emerg­ing nation­al efforts in Mis­sion Assur­ance. He pro­vides strate­gic plan­ning and devel­op­ment guid­ance to a vari­ety of clients in the areas of Crit­i­cal Infra­struc­ture Pro­tec­tion (CIP), NetOps, and Infor­ma­tion Assur­ance (IA). In addi­tion, he cur­rent­ly man­ages a wide vari­ety of client sup­port projects in the areas of Infor­ma­tion Assur­ance (IA), CIP, Anti-Ter­ror­is­m/­Force Pro­tec­tion (AT/FP), Home­land Defense (HLD), and Con­ti­nu­ity of Oper­a­tion Plan­ning (COOP). In sup­port of these engage­ments he is help­ing clients devel­op an enter­prise wide approach to risk man­age­ment. Bob cur­rent­ly holds a Top Secret (TS/SCI) Secu­ri­ty clearance.Specialties:Information Assur­ance, NetOps, Crit­i­cal Infra­struc­ture Pro­tec­tion, Cyber Secu­ri­ty.”

    In oth­er words, every two-three-and-four-let­ter cyber-mil­i­tary acronym in the book... except for the three-let­ter agency that starts with “N”.

    Omid­yar Fel­lows: “Once a Fel­low, Always a Fel­low”

    Every year since 2012, Hawaii’s rich­est res­i­dent, Pierre Omid­yar, selects around a dozen peo­ple from Hawaii’s busi­ness, non­prof­it, and gov­ern­ment sec­tors to become Omid­yar Fel­lows and form a kind of unof­fi­cial club of Hawaii’s future lead­ers.

    In a local Hawaii TV news seg­ment on Omid­yar Fel­lows, the program’s direc­tor described how each Fel­low must con­duct a “gru­elling” inter­view with Pierre Omid­yar him­self:

    “Yeah, the inter­views are pret­ty tough. In-per­son inter­views with the board of five direc­tors.”

    “With Pierre?”

    “With Pierre, yeah. It was great, yeah. I think the Fel­lows them­selves learned a lot—about them­selves.”

    “They were a lit­tle over­whelmed?”

    “Yeah, a bit. A bit. It was great, ha-ha!”

    The appli­ca­tion process for the Omid­yar Fel­lows’ 15-month pro­gram is designed to be rig­or­ous. Your com­pa­ny must spon­sor your appli­ca­tion, which requires per­son­al tes­ti­monies and let­ters from your com­pa­ny CEO.

    Accord­ing to the web­site,

    Omid­yar Fel­lows need the full endorse­ment of their cur­rent employ­ers and must be able to par­tic­i­pate in all the activ­i­ties of the pro­gram. The spon­sor will rec­og­nize the ben­e­fit to the orga­ni­za­tion of a Fellow’s lead­er­ship devel­op­ment and be will­ing to hold the Fel­low account­able for putting his/her learn­ing to work.

    This includes a “let­ter of sup­port from your chief exec­u­tive” that explains “why you are a cur­rent and future leader in your orga­ni­za­tion and how your growth might con­tin­ue beyond the pro­gram.” Mean­ing, pre­sum­ably, that Booz Allen CEO Hora­cio Rozan­s­ki wrote to Omidyar’s peo­ple push­ing for them to select his top Hawaii exec­u­tive as an Omid­yar Fel­low.

    [Pan­do reached out to Booz Allen’s Hawaii office and to Omid­yar Fel­lows for this sto­ry, but received no com­ment.]

    Snowden’s for­mer Booz Allen boss, Liet­zke, was also required to sub­mit, among oth­er things, a 1500 word essay address­ing themes such as,

    * What does it mean to be a leader in 21st-cen­tu­ry Hawaii?

    * How will the Omid­yar Fel­lows pro­gram help you to achieve your pro­fes­sion­al aspi­ra­tions?

    * How will the Omid­yar Fel­lows pro­gram help you to achieve your aspi­ra­tions for the larg­er com­mu­ni­ty and the peo­ple of Hawaii?

    Those lucky few select­ed to join the Omid­yar Fel­lows pro­gram spend the next 15 months in a lead­er­ship train­ing pro­gram that com­bines some of Omidyar’s own New Age fetish­es – as skew­ered by Ken Sil­ver­stein and in Van­i­ty Fair — with more tra­di­tion­al pow­er-net­work­ing and rela­tion­ship-build­ing events. When they com­plete the pro­gram, they join what is called the “Forum of Fel­lows”:

    Once a Fel­low, always a Fel­low… The for­mal pro­gram is just the begin­ning of a life­long com­mit­ment by Omid­yar Fel­lows to make a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence with the knowl­edge and net­work gained and to help sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tions of emerg­ing lead­ers.

    In oth­er words, Omid­yar is build­ing a kind of local Hawai­ian cadre of lead­ers and net­worked exec­u­tives under his brand name and sponsorship—a kind of elite Cham­ber of Com­merce loy­al to Omid­yar and imbued with his New Age lib­er­tar­i­an faith.

    Hired Spies: More Omid­yar-Booz Allen

    I asked nation­al secu­ri­ty inves­tiga­tive reporter Tim Shorrock, the fore­most expert on pri­vate con­trac­tors and the NSA and author of “Spies For Hire” for his take on Omid­yar cozy­ing up with one of the heads of the Booz Allen branch where Snow­den worked.

    Shorrock point­ed me to Omidyar’s Ulupono Ini­tia­tive in Hawaii, a mul­ti­fac­eted ven­ture cap­i­tal fund that oper­ates in Omidyar’s home state much the way his Omid­yar Net­work oper­ates in coun­tries around the world, seek­ing both prof­its and polit­i­cal influ­ence. Kyle Dat­ta, who serves as Gen­er­al Part­ner at Omidyar’s Ulupono Ini­tia­tive, is a for­mer Booz Allen vice pres­i­dent.

    Shorrock also point­ed me to a major Pen­ta­gon con­trac­tor expo in Hawaii that Omid­yar has been co-spon­sor­ing his Ulupono Ini­tia­tive for the past few years with the likes of Lock­heed Mar­tin, Hon­ey­well, and NSTXL (Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Tech­nol­o­gy Accel­er­a­tor) — the Defense Department’s ver­sion of the CIA’s In-Q-Tel.

    Says Shorrock:

    “Omid­yar’s rela­tion­ship with Booz Allen Hamil­ton would be per­fect for the link-analy­sis style of report­ing on politi­cians and pub­lic fig­ures we see in his pet jour­nal­is­tic project, The Inter­cept.

    “This is the sec­ond senior Booz exec­u­tive he’s tak­en under his wing....Kyle Dat­ta, who has direct­ed Ulupono’s invest­ment strate­gies since 2009, once did the same for Booz, where he ran the con­trac­tor’s ener­gy prac­tice.

    “Under Dat­ta, Ulupono was a lead spon­sor in 2014 for a big ‘ener­gy sum­mit,’ where its part­ners includ­ed the Pen­ta­gon, Lock­heed Mar­tin and Hon­ey­well. That makes sense, because as a major play­er in Hawai­i’s ener­gy mar­kets, Ulupono main­tains close ties with the state’s enor­mous mil­i­tary indus­tri­al com­plex.”

    “Part of its 2014 sum­mit includ­ed a DoD ‘indus­try day’ co-spon­sored by Ulupono, its part­ners, and the Unit­ed States Pacif­ic Com­mand, which is based on Hawaii but con­trols all US mil­i­tary forces through­out the Asia-Pacif­ic area. It includ­ed pre­sen­ta­tions on ‘the mechan­i­cal, elec­tri­cal and con­trol sys­tem design for cyber-secure micro­grids and will address the costs and ben­e­fits includ­ing the cost of cyber­se­cu­ri­ty.’

    “Now Omid­yar has brought in Robert Liet­zke, anoth­er Booz exec and a for­mer Air Force offi­cer, into his oper­a­tions. These rela­tion­ships with Booz raise ques­tions about Omid­yar’s deci­sion to invest in the Snow­den doc­u­ments and cre­ate The Inter­cept. Did he ‘vet’ Snow­den — who for­mer­ly worked for Booz in Hawaii — with Dat­ta or Liet­zke before he plopped down that $250 mil­lion for the Snow­den depos­i­to­ry at First Look? Did either exec­u­tive know or work with Snow­den when he was employed by Booz in Hawaii?”

    Strict­ly Busi­ness?

    Shorrock’s ques­tion is the one we’re all try­ing to make sense of: Why would Omid­yar both court and devel­op Edward Snowden’s for­mer boss and employ­er at Booz Allen, and also set up an “adver­sar­i­al” media com­pa­ny based on the NSA leaks tak­en by Booz Allen Hawaii’s for­mer employ­ee, Edward Snow­den? Is the eBay bil­lion­aire just trolling us? Is his Kit­to Man­dala char­ac­ter tak­ing over Omidyar’s ves­sel and play­ing tricks on the rest of us?

    This is one of those cas­es where you prob­a­bly should start with the sim­plest answer, and the sim­plest answer here is: It’s strict­ly busi­ness.

    For one thing, as Shorrock notes, Hawaii is one of the most high­ly mil­i­ta­rized patch­es of real estate in the U.S. A RAND study esti­mat­ed that up to one-fifth of Hawaii’s econ­o­my is tied to the Depart­ment of Defense. Beyond the big new NSA cen­ter, there are 10 major mil­i­tary instal­la­tions, research cen­ters, weapons stores, pri­vate con­trac­tors, and a local cit­i­zen­ry over-rep­re­sent­ed by vet­er­ans, for­mer offi­cers, and spooks.

    A cou­ple of years ago, after Snowden’s name was first revealed as the NSA leak­er, a local Hawai­ian mil­i­tary stud­ies pro­fes­sor, Car­los Juarez, explained why so many intel­li­gence con­trac­tors work in the tourist par­adise:

    “This is a place that has long had a large intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty. The mil­i­tary is of course, head­quar­tered here, the U.S. Pacif­ic Com­mand, and part of that includes a larg­er intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty.”

    In oth­er words, Omid­yar is the rich­est man in a state where the mil­i­tary-intel­li­gence com­plex is the biggest busi­ness in town. And since Booz Allen is a big name in Hawaii’s mil­i­tary-intel­li­gence con­tract­ing, when it comes to strict busi­ness inter­ests, it’s nat­ur­al that Omid­yar and Booz Allen would want to seal their rela­tion­ships in one of Omidyar’s local lead­er­ship cults.


    We’re also left ner­vous­ly won­der­ing why, out of the hun­dreds of thou­sands of NSA files in The Intercept’s pos­ses­sion, not one leaked thus far has men­tioned Booz Allen or oth­er pri­vate con­trac­tors. How is that pos­si­ble, when we know that 70 per­cent of the NSA’s oper­a­tions are run by pri­vate con­trac­tors (thanks to Shorrock’s report­ing)?

    After Pan­do exposed Omidyar’s co-financ­ing role with USAID in fund­ing Ukraine regime-change groups in 2014, Green­wald gave a giant mid­dle fin­ger to every­one who ever fell for his right­eous indig­na­tion schtick, admit­ting:

    “[P]rior to cre­at­ing The Inter­cept with Lau­ra Poitras and Jere­my Scahill, I did not research Omidyar’s polit­i­cal views or dona­tions. That’s because his polit­i­cal views and dona­tions are of no spe­cial inter­est to me...”

    Chances are, even Snow­den won’t crit­i­cize Omid­yar for court­ing his Booz Allen adver­saries. Hell, he prob­a­bly doesn’t even care any­more. They’ve all got valu­able per­son­al brands to tend to. Like Paci­no said — it’s strict­ly busi­ness, Son­ny.

    “We’re also left ner­vous­ly won­der­ing why, out of the hun­dreds of thou­sands of NSA files in The Intercept’s pos­ses­sion, not one leaked thus far has men­tioned Booz Allen or oth­er pri­vate con­trac­tors. How is that pos­si­ble, when we know that 70 per­cent of the NSA’s oper­a­tions are run by pri­vate con­trac­tors (thanks to Shorrock’s report­ing)?”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 16, 2015, 3:20 pm

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