As part of our annual fundraiser, we recap we’ve accomplished since we last asked for your support. If you already know how hard we work for you, please pass “Go” and proceed immediately to the Tip Jar, which tells you how to donate via check, credit or debit card, or PayPal.
What We Did Last Year: Becoming More Fierce and Feared Despite General and Direct Attacks
In our long-range look at what we expected for the next ten years at Naked Capitalism. In 2016, we stressed how economic systems like globalism and neoliberalism were starting to crack as it has become too obvious that they are enriching the well-off at the expense of ordinary people. The official response to this legitimacy crisis is to lash out at threats, such as those unduly aligned with “populist” positions, including this humble blog.
In late 2016 and 2017, we faced overt attacks, including effectively being called Russian stooges by the Washington Post, savaged by name in Vanity Fair, and denigrated by CBS News and an NBC Denver affiliate. We got through it thanks to the NC community supporting us. (After Denver readers alerted us and protested, the station retracted the story. We’re still waiting on the Post, Vanity Fair, and CBS.)
Increasingly, the campaign against independent sites has become stealthier but no less effective. In the summer of 2017, Google changed its search algorithm to assign greater weight to “authoritative,” meaning mainstream, sites. That cut into the traffic of sites like Counterpunch, TruthDig, and WSWS. Google took a second bite out of the search traffic at left-leaning sites with another algo tweak in April 2018. We’ve had readers tell us that on searches where NC reporting used to dominate results, we no longer appear on the first page. A recent EU competition ruling on Google reported that roughly 50% of search traffic goes to the first result, and only 1% goes to second page listings.
Despite that, due to our loyal readers getting our name out by sharing our posts, our traffic has held steady. We are not dependent on Google. But we nevertheless had a rough year on the business side due to poor performance of our ad service even after we relented and added native ads, after having been falsely told they’d generate a lot more revenue. Even though we allow for fluctuation in advertising income, the shortfall was so large that we had to cut back on some site activities, in particular meetups. (This has nothing to do with Naked Capitalism per se; our ad inventory is sold in a package along with that of other finance-oriented sites.)
The year before last, we were able to extend our reach despite having to play a lot of defense. In the year just past, we gained a lot of ground while still keeping our high standards on the many beats we now cover:
Making NC a force to be reckoned with. Our long engagement with CalPERS, which started in 2014, has paid off on multiple fronts. Our initial focus was private equity fees and abuses. CalPERS was a leverage point due its salience as the biggest and most influential public pension fund, and in particular, as a large and high profile investor in private equity. Working with academics like Eileen Appelbaum, Rosemary Batt, Ludovic Phallippou, and Michael Flaherman, we took interest in the way that perfectly reasonable questions that board member JJ Jelincic had been raising kept being blown off. As Jelincic, and we, kept pointing out, private equity fees and costs are staggering and even worse, significantly hidden. CalPERS effectively confirmed Phallippou’s estimate that they are roughly 7% a year. Those charges comes at the expense of investors and the companies bought on their behalf.
As Jelincic persisted, the responses he got included flat out lies, such as whether CalPERS could get data on carry fees, one of the biggest charges the fund pays. After a media backlash, led by this site, CalPERS was forced into a retreat and started getting and publishing the information.
Earlier this year, CalPERS brought in private equity expert Ashby Monk, who said in passing that CalPERS’ debate on private equity fees and costs had shaken up other investor and led them to do more to understand and contain them.
We became interested in broader governance issues as the CalPERS staff and board went to war against Jelincic for his sin of being the lone board member who took his fiduciary duty seriously. When Jelincic left the board in January and new board member Margaret Brown joined, we exposed more abuses and forced more changes:
– Dismissing CFO Charles Asubonten over resume and employment application misrepresentations
– Rolling back the worst of its indefensible changes to its election procedures. Among other things, CalPERS last year implemented paper ballots which both had an individual bar code identifier and a signature on the ballot. This year, CalPERS restored voter privacy in its mail-in ballots, with voters signing only the envelope, which is separated from the ballots before they are counted
– Determining that CalPERS has paid nearly $4 million to settle claims in its massive copyright abuse that we exposed the year prior
– Halting the interception of mail sent to board members
– Stopping the illegal pre-signing and forgeries on board travel expense claim forms
– Pressuring CalPERS’ board on CEO Marcie Frost’s many misrepresentations, not simply during and after being hired by CalPERS, but even dating back to perjury in Washington in 2013. As a result, State Treasurer John Chiang has called for an independent investigation
Moreover, in the recent CalPERS Board elections, Jason Perez beat an incumbent, board president Priya Mathur, handily. Mathur’s defeat is a sign that beneficiaries are unhappy with the CalPERS Board and want it to shape up. With Brown and Perez, there are two insurgents on the Board, so we can expect more pressure and more change.
All in all, it’s been quite a year for NC and CalPERS. Things have reached the point that CalPERS’ near-official stenographer, Adam Ashton of the Sacramento Bee, felt compelled to write a piece questioning why someone from the other side of the country should take interest in a $360 billion public pension fund. Maybe if he were doing his job, we wouldn’t be so inquisitive.
CalPERS is important not just as an accomplishment for this site, but also as a long-running case study. It shows how a small but tenacious group of people can effect change, even with a much larger and very well-resourced organization fighting them tooth and nail. We want to do more of that!
Providing relentless, unparalleled coverage of Brexit. Our UK- and Ireland-based readers say, and they happen to be right, that NC provides the best coverage of Brexit. We have been spot on in our calls, with the one minor exception of not foreseeing that the EU would give Theresa May a break by letting a December 2017 deadline for resolving the Irish border issue slide and allowing her instead to sign the fudge called the Joint Agreement.
Brexit is far and away the biggest near-term risk to the global financial system. The complacency over the uncomfortably high odds of a crash-out is near-universal and remarkable. A disorderly Brexit would almost certainly set a financial crisis in motion, although like the 2007-2008 crisis, it would probably take time before the most severe symptoms would kick in. As former central banker Willem Buiter pointed out in 2008, small open economies with outsized banking sectors are vulnerable to a triple crisis: a currency crisis followed by a banking and sovereign debt crisis, and he fingered the UK as a prime candidate . Yet you’d never get the idea from a newly-issued IMF report on global financial stability that UK was a Defcon 1 level risk.
Maintaining rigorous standards of reporting and analysis in the face of a captured and unduly credulous mainstream media. We challenge you to identify another publisher that does as much as we do with so little. One of Naked Capitalism’s hallmarks, of being early and accurate, has been the result of our long-standing rigor about the quality and significance of information. Every year, it seems to become harder to sort out informational wheat from chaff due to reporters on even more beats acting as transcriptionists rather than reporters.
Maintaining the best commentariat. The NC commmunity cannot function if the comments section is broken. Last year, we brought Outis aboard to work on a daily basis to help manage comments. When even that level of resource commitment was becoming strained, Jules Dickson joined our team. We also tweaked the commenting the software, both for users and in our backstage. That investment really paid off this year. The comment count on CalPERS stories gradually rose, and letters from informed readers definitely helped force CalPERS to do the right thing. And without the insightful input of regular commenters, our Brexit coverage would not be what it is.
Adding new features. Lambert has cast a skeptical eye on election horse-race coverage in the press by regularly providing granular analysis of Congressional races, in particular, his spreadsheets showing the backers and policy positions of the contenders, and updated assessments by forecasters of how each district will break. Guest writer John Simitan provided interviews of Chris Hedges and Thomas Frank integrated with reviews of their latest books.
Opening new beats. Lambert has provided extensive coverage on how Puerto Rico was ravaged not just by Hurricane Maria but by neoliberal neglect compounded by an exceptionally dilatory rescue operation. He has also opened new fronts on health care, writing on dental care, hospitals, and sepsis. Under the heading of “The Bezzle,” he monitors a seemingly unending parade of Silicon Valley “innovators” and “disruptors” scamming users, faking valuations, and devising hare-brained schemes to suck in stupid money. Jerri-Lynn has been reporting on the right to repair and the war on plastic, as well as providing informed coverage of legal and regulatory matters.
Continuing Hubert Horan’s incisive commentary on Uber. We’ve complemented Hubert’s stellar work with regular reporting on Uber’s and Lyft’s appalling driver economics.
Getting first dibs on Michael Hudson’s posts. Michael Hudson has graciously agreed to given NC the first publication opportunity for his finance-related pieces.
Following the fight for single payer. Lambert has kept his steely gaze on battles over health care, particularly Democratic party head-fakes like watered-down versions of Medicare for all.
Holding meetups in new cities. Despite our financial stresses, we had first-ever meetups in Portland, Oregon, Seattle, and Green Bay. And in a very exciting development, NC readers are spontaneously organizing meetups all on their own: Arizona Slim (Tuscon, AZ), Katie (Minneapolis, MN), and Janie (Salem, OR).
How This Fundraiser Works
Please give whatever you can. $5, $50, or $5000 are all appreciated. If you can only afford to give a little, then give a little. If you’re doing well these days, then please give more. It will all even out in the end. Everything you do – reading, commenting, giving, and sending us information – is essential to making this community work. You can help right now by following this link to make a donation.
We’d like to get broad-based participation from the Naked Capitalism community. Our target is 1100 donors for this fundraiser. Because we sent out a “Fundraiser is coming!” e-mail last week, some of you have already contributed, so we are already at 38 donors and $2475. However, some people on our mailing list sent us messages saying they are in tough shape now and can’t give but hope to contribute when their finances recover. So if you are having a good year, can you dig deeper and give more to make up for loyal readers who can’t participate in this fundraiser?
Our accompanying kickoff post gives a high-level view of what we intend to do in the long term. Over the course of the fundraiser, we identify specific things that your donations will fund and tell you when we’ve hit each of these monetary goals.
The first goal is funding for digital infrastructure essentials, particularly in light of the large number of comments we get on post (which loads our database of nearly one million). We also need to replace our long-time WordPress person, Blair, most probably at a higher rate, because skilled WordPress people who can deal with a site of our scale are thin on the ground.
The result is that our “nut” for digital essentials is certain to increase this year. So our first target is $19,000. Once we’ve hit that, we’ll let you know what our next item is.
How to Give
There are multiple channels for donating, and you will see them all when you go to our Tip Jar. To give by check (which saves us PayPal/credit card fees), please make it out in the name of “Aurora Advisors Incorporated” and send it to:
Aurora Advisors Incorporated
903 Park Avenue, 8th Floor
New York, NY 10075
At the same time, please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with the headline “Check is in the mail” (and just the $ amount in the message) so we can count your contribution in the total number of donations.
Thanks again for your interest and generous support!