As part of our annual fundraiser, we report to you, our loyal readers and donors, on what we’ve accomplished since we last asked for your support. If you already appreciate how much we do, please pass “Go” and proceed immediately to the Tip Jar, which tells you how to donate via check, credit or debit card, or PayPal.
In all seriousness, where else do you get rigor, badassery, and cute animal pictures all in one spot?
What We Did Last Year: Making Even More Trouble
In 2016, when we gave our forecast for the next ten years at Naked Capitalism we focused on how systems like globalism and neoliberalism were starting to come apart. Squeezing workers had become so successful that it was not just weakening growth but undermining the legitimacy of the elites.
Writers more illustrious than us, like Thomas Frank, have been marginalized for making unvarnished descriptions of the 21st century version of Versailles circa 1788. For small, independent sites, the methods have included new McCarthyism (smearing not just Naked Capitalism but outlets like the Ron Paul Institute, Black Agenda Report, TruthDig, and Antiwar.com), “fake news” blacklisting, and Google repeatedly changing its search algos to downgrade sites not deemed to be
“authoritative,” which has hit well-recognized publications like The Intercept and Counterpunch.
We have also had tech savvy readers tell us that we may be under more specific attack. They’ve told us that on searches where NC reporting used to dominate results, such as on “CalPERS” and “Marcie Frost” 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. “Reputation defender” firms may play a role in our diminished visibility.
Despite that, thanks to loyal readers getting our name out by sharing our posts, our traffic has held steady. We no longer depend on Google. But it is frustrating to be putting out what you regularly tell us is unique, high quality content, yet not be expanding our reach even with your efforts to get the word out. To help us take countermeasures please go straight to the Tip Jar and give generously!
Another impediment was the poor performance of our ad service. We even switched horses but have yet to see improvement. (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.)
This humble blogger had the added stress and time sink of moving out of New York City so I could take care of my mother. While reader support greatly facilitated the New York extraction part, I’m still not settled here, as attested by the number of boxes not yet unpacked.
Despite these considerable challenges, we gained ground last year while still keeping our high standards on the seemingly ever-widening number of beats we cover:
Providing relentless, unparalleled coverage of Brexit. Our UK- and Ireland-based readers say that NC provides the best coverage of Brexit. The extraordinary caliber of discussions in comments on these posts has been a big reason why. Our UK, Irish, and rest-of-EU readers have debated many of the fine point of Brexit, including thorny legal, regulatory, and Constitutional issues. We’ve regularly built on their observations, and hoisted many of their remarks. And sadly for the citizens of Ireland and the UK, our calls, repeatedly dismissed as too downbeat, have proven again and again to be spot on.
Brexit is far and away the biggest near-term risk to the global financial system. Yet even as news reports so close to the October 31 date show that the UK is still nowhere close to serving up any alternative the EU might consider, Mr. Market seizes on any comforting snippet, like Juncker making positive noises, as if it meant a deal was nigh.
Forcing greater accountability at CalPERS and in private equity. We’ve gotten so used to our long-running arm wrestle with CalPERS over private equity and then over banana-republic-level governance failings that we sometimes lose sight of what we’ve done. CalPERS is the state pension fund of the world’s fifth-largest economy and the way millions of its beneficiaries hope to be able to retire in dignity. Yet a tiny blog with a staff of 1.5 full time equivalent writers has been able to stop some of its bad behavior and embarrass it over other misconduct by having the truth on our side (plus your contributions).
In a back-handed compliment, the Sacramento Bee wrote about CalPERS’ frustration with us in 2018. And that apparently continues. Via e-mail earlier this year:
Just wanted to share a little story to make you laugh. I had to bring it up when I saw your reference to “The Blog That Must Not Be Named”.
A few months ago, while in the locker room at CalPERS, I overheard a snippet of conversation that went something like this:
Person A: “We have a blogger”.
Person B: “A blogger?”
Person A: “Yes, we have a blogger. She’s Voldemort!”
I thought to myself that these people should be grateful that someone out there is trying to keep the organization honest. However, as you know, hypocritical indignation is rampant in CalPERS culture.
Keep up the good work!
Although we remain the Blog That Must Not Be Named, private equity industry experts have said that the spectacle of CalPERS stumbling all over itself to ‘splain private equity charges was a wake-up call to other public pension funds, who started doing much deeper examinations of what private equity was really costing them and what they could do about it. Again, to put that in context: private equity firms have $5.8 trillion in assets under management. To put it mildly: as we intuited years ago, CalPERS which for decades was the largest investor in private equity, is a leverage point for reform.
Some of the things we’ve done this year:
– Throwing sand in the gears of CalPERS’ plans to ultimately put $40 to $60 billion in private equity with no oversight or even ability to get the money back. Our December 2018 New York Magazine article Alpha Wolves in the Henhouse, which built on our work at Naked Capitalism, was an important part of our effort.
We helped thwart one early terrible idea: outsourcing most of the program to a single firm, clearly intended to be BlackRock. We also believe we slowed down the initiative, which led even the normally captured trade press to spend enough time on the scheme to realize it was incoherent and lacked any legitimate justification.
– Showing that a long-term care case against CalPERS is close to certain to lead those funds to be declared insolvent. This would be very damaging to CalPERS yet the pension system does not appear to have a Plan B
– Publicizing illegal electioneering by State Treasurer Fiona Ma, board member David Miller, and CalPERS staff against JJ Jelincic.
– Exposing unconstitutional see-though ballot envelopes. Sadly, there does not appear to be any legal remedy (CalPERS lacks the authority to halt the election even if it wanted to) but our expose has reportedly galvanized CalPERS beneficiaries to get out the vote for JJ Jelincic, who is seeking to return to the board.
– Having our work on CalPERS copyright abuses cited by Dow Jones in a Supreme Court amicus brief, which confirmed our belief that they got way too little in their $3.4 million settlement.
– Exposing leaks by board members Henry Jones and Theresa Taylor of confidential closed session information. This matters because false charges of leaking have been a preferred way of dirtying up pro-transparency board members.
Continuing Hubert Horan’s relentless digging into Uber’s terrible economics. Hubert, who was first treated as a voice in the wilderness, then reluctantly included in some business press reports, has been vindicated with the belly flops of the Uber and Lyft IPOs. Sadly, these financial black holes continue to suck money from investors, fees from public transportation, and fares from taxi drivers. We’ve supplemented Hubert’s stellar work with regular reporting on Uber’s and Lyft’s appalling driver economics.
Exposing more and more crapification. Sometimes we do ourselves a marketing disservice by not using the crapification word with some of the issues we follow. For instance, Jerri-Lynn’s early focus on the right to repair comes out of companies like Apple finding more ways to enforce planned obsolescence. Lambert and I have both written on the 737 Max debacle, which as we anticipated is going worse that the aircraft company’s spin would have had you believe.
Opening and maintaining important new beats. Big kudos to Lambert and Jerri-Lynn. Lambert has posted regularly on single payer, regularly putting on his yellow waders to dig into policy proposals. He’s also kept after other ongoing stories like deaths of despair and Amazon’s misdeeds, besides continuing and extremely granular coverage of U.S. political campaigns and movements globally (e.g., Hong Kong). Jerri-Lynn has followed plastic waste before it became a hot topic, and she was also early to document the high environmental and social cost of fashion. She also puts on her recovering lawyer hat to weigh in on important cases. Guest writer John Siman has regularly been identifying important new books and providing engaging and informative interviews integrated with his review.
Some of our accomplishments are continuing core activities:
Getting first dibs on Michael Hudson’s posts. Michael Hudson graciously and regularly gives NC the first publication opportunity because he likes the reader interaction.
Maintaining the best commentariat. Naked Capitalism depends on its commentariat. But we’ve been leaning hard on Jules Dickson, when earlier in the year, we had another person help with the moderation heavy lifting who dropped out due to health issues and pressing personal needs.
Upholding rigorous standards of reporting and analysis in the face of a captured and 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. That becomes both more important yet more difficult as intensified propagandizing in combination with resource-starved and too-often captured journalists together create informational halls of mirrors.
Holding meetups in new cities. We had first-ever meetups in Cleveland, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Fort Lauderdale. Jerri-Lynn has graciously hosted meetups in NYC (with Michael Hudson) and London. NC readers are spontaneously organizing meetups all on their own: Arizona Slim (Tuscon, AZ) and Chuck L taking over for Katie (Minneapolis, MN). More of this, please!
We want to admit where we came up short:
Holding fewer meetups than we hoped. We didn’t make any West Coast visits for budget and schedule reasons. We hope to remedy that as well planting new meetup stakes.
Neglecting New York Magazine. New York Magazine would like to run two articles from me a month, and that offer still stands. We did four on that schedule late last year. We found it very difficult to add that to our current workload. We’ll discuss during the fundraiser what we hope to do to pick this opportunity back up.
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. Many of you reported that your local areas are doing well, so if you are sharing in the prosperity, we hope you’ll include us in your good fortune.
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 55 donors and $3288. However, some have told us 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’d like to do. 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 (which loads our database of 1.3 million). We also are behind on some tech tasks, which means a higher level of expenses than last year.
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
164 Peachtree Circle
Mountain Brook, AL 35213
At the same time, please send an e-mail to email@example.com 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!