By Matt Stoller, author of Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy and a Fellow at the Open Markets Institute
There’s a witch’s brew of weirdness and creepiness these days, everything from the pandemic to the rise in authoritarianism and violence. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I’m frightened, on Tuesday and Thursday I’m grimly amused, and on the weekends I drink.
But I always read and rely on Naked Capitalism, Yves Smith, and this community.
Yves does something that is sorely lacking in my world of politics, which is that she *pays attention to details.* This community thinks institutionally, looking into the corporations, pension funds, and government agencies that organize power.
That’s always been why Yves gets things right before other people do. She was premature on the financial crisis in 2006 because she was paying attention to the housing market on a granular level, she did the work to understand mortgage-backed securities/Magnetar, and she read the documents to recognize the foreclosure fraud crisis. I could go on and on, from her prescience about Syriza in Greece, to private equity, to Boeing, and to the Eurozone crisis. This year it was the early calls on the pandemic, which helped people prepare.
Years ago, the blogs were awesome. But these days, the internet has become a toxic cesspool of annoying conspiracy theories, some weird, some banal, and most designed to obscure the reality of the institutions that organize power. Sorry did I say the internet? I meant every media outlet there is, except Naked Capitalism.
Much of our media and the internet isn’t just annoying, in fact, it’s poison. Poison for our minds. Readers of this site recognize that putting your mind on things that matter, as opposed to bullshit, is how we keep ourselves free. That means reading, of course, but it also means, if you can, keeping this site going. So please throw some coin to Yves and her crew of merry truth-tellers. You can donate here.
If you can’t afford anything, you can still help by spreading the word about Naked Capitalism by telling friends and family, circulating important stories, posting links on Facebook and other social media. Actually, never use Facebook or social media. Just don’t. You’ll be happier.
Still, if you can afford to give, please give, and if you can afford to give a lot, give a lot. Naked Capitalism is an invaluable enterprise, though not a lucrative for Yves and the people who work with her. I can assure you Yves doesn’t bracingly fight the most powerful institutions in the world for the money. She does it because the voices in her head tell her to do so, and my guess is that those are some righteous ass voices. You can make her job a little easier by donating via the Tip Jar, which tells you how to give by debit card, credit card, or check.
Thinking about reality gets results. This year, I’m most impressed with the institutional crisis Yves has forced over at CalPERS, the California pension fund that is unaccountable, incompetent, sloppy, and corrupt. Through dogged reporting and advocacy since 2014, she showed CalPERS had no idea what it was paying in private equity fees. In a massive quality troll, she exposed resume misrepresentations by a recently hired Chief Financial Officer Charles Asubonten, which led to his departure. CalPERS kept CEO Marcie Frost on despite our documenting her extensive fabrications during her hiring, such as having enrolled in a non-existent dual degree program. which she repeated on her official CalPERS bio.
At some level, you can only mock the corruption, and she certainly does that too. But this year, Yves may have finally broken open the door to the possibility of CalPERS fixing its governance. CalPERS has been in an uproar since Chief Investment Officer Ben Meng departed abruptly after this site exposed that CalPERS had made a $1 billion commitment to Blackstone while Meng owned Blackstone stock. CalPERS staff has been forced to offer to give back some of the authority it persuaded the board to cede to it. Hopefully enough members of the board have finally woken up to the consequences of letting a $400 billion fund operate with inadequate oversight and will take corrective action.
Yves is helping to save huge sums of money with her work. Does she get a cut? No! But she’s well-paid in the satisfaction that she has supremely annoyed some very bad people. Help her keep doing that! You can donate here.
What else has Naked Capitalism done right? Well of course there’s the pandemic. I hate most pandemic reporting, because it’s lazy and designed to incite people based on their politics. But Naked Capitalism informs. This site has done important original reporting, both via Ignacio, a Spanish epidemiologist who provide posts on important topics like the role of air travel in Covid 19 spread and an analysis of different approaches to vaccines, and Jerri-Lynn, whose interviews and sanity checks with Hong Kong based SARS veteran Dr. Sarah Borwein, who described what Hong Kong and China had done right to contain Covid-19, and how their contact tracing differed from the what the US had in mind. Lambert (and Yves) have also provided extensive links to research.
Normally in fundraisers like this, I try to give a rousing ending where I talk about democracy, and how we can keep the flame alive with the bracing truth Yves delivers, and all that. And yeah, I believe it’s possible, and maybe even likely. I work on antitrust and big tech, and it’s pretty likely Google is about to get slammed by a giant antitrust suit. Even so, these days I’m mostly in a bad mood, so I get my kicks by thinking about the powerful people Yves regularly annoys by telling the truth about them in ways they have to hear.
I think that’s worth something. In fact I think that’s worth a lot. It’s 2020, and I’m going to enjoy my spite. You can donate here.Ben Meng and the rest of the former employees at CalPERS will not like it.