Dec 16 2013

Funding models, Glenn Greenwald, Omidyar, and tinfoil hats

(Reposted with permission. ek)

by lambert at corrente

Sun, 12/15/2013 – 5:35pm

On The Greenwald Question:

It is true that the “left” (for some definition of left that would include Greenwald’s civil liberties work, even if under the aegis of strange bedfellows) has struggled with a funding model. If Corrente were 10 times its size (with concomitant increase in size for similar blogs) that would make, I’m convinced on no evidence at all, a big difference in the discourse.

Hitherto, a reader support model — though reasonably free from conflict of interest, i.e. buying into the bullshit — has enabled survival but not growth. I don’t know why.

Another model is to become Kos or TPM or ThinkProgress, and to be funded by the Democratic nomenklatura. So here we have conflicts of interest. (“Who kidnapped Josh Marshall”?)

Another model is advertising, selling eyeballs (which, to be fair, Naked Capitalism does, in addition to reader support). At scale, and IMNSHO NC is not at scale, we have potential for a different sort of conflict.

And another model is finding a patron, which is what Hamsher did, CJR does (Soros, IIRC), and now Greenwald has done. A different sort of conflict. (Marx, we might remember, was funded by Engels, a Manchester factory owner.)

So what model do you use if you want to get a story out?

I find it hard to fault Greenwald on ethical grounds, especially if he got some up front “Fuck you” money from Omidyar. (I haven’t been following the ins and outs, and it may be that Greenwald has disqualified himself on other grounds in his various defense of himself.) If Greenwald doesn’t ruin his personal brand, he’s free to walk away. For some definition of “free.”

However, I’m not sure the funding model is the story. Let me now put on my tinfoil hat:

Call me foily, but if I were a really astute right wing billionaire who thought long term, and who wanted a lot more leverage over the government than I already had, I’d:

  1. Get a technically astute and ideologically aligned mole into the NSA;
  2. Have them steal a lot of extremely incriminating data;
  3. Dole just enough out to the press to show what I had;
  4. Keep the great bulk of it as a “fleet in being,” as it were.

I’ve also considered the idea that Snowden was the tool of an NSA faction that didn’t like the rampant illegality; that could combine with #1.

GG comes in at #3, and as an archivist/researcher in #4. He doesn’t even have to know.

I know this reads rather like a real-life late William Gibson novel, with Omidyar in the role of Hubertus Bigend, and “the data” as the McGuffin, but real life these days resembles a Gibson novel, except more convoluted, darker, and with even nastier villains.

I had always had this way of thinking in the back of my mind, but this story really brought it to the forefront for me:

   Officials Say U.S. May Never Know Extent of Snowden’s Leaks

That story reads very much like normalizing the situation to me.

So, Omidyar becomes a sort of data-driven sovereign, with informational nukes. Of course, that would imply that the tippy top global ruling class runs on blackmail, but then you knew that.



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  1. ek hornbeck
  2. MO Blue

    Investigators remain in the dark about the extent of the data breach partly because the N.S.A. facility in Hawaii where Mr. Snowden worked – unlike other N.S.A. facilities – was not equipped with up-to-date software that allows the spy agency to monitor which corners of its vast computer landscape its employees are navigating at any given time.

    Six months since the investigation began, officials said Mr. Snowden had further covered his tracks by logging into classified systems using the passwords of other security agency employees, as well as by hacking firewalls installed to limit access to certain parts of the system.

    We are spending gazillions on this spy crap and we did not from the get go make it spy proof. Idiots

  3. MO Blue

    Looking back at the various blogs I have read, I tend to think that there could be problems with reader support models as well. Have to wonder if the blog rules are enforced quite as stringently against a comment made by someone who contributes big bucks to the blog as opposed to someone who only contribute small amounts or nothing at all.

  4. MO Blue

    on blogs and how much may be needed to fill up comment sections with a back and forth discussion of issues. Also have been wondering how a blog can have a healthy mix of people with varying ideas and still stick to using information and facts to debate issues.

    It seems that too often facts are met with what I consider dishonest Republican techniques used to discount or distract from the issue at hand rather countering with real information. Somehow this has become the American standard for “debate.” And IMO like the “uniquely American health care solution” leaves much to be desired.

    I seen standards that held up for some time dissolve to the point that good blogs have become nothing but ongoing fights and many have disappeared as a result. I’m sure that blog owners don’t want to waste their time being grade school playground monitors. Not sure if the current environment and what has become SOP for debates will allow an open dialog on issues.

    I have read more than one comment on blogs to the effect “Why should I post a link to information to support my position when you will just come back with another link to counter my POV.” Guess I’m getting too old because that is what I though debating an issue was all about.

    Bottom line, I have a lot more questions than I have solutions and would like to read what others think about this issue.

  5. ek hornbeck

    in the form of a post.

    I have questions too.

    The funding model for this blog (and DocuDharma now that we own it outright) is private sponsorship.

    Our costs are very low, less than $30 a month.  What we need more than money is user activity and written contributions.

    We do accept advertising but are not dependent on it.  Donations are put right back in the business.  We blog for art and awareness, not for profit.  Nobody’s looking to pay the bills off the income.

    Now we are looking to expand our impact and TMC and I are doing just about all we can to provide the quality and output we have going.  Are there other jobs that need to be done?  Of course there are- for one thing we need a social media editor to set up and maintain a facebook and twitter promotion campaign.

    There are also some organizational things like tag librarian that need doing.

    So if you like what you see and want to help out there are many ways to do that which don’t involve money and we’re open to people’s support.

    If you’re worried about moderation, we’re much more open than most.  Hate speech, pornography, outing, and stalking; harassment and bullying; plagiarism; those are pretty much universal no-nos.  We’re a left blog so right wing talking points are discouraged and mostly fall on deaf ears, likewise Third Way neolib boosterism.  NO I/P WITHOUT PRIOR APPROVAL!  Just don’t go there.

    Other than that I have provided an array of pillows for fighting.  No sanction is not Administrative, the Administrators are myself and TMC.  Nothing is ever removed, your stupidity is always there for people to ridicule.  If you really want to wound someone you ignore them.

    Hope some of this makes sense to you.  Glad to have you aboard the Black Pearl as we spiral down the maelstrom.

    Not just the Spanish Main, love.  The entire ocean.  The entire world.  Wherever we want to go, we’ll go.  That’s what a ship is, you know.  It’s not just a keel and a hull and a deck and sails, that’s what a ship needs but what a ship is… what the Black Pearl really is… is freedom.

  6. Zorba

    about this, too, MOBlue.  Not mentioning any specific other blogs here.  {{Ahem}}


  7. TMC

    A couple of prominent bloggers expressed their concerns in 2007:

    Political bloggers fear publicists will infiltrate sites

    By Alan Wirzbicki, Globe Correspondent | February 23, 2007


    Erick Erickson has been running the popular blog Redstate.com long enough to know what his readers’ postings sound like: red-meat conservative rhetoric served up with a little dash of populist anger.

    So when postings from an unknown writer on the site showed up praising Senator John McCain — one of the site’s least-popular Republicans for his deviations from hard-core conservative orthodoxy — Erickson thought he smelled a rat.

    Or maybe a sock puppet, shill, or a troll — Web slang for bloggers who pretend to be grass-roots political commentators but instead are paid public relations agents.

    The author of the pro-McCain articles on Redstate.com, Erickson determined after a Google search, was a Michigan political operative whose firm worked for McCain’s political action committee.

    With big corporations now hiring public relations firms to pay fake bloggers to plant favorable opinions of the businesses online, many political bloggers are concerned that candidates, too, will hire people to pretend to be grass-roots citizens expressing views.

    “This is going to happen more and more, and blogs are going to have to be vigilant,” Erickson said in an interview. “I expect there will be commenters jumping in and trying to build negative campaigns to cause scandal for the other side. That’s my fear.”

    The Internet has already become a prime target for such manipulation. Tom Rosenstiel , the director of Project for Excellence in Journalism , said the growing influence of political blogs, combined with the relative ease of posting negative information anonymously, make them “irresistible for dirty tricks and attack politics.”

    “Candidates, history shows, will do anything they can to win. The only downside to a candidate is getting caught,” he said. But the downside for blogs could be far greater, because the blogs’ credibility rests on the idea that they represent unvarnished grass-roots opinion.

    “Campaigns and organizations promote their candidates and efforts, obviously,” Markos Moulitsas , the founder of DailyKos.com , a prominent liberal blog, said in an e-mailed response. “If they do it openly, it’s well accepted. If they use sock puppets ( create aliases to hide their identities), then it’s a big deal.”

    And in 2010,

    Obama confidant’s spine-chilling proposal

    By Glenn Greenwald, Salon

    Cass Sunstein wants the government to “cognitively infiltrate” anti-government groups

    Cass Sunstein has long been one of Barack Obama’s closest confidants.  Often mentioned as a likely Obama nominee to the Supreme Court, Sunstein is currently Obama’s head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs where, among other things, he is responsible for “overseeing policies relating to privacy, information quality, and statistical programs.”  In 2008, while at Harvard Law School, Sunstein co-wrote a truly pernicious paper proposing that the U.S. Government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-“independent” advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites – as well as other activist groups – which advocate views that Sunstein deems “false conspiracy theories” about the Government.  This would be designed to increase citizens’ faith in government officials and undermine the credibility of conspiracists.  The paper’s abstract can be read, and the full paper downloaded, here.

    Sunstein advocates that the Government’s stealth infiltration should be accomplished by sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups.”  He also proposes that the Government make secret payments to so-called “independent” credible voices to bolster the Government’s messaging (on the ground that those who don’t believe government sources will be more inclined to listen to those who appear independent while secretly acting on behalf of the Government).   This program would target those advocating false “conspiracy theories,” which they define to mean: “an attempt to explain an event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role.”  Sunstein’s 2008 paper was flagged by this blogger, and then amplified in an excellent report by Raw Story’s Daniel Tencer.

    Obama really likes Cass:

    Obama Picks Cass Sunstein (America’s Goebbels?) To Serve On NSA Oversight Panel

    By Tyler Durden, Zero Hedge

    Only under the Obama Presidency, in which every appointment, minor or major, is handed only to the most corrupt, devious crony to be found, can a man like Cass Sunstein be appointed to serve on the NSA oversight panel.  Cass is a noted propagandist, who has advocated that government agents should infiltrate groups and discussions that push “conspiracy theories” (read my article on how to know if you are a conspiracy theorist) in order to delegitimize them. But don’t take my word for it. The Washington Post wrote the following a couple of days ago:

       The Obama administration is reportedly proposing Cass Sunstein as a member of a panel to review the surveillance practices of the National Security Agency (NSA), among other former White House and intelligence staffers. Sunstein was the head of the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs until last year, when he returned to teaching at Harvard Law School.    

       While at Harvard in 2008, Sunstein co-authored a working paper that suggests government agents or their allies “cognitively infiltrate” conspiracy theorist groups by joining “chat rooms, online social networks or even real-space groups” and influencing the conversation.    

       The paper also suggests that the government “formally hire credible private parties to engage in counterspeech.” That sounds an awful lot like the 50 Cent Party of online commentators who are paid per comment by the Chinese communist party to sway public opinion.

    After witnessing the swarm that smeared Ted Rall, I have no doubt that many of these people are being paid to do this, either directly by some political PACs/organizations; wealthy, interested individuals or corporations; or through the blog administration that is being funded by there interested parties.

  8. MO Blue

    TMC and I are doing just about all we can to provide the quality and output we have going.

    Needless to say, I like the quality of your blog or I wouldn’t have recommended it to people who I respect. I do hope you get more user activity. The work you and TMC put into this needs more exposure IMO.

    Believe it or not my written composition skills were once very good. They have since deteriorated to the point I continually leave words out, my sentence structure at times would embarrass a 3rd grader, I can put in strange words that are similar looking to the words I intend but with definitely different meanings (sometimes hilariously so) and my spelling has always been atrocious. So bottom line I just don’t do posts per se.

    My memory on issues that interest me such as health care are for the most part is still good. Although my google skills are still somewhat primitive, I tend to be as tenacious as all get out and can normally after much too much trial and error find what I am looking for so I am much better at a back and forth discussion of issues and policies. That back and forth interaction is what I enjoy on the blogs.

    This reminds me of a time when I first commented on a blog and asked

    By the way, what does BTW mean.

    I was about to ask what NO I/P WITHOUT PRIOR APPROVAL! means when it dawned on me that you meant no discussions on Israel and Palestine. Duh

    I also like your Black Pearl reference.  

  9. Zorba

    “composition skills” are still very good.

    Do not denigrate yourself, my sister.  Keep on keeping on.  And thank you for guiding me to this blog.

    Much love, and namaste.

  10. sj

    I had to smile when I saw that. You organize your thoughts very coherently, you back up your conclusions with research and then let the research guide you to your next question. Your self-described “primitive” google skills are better than most, and lead you to good stuff.

    I, too, thank you for guiding me here.

  11. TMC

    The first year that we started Stars Hollow and acquired Docudharma, we went to NN11 in Minneapolis with the intent of making contact with the folks at Soapblox, which had been acquired by Ware Corp. One of the workshops we attended was on writing. At the end each panel member gave his/her advice. What stuck me most was, write more and often. The more you write and the more often you do it, the better you are at it. I look back on some of what I wrote 4 years ago and cringe but others thought it was terrific.

    So we give tips for writing more & often. :-)

  12. ek hornbeck

    But the more you write the better you get.

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