Bitcoin Boom and Bust | Life as a Service | Exporting Trash Globally

APRIL 25, 2019  /   SUBSCRIBE


“If you can keep hope and worry balanced, they will drive a project forward the same way your two legs drive a bicycle forward.”

“Don’t ignore your dreams; don’t work too much; say what you think; cultivate friendships; be happy.”

– Paul Graham



Bitcoin Mania: Proponents of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin would probably prefer being thought of as visionaries — innovative people who are thinking about or planning for the future with imagination and insight. That sounds better than being described as mere gamblers — speculators taking big risks, hoping to make big money, and willing to lose big to do it. When Bitcoin was introduced a decade ago it was supposed to be that new way to hold and send value around online. Anyone can open a Bitcoin wallet and receive money, or make online payments without the fees credit companies charge. The system works without any central authority and users don’t have to register their identities. Early investors in Bitcoin may have thought they were getting in on new technology that would soon make them wildly wealthy. Unfortunately, expectations ran far ahead of reality, with success disappearing as quickly as a pat of butter on a Las Vegas sidewalk in August.

Regardless, Bitcoin users are still sending somewhere between $400 million and $800 million worth of the digital tokens across the internet every day. So who are these users? According to Chainalysis, a startup that does analysis for big companies and governments of the blockchain, the public ledger that records Bitcoin transactions, roughly 60 to 80 percent of all transactions are speculative — Bitcoins just moving between global cryptocurrency exchanges. Mystery still revolves around the other 20 to 40 percent of transactions, but Chainalysis has identified ways that criminals are using Bitcoin, from ransom payments on locked-up computer files to illegal drug sales on the darknet. In fact, Bitcoin has aided new kinds of drug traffic, like the synthetic opioids that flowed from China to small towns in the US.

Nevertheless, despite its volatility, the good news for cryptocurrencies is that serious people still want to fix its flaws. Facebook is reportedly working on its own digital tokens, as are several other big messaging companies, meaning it’s too early to discard the whole idea.



One Step Forward, Ten Steps Back: In a move undermining attempts to deal with the atrocities of rape as a weapon of war, the UN security council has voted to water down its resolution on sexual violence in conflict to appease Trump administration objections to references about reproductive health. The US threatened to veto any UN documents that referred to sexual or reproductive health, on grounds that such language implies support for abortions. It also opposed the use of the word “gender,” saying it was a cover for liberal promotion of transgender rights. Other omissions included calls for a working group to review progress on ending sexual violence. France’s UN representative articulated the sentiments of other major members, including Belgium, Germany and the UK, when he said: “We are dismayed by the fact that one state has demanded the removal of the reference to sexual and reproductive health … going against 25 years of gains for women’s rights in situations of armed conflict.” (Guardian)

You Can Stand Trial Under My Umbrella-ella-Aye Aye Aye: It’s been a long time coming, but a judge in Hong Kong finally sentenced the “Umbrella” protesters for their 2014 pro-democracy demonstrations in the city’s financial district for over two months. Tens of thousands of protesters carrying umbrellas to shield themselves from the hot sun and police tear gas had been demanding democracy in the Chinese territory and seeking the resignation of the city’s leader. On Wednesday Sociology professor Chan Kin-man, law professor Benny Tai, and Baptist Minister Chu Yiu-Ming were sentenced to 16 months for their role in leading the demonstration. Six other defendants, including current lawmakers, were also convicted on public nuisance charges. Some were given suspended sentences, and one former student leader was sentenced to 200 hours of community service. A spokesperson for Human Rights Watch said: “The long sentences send a chilling warning to all that there will be serious consequences for advocating for democracy.” (NPR)

Philippines To Canada: Take Out The Trash: Maybe it was seeing the destruction caused by two strong earthquakes that hit the Philippines Monday and Tuesday, killing at least 16 people. Whatever sent him over the edge, President Rodrigo Duterte had had it with trash, particularly the kind Canada had wrongly sent to his country back in 2013. A large shipment of municipal trash had been sitting in Manila since its arrival. The more than 100 shipping containers had been declared to hold recyclable plastic, but when the doors were opened, customs officials found “household trash, plastic bottles and bags, newspapers, and used adult diapers,” according to one news outlet. In 2016 a Filipino court ruled that the garbage should return home, but then nothing happened. At Tuesday’s news conference Duterte first addressed updates on the earthquakes and recovery efforts, then turned to the topic of trash. “I will not allow that kind of s***,” he said, adding “I cannot understand why they’re making us a dump site.” He said he’d give Canada a week to come get its trash, or he’ll return it by force. He doesn’t care what Canada does with the garbage, but he did offer a suggestion: “Eat it if you want to.” (NPR)



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Is Trump Dodging Taxes Or Is Trump Dodging His Tax Returns?: Late Tuesday Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin notified House lawmakers he was again delaying a decision on whether to turn over President Trump’s tax returns. In a letter to Rep. Richard Neal, Chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, Mnuchin said Treasury and Justice Departments needed until May 6 to assess the legality of the “unprecedented” request. For several years Trump has used the excuse of being under audit for failing to release his tax returns. There is no law preventing a taxpayer from releasing his tax returns while under audit. But there is very clear federal law that says the IRS shall turn over tax returns requested by a congressional committee head. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex) said: “They don’t get to pick and choose the laws with which they will comply. After so much of their double talk, prompt action must be taken to secure what they have wrongfully refused.” Mnuchin said the delay was not a failure to comply with the request and that portraying it as such would be “a misinterpretation.” (NYT)



Life as a Service: A newish group of young people are leaning into the rental or sharing economy — owning less of everything and renting and sharing a whole lot more. Take 27-year-old Steven Johnson, for example. He is educated, a business owner, works in social media advertising and lives in Hollywood. He spends most of his days using things he does not own. He takes a ride-share service to get to the gym; he does not own a car. At the gym, he rents a locker. He uses the gym’s laundry service because he does not own a washing machine. Johnson doesn’t even have an apartment. He rents a bed in a large room with other people who rent beds, for nights, weeks or months at a time, through a service called PodShare. He also rents a desk at WeWork, a coworking space. And he says the only clothes he owns are two versions of the same outfit.

Johnson is someone who could be considered well off, but he chooses to be, in a way, homeless. A little more than a third of millennials currently own homes, a rate lower than Generation X and baby boomers when they were the same age. Two big reasons for this shift are the price of housing and student debt. But it could also represent a fundamental shift in American capitalism as we know it. (NPR)




“The art of reading is to skip judiciously.” – Alexander Hamilton

“The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm.” – Aldous Huxley

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