NC House Bill 2. Ignorance? No. Intolerance? Yes!

Indiana Governor Mike Pence must be breathing a bit easier right now. It was just a year ago that his zealous support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act threatened to undermine every business sector in the state,

Of course, that was a year ago. Governor Pence has signed legislation that revises the law to prevent potential discrimination. Although the revised law doesn’t outlaw LGBT discrimination, the stench around Indiana lawmakers has abated because a year has passed since the glare of a media spotlight. Now, the spotlight is focusing on North Carolina, where House Bill 2 is threatening that state’s fiscal health.

For Indiana, the rebellion was led by sports teams, including national gatherings like NASCAR. With North Carolina, it is led by musicians and, of course, business. In just the past two weeks a slew of venues was cancelled or sidelined, including concerts by Bruce SpringsteenPearl JamMaroon 5 and Itzhak Perlman.

Business and enterprise has a slightly longer time horizon than concert bookings, but the handwriting is on the wall: PayPal withdrew plans for a new Charlotte operations center because it opposes the law; the center would have created more than 400 jobs for the city. Deutsche Bank froze plans to add 250 jobs.

How bad is the public backlash? The Charlotte Observer reports that House Bill 2 could cost the state 5 billion dollars. That billion with a ‘B’.

North Carolina House Bill 2

Yes. This is the bill that thumbs its nose at the Obama administration after the White House issued guidance on common sense gender policies in public restrooms, especially in public schools, where it threatened the withdrawal of federal funds.

I won’t pretend that the issue is black & white. After all, a frequently repeated argument asserts that this ruling (or clarification of Title 9, as the White House characterizes it) permits a pervert to enter a girl’s bathroom by dressing as a woman or claiming to be transgendered, and that such entry poses a threat to children. The argument sounds reasonable—at least, that is, until you think about it for 10 seconds.

To illustrate my own take on the “Bathroom Bill”, I will support the common sense rights of transgendered individuals in using facilities that match their gender (as opposed to their birth sex)—by countering the arguments espoused by this angry, bipolar transphobic who is yelling his opinions at a Target store. He may be more vocal on the issue, but his logic is identical to every argument for shutting down Title 9 protections.

Caleb is the WildDuck reader who referred me to this video. He  exclaimed “Look at this ignorant nut and how a shopper takes him on,” This is my response to Caleb and anyone who is sitting on the fence about LGBT self determination…


Although you and I both disagree with the shouter in this video, Caleb, the term “ignorant” is not my first choice to describe this guy. I think that he is either a nut case, or he is off medication. But let’s consider his key argument: He claims that men can dress as women and take pictures of children in a kid’s bathroom.

  • I have not seen a kid’s-only bathroom—not even at Target. And so, I think that he is referring to the women’s bathroom.
  • There has always been the potential for a man to dress as a women and slip into a women’s bathroom. If the guy looks passable as a girl (whether transgendered or not), this activity cannot be easily prevented by Target or by turning back the transgender/Title 9 interpretation. After all, no one checks identity or gender when a customer ducks into a bathroom.
  • A pervert can just as easily take pictures of little boys. Just as with homosexual clergy, the proclivity to ogle little boys may be more common then it is with girls.
  • If a child is young (i.e. if she is defenseless), a parent or bigger sibling is generally in the bathroom too. When parent is with child, there may be a stranger taking covert photos, but who the h*ll cares? He doesn’t pose a threat—and he is more likely to be identified and reported.                                 [continue below photo]

hb2civilrightsviolation0505

For all of these reasons, an inclusive and tolerant Title 9 interpretation is reasonable. The people who oppose tolerance are those who hate the idea that transgendered people exist (or worse: want them to be “cured”) . They oppose rights for personal and religious reasons. But, religion and exclusion have no place in government policy.

I admit that I paused to reflect on this issue—and a closely related issue regarding public school funding last week. But my reflection was brief. SNL-RFRA-sTransgendered individuals aren’t hurting anyone, nor damaging the fabric of society. Moreover, the opportunity to photograph kids in a bathroom is not increased by permitting individuals to use the restroom that matches their gender identity. That few people are likely to even know that their gender differs from their birth anatomy, makes this issue a red herring.

A Wild Duck Analysis

The fervent zeal to turn back transgender guidance is based on religion, hate, ignorance or intolerance. These traits have no place in government. It can be difficult to separate our fears from our better judgement, but these traits must never influence the law. Each member of society deserves civil rights. Congregate with whomever you wish, but our community laws should not attempt to repress benign behavior.

RelatedBad for Business:Laws that Bully LGBT

Ellery Davies is a recovering homophobic. Fortunately, recovery started
decades before Indiana and North Carolina stuck their heads in the sand.

Can Bitcoin be defeated by legislation?

The question breaks down into two parts:

  1. For what public benefit?     —and—
  2. No, it cannot be achieved in this way

Governments are in the business of regulating certain activities—hopefully in an effort to serve the public good. In the case of business methods and activities, their goal is to maintain an orderly marketplace; one that is fair, safe and conducive to economic growth.

But regulation that lacks a clear purpose or a reasonable detection and enforcement mechanism is folly. Such regulation risks making government seem arbitrary, punitive or ineffective.

QR Code_CRYPSA-001«—  This is money. It is not a promissory note, a metaphor, an analogy or an abstract representation of money in some account. It is the money itself. Unlike your national currency, it does not require an underlying asset or redemption guarantee.

Bitcoin is remarkably resistant to effective regulation because it is a fully distributed, peer-to-peer mechanism. There is no central set of books, no bank to subpoena, and no central committee to pressure (at least not anyone who can put the genie back into the bottle). In essence, there is no choke point or accountable administrative party.

Sure—it is possible to trace some transactions and legislate against ‘mixers’ and other anonymization methods—but there is no way to prevent a transaction before it occurs or to know the current distribution of assets. Bitcoin can exist as a printed QR code and it can be transmitted from a jail cell with a blinking flashlight. Sending bitcoin from Alice to Bob has no intermediary. Settlement requires only that one of the parties eventually has access to the Internet. But, there is no credit authority or central asset verification.              [continue below image]…

feral_cat_mating-02-ts

If you are thinking of legislating against the use of Bitcoin, you might as well pass laws to ban the mating of feral cats or forbid water from seeping into underground basements. These things are beyond the domain of human geopolitics. You can try to shape the environment (e.g. offer incentives to cats and water levels), but you cannot stop sex or seepage.

Fortunately, Bitcoin is not a threat to governments—not even to spending or taxation. A gross misunderstanding of economics and sociology has led some nations to be suspicious of Bitcoin, but this improper perception is abating. Governments are gradually recognizing that Bitcoin presents more of an opportunity than a threat.

I have written more extensively on this issue:

Ellery Davies is co-chair of The Cryptocurrency Standards Association, MC for The Bitcoin Event in NY and monetary systems board member for Lifeboat Foundation. This fall, he will teach Cryptocurrency and The Blockchain in Massachusetts.

Bitcoin Pundicy: Recent Wrap-Up

Students: The list at bottom is your homework handout. Choose three. Refute
Ellery’s position (total length about equal to the original article). Cite references.

AWildDuck is my primary soap box. Here, I have the luxury of pontificating on whatever screams for a pithy opinion with sarcastic spin. But, regular readers know that I was recently named most viewed Bitcoin writer at Quora…

Quora is not a typical Blog. Both questions and the numerous answers form the basis of a crowd-sourced popularity contest. Readers can direct questions to specific experts or armchair analysts. The reader voting algorithm leads to the emergence of some very knowledgeable answers, even among laypersons and ‘armchair’ experts.

During the past few weeks, Quora readers asked me a litany of queries about Bitcoin and the blockchain, and so I am sharing selected Q&A. Although a pundit, I resist an urge to be verbose or bombastic. My answers are not the shortest, but they are compact. Answers may contain metaphors, but they explain across a broad audience and with the fewest words.

Check out an answer to a question that you know the least about. (For example, do you know what the coming ‘halving event’ is about?). I would be interested in your opinion.


Ellery Davies is co-chair of Cryptocurrency Standards Association. He hosted
The Bitcoin Event and moderates the largest LinkedIN cryptocurrency group.

Puzzling Demographics of Trump Supporters

Who remembers the blue-or-gold dress of just a year ago? Who could forget?! For some, the photo clearly showed a blue & black dress, while others viewing the very same photo saw a dress that was plainly gold & white.

For the record, I see a dress that is sparkling gold and white. Although it appears to be shot under a harsh bluish-white spotlight, I can’t fathom that anyone with an eye and a brain perceives any blue in the material. blue_or_gold-sRevisiting this Internet phenomenon a year later, I just don’t see it. And black? Where is there any dark fabric? Is it the gold part or the white part? It’s just not there!

…And so it is for a presidential candidate. Who among us sees Donald Trump as anything short of a contemptuous, sexist, and bigoted buffoon—one who is incapable of keeping a dirty or hurtful thought to himself?

To be fair, I have no way to gauge Trump supporters, because I have never met one. Seriously—even with a sweeping lead in every presidential poll—I have yet to actually meet and talk with a real, live Trump supporter, or at least someone who admits it. But, I am not in denial. I listen to poll results. I read. I believe that the pollsters know their art. They can’t all be wrong. Clearly, a great many people want Trump to be our next president, and so—I assume—that many of these same people respect Mr. Trump.

But here, too, I see Mr. Trump differently. It’s a difference as stark as the different ways people view the dress. I imagine that Trump supporters revere his presence, his demeanor and his moral authority. They share his vision. I sense none of these things.

Anyone reading this Blog during the 2016 US presidential campaign hardly needs a Trump tutorial. I suspect that WildDucks have already made up their minds concerning The Don’s demeanor. But what about readers who come across this article in a century or two. In the interest of historical perspective, let’s review Mr. Trump’s recent comments about Mexicans, Senator John McCain, Carly Fiorina, Hillary Clinton, Rosie O’Donnell, Megyn Kelly and some of the female contestants on his former TV show.

[About Mexican Immigrants]
They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…”

[About John McCain]: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

But, above all, Trump has serious issues with women. Perhaps a past wife cut off part of his manhood. After all, he has contempt for anyone with different plumbing. Here are some of his thoughts. I have verified each quotation below. If any of the links have expired, these Trump-isms can be verified with a Google search…

Megyn Kelly[About Megyn Kelly]:
“There’s blood coming out of her eyes. There’s blood coming out of her…wherever!”

(Confronted with this crude statement, Trump insisted that he was not referring to menstruation. He said that he meant to say blood was coming out of her ears).

He also called Ms. Kelly a bimbo, a 3rd rate reporter, a lightweight and “not good at what she does.” This week, Trump said that he “might be the best thing that ever happened to her,” because no one had ever heard of her before the August debate.

[About Carly Fiorina]: “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!…I mean, she’a a woman, and I’m not s’posedta say bad things—But really folks; Come on! Are we serious?!”

Fox & Friends confronted Trump about these particular remarks, in this follow up interview. Trump stated that he was talking about her persona and not her looks, but then he complained that no one stands up for him when someone criticizes his hair

[About Hillary Clinton]: (after Mrs. Clinton used a bathroom during a break).

“I know where she went—it’s disgusting, I don’t want to talk about it. No, it’s too disgusting. Don’t say it. It’s disgusting.”

Seconds later, apparently practicing his Yiddish, Trump exclaimed that Mrs. Clinton doesn’t have a chance of beating him, because “She got schlonged by Barack Obama” (referring to Clinton’s defeat in the 2008 democratic primary). ‘Schlonged’ means ‘screwed’ (if you can turn an anatomical organ into a verb), but the word describes the literal act, rather than employed as a euphemism.

Rosie-O-Donnell-s[About Rosie O’Donnell]: “Rosie O’Donnell’s disgusting both inside and out. Take a look at her, she’s a slob. She talks like a truck driver; she doesn’t have her facts; she’ll say anything that comes to her mind.”

[About a contestant on his TV show]:
When Trump was told that Celebrity Apprentice contestant Brande Roderick had gotten down on her knees and begged not to be fired, Trump looked toward the young woman and said “Must be a pretty picture—you dropping to your knees.”

Do respected, national leaders ever use such language or hurl hurtful remarks? Perhaps. I suspect that most anyone has uttered a flippant remark, perhaps in the midst of anger, booze or emotional turmoil. But, if Ronald Reagan or Jimmy Carter ever used this type of language, you can bet that it was occasional, among a very small group of friends, and with an expression of profound regret soon after. But not Donald. Each time he opens his mouth, he inserts a foot, and then he doubles down and chews on the entire shoe.

Are these the words of an executive or a politician in public discourse? Are they the words of any adult with respect for others or any semblance of self-control? Of course not. They are the words of a hysterical donald_j_trump-schild who is trying hard to assert stature on a playground. It seems incomprehensible that an individual running for high office would spew such taunts and potty humor on live television. Does he have any brain? –any conscience? –any internal mechanism of guidance or control?

This leaves me with a rather obvious question: What are the demographics of Trump’s sweeping lead in the GOP primary polls? Did they forget to poll women or anyone who respects women? Perhaps women who support Trump don’t mind that their blood and stool are staples of his redneck political rallies . Honestly—I wish someone would explain this to me.

Today, Fox Media claimed that Corey Lewandowski, a Trump campaign manager, threatened Fox News anchor, Megyn Kelly. A “threat” would be unacceptable, of course, but I call it bullying. Bullying is worse, because a threat, in this case, would be hollow—a presidential candidate cannot really hurt a journalist—but, bullying shows Trump for what he is—a misogynistic jerk.                                Continue below image…

Trump Campaign Bullying

I am certain that Lewandowski is echoing his boss’ words. After all, Trump has attacked Megyn on camera. Why? Because he can’t control her questions. He wants control over content and spin, but most importantly, he wants an absence of powerful women in his field of view. He has stated it clearly: He is more comfortable with them on their knees.

As Donald Trump said himself, “Seriously Folks. I mean C’mon! Are we serious?! We can’t continue to be nice, folks!”

Of course, that remark relates to his intentions for China and Mexico. Somehow, he believes that they will send a great deal of factories and jobs back to America and then help us to build a wall so that their drug peddlers and rapists can’t get in to steal those jobs. (This is the central tenant of his entire campaign).

But that statement about voters “getting serious” precisely expresses my sentiments about Trump’s popularity as a political candidate. I can only hope that it is a bad dream, a joke, or transient. Just as NBC and Univision dumped The Don after he spewed forth xenophobic venom toward Mexicans, I wonder when Republican voters will dump Donald for a more credible candidate—Marco Rubio or Chris Christie, perhaps? If Republicans don’t wake up to Donald, like they did to Sarah Palin, voters in the general election will do it for them. Hillary Clinton is a lot more credible that Donald Trump! She is smart, experienced, just as strong as Donald. Most importantly, she doesn’t assault detractors or insult voters.

Conclusion: More of a question than a conclusion

Concluding that Trump is sexist and a jerk isn’t just my opinion, it is the opinion of every mainstream media outlet, every independent pundit, every former contestant, most journalists and political analysts, and many of his friends.

Sure!—it’s fun to buck the expected and the mainstream; it’s fun to toss polite behavior to the wind…just to shake things up once in awhile. But when a grown man wallows in a world of potty humor and misogynistic rants, one eventually wonders just who are his proponents? trump_on_playgroundFrom where does he rally a commanding lead in every poll? Are they all dunces?!

_____________

More Trump TV insults

  • Trump hosted The Apprentice , a US television series for 14 seasons. During that long run, he threw a stream of invectives at at guest contestants—calling them, alternatively, slobs, pigs or just plain disgusting.
  • In a New York Post interview, contestant Mahsa Saeidi-Azcuy explained that Trump asked male contestants to rate female contestants based on their looks.
  • The Post also reported that Trump made one female contestant come around the board table and “twirl around”. Apparently, he wasn’t satisfied with boobs—and decided to gaze at her butt.
  • The Washington Post reports that Trump told one contestant “I bet you make a great wife.
  • Trump’s crudest remark was to a contestant after being fired from his show. When a producer explained to Trump that she begged on her knees to remain on the show. He said to her: “Must be a pretty picture—you dropping to your knees.”

Donald Trump exhibits a threat response to almost anything: people with less money or fewer votes, anyone who is educated, articulate, or who disagrees with his opinion, and especially confident or empowered females. He cannot keep his thoughts to himself, no matter how crass or off-topic. He attacks opponents based on any perceived slight.

 NBC and Univision decided not to air the Trump-owned Miss Universe Pageant. Macy’s dropped his signature clothing line. New York Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio has ordered a review of Trump’s city contracts, and NASCAR moved an annual banquet from the Trump National Doral resort in Miami.

—All that backlash was the result of just one of Trumps off-color remarks.

Related:

Iran’s swift processing of US sailors. Why the outrage?

Last week, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps [IRGC] captured, processed and returned two US Navy boats along with 10 sailors. Apparently, one boat had engine trouble and drifted into undisputed Iranian territorial waters, while sailors on the other boat were preparing to assist. The incident began just two hours before President Obama’s final State of the Union Address and just days before the lifting of US-led sanctions on Iran and the return of billions of dollars in frozen assets.

There has been an incredible outcry—especially from anyone who opposes the Iranian nuclear deal and Republican presidential hopefuls—all of them campaigning on an anti-Obama platform. sailors_on_knees-01These individuals insist that the US has nothing to apologize for and that Obama should have retaliated for the humiliation directed at the sailors. They were disarmed and briefly forced to kneel down with arms folded over their heads.

Others have pointed out that airing videos of the sailors in a submissive posture and broadcasting one sailor explaining that their treatment was excellent and that the territorial incursion was accidental—including the words “We apologize for that”—was a further sign of a weak and ineffective president.

Like anyone viewing the Iranian video, I cringe at seeing US service personnel in a submissive posture. But, I wonder on what planet the disarming of soldiers illegally entering a territory on the military boat of a foreign power constitutes an unreasonable response? sailors_on_knees-02With the exception of the video broadcast (it likely violates the Geneva Convention), there is absolutely no evidence that the Iranians were harsh or that the American response bears evidence of a weak US president.

Sure. The sailor’s apology should have been issued or cleared through his military command. It may have been coerced or a tacit condition for his release. But, let’s face it…If the Navy boat was truly adrift (that is, it was not on a mission to gather intelligence or to land and disembark), then it is fairly obvious that the staff would be sorry for the incursion, even if it was an accident or unavoidable.

I get that we are in the midst of a presidential campaign and I get that the Republican candidates are jumping over each other to demonstrate which among them is the supreme Anti-Obama. But c’mon guys! This isn’t rocket science…

  • These sailors drifted into hostile waters
  • Whether or not it was intentional, they certainly didn’t intend to be intercepted
  • Interception by an adversary is a reasonable procedure. It is expected!
  • Using a show of force to disarm foreign sailors and requiring them to sit still is a reasonable way to ensure everyone’s safety
  • Iran neither demanded nor expected concessions or payment for the release of these abu-ghraib-sservicemen
  • The sailors were believed and they were not forced to divulge military information
  • At no time were the sailors treated like we have occasionally treated prisoners at Abu Ghraib
  • The sailors were fed, processed and released within 14 hours to a foreign power; one with which Iran has grave misunderstandings and a hostile relationship.

How often does an enemy treat the military personnel of a foreign antagonizer with such deference and respect. especially after a suspicious incursion? (Yes! respect—even though they were made to briefly kneel down and surrender their weapons). Again, I ask: On what planet is this a bad outcome? On what planet would the initial event be unworthy of an apology?

This is not a partisan analysis nor a pro-Iranian perspective. My request to the US presidential candidates: Please grow up! I realize that Donald Trump cannot suddenly become mature, but to the other Republican candidates, I humbly request a semblance of truth and balance. Please suppress the urge to assert American exceptionalism or to characterize reasonable events as if they are the result of poor leadership.

Ellery Davies is editor at A Wild Duck and an occasional political wonk.

Ex-NSA Boss says FBI is Wrong on Encryption

What happens if the National Park Service fences off scenic lookout points at the Grand Canyon’s south rim near the head of the Bright Angel trail? Would it prevent the occasional suicide jumper? Not a chance. (The National Park Service tried this in the mid 1980s). People will either gore themselves on fences and posts or they will end their lives on the road in a high speed automobile, putting others at risk. Either way, tourists will be stuck with looking at the North Rim and the Colorado River through prison bars.

Let’s move from analogy to reality. What happens if you jam cell phone signals on tunnels and bridges. Will it stop a terrorist from remotely detonating a bomb? No. But it will certainly thwart efforts to get rescue and pursuit underway. And what about personal encryption?…

Gadgets and apps are finally building encryption into their wares by default. Does a locked-down iPhone or the technology that businesses use to secure trade secrets and plan strategy among colleagues enable criminals. Not even close. But if the FBI criminalizes encryption, they cripple the entire American economy. After all, the Genie is already out of the lamp.

Bear with me for just one more analogy (I’m still reaching for the right one): Criminalizing kitchen knives will make cooking impossible and the criminals will still have knives.

A Wild Duck has not previously linked to a media article. I am proud of our all-original content and clear statement of opinions. But in this case, I could not have said it better myself. (Actually, I have said it this all along: End-to-end encryption is a good thing for government, businesses and individuals alike. It is communications and storage empowerment.)

With this article, you will see that the former NSA director gets it. The current FBI director hasn’t a clue. Ah, well…That’s OK. Some concepts are subtle. For some politicians, an understanding of the practical, personal and sociological implications requires decades of exposure and post-facto reflection.

Memo to FBI director, Jim Comey: Get your head out of the sand and surround yourself with advisers who can explain cause and effect.


, Jan 13, 2016)encryption

Encryption protects everyone’s communications, including terrorists. The FBI director wants to undermine that. The ex-NSA director says that’s a terrible idea.

The FBI director wants the keys to your private conversations on your smartphone to keep terrorists from plotting secret attacks.

But on Tuesday, the former head of the U.S. National Security Agency…

Read the full article at CNN Money
http://money.cnn.com/2016/01/13/technology/nsa-michael-hayden-encryption/

What is a Blockchain?

This short post is not about Bitcoin. It’s about a new method of organizing and arbitrating communications that is at the heart of Bitcoin.

We hear a lot about the blockchain. We also hear a lot of misconceptions about its purpose and benefits. Some have said that it represents a threat to banks or to governments. Nonsense! It is time for a simple, non-political, and non-economic definition…

What is a Blockchain?

A blockchain is a distributed approach to bookkeeping. Because it opens and distributes the ledger among all participants, it offers an empowering, efficient and trusted way for disparate parties to reach consensus. It is “empowering”, because conclusions built on a blockchain can be constructed in a way that is inherently fair, transparent and resistant to manipulation.

This is why blockchain-backed systems are generating excitement. Implemented as distributed and permissionless, they take uncertainty out of accounting, voting, legislation or research, and replace it with trust and security. Benefits are bestowed without the need for central authority or arbitration. The blockchain not only solves a fundamental transaction challenge, it addresses communication and arbitration problems that have bedeviled thinkers since the ancient Egyptians.

Related:

—Ellery Davies, CRYPSA Co-chair
Cryptocurrency Standards Association

Will Bitcoin End the Reign of Government?

When my daughter was just starting primary school, she would look inside a book for the pictures before reading the text. She was old enough to read without pictures, but she wanted to get a quick synopsis before diving in. “Look, Dad! a bunny is carrying a giant clock into a rabbit hole.”

White Rabbt-01This is my first article without pictures. At least none of Bitcoin, because the copper coin metaphors are tired and inaccurate. At the user level, owning bitcoin is simply your stake in a widely distributed ledger. Ownership exists only as strings of secret code and public code. There is no physical coin.

Since the only pictures in this post show a white rabbit with a big clock, let me give you the quick synopsis: The answer is “No”. Bitcoin will not end government, nor its ability to tax, spend—or even enforce compliance.

But there is an irony: Most lawmakers and regulators have not yet figured this out. They perceive a great threat to their national interests. That’s why Andreas M. Antonopoulos runs around the world. He briefs prime ministers, cabinets and legislators with the noble purpose of demystifying and de-boogieing Bitcoin.

Does Bitcoin Help Tax Cheats?

As the original Wild Duck, I tend to be perceived as a Libertarian. (It’s a label of which I am not all together comfortable—but I like that it places my ethos far from the ‘Tea Party’). While I hope that my government doesn’t believe fear is a necessary motivator, I understand the need for taxpayer reporting, measurement and compliance. After all, it’s human nature to dislike paying taxes. Many individuals dodge taxes, if the perceived risk of being caught is low. Sociologists also point out that people are willing to cheat a system, if they perceive it to be sufficiently big or impersonal—i.e that their individual contribution is meaningless.

[ASIDE]: For this reason, Akamai Technologies ends their free-soda-&-snack policy whenever an office grows beyond 30 people (I learned this during a job interview a few years ago). People who would normally respect the policy begin pocketing free sodas for their home or friends, if (a) they no longer know everyone, or (b) they perceive the extra burden is just a drop in the corporate bucket, and not a burden on their office peers.

I suspect that most early proponents of Bitcoin are partially motivated by a desire for low taxes and privacy. While I don’t feel that these individuals are bad for the cause (after all, I am one), I feel that it is unfortunate that they appear to be the overwhelming majority of users & supporters. Let’s dismiss, for the moment, the fraction of voices that want to completely end government and taxation…If you believe in any taxes at all, then government needs compliancy mechanisms, including methods that measure, verify and ultimately arbitrate or prosecute offenders. (Don’t blame me…I’m not even the messenger here. Just an observer).

My point is that in their effort to control a country’s monetary supply (and the interbank loan rate, etc) and in their effort to ensure taxpayer compliance, a great many governments view Bitcoin as a threat. In the past, I felt that my job was to evangelize the public on the benefits of cryptocurrency, and to a great extent, that’s what CRYPSA is all about. But in recent months, I have become confident that Bitcoin will become ubiquitous. It doesn’t need me to be an evangelist. The freight train is now rolling downhill. But…

Andreas Antonopoulos-01s
But as an engineer, author, speaker and occasional consultant, I have found a new calling. Like Andreas Antonopoulos (my idol), I have found a calling in de-boogieing Bitcoin to lawmakers and regulators. I demonstrate that (a) cryptocurrency represents far more of an opportunity than a threat to a national interests, and (b) the future is coming at ya’.
So, either: Stand pat; Get out of the way; or Hop on!

I can give an audience filled with old-school conservatives compelling reasons to “hop on”. Ultimately, blockchain technology coupled with true, permissionless, p2p transactions will shake up established mechanisms and enforcement protocols. They will force new ways of thinking. But cryptocurrency will not end the reign of government—nor even end the ability to tax, enforce and spend. It will simply change the way they do these things. It will also change the way we conduct polls, vote, arbitrate disputes, perform scientific research and much more.

Bitcoin and the blockchain are not just technologies. They transform the way in which many tasks are performed. But it’s not just about efficiency. These technologies offer mechanisms to level the playing field. TWhite Rabbt-02hey bring fairness and representation to processes that were opaque and perhaps even relied on the excuse of opaqueness.

Ultimately, Bitcoin may render certain government departments redundant. Nations will begin to question their need to directly control monetary policy. The impact at the department level is no reason to fear Bitcoin. Overall, it represents great opportunity and not a threat. In my opinion, the changes will benefit everyone.

Bitcoin is not an us-against-them instrument. It is win-win. Of course, perception counts. Misunderstanding potential and confusing it for a threat is a fundamental problem. Wild Duck and CRYPSA share a passion to help make it a very short-term problem.

Japanese Court: Bitcoin Cannot be Owned

July 2016 Update

Bitcoin is coming of age in the Land of the Rising Sun. The Japanese
cabinet has approved a series of bills that legitimize virtual currencies
and promote FinTech even beyond that of other nations.

Responding to this nugget from Engadget:

Tokyo District CourtTokyo’s district court has ruled that it’s not possible for people to own bitcoin, and therefore they cannot sue for compensation in the wake of Mt. Gox’s collapse.

The ruling comes days after the head of the world’s largest bitcoin exchange was arrested on charges of fraud. Judge Masumi Kurachi felt that bitcoins do not possess “tangible qualities” to constitute owned property. Mt. Gox held thousands of individual accounts, and so there’s plenty of angry customers looking for compensation.

A Wild Duck Response to the Tokyo court…

A personal stake in Bitcoin is every bit as real (and a bit more tangible) than a personal stake in Yen, Dollars or Euros. Fiat currency is backed by the knowledge that your national government will demand tax payments in kind. But is it tangible? Like any invention of humans, that’s a matter of perception.

a) Dollars / Yen / Euros

Dollar_closeOver the long term, national currency is likely to be debased by debt, social welfare, war, political ambition, and a desire to redistribute fruits of labor, typically to assuage political ambitions. A built in mechanism of inflation forces a hidden tax and enables legislators to spend beyond the consent of their constituents.

b) Bitcoin

Bitcoin_BlueBitcoin on the other hand is backed by math. It is an asset without the potential for inflation or manipulation. It is a pure supply-demand currency and a pure 2-sided network—completely unfettered by the chaff that comes with central banks and national treasuries.

A stake in Bitcoin rises over the long haul, because the total quantity of currency is capped. As it is adopted for payments and commerce, a fixed pie is sliced thinner and thinner. This results in increased value per unit. Result: A deflationary economy without the baggage of sluggish economic.

Japan has made a foolish pronouncement; one that will ultimately embarrass their courts. Declaring Bitcoin ethereal is laughable when you consider that paper money is no more tangible than an unfulfilled promise. Likewise, declaring the theft or mismanagement of Bitcoin unworthy of recovery or restitution is no different than declaring the theft of art unworthy of restitution. Consider that each Mt. Gox account holder has proof of a real dollar investment position and an appreciation that is reported and tracked by exchanges all over the world.

Wake up Japan. You have so much more to offer the world than a distorted interpretation of a new technology.

Ellery Davies is Co-Chair of CRYPSA,
Cryptocurrency Standards Association

Planned Parenthood: Undercover Video Kicks Up Firestorm

When I started this Blog, I committed to publish clear and blunt Wild Duck opinions on even the most controversial issues. But I also made a promise to myself to refrain from commenting on a few things, simply because I didn’t want to use my Blog for these issues, nor defend my belief system:

  • Personal vendettas against vendors, no matter how egregious the practice
  • Religious beliefs of any public figure
  • gagThe abortion debate

Two Down; One to Go

Despite pure intentions, the gag rule had to go. I have already violiated the first two prohibitions…

a) Personal Vendettas

First, there was my interminable frustration over a ludicrous string of billing errors by Verizon (it was resolved only after 3 years, 150 phone calls and 120 statement credits). Incompetence and disrespect for customers of this magnitude begs to be shared.

Rent-a-Terstappen desk-s2Then, there was the unforgivable lies, deceipt and theft by Rent a Terstappen—the Dollar / Thrifty car rental franchise at the Frankfurt airport. If they tried these tricks in the US or anywhere else in Europe, the franchise owners would be in jail and the corporate office would be decimated by a class action suit.

Finally, Keurig/Green Mountain has finally removed restrictions from their Keurig 2.0 brewer,due, in part, to this scathing review of their haughty business practices.

b) Religious Beliefs

Religion keeps popping up, just like Whack-A-Mole. I have finally come to realize that it was an unrealistic and unnecessary editorial restriction. I don’t really care to debate your faith or my background—I just don’t feel that any reasonable and representative government should recognize, support, defend or lie in bed with any religions, period.

First, there was the town that wanted to balance the display of a public Christmas tree with a public Hanukkah menorah (Editor’s Tip: Get rid of both. Neither belong on public property). Then, there was the US congressman who believes that the universe is 6,000 years old and the New Testament is his working job manual. He is a member of the Space Sciences committee and makes decisions that affect NASA.

Finally, I wrote a popular piece that justifies an agnostic belief (or is it a lack of belief?). And, of course, I have frequently published stories about Islamic extremism and Daesh (aka ISIS OR ISIL). Anyone who participates, contributes or sympathizes with the so-called Islamic Caliphate SO-oo-o needs to be dragged out and shot.

…And so, now there is but one frontier to cross. That is, my self-imposed prohibition on treading into the topic of abortion and public policy.

c) Abortion

Looking over the first three years of this Blog, I find that abortion has rarely been mentioned; only referenced in two political articles.

The problem isn’t that abortion is a contentious issue. A Wild Duck thrives on contention. In case you hadn’t noticed, I love to justify my opinions. fetusBut, the ethics and legal recourse are difficult to debate, because the Pro-Life camp believes that abortion is murder. If one party to a debate believes that the other side is engaged in unjustifiable homicide, the two will forever be locked in a stalemate. Sure, abortions will go on. But, depending upon prevailing winds—religion, ethics & politics—they will either be legal or illegal.

FWIW: Wild Duck is Pro-Choice

I am staunchly Pro-Choice. There! I have said it. But, beyond the next few paragraphs, I don’t care to justify my opinion on the issue. It could not possibly serve any point.

A women’s right to choose the disposition of her body, her womb and her unborn baby (or ‘fetal parts’, depending on your ilk) should be supreme and inviolate—until a child is born and is breathing apart from the mother. Pro-choice is not a nihilistic philosophy. Advocates do not set out to end the life of a fetus. We simply believe that incredibly difficult and personal medical decisions belong with family and physicians rather than government.

Pro-choice advocates believe in family and their capacity to make tough personal choices. We don’t survey the ethics and religious doctrine of neighbors and we don’t bring a community of pundits, analysts, and our neighbor’s clergy into the bedroom or our doctor’s office. Callout-abortionThere must be a clear delineation between an individual’s medical and ethical decisions and the rights granted to a new life—even if a fetus could survive apart from the mother. I feel strongly that government should stay uninvolved. The dividing line (the point at which society should forcibly intervene or punish) should be the birth of a child.

Sure, a fetus is viable and every bit as human just before birth, but a mother doesn’t abort at a late stage with callous recklessness. It is a very tough choice. One must ask if this difficult choice should be made by family with their doctor, or by a government, reigid rules and popular consent. The decision demarcation cannot be conception or anytime before birth.

I have often hoped that, someday, a simple, easily obtained medication (like Plan B) would make this entire debate moot. But nothing is that easy. Abortion options that are too quick, too simple and too easily concealed raise other serious questions… Has the family weighed all options? What if someone slips an abortion pill into a woman’s drink? I will not address these questions. This article is about a current news event.

Planned Parenthood: Signs of Trouble

One issue that is squarely in the spotlight this week is the sale of fetal body parts. When there is a potential for money to exchange hands, the incentive can drive the decision to abort or even influence a doctor’s methods and practices. For this reason, federal law prohibits the sale of human body parts. But it allows for the the donation of tissue and organs and it allows for the use of human tissue in medical research.

This video, released two days ago, has sparked a firestorm. It has also sparked the fury of Republican presidential candidates, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. They promise congressional investigations and a push to defund Planned Parenthood.

In the video, Deborah Nucatola, a senior director of medical services for planned parenthood, casually discusses abortion procedures and organ harvesting with an undercover investigator for a right wing group. Clearly, the investigator is after a smoking gun and he wants to generate media hysteria and a congressional backlash. He succeeds in spades. But what exactly does the smoke point to?

One day after the story broke, defenders of Planned Parenthood argued that although the discussion was in a shockingly cavalier, nothing illegal was offered or discussed. Dr. Nucatola mentioned a paltry $30 or $100 dollars to cover the added cost of having the doctor save and preserve specimens. Although details are gruesome, the fee clearly does not constitute “selling body parts” including some that may be illegal. Yesterday, The New York Times, defended Planned Parenthood in this article. Factcheck.org (admittedly, a democratic web project) makes the same point here.

But Is The Video Damning? You Bet.

I support Planned Parenthood. For nearly 100 years, they have been a beacon of truthful information, respect and victim empowerment. They balance fanatic zealots who seek to undermine a woman’s natural right to have providence over her own body.

The tangible issue raised by the undercover video is whether the incentive to sell or even donate fetal tissue and organs influences the choices made by pregnant women or the methods employed by abortion providers. And, of course, whether it influences the motives and actions of Planned Parenthood. But no one is selling body parts. This was not the 600 pound gorilla—the intangible issue hit home by the video. It is the tone with which life-terminating procedures are discussed. It comes across as cavalier and disrespectful…

I stand with Planned Parenthood, but I do not stand with supporters who feel that the video is anything less than destructive. Callout-Planned_ParenthoodIt points to a problem with attitude, ethos and consistent signaling. The video reflects poorly on Planned Parenthood and their mission.

Likewise, another undercover video from Inhuman, captures Planned Parenthood CEO, Cecile Richards, in a wink-and-nod at the very end of the video. This, too, reflects poorly on Planned Parenthood. While it is likely that Ms. Richards was simply patronizing a visitor that she wanted to get rid of, it doesn’t reflect well on the organization or it’s mission.

Perception & Reputation

The survival of every organization—even churches, governments and non-profits—relies, in part, on a marketing component. I am less concerned with how the enemies of Planned Parent spin this video than I am with how it perceived by it’s supporters.

The bottom line is that the brand has been tarnished. Recovery will be arduous and, perhaps, long in coming. It is not a forgone conclusion that Planned Parenthood will recover. But it is also a fact that Planned Parenthood stands for freedom, privacy, woman’s rights, and the sanctity of family. Even if the organization is damaged or destroyed, we must never forget the noble mission for which they stand.

Related

Privacy –vs– Anonymity

My friend and business partner, Manny Perez holds elective office. As New York State politicians go, he is an all around decent guy! The first things colleagues and constituents notice about him is that he is ethical, principled, has a backbone, and is compassionate for the causes he believes in.

Manny wears other hats. In one role, he guides an ocean freighter as  founder and co-director of CRYPSA, the Cryptocurrency Standards Association. Manny-guitar-sWith the possible exceptions of Satoshi Nakamoto and Andreas Antonopoulos, Manny knows more about Bitcoin than anyone.

But Manny and I differ on the role of privacy and anonymity in financial dealings. While he is a privacy advocate, Manny sees anonymity —and especially civilian tools of anonymity—as a separate and potentially illegal concept. He is uneasy about even discussing the use of intentionally architected anonymity in any financial or communications network. He fears that our phone conversation may be parsed (I agree) and trigger a human review (I agree) and that it could be construed as evidence of promoting illegal technology. This is where we differ… I agree, but I don’t care how anyone who is not party to a private conversation construes it! Yet, I see anonymity as either synonymous with privacy or at least a constituent component. You can’t have one without the other.

Manny was raised in Venezuela, where he was schooled and held is first jobs. He was involved in the energy industry. He acknowledges that experience with a repressive and graft-prone government, lead to a belief in a more open approach: free markets coupled with a democratic government.

Perhaps this is a key source of our different viewpoints. Manny comes from a repressive land and has come to respect the rules-based structure within his comfort zones of banking, energy and government. He is a certified AML expert (anti-money laundering) and believes strongly in other financial oversight rules, like KYC (Know Your Customer) and RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act).

Because Manny is appreciative of the opportunity and benefits conveyed by his adoptive country, he may overlook a fact that whispers in the minds of other privacy advocates: That is, we may one day need protection from our own government. After all, who but a conspiracy nut or white supremacist could imagine the US government suppressing its populace. Sure, they engage in a little domestic spying—but if you have nothing to hide, why hide at all?!

This week, Manny posted an open letter to the cryptocurrency community. His organization, CRYPSA is at the intersection of that community with law, technology and politics. His letter addresses privacy, anonymity and transparency, but the title is “How can you report a stolen bitcoin?” For me, the issue is a non-sequitur. You needn’t, you shouldn’t, the reporting superstructure shouldn’t exist, and in a well designed system, you can’t.* More to the point, the imposition of any centralized reporting or recording structure would violate the principles of a decentralized, p2p currency.

To be fair, Manny is not a sheep, blindly falling into line. He is shrewd, independent and very bright. But in response to my exaggerated and one-dimensional Manny, I have assembled some thoughts…

1. Privacy, Anonymity and Crime

Bitcoin pile-sThe debate about Bitcoin serving as a laundering mechanism for cyber-criminals is a red herring. Bitcoin does not significantly advance the art of obfuscation or anonymity. There have long been digital E-golds and stored value debit cards that offer immunity from tracking. They are just as easy to use over the Internet.

Moreover, it’s common for crime or vice to drive the early adoption of new technology, especially technology that ushers in a paradigm shift. The problem with linking Bitcoin to crime is that it drives a related debate on transparency, forensics and government oversight. This is a bad association. Transparency should be exclusively elective, being triggered only after a transaction—if and when one party seeks to prove that a payment was made or has a need to discuss a contractual term.

On the other hand, a good mechanism should render forensic analysis a futile effort if attempted by a 3rd party without consent of the parties to a transaction. We should always resist the temptation to build a “snitch” into our own tools. Such designs ultimately defeat their own purpose. They do not help to control crime—Rather, they encourage an invasive government with its fingers in too many people’s private affairs.

CRYPSA is building tools that allow Bitcoin users to ensure that both parties can uncover a transaction completely, but only a party to the transaction wishes to do so!. For example, a parent making a tuition payment to a college can prove the date, amount and courses associated with that payment; a trucker or salesman with a daily expense account can demonstrate to his employer that a purchase was associated with food and lodging and not with souvenirs. And, of course, a taxpayer under audit can demonstrate whatever he wishes about each receipt or payment.

But in every case, the transaction is opaque (and if properly secured, it is completely anonymous) until the sender or recipient chooses to expose details to scrutiny. I will never accept that anonymity is evil nor evidence of illicit intent. Privacy is a basic tenet of a democracy and a government responsible to its citizens. CRYPSA develops tools of transparency, because commerce, businesses and consumers often need to invoke transparency—and not because any entity demands it of them.

We are not required to place our telephone conversations on a public server for future analysis (even if our government saves the metadata or the complete conversation to its clandestine servers). Likewise, we should not expose our transactions to interlopers, no matter their interest or authority. The data should be private until the data generator decides to make it public.

2. Reporting a Transaction (Why not catalog tainted coins?)

Manny also wants to aid in the serialization and cataloging of tainted funds, much like governments do with mass movement of cash into and out of the banking network. This stems from an earnest desire is to help citizens, and not to spy. For example, it seems reasonable that a mechanism to report the theft of currency should be embedded into Bitcoin technology. Perhaps the stolen funds can be more easily identified if digital coins themselves (or their transaction descendants) are fingered as rogue.

The desire to imbue government with the ability to trace the movement of wealth or corporate assets is a natural one. It is an outgrowth of outdated monetary controls and our comfort with centralized trust-endowed. In fact, it is not even a necessary requirement in levying or enforcing taxes.

Look at it this way…

  1. Bitcoin transactions are irreversible without the identification and cooperation of the original payee (the one who received funds). Of course, identification is not a requisite for making a transaction, any more than identification is required for a cash purchase at a restaurant or a newsstand.
  2. There are all sorts of benefits of both anonymous transactions and secure, irrevocable transactions—or least those that cannot be reversed without the consent of the payee. This is one of the key reasons that Bitcoin is taking off despite the start-up fluctuations in exchange rate.
  3. Regarding the concern that senders occasionally wish to reverse a transaction (it was mistaken, unauthorized, or buyer’s remorse), the effort to report, reverse or rescind a transaction is very definitely barking up the wrong tree!

The solution to improper transactions is actually quite simple.

a) Unauthorized Transactions

Harden the system and educate users. Unauthorized transactions can be prevented BEFORE they happen. Even in the worst case, your money will be safer than paper bills in your back pocket, or even than an account balance at your local bank.

b) Buyer’s Remorse and Mistaken transactions

Buyer beware. Think before you reach for your wallet! Think about what you are buying, from whom, and how you came to know them. And here is something else to think about (issues that are being addressed by CRYPSA)…

i.   Do you trust that the product will be shipped?
ii.  Did you bind your purchase to verifiable terms or conditions?
iii. Is a third party guarantor involved (like Amazon or eBay)?

All of these things are available to Bitcoin buyers, if they only educate themselves. In conclusion, “reporting” transactions that you wish to rescind is a red herring. It goes against a key tenant of cryptocurrency. It is certainly possible that a distributed reverse revocation mechanism can be created and implemented. But if this happens, users will migrate to another platform (call it Bitcoin 2.0).

You cannot dictate oversight, rescission or rules to that which has come about from organic tenacity. Instead, we should focus on implementing tools that help buyers and businesses identify sellers who agree to these extensions up front. This, again, is what CRYPSA is doing. It is championing tools that link a transaction to business standards and to user selective transparency. That is, a transaction is transparent if—and only if— the parties to a transaction agree to play by these rules, and if one of them decides to trigger the transparency. For all other p2p transactions, there is no plan to tame the Wild West. It is what it is.

* When I say that you should not report a stolen coin, I really mean that you should not run to the authorities, because there is nothing that they can do. But this is not completely accurate.

20130529_102314a1. There are mechanisms that can announce your theft back into a web of trust. Such a mechanism is at the heart of the certificate revocation method used by the encryption tool, PGP (Pretty Good Privacy). CRYPSA plans to design a similar user-reporting mechanism to make the cryptocurrency community safer.

2. Authorities should still be alerted to theft or misuse of assets. They can still investigate a crime scene, and follow a money trail in the same way that they do with cash transactions, embezzlement or property theft. They can search for motive and opportunity. They have tools and resources and they are professionals at recovering assets.


 

Disclosure: Just like Manny, I am also a CRYPSA director and acting Co-Chairman. (Cryptocurrency Standards Association). This post reflects my personal opinion on the issue of “reporting” unintended, unauthorized or remorseful transactions. I do not speak for other officers or members.

Will Hillary Gag Her Critics?

My friend, Peter, is at it again. He’s the dude with a geographic license to wear loud, floral print shirts that don’t tuck in. We used to be friendly competitors in the email security space. But we both switched careers long ago and we are now fast friends at a distance.

I said “at a distance” because we are separated by both land and politics. At 5100 miles (8200 km), we are geography separated as far as two people in USA can be! And the political distance between a bible-toting redneck and a blue-blooded Libertarian is nearly as great! Actually, I am exaggerating the metaphor… Neither of us is at the fringe—but as the pendulum swings, we each tend to be adrift from the center!

I have always been impressed with Peter’s ability to initiate passionate and popular debate. While this Blog elicits between zero and ten comments for each article, a simple post on Peter’s Facebook wall gets 75 responses, often within hours. His capacity to generate discussion and debate not only speaks to Peter’s breadth of contacts, but more importantly to a keen sense of hot-button issues!

Last week, Peter asked his friends to opine on Hillary Clinton. He was critical of her desire to vet Supreme Court nominees based on their willingness to restrict free speech rights for campaign commercials that slander a candidate in proximity to an election.

His question refers to this article. [Click below to read in a new window]

Hillary

Actually, the use of the term slander is my spin. Slander invokes a very different legal bar, and it is not a form of protected speech. But Hillary openly opposes the airing of any critical opinion in the days leading up to an election.

Peter asks:

If you and your friends pool your resources into a corporation making a movie that comes out 30 days prior to an election criticizing candidate Ted Cruz, should you be arrested? If you answered “No”, then I hope you also agree with the Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizens United.

 

A Wild Duck response…

I have read and understand the Powerline Blog piece on Citizens United. I fully agree with the Supreme Court decision. And, of course, I believe that Clinton should avoid a litmus test that buttresses her effort to thwart our First Amendment.

My initial reaction was to wonder if anyone feels differently? Who can argue with free speech, especially when it comes to politics. Perhaps I live among a small circle of friends, but I can’t think of anyone—regardless of their politics—who would expect or desire a different outcome. (I am assuming that the Powerline article was not slanted—or lacking some germane point!)

Big Business, Money and Free Speech

What if big money backs free speech? Surely, that type of speech should be restricted. Right? Not on your life! The argument that organizations are not people and that they shouldn’t enjoy basic rights just doesn’t hold water. And the argument that money buys elections is just daffy!…

What are we? Idiots and sheep?! There is no such thing as “buying” an election. Not in a country with a free press, free speech and the Internet. Of course, access to money helps any persuasive campaign, just as a well-funded ad campaign helps Coca-Cola sell more soda than Fred’s regional cola. But, when was the last time that you or a family member voted for a candidate because she had more TV ads? If you ask me, modern electioneering is comprised mostly of negative attack ads. I suspect thst expensive messages leading up to an election are more likely to dissuade voters than they are to “buy” votes.

Hillary as President

I have not yet formed a position for or against Hillary as a presidential candidate. But, I would give her a pass for being pig-headed on this issue, at least in public discourse. The ramifications of free speech have hit too close for her to think straight. I doubt that she will find a credible candidate for Supreme Court Judge that would vote to prohibit an opinion piece, regardless of its sponsors or timing.

On Second Thought

church-&-state-sHere, at Wild Duck, I rarely equivocate. My opinions are as pig-headed and bull nosed as Hillary’s. But once in a while, I acknowledge that there may be another side to an issue. (Not the free speech issue. On that, I stand firm). But, on assuming that a candidate—if elected—would not act on their radical or religious beliefs. On this point, I can no longer vote with smug assurance…

I once gave Republicans a pass on the issue of a litmus test. I assumed that they would  never hand pick ANTI-choice justices or ANTI separation of church-state justices. I thought it impossible that any educated individual could be a bible thumper. I was wrong. Clearly, some politicians and judges mix religion with politics or seek to force our sisters and daughters into back room abortions.

And so, Peter, I shall reflect on your question a bit more! Regards from your slightly more liberal friend on the mainland.


 

Like Peter Kay, Ellery occasionally pontificates on politics of the day. But,
unlike Peter, Ellery is apt to opine from a liberal or Libertarian perspective.

Fool’s Mission: Asserting Open Carry Rights

There is a cottage industry afoot that entails making an amateur video of yourself or a friend asserting the right to walk down the street with a gun, but without a badge. After all, we live in a country with a 2nd amendment (the right of citizens to bear arms) and some communities drive this point home by having explicit open carry laws.

LiveLeak.com has recently staked their fame on videos submitted by yahoos, often featuring gang members or reckless youth brazenly taunting police. (“I was just walking down the street officer…minding my own business!)”. In one particularly troubling video, a guy walks into a police station wearing full body armor and carrying an AR15 assault rifle. He calls this behavior a “2nd amendment audit”. Yeah, right! By the same logic, you could test your right of peaceful assembly by surrounding a midnight girl scout campfire with gang members carrying grenade launchers, hand cuffs and duck tape.

There is no confrontation in the police station audit, but check out this video, instead…

Drop to the ground!

This is not a video about race, guns or constitutional rights. It is a video about two individuals and their girlfriends making an a*s of themselves.

It’s not the message about race that bothers me…

In this video, one protagonist is white and the other is black. But before we get into the sub-plot, let’s address the main premise… Do these guys have a constitutional right to bear arms?

Yes they do! But there is no national consensus on what it means to “bear arms”. Do they have a constitutional right to display automatic weapons as they walk down a street? That’s certainly in doubt. If so, then you could extrapolate this to a right to carry grenades and chemical bombs. Do they have a right to openly carry weapons down the streets of this particular community? Perhaps. Maybe. I don’t know.

But even if their actions are intended to assert their rights or demonstrate a bias toward black males, they are still idiots. Regardless of laws and rights, a society lives on norms of conduct, safety and behavior. Quote me all the rights that you wish; we still can’t have citizens walking down the street with assault rifles or Uzis. Unlike the police, there is no way to know if they have been adequately trained, screened for mental health, enraged by a recent incident, or simply looking for trouble.

These guys are clearly jerks. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t understand their motives. I was once young, arrogant, with a chip on my shoulder, and also an idiot. Too bad that there isn’t a better way to communicate across generations and save these dolts from making the same mistakes in an effort to assert their ‘rights’.

The Narrator’s Other Message

To be fair, the accompanying article explains: “The white guy did not have a gun pulled on him, the black guy never got a chance to say anything before a gun was pulled on him.” The video shows two separate events. One in which a white man is challenged without apparent fear or violence and the other in which an officer draws a gun on a younger black man and yells for him to drop to the ground before engaging in any discussion. Is there a point here about race, balanced law enforcement and prejudice? Sure! But that doesn’t change the fact that both men are idiots.

Let’s be clear. Race is not a main point of the video. In the opening scene, a lunkhead states that he will stage a provocative exercise for “educational purposes” and to ensure that the state of Oregon does not trample on his rights. As to the race angle, there are certainly other ways to research and present sociological data. In fact, it can be done in a manner that solicits the viewer to reflect on their own bias and perhaps take action in changing perceptions and practices. But this certainly wasn’t a primary motive for the white guy wanting to demonstrate his rights. He just wanted to poke a bobcat with a sharp, flaming stick. In his book, it makes him hot stuff; a really big cheese. In my book, he demonstrates about as much sense as a soft boiled egg.

What do you think? I would particularly like to hear from some gun rights supporters. Is it reasonable to demonstrate your rights by walking down a busy street with an assault weapon?

Bad for business: Laws that bully LGBT

I really tried to ignore the brouhaha over Indiana’s thinly veiled discriminatory law. There is little I can add to the public discourse. In my circles, it seems kind of obvious that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) will be short lived. After all, even with a public demonstration of a narrow mind and intolerance, no governor can stand against business for long.

For those who have lived under a rock these past few weeks, a quick study might ask What’s the big deal? After all, we have a federal law with the same name. But there is a big difference!  The federal law protects individuals from government intrusion or coercion, while the Indiana law was crafted with the opposite intent! It allows individuals (business owners or employees) to claim a legal basis for their interaction with others. It sets the stage for commercial discrimination and goofy legal defenses…

Saturday Night Live suggests giving businesses helpful signs to show that they embrace the new law

Saturday Night Live offers a friendly storefront sign to businesses that embrace the new law.

Under this law, a McDonald’s cashier can contest being fired for telling each customer to praise Allah—or for refusing to serve customers who don’t respond in kind. After all, he is just exercising his religious freedom. This doesn’t just open a can of worms—It sends a crop duster to spray worms over the entire state!

This slideshow from Huffington Post presents first-hand quotes and tweets from 26 politicians, corporate heads (Apple, Nike, Twitter, Angie’s List, Yelp, NASCAR, etc).

Some people stand with the Indiana governor, such as former governor Jeb Bush, and senators Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum. But it is revealing to note that no corporation or sports team wants this pretext to commercial discrimination. They are vociferous in distanancing themselves.

Of course, not all politicians stand with Indiana Governor Mike Pence. The governor of Connecticut is a lightning rod in mustering dissent. So are the mayors of Seattle, Denver, and Washington, DC. You can imagine the statement from Oregon’s governor Kate Brown (she is openly bisexual).

Yea, brother! Are you a straight, God-faring Christian?

Indiana Governor Mike Pence: Straight, God-fearing and bad for business

Financial repercussions are beginning to mount. Angie’s List is canceling a $40 million expansion of their headquarters (this means fewer jobs!). The alternative rock band, Wilco, has cancelled a tour stop in Indianopolis. Salesforce.com is cancelling a business deal. The Colts, NCAA and NASCAR cannot easily relocate, but they are apologizing to fans and reminding them that these venues welcome all fans–both on and off the field. Hillary Clinton called it a “sad decision”. The founder of Yelp calls it “unconscionable”.

Governor Pence insists that the law is misunderstood and that it was not intended to be a pretext for commercial discrimination. In response, check out the opening section of a letter signed by Angie’s List CEO and the heads of eight other large corporations. It points out that intent is not really the point. It’s all about effect:

Regardless of the original intention of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, we are deeply concerned about the impact it is having on our employees and on the reputation of our state. All of our companies seek to promote fair, diverse and inclusive workplaces. Our employees must not feel unwelcome in the place where they work and live. 

To clarify the law, Governor Pence is rushing a corrective ‘fix’ into the legislative docket. That’s just another head slapper. Why bother?! You don’t fix lunacy, you drive a wooden stake through it, bury it, and hope that your opponents forgive or forget.

Wild Ducks wonder how long Hoosiers must wait before Governor Mike Pence rolls back his spiteful and bad-for-business legislation. We also wonder how the governor could have acted on such bad advice. On the other hand, if he acted on his personal conviction, then — red state or blue state — I wonder how he became governor!

Booya! Hong Kong seeks Bitcoin ban

Hong Kong flagIn February, Hong Kong lawmakers called on authorities to ban Bitcoin after more than 25 investors were duped in a Bitcoin scam. Reuters reports that they may have been fleeced of [US] $387 million. That’s quite a scam—Bernie Madoff would be proud!

Coming from Hong Kong legislators, the request to ban a monetary instrument—rather than enhance security and education—is a bit surprising. After all, Hong Kong is a uniquely progressive society. Their dollar is not issued, printed or backed by the government (not the under the British mandate and not even under Chinese unification). Rather, it is issued and backed by 3 commercial banks, each one abiding by a strict reserve policy.

Ban, baby Ban

Effective tonight, stray cats may no longer mate without a permit from the population council

Stray cats must obtain a city permit before mating

I love government bans! —especially edicts that try to prevent feral cats from mating or water from seeking its own level! It arguably produces a best-case event for popularizing a new technology, film, web-site, trend or behavior.

Sure, Bitcoin will be exploited by criminals — perhaps even at 5% of the rate that crooks exploit cash, checks or credit cards. I wonder if Hong Kong has banned those instruments?

Bitcoin is based on an elegant technology that is sometimes difficult to explain. But the results are easily understood. Whether you believe Bitcoin to be a currency, a threat to national sovereignty or a tool for criminals, it is simply a very inexpensive, efficient, quick and secure method of moving value from one party to another. That’s really all there is to it.

Bitcoin-08Of course, Bitcoin is new and it is decentralized. This means that there are a few things to be learned before common practices (and banking-analogous practices) can be made simple and safe for everyone. The Cryptocurrency Standards Association is working on it and so are a great many other programmers & organizations. Don’t bet against it! Bitcoin and the blockchain are one of those new-paradigm technologies that adds value, spreads quickly and is resistant to edict. In the beginning, Ebay, Google AdWords and hyperlinks seemed too difficult to be useful to the masses. It’s no different with Bitcoin. Adoption, tools, safety protocols and utter simplicity will make it a no brainer.

More importantly, Bitcoin does not present a threat to governments or nations, even if it begins to replace currency. (Many scholars think that this won’t happen). Governments can still tax citizens, float bonds, audit transactions, wage war and arrest bad guys — just as they did before and during the era of treasuries and central banks.

A major benefit of Bitcoin (at the very least) will add TENS of Billions of dollars to the economy. And not just supply-side dollars, but real skills and labor. That’s because Bitcoin saves 2~4% on most financial transactions. No fee for credit cards, wire transfers, checks and even commercial letters of credit. That’s why SWIFT is evaluating a switch to Bitcoin and it is why IBM is exploring the blockchain to move commercial funds all over the globe.

It doesn’t stop there. As Bitcoin adoption grows (even if only for debit transactions), a series of reactions will gradually follow. Peek with me into the future landscape of Bitcoin adoption. It’s easy to imagine. The vision is positive…What do you think?

• Related: Ellery’s articles about Bitcoin
Ellery is a founding member of CRYPSA, the Cryptocurrency Standards Association

Canary Watch deduces federal gag orders

The US government and its courts routinely demand personal user information from email services, banks, phone companies and other online, telecommunications or financial services. These demands compel services to disclose details about email, phone calls and financial transactions. They also gain access to hordes of so called “metadata”, which can be just as personal as a user’s phone calls. It includes information about user relationships, locations, browser configuration and even search history. Many of these demands, such as the infamous National Security Letter stipulate that the service may not divulge that they were asked for the information in the first place. In fact, they can’t say anything about a de facto investigation!…

My friend, Michael, occasionally points out that skirting the law with Wink-Wink-Nod-Nod is still likely breaking the law. His point, of course, is that law is often based on intent. So with this in mind, what do you think about this clever reporting service?…

Canary WatchA service called, Canary Watch, lets online services like Verizon or Google send a continuous stream of data that repeatedly states “We are not currently compelled to turn over any data on our users”. Naturally, if the service suddenly refrains from sending the statement, a reasonable person can infer that the government is demanding personal information with the usual GAG order attached.

If you extrapolate this technique, a service like Verizon could continuously broadcast a massive list of usernames (or shorter hash codes representing individual users). These are the users who are not currently being investigated. Any change to the data stream would allow a 3rd party to infer and alert users who are the subject of an investigation.

With the launch of this service, Canary Watch wins the 2015 Wild Duck Privacy Award. This is the type of cleverness that we like! Why? Because it enhances transparency and helps everyone to control their own privacy, if they choose to do so.

Wild Duck Privacy Award

Further reading: Activists create website to track & reveal NSA, FBI info requests

Can Saudis say “Je Suis Charlie”?

Update: This article was written 2 weeks before the death of the Saudi leader

On Jan 23, (Friday morning, local time), Saudi King, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud, died. His half brother, Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, ascended to the throne as expected. He promptly assured the international community that policies, alliances and contracts would continue as before.

Je Suis CharlieThe Saudi government is publicly standing with France in condemning the slaughter of editors and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, a satire magazine. They were gunned down in the name of defending the prophet’s honor.

Of course, the governments of Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Iraq are waging war against extremist group Islamic State with expanding air and ground support from a US-led international coalition. Yet, I am sickened by the irony of their “outrage”.

saudi-arabia-domestic-violence-sThe Saudis have no compunctions in savagely beating Raif Badawi for the crime of promoting free speech and debate. They have no problem beating women who drive a car or who travel without a male relative. We must take stock of our affiliations. It’s time to run with those who share our ideals and who appreciate a common humanity. The Saudi royals are neither just, moral or humane.

The fact that so many in the west consider the Saudi kingdom to be moderate or “a friend” is both ironic and a travesty. These are barbarians with starkly warped ideals. Saudi Delegate at UNThey are as backward and ruthless as those who slaughtered the journalists at Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Both groups respond to free thought and debate with righteous violence.

It’s time for western governments and NGOs to recognize that the Saudis are no more evolved than the Ayatollahs in Iran or the Imams and Muftis who promote and export Sharia Law the word over.

Consider the relationship of China with the US and Canada. The Chinese are a major trading partner, but few would suggest that this partnership indicates a shared kinship of political ideology or compatible individual freedoms. China’s government may change some day, but for now, modernization is limited to their economy and with a slightly heightened awareness of environmental issues. Democratic process and Personal freedoms be damned.

Saudi FlagLike China, the Saudis are our temporary trading partner. We must not confuse trade or even military cooperation with friendship and we must constantly reevaluate the limits of our business and financial arrangements. Unlike China, Saudi Arabia bankrolls extremism and exports intolerant ideology that destabilizes the global community. They are no better than ISIL, Boka Haram or the most radical of Sharia-inspired zealots. The Saudi government is barely shy of being an enemy to every free democracy. I am not against constructive engagement. But we should also understand an ideological adversary and maintain a comfortable distance.

Suggested Reading:

Governments head toward Bitcoin without realizing it

This weekend, Ecuador joined at least 5 other countries in walking toward a future that replaces paper and coins with cryptocurrency. But, are these national experiments likely to lead to the future that comes to mind when we think of Bitcoin?

AWildDuck offers this 2-sentence analysis:

  • Most governments and national banks that experiment with cryptocurrency have no intention of empowering citizens nor decoupling their monetary supply from political control
  • But in the end, that’s exactly where they are headed

Ecuador 5000 SucreThese national experiments are fascinating. Including Ecuador, there are at least 6 national efforts to embrace cryptocurrency around the world, including two in Africa, two in Latin America, Iceland and Israel.

It’s unfortunate that each potentate has created a disparate, internal and proprietary currency. Most of these territorial adopters have adopted neither a mathematical supply cap nor a permissionless blockchain. They buy into the legacy ‘wisdom’ that controlled inflation is necessary to stimulate spending and grow an economy.

Perhaps they see cryptocurrency as a an evolutionary mechanism to lower the production and distribution cost of coins and bills and thwart counterfeiting—just as  many countries have switched from paper bills to plastic. That’s a limited view of a very positive revolution in the making. The leaders and central banks of many countries seem to miss the point. It’s not just about new technology. It’s about free markets, limited supply, public trust and citizen empowerment. In fact, it’s all about growth, free markets and the expansion of wealth.

Hopefully, these experiments are just a step toward combining monetary policy with an open digital currency while fostering a grass roots revival of public trust… Eventually, governments will recognize that properly implemented cryptocurrency—one that is free to usurp the national mint—leads to increased faith in government. At least, if one’s  government demonstrates a willingness to decouple politics from monetary policy.

Ellery Davies is a founding member of CRYPSA, the Cryptocurrency
Standards Association. He is also chief editor at AWildDuck. Catch
all of his Bitcoin articles here.

Trust a Bitcoin Exchange without Regulation

Yesterday, after the spectacular failure and bankruptcy filing of Mt. Gox, the world’s largest Bitcoin exchange, Peter Finn, an IBM architect, launched a survey within a LinkedIN discussion group. The single question and multiple choice options were:

“In Light of MTGOX what level of transparency should there be for Bitcoin Exchanges?”

1. None. Exchanges Can do as they please
2. All Public Keys Disclosed and Signed
3. Show Public Keys, Source Code, Processes
4. Fully Regulated, Monitored, Audited

One day after it was published, respondents were decidedly negative on the option #1 (no regulation). They responded like this: 1–14%, 2–28%, 3–28%, 4–28%. I am among the 14%: No regulation. But only because Peter failed to cover all the bases. There is a far better option than regulation. But I am getting ahead of myself…

Regulation in a Decentralized, P2P
market, with Open Source Tools 

Suggesting that Bitcoin be “fully regulated” is like demanding that feral cats be licensed to procreate. Perhaps the point can be better illustrated by a metaphor closer to home: Perhaps we should regulate the use of file encryption or bit torrent clients. After all, they can both be used for circumventing copyright law or transmitting illegal content.

Governments are inevitably weakened by legislating against what cannot be regulated. The US has already tried to regulate encryption (PGP/Zimermann and Clipper chip) and they tried to legislate against the use of torrents (Actually, it was a prelude to torrents. Who remembers Napster?)

You can enact laws and regulations, but when you ignore motives, access and facts in evidence, you promote bureaucracy with a head-in-the-sand morality. Feral cats don’t read edicts. Their compulsion to reproduce is strong and they possess the tools they need to procreate. The same is true for bit torrent, encryption and a fully-distributed, low-cost, p2p payment mechanism that is adding users like a wild fire.

Considered in another light, Bitcoin was created to circumvent—or at least—transcend regulation. For many legitimate users, the whole point of a distributed, p2p network built upon open source tools is to unfetter users and disentangle government.

So the real question is not whether we should engage in useless legislation that ignores the facts on the ground. A better question is “How can we make the Wild West a bit safer?” I understand the need for public trust. ! But trust comes from transparency, accountability and outside audits. It doesn’t come from government regulation. Peter alluded to this in the very last sentence the text accompanying his sruvey. He said:

Certified-01

“Will users decide through consensus that
exchange XYZ chooses to fully disclose?”

Bingo! Create standards and practices—especially for security and transparency. Then, make it simple for anyone choosing an exchange or entering into a transaction to determine if the organization complies with industry best practice. Finally, offer a modest level of consortium insurance (to the user, or at least compliant exchanges), so that public trust can be tied to something tangible.

On Feb 25, one day after championing a joint statement from the few credible Bitcoin exchanges, Coinbase took a big step toward this goal when then invited a research analyst from a competitor to audit their internal security practices and randomly compare a customer transaction log to the public blockchain. The report includes an explanation of the test conditions and the results.

Laws are meaningless in a market that cannot be regulated. But industry standards, audits and certification can certainly step up to the task. They can build trust, confidence and stability. Just as importantly, they won’t interfere with the fraction of users who demand personal, private, p2p transactions without auditing or oversight. After all, we must never forget that these individuals started the revolution from which we will all benefit… even the “legitimate” commercial transactions that require transparency, security and an audit trail.

So, let’s revisit Peter Finn’s survey: What level of regulation should be mandated for Bitcoin exchanges?…

I propose Option #5: None. Exchanges can do as they please. But establish an easily verified, independent certification of standards & practices that can be tested at the URL throughout user interaction. Users can avoid the tool, add the tool, or ignore its warning. The certification (and a gut-simple way to see it & test it), empowers the user instead of the government. It also avoids entangling a new technology with unimaginable potential in red tape.

Incidentally, a group of individuals from this discussion group is working toward this goal right now. Although they have barely completed introductions, the Virtual Currency Collaborative Cryptocurrency Standards Association [CRYPSA] has hammered out a charter that will lead to a set of voluntary standards and practices to facilitate open, transparent, safe and auditable transactions within a community that often takes pride in their inherent freedom from regulation. Taming the Wild West will not be too difficult. And it won’t even be necessary to restrict gunslingers from walking into the saloon at high noon.

Bitcoin Adoption: Series of reactions

What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin-05Sure—You know the history. As it spread from the geeky crypto community, Bitcoin sparked investor frenzy. Its “value” was driven by the confidence of early adopters that they hitched an early train, rather than commercial adoption. But, just like those zealous investors, you realize that it may ultimately reduce the costs of online commerce, if and when if it becomes widely accepted.

But what is Bitcoin, really? To what class of instruments does it belong?

  • The most ardent detractors see it as a sham: A pyramid scheme with absolutely no durable value. A house of cards waiting to tumble. This is a position of my close friend, JD, a former IRS auditor and the first to comment on this post below.
  • Many people recognize that it can be a useful transaction medium—similar to a prepaid gift card, but with a few added kicks: Decentralized, low cost and private.
  • Or is it an equity asset, traded by a community of speculative investors, and subject to bubble psychology? If so, do the wild swings in its exchange rate diminish its potential to be used as a payment mechanism?
  • Does Bitcoin have the potential to be a full-fledged currency with a “real value” that floats based on supply and demand? Can something that lacks intrinsic value or the backing of a bank or government replace national currency?

Regardless of your opinion about Bitcoin, it does one thing that few pundits dispute: Although the exchange value fluctuates, it reduces transaction costs to nearly zero. This characteristic, alone, is a dramatic breakthrough. It was achieved by virtue of its designer overcoming the “double-spend problem”.

Peering Into the Future?

Removing friction is certainly what it is all about. As a transaction medium, Bitcoin achieves this, but so does any debit instrument, or any account in which a buyer has retained house “credit”.

Bitcoin_pullback-sCurrently there is a high bar to get money exchanged into and out of Bitcoin. It’s a mess: costly, time consuming and a big hassle. Seriously! Have you tried using an exchange? Even the most trusted one (Coinbase of San Francisco) makes it incredibly difficult to get money in and out of BTC. Fortunately, this situation is gradually improving.

Where Bitcoin really shines (or more accurately, when it will shine), occurs at the time when more vendors choose to leave revenues in BTC, pending their own purchases from suppliers, shareholder payouts, or simply as retained savings.

When this happens, all sorts of good things will follow…

  • A growing fraction of sellers leave their bitcoin in their wallets, realizing that they will need to spend it for their own labor and materials.
  • Gradually, wild exchange-rate gyrations diminish—not because fewer people are exchanging money, but because the Bitcoin supply/demand value is driven more by actual commerce than it is by speculation.
  • Sellers begin pricing merchandise in Bitcoin rather than legacy units (i.e. national currencies)—because they are less anxious to exchange out of BTC immediately after each sale.

When sellers begin letting a fraction of bitcoin revenues ride—and as they begin pricing goods and services in BTC—a phenomenal tipping point will follow…

  • If goods and services are priced in BTC, then everyone involved saves money and engages in transactions more efficiently.
  • If goods and services are priced in BTC, then the public will begin to perceive exchange rate volatility as a changing dollar rather than a changing bitcoin.
  • Eventually, vendors will begin spending the BTC that they acquire in commerce (or paying staff in BTC), rather than converting quickly back to national currency. More than anything else, this will transform Bitcoin into a stored value unto itself, and not just an exchange chit. This may seem to be a subtle footnote to adoption, but the ramifications are great. That earthquake is the world gradually moving away from centralized treasury-issued bank notes and toward a unified and currency that we can all trust.

People, everywhere, will one day place their trust in a far more robust and trustworthy mechanism than paper promissory notes printed by regional governments. A brilliantly crafted mechanism that is fully distributed, p2p, transaction verified (yet private), has a capped supply and is secure.

What Then?

O.K. So we believe that Bitcoin is the future of money and not just a replacement for credit cards. But what does this really mean? Can the series of cause-and-effect be extrapolated beyond widespread user adoption? Absolutely! …

Adoption of Bitcoin as a stored value (that means as a currency) leads to the gradual realization among governments that Bitcoin is not a threat to sovereignty nor even to tax policy. Instead it presents unbounded opportunity: The opportunity to stabilize markets, eliminate inflation, reduce costs and restore public trust. In short, Bitcoin will ultimately level the playing field, revive entire economies, transform the role of government, and save consumers and businesses billions of dollars each year.

Did I mention that Bitcoin is the future of commerce and a very possible successor to legacy currencies? Aristotle must be smiling.

Lease rooms in the US Treasury to pay off some of the debt brought about by inflation

Uncle Sam can lease the US Treasury building to pay off debt brought about by inflation