Trump Supports Civil Forfeiture; Support Bitcoin


In 2012, my wife and I decided to take a road trip through this great land of ours to visit my wife’s sister. Her sister was wanted to buy a house, so my wife wanted to help out. Rather than spend the money on a wire, she took 8,000 dollars out of the bank witcreative commons imageh the intention of giving it directly to her sister when we arrived.

Soon after pulling onto the highway, a truck in front of us kicked up a rock, putting a tiny crack in the wind shield. I grit my teeth, but there was nothing to do about it for the time being, so we continued on the trip.

Somewhere along the Arizona- New Mexico border, a police officer somehow noticed that crack in the windshield and pulled us over. I was polite and cooperative, and the officer was pleasant. He said that we should fix the windshield as soon as possible, but that he wouldn’t write us up this time. He also said  there was a lot of drug traffic coming through the area, and though we looked like nice enough people, he asked if he could search our car. I agreed since it’s always been my policy to cooperate with the police.

He leaned into the car and within two minutes came back out with the envelope of money my wife had placed for safe-keeping below the front passenger seat. He asked what it was for, and my wife told him about about her sister buying the house and how she meant to present it as a gift.

The officer took his hat off and scratched his head. Then he said “I think this is too much money for people to just be carrying around, unless it’s for some other reason. This money, it probably comes from drugs sales, and I’m going to need confiscate it.”

This is when things got really weird. The officer brought out a piece of paper that he wanted us to sign saying that we were relinquishing rights to the money. If we did sign, we would not be arrested. If we didn’t sign, we would still lose the money, our car too, and we would be arrested.

Reluctantly, and with my wife glowering at me, I signed.

The above is not a true story in that this event never happened to me. It could have, though, and has happened to thousands of people all over the country.

This week, President Trump met at a round table with sheriffs from across the country to discuss law enforcement. One of the topics for discussion was civil forfeiture – the practiced being described above. Trump, true to form, supported this practice without ever really demonstrating that he understood it.

In summary, civil forfeiture is the practice of police confiscating property due to ‘probable cause,’ a term which can mean anything the police want it to. The property’s owner does not have to be convicted, charged, or even arrested. Once seized, the procedures for getting the property back are drawn out and expense – made that way to dissuade people from trying.

And what happens to the money? At least some of it goes to the very police department the officer works for. This creates what some legal analysts term a moral hazard or perverse incentive. It turns the police from being the upright protectors of the people, to being the wolves preying on the people.

And if, as I might hear you say, that most police are true blue, this is a systemic, not an individual evil. The departments will rate officers on how well they bring in the bucks – just look at the prevalence of ticket quotas, also supposedly not in use.

The police need to be impartial administers of the law. And this is increasingly important now with trust in the government eroding. When police act like citizens are prey, the citizens will respond by not trusting the police, not calling the police, and resisting when the police are trying to deal with situations. The police need the trust and admiration of the people they protecting to do their job effectively.

Civil forfeiture is a corrosive abuse of official power.

We the people have a responsibility to maintain our liberty even in the face of official authority. This doesn’t mean directly opposing, but it does mean doing things to keep ourselves, our privacy, and our property safe. A free internet, our right to use encryption, our right to a non-government-non-bank money are key to this ability.

The Death Knell for Net Neutrality


I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.

-Evelyn Beatrice HallPublic domain photo

As the news continues to be full of Trump’s so-called Muslim ban, the wheels are starting to turn to make much more fundamental, and difficult to rollback, changes to how life in America works.

Over the years there have been a number of attempts to give internet providers free rein over how they manage, or inhibit, the content that their downstream users get. The goal of the providers is to have complete control over what can get transmitted over the internet, or at the very least, how fast.

If a website wants to have fast speeds, then it will have to pay for the privilege. If a website has a business model or a message that the providers don’t like – they can simply slow down the speed at which that site can load, or block it altogether. It you are on one provider’s network and want to view content sponsored by another provider, you may have to pay a premium to view or may just be SOL.

The key change is that Ajit Pai has been promoted to lead the FCC which regulates internet providers. Currently, the internet is viewed as being a common carrier, which essentially makes it like a public road. The providers may put people on that road, but they cannot capriciously obstruct how people use those roads when they’re there.

Pai is a vocal opponent of that idea, saying that he wants to get rid of all regulations that ‘hold back investment.’ This term, hold back investment, is a dog whistle. It seems to mean a good thing – bring in money to help develop the infrastructure and benefit us all. What it really means, and what his future employers in the industry hear, is that they will be given free rein to create different tiers of usage – like a cable company charging for premium channels. And they will have the right to not allow any content that they don’t like, for any reason.

The problem with this is that free access to information is key to a free society. Whether I’m a billionaire or a pauper, I should be able to get to any information out there without having to pay the middleman providers anything more than an access fee. (And there’s a really great argument to making access free too). Of course, many sites have paywalls for their content – which is natural as they are the creators of that content – the providers will be skimming money from the pockets of the creators, inhibiting their ability to create great content. And finally, it is the ability of people to learn what others are saying and think, even if those views are unpopular or wrong – because once we start limiting that speech, then there is way to keep them from limiting all speech.

We have already moved far in the direction of becoming a corporate kleptocracy, and the destruction of net neutrality would be one more solid nail in the coffin. I suspect if there weren’t so many other disturbing things going on in the news that there would be large protests over this development –  but with so much else going on, it’s easy to miss these less sensational, but life altering, developments.

The internet is to the modern era as roads have been throughout history. Control the roads, and you control the people. Let’s not be controlled. Keep the internet free for all.

On Giving Trump a Chance


Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president.

– Theodore Roosevelt

The last installment of the American Intelligence Squared,an organization that hosts debates on topics of the day, posited the statement “Give Trump a Chance.”

The statement seemed odd to me at first, and after listening to the installment, I can’t help but feel that the question is completely misplaced. What exactly does it mean to ‘give Trump a chance?’

Trump has his chance whether I give it to him or not. He is in the White House, he has a Republican Senate and a Republican House, and soon he will succeed in placing Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court restoring the hard-right lean of that court. All three branches are either in Trump’s direct control or solidly in support of him and his policies.

Just as I won’t join the “Not My President” people, another meaningless statement that shows nothing more than aggressive denial on the part of the people who use it.

No. Trump is president. For better or worse, he is my president. He has his chance and he is taking it right now.

What these statements do NOT mean. Acknowledging that Trump is in power does not mean that I must give him my personal loyalty or abrogate my responsibility as a citizen to keep him accountable for his actions.  Even had he won with a mandate, or even a majority, this would not be so.

It is the responsibility of every citizen to make sure that people they put into power fulfill their responsibilities competently and ethically. Calling the president out when he fails on any of these counts is not ‘whining,’ it is not being ‘a crybaby,’ it is the height of patriotism.

More than that, though it is so seldom done as to be non-existent, those who hold great power and those who hold great privilege must be must be given even harsher penalties if they do break the law and the trust of the people. Penalties for people in power, from police, to CEOs, to presidents, must be proportionate to the damage that they inflict when they act badly.

And note that our current regime intends to act very, very badly. Nearly the first thing our Republican congress decided to do when it took power at the beginning of the year was to try to abolish the ethics office. Much easier to cheat and steal if you don’t have even that weak of an agency looking over your shoulder.

And this is not simply on the national level. Republican lawmakers in South Dakota convened an emergency session to repeal a referendum requiring them to be ethical. Why the haste? Because ethics is not what they are about, nationally or locally.

Watch your politicians. Follow the money. Keep an eye on how what they are doing affects your life, the lives of your neighbors. Remember that they, likely, are in the employ of a masterclass of millionaires and billionaires who would like nothing better than to establish medieval feudal system where their power and privilege are assured and we – you, me, my son, your daughter – exist to serve them. And if your officials ARE acting to weaken the republic through fear and lies, hold them accountable.

In 1975, Gerald Ford issued a blanket pardon for any wrongdoing Richard Nixon may have done. In 2008, Barack Obama refused to investigate alleged crimes and overreaches of the Bush administration. And though I think there is far less to be investigated there, in 2016 Donald Trump is not investigating the supposed crimes of Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.

If Donald Trump, as I think he will, violates his oath of office, breaches the constitution, or out-and-out breaks the law, this is a trend that must end. We must re-establish the accountability of the people we entrust with our government, and if they break that trust – put them in jail.

Donald Trump is my president. Donald Trump has his chance. Start now. Stay vigilant.

A Tale Of Two Women: Just Following Orders Edition



In 1981, Anne Gorsuch was appointed to be head of the EPA by Ronald Reagan. Gorsuch, an arch conservative, took to her job of curtailing the activities of the EPA with gusto, eventually leading to a scandal and her removal from the post.

The scandal involved the following accusations:

  • Political manimpulation
  • Fund mismanagement
  • Destruction of subpoenaed documents

Her defense? “I was just following orders.”

Now that’s a defense that we’ve heard before, in Nuremberg, and one that as a society we’ve taken as a non-defense. Even in the military with its rigid hierarchy and a clear necessity for soldiers to follow orders, saying “I was following orders” is not considered a defense for carrying out clearly illegal acts or committing atrocities.

As a person placed in a position of trust at the very top of the government, Anne Gorsuch’s responsibility to follow the law was that much more important.

Further, though it never plays out this way, it is my sincere belief that the higher a position of trust you have, and the wider a field of impact you have, the harsher should be the punishment should you commit crimes.

And, it is the moral obligation of every individual to speak up if they are given illegal orders. Anne Gorsuch did not do that. She followed the orders, probably willingly. And her penalty was light given the trust that she had been given.

Now let’s switch to Sally Yates, the former acting head of the Justice Department.

Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration was in a caretaker position while the President’s nominee for the position, Jeff Sessions, goes through the confirmation process in congress.

In that capacity, she serves at the pleasure of the president, but she has a higher duty to the law of the land. Thus, when Donald Trump signed an order restricting travel from seven countries on religious discriminatory lines, Yates considered the constitutionality of the order and decided that in good conscience, she could not defend it and issued an order to the department not to defend it.

And she got fired.

Now, I do not have a problem with the firing. The AG serves at the pleasure of the president, she displeased him, and he had the absolute right to fire her. But many have criticized her for forcing the firing rather than just stepping down.

Wrong: I applaud her principled stand, as I would for a republican appointee who would do the same thing. (Note – there is a lot of hypocrisy out there when one side blames the other for things they are vastly guilty of themselves.) I don’t have to agree with the stand a person takes as long as I recognize it is principled – and I applaud Sally Yates for NOT following orders, and for calling out the president for what is clearly a very questionable, at best.

We need more people, not less speaking truth to power and lets reward it when we see it.

Unfortunately for us, Trump’s nominee for the supreme court is Neil Gorsuch, son to Anne. His perceptions will no doubt be informed by the scandal that surrounded his mother’s departure from the EPA, and if confirmed for the bench, as I fully expect he will be, we will have one more person on the highest court who will privilege loyalty and power over justice and law.
Things are getting worse, not better. Send a shock to the system. Start using Bitcoin.

Trump: Proof in the Pudding and Bitcoin


A few days ago, I responded to a tweet from MarketWatch in which they advised readers to sell everything if Trump starts a trade war. I wrote back with a pithy: Sell everything, buy Bitcoin.

One person who read the post took exception. He wrote to ask, and I’m paraphrasing, if I was really going to trust an imaginary currency when tshtf. My answer: Yes, I will trust, not an imaginary currency, but a cross-border, decentralized, programmatic
, non-bank, non-government money that’s safe from Wall Street and Treasury hands when tshtf.

And it’s not just trade wars that will spark the a rush to safe assets out of the hands of the very people who have been pauperizing us for 40 or more years. The political, financial, and social rifts in the US are growing wider. There is likely to be more domestic strife over the next few years, a good chance of new wars internationally, and a not insignificant chance that the financial system will collapse again.

Trump voters like him; the really like him

The Guardian has a nice piece this morning that examines the attitudes of a few Trump voters after his first few weeks in office. They love him. The reporter interviewed a number of working-class people in a country that went for Trump, and their opinion is that it’s about time there is someone who is cutting through the bullshit, telling the truth, and sticking up for them.

It’s hard to read. What’s hard to understand is that just from looking at him, you get the sense that Trump is that boss that absolutely hated. Full of himself. Dismissive of others. Not nearly as talented or successful as he thinks he is. Even worse is the notion that there is someone finally fulfilling his promises and sticking up from them:

  • He’ll drain the swamp: He has filled his cabinet with billionaires and ideologues who are sure to strengthen corporations, weaken workers, and ill the pockets of people … like them.
  • He tells the truth: He cries ‘fake news’ while showing a disturbing disregard for the truth. Anything that doesn’t fit with what he wants to believe is a lie or a fraud. We now live in an era of alternative facts, which is just another way of saying ‘believe the lie.’ Facts are check-able. We should all do check them, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or Independent.
  • Keeping the Muslims out! The constitution is only important if it’s convenient. Restricting immigration is a president’s prerogative – and rational restrictions are necessary. The constitutional limits are there to protect you and me more than the immigrants. For me, the most disturbing part of the ban is not the ‘severe vetting,’ it is the fact that no country, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, that has proven links to terrorists is on the list. Why these countries? My thought is … he can say he fulfilled his promise, but not hurt the country’s (or his own) business interests in countries like Egypt or Saudi Arabia.
  • Jobs, Jobs, Jobs: He is already bringing jobs back or keeping them from leaving the country. Great. He cut a deal with a company to pay them to keep their employees here. Expect to see a lot more news stories like this – specific examples of a few jobs. Also, keep a tight eye on the real unemployment, underemployment, and no-longer looking so no longer on the rolls numbers. Also keep an eye on if the the average earnings of workers is rising in real, adjusted for inflation, terms.
  • Who will pay for the wall? First, we will – as is already happening.Second, what they will call a wall will in reality end up being a bit of barbed wire and a few cameras along large stretches of the border. But expect the photo-ops to be taken against a 100-foot wall like the one in Game of Thrones. Then there’s the question about what stopping all illegal immigration from the south will do the economy.
  • He’ll stick it to Wall Street: He’s hired half of Goldman Sachs for his government! (OK, it’s a big company, so not half – but LOTS). The best is Steve Mnuchin, a predatory lender who preyed upon distressed people after the 2008 crash and lied to congress in his confirmation hearing to be Secretary of the Treasury. Trump has already begun trying to roll back Dodd-Frank, the woefully-insufficient protections instituted after the 2008 crash and there is not likely to be anything put into place. Wall Street is salivating and getting his cutlery ready – and your pension and children’s college fund is their prey.

The proof is in the pudding. I cannot say that Trump may not really be a genius who will truly make America great again. He might have a genius that I, humble as I am, simply cannot see or appreciate. I’m just not betting on it – and I will keep watching for the consequences that follow.

And, in the meantime, I’ll do what I can to keep accumulating Bitcoin.

Trump, Bitcoin, and the Case for the Nuclear Option


Right now there is so much going on in Washington that it’s difficult to keep tabs on what’s really important.

For me, the most important event being played out is the fight over the nomination of Neil Gorsuch for the US Supreme Court. Right now, much is being written abCreative Commons Image.out his qualifications, but although a quick perusal of his record shows there are things to appreciate and to be deeply, deeply disturbed about, I’m not really interested in that for this article.

Rather, my interest in how he ended up being nominated and what can or should be done about it.

The backstory, as I’m sure you all know, is that in February of last year, Justice Antonin Scalia passed away leaving a vacancy on the court. President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, a generally competent and uncontroversial pick. Senator McConnell, a Republican, refused to schedule even a hearing on the appointment, unprecedentedly claiming that we shouldn’t appoint a justice in the last year of a presidency. The seat has now been open for an entire year.

This was an illegitimate move, no matter its legality. What makes it illegitimate is the howl of rage that would have swept the country, the cries for ‘second amendment remedies’ that would have been yelled for if the Democrats had tried to do this to a republican president. It would surely have precipitated a constitutional crisis. Democrats, true to form, complained, whimpered, and bore it.

There may not have been anything that they could really have done at the time to really affect things, but there is now: filibuster.

Filibuster and let Senator McConnell follow through on his threat to remove the filibuster as a tool Filibuster and hand full control of the White House, the senate, and the congress – plus the supreme court, to the republicans. Filibuster and let them 100% have their way by being shut out of the debate.

Then, and only then, will we the people be able to fully see and appreciate who and what the republicans stand for. Let them write tax code to favor wealthy individuals and
corporate interests. Let them repeal ethics laws (
1,2). Let fan the flames of Wall Street excess until we have another crash and bailout on the backs of the middle class.

I am no particular fan of the democrats, but there does need to be a healthy tension in the system to keep everyone honest. That tension is gone, and balance needs to be restored. Unfortunately, I now feel that that balance cannot be achieved until we have hit rock bottom and see just how corrupt the republicans in government have become.

I call on the democrats to filibuster, make themselves irrelevant for at least the next two years, and get ready for the backlash that will inevitably follow. And then I warn them not to fall into the same trap as their esteemed colleagues.

On a final note, I would like to remind the readers that despite all the claims of Obama’s illegitimacy, he was born in the US.

Donald Trump was born in the US, but is far from clearly being a legitimate president. Contrary to conspiracy theories that have not been supported by more than 4 cases of voter fraud, won with a deficit of 3 million votes due to the peculiarities of how our presidential system works. He won, but their is no mandate. Further, there is substantial proof that the Russians interfered in the election through hacking and propaganda. Added to that, it also appears that certain elements of the FBI, including Director Comey put their thumb on the scale for Trump.

Well, as is often the case when I go off on political topics, What The Hell Does That Have To Do With Bitcoin?

Easy, and unfortunate. I do not wish for bad luck, but I do prepare for it. We are at a crisis point in history, and I fully believe things will get worse before they get better – Trump is just accelerating a process that was already underway. We are going to see a major crisis in our financial and political systems, and a currency or store of value that is independent of banks and governments is going to become suddenly and supremely relevant when it does. When that happens, people and institutions all over the world will be seeking a safe place for their funds.

You can never tell, and there is no guarantee that Bitcoin won’t fail, but it’s also survived for 8 years so far, enduring some existence-threatening crises, and looks to be stronger than ever. A small purchase now might be the best purchase you’ve ever made.

Bitcoin Fundamentals, and Price, Continue to Improve


As the price of Bitcoin seems to be pushing once more to top 1,000, some of the old excitement that used to ripple through the Bitcoin community seems to be coming back–more reserved and cautious, perhaps, but coming back.

There are a number of notable differences between the current run-up and the spike we saw in 2014. First and foremost, of course, is the lack of a Mt. Gox with bots manipulating the price. Also then, and for most large price movements that followed, Chinese exchanges let the action, trading either significantly higher or lower than exchanges in the US or Europe.

And then there was a change: just after Bitcoin reached to top its all-time-high a few weeks ago, word came from China that the officials had arrived at the various exchanges to investigate fraud, money laundering, or any other nefarious goings on. This was very unwelcome news as it hearkened back to the frequent “China is banning Bitcoin” news of 2014 that precipitated drops in the price so often that it became a running joke.

This time, though, there is no threat of banning Bitcoin, but indications seem to be that the authorities were actually running checks of the exchange operations to make sure they were being run in accordance with the law. Shortly after the checks began, the exchanges announced that they were instituting small fees on all trades, which had the immediate effect of plunging the exchange volume–something observes had long noted was too high. The high trading volumes were likely an effect of HFT trading combined with some of the exchanges moving money around internally to make themselves look bigger to attract business.

Now we’re in the midst of the first move up since the pullback after those checks started, and looking at the prices one thing jumps out–the Chinese exchanges are not leading the action. OKCoin seems to lead a bit, but on the whole, the Chinese markets have seemed pretty restrained.

Conversely, GDAX, which has been more reactive than some of the other markets, seems to have been leading many of the other exchanges in price. Perhaps we are seeing a shift away from an artificial price-discovery model led by Chinese exchanges to a fundamentals driven model led by GDAX.

Another thing of note is that Bitcoin seems to be gaining traction in South America and Africa. Trading in Nigeria has topped one million dollars, and even before those reports started coming out, Bitcoin Warrior noted an increased amount of traffic from that African nation. It seems some have started to notice that Bitcoin really does have a use case in cross-border exchange.
Internally, Bitcoin is still hampered by a largely technical fight over how best to scale the network, and it’s our opinion that something will need to break in that debate before we really see a Bitcoin moon shot, but by nearly all other metrics, Bitcoin fundamentals seem to be solid.

Artificial Intelligence Can Help Manage the Energy Grid


A recent Conversation piece pointed out that the British electricity mix in 2016 was the cleanest in 60 years, with record capacity from renewable energy, mainly from wind and solar power. But one problem with this great expansion in renewables is they are intermittent,

Trump is Standing on the Wrong Side of History


Donald Trump is a spasm. Now that our new president is in office and weve seen his Cabinet of old white billionaires and his American carnage inaugural address, its obvious he is the leader of one last, desperate push to stop the 21st century from unfolding. But in spite of himself, Trump might end up being

FCC Exempts Small Internet Providers From Truth-In-Billing Rules


The Federal Communications Commission is under new leadership, and the changes are already coming. One of the first moves of the new administration has exempted small internet services providers from rules requiring disclosure of charges on customer bills. The order grants companies with 250,000 or fewer subscribers an out from the transparency requirements passed in February