A bitcoin for your thoughts? Approximately eight years ago Satoshi Nakamoto published a white paper entitled, “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System.” CoinDesk, a company dedicated to reporting on bitcoin, defines bitcoin thus: “Bitcoin is a form of digital currency, created and held electronically. No one controls it. Bitcoins aren’t printed, like dollars or euros – they’re produced by people, and increasingly businesses, running computers all around the world, using software that solves mathematical problems. It’s the first example of a growing category of money known as cryptocurrency.” Bitcoin attained some mainstream media infamy when the FBI shut down the website named Silk Road which was accepting it as payment for the sale of illegal drugs. Silk Road and the man who founded Silk Road, Ross Ulbricht, had bitcoins worth approximately $100 million at the time of his arrest. Over the next two years the U.S. Marshal’s Services auctioned off the seized bitcoins for about $80 million. As it turned out Mr. Ulbricht would have no use for those bitcoins since he was convicted on a host of charges and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Today, over 100,000 merchants worldwide accept bitcoin payments.
Ian Drury and the Blockchains. At the heart of the bitcoin system was a brilliant bit of software design called a blockchain. Technically, the blockchain is a form of distributed database. Functionally, it serves as the public ledger of all bitcoin transactions. It’s the blockchain that gives bitcoin owners faith in the value and provenance of their bitcoins. That might have been an interesting footnote to the 15 minutes of fame enjoyed by bitcoin. However, as so often happens in technology, people began to see blockchain as much more than a foundation for a cryptocurrency. Blockchain-based systems are now seen as revolutionary changes to industries from banking to shipping to rental cars. Just as dirty dishes gave rise to penicillin, bitcoin has given rise to blockchain.
The Swiss Army knife of software. Blockchain-based systems are now seen as revolutionizing functions as diverse as stock settlements, diamond insurance, medical records management and government record keeping.
Asleep in River City. Given the potential magnitude of the blockchain revolution one would think that the business development geniuses in our state government would be awash in blockchain ideas. It could make Virginia ports more competitive, add transparency to government record keeping, reduce the costs of government and the headaches of complying with regulations. Vermont has an active program in place to enable self-service government. Delaware is pioneering the use of blockchain-based smart contracts to help public and private enterprises lower transaction costs. Virginia? ** sound of crickets chirping **.
Not dead yet. While the Virginia General Assembly slumbers through modernity a small group of Virginians hailing from Blacksburg see the future and are acting on it. Follow My Vote is a start-up trying to use blockchain technology to implement “a secure and transparent voting system for the modern age.” Excellent work! Perhaps, one day, we can use blockchain voting software from Virginia-based Follow My Vote to finally throw the bums out!
— D.J. Rippert
Posted in Economy
Tagged DJ Rippert
Stockholm Syndrome – In dramatic news the Nobel Foundation today announced that James A. Bacon has been nominated for the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his groundbreaking economic work – Boomergeddon. Nobel spokesman Lars E Faire said, “Of course we nominated Bacon – just putting a picture of a detonated atomic bomb on the cover of a cult economics book all but guaranteed a nomination. Most authors use graphs or currency symbols. Bacon uses nuclear annihilation”
The Bacon School – Bacon could not be reached for comment. His publicist claimed that he was busy getting small somewhere in South Carolina. Inquiries were referred to Bacon’s spokesman Lawrence Gee. Gee explained the Bacon school of economic thinking. “Baconomics is not trickle down. Rather, it’s drizzle sideways. City governments which genuflect to private enterprise invariably become techno-modal innovation hubs. The private enterprise focus of these cities causes them to avoid building roads, bus lines, subways or any other form of transportation infrastructure. So, people walk. These are walkable cities,” Gee said with the conspiratorial nod of a man revealing a deep secret.
“Walkable areas force people into close proximity where good ideas flourish and capital can be raised by passing the hat without any government interference or regulation,” Gee said. “The cheek to jowl conditions in the walkable city not only lead to effortless capital formation but also attract new entrepreneurs from distant cities which waste their money on roads, police and schools. They make sure the walkable city is well supplied with essentials like meat pies and craft brewed beer. This is the drizzle sideways effect.”
Competition beware – Bacon will face stiff competition for the Nobel prize. Other nominees include Peter Galuszka who recently published a research paper linking all past, present and future economic issues to George W. Bush and Dr. T.M. Taxes who mathematically demonstrated that the Matrix is not only real but being operated by Northern Virginia land developers.
Into the bit bucket. Back in August, 2013 I wrote an article for this blog titled, “Is Virginia’s Economy Tanking?”. The essence of the article was that Virginia’s Gross State Product (GSP) was growing by less than the increase in federal spending in Virginia. Moreover, that trend had been holding true through the prosperous economic years prior to the so-called Great Recession. I felt the shrinkage of non-federal GSP was a harbinger of bad things to come. Everybody expected a slowdown in federal spending – especially defense spending. That would hurt Virginia.
The fact that non-federal growth was negative during good economic years caused me to question the likelihood of Virginia recovering from the anticipated drop off in federal spending. A recent report indicates that Virginia’s economic growth percentage in 2014 was exactly the same as Bluto Blutarsky’s grade point average – 0.0. That put Virginia 48th out of 50 states for economic growth in 2014. So much for being the “best state for business”. Unfortunately, my ability to throw my shoulder out of joint patting myself on the back for the accuracy of my prediction was compromised when Jim Bacon had to delete a number of logon id’s in an effort to reduce spam comments. Mine was one of the deletions (I have since re-registered with a new id). When WordPress finds a logon deleted it apparently deletes all the posts that were written under that id.
So, is Virginia’s economy tanking? No. It has tanked. In my opinion it will likely tank further in the coming years. While sequestration has been implemented and the loss of federal jobs in Virginia is slowing, the pace of federal contracting cuts is expected to double in the 2015 fiscal year. These lost jobs will cause a loss in demand for the goods and services purchased by the former contractors which will cause further job loss.
The Emperor’s clothes. A prolonged period of no growth, low growth or perhaps shrinkage in Virginia’s economy will have consequences. Fewer jobs could translate into a lower demand for housing and a fall in real estate taxes. This would translate into less funding for schools and a decrease in the educational funds transferred from the “urban crescent” to other areas of Virginia. The substantial tax increase passed during the McDonnell administration may prove unnecessary if traffic congestion ends up being solved by population loss rather than new transportation construction. The overall political climate in Virginia could turn to the right if generally liberal federal workers and contractors depart for greener grass elsewhere.
Every day is red nose day in Richmond. Virginia’s over-dependence on federal spending was known for decades. Yet the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond took no effective action to diversify Virginia’s economy. Public universities in population centers (like GMU, VCU and ODU) could have followed the University of Maryland’s effort to strengthen STEM programs. The snarled traffic in Northern Virginia and Tidewater could have been addressed before it became a quality of life killer. The tobacco funds could have been spent constructively instead of stolen and squandered. The billions in company and industry specific tax breaks could have been forgone and the funds used to keep higher education affordable instead of being used to reward campaign contributors and political gift givers. Today, our one term governor oscillates between declaring our economy to be “booming” and scrambling around Europe trying to drum up business. Meanwhile, the empty suited politicians for life in the General Assembly stand slack jawed and glassy eyed watching the Commonwealth fail.
— D.J. Rippert
Virginia’s non-debate. Politics in Virginia includes a lot of debates. Trasnportation funding. Medicaid expansion. Taxes. However, one critical aspect of Virginia law has fallen from view – the death penalty. This lack of debate over the death penalty is not due to a lack of executions. Since 1976 Virginia has posted the third most executions of any state – far behind Texas but only one execution behind Oklahoma.
The Innocence Project. The Innocence Project is a non-profit group of lawyers who re-examine the cases of people convicted of serious crimes. The group often uses new DNA techniques to determine whether a conviction was correct or in error. To date, the Innocence Project has exonerated 16 Virginians of serious crimes. Some of those innocent people were on Virginia’s death row when they were exonerated of the crimes that landed them on death row. One such case was the conviction of Earl Washington. Convicted of rape and murder Earl Washington was sentenced to death. Subsequent DNA testing cleared Washington of the rape and murder convictions. Mr. Washington’s case prompted an independent audit of Virginia’s DNA testing lab. The results were not encouraging.
- “This laboratory that touts itself as the best DNA laboratory in the country generated erroneous test results in a capital case, twice, using two different DNA methods,” said Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project. “The audit reveals not only that the laboratory’s most senior DNA analyst, responsible for DNA testing in many of the state’s capital cases, made serious errors, but that the laboratory’s system to catch these errors completely failed. This audit provides compelling evidence that crime labs cannot police themselves, and that only with the statutory requirement that they be subject to independent, expert oversight can we have faith that appropriate controls are in place.”
Enter the feds. Virginia is not the only political entity with suspect processes in criminal investigations. Recent evidence suggests that the vaunted FBI may have been responsible for systematic and willful mismanagement of critical evidence. Of the 2,600 convictions obtained through these flawed processes 45 resulted in the imposition of the death penalty. More troublesome, the agency did not inform the convicts of the problems after they were discovered and spent years debating the matter rather than promptly following up on the convictions.
Redo. You can’t undo an execution. Conservatives in Virginia will rail against abortion as the murder of innocents. However, reasonable people can honestly debate when life begins. There can be no debate as to whether a person convicted of a crime is alive or not. There can only be a discussion of whether state sanctioned murder is an appropriate remedy for the crime. In too many cases shoddy evidence analysis and law enforcement puts these convictions in doubt. It is time for Virginia’s politicians to restart the necessary debate as to whether the state should execute living human beings on behalf of its citizens.
by D.J. Rippert
What a difference two years make. In the run up to the 2012 election Barack Obama and Mitt Romney debated foreign affairs. Obama had recently been caught making an offhand comment over an open mike to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Obama promised the Russian that he (Obama) would have “more flexibility” with Russia after the election. Obama used the subsequent televised debate to ridicule Romney for considering Russia a geopolitical foe.
The liberal reaction. The liberal screech-o-sphere went into overdrive after the debate taking Romney to task for his obvious stupidity in considering Russia a potential problem for the United States.
- “I don’t know what decade this guy’s living in,” MSNBC host Chris Matthews said with a sigh on March 28, 2012. “Is he trying to play Ronald Reagan here, or what?”
- Huffington Post reporter Sam Stein agreed that Romney’s statement was evidence of an “antiquated worldview.” He fretted further about how Romney, should he become president, would enter the office having severely complicated America’s bilateral relations with Moscow given his carelessly provocative statement.
- I can appreciate why the Romney campaign would try to make Obama’s “hot mic” story interesting, but the problem is the former governor just doesn’t have any real policy chops in this area. He’s out of his depth, and struggles when the subject takes center stage. (Rachael Maddow)
- Calling Romney’s comments “a throwback to the Cold War,” [Andrea] Mitchell insisted that “we work with Russia all the time.” “Hardly an ally but certainly not an adversary,” she declared.
Crimea river. Russia, under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, has effectively occupied Crimea. He has armed rebels in Ukraine and those rebels used his arms to shoot down a passenger airliner. The Russian backed rebels have prevented investigators from seeing the crash site or even recovering all the bodies of those who they murdered. Today, U.S. and NATO countries are insisting that they will defend NATO countries with military force if confronted by Russia.
The pet theories of liberalism. The next time some liberal advances one of their pet theories on say … immigration reform, global warming or medicaid expansion replay the clip from the 2012 debate. Then, replay the MSNBC clips of various liberal media stooges ridiculing Romney for his warnings about Russia. As my father used to say, “Liberals are often wrong but never in doubt.”
by DJ Rippert
As the Rolex turns. The McDonnell family corruption trial has Virginians transfixed. People can’t wait to get the latest installment in this soap opera of a trial. Most Virginians wonder at how this could have happened. I wonder at how it could have taken so long for America’s most corrupt state to finally erupt.
Bi-partisan graft. While Virginians gawk at the details of the McDonnell affair there have been plenty of other scandals and “odd dealings” in Virginia. The current governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, went through the election cycle under a shroud of suspicion as federal agencies opened investigations into GreenTech Automotive, a company he co-founded. McAuliffe and Hilary Clinton’s brother were accused of running a “visas for sale” operation as the funding mechanism for this car company. His opponent, Republican Ken Cuccinelli, failed to disclose gifts from the same entrepreneur that has gotten McDonnell into so much trouble. Ultimately, Cuccinelli agreed to donate the value of his suspicious gifts to charity. McDonnell’s predecessor, Democrat Tim Kaine, accepted a vacation on a private island worth an estimated $18,000 as a gift from Virginia telecom investor James B. Murray, Jr. The fact that telecommunications is heavily regulated and taxed at the state level did not concern Gov. Kaine or Virginia state law. The gift was considered legal. When Murray’s appointment expired, Kaine reappointed Murray to the Virginia Commission on Higher Education Appointments. Even centi-millionaire Mark Warner got in on the act. Between 2001 and 2004, Warner received $190,362 in gifts and travel.
Gifts, not just for governors anymore. While governors and would be governors get most of the spotlight there is plenty of largess for the lesser members of our political class. Democratic State Senator Phil Puckett earned a look from the FBI for his conveniently timed resignation from the General Assembly. E-mails that have been made public indicate Virginia Republicans were readying a plum job for Puckett on the notorious Tobacco Commission. All he had to do was resign and effectively block Medicaid expansion. Speaking of the Tobacco Commission, its former head, John Forbes II, is serving a 10-year stint in federal prison for stealing $4 million from the commission. Apparently, Forbes lacked the experience and acumen to parlay his position into a series of valuable gifts instead of just stealing the money. The FBI also investigated a special tax break given to Orion Air pushed by a legislator who ended up working for Orion Air. No “smoking gun” was found and the matter declared “hunky dory” (by Virginia standards anyway).
Odd dealings. Lavish gifts and courtroom drama only heighten the suspicion of the state’s many “odd dealings”. The Route 460 paradox had the state of Virginia shelling out $250 million to contractors for a road that hasn’t had an inch of pavement laid. A private contractor was being paid $20 million per month for a road where the environmental permits had not been received. Our political class in Richmond seems utterly unconcerned about the legitimacy of this quarter of a billion dollar expenditure. Just today the Pilot Online broke the story of a two- sentence paragraph in this year’s budget bill that saved a private bridge owner in Portsmouth $500,000 per year in taxes. “Somebody was trying to bury this,” Portsmouth City Manager John Rowe said. Even as the McDonnell trial monopolizes headlines, the beat goes on in Virginia.
Fair warning. Back in 2012 the State Integrity Investigation gave Virginia an “F” rating for potential corruption and ranked it 47th in terms of corruption risk abatement. The usual crowd of Richmond apologists came out of the woodwork to discount the study. It was potential corruption. We have reporting for gifts and contributions. And, my all-time favorite, the study didn’t understand “the Virginia Way”. Unfortunately, it seems the study fully understood the “Virginia Way.” The Virginia Way allows our politicians to rob, cheat and steal for their benefactors while passing the burden of financing the state onto the simple citizens who lack the means to provide high priced perks to the crooks in Richmond. Is Virginia America’s most corrupt state? That’s hard to say but it sure must be in the top five.
Killer Bs. In an unprecedented move, two prominent Virginia blogs, Bacon’s Rebellion and BlueVirginia, have agreed to cooperate in a structured debate over a series of possible programs designed to combat global climate change. The programs were selected based on two major criteria – they had to be applicable to Virginia and they had to encompass actions that could conceivably start in 2014. The blogmasters from both blogs have agreed to post the articles verbatim on their blogs. This introductory article is designed to explain the “rules of the road”.
Picking sides. A few regular contributors from both blogs have been divided up into “conservative” and “progressive” teams. The division into teams was based on political outlook not “home blog”. Here are the teams:
Conservative – Jim Bacon (BaconsRebellion) and Don Rippert (Bacon’s Rebellion)
Progressive – Lowell Feld (Blue Virginia), kindler (Blue Virginia) and Peter Galuszka (Bacon’s Rebellion)
No hitting below the belt. In order to foster a constructive debate all participants have stipulated certain things. They are:
- The Earth is warming. All participants accept the consensus of leading scientists that the Earth is warming.
- Humans cause a substantial amount of the warming. While there may be disagreement on the relative role of humanity in causing global warming there is agreement that humans are a cause of global warming.
- The speed with which the Earth will warm is not known with precision.
- The impact of the warming Earth on human civilization is not known with precision.
Marquess of Queensberry. The rules are simple. A series of policies that may, or may not, be effective in combating global climate change have been selected. Each potential policy is applicable to Virginia. Each policy could conceivably be part of a law enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia in the upcoming 2014 session. A blog article will be written for each possible policy. The blog article will have the following three sections:
- Factual description. A neutral party has written a description of the potential policy with relevant facts. Both the conservative team and the progressive team have reviewed and accepted the factual description of the possible policy.
- Conservative viewpoint(s). A conservative perspective on the policy written by one or more authors from the conservative team.
- Progressive viewpoint(s). A progressive perspective on the policy written by one or more of the authors from the progressive team.
Just some facts, ma’am. All authors have been encouraged to document their assumed costs and benefits of the potential policy in as quantitative terms as possible. However, it must be recognized that a strict quantitative cost or benefit may not be possible in all circumstances.
Let the games begin. The first potential policy initiative is … Virginia should adopt a strong (mandatory) Renewal Portfolio Standards as opposed to the weak (voluntary) Renewal Portfolio Standards currently in place.
See you at the next blog posting for the first policy debate!