Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Last Call For Joe Versus The Crypto

President Biden is finally stepping into the cryptocurrency oversight fight with an executive order that lays out a digital currency strategy for the US, consisting of "if you can't beat them, regulate them out of business and take over."

President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order on government oversight of cryptocurrency that urges the Federal Reserve to explore whether the central bank should jump in and create its own digital currency.

The Biden administration views the explosive popularity of cryptocurrency as an opportunity to examine the risks and benefits of digital assets, said a senior administration official who previewed the order Tuesday on the condition of anonymity, terms set by the White House.

Under the executive order, Biden also has directed the Treasury Department and other federal agencies to study the impact of cryptocurrency on financial stability and national security.

Brian Deese and Jake Sullivan, Biden’s top economic and national security advisers, respectively, said the order establishes the first comprehensive federal digital assets strategy for the United States.

“That will help position the U.S. to keep playing a leading role in the innovation and governance of the digital assets ecosystem at home and abroad, in a way that protects consumers, is consistent with our democratic values and advances U.S. global competitiveness,” Deese and Sullivan said Wednesday in a joint statement.

The action comes as lawmakers and administration officials are increasingly voicing concern that Russia may be using cryptocurrency to avoid the impact of sanctions imposed on its banks, oligarchs and oil industry due to the invasion of Ukraine.

Last week, Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Mark Warner, and Jack Reed asked the Treasury Department to provide information on how it intends to inhibit cryptocurrency use for sanctions evasion.

The Biden administration has argued that Russia won’t be able to make up for the loss of U.S. and European business by turning to cryptocurrency. Officials said the Democratic president’s order had been in the works for months before Russia’s Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine last month.

Daleep Singh, a deputy national security and economic adviser to Biden, told CNN on Wednesday that “crypto’s really not a workaround for our sanctions.”

The executive order had been widely anticipated by the finance industry, crypto traders, speculators and lawmakers who have compared the cryptocurrency market to the Wild West.

Despite the risks, the government said, surveys show that roughly 16% of adult Americans — or 40 million people — have invested in cryptocurrencies. And 43% of men age 18-29 have put their money into cryptocurrency.
I've talked about how crypto is basically multi-level marketing scams for people who think they are way the hell too smart for multi-level marketing scams and it's been long overdue for the US government to step in and do something about it, as it's now the preferred avenue of international money laundering.

What bothers me is the Fed looking to get into the business themselves. That's a recipe for disaster, as the problem isn't the fact crypto's unregulated, it's the fact that it exists at all. All the technology and regulation on earth doesn't solve the core problem with cryptocurrency, which is that the only way it works as a means of currency is a constant flow of suckers buying into it.

There's no way this goes well and I hope the Fed study affirms that.

Mail-Pattern Boldness

I've given Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer a lot of crap over the years, but he delivered on the mail for once and in a huge way, with a new bill that will land on President Biden's desk to reform the US Postal Service.

The Senate on Tuesday approved a $107 billion financial overhaul of the long-beleaguered U.S. Postal Service, providing monetary relief for the agency that leaders say will allow it to modernize and invest in efficient service.

President Biden has signaled his intent to sign the legislation, which has already cleared the House.

The Postal Service Reform Act, which passed 79 to 19, provides financial flexibility for the mail agency to take on improvements that have been debated for years. Republicans have traditionally criticized the agency as a poster child for government waste and incompetence, even as it won high marks for approval and trust from the public. During the pandemic, Democrats hailed mail workers as everyday heroes and pushed the agency as an example of the benefits of robust government services.

But the Postal Service’s role throughout the coronavirus pandemic forced lawmakers to reach a consensus on restructuring its balance sheet, with worries that the agency could not withstand another financial shock. Nearly half of all voters cast their ballots by mail during the 2020 election, and postal workers hauled packages from doorstep to doorstep amid surging e-commerce demand, allowing individuals to purchase essentials remotely and stay home during public health shutdowns.

“The Post office usually delivers for us. Today we’re going to deliver for them,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the chamber’s floor Tuesday.

The Postal Service has endured years of losses triggered by slumping mail volumes and a 2006 bill that required it to annually pre-fund retirees’ health-care costs. Declines in mail revenue have forced the agency to default on those health-care payments since 2011.

Tuesday’s bill gives the agency a significant reprieve, removing $57 billion in past-due postal liabilities and eliminating $50 billion in payments over the next 10 years. It requires future postal retirees to enroll in Medicare, a move that would add minuscule costs to the public health-care system but would save taxpayers $1.5 billion over the next decade.

The legislation also codifies new timely-delivery transparency requirements for the Postal Service, which has struggled with on-time service since Postmaster General Louis DeJoy took office in June 2020, and allows the agency to contract with local, state and Indigenous governments to offer basic non-mail services, such as hunting and fishing licenses.

“By passing this historic legislation, the Senate has shown the American people that we can come together, build consensus and pass meaningful reforms that will improve lives,” Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, the bill’s lead Democratic sponsor, said in a statement. “This bill, which has been 15 years in the making, will finally help the Postal Service overcome burdensome requirements that threaten their ability to provide reliable service to the American people.”

The bill is the cornerstone of DeJoy’s 10-year restructuring plan. The mail chief has long been a foil of Biden and congressional Democrats because of his past as a Republican financier and the Postal Service’s delays ahead of the 2020 election.

Within weeks of taking office in summer 2020, DeJoy ordered workers to slow the delivery of the mail and presided over the scrapping of 671 high-speed mail-sorting machines and public mailboxes. The removals were unrelated to DeJoy’s policies, but critics saw them as part of President Donald Trump’s strategy to delegitimize mail-in voting.

Months after the election, DeJoy announced a 10-year vision for the Postal Service that included longer delivery windows and raising postage prices to cut costs and boost revenue. The proposal calls for shuttering 18 mail sorting plants and cutting post office hours.

He has also led the Postal Service to begin purchasing up to 148,000 gas-powered mail delivery trucks, rebuffing the Biden administration’s climate goals and concerns from environmental experts that the vehicles will permanently damage the planet and pose public health risks.

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), one of the House’s lead postal advocates, plans to introduce legislation in the lower chamber Wednesday morning that would prohibit the Postal Service from enacting its contract with Oshkosh Defense for the trucks, worth up to $11 billion, unless the fleet is made up of at least 75 percent electric vehicles, according to two people involved with the legislation. The bill has 68 co-sponsors.
There's still a lot of work to do to modernize the USPS, but removing the $100 billion financial landmine underneath the agency was the biggest win here.  Yes, getting rid of Postmaster DeJoy is still quite necessary, and I hope that will happen soon now that President Biden has appointed new governors to the USPS oversight board.

But the real problem was always the $100 billion plus in pre-funded pensions around the agency's neck, and even Republicans it seems have gone along with not destroying the mail for now.

This one's a win, folks.

Checked Yourself Before The Wreck

A team of arctic explorers have located the lost wreck of the Endurance, the ship famed adventurer Ernest Shackleford lost more than a century ago in the frigid Wendell Sea.

The wreck of Endurance has been found in the Antarctic, 106 years after the historic ship was crushed in pack ice and sank during an expedition by the explorer Ernest Shackleton.

A team of adventurers, marine archaeologists and technicians located the wreck at the bottom of the Weddell Sea, east of the Antarctic Peninsula, using undersea drones. Battling sea ice and freezing temperatures, the team had been searching for more than two weeks in a 150-square-mile area around where the ship went down in 1915.

Endurance, a 144-foot, three-masted wooden ship, holds a revered place in polar history because it spawned one of the greatest survival stories in the annals of exploration. Its location, nearly 10,000 feet down in waters that are among the iciest on Earth, placed it among the most celebrated shipwrecks that had not been found.

The discovery of the wreck was announced Wednesday in a statement by the search expedition, Endurance22.

“We have made polar history with the discovery of Endurance, and successfully completed the world’s most challenging shipwreck search,” said John Shears, the expedition’s leader.

The first images of the ship since those taken by Shackleton’s photographer, Frank Hurley, revealed parts of the vessel in astonishing detail. An image of the stern showed the name “ENDURANCE” above a five-pointed star, a holdover from before Shackleton bought the ship, when it was named Polaris. Another showed the rear deck and the ship’s wheel.

A video provided by the expedition’s organizer, the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust, showed the bow and portions of the deck and hull.

Mensun Bound, the expedition’s exploration director and a marine archaeologist who has discovered many shipwrecks, said Endurance was the finest he had ever seen. It is upright, clear of the seabed and “in a brilliant state of preservation,” he said.

The ship was found about four miles south of the last location recorded by Shackleton’s captain and navigator, Frank Worsley. The search had been conducted over a wide area to account for errors in Worsley’s navigation equipment.

Endurance’s relatively pristine appearance was not unexpected, given the cold water and the lack of wood-eating marine organisms in the Weddell Sea that have ravaged shipwrecks elsewhere.

Mr. Bound also described the wreck as “intact.” Although Hurley’s photographs before the sinking had shown major damage to, and the collapse of, the ship’s mast and rigging, and there had been damage to the hull, Mr. Bound had expected most of the ship to be in one piece.

The expedition video showed what appeared to be broken masts and damage to the decks.

The hunt for the wreck, which cost more than $10 million, provided by a donor who wished to remain anonymous, was conducted from a South African icebreaker that left Cape Town in early February. Aside from a few technical glitches involving the two submersibles, and part of a day spent icebound when operations were suspended, the search proceeded relatively smoothly.

The battery-powered submersibles combed the seafloor twice a day, for about six hours at a time. They used sonar to scan a swath of the smooth seabed, looking for anything that rose above it. Once the wreck was located several days ago, the equipment was swapped for high-resolution cameras and other instruments to make detailed images and scans.

So the ship will remain under the water as a monument, while the scans and photos will be part of a museum exhibit. And yes, the big factor besides the 10 mil in finding the Endurance guessed it, climate change leaving more of the Weddell Sea ice-free, making locating the wreck easier with both submersibles and accompanying support vessels.

I'd expect we'll find a lot more in the years ahead under the ice, because the ice, well, eventually it's not coming back, folks. 
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