With Thursday's Scottish independence referendum too close to call, opponents of an independent Scotland have been stressing the would-be country's lack of a reliable currency. An independent Scotland could either keep using the British pound and lose control of its monetary policy, join the eurozone's well-known squabbles, or create a new national currency that's almost certain to be weak. But there's an intriguing fourth option: adopting an online crypto-currency such as Bitcoin.
Scotland actually has some historical experience with this sort of thing: Instead of relying exclusively on the British pound in the 18th and 19th centuries, many Scottish banks issued their own currencies—a fact noted by Guy Debelle, the assistant governor of Australia's central bank, at a recent conference on digital currencies in London. Here's Debelle in the Guardian:
"The Scots can go back to experimenting with a multitude of currencies, Bitcoin and the like, and we can just sit back and see how it goes. A nice natural experiment about the future of money in Scotland—again. Because, as I said, they tried this in the 18th and 19th centuries. It worked for awhile, but eventually fell apart."
In the ensuing discussion, David Birch, the director of the digital currency consultancy Hyperion, argued that Scotland's currency experiment was more successful than one might think. From the Guardian:
"The economic research shows that in Scotland, the bank failures were fewer, and less disruptive, than the bank failures in England at the time," he said. "Competing note issue in Scotland didn't end because it collapsed: it ended because of an outrageous extension of the Bank Act of 1844, which extended the Bank of England's monopoly over note issue north of the border."
But ending the Bank of England's monopoly might not be the biggest problem with Bitcoin. A national Bitcoin-based currency would, practically speaking, resemble one based on gold: Bitcoins are designed to function as a limited commodity that becomes harder to acquire over time. In either case, the result is a highly inflexible national currency that often can't keep pace with economic growth. As Felix Martin points out in the New Statesman, one of the first people to identify this problem was a Scotsman: The economist John Law of Lauriston emigrated to France, became that country's minister of finance, and in 1719 replaced the gold standard with paper money printed at the discretion of the government.
No matter: Edinburgh-based venture capitalist Derek Nisbet recently launched Scotcoin, which is offering 1,000 free Scotcoins to every resident adult. "Our motivation is to empower the Scottish people with an alternative digital currency opportunity," he told the Guardian, "which may be used as a medium of exchange, should the need or wish arise."
For now, at least, it seems like Bitcoin's biggest use in Scotland is as a marketing gimmick. In May, the London electronics retailer CeX got a load of free press when it introduced Scotland's first Bitcoin ATM and briefly turned its Glasgow store into a "pound free zone": For a few days, it only accepted Bitcoin payments. "The trial is turning the Scottish High Street [location] into a Bitcoin laboratory," a CeX spokesman told the website CoinDesk, "highlighting alternative forms of currency should Scotland vote 'yes' in the forthcoming referendum."
Yahoo has just released 1,500 pages of previously classified documents relating to its legal challenge to the government's warrantless wiretapping program. Yahoo lost the case in 2008 and was ordered to cooperate with National Security Agency or face a $250,000 fine for every day that it withheld its customers' data. The ruling in Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which was released to the public only in heavily redacted form, became a legal precedent for the warrantless wiretapping program that was later revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Today, based on a successful appeal by Yahoo, a slightly less redacted version of that court ruling finally became public.
Below, I've posted the more lightly redacted version released today as well as the redacted version of the ruling released in 2008. A side-by-side reading of the two documents may offer some insight into how the government has sought to cover up the true nature of its surveillance activities, or it might just be an example of how little has changed.
The new version of the ruling is notable for what it doesn't disclose: Key evidence presented by the government. A block of text that had previously been removed from the ruling still does not fully explain why warrantless searches are necessary to thwart terrorists:
Scanning the 1,500 pages of newly unsealed documents will take a while. Here are few examples of new information contained in the partially unredacted ruling:
The name of the plaintiff (Yahoo) and its law firm
A footnote defining the term "surveillance" to mean "acquisitions of foreign intelligence information." But part of the definition of the term still remains redacted.
The date when the government moved to force Yahoo to comply with the order (November 21, 2007)
A mention of "linking procedures" (defined as "procedures that link [redacted] targets.") as a one of the safeguards against unreasonable searches
You can help us out by pointing out any other interesting tidbits in the comments; we'll note additional highlights here if we find anything worth noting.
No, the internet isn't actually broken today. Those spinning wheels of death you may have seen on Netflix, Tumblr, Reddit, Mozilla, and hundreds of other sites are part of Internet Slowdown Day, an effort to show what might happen if the internet actually did get broken by the bureaucrats at the Federal Communication Commission. The FCC will soon vote on a proposal to essentially eliminate net neutrality, the policy that forces internet providers such as Comcast and AT&T to treat all internet traffic the same. Here are five things you should know about what's happening today:
The Participating websites aren't actually slower: Not even Netflix is crazy enough to make a political statement by throttling itself. The spinning page-load symbols on participating sites are just widgets (see below), which anyone can download here. Some activists are also replacing their social media profile pics with images like this:
Sign the letter to congress, the FCC and the White House telling the cable companies to fuck off, it's our internet https://t.co/aY661mCaBw
In this sense, Internet Slowdown Day is very similar to the SOPA blackout of 2012, when people and major sites across the internet blackened their logos and profile pictures to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would have given the federal government wide latitude to enforce copyright law. SOPA showed that when major internet companies team up with grassroots activists, politicians tend to listen.
The real story is who is not participating: Although Google claims to support net neutrality, it's conspicuously silent about Internet Slowdown Day. Last year, Wired's Ryan Singel noted that the terms of service for Google Fiber, the company's relatively new ISP division, included some of the same provisions that Google had long decried as hostile to an open internet. By prohibiting customers from attaching "servers" to its network, Google Fiber was contradicting the principle of treating all packets of information equally, prompting Singel to accuse the search giant of a "flip-flop" on net neutrality. It's not that simple, of course, but tech companies such as Google clearly have much less to gain from net neutrality now that they're multibillion-dollar behemoths. Even if they don't take on the role of actual ISPs, large tech firms can easily afford to pay cable companies for faster service, creating a competitive firewall between their services and those offered by leaner startups.
In america, every day is already an internet slowdown day: Pushing internet traffic into "slow" lanes might be more tolerable if those lanes were still really fast in absolute terms. Sadly, however, the United States ranks a pathetic 25th among nations for download speeds:
This show is bigger than the superbowl: The net neutrality debate has generated a record 1,477,301 public comments to the FCC, the commission said today. As Politiconotes, that breaks the previous record of 1.4 million complaints generated by Janet Jackson's 2004 wardrobe malfunction. The number of comments to the FCC will likely continue to grow as Internet Slowdown Day encourages visitors to voice their objections.
the fcc is not your friend: There's no question that the FCC is facing a public backlash against its plan to gut net neutrality. The question is whether the outrage will be sufficient to change its course. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is a major Obama bundler and former head of two major industry groups that staunchly oppose net neutrality. He's likely to side with the cable industry unless essentially forced to do otherwise. All of which is to say that the bar is incredibly high for Internet Slowdown Day. Until "net neutrality" becomes a household term, don't count on Washington to care about it.
The TechCrunch Disrupt conference now underway in San Francisco is arguably the most important annual gathering for tech startups. It's also a notoriously hostile environment for women, as made clear by last year's conference, whose hackathon produced an app called "Titstare," which let the user "take photos of yourself staring at tits," not to mention "Circle Shake," an app that measures how fast guys can masturbate. The TC Disrupt crowd tends to be 80 to 90 percent male, as you might infer from my bathroom-line photo yesterday. Mike Judge lampooned the conference's "brogrammer" vibe in his HBO comedy series, Silicon Valley.
This year, the organizers of TechCrunch Disrupt have worked to prevent an embarrassing repeat of the Titstare debacle by publishing and enforcing a detailed "anti-harassment policy." An attendee of this weekend's hackathon told me that TechCrunch cited the policy when it quietly nixed a plan by a group of hackers to create a "Bitcoin for strippers" app. Even so, TechCrunch hasn't been able to completely scrub the event of everything that might be perceived as sexist. This morning, for example, guys entering the conference were mobbed and hugged by groups of women shouting "Groopie!"—they'd been hired to promote a mobile video app:
"I don't really see the point of booth babes," says Jenna Williams, a recruiter for the smart-home company leeo, a major outlier in that 40 percent of its tech employees are women. "If they get a question about the technology and can't answer it, it's not a good way to represent your product."
Anne Ward, a software developer, SEO expert, and marketer attending TC Disrupt for the third year, says men at tech conferences often assume that she's not a code jockey, and they expect her to prove her tech chops when she insists otherwise. She counsels younger female techies on how to navigate the conference scene: Don't be surprised when male geeks mistake professional interest for personal interest. And if they try to quiz your tech chops by dropping a lot of coding acronyms, just say: "Oh, I see we are using TLAs (three-letter acronyms) instead of having a real conversation."
To its credit, TC Disrupt has drawn a slightly larger proportion of women this year, according to longtime attendees. Yesterday, a panel of venture capitalists discussed the gender gap onstage for a few minutes, and several panels have featured the female founders of prominent statups, such as Elizabeth Holmes of the blood test company Theranos. Today, the makers of a documentary about "debugging the gender gap" distributed flyers:
A flyer at a conference table at TechCrunch Disrupt
Still, several female techies told me that the conference organizers could do much more to help women play meaningful roles. The panel discussions, they said, felt like lip service—outlining the problem but offering few solutions. A better approach would be to "start pulling in women who are founders as keynote speakers," says Hanna Aase, the founder of video-profile platform Wonderloop. "That's what really shows the serious side of what we are doing." (TechCrunch Disrupt doesn't feature "keynote speakers," but more than 80 percent of the people named in the printed conference agenda are men).
Ultimately, Ward says, more women will be willing to go into tech if they see others like themselves rising to the top. Earlier this year, she spoke on a "women in engineering" panel at Developer Week. "I saw tears in the eyes of women in the audience," she says. "It was seeing them be lifted up instead of put down. Like, 'Oh, wait, I should be here.'"
"Water flows uphill towards money," a source told Marc Reisner in Cadillac Desert, the seminal book on California water politics. Today the complex web of political interests that Reisner detailed some 30 years ago has become even more arcane and intertwined. As California confronts its worst drought in years, these power brokers will largely determine who gets water, and who gets left high and dry:
Dianne Feinstein: The chair of the powerful energy and water panel of the Senate Appropriations Committee has a history of siding with the state's agricultural interests, which use 80 percent of the state's water. In a March email to two Cabinet secretaries, Feinstein joined Republicans in urging federal water officials to capture "the maximum amount of water" from the Sacramento San Joaquin River Delta for farmers. Two months later, she pushed a drought bill through the Senate by a unanimous vote, over the objections of environmentalists who said it would open the door to permanently increasing water allocations to farmers at the expense of endangered fish. Environmental groups "have never been helpful to me in producing good water policy," she later told the San Francisco Chronicle. She is now hammering out a compromise bill with House Republicans who want to do even more to gut endangered species laws.
Stewart and Linda Resnick AP
Stewart & Lynda Resnick: The Beverly Hills billionaires own a chunk of farmland in Southern California that's larger than four San Franciscos. It includes Paramount Farming Company, the world's largest pistachio and almond growing and processing operation, and Paramount Citrus, the country's leading producer of fresh citrus. The couple also owns Fiji Water, Pom Wonderful, and Teleflora, the nation's largest flower delivery business. In the 1990s the Resnicks gained control of what was originally meant to be a state-owned water storage bank; it now sells water back to the state at a premium. Since 1993, they've donated nearly $5 million to state and federal campaigns and candidates—typically to whomever is in power. They threw a party at their Beverly Hills mansion for Feinstein and entertained her at their second home in Aspen, Colorado. In 2009, Feinstein sent a letter two Obama cabinet secretaries on the Resnicks' behalf that helped convince the feds to delay a plan to curtail delta water diversions for the sake of endangered fish. Feinstein's new Senate water bill would allow delta water to reach California's Kern County, where it would be available to the Resnicks' water bank.
Westlands Water District: The largest agricultural water district in the United States, Westlands, in the heart of the Central Valley, often incites controversy due to its size, its reliance on water from the ecologically sensitive rivers, and its heavy political expenditures. Last year, the district spent more than $600,000 on federal lobbying. Despite its size and wealth, Westlands holds only junior water rights, which means that its contract with the federal government puts it last in line for water deliveries; the drought will prevent Westlands from receiving any federally managed irrigation water this year—unless its 600 farms can pull some political strings. Last week, Westlands petitioned a judge to halt the planned release of 25,000 acre-feet of water from Northern California's Trinity Lake to aid endangered salmon in the Klamath River. "It's like having four thirsty kids in the car and saying you don't have money for them to drink, and then you pull up on the street and give money to someone else," Westlands farmer Mark Borba told the Wall Street Journal. Though Westlands landowners often portray themselves as family farmers and crucial employers, most of the district consists of highly mechanized operations owned by large corporate conglomerates.
"It's like having four thirsty kids in the car and saying you don't have money for them to drink, and then you pull up on the street and give money to someone else."
the metropolitan water district of southern california: By far the state's largest urban water district, the Met supplies the taps about half of all Californians—some 19 million people living in Los Angeles, San Diego, and surrounding cities. It sucks up water from all over the West, including the Colorado River and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, making it a player in just about any aspect of water politics. Though the district supports conservation measures such as rebates for low-flow toilets and incentives for water recycling, it's less progressive than some smaller water districts such as the Sonoma County Water Agency, which, for example, provides some customers with high-efficiency water fixture upgrades at no cost. During the 1990s, the Met built and filled reservoirs that have (so far) prevented Southern Californians from resorting to the kinds of conservation measures seen during the drought of 1977, when restaurants were banned from automatically serving water to their customers. It's now supporting Proposition 1, a November ballot measure that would allocate $2.7 billion for additional water storage projects while also investing money in watershed restoration.
The Association of California Water Agencies: When this coalition's 430 agricultural and urban water districts agree on something, chances are good that it will happen. Last week, the association lent crucial support to the passage of a bill that will make California the last Western state to regulate the pumping of groundwater, a dwindling resource that has been removed from the Central Valley at twice the rate that it's replaced by precipitation. Though riven with debate over the bill, the association ultimately lent its support after winning some ag-friendly concessions and the funding for dams included in Proposition 1. "There's part of the groundwater legislation that's going to have us doing some very painful things locally," Tim Quinn, the association's powerful executive director, told the New York Times. But, he added, "Groundwater management is part of a good solution to a problem, a solution that doesn't involve a contraction of the economy."
Environmental Groups: Influential among coastal politicians and the urban environmentalists who elect them, a slew of environmental groups have something to say about California water politics. Those supporting Proposition 1 include Clean Water Action, American Rivers, Audubon Society, California League of Conservation Voters, California Trout, California Waterfowl Association, Defenders of Wildlife, Ducks Unlimited, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Nature Conservancy, and Trout Unlimited. Notably absent from that list are Friends of the River and the California chapter of the Sierra Club, which are pushing for an alternative bond measure that would allocate more money to conservation, efficiency, and recycling projects.
Some rural, low-income, predominantly Latino towns rely on contaminated and unreliable sources of water even when a cleaner supply passes nearby on its way to wealthy cities in Southern California.
community water center: Arguing that "clean water is a basic human right, not a privilege," the CWC, which advocates on behalf of poor communities, has upended the traditional triad of urban, agricultural, and environmental interests that typically dominates California water politics. Last month, the group was brought into last-minute negotiations between key lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown's office to ensure that the water bond measure would meet the needs of disadvantaged groups; the final measure commits a minimum of $691 million to helping localities gain access to clean drinking water. The CWC has highlighted the plights of rural, low-income, predominantly Latino towns such as East Orosi, Cutler, and Monson, which rely on contaminated and unreliable sources of water even when a cleaner supply passes nearby on its way to wealthy cities in Southern California. The increasing power of the CWC in Sacramento reflects its influence among California's growing cohort of Latino state legislators.
A man from the town of Cutler at a water rights protest Bear Guerra
resources legacy fund: Founded and run by the the lawyer Michael Mantell, a former California state undersecretary for resources for Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, the Sacramento-based Resources Legacy fund dominates Golden State water philanthropy. With a $37 million budget, the fund last year doled out more than $11 million in grants to a slew of water-related nonprofits, from the Alliance for Water Efficiency to the Yuba County Water Agency. In addition, the RLF does its own research and advocacy through its influential California Water Foundation, which is run by Lester Snow, the former Secretary of Natural Resources under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger; the foundation's recent report on California's groundwater problems is credited with spurring the state Legislature to take action. As if all of that wasn't enough, the RLF also spent more than $500,000 on lobbying in favor of sustainability measures last year, including $225,000 in Sacramento, where it weighed in on the water bond.
Eric Garcetti: "Something radical must be done" to address Los Angeles' thirst for water, the LA mayor proclaimed last year, echoing the words of his predecessor Frederick Eaton, who'd said the same thing more than 100 years ago. But rather than pushing for a return to LA's Chinatown roots, Garcetti was advocating a radical shift towards sustainability. He was addressing the One Water Leadership Summit hosted by the US Water Alliance, which advocates breaking down barriers between the management of storm, waste, and drinking water in order to dramatically increase water recycling. Garcetti wants to capture and use some 30 billion gallons of urban runoff in the region by expanding the use of graywater and collecting water in "residential rain barrels." In June he was in Sacramento trying to insert some of those ideas into the state water bond: "I don't think there's enough probably in the older bond that has that," he told the LA Times.
LA Mayor Eric Garcetti on the bank of the Los Angeles River Eric Garcetti