Kevin Drum

Dorian Nakamoto Hires Lawyer, Denies Any Bitcoin Connection

| Mon Mar. 17, 2014 11:06 AM EDT

Just a quick update on Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto of Temple City, the man Newsweek says is the inventor of Bitcoin. He has hired a lawyer and released a statement:

In the statement, Nakamoto says: "I did not create, invent or otherwise work on Bitcoin. I unconditionally deny the Newsweek report....My background is in engineering. I also have the ability to program. My most recent job was as an electrical engineer troubleshooting air traffic control equipment for the FAA. I have no knowledge of nor have I ever worked on cryptography, peer to peer systems, or alternative currencies."

The Newsweek story also notes what appears to be a strange gap in his resume over the last decade, the time during which the bitcoin code was written and released. Nakamoto explains:

"I have not been able to find steady work as an engineer or programmer for ten years. I have worked as a laborer, polltaker, and substitute teacher. I discontinued my internet service in 2013 due to severe financial distress. I am trying to recover from prostate surgery in October 2012 and a stroke I suffered in October of 2013. My prospects for gainful employment has been harmed because of Newsweek's article."

I'll confess that I'm surprised by how this story has progressed. The fact that the "Satoshi Nakamoto" who invented Bitcoin managed to stay anonymous for several years isn't too remarkable. Trying to identify a single person out of 7 billion is hard. But once a particular person was identified, I expected that the online community would turn its talents on the guy like a laser beam, fairly quickly establishing without doubt whether he is or isn't the right guy. But that hasn't really happened. We still don't know for sure.

Along with his unconditional statement, though, the fact that Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto hasn't been conclusively identified as the Bitcoin founder is bad news for Newsweek. If he were really the guy, there would probably be a whole lot more evidence today than there was two weeks ago.

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One Man's True Experience With the Naked Web

| Sun Mar. 16, 2014 11:42 AM EDT

One thing led to another this weekend, and yesterday I found myself playing around with Internet Explorer on Windows 8.1. It had probably been 20 years since I'd last used it. It turned out to be surprisingly nice once I got everything set up, so then I got curious and set up the tile version too. (That's the Windows RT version, aka the Metro version, aka the Modern UI version, aka whatever Microsoft is calling it this month.) It was actually fairly nice too. I have a few UI quibbles here and there, but that's true of every app. Generally speaking, it was pretty good.

But. It turns out that the MUI version of IE doesn't support add-ons. Don't ask me why. That means I couldn't install AdBlock. And holy cow: during the hour or so that I spent checking things out I felt like I was under assault. My browser was deluged with gigantic banner ads, flash ads, auto-play video ads, animated GIF ads, ads that danced across my screen, and a relentless series of popup ads that apparently have figured out how to foil the built-in popup blocker.

I've spent the last ten years or so browsing with ad blocking of some kind enabled. This was the first time in a long while that I had been forced to spend time on the naked web, so to speak. Have I just lost my tolerance for this kind of thing? Or has advertising on the web really gotten an order of magnitude worse since the early aughts? This is an academic question, since needless to say I won't be using the MUI version of IE anytime soon, but I'm still curious. What say you, commenters?

US Announces Plan to Give Up Control Over Internet Plumbing

| Fri Mar. 14, 2014 6:01 PM EDT

Well, this is interesting:

U.S. officials announced plans Friday to relinquish federal government control over the administration of the Internet, a move likely to please international critics but alarm many business leaders and others who rely on smooth functioning of the Web.

Pressure to let go of the final vestiges of U.S. authority over the system of Web addresses and domain names that organize the Internet has been building for more than a decade and was supercharged by the backlash to revelations about National Security Agency surveillance last year.

I won't pretend I'm thrilled about this, even if it was probably inevitable at some point. Whatever else you can say about the United States and the leverage its intelligence community gets from control over internet plumbing, it's also true that the US has been a pretty competent and reliable administrator of the most revolutionary and potentially subversive network ever invented. Conversely, global organizations don't have a great track record at technocratic management, and world politics—corrosive at best, illiberal and venal at worst—could kill the goose that laid the golden egg. I certainly understand why the rest of the world chafes at American control, but I nonetheless suspect that it might be the best of a bad bunch of options.

Then again, maybe not. There are also plenty of global standards-setting organizations that do a perfectly good job. Slowly and bureaucratically, maybe, but that's to be expected. Maybe ICANN will go the same way. We'll see.

In any case, I think we can expect Republicans to go ballistic over this.

Friday Cat Blogging - 14 March 2014

| Fri Mar. 14, 2014 2:57 PM EDT

The sun has been back for two weeks now and Domino has decided it's probably safe to come outside. Not very far outside, mind you, but she does adore the stiffly-bristled welcome mat we have outside our front door. It's a great place to scratch an itch, and when you're done, it catches the afternoon sun and provides a lovely napping spot.

In other news, click here and decide if you think I look like a badass. I think perhaps the headline writer was engaging in a wee flight of fancy. However, I commend to my editors the reporter's deadpan note about how I feel about blogging: "For him, it's 'the perfect job,' noting he rarely hears from his bosses at Mother Jones." That, um, didn't quite turn out right, did it?

The United States Is a Data Wonk's Dream

| Fri Mar. 14, 2014 2:24 PM EDT

Via Emily Badger, here's an interesting chart showing which countries are most open with national data. Obviously rich countries do best at this kind of statistical recordkeeping, but some rich countries do better than others, and the US is one of the best. In fact, it would be the best if not for the fact that corporate registration is a state function, and the US therefore scores approximately zero for its lack of a national corporate registry database. Full data for all countries is here. Enjoy.

If Crimea Really is Important, Tell Us What Obama Ought to Do About It

| Fri Mar. 14, 2014 1:20 PM EDT

Fareed Zakaria has a piece in the Washington Post about Ukraine. Here's the headline:

Why (this time) Obama must lead

So I clicked. Plenty of sensible stuff. The EU dithered. Ukraine blew up. Putin responded stupidly. "Let’s not persist in believing that Moscow’s moves have been strategically brilliant," Zakaria says. His invasion of Crimea has turned the rest of Ukraine irretrievably pro-Western; triggered lots of anti-Russian sentiment on his borders; soured relations with Poland and Hungary; and sparked Western sanctions that are going to hurt.

And Zakaria says this is important stuff. "The crisis in Ukraine is the most significant geopolitical problem since the Cold War....And it involves a great global principle: whether national boundaries can be changed by brute force. If it becomes acceptable to do so, what will happen in Asia, where there are dozens of contested boundaries — and several great powers that want to remake them?"

OK, fine. So what should Obama do? Here it is:

Obama must rally the world, push the Europeans and negotiate with the Russians.

Go ahead and click the link if you don't believe me. This is, literally, the sum total of Zakaria's advice. So what's the point? Obviously Obama is already doing this. Is he doing it badly? Is he pressing for the wrong sanctions? Is he working too much behind the scenes and not enough publicly? Should he be threatening a military response? Should he ask Zach Galifianakis to tape an episode of "Between Two Ferns" with Vladimir Putin? Or what?

Maybe I'm more frustrated than usual with this because I tend to like Zakaria. Sure, he's sometimes a little bit too weather-vaney for my taste, but he's smart and practical and tends to understand the big picture pretty well. So why not tell us what he thinks the US response should be? We could use some judicious advice to make up for the tsunami of idiocy emanating from the crackpot wing of the foreign policy community right now.

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Hostage Taking Is Back!

| Fri Mar. 14, 2014 12:06 PM EDT

Last month I passed along the news that, in a break with recent tradition, Congress might actually do something useful and pass a permanent fix to Medicare's Sustainable Growth Rate, a well-meaning policy that turned out not to be sustainable at all when its formula started calling for actual cuts in payments to doctors. Every year Congress addresses this by passing a one-year "doc fix," but recently a bipartisan effort finally came together to pass a permanent modification. Hooray!

But now it turns out that congressional Republicans enjoy the tradition of dysfunctional government too much to give it up. Sahil Kapur reports that hostage-taking is back:

House Republicans expect to vote this Friday on legislation that would risk steep, destabilizing Medicare cuts at the end of the month unless Democrats agree to a five-year delay of Obamacare's individual mandate.

It mirrors some of the brinkmanship in the government shutdown fight last fall in that the GOP is using a must-pass bill as a vehicle to chop the Affordable Care Act. Democratic leaders have repeatedly rejected proposals to tinker with the mandate to buy insurance and have warned Republicans not to tie a physician payment fix to their partisan quest to unravel Obamacare.

Insurance companies oppose this. Doctors oppose this. The CBO says it would be a disaster. It obviously has no chance of passing. But it looks like Republicans are going right up to the brink once again. I guess that once you've tasted the thrill of threatening to shoot a hostage, nothing else quite compares.

Besides, there's a midterm election coming up. Have I mentioned that before?

Chart of the Day: China's Debt Bubble Continues to Swell

| Fri Mar. 14, 2014 11:26 AM EDT

Via Paul Krugman, Atif Mian and Amir Sufi give us the chart below today to chew over. It shows China's declining trade surplus over the past decade, which authorities have effectively offset by a dramatic increase in private credit in order to boost domestic demand. The authors explain how this happened:

China got a break starting 2003....The rest of the world — and in particular the United States — was willing to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars every year to purchase Chinese goods (among other things)....The result was reduced pressure on domestic debt creation, and domestic debt went down from 125% of GDP in 2003 to almost 100% of GDP in 2008.

....The continued borrowing by western countries was not sustainable and by 2008 global demand for Chinese goods collapsed....How could China create new demand for its productive capacity? The answer once again came in the form of a rapid rise in domestic private debt. The Chinese state-owned banks with explicit prodding from the government opened their spigots. The country has seen an explosive growth in domestic private debt since 2008.

Is this sustainable? Probably not. It's yet another reason to be concerned about the continued fragility of the global economy. We're probably not strong enough to withstand a major shock from China.

If Reagan Were President, He Would…Do Nothing Much About Ukraine

| Thu Mar. 13, 2014 6:52 PM EDT

On the Senate floor today, John McCain blistered his fellow Republicans over their holdup of an aid bill to Ukraine. "Don't call yourself Reagan Republicans," he said. "Reagan would never tolerate this." Dan Drezner provides the history lesson via Twitter:

Sleeping In Ignites Teenager's Passion

| Thu Mar. 13, 2014 6:22 PM EDT

The New York Times tells the story of Jilly Dos Santos, a Missouri student who took an AP world history class that "explores the role of leadership":

Students were urged to find a contemporary topic that ignited their passion. One morning, the teachers mentioned that a school board committee had recommended an earlier start time to solve logistical problems in scheduling bus routes. The issue would be discussed at a school board hearing in five days. If you do not like it, the teachers said, do something.

Jilly did the ugly math: A first bell at 7:20 a.m. meant she would have to wake up at 6 a.m.

She had found her passion.

Jilly is my hero. The kids these days are all right in my book.