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Native American Cryptocurrency: A Fight for Independence?

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According to the U.S. Constitution’s Art. I, Section 8, the Congress has the “power to coin money” and “regulate the value thereof.” But what about “virtual” money, and what happens when nations within our nation are calculating the valuation?

These are questions that are likely to be answered – in court – at some point in the future, thanks to the adoption of MazaCoin, a cousin of Bitcoin, as the “official currency” by all seven bands of the Native American Lakota Nation

According to The Verge, MazaCoin “is a month-old cryptocurrency based on the same proof-of-work algorithm as Bitcoin, the virtual currency that approximates cash on the Internet.” 

Since the rise of Bitcoin in 2009, scores of copycats have been developed. The first wave sought to improve on the basic Bitcoin protocol, while the second wave – which includes the meme-based Dogecoin and the Icelandic Auroracoin, are geared to specific groups.

But MazaCoin was developed by an anonymous cryptographer who had constructed a new implementation of the Bitcoin protocol and was looking for a good cause with which to associate it, according to Native American activist Payu Harris, who was recently at The Bitcoin Center in New York City’s financial district attempting to generate interest in MazaCoin. He says he has since fielded inquiries from other tribes about the Lakota cryptocurrency.

Cryptocurrencies tend to knit communities closer together, which is likely one reason why Native American tribes are interested in it. Tribes that use MazaCoin, for example, make it automatically easier to spend money at the local reservation general store rather than changing it into dollars to use at a nearby Walmart. But more than anything, it gives tribes a sense of unity and independence.

“Our tribe has an idea of what sovereignty is, but not at a level like the Ukrainians,” Harris says, referring to the fierce battle for democracy taking place there. “There is no sense of national identity.”

Such fragmentation is largely responsible for the tribes’ self-limiting and “crippling” dependency on the U.S. government. Half of the tribal members on Harris’ reservation, the Oglala Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, are mired in hand-to-mouth poverty. And a similar situation exists for tribes all across the country; Native Americans “ghettoized” on reservations have grown far too dependent on federal welfare.

Some tribes are trying to change that culture of dependence, and MazaCoin is a tool in that process. 

Harris says about $220 million flows through his reservation annually, via the Prairie Wind casino and other venues. But he guesses that $45 million of that remains with the local economy. MazaCoin is designed, in part, to stop that money from flowing back to Rapid City and out of the state.

“We’re building a new economic foundation for the reservation,” he said.

The Treasury Department has given its blessing to Bitcoin but has nonetheless imposed certain bookkeeping requirements related to money transmission. Meanwhile, some politicians in Washington, D.C., want to ban cryptocurrency altogether (though it is less certain such a ban would apply to Native American tribes whose reservations are largely independent “nations” within the nation). And, existing federal laws that provide special legal status to Native Americans make a good argument for a currency that is totally independent of the U.S. dollar. 

But Native American sovereignty is legally defined by a patchwork of treaties, laws and precedent, so it’s not altogether clear – yet – how any cryptocurrency regulations or an eventual ban would play out in court.

“We’re on sovereign soil so we have the right to have Bitcoin, Litecoin, MazaCoin,” Harris said.

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The Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Nation of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where a staggering number of residents on Native American reservations live in abject, incomprehensible conditions rivaling, or even surpassing, that of many Third World countries.

Nevertheless, Chase Iron Eyes, the South Dakota legal counsel for the Lakota, thinks Uncle Sam the federal government will push back if MazaCoin succeeds. 

“There hasn’t been a tribal nation that has declared its own currency and has mandated that that currency is used within its borders,” Iron Eyes said. “But it’s because of this pervasive, ever-present asserted dominion of the United States. They’ll try to shut us down, try to cite us with law violations.”

He also says there is some reluctance among tribal members to embrace the cryptocurrency and let go of the U.S. dollar – and the federal benefits associated with it. But Iron Eyes thinks the time is right to move on.

“We’ve gone through 100 years of imposed poverty. That’s the fight we’re having,” he says. “What we’re trying to do with MazaCoin is just spark something to get us out of this cycle of victimhood.”

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Lifestyle

Top 10 Travel Destinations to the Start the New Decade

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For many, traveling offers an opportunity to disconnect from the everyday and experience new places and cultures. With the beginning of a new decade, it is the perfect time to start deciding your next travel adventures.

When booking your future destinations, consider these spots and tips recommended by travel expert and Bank of America ambassador, Lee Abbamonte, the youngest American to visit every country plus the North and South Poles.

1. Australia

From its deserts to tropical beaches, Australia is a beautiful country to explore. While many people might be familiar with the Sydney Opera House and the unique wildlife, there are many hidden gems in Australia.

“I’ve been to Australia 10 times and I still can’t get enough,” Abbamonte said. “One of my favorite cities is Melbourne. While it’s one of the largest cities in Australia, the heart of the city is hidden and secretive. It comes to life when you visit the alleys, laneways and arcades. The vibrant city has so much to offer: cafes, a unique street culture and street art.”

2. New Zealand

If you are going to New Zealand for the first time, Abbamonte recommends boogie boarding down the sand dunes, hiking up a volcano and visiting the Moeraki Boulders. However, if you are really interested in getting the blood pumping, take a leap from Nevis Bungy near Queenstown. It is among the highest bungy jumping experiences in the world, measuring 440 feet.

3. Mexico

“Mexico City has two of my favorite things – great food and sports,” Abbamonte said. “The street tacos are to die for, and I love going to soccer games at Estadio Azteca.”

In 2020, there will be many festivals to explore. The city is a cultural hub with music, theater, dance and food events throughout the year. While experiencing the festivities, it is also an opportune time to take a step back and enjoy Chapultepec Park.

4. Brazil

One of Abbamonte’s favorite waterfalls is Iguazu Falls located on the border of Brazil and Argentina. While Iguazu Falls might be well known, the falls themselves are truly unique. The waterfall system consists of 275 falls that stretch over approximately 1.68 miles. The Devil’s Throat is the tallest fall with a drop of more than 262 feet.

While traveling internationally can be fun and exhilarating, there are also places throughout the United States that offer memorable activities:

5. Scottsdale, Arizona

If you enjoy being outdoors, Scottsdale is an ideal place to visit. There are many trails to explore in Camelback Mountain, Papago Park and Hole in the Rock. After hiking, follow Abbamonte’s example and golf at The Short Course at Mountain Shadows.

“Scottsdale has some of the most beautiful sunsets in the States, and from The Short Course at Mountain Shadows, I get to enjoy the view while practicing my swing,” he said.

6. Boston, Massachusetts

“I love sports, so I visit Boston regularly for the professional games,” Abbamonte said. “I’m also fortunate that Boston is a beautiful city I can enjoy along the way.”

Boston is one of the oldest cities in the country. Founded in 1630, Boston is filled with history, museums and universities. If you are interested in a more unique attraction, check out the Warren Anatomical Museum, which is one of the last of its kind in the United States.

7. Portland, Oregon

What makes Portland unique are the bizarre and wonderful things you can do when you visit. For example, you can try bone marrow ice cream, stop by Mill Ends Park (the world’s smallest park) or attach your wish to The Wishing Tree.

“Portland is absolutely beautiful,” Abbamonte said. “It has a bit of everything – restaurants, bars, parks – and I enjoy the people watching. Portland has some of the nicest people while maintaining an edgy vibe.”

8. Tampa, Florida

Tampa might be known for its spring break party scene, but it has so much more to offer. For example, the city’s zoos and aquariums provide opportunities to interact directly with animals. Then you can take a break at Clearwater Beach, which is known for its soft, white sand and calm waters.

9. Santa Barbara, California

“I go to Santa Barbara when I want to recharge,” Abbamonte said. “I enjoy the food, walking around, talking to the locals and even watching a football game or two.”

There are wine tours, zoos, beaches, museums and restaurants. While taking in the city, also make time to visit the hidden gems such as Knapp’s Castle ruins.

10. England, Germany, Scotland, Azerbaijan and more

While technically more than one place, these locations have one thing in common: Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Euro 2020. The international soccer event marks the first time the games will be held across the continent in 12 host cities.

“The year is a big one for sports,” Abbamonte said. “From sporting events in Europe to Japan, it is a fun year for travel and to enjoy once-in-a-lifetime experiences.”

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US Vows 100% Tariffs on French Champagne, Cheese, Handbags Over Digital tax

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Image via Shutterstock
By David Lawder and Andrea Shalal

The US government on Monday said it may slap punitive duties of up to 100 percent on $2.4 billion in imports from France of Champagne, handbags, cheese and other products, after concluding that France’s new digital services tax would harm US tech companies.

The US Trade Representative’s office said its “Section 301” investigation found that the French tax was “inconsistent with prevailing principles of international tax policy, and is unusually burdensome for affected US companies,” including Alphabet Inc’s Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon.com.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the government was exploring whether to open similar investigations into the digital services taxes of Austria, Italy and Turkey.

“The USTR is focused on countering the growing protectionism of EU member states, which unfairly targets US companies,” Lighthizer said. His statement made no mention of proposed digital taxes in Canada or Britain.

The US trade agency said it would collect public comments through Jan. 14 on its proposed tariff list as well as the option of imposing fees or restrictions on French services, with a public hearing scheduled for January 7.

It did not specify an effective date for the proposed 100% duties.

CHAMPAGNE, ROUGE AND GRUYERE

The list targets some products that were spared from 25 percent tariffs imposed by the United States over disputed European Union aircraft subsidies, including sparkling wines, handbags and make-up preparations – products that would hit French luxury goods giant and cosmetics maker L’Oreal hard.

Gruyere cheese, also spared from the USTR aircraft tariffs levied in October, featured prominently in the list of French products targeted for 100 percent duties, along with numerous other cheeses.

The findings won favor from US lawmakers and US tech industry groups, who have long argued that the tax unfairly targets US firms.

“The French digital services tax is unreasonable, protectionist and discriminatory,” Senators Charles Grassley and Ron Wyden, the top Republican and Democrat, respectively, on the Senate Finance Committee, said in a joint statement.

Spokespeople for the French embassy and the European Union delegation in Washington could not immediately be reached for comment.

But prior to the release of the USTR’s report, a French official said that France would dispute the trade agency’s findings, repeating Paris’ contention that the digital tax is not aimed specifically at US technology companies.

“We will not give up on taxation” of digital firms, the official said.

France’s 3 percent levy applies to revenue from digital services earned by firms with more than €25 million ($27.86 million) in French revenue and €750 million (£644 million) worldwide.

The USTR’s report and proposed tariff list follow months of negotiations between French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin over a global overhaul of digital tax rules.

The two struck a compromise in August at a G7 summit in France that would refund US firms the difference between the French tax and a new mechanism being drawn up through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

But Trump never formally endorsed that deal and declined to say whether his French tariff threat was off the table.

Reuters

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Andrew Yang Wants You to Make Money Off Your Data by Making it Your Personal Property

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Andrew Yang, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, plans to regulate the tech industry by prioritizing in giving people the right to own their personal data (“data as a property right”), thus allowing them to make money by sharing it with companies. Currently, companies entirely own users’ data – users do not have much control over it.

Yang said, “our data is now worth more than oil” and gave emphasis to the great amount of data people create and how companies make money over it. “By implementing measures to increase transparency in the data collection and monetization process, individuals can begin to reclaim ownership of what’s theirs,” he said.

He also cited a report saying that the collection and use of Americans’ personal data has become a $198 billion industry. Yang believes that people should have more control over their data, such as being able to see how their data is being used and having the freedom to opt out if they choose.

Yang added that we need politicians “who understand technology and a modern way to regulate it,” as reported by Engadget. “In order to regulate technology effectively, our government needs to understand it. It’s embarrassing to see the ignorance some members of Congress display when talking about technology, and anyone who watched Congress question Mark Zuckerberg is well aware of this,” said Yang.

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