MyCoin Scandal

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Timothy T Brock Bitcoin

In the aftermath of media reports that a bitcoin exchange may have run off with $387 million in client funds, Hong Kong’s central bank has been warning people against investing their money in virtual currencies.  Yesterday, the South China Morning Post reported that clients of MyCoin, a Hong Kong-based bitcoin exchange firm, had approached a local lawmaker claiming that the company had absconded with their money.  An assistant for Legislative Council claimed to have received more than 15 complaints from MyCoin clients regarding this alleged fraud, which would be passed on to the police tomorrow.

Late yesterday, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) mentioned in a statement that this case could involve fraud or pyramid schemes, and given the highly speculative nature of bitcoin, they have continued to urge the public to exercise particular caution when considering making transactions or investments using this virtual currency.

Bitcoins are created through a “mining” process, where a computer’s resources are used to perform millions of calculations.  According to advocates of bitcoin, the virtual currency is so revolutionary because it isn’t controlled by a central bank, giving it worlds of potential as an alternative means of online payment.  However, the rise of bitcoin has stoked concerns that it can be used for less-than-savory purposes, such as laundering money or financing extremist groups.  For example, it was the currency used for the illegal online drug service “The Silk Road”.

Mt. Gox, previously the largest bitcoin exchange in the world, filed for bankruptcy a year ago after claiming to have lost around $500 million worth of customer bitcoins in a hacking attack.  On its website, MyCoin claims to be a leading global bitcoin trading platform, with a China-based research and development team.  MyCoin promised clients a HK$1 million ($128, 976) return over the course of 4 months, based on a HK$400,000 investment that would produce 90 bitcoins on maturity.  MyCoin also claimed to have 3,000 customers each, investing on average HK$1 million.  The price of bitcoin has seen a significant slump from its late-2013 high of above $1,000 to currently around $220.

 

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The Decline of the Ruble

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Timothy T Brock ruble

Across the ocean, Russia’s economy has been struggling to stay afloat in light of the rapidly declining value of the ruble.  In response, Putin has been trying various tactics to stem the plunge in the ruble, from selling dollars to threatening speculators, but to no avail, as nothing seems to have worked so far.  Over the past two months, the ruble has dropped 25 percent in value, reaching 53.40 rubles to the dollar.  This has extended the currency’s slide in value to 38 percent.  Currently, the only currency in the world that’s been hit harder is Ukraine, ironically where all of Putin’s financial troubles began after his troops invaded Crimea back in March.

During his annual address to parliament last week, Putin expressed his frustration with the ruble, pledging “harsh” measures for speculators betting against the currency while promising to repel any effort to force Russia to back down in Ukraine.  Yet with his finance officials appealing to state-controlled exporters to take measures to help shore up the ruble, speculation is mounting that he turn to capital controls next.  Experts believe that intervention, rate hikes and capital controls are in the mix, with all three options showing up in the near future.

However, according to Oleg Tinkov, founder of TCS Group Holding Plc., the decline in value of the ruble isn’t as big a deal for the majority of Russians as some would believe.  Tinkov has argued that only a fraction of Russians travel outside of the country, and their dependence on imports is overstated.  Therefore, it should hardly come as a surprise that the first Russian companies to get hit by this decline are companies related to travel.  UTair, Russia’s third biggest airline, which is currently facing a bankruptcy lawsuit after struggling to pay its debts.

With the Russian economy hurting, some analysts expect Russian airlines, including UTair, to see further losses, likely forcing them to reduce their fleets and seek state support.  Earlier today, Russia’s Availeasing said that they had filed a lawsuit over 3.5 million rubles in overdue lease payments and interest.  Back in July, UTair said that they were “cutting costs”, and could potentially lay off at least 30 percent of top managers and executives in what they said were “increasingly negative” economic conditions.  Last month, UTair had failed to meet an obligation to repurchase 2.68 billion rubles worth of bonds, hiring Raiffeisenbank to advise them on restructuring their credit portfolio.

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The Youngest Lawmaker

In this country, most 18 year-old haven’t even exercised the right to vote, let alone run for public office.  But West Virginia’s Saira Blair isn’t like most 18 year-olds.  In last week’s elections, Saira Blair, after previously beaten Republican incumbent Larry Kump in a primary election this past spring, swept her district to take a Timothy T. Brock Saira Blairseat in West Virginia’s House of Delegates.  Currently a college freshman at West Virginia University studying economics and Spanish, Blair will defer her next semester to attend the House of Delegates’ 60-day session in the spring as its youngest member.

Blair’s win makes her the youngest state lawmaker in the US.  She had previously beaten out her Democratic opponent, Layne Diehl, to take control of West Virginia’s eastern panhandle.  In her new capacity, Blair will be representing roughly 18,000 people.  Once she’s sworn in, Blair will become both the youngest to serve in West Virginia’s House of Delegates and the youngest state lawmaker out of the more than 7,000 in the US.  Blair said that she ran in the election due to a desire to represent her own generation in a political process that’s often left to older generations.  Indeed, the average age in Congress is 57, and the average age in the US Senate is 62.  Despite such experience, Blair pointed out, the country is still suffering.  Blair’s campaign focused in part on the exodus of educated young people out of her home state due to a lack of good jobs.  She wants to demonstrate to younger people that you don’t have to wait until you’re in your 40s, 50s or 60s to understand and participate in politics.

One of Blair’s most pressing goals will be to create more jobs and make West Virginia a right-to-work state, so that employees can make their own decision about whether to join or support a union.  Blair also wants to repeal the Unfair Trade Practice Act, which makes it difficult for West Virginia’s gas prices to compete with those in bordering states.  While Blair wants to be the voice of her generation, her position on certain issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage, certainly doesn’t line up with other millennials.  Blair is openly pro-life and against gay marriage, both opinions not most millennials share.  In her district, however, Blair believes that a good number of other members of her generation agree with her on these issues, yet are hesitant to be open about their views, since millennials as a group tend to react strongly to such beliefs.

In addition, Blair is pro-life and pro-business, and opposed the Common Core education standards.  She supports voter ID requirements and drug testing for welfare recipients.  Indeed, Blair recognizes that she’s more conservative than most people her age.  Interestingly enough, Blair doesn’t believe in being a career politician, hoping to eventually become a financial adviser.  Between now and the start of her term, Blair is hoping to prove to fellow delegates that despite her age, she’s mature and capable of her job.

 

How to Stay Positive

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If you’ve ever seen Monty Python’s 1979 classic “Life of Brian”, you’ll

Timothy T Brock positive

know that it’s important to always look on the bright side of life.  Time and time again, an optimistic outlook on life tends to be extremely helpful in not only maintaining your sanity, but also achieving success.  I recently came across an article from Michael Jacobs, the co-founder of SociaLink, who spoke about what he said were the top steps to ensure that you can maintain a positive attitude, even when life gets you down.

Expressing gratitude is one of the best and easiest ways to increase positivity.  It could always be a lot worse, so being thankful for what you currently have can immediately release any negativity that you might be holding onto.  Being grateful will instantly put you in touch with the feeling of love, which is a great way to drown out more negative emotions.  If you’re looking to implement gratitude in your life, a great way is to express it each morning by thinking of 10 things that you’re grateful for as you wake up.

A lot of times, bad feelings come from focusing on perceived negative aspects of life.  Giving to others can be a great way to shift these feelings.  Share with those around you; if somebody is looking for advice, then help them out.  Even the smallest gestures of kindness can cause a massive shift in another person’s perspective.

Some people say that somebody who can control their breath can control their life as well.  If you look back at the last time you lost control, your breathing pattern tends to become short and quick.  But if you can control your breath, then you’ll be able to calm down and feel better during the long run.

The ability to visualize or imagine can be a powerful tool to increase positivity.  Many of the world’s greatest minds have used visualization to attract what they desire.  Close your eyes, and think of a positive event that occurred.  Keep those feeling in your mind when you open your eyes and allow yourself to stay in a positive state.

Meditation, as cliché as it sounds, is one of the most effective ways to increase your positivity.  It helps expand awareness within you and allows for a clear connection between mind, body and soul.  Simply find a quiet and comfortable place to sit, close your eyes, relax and let go of all the emotions you’re holding onto.

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Times Square Characters Beware

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There are some two-word phrases that all New Yorkers are loathe to hear: rent hike, cash only, subway delays and, most importantly, Times Square.  Times Square is one of those places that nobody who lives in New York likes: it’s crowded, expensive, full of tourists and obnoxious.  But most of all, it’s filled with hecklers and scammers who are hell-bent on taking your money.  While the major cities in Europe are filled with pickpockets who try to snag your wallet, Times Square has these people, who use questionable methods to swindle gullible tourists out of a few bucks.  Sometimes they’re people who offer you a “free CD”, only to try and get you to give them a cash donation (typically $10).  Others dress up as famous TV show and movie characters, and offer to take photos with you for a fee.

woody
A Times Square character, dressed up like Woody from the “Toy Story” movies, harasses a woman.

While these characters are annoying, what makes them so troublesome is that they often resort to intimidation to get people to give them money.  When people refuse to give them cash, these characters have been known to follow them to the ATM.  Many of them are also just a little bit crazy; there’s a well-known video of one such character, dressed in a full Elmo costume, going on a racist rant.  Without a doubt, such characters are making Times Square even more uninviting than it already was, and the New York Police Department has started to crack down on the Mickey Mouses and Iron Men that plague the area through a public education campaign that reminds the visitors of Times Square that the costumed characters can’t actually charge for photographs, and tipping is optional.  Just hours after the campaign was launched, people dressed as Iron Man, Spider Man and Elmo were charged with disorderly conduct and blocking pedestrian movement.  Another person dressed as Iron Man was ticketed and later released.

The Police are handing out fliers reminding tourists that these costumed characters can’t intimidate them, and to call 911 if they get out of hand.  Two weeks earlier, a man dressed as Spider Man hit a police officer who told him to stop harassing a tourist.

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Slenderman Case

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Back in May, there were reports of two children, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, who stabbed a friend in order to impress the fictional Internet bogeyman Slenderman.  The report seemed almost too ridiculous to be real, and sent shockwaves throughout the world.  Last Friday, Morgan was deemed incompetent to stand trial, at least for now.  One expert, Dr. Brooke Lundbohm, claims that the girl believes she has mind-control powers and can talk to Lord Voldemort, the villain from the Harry Potter book series.  She also claims to believe in unicorns.  During her competency review, Morgan also laughed inappropriately and squatted in her chair.

Slenderman
Slenderman, shown here in a photograph, was a well-known Internet character even before this case hit in May.

According to one expert, Morgan wasn’t concerned about a potentially long prison sentence.  She claims that she uses Vulcan mind control, made famous through the “Star Trek” franchise, to feel or believe whatever she wants.  He also said that the girl believes that she can speak to both Slenderman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Both doctors believed that Morgan wasn’t faking, although one doctor told the court she could be deemed competent in the future and therefore recommended medication for the girl, claiming that she needs to “grow up”.  The judge in the case set a November 12th hearing to discuss the competency report and found that the girl is “likely to become competent” in the future.  Morgan and Anissa are being charged as adults with attempted first-degree intentional homicide.  Both of their attorneys are hoping to have their cases returned to the juvenile court system.

In the past 20 years, the advent of the Internet has revolutionized popular culture.  There has been a lot of good that’s come out from this age of the Internet, with all sorts of information now being available at ones’ fingertips.  Yet there’s also a lot of bad that can come from it, as evidenced here.

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Asbestos Trust Suit

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I recently came across an article about an upcoming lawsuit, in which six different insurance companies are now suing an asbestos personal injury trust set up by an American unit of Philips.  The insurers suspect that the trust has been making millions of dollars in fraudulent payments to parties that are unable to prove whether or not they were harmed by the company’s asbestos products.  In the lawsuits, insurers are seeking access to trust records.  The insurers, however, claim that the asbestos personal injury (PI) trust set up during the 2008 bankruptcy of T H Agriculture & Nutrition LLC had been paying significantly more claims that originally planned.

Asbestos
In the Middle Ages, asbestos was used to create fireproof cloth. Now, however, it’s known to cause cancer.

This lawsuit is the latest in a long list of legal and legislative actions aimed at shedding information on the trusts, which have been in use for decades now to compensate people injured by exposure to the cancer-causing element.  Dozens of companies have already filed for bankruptcy in the wake of thousands of lawsuits, and then went on to set up trusts that collectively control tens of billions of dollars.  The six insurers were looking to conduct an audit of trust records as part of a bankruptcy agreement with T H Agriculture & Nutrition (THAN), Philips Electronics North America and the asbestos trust.

An attorney that represented THAN, as well as the asbestos trust, says that the lawsuit didn’t have any merit, since the insurers were offered the opportunity to audit the trust’s claims in compliance with the bankruptcy plan.  According to Sander Esserman, a partner of Stutzman, Bromberg, Esserman & Plifka, they want to conduct a different audit than the one contemplated by the agreement, and therefore the lawsuit will most likely not receive any traction in the courts.  So far, Philips Electronics hasn’t responded to a request for comment.

THAN filed for bankruptcy back in 2008, in the wake of thousands of lawsuits by people claiming that they were made sick by the asbestos the company distributed until 1980.  In exchange for setting up the $900 million trust, all future asbestos-related claims against THAN were then directed to the trust.  The six insurers then agreed to make installment payments to Philips Electronics North America based on the distributions by the asbestos trust.  In their lawsuit, they said that they may have paid $25 million more than they should have due to the suspected fraud.  The insurers are AIU Insurance Co, American Home Assurance Co, Birmingham Fire Insurance Co of Pennsylvania, Granite State Insurance Co, Lexington Insurance Co and National Union Fire Insurance Co of Pittsburgh.

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