Episode 753: Blockchain Gang

When Charlie Shrem was in prison, he wasn’t allowed to use money. Instead, he used mackerel to buy things. David Marsden/Getty Images hide caption

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David Marsden/Getty Images

Charlie Shrem had a prison epiphany. Instead of using packets of mackerel to buy and sell things, inmates should use something more like the digital currency Bitcoin. He even came up with a way it could work in prison, never mind that it was Bitcoin that got him arrested in the first place.

Before getting locked up, Shrem had run the company BitInstant. BitInstant made buying Bitcoin as easy as purchasing a money order. By the time he was 22, Shrem had hired dozens of employees, found a brand new office in Manhattan, and was processing a million dollars a day.

Shrem though ended up helping some of the wrong people trade dollars for Bitcoin: buyers and sellers of illegal drugs on the website Silk Road. As he was getting off a plane from Europe to New York, Shrem was arrested. He was convicted of money laundering and sentenced to two years in federal prison .

While Shrem was behind bars he began to see Bitcoin in a new light. So did the rest of the world. Now he’s got a new idea, and he’s trying to convince investors to give him a second chance. It’s not about Bitcoin for him anymore. It’s about the technology behind Bitcoin: blockchain.

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Charlie Shrem’s journey to prison and back out again is a parable for the transformation of Bitcoin over the last five years. Shrem and Bitcoin have gone from being idealists to outlaws to trying to make it as respectable citizens.

On today’s show, a thought experiment involving packets of mackerel as a prison currency and a story about how a libertarian’s dream technology was taken over by big banks and stock traders.

Music: “Funk Fathers” and the Bitinstant Jingle. Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

Subscribe to our show on iTunes or PocketCast.

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Trump Reportedly Plans To Refocus Violent Extremism Initiative On Muslims

During his campaign, Donald Trump criticized President Barack Obama for his reluctance to use the words “radical Islamic extremism.” The Trump administration may now want to refocus key anti-terrorism programs exclusively on Muslim extremists. Kamran Jebreili/AP hide caption

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Kamran Jebreili/AP

During his campaign, Donald Trump criticized President Obama for his reluctance to use the words “radical Islamic extremism.”

One of Obama’s key anti-terrorism programs was just called “Countering Violent Extremism,” with no reference to Islam. The Trump administration may now want to refocus that program exclusively on Muslim extremists.

The Obama program made no reference to Islam largely because it didn’t want to suggest that terrorism, even by Muslim extremists, had its roots in religion.

Salam al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, took some credit for that Friday when talking about the terminology via Facebook Live.

“MPAC has been involved from the Bush administration years to say we cannot single out religion when we’re talking about terrorism,” Marayati says. “We cannot use religious labels when talking about terrorism.”

The question now is whether the Trump administration will watch its words diligently. White House spokesman Sean Spicer was asked last week about reports that the countering violent extremism program will now be called countering Islamic extremism. He did not refute them.

“I don’t think it should be any surprise that the president, when it comes to rooting out radical Islamic terrorism, which is what that initially was supposed to be focused on, he is going to make sure that that is a major focus of his — keeping this country safe,” Spicer said.

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The debate over whether to associate terrorism with Islam strikes author Graeme Wood as somewhat odd.

In his book The Way of the Strangers, Wood argues that ISIS is in fact a movement rooted in Islam and that it should be so recognized. On the other hand, he thinks the Trump administration’s insistence on using the term radical Islamic extremism makes little sense.

“What we see now is a complete reversal from a strange and pointless refusal to describe ISIS in religious terms at all now giving way to an equally strange and pointless belief that by calling the problem radical Islamic extremism, that will have any effect on the problem itself,” Wood says.

Except perhaps, Wood says, to make the problem harder to deal with.

“I think a lot of Muslims who were at least willing to work with the United States on some of these issues in a soft nonmilitary way will see this as yet another example of the Trump administration intentionally alienating them, that is, looking for ways to single out Muslims as uniquely threatening,” he says.

For example, when the White House this week distributed a list of terrorist incidents, it included only those in which Muslims were involved, with no mention of white supremacist attacks.

The Obama administration’s countering violent extremism program distributed money to mosques and other organizations that worked with Muslims. One goal was to support efforts with troubled youth who might potentially have been attracted by extremism.

Marayati says that kind of collaboration with the federal government may now be in danger.

“Some civil rights groups have said, ‘We should not take the money,’ and we’re listening to them, but I assure you, other people — and it’s about 50-50 — are saying, ‘No, these are our tax dollars, and you should use it to help the community,’ ” Marayati says.

Marayati’s group has taken federal government money, and he says it is now considering whether it should continue to do so if the Trump administration singles out Muslims and Islam in the way it is reportedly considering.

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Keith Ingham On Piano Jazz

The British-born pianist Keith Ingham began his jazz career in London after studying Mandarin at Oxford University. In the late ’70s, he moved to New York, which led him to connect with the likes of Peggy Lee, Benny Goodman and Susannah McCorkle, for whom he was pianist and musical director. He was Marian McPartland‘s guest on this 1997 episode of Piano Jazz. Ingham opens the program with “A Foggy Day (In London Town).” He and McPartland close the show with a duet performance of “Little Rock Getaway.”

Originally broadcast in the fall of 1997.

Set List
  • “A Foggy Day (In London Town)” (Gershwin)
  • “Don’t You Know I Care / Birmingham Breakdown” (David, Ellington)
  • “How About You / Too Late Now / I Hear Music” (Freed, Lane, Lerner, Loesser)
  • “Moon Song” (Coslow)
  • “Change Partners” (Berlin)
  • “A Sleeping Bee” (Arlen)
  • “If I Love Again” (Murray, Oakland)
  • “Little Rock Getaway” (Sullivan, Sigman)

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Mexico's Government Warns Its Citizens Of 'New Reality' In U.S.

Family members and supporters of Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos gather at a news conference outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Phoenix on Thursday. Steve Fluty/AP hide caption

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Steve Fluty/AP

The sudden deportation Thursday of an Arizona woman who had regularly checked in with U.S. immigration authorities for years has prompted a stark warning from Mexico’s government.

Mexican nationals in the U.S. now face a “new reality,” authorities warned in a statement.

“The case of Mrs. [Guadalupe] Garcia de Rayos illustrates the new reality that the Mexican community faces in the United States due to the more severe application of immigration control measures,” the statement reads. “For this reason, the entire Mexican community should take precautions and keep in touch with the nearest consulate, to obtain the necessary help to face this kind of situation.”

Mexico is urging its citizens in the U.S. to “familiarize themselves with the different scenarios they may face and know where to go to receive updated guidance and know all their rights.”

Garcia de Rayos, 35, had lived in the U.S. for more than two decades and her two children are both U.S. citizens. The Two-Way has reported on the details of her case:

“In 2008, Garcia de Rayos was arrested while she was working at a water park, during a raid carried out by then-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. (Arpaio’s workplace raids have been challenged in court as unconstitutional; the case is ongoing.) In 2009, she was convicted of possessing false papers. In 2013, ICE says, an order for her deportation was finalized.

“But Garcia de Rayos was allowed to continue to live in Arizona, under supervision and with regular check-ins with ICE, as member station KJZZ reports.”

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That changed when she appeared for a check-in on Wednesday, as activists and supporters rallied outside the ICE office. The next day, she was deported to Nogales, Mexico.

Her deportation is seen as a sign of President Trump’s more aggressive deportation priorities compared with Barack Obama. The former president had prioritized the deportation of people who were convicted of crimes such as aggravated felonies, terrorism or activity in a criminal street gang. Immigration-related offenses were deemed lower priority.

But Trump’s executive order on immigration, issued on Jan. 25, significantly broadens the government’s deportation’s priorities. It includes people in the U.S. illegally who “have been convicted of any criminal offense,” “have been charged with any criminal offense,” “have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense” or “are subject to a final order of removal,” among other criteria.

“So certainly the scope of the executive order, if interpreted broadly, would be large enough to encompass most if not all of the unauthorized population,” Randy Capps of the nonprofit Migration Policy Institute tells NPR’s Adrian Florido.

Immigration advocates like Marisa Franco from the advocacy group Mijente fear that this is the start of a pattern. “The battle lines have been drawn. We know that this case will be replicated in many places across the country,” Franco told reporters on a conference call. “And we think it’s critically important for communities to take a stand.”

Lawyers and activists say Garcia de Rayos’ deportation could make others in her position scared to speak with immigration authorities. In fact, her attorney Ray Ybarra Maldonado told Adrian that he will advise clients in the same position to seek sanctuary in a church.

“Or if you do show up, this is what’s going happen to you. But that’s gotta be the advice, because it’s no fun walking someone to the slaughter,” he said.

Garcia de Rayos, flanked by her children, spoke to reporters in Nogales late Thursday. “I’m doing this for my kids so they have a better life. I will keep fighting so they can keep studying in their home country,” she said, according to The Associated Press. “We’re a united family. We’re a family who goes to church on Sundays, we work in advocacy. We’re active.”

“It’s a nightmare having your mother taken away from you,” her son Angel tells Fronteras. “The person who is always there for you. Seeing her taken away in a bunch of vans like she was a huge criminal. It feels like a dream. But it’s reality and we have to face it. We have to keep on fighting for what we want. And yeah, we’re going to support our community and our mother. We’re going to keep on fighting.”

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What's The Deal With The Grammys' Best New Artist Category?

Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon bites one of his two Grammy Awards, for Best New Artist and Best Alternative Music Album, at the 54th annual Grammy Awards in February 2012. Lucy Nicholson/Reuters/Corbis hide caption

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Lucy Nicholson/Reuters/Corbis

There are many interests World Cafe doesn’t have in common with this Sunday’s Grammy Awards — golden gramophones, red-carpet couture and sappy speeches among them. But there’s one interest we do share: We’re always on the hunt for the “best new artist.”

Before making our predictions for this year’s Best New Artist, we took a deep dive into the category’s history to see how some past winners fared in their subsequent careers. Turns out this is an award full of scandal, surprise and many questions. Is winning Best New Artist at the Grammys the kiss of death for a musical career, as 1977’s winner, Starland Vocal Band, or 1998’s, Paula Cole, might have you believe? What happened to Milli Vanilli’s 1990 trophy after Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus were outed as phonies and stripped of their title? And this year, does World Cafe favorite Chance the Rapper have a chance? Or will he be smoked by a band that Esquire recently called the Nickelback of EDM?

Listen above as we attempt to answer these questions. Below, enjoy a Spotify playlist featuring all the Best New Artist winners since 1959. And on Sunday, root for whoever you like — or don’t like.

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50 Years Later, The Biting Satire Of 'The Smothers Brothers' Still Resonates

Tom and Dick Smothers battled with CBS censors over the content of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Associated Press hide caption

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Associated Press

Tom and Dick Smothers came to CBS in 1967 not really intending to lead or support a revolution. They just got caught up in it — and they happened to have a network program, with some 30 million viewers, on which they criticized the war in Vietnam, celebrated rock ‘n’ roll music and satirized politics and politicians.


The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, which premiered 50 years ago this week, got its message out slowly and sometimes sneakily at first. A lot of it came through the music and the hot new acts booked to perform on air. Over the run of the show, it was like a series of anthems from the counter-culture — from Buffalo Springfield singing “For What It’s Worth” to the Beatles singing “Revolution” — with the American TV debut of the Who, and the West Coast cast of Hair, and Dion singing a song about assassinated heroes, in between.

The Beatles didn’t appear live to sing “Hey Jude” and “Revolution.” They’d gotten disinterested in touring by 1968, so they made these new things called videos, and gave them to only one TV program in the United States. Not to The Ed Sullivan Show, which had helped launch Beatlemania and the British invasion four years before — but to the Smothers Brothers.

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That same year, George Harrison of the Beatles showed up unannounced — not to sing, but to support Tom and Dick in their fight against the CBS censors. By then, the fights had become almost legendary. Tom confessed to Harrison that on American television, they didn’t always get the chance to say what they wanted to say, and Harrison advised, “Whether you can say it or not, keep trying to say it.”

At first, the censored bits were silly, like an Elaine May sketch about, ironically, censorship. But quickly, the jokes became political, and battle lines were drawn. CBS was like a stern parent, placing more and more restrictions on a rebellious teenager — and Tom, especially, got more rebellious. He and brother Dick and the rest, including head writer Mason Williams (who unveiled his hit instrumental “Classical Gas” on the show), put more meat and meaning into the program — or tried to.


A skit poking fun at LBJ got the president to call CBS Chairman William Paley in the middle of the night to complain — which, in turn, led to Paley asking the show to ease up on its presidential satire. In return, Paley agreed to break the 17-year blacklist on folksinger Pete Seeger, who appeared in 1967 to sing, as part of an anti-war medley, a new song he’d written called “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” an obvious allegory about the Vietnam War and Johnson himself.


CBS cut the song, Tom went to the press to complain — and the following year, in a triumphant performance, Seeger was asked back. It was during this appearance that he was allowed to sing his song about soldiers trying to ford an unexpectedly deep river.

Other segments produced for the show never saw the light of day — or, at least, the prime-time of night. For its first show after the violence-filled 1968 Democratic National Convention, Comedy Hour had Harry Belafonte sing a medley of calypso songs, with reworked lyrics to reflect the disarray and dissent in America — while news footage of police brutality and student protests was projected behind him.

That never made it to air. Nor did a comic sermonette by comedian David Steinberg, whose mortal sin, to CBS, was making fun of religion at all. His first sermon got more negative mail than anything in the history of TV up to that point. When Tom asked him back, CBS ordered there be no sermon. Steinberg delivered one anyway — about Jonah and the whale.

Not only was that sketch cut, but the entire show was pulled from the air — and shortly thereafter, the Smothers Brothers were fired. They took CBS to court for breach of contract and eventually won a settlement close to a million dollars, but they lost their platform.


The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour influenced all satirical political shows that followed, from Saturday Night Live to Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver and Samantha Bee. Comedy Hour also contributed one of the best political satires ever — a literal running gag in which series regular Pat Paulsen ran for the presidency.

The Comedy Hour lasted into the early months of the Nixon administration, which were prefaced by the brothers’ on-air promise, in a tongue in cheek manner, to “lay off the jokes” towards the president-elect … at least for awhile.

On their final show, Dick read a letter he and Tom had gotten from former President Johnson. These days, President Donald Trump responds to Saturday Night Live skits with angry tweets. Back then, former President Johnson, reflecting on his treatment by the Smothers Brothers, responded by writing:

“It is part of the price of leadership of this great and free nation to be the target of clever satirists. You have given the gift of laughter to our people. May we never grow so somber or self-important that we fail to appreciate the humor in our lives.”

Happy anniversary, Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and thanks for everything.

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Lines in the sand: $60 million worth of cocaine washes up on eastern English beach

Over $60 million dollars’ worth of cocaine in brightly colored holdalls has washed up on two beaches in eastern England, investigators said on Friday as they appealed for the public to keep a lookout for any more.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) said it was examining the discoveries near the resort of Great Yarmouth, some 140 miles (200 km) northeast of London.

The first holdalls were discovered on Thursday afternoon and more were found nearby on Friday.

In all, around 360 kg of cocaine has been washed ashore in what the NCA called “a major blow to the organized criminals involved.”

“We are now … trying to establish how the bags ended up where they did,” said Matthew Rivers, from the NCA’s border investigation team.

“It is extremely unlikely that this was their intended destination.”

Police Superintendent Dave Buckley said he believed all the packages had now been recovered but appealed for anyone finding more to contact police immediately.

“We will have extra officers in the area to monitor the situation,” he cautioned.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Stephen Addison)

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China officials punished for dozing in motivation meeting

Six officials in central China’s Hubei province have been punished for dozing off in a meeting on how to motivate lazy bureaucrats, state media and the local government said.

Pictures of the sleeping officials have received widespread coverage in Chinese media over the past two days, amid President Xi Jinping’s sweeping crackdown on corruption, extravagance and dereliction of duty.

The Communist Party discipline bureau in Hubei’s Xiangyang city on Thursday named the mid-level officials and said they had to write self-criticisms and make public apologies.

The Global Times said on Friday the officials had, ironically, been attending a meeting on how to motivate lazy and sluggish officials.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry)

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