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Cities are riding the crypto wave

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Good morning! This Tuesday, mayors are obsessed with bitcoin paychecks, Biden’s executive order will make it easier to get a passport, and what happens when your Instagram handle is @metaverse.

Miami’s crypto heat

Miami’s Francis Suarez revved up his rep as America’s most crypto-savvy mayor by announcing that, in addition to his salary, he’d like part of his 401(k) contributions to be paid in bitcoin. “Oh yeah! Definitely,” Suarez even said when asked if the contributions will start in 2022.

Except, the plan definitely is not that simple, even if other mayors have also declared their desire to be paid in bitcoin. It’s a tad misleading given laws that make bitcoin compensation tricky — and even illegal. But why all the hubbub? Marketing. Cities are scrambling to be called a crypto hub, eyeing the jobs and tax revenue that goes with that label.

Can you actually get paid in bitcoin? Well, yes if you work for some private companies or if you’re a pro athlete like Odell Bechkam Jr. But it’s a bit more complicated for government employees.

  • Miami city passed a resolution in February giving employees the option to be paid in bitcoin. But the city can’t actually do that just yet. Florida statutes don’t allow cities to hold bitcoin, and could create big liabilities for the city if the volatile asset drops in value.
  • Crypto investment firms like Bitcoin IRA and BitIRA offer crypto as a retirement fund option. But the city of Miami currently does not appear to offer bitcoin as an option, based on its official deferred compensation plan form. The city could not immediately be reached for comment.
  • Miami does have an ally in Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has unveiled crypto-related proposals, including letting businesses pay state fees in digital currencies.

Miami is certainly a trailblazer here. And Suarez’s and Miami’s high-profile embrace of bitcoin has inspired other city mayors to do the same.

  • Incoming New York City Mayor Eric Adams also said he wants to be paid in bitcoin, and vowed to turn the Big Apple into “the center of the cryptocurrency industry.”
  • Tampa Bay Mayor Jane Castor also wants to be paid in bitcoin, tweeting, “Tampa is ready to be the next big hotspot for cryptocurrency.”
  • Jackson Mayor Scott Conger acknowledged that his city can’t legally pay him in bitcoin due to Tennessee state law, but he said he was “following the lead” of Suarez and Adams by having his paycheck converted to bitcoin.

Cities want to ride the crypto wave. But these mayors “are not actually getting paid in bitcoin by the city themselves,” Patrick Stanley, founder of the crypto investment firm Freehold, told Protocol.

  • Typically they get paid in U.S. dollars and “they're having part of their salary automatically converted on the back end,” he said. “These guys are just doing this on their own free will.”
  • But the mayors are touting how they are personally embracing bitcoin and crypto to drive home a point that their cities want to embrace the industry.
  • “They want to attract the people who are building the next internet,” Stanley said.

For Suarez, it’s a gamble where he can’t lose. Betting big on bitcoin has little downside for Miami’s mayor, who just won re-election and is a rising star in the Republican party. If his bitcoin plan falls through, he can blame bureaucracy and government inertia. If it pushes through, he becomes known as a governmental innovator and crypto champion. In either case, kind of like crypto, the payoff promises to come down the road.

— Benjamin Pimentel (email | twitter)

On the schedule

Big Tech and gaming platform wars

Big Tech is more interested than ever before in trying to own and define the platforms of tomorrow, but game companies have their own unique visions for how we’ll play and socialize in virtual spaces in the future. Join Protocol's Nick Statt in conversation with Manticore Games CEO Frederic Descamps and Zynga CPO Scott Koenigsberg at 10 a.m. PT today.

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People are talking

Elon Musk’s influence earned him Person of the Year, Time’s Edward Felsenthal thinks:

  • “He is reshaping life on Earth and possibly life off Earth as well.”

But Elizabeth Warren doesn’t agree with Time’s choice:

  • “Let’s change the rigged tax code so the Person of the Year will actually pay taxes and stop freeloading off everyone else.”

And Ashley Kosak, a former SpaceX engineer, called Musk "a sadistic and abusive man":

  • "What will life on Elon’s Mars be like? Probably much like life at SpaceX. Elon uses engineers as a resource to be mined rather than a team to be led."

Stewart Butterfield wants the future of work to include developing a “digital headquarters”:

  • “There obviously is some digital infrastructure that’s really critical to supporting productivity and collaboration.”

Meta’s Andrew Bosworth said misinformation is a user problem, not a platform problem:

  • "You have an issue with those people. You don't have an issue with Facebook.”

COVID-19 will shake up work plans for longer than expected, Morgan Stanley’s James Gorman said:

  • “Everybody’s still finding their way and then you get the omicron variant; who knows, we’ll have pi, we’ll have theta and epsilon, and we’ll eventually run out of letters in the alphabet.”

Making moves

Harley-Davidson’s EV unit is going public. LiveWire, the company’s electric-motorcycle division, is merging with a SPAC to become a separate public company.

Google is hiring people to build "an innovative AR device." Some of the jobs are in Waterloo, Canada, which could mean that North — which made smart glasses and was acquired by Google last year — is part of the project.

Joel Podolny left Apple earlier this year for a startup, sources told Bloomberg. Podolny had run Apple University for over a decade.

Margaret Arakawa is Fastly’s new CMO. She’s spent nearly two decades at Microsoft overseeing business strategy, and product planning and marketing.

Manish Maheshwari is reportedly leaving Twitter to start an ed tech firm. Maheshwari led Twitter India before moving to the U.S. in August to work on "new market entry."

Dan Kaminsky will be inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame today. The computer security scientist is a co-founder of the cybersecurity firm WhiteOps.

In other news

OSHA is looking into the deadly Amazon warehouse collapse. The agency has about a half year to complete an investigation into the collapse, which killed six workers and injured one.

China fined Weibo for spreading "illegal information." The country's Cyberspace Administration is cracking down on Weibo and other social networks, and this fine comes after Peng Shuai's post caused a global stir.

Joe Biden wants to move government services online. He signed an executive order yesterday to bring more communications online, meaning Americans will be able to renew their passports online and get in touch with other agencies virtually.

Tesla is going to let you buy merch with dogecoin. Because what is Tesla if not a clothing and flamethrower and tequila company that loves a good internet joke? Dogecoin, of course, spiked on the news.

Kronos is the victim of a major ransomware attack. The HR provider’s systems could be taken offline for several weeks.

Citizen workers voted to unionize. The vote is a big win for the VC-backed firm, whose workers started unionization efforts last year when Citizen began to outsource some jobs.

YouTube TV and Disney are now in a carriage dispute. Disney is a massive player in live TV, thanks to ESPN in particular, and if the two sides can't reach a deal before Friday more than a dozen channels could disappear.

Twitch’s co-founder is getting into NFTs. Justin Kan launched Fractal, a gaming platform for NFTs, which he hopes will become a place to introduce new NFT collections and buy new ones.

NSO Group could shut down Pegasus, sources told Bloomberg. The company, which sells the military-grade spyware that has been allegedly abused by clients, is thinking about closing the software unit and even selling itself.

What happens if your Instagram handle was “metaverse” before Meta came along? For one woman holding the account name, it just disappeared less than a week after Facebook changed its name.

You used to call me on my Gmail

Gmail wants in on audio: You can now start or join an audio call through Google Chat.

For now it’s just one-on-one chatting, so no group calls, and it’s only available via Android or iOS. But it’s incredible that if you want to talk to someone you can Slack Huddle them, Microsoft Teams them, Google Chat them, Instagram DM them — or, you know, just plain call them. What a time to be alive.

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