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The crypto capital of the world

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The crypto capital of the world

By David Segal and Ivan Nechepurenko, The New York Times Company

KYIV, Ukraine — A buccaneering 37-year-old educated in a British private school, Michael Chobanian is fluent both in English and the folkways of Ukraine, which he regards as a largely lawless frontier and which he likes to traverse in his black Ferrari 612. He is the founder of Kuna, one of Eastern Europe’s first cryptocurrency exchanges. To him, his native country is a terrific place to run a business, as long as you have the nerve to navigate a system rife with corruption.

Chief among the upsides, he explains in his office overlooking the Dnieper River, is the sort of freedom not seen in developed nations for hundreds of years.

Like, you can get away with murder.

“In this country, you can kill a person and you will not go to jail, if you have enough money and you’re connected,” he said, sipping tea on a plush leather sofa. “If you are not connected, it will cost you more.”

Brendan Hoffman, The New York Times

Michael Chobanian, founder of Kuna Exchange, a Bitcoin exchange, and a general cryptocurrency and blockchain enthusiast, in his office in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Oct. 9, 2021. I

The anything-goes ethos has dogged Ukraine for years, and now the government is hoping to bury it, with an assist from cryptocurrency. In early September, the Parliament here passed a law legalizing and regulating Bitcoin, step one in an ambitious campaign to both mainstream the nation’s thriving trade in crypto and to rebrand the entire country.

“The big idea is to become one of the top jurisdictions in the world for crypto companies,” said Alexander Bornyakov, deputy minister at the 2-year-old Ministry of Digital Transformation. “We believe this is the new economy, this is the future, and we believe this is something that is going to boost our economy.”

He has distilled the pitch into a 90-second infomercial that peddles Ukraine the same way that Apple peddles gadgets. Over a grinding techno soundtrack a montage of bakers, executives, nurses and assorted citizens are seen leading contented lives in a kind of high-tech nirvana.

“We invest in startups and create proper conditions for their growth,” a female narrator says in English. “Our goal is to build the most convenient country in the world, for people and business.”

Bornyakov has taken that message — Ukraine as the ultimate destination for entrepreneurs in search of low taxes, a minimum of paperwork and plenty of skilled engineers — on a road show, including a summer tour of Silicon Valley. The country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, met Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, as well as students at Stanford.

Plenty of economists and policymakers are deeply suspicious of crypto, decrying it as the currency of choice for money launderers, terrorists, mobsters and ransomware extortionists. But an international Crypto’s Got Talent contest is now underway, and many countries are competing. As entrepreneurs pour into the field, some governments have made a simple calculation.

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Winter Carnival senior royalty named

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Winter Carnival senior royalty named
(Photo courtesy of St. Paul Winter Carnival by Lew Ferty Vogel)

The 2022 St. Paul Winter Carnival senior royalty were named Friday at Tinucci’s in Newport. The senior royals are, left to right: Princess of the Four Winds Debbie Sjogren from Inver Grove Heights; Queen of the Northland Deb Hess from St. Paul (but moving to Hopkins in February); King Winter Douglas Dyrland from Hopkins; and Prime Minister Bonnie Lopez from West St. Paul. The 136th St. Paul Winter Carnival runs from Jan. 28-Feb. 6. (Photo courtesy of St. Paul Winter Carnival by Lew Ferty Vogel)

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Gophers without two more starters vs. Rutgers on Saturday

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Gophers without two more starters vs. Rutgers on Saturday

The Gopher men’s basketball team announced an hour before Saturday’s tipoff that two more starters will be out against Rutgers at Williams Arena.

Leading scorer Jamison Battle and EJ Stephens joined Eric Curry (ankle) as absences due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, illness or injury, the school said. But Sean Sutherlin, the U’s regular sixth man, participated in pregame warmups and appears likely to play.

The U still has seven scholarship players and, per Big Ten rules, will be able to play the Scarlet Knights at 11 a.m. Saturday from The Barn.

Curry has been out since hurting his leg in the Michigan State loss on Jan. 12, but missing Battle and Stephens further weakens a U team struggling to play games. Wednesday’s game against Penn State was postponed due to U absences.

On top of those three key players being out Saturday, the U said walk-on forward Will Ramberg was questionable with a hand injury.

The Gophers had seven scholarship players available for the loss to Iowa on Sunday, with four players out due to pandemic protocols, injury or illness, including Curry. They were below that mark for the Nittany Lions game Wednesday.

Head coach Ben Johnson talked about Curry playing Rutgers in doubtful terms on Friday, saying he wanted him healthy for later this season.

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Soucheray: In St. Paul schools, who is running the show?

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Soucheray: In St. Paul schools, who is running the show?

Jerome Treadwell, the director of the nonprofit MN Teen Activists, led his fellow Highland Park High School students on a walkout of school earlier this week to support a two-week shift to remote learning. The students have COVID concerns up to and including Treadwell’s fear of dying while trying to receive an education.

If a scorecard might be created, it would feature students favoring, however temporarily, remote learning, the St. Paul district’s superintendent, Joe Gothard, favoring in-school learning and a divided school board that voted 4-3 to support Gothard’s plan to at least keep buildings open on a school-by-school basis.

Not only did Treadwell lead a walkout — walkouts also occurred at other schools — but the students had a list of demands including the district doing more to educate the students about the importance of getting vaccinated and properly wearing a mask in school. That’s when Treadwell said, “we do not want to die trying to receive our education.” That’s certainly a dreadful proposition, if not wildly implausible. Not to mention that if you keep walking out or opt for remote learning, you aren’t getting much education to start with.

Other demands include more adult supervision, more consistent bus service and a metric for temporarily closing schools, due to staff shortages, and improving the quality of remote instruction. If 25 percent of teachers at a given school are expected to be absent for extended periods of time, that school could temporarily shift to online instruction.

Gothard, with the favorable vote from the board, wants to keep the schools open, which is the current plan, while also apparently juggling the various student demands. Gothard, to his credit, believes virtual learning to be substandard. He doesn’t want it. He wants kids in school. Good for him, but who is running this show, the super, the board, the students?

It gets even more confusing, which was bound to happen after years of the chain of command losing its grip on the troops, commonly referred to as the inmates running the asylum. The problem is we don’t even know who the inmates are. Could be the kids. Could be the teachers union.

In any event, or in all events, schools will be open, even if instruction goes online. A state law forbids kids from being forced into participating in online learning. The schools must be open and they must provide transportation and meals. Kids who show up might get lucky and actually find a teacher. Who knows?

It does seem disingenuous that students would demand more education about the importance of getting vaccinated and properly wearing face masks. To this struggling nation’s great dismay, that’s all we’ve talked about for two years. Two years now! How much more information do you need?

By all accounts, Treadwell, a senior, is a well-rounded student who has had success in academics, music and athletics. A young fellow with his gifts can certainly come up with something less inflammatory than the fear of dying while trying to receive an education. Not even Ferris Bueller would have come up with that one.

COVID has taken a terrible toll, but gratefully there have been no reports of a kid keeling over at his desk during a class.

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