The World Isn't Sure What to Make of Ted Cruz: the 'Man Who Blocked America'

As the world has turned its gaze to the U.S. government shutdown -- what the Russian news service RT has called "the harebrained antics of Congress," and Germany's Der Spiegel has attributed to the actions of "Die Kamikaze Partei," the paper's touching moniker for Republicans -- many international news outlets, particularly in Europe, are homing in on the man who linked the debates over funding the government and defunding Obama's new health care law in the first place: Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

The Republican lawmaker captured the U.S. media's attention last week with his 21-hour faux filibuster against Obamacare, but he's clearly made waves overseas as well. Just today, the French weekly Le Point ran a fascinating profile of Cruz under the headline, "Ted Cruz: The Man Who Blocked America."

For the statist French, Cruz, with his relentless calls for limited government, could be a creature from another planet. Noting that Cruz has been compared to Joseph McCarthy ("which is not a compliment"), Le Point's Washington correspondent, Hélène Vissière, writes that unlike the crusading anti-communist senator, Cruz, with his "pomaded hair and youthful appearance,"  fairs wonderfully on television, which he often "courts." Painting Cruz as arrogant and intransigent, the article claims that Cruz relies on "intimidation" to carry out a strategy of "systematic obstruction with no proposed changes except for the dismantling of government." Cruz, Vissière reports, "plays on the fear of his colleagues, terrorizing them that if they do not support him, they will lose their next elections."

Still, Europa, a newspaper associated with Italy's left-wing Democratic Party, wins for the most byzantine description of Cruz, managing to compare the U.S. politician to pop culture's most menacing clown and a Civil War commander in the same sentence. Cruz, "the General Custer of the Republican Battle of the Little Bighorn, is the equivalent of Heath Ledger who in the role of Joker tells Batman: "Do I seem to you like someone with a plan? I am an agent of chaos, I simply do things," offers Alessandro Carrera, an Italian professor at the University of Houston.

Over at Canada's National Post, Kelly McParland agrees but trots out a different pop culture reference, noting that for Cruz, like for Miley Cyrus, "making noise may be the plan." Fellow columnist Jonathan Kay, meanwhile, finds himself at a loss to describe the Calgary-born Cruz to Canadians. 

Government shutdowns, Kay explains, are impossible in Canada in part because crises in its parliamentary system are resolved by confidence votes and elections, and in part because Canadian lawmakers tend to vote with their party leaders. "There is no equivalent in any major Canadian political party to a man such as, say, Republican Senator Ted Cruz, a Tea Party hardliner who answers to no political authority except his own naked ambition, and who is more than willing to use the current crisis as a means to discredit his own party's leadership," he observes.

Mark Mardell, the BBC's North America editor, marvels at Cruz more than he criticizes him. Noting that the GOP legislator has embraced John McCain's dismissal of him as a "wacko bird," Mardell continues, "Reading Dr Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham from the floor of the Senate can only elevate him from Daffy Duck to Roadrunner in the esteem of his public admirers." "Many Americans," he adds, "think their politicians spout childish nonsense, but rarely have they actually revelled in doing so."

So there you have it: Viewed from afar, Ted Cruz is a cross between Joseph McCarthy, General Custer, the Joker, Miley Cyrus, and the Road Runner. Meet the man who blocked America.



Feds Bust the Amazon of Drugs, Seize Its Untraceable Loot

It was the of the illegal drug trade. An online black market in which cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and LSD were bought and sold by anonymous customers and dealers, using untraceable digital currency. U.S. authorities called it "the most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the Internet..." And today, they announced they've taken it down.

In a criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday, the Justice Department announced that the online market Silk Road has been wiped off the Internet and its profits seized. Since its inception in 2011, Silk Road has been the bane of federal drug enforcement agents, who knew full well what the illicit marketplace was selling but were largely powerless to do anything about it. As of last month, there were more than 13,000 listings for illegal drugs of all varieties on Silk Road, the government said in its complaint.

Silk Road, which operates through an extensive network of routers that lets users remain anonymous, enabled several thousand dealers to distribute hundreds of kilograms of illicit substances, as well as other illegal goods and services, to more than a 100,000 buyers, federal prosecutors allege.

The site, which also sold hacker services and even advertised murder for hire, obscured transactions by requiring they be conducted in Bitcoin, an electronic currency "designed to be as anonymous as cash," prosecutors charge.

The marketplace was a well-known, if not widely visited, corner of the so-called Deep Web, a part of the World Wide Web that is not indexed by search engines. Visitors to the Deep Web have to know what they're looking for and cannot find their way to its sites through traditional means, such as Google searches.

Silk Road "has sought to make conducting illegal transactions on the Internet as easy and frictionless as shopping online at mainstream e-commerce websites," prosecutors allege.

Silk Road was designed to let its customers remain anonymous in two ways. The first was by using the Tor router network, which makes it practically impossible to locate computers that are hosting or accessing websites on the network.

The second form of anonymity came from Bitcoins. The electronic currency has been a favored means for procuring illegal goods and services online, because Bitcoins can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to trace to their owners. There is no central bank that generates Bitcoins or regulates their use. People can buy and sell Bitcoins through exchanges set up by independent parties.

Skeptics of Bitcoin say its value fluctuates too wildly to be a useful currency and that its greatest value is to criminals and black market buyers. But proponents say Bitcoins have the potential to revolutionize commerce by making it easier for customers to make purchases and vendors to get paid. A small but growing number of individual vendors, nonprofit organizations, and companies accept Bitcoin.

The government has seized 26,000 Bitcoins from Silk Road, which it estimates are worth approximately $3.6 million. This would constitute the largest-ever seizure of Bitcoins, prosecutors say.

Silk Road has allegedly generated sales totaling more than 9.5 million Bitcoins and has collected commissions totaling more than 600,000 Bitcoins. The value of the currency has varied during Silk Road's operations, but the government believes those transactions equate to approximately $1.2 billion in sales and $80 million in commissions for Silk Road.

The FBI arrested Ross William Ulbricht, aka "Dread Pirate Roberts," in San Francisco yesterday and accused him of overseeing Silk Road's operations since their inception. Ulbricht "has controlled the massive profits generated from the operations of the business," prosecutors allege, adding that he "has always been aware of the illegal nature of his enterprise."

Ulbricht is charged with narcotics trafficking, computer hacking and money laundering. He was expected to appear in court Tuesday morning.

Ulbricht is accused of engaging in a "massive money laundering operation, through which hundreds of millions of dollars derived from unlawful transactions have been laundered," according to the government's complaint.

In arresting Ulbricht, the feds have nabbed the poster boy of online black markets. But if history is any guide, some ambitious entrepreneur will try to take Ulbricht's place, and buyers will beat another silk road to his door.