“It’s OK, You Can Admit It…” – The “Independent” US Media Just Wants You To Shop Till You Drop

The holidays are a time for giving… to yourself if the “independent” US media has anything to do with it… (come on, who deserves it more anyway?)

 


    



via Zero Hedge http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/zerohedge/feed/~3/OM6BrCKpahE/story01.htm Tyler Durden

Bitcoin Catches Attention Of Goldman Sachs (And Walmart, And Cisco): Goldman Director Joins Bitcoin Startup

When Bitcoin fans were hoping for fast track adoption by the mainstream, catching the attention of the all-seeing eye of Sauron Goldman Sachs was probably low on their list of action items. Yet that is precisely what they got with the arrival of a Goldman Sachs board member M. Michele Burns, who recently joined the board of Boston-based Bitcoin payment processing system startup Circle Internet Financial.

As Fortune reports “Circle launched earlier this year, and was founded by Jeremy Allaire, who has led other Internet start-ups, but recently has become a Bitcoin evangelist. The company got $9 million in funding from a number of venture capitalist firms. Jim Breyer, a partner at Accel and an early backer of Facebook (FB), is also on Circle’s board, as is Raj Date, who recently left a top post at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Circle declined to comment about Burns. Two sources with knowledge of her move confirmed it.”

Perhaps of same or greater importance is that in addition to being the chair of the audit committee at the preeminent FDIC-backed hedge fund, Burns also was a board member of the largest retailer in the world, Walmart (WMT accepting BTC?), and is currently on the board of the one company that is at the nexus of the Internet economy, Cisco (and which was punished furiously following Snowden’s NSA-spying revelations after projected Chinese revenues imploded and that Cisco may or may not have been collaborating with the government in leaking private data).

In fact, when one considers that in the face of Burns, Circle’s proximity to Bitcoin now allows no less than three of the preeminent companies of the old and new economy to keep a close eye on the digital currency and one must be either very excited about the future of BTC…. or very worried. Because if escape from the mainstream is the main target behind the Bitcoin movement, this could be problematic now that Goldman, Cisco and Walmart are all starting to sniff around.

Why a Bitcoin transaction processing company? Simple – these companies are the middlemen that will allow much broader acceptance of BTC by merchants. Consider this in the context of the recent announcement by Overstock that it would begin accepting Bitcoin by mid-2014:

Currently 12.1 million Bitcoin are in circulation, with a total value of about $8.8 billion. At this size, the value of Bitcoin can fluctuate violently based on actions by a few big investors or the Chinese government. This is a problem: If a retailer saves 3 percent on credit card transactions, but the value of Bitcoin loses 5 percent before the retailer can convert it back into dollars, the concept will quickly lose its luster.

 

Bitcoin-processing companies such as Bitpay and Coinbase take on this risk for merchants, offering to convert Bitcoin into U.S. dollars immediately. But they might not be able to handle that risk if any serious slice of Overstock’s transactions comes in Bitcoin, says Barry Silbert, the founder and chief executive of SecondMarket and an investor in both companies. “When you start talking to companies like Overstock or Amazon, they’d only be able to guarantee those rates to a certain transaction amount,” he says. Bitpay processed $100 million in transaction in 2013. “I think the system is going to expand as quickly as it needs to,” says Stephanie Yargo, the company’s vice president of marketing.

Well, maybe not Bitpay, but its competitors such as Circle might, especially if directly or indirectly backed by the balance sheet of, say, Goldman Sachs, especially if in some joint venture with Walmart. Because whereever the money is, either fiat or digital, one can be sure to find Goldman.

Finally, here is the full bio of the Goldman and Cisco, and now Circle, director:

M. Michele Burns

Director Since: October 2011 

Committees: Chair, Audit Committee; member of all other standing committees 

Other Current Public Company Directorships: Cisco Systems, Inc.

Other Public Company Directorships within past 5 years: Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. 

Career Highlights

  • Chief Executive Officer, Retirement Policy Center, sponsored by Marsh & McLennan Companies, Inc. (MMC); Center focuses on retirement public policy issues (October 2011 – Present); Center Fellow and Strategic Advisor, Stanford University Center on Longevity (August 2012 – Present)

  • Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Mercer LLC, a subsidiary of MMC and a global leader in human resource consulting, outsourcing and investment services (September 2006 – early October 2011)

  • Chief Financial Officer, MMC, a global professional services and consulting firm (March 2006 – September 2006)

  • Chief Financial Officer, Chief Restructuring Officer and Executive Vice President, Mirant Corporation, a competitive energy company (May 2004 – January 2006)

  • Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Delta Air Lines, Inc., an air carrier, which filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code in September 2005 (including various other positions, 1999 – April 2004)

  • Senior Partner and Leader, Southern Regional Tax Practice, Arthur Andersen LLP, an accounting firm (including various other positions, 1981 –1999)

Other Professional Experience and Community Involvement

  • Board member and Treasurer, Elton John AIDS Foundation

Experience and Qualifications

As the former Chief Financial Officer of several global public companies, Ms. Burns brings to our Board substantial expertise in accounting and the review and preparation of financial statements, which she draws upon as our Audit Committee Chair. In addition, as the former CEO of Mercer LLC, Ms. Burns brings to our Board her experience in human capital management and strategic consulting, which assists our Board in its oversight of our firm’s strategy. Through her service on the boards of directors and board committees of other public companies and not-for-profit entities, Ms. Burns has developed additional leadership and corporate governance expertise.


    



via Zero Hedge http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/zerohedge/feed/~3/zzID61gT9rM/story01.htm Tyler Durden

"You're Simply Continuing To Feed The Wolves Of Wall Street" – One Victim's Open Letter To The Kings Of Hollywood

First posted by Christina McDowell in the LA Times

An Open Letter to the Makers of The Wolf of Wall Street, and the Wolf Himself

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, dear Kings of Hollywood, but you have been conned.

Let me introduce myself. My name is Christina McDowell, formerly Christina Prousalis. I am the daughter of Tom Prousalis, a man the Washington Post described as “just some guy on trial for penny-stock fraud.” (I had to change my name after my father stole my identity and then threatened to steal it again, but I’ll get to that part later.) I was eighteen and a freshman in college when my father and his attorneys forced me to attend his trial at New York City’s federal courthouse so that he “looked good” for the jury — the consummate family man.

And you, Jordan Belfort, Wall Street’s self-described Wolf: You remember my father, right? You were chosen to be the government’s star witness in testifying against him. You had pleaded guilty to money laundering and securities fraud (it was the least you could do) and become a government witness in two dozen cases involving your former business associate, but my father’s attorneys blocked your testimony because had you testified it would have revealed more than a half-dozen other corrupt stock offerings too. And, well, that would have been a disaster. It would have just been too many liars, and too many schemes for the jurors, attorneys or the judge to follow.

But the records shows you and my father were in cahoots together with MVSI Inc. of Vienna, e-Net Inc. of Germantown, Md., Octagon Corp. of Arlington, Va., and Czech Industries Inc. of Washington, D.C., and so on — a list of seemingly innocuous, legitimate companies that stretches on. I’ll spare you. Nobody cares. None of these companies actually existed, yet all of them were taken public by the one and only Wolf of Wall Street and his firm Stratton Oakmont Inc in order to defraud unwitting investors and enrich yourselves.

As an eighteen-year-old, I had no idea what was going on. But then again, did anyone? Certainly your investors didn’t — and they were left holding the bag when you cashed out your holdings and got rich off their money.

So Marty and Leo, while you glide through press junkets and look forward to awards season, let me tell you the truth — what happened to my mother, my two sisters, and me.

The day my father had to surrender to prison, I drove him. My mother had locked herself in the bathroom crying and throwing up, becoming nothing short of a more beautiful version of Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine. Ironically enough, Marty, she looks like a cross between Sharon Stone and Michelle Pfeiffer. Totally your leading ingénue type. Anyhow, after my father successfully laundered money in my name, hiding what was left of our assets from the government in a Wells Fargo bank account, I arrived home to discover multiple phone calls from creditors and attorneys threatening to sue me. He’d left me in nearly $100,000 worth of debt. He left and never told me.

After all of that liquidated money was gone from the Wells Fargo bank account, things got pretty bad. My younger sister ran away at seventeen. My older sister struggled to finish school in Texas. I couch surfed for two years, sometimes dressing out of my car and stealing pieces of salami out of my boyfriends’ refrigerators in the middle of the night, because I was so hungry and so ashamed that I couldn’t feed myself. Tips at the restaurant weren’t cutting it. It’s a pretty confusing experience to go from flying private with Dad to an evening where he’s begging you for a piece of your paycheck so he can buy food for dinner.

But, here’s the real kicker —

I believed him.

I believed everything my father told me. I believed it was the government’s fault he was going to prison and leaving his little princess, I believed it was your fault, Jordan Belfort. I believed that by taking out all those credit cards in my name, my father was attempting to save me. I believed him when he got out, and when he told me everything would be OK. I believed him until he tried to do the same thing all over again — until I was at risk of being arrested myself (and I’m saving that story for the memoir).

So here’s the deal. You people are dangerous. Your film is a reckless attempt at continuing to pretend that these sorts of schemes are entertaining, even as the country is reeling from yet another round of Wall Street scandals. We want to get lost in what? These phony financiers’ fun sexcapades and coke binges? Come on, we know the truth. This kind of behavior brought America to its knees.

And yet you’re glorifying it — you who call yourselves liberals. You were honored for career excellence and for your cultural influence by The Kennedy Center, Marty. You drive a Honda hybrid, Leo. Did you think about the cultural message you’d be sending when you decided to make this film? You have successfully aligned yourself with an accomplished criminal, a guy who still hasn’t made full restitution to his victims, exacerbating our national obsession with wealth and status and glorifying greed and psychopathic behavior. And don’t even get me started on the incomprehensible way in which your film degrades women, the misogynistic, ass-backwards message you endorse to younger generations of men.

But hey, listen boys, I get it. I was conned too. By. My. Own. Dad! I drove a white Range Rover in high school, snorted half of Colombia, and got any guy I ever wanted because my father would take them flying in his King Air.

And then I unraveled the truth. The truth about my father and his behavior: that behind all of it was really just insidious soul-sucking shame masked by addiction, which we love to call ambition, which is really just greed. Greed and the desire for fame (exactly what you’ve successfully given self-appointed motivational speaker/financial guru Jordan Belfort, whose business opportunities will surely multiply thanks to this film).

For me, it’s become goddamn unbearable.

But I refuse to give up.

Belfort’s victims, my father’s victims, don’t have a chance at keeping up with the Joneses. They’re left destitute, having lost their life savings at the age of 80. They can’t pay their medical bills or help send their children off to college because of characters like the ones glorified in Terry Winters’ screenplay.

Let me ask you guys something. What makes you think this man deserves to be the protagonist in this story? Do you think his victims are going to want to watch it? Did we forget about the damage that accompanied all those rollicking good times? Or are we sweeping it under the carpet for the sale of a movie ticket? And not just on any day, but on Christmas morning??

So here’s what I’m going to do first. I’m going to hand you my shame. Right now, in this very moment. The shame that I’ve been carrying for far too long as a result of being collateral damage. Because each of you should feel ashamed. And then I’m going to go pre-order my tickets to August: Osage County in support of Julia and Meryl — because at least, as screwed up as that family is, they talk about the truth.

I urge each and every human being in America NOT to support this film, because if you do, you’re simply continuing to feed the Wolves of Wall Street.

Yours truly,

Christina McDowell

PS. Quick update on Dad: He is now doing business with the Albanian government and, rumor has it, married to a 30-year-old Albanian translator — they always, always land on their feet.


    



via Zero Hedge http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/zerohedge/feed/~3/ISeXyepR73w/story01.htm Tyler Durden

“You’re Simply Continuing To Feed The Wolves Of Wall Street” – One Victim’s Open Letter To The Kings Of Hollywood

First posted by Christina McDowell in the LA Times

An Open Letter to the Makers of The Wolf of Wall Street, and the Wolf Himself

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, dear Kings of Hollywood, but you have been conned.

Let me introduce myself. My name is Christina McDowell, formerly Christina Prousalis. I am the daughter of Tom Prousalis, a man the Washington Post described as “just some guy on trial for penny-stock fraud.” (I had to change my name after my father stole my identity and then threatened to steal it again, but I’ll get to that part later.) I was eighteen and a freshman in college when my father and his attorneys forced me to attend his trial at New York City’s federal courthouse so that he “looked good” for the jury — the consummate family man.

And you, Jordan Belfort, Wall Street’s self-described Wolf: You remember my father, right? You were chosen to be the government’s star witness in testifying against him. You had pleaded guilty to money laundering and securities fraud (it was the least you could do) and become a government witness in two dozen cases involving your former business associate, but my father’s attorneys blocked your testimony because had you testified it would have revealed more than a half-dozen other corrupt stock offerings too. And, well, that would have been a disaster. It would have just been too many liars, and too many schemes for the jurors, attorneys or the judge to follow.

But the records shows you and my father were in cahoots together with MVSI Inc. of Vienna, e-Net Inc. of Germantown, Md., Octagon Corp. of Arlington, Va., and Czech Industries Inc. of Washington, D.C., and so on — a list of seemingly innocuous, legitimate companies that stretches on. I’ll spare you. Nobody cares. None of these companies actually existed, yet all of them were taken public by the one and only Wolf of Wall Street and his firm Stratton Oakmont Inc in order to defraud unwitting investors and enrich yourselves.

As an eighteen-year-old, I had no idea what was going on. But then again, did anyone? Certainly your investors didn’t — and they were left holding the bag when you cashed out your holdings and got rich off their money.

So Marty and Leo, while you glide through press junkets and look forward to awards season, let me tell you the truth — what happened to my mother, my two sisters, and me.

The day my father had to surrender to prison, I drove him. My mother had locked herself in the bathroom crying and throwing up, becoming nothing short of a more beautiful version of Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine. Ironically enough, Marty, she looks like a cross between Sharon Stone and Michelle Pfeiffer. Totally your leading ingénue type. Anyhow, after my father successfully laundered money in my name, hiding what was left of our assets from the government in a Wells Fargo bank account, I arrived home to discover multiple phone calls from creditors and attorneys threatening to sue me. He’d left me in nearly $100,000 worth of debt. He left and never told me.

After all of that liquidated money was gone from the Wells Fargo bank account, things got pretty bad. My younger sister ran away at seventeen. My older sister struggled to finish school in Texas. I couch surfed for two years, sometimes dressing out of my car and stealing pieces of salami out of my boyfriends’ refrigerators in the middle of the night, because I was so hungry and so ashamed that I couldn’t feed myself. Tips at the restaurant weren’t cutting it. It’s a pretty confusing experience to go from flying private with Dad to an evening where he’s begging you for a piece of your paycheck so he can buy food for dinner.

But, here’s the real kicker —

I believed him.

I believed everything my father told me. I believed it was the government’s fault he was going to prison and leaving his little princess, I believed it was your fault, Jordan Belfort. I believed that by taking out all those credit cards in my name, my father was attempting to save me. I believed him when he got out, and when he told me everything would be OK. I believed him until he tried to do the same thing all over again — until I was at risk of being arrested myself (and I’m saving that story for the memoir).

So here’s the deal. You people are dangerous. Your film is a reckless attempt at continuing to pretend that these sorts of schemes are entertaining, even as the country is reeling from yet another round of Wall Street scandals. We want to get lost in what? These phony financiers’ fun sexcapades and coke binges? Come on, we know the truth. This kind of behavior brought America to its knees.

And yet you’re glorifying it — you who call yourselves liberals. You were honored for career excellence and for your cultural influence by The Kennedy Center, Marty. You drive a Honda hybrid, Leo. Did you think about the cultural message you’d be sending when you decided to make this film? You have successfully aligned yourself with an accomplished criminal, a guy who still hasn’t made full restitution to his victims, exacerbating our national obsession with wealth and status and glorifying greed and psychopathic behavior. And don’t even get me started on the incomprehensible way in which your film degrades women, the misogynistic, ass-backwards message you endorse to younger generations of men.

But hey, listen boys, I get it. I was conned too. By. My. Own. Dad! I drove a white Range Rover in high school, snorted half of Colombia, and got any guy I ever wanted because my father would take them flying in his King Air.

And then I unraveled the truth. The truth about my father and his behavior: that behind all of it was really just insidious soul-sucking shame masked by addiction, which we love to call ambition, which is really just greed. Greed and the desire for fame (exactly what you’ve successfully given self-appointed motivational speaker/financial guru Jordan Belfort, whose business opportunities will surely multiply thanks to this film).

For me, it’s become goddamn unbearable.

But I refuse to give up.

Belfort’s victims, my father’s victims, don’t have a chance at keeping up with the Joneses. They’re left destitute, having lost their life savings at the age of 80. They can’t pay their medical bills or help send their children off to college because of characters like the ones glorified in Terry Winters’ screenplay.

Let me ask you guys something. What makes you think this man deserves to be the protagonist in this story? Do you think his victims are going to want to watch it? Did we forget about the damage that accompanied all those rollicking good times? Or are we sweeping it under the carpet for the sale of a movie ticket? And not just on any day, but on Christmas morning??

So here’s what I’m going to do first. I’m going to hand you my shame. Right now, in this very moment. The shame that I’ve been carrying for far too long as a result of being collateral damage. Because each of you should feel ashamed. And then I’m going to go pre-order my tickets to August: Osage County in support of Julia and Meryl — because at least, as screwed up as that family is, they talk about the truth.

I urge each and every human being in America NOT to support this film, because if you do, you’re simply continuing to feed the Wolves of Wall Street.

Yours truly,

Christina McDowell

PS. Quick update on Dad: He is now doing business with the Albanian government and, rumor has it, married to a 30-year-old Albanian translator — they always, always land on their feet.


    



via Zero Hedge http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/zerohedge/feed/~3/ISeXyepR73w/story01.htm Tyler Durden

Judge Falls for The Big Lie About NSA Spying

In finding the NSA’s metadata collection program legal today, Judge William Pauley III ruled:

The September 11th terrorist attacks revealed, in the starkest terms, just how dangerous and interconnected the world is. While Americans depended on technology for the conveniences of modernity, al-Qaeda plotted in a seventh-century milieu to use that technology against us. It was a bold jujitsu. And it succeeded because conventional intelligence gathering could not detect diffuse filaments connecting al-Qaeda.

 

Prior to the September 11th attacks, the National Security Agency (“NSA”) intercepted seven calls made by hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar, who was living in San Diego, California, to an al-Qaeda safe house in Yemen. The NSA intercepted those calls using overseas signals intelligence capabilities that could not capture al-Mihdhar’s telephone number identifier. Without that identifier, NSA analysts concluded mistakenly that al-Mihdhar was overseas and not in the United States. Telephony metadata would have furnished the missing information and might have permitted the NSA to notify the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) of the fact that al-Mihdhar was calling the Yemeni safe house from inside the United States.

 

The Government learned from its mistake and adapted to confront a new enemy: a terror network capable of orchestrating attacks across the world. It launched a number of counter-measures, including a bulk telephony metadata collection program—a wide net that could find and isolate gossamer contacts among suspected terrorists in an ocean of seemingly disconnected data.

 

This blunt tool only works because it collects everything. Such a program, if unchecked, imperils the civil liberties of every citizen. Each time someone in the United States makes or receives a telephone call, the telecommunications provider makes a record of when, and to what telephone number the call was placed, and how long it lasted. The NSA collects that telephony metadata. If plumbed, such data can reveal a rich profile of every individual as well as a comprehensive record of people’s associations with one another.

Judge Pauley is uninformed … and he fell for the “big lie” behind NSA spying.

Bill Binney – the high-level NSA executive who created the agency’s mass surveillance program for digital information, senior technical director within the agency who managed thousands of NSA employees, interviewed by CBS, ABC, CNN, New York Times, USA Today, Fox News, PBS and many others –  told Washington’s Blog:

[NSA chief Keith] Alexander wants you and everybody (including this clueless judge) to believe that caller ID does not work. First of all, all the calls that are made in the world are routed by machines. And, with machines, you have to tell them exactly what to do. Which means, the routing instructions calling nr and called nr have to be passed through the machines to route the call to get from point A to point B in the world.

 

So, he is feeding everyone a line of crap. If you buy into this, I have a bridge I would like to sell.

 

Also, all calls going from one region of the world to another are preceded by 01 or 011 in region “1″ (US/Canada/some islands) or by “00″ in the rest of the world. And that goes both ways on any call.

 

The Public Switch Telephone Network (PSTN) numbering plan is how we could eliminate all US to US calls right up front and never take them in.

In other words, while Binney headed NSA’s global digital communications gathering efforts prior to 9/11, his team knew in real-time which countries calls were made from and received in.  The NSA is lying if it claims otherwise.

ProPublica notes:

There were plenty of opportunities without having to rely on this metadata system for the FBI and intelligence agencies to have located Mihdhar,” says former Senator Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat who extensively investigated 9/11 as chairman of the Senate’s intelligence committee.

 

These missed opportunities are described in detail in the joint congressional report produced by Graham and his colleagues as well as in the 9/11 Commission report.

 

***

 

Mihdhar was on the intelligence community’s radar at least as early as 1999. That’s when the NSA had picked up communications from a “terrorist facility” in the Mideast suggesting that members of an “operational cadre” were planning to travel to Kuala Lumpur in January 2000, according to the commission report. The NSA picked up the first names of the members, including a “Khalid.” The CIA identified him as Khalid al Mihdhar.

 

The U.S. got photos of those attending the January 2000 meeting in Malaysia, including of Mihdhar, and the CIA also learned that his passport had a visa for travel to the U.S.

 

***

 

Using their true names, Mihdhar and Hazmi for a time beginning in May 2000 even lived with an active FBI informant in San Diego.

 

***

 

Let’s turn to the comments of FBI Director Robert Mueller before the House Judiciary Committee last week.

 

Mueller noted that intelligence agencies lost track of Mihdhar following the January 2000 Kuala Lumpur meeting but at the same time had identified an “Al Qaida
safe house in Yemen.”

 

He continued: “They understood that that Al Qaida safe house had a telephone number but they could not know who was calling into that particular safe house. We came to find out afterwards that the person who had called into that safe house was al Mihdhar, who was in the United States in San Diego. If we had had this [metadata] program in place at the time we would have been able to identify that particular telephone number in San Diego.”

 

In turn, the number would have led to Mihdhar and potentially disrupted the plot, Mueller argued.

(Media accounts indicate that the “safe house” was actually the home of Mihdhar’s father-in-law, himself a longtime al Qaida figure, and that the NSA had been intercepting calls to the home for several years.)

 

The congressional 9/11 report sheds some further light on this episode, though in highly redacted form.

 

The NSA had in early 2000 analyzed communications between a person named “Khaled” and “a suspected terrorist facility in the Middle East,” according to this account. But, crucially, the intelligence community “did not determine the location from which they had been made.”

 

In other words, the report suggests, the NSA actually picked up the content of the communications between Mihdhar and the “Yemen safe house” but was not able to figure out who was calling or even the phone number he was calling from.

 

***

 

Theories about the metadata program aside, it’s not clear why the NSA couldn’t or didn’t track the originating number of calls to Yemen it was already listening to.

 

Intelligence historian Matthew Aid, who wrote the 2009 NSA history Secret Sentry, says that the agency would have had both the technical ability and legal authority to determine the San Diego number that Mihdhar was calling from.

 

Back in 2001 NSA was routinely tracking the identity of both sides of a telephone call,” [9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow] told ProPublica.

 

***

 

There’s another wrinkle in the Mihdhar case: In the years after 9/11, media reports also suggested that there were multiple calls that went in the other direction: from the house in Yemen to Mihdhar in San Diego. But the NSA apparently also failed to track where those calls were going.

 

In 2005, the Los Angeles Times quoted unnamed officials saying the NSA had well-established legal authority before 9/11 to track calls made from the Yemen number to the U.S. In that more targeted scenario, a metadata program vacumming the phone records of all Americans would appear to be unnecessary.

And see this PBS special, and this ACLU comment.

Indeed, the NSA and other U.S. government agencies had been spying on Midhar for a long time before 9/11.

Initially, an FBI informant hosted and rented a room to Mihdhar and another 9/11 hijacker in 2000.

Investigators for the Congressional Joint Inquiry discovered that an FBI informant had hosted and even rented a room to two hijackers in 2000 and that, when the Inquiry sought to interview the informant, the FBI refused outright, and then hid him in an unknown location, and that a high-level FBI official stated these blocking maneuvers were undertaken under orders from the White House.

As the New York Times notes:

Senator Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat who is a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, accused the White House on Tuesday of covering up evidence ….The accusation stems from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s refusal to allow investigators for a Congressional inquiry and the independent Sept. 11 commission to interview an informant, Abdussattar Shaikh, who had been the landlord in San Diego of two Sept. 11 hijackers.

Moreover, Wikipedia notes:

Mihdhar was placed on a CIA watchlist on August 21, 2001, and a note was sent on August 23 to the Department of State and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) suggesting that Mihdhar and Hazmi be added to their watchlists.

 

***

 

On August 23, the CIA informed the FBI that Mihdhar had obtained a U.S. visa in Jeddah. The FBI headquarters received a copy of the Visa Express application from the Jeddah embassy on August 24, showing the New York Marriott as Mihdhar’s destination.

 

On August 28, the FBI New York field office requested that a criminal case be opened to determine whether Mihdhar was still in the United States, but the request was refused. The FBI ended up treating Mihdhar as an intelligence case, which meant that the FBI’s criminal investigators could not work on the case, due to the barrier separating intelligence and criminal case operations. An agent in the New York office sent an e-mail to FBI headquarters saying, “Whatever has happened to this, someday someone will die, and the public will not understand why we were not more effective and throwing every resource we had at certain ‘problems.’” The reply from headquarters was, “we [at headquarters] are all frustrated with this issue … [t]hese are the rules. NSLU does not make them up.”

 

The FBI contacted Marriott on August 30, requesting that they check guest records, and on September 5, they reported that no Marriott hotels had any record of Mihdhar checking in. The day before the attacks, the New York office requested that the Los Angeles FBI office check all local S
heraton Hotels, as well as Lufthansa and United Airlines bookings, because those were the two airlines Mihdhar had used to enter the country. Neither the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network nor the FBI’s Financial Review Group, which have access to credit card and other private financial records, were notified about Mihdhar prior to September 11.

 

***

 

Army Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer and Congressman Curt Weldon alleged in 2005 that the Defense Department data mining project Able Danger identified Mihdhar and 3 other 9/11 hijackers as members of an al-Qaeda cell in early 2000.

We reported in 2008:

The U.S. government heard the 9/11 plans from the hijackers’ own mouth. Most of what we wrote about involved the NSA and other intelligence services tapping top Al Qaeda operatives’ phone calls outside the U.S.

 

However, as leading NSA expert James Bamford – the Washington Investigative Producer for ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings for almost a decade, winner of a number of journalism awards for coverage national security issues, whose articles have appeared in dozens of publications, including cover stories for the New York Times Magazine, Washington Post Magazine, and the Los Angeles Times Magazine, and the only author to write any books (he wrote 3) on the NSA – reports, the NSA was also tapping the hijackers’ phone calls inside the U.S.

 

Specifically, hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi lived in San Diego, California, for 2 years before 9/11. Numerous phone calls between al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi in San Diego and a high-level Al Qaeda operations base in Yemen were made in those 2 years.

 

The NSA had been tapping and eavesdropping on all calls made from that Yemen phone for years. So NSA recorded all of these phone calls.

 

Indeed, the CIA knew as far back as 1999 that al-Mihdhar was coming to the U.S. Specifically, in 1999, CIA operatives tailing al-Mihdhar in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, obtained a copy of his passport. It contained visas for both Malaysia and the U.S., so they knew it was likely he would go from Kuala Lumpur to America.

NSA veteran Bill Binney previously told Washington’s Blog:

Of course they could have and did have data on hijackers before 9/11. And, Prism did not start until 2007. But they could get the data from the “Upstream” collection. This is the Mark Klein documentation of Narus equipment in the NSA room in San Francisco and probably other places in the lower 48. They did not need Prism to discover that. Prism only suplemented the “Upstream” material starting in 2007 according to the slide.

Details here and here.

Another high-level NSA whistleblower – Thomas Drake – testified in a declaration last year that an NSA pilot program he and Binney directed:

Revealed the extent of the connections that the NSA had within its data prior to the [9/11] attacks. The NSA found the array of potential connections among the data that it already possessed to be potentially embarrassing. To avoid that embarrassment, the NSA suppressed the results of the pilot program. I had been told that the NSA had chosen not to pursue [the program] as one of its methods for combatting terrorism. Instead, the NSA had previously chosen to delegate the development of a new program, named “Trailblazer” to a group of outside contractors.

Moreover, widespread spying on Americans began before 9/11 (confirmed here, here, here, here and here.

And U.S. and allied intelligence heard the 9/11 hijackers plans from their own mouths:

  • The National Security Agency and the FBI were each independently listening in on the phone calls between the supposed mastermind of the attacks and the lead hijacker. Indeed, the FBI built its own antenna in Madagascar specifically to listen in on the master
    mind’s phone calls
  • According to various sources, on the day before 9/11, the mastermind told the lead hijacker “tomorrow is zero hour” and gave final approval for the attacks. The NSA intercepted the message that day and the FBI was likely also monitoring the mastermind’s phone calls
  • According to the Sunday Herald, two days before 9/11, Bin Laden called his stepmother and told her “In two days, you’re going to hear big news and you’re not going to hear from me for a while.” U.S. officials later told CNN that “in recent years they’ve been able to monitor some of bin Laden’s telephone communications with his [step]mother. Bin Laden at the time was using a satellite telephone, and the signals were intercepted and sometimes recorded.” Indeed, before 9/11, to impress important visitors, NSA analysts would occasionally play audio tapes of bin Laden talking to his stepmother.
  • And according to CBS News, at 9:53 a.m on 9/11, just 15 minutes after the hijacked plane had hit the Pentagon, “the National Security Agency, which monitors communications worldwide, intercepted a phone call from one of Osama bin Laden’s operatives in Afghanistan to a phone number in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia”, and secretary of Defense Rumsfeld learned about the intercepted phone call in real-time (if the NSA monitored and transcribed phone calls in real-time on 9/11, that implies that it did so in the months leading up to 9/11 as well)

But even with all of that spying, the government didn’t stop the hijackers … even though 9/11 was entirely foreseeable.  Moreover, the entire “lone wolf” theory for mass surveillance is false.  In reality, 9/11 was state-backed terror.

As such, blaming 9/11 on a lack of ability of the NSA to spy is wholly false.

As TechDirt notes:

The [court's] footnote refers to the 9/11 Commission Report whose findings directly contradict this narrative. The problem was not that the information wasn’t there. It was that it wasn’t shared. It was the fact that the CIA lost al-Mihdhar, but rather than issue an alert or place him on a watch list, it chose to do nothing. Many things went wrong, but not having the intel wasn’t the issue.

Indeed, the Boston Bombing proves that mass surveillance isn’t what’s needed.  Even though the alleged Boston bombers’ phones were tapped – and NBC News reports, “under the post-9/11 Patriot Act, the government has been collecting records on every phone call made in the U.S.”mass surveillance did not stop the other terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11.

In reality – despite the government continually grasping at straws to justify its massive spying program – top security experts say that mass surveillance of Americans . Indeed, they say that mass spying actually hurts U.S. counter-terror efforts (more here and here).


    



via Zero Hedge http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/zerohedge/feed/~3/x5mkFVtAni0/story01.htm George Washington

How Ultra-Rich Chinese Men Find Their Wives

Submitted by Charmika Monet via The Diplomat,

Much of the world is familiar with the unique struggles Chinese face when it comes to marriage. Increasingly strict financial security requirements coupled with the growing pains of a nation in the midst of swift change leave many unable to find proper marriage partners.

Add in the traditional, family-enforced marriage age limits, and the increasing number of shengnan (leftover men) and shengnü (leftover women) make contextual sense.

One particularly perplexing sector of society that has a hard time finding suitable marriage partners is young, extremely wealthy men.

Cheng Yongsheng has made a business out of finding dream women for Chinese millionaires with his Luxury Matchmaker Parties, found in most large cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Hangzhou and spreading elsewhere as economic conditions create a viable market. All participants must have capital worth at least 100 million RMB ($16.5 million) to attend.

The need for such an industry arises from the busy wealthy men themselves, who claim that while beautiful women are no rarity in their lives, women actually serious about and suitable for marriage are hard to find when one has a financial empire to build.

Less than one year after their establishment in 2012, these parties have become well known among the Chinese populace. Women volunteer to attend the gatherings, providing intimate information about themselves and their backgrounds. Volunteers are asked to provide their height, weight, measurements, family background, hobbies, and skills. They are then interviewed and ranked according to their “grade.” Afterwards, they are asked to demonstrate certain household skills, such as ironing and chopping vegetables, as well as an individual skill or talent.

The actual requirements vary from city to city and event to event, following the trends and tastes of the participants. After one woman in Chengdu presented a medical certificate of virginity, such verification has become an increasingly common expectation at matchmaking events.

Volunteers come from all walks of life, which for some is a demonstration of China’s movement in the direction of social equality. Parents also come representing their daughters, some of whom are still in high school, as a way to secure for them a proper future and raise the social rank of the family.

The reaction from the public has been mostly one of disapproval. Many young people express suspicion at men who blatantly use money to attract women. Others say that it is disrespectful to women to have them vie for marriage partners in such a fashion, reducing them to a checklist of requirements, rather than treating them as equals.

Others, meanwhile, take what they perceive as a more pragmatic approach to the matter. Marriages arranged by family members, friends and other third parties are still the norm in China. The requirements by which marriages are made are still largely a matter of finances and social status, with shared hobbies and interests a distant way down the list.

As long as material wealth remains a publicly acknowledged priority for finding marriage partners in China, Cheng Yongsheng and others like him will continue to do good business.

 


    



via Zero Hedge http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/zerohedge/feed/~3/PTRlWrgd2HQ/story01.htm Tyler Durden

Inside An Underground Swiss Gold Vault

Deep in the bowels of Zurich, 18 feet below lake level, lies Credit Suisse’s private client vault. Bloomberg gained access to the 1%-er stash and the 3,500 safes (ranging from 5cm high to closet size). And all you need to be part of this club is a bank account with the Swiss behemoth…

 


    



via Zero Hedge http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/zerohedge/feed/~3/T4EAAzVod60/story01.htm Tyler Durden

America Is Addicted To Porn

With food prices soaring, and alcohol demand on the rise, it seems the American public is turning to the only thing left… porn. Every 30 minutes a porn video is made, 30,000 people are ‘consuming’ pornography every second, and the industry earns over $13 billion per year which has led to 200,000 Americans described as “porn addicts” – spending 11 hours or more per week online looking at porn… but what are the consequences

 


    



via Zero Hedge http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/zerohedge/feed/~3/e1UAg3cr2Fs/story01.htm Tyler Durden

Aussie Bank Asks "Will Bitcoin Replace The Dollar?"

Bitcoin is rapidly becoming part of the everyday lexicon. Following David Woo's investigation, National Australia Bank's Emma Lawson looks at its creation, use, and quality as "currency," and find that Bitcoin meets most, but not all the conditions required to be a currency. Lawson concludes Bitcoin may not be the most efficient monetary system, given the costs to create, and that the supply set-up can be seen as both an advantage (hyperinflation is not possible) but also a disadvantage (there are conditions which may create deflation). But, if enough people believe in it, and use it, it may be here to stay as a payment system. Simply put, its success (or failure) will depend on establishing trust and adoption.

Via National Australia Bank's Emma Lawson,

The Rise In Crypto-Currency

What are Bitcoin?

Definition of a currency:

Noun: a system of money in general use in a particular country: the fact or quality of being generally accepted or in use.

“Bitcoin” has entered the popular lexicon, challenging our idea of what makes a currency, currency. The definition of currency above does not mention the physical characteristics of the same but that it must be generally accepted.

There have been different forms of currency over the centuries, but what is important is that users believe it to be currency. Banknotes themselves were introduced in China in 118BC as a promissory note. Marco Polo, in the 13th Century recorded that paper bark was used in the place of gold or silver. The first colony in New South Wales used rum for currency, in the absence of printing presses. These examples show that currency or money can be different things, they are not static and they do not have to be physically valuable in themselves (like gold).

As such, Bitcoins can indeed be currency, as could anything labelled as such. As long as you believe it is.

Firstly, what are crypto-currencies? Bitcoin is one of around 50 crypto-currencies, albeit the most well-known, traded and first established in 2009. These are de-centralised digital (or electronic) medium of exchange. They are not backed by physical assets but rather peer security.

Primary issuance of Bitcoin is determined by computer algorithms which require large amounts of computer power, to validate sequences (blocks) and proof-of-work. As more “miners” participate in calculating blocks, the required computer power and sequence of blocks increase; thus not allowing an increase in the speed of Bitcoin issuance despite more mining. Participants become Bitcoin miners to claim transaction fees and initial Bitcoin.

Indeed one claimed benefit of Bitcoin is that in a world of quantitative easing, this alternative is designed not to increase above the scheduled path. Bitcoin are created at a “decreasing and predictable rate…issuance halts completely with a total of 21 million Bitcoins in existence."

The secondary market for Bitcoin is where most participants will acquire them for their digital “wallets” i.e. accounts. The price is determined on exchange via demand and supply, similar to the broader FX market.

At present there are eight dominant exchanges but there have been more and the number changes (Chart 1). In a study of 40 Bitcoin exchanges, 18 were found to have closed and taken customer accounts. Popular exchanges were also found more likely to experience security breaches2.Prices may also vary between exchanges. The most popular in the USD market is Mt Gox, which constitutes 52% of USD volume (based on the latest month average volume); closely followed by Bitstamp at 46%.

Trading of Bitcoin is most popular in CNY, at 46% of the total Bitcoin market by currency, closely followed by USD at 45%, EUR takes up a small percentage at 4%. This makes the China Bitcoin exchange the largest available; it makes up 47% of total Bitcoin trading (Chart 1).
 

The price on a singular exchange has been particularly volatile recently (Chart 2). There have been calls of a bubble in the Bitcoin price. The price tracked an average of $5.44 in 2011 and $8.29 in 2012 but has risen exponentially from October 2013. It peaked at $1200, and has dropped back to $575 more recently, after regulatory changes in China.

The fact that there are multiple exchanges but only 1723 registered businesses worldwide advertised as using Bitcoin (no doubt there are more in reality), suggests there may be something in the idea that there is currently more people buying Bitcoin in anticipation of an increase in Bitcoin value, rather than buying Bitcoin in order to use them as a payment method. That strongly suggests a bubble in the present value of Bitcoin.

Be that as it may, it does not discount the idea of Bitcoin as a currency or payment system, albeit a presently volatile one.

Bitcoin as a desirable currency

There are a number of qualities that a currency must have to be effective and sustainable. The NSW colony’s use of rum fit the bill by being recognisable but it arguably wasn’t durable when holders got thirsty! Bitcoin has certainly captured the attention of markets and the media, but if it is to have longevity, these tried and tested qualities must be in existence. These are necessary but not sufficient conditions to qualify as currency.

Durability: the unique feature of Bitcoin is that they are electronic, and not physical money. The concept of electronic funds has grown, and examples of electronic units of exchange have been around for some time in the shape of, arguably, credit cards, but also PayPal. Stories of throwing the hard-drive at the local tip aside, crypto-currencies are durable in their electronic records. Computer back-ups are recommended.

Portability: similar to durability, with an electronic version of currency, the portability of Bitcoin is less of an issue. As long as you have a smart-phone. Clearly there are some issues here, with access to smart phones or portable technology not universal. There may be restrictions on use by age or location for example. Anyone trying to just make a mobile phone call in a remote area in Australia could perhaps attest to that.
Fungibility: or the ability to exchange Bitcoins for other Bitcoin without cost. For example, swapping a $10 note for two $5’s. Bitcoin are fungible, although as they come in only one denomination it is less of a concern.

Divisibility: the ability to split a whole Bitcoin. This is possible. It is this ability to split into fraction of Bitcoin that the proponents of the crypto-currency believe will solve the problem of there being a finite amount ever minted. They believe that when there is expanded use and demand for Bitcoin, combined with a limited supply (at 21 million), that Bitcoin will become increasingly divided or fractionalised.

The clear flaw of that plan is the concern regarding deflation. If one Bitcoin can provide the owner with increasingly more goods or services over time (ie. demand outstrips supply for Bitcoin, not goods and services), that means the price of goods and services are falling. This tends to dampen consumption. This may occur only when the final Bitcoin is minted and if demand for Bitcoin use continues
to rise.

Scarcity: Bitcoins are scarce as they require expensive and time-consuming computing resources to create. Hacking or counterfeiting is claimed to be prevented by peer pressure or game theory to prevent an invalid increase in minting. This has not been entirely successful, with breaches in June and August 2011 and April 2013. The security features are being adapted over time to address problems as the system matures.

The scarcity can also be considered a flaw. The supply of Bitcoin is inelastic. There are periods of time at which an increase in the money supply is warranted, to meet demand and then cyclically reduced. Bitcoin does not allow for that. The current spike in Bitcoin is an example. Demand for it has risen (arguably on speculative grounds), and supply cannot match it; hence the rise from $100 to $1200 over four months.

One factor is that there are a number of alternative crypt-currencies. Bitcoin is the dominant system now but that is not to say that it will remain that way. Crypto-currencies may stay around and thrive as a payment system but not Bitcoin.

Recognisability: there is a growing awareness of Bitcoin as a payment system. But, its use is limited. Some might suggest that its recognisability at present is concentrated on its own price, rather than a medium of exhcange.

The Bitcoin website shows 1723 sites worldwide that advertise their use. In Australia, there is a café in Adelaide, a website services firm in Melbourne, a juice bar in Sydney and a currency exchange on the Gold Coast. There are likely to be more than that and it is growing. But it is not yet universal.

Mention Bitcoin at present and many would discuss its use as a store of value before its use as a medium of exchange. And this takes us to the other properties of being a currency.

Trust and Adoption are Critical

“Bitcoins have value because they are useful as a form of money”

In a discussion about Bitcoin with a computer engineer I asked “how is it created?” and had the spiel about computing power, energy and the resources needed to identify prime numbers. Ok, that’s great, I may never understand the maths but I get that it requires substantial resources to compute. The next question “so what does it produce that is valuable?” answer – nothing.

Bitcoin are valuable because they exist, because people believe that it may be so. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. There must be trust in the system, for Bitcoin to retain any value. This is how it differs from other payment methods like credit cards and PayPal, which have a pool of funds backing them. Crypto-currencies may be cheaper as a payment method because they do not have that asset backing, but it thus relies more on trust than alternatives.

Bitcoin comes about as a response to quantitative easing and concern regarding central banks’ printing money. But what it cannot replicate is the revenue generating abilities of central banks and the governments that control them, or their inflation fighting credentials. Neither does it have the centuries of history that gold is backed by.

Bitcoin will work as a medium of exchange as long as participants believe in the security of the triple-counting system and peer-to-peer security. But this takes time. Given this, we shall likely not know for a prolonged period of time how successful the crypto-currency experiment will be.
The other condition that Bitcoin needs to be successful is adoption. It needs to become broadly used and accepted. Its (short) history so far has mostly encapsulated illegal activity characterised by the deep-web site Silkroad; subsequently shut-down. As already noted, there are only four businesses in Australia registered on the Bitcoin User site showing they accept it as a medium of exchange.

The connection between Bitcoin and illegal activity will have to be broken before it becomes widely trusted and accepted. Again, this takes a long time to establish. So while we cannot say that Bitcoin will definitely not become a medium of exchange, what we can say is that it will take a prolonged period of time to prove.

The Regulatory Environment

The increased focus on Bitcoin has led to a wealth of commentary and legal stance on its use from central banks and regulators. A few are outlined below, no country has wholeheartedly adopted its use:

Australia – RBA’s Stevens: “maybe there will be a world in which currencies based on some computer algorithm to limit supply as opposed to physical gold or something. There have been many such currencies through the ages…the ones that will survive will be the ones that hold their value which is why we have an inflation target which we’re hitting.”.

China’s PBoC have banned the use of Bitcoin by commercial banks and the clearing of payments in Bitcoin by third-party providers. China has been the most vocal and proactive in preventing the use of Bitcoin as an alternative to local currency in the major nations using (or investing in) Bitcoin. With the Chinese market for Bitcoin the largest so far, this may be a natural response to protect the central bank’s authority on the money system. Needless to say, the price of Bitcoin in CNY fell sharply on the latest announcement (18 December 2013).

The Swiss have taken a slightly different tack, by preparing to declare Bitcoin as a foreign currency. This ensures that it is not a domestic alternative but that it can be tracked and must be declared so as to meet tax and money-laundering laws, but not banning it altogether.

Germany has acknowledged its existence by declaring it a “unit of account” for tax purposes. It is not a foreign currency but “private money.” It now attracts a 25% capital gains tax.

The EU banking regulator has warned on the use of Bitcoin, in regards to theft, price fluctuations and the lack of central bank backing or security on the same. This has been followed by the French Central Bank which said its use is highly speculative and poses a financial risk to users. Dutch Central Bank President Wellink noted that Bitcoin hype was akin to the 17th century tulip bubble (but didn’t result in a flower at the end of it). The Dutch central bank has warned against their use as they are not regulated and there was no underlying liability. There is no deposit guarantee scheme.

Most jurisdictions treat Bitcoin as assets and require tax to be paid on capital gains. The Norwegian government said that Bitcoin were not considered money or currency and will tax it as an asset, similar to Germany, at 25%,

Thailand was the first country to ban its use as it was ruled not to be a currency.

In November, the US held a Senate hearing on the use of crypto-currencies. Much of the discussion was positive and upheld their use as “legal means of exchange’” There are ongoing concerns about its use in illegal activity.

In a world that is used to being bailed out when the financial system fails, Bitcoin’s decentralised system is a benefit to those in favour of limited government control, but is a distinct disadvantage to those who are used to the final bill being picked up by governments. If the present leap in Bitcoin price proves to be a bubble, it will be the individuals picking up the tab, not governments. There is no deposit scheme or any “too big to fail.” While investment in Bitcoin is small, that poses individual risk. If Bitcoin use becomes much broader, that becomes a risk to financial stability. Caveat emptor.

Bitcoin to replace the AUD? Not Now

We have established that Bitcoin meet most, but not all the conditions required to be a curren
cy.
The rest may follow, but that it will take a very long time to be proven. Its success (or failure) will depend on establishing trust and adoption.

Bitcoin may not be the most efficient monetary system, given the costs to create, and that the supply set-up can be seen as both an advantage (hyperinflation is not possible) but also a disadvantage (there are conditions which may create deflation). But, if enough people believe in it, and use it, it may be here to stay as a payment system.

However, there is a large red flag saying buyer beware at current levels of price and use. With no macroeconomic backing, it is impossible to determine fair value for Bitcoin aside from demand and supply – but the chart of AUD/BTC (Chart 3) above shows, BTC’s trajectory is not one of a stable currency.
 


    



via Zero Hedge http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/zerohedge/feed/~3/4iQv5-AReO0/story01.htm Tyler Durden

Aussie Bank Asks “Will Bitcoin Replace The Dollar?”

Bitcoin is rapidly becoming part of the everyday lexicon. Following David Woo's investigation, National Australia Bank's Emma Lawson looks at its creation, use, and quality as "currency," and find that Bitcoin meets most, but not all the conditions required to be a currency. Lawson concludes Bitcoin may not be the most efficient monetary system, given the costs to create, and that the supply set-up can be seen as both an advantage (hyperinflation is not possible) but also a disadvantage (there are conditions which may create deflation). But, if enough people believe in it, and use it, it may be here to stay as a payment system. Simply put, its success (or failure) will depend on establishing trust and adoption.

Via National Australia Bank's Emma Lawson,

The Rise In Crypto-Currency

What are Bitcoin?

Definition of a currency:

Noun: a system of money in general use in a particular country: the fact or quality of being generally accepted or in use.

“Bitcoin” has entered the popular lexicon, challenging our idea of what makes a currency, currency. The definition of currency above does not mention the physical characteristics of the same but that it must be generally accepted.

There have been different forms of currency over the centuries, but what is important is that users believe it to be currency. Banknotes themselves were introduced in China in 118BC as a promissory note. Marco Polo, in the 13th Century recorded that paper bark was used in the place of gold or silver. The first colony in New South Wales used rum for currency, in the absence of printing presses. These examples show that currency or money can be different things, they are not static and they do not have to be physically valuable in themselves (like gold).

As such, Bitcoins can indeed be currency, as could anything labelled as such. As long as you believe it is.

Firstly, what are crypto-currencies? Bitcoin is one of around 50 crypto-currencies, albeit the most well-known, traded and first established in 2009. These are de-centralised digital (or electronic) medium of exchange. They are not backed by physical assets but rather peer security.

Primary issuance of Bitcoin is determined by computer algorithms which require large amounts of computer power, to validate sequences (blocks) and proof-of-work. As more “miners” participate in calculating blocks, the required computer power and sequence of blocks increase; thus not allowing an increase in the speed of Bitcoin issuance despite more mining. Participants become Bitcoin miners to claim transaction fees and initial Bitcoin.

Indeed one claimed benefit of Bitcoin is that in a world of quantitative easing, this alternative is designed not to increase above the scheduled path. Bitcoin are created at a “decreasing and predictable rate…issuance halts completely with a total of 21 million Bitcoins in existence."

The secondary market for Bitcoin is where most participants will acquire them for their digital “wallets” i.e. accounts. The price is determined on exchange via demand and supply, similar to the broader FX market.

At present there are eight dominant exchanges but there have been more and the number changes (Chart 1). In a study of 40 Bitcoin exchanges, 18 were found to have closed and taken customer accounts. Popular exchanges were also found more likely to experience security breaches2.Prices may also vary between exchanges. The most popular in the USD market is Mt Gox, which constitutes 52% of USD volume (based on the latest month average volume); closely followed by Bitstamp at 46%.

Trading of Bitcoin is most popular in CNY, at 46% of the total Bitcoin market by currency, closely followed by USD at 45%, EUR takes up a small percentage at 4%. This makes the China Bitcoin exchange the largest available; it makes up 47% of total Bitcoin trading (Chart 1).
 

The price on a singular exchange has been particularly volatile recently (Chart 2). There have been calls of a bubble in the Bitcoin price. The price tracked an average of $5.44 in 2011 and $8.29 in 2012 but has risen exponentially from October 2013. It peaked at $1200, and has dropped back to $575 more recently, after regulatory changes in China.

The fact that there are multiple exchanges but only 1723 registered businesses worldwide advertised as using Bitcoin (no doubt there are more in reality), suggests there may be something in the idea that there is currently more people buying Bitcoin in anticipation of an increase in Bitcoin value, rather than buying Bitcoin in order to use them as a payment method. That strongly suggests a bubble in the present value of Bitcoin.

Be that as it may, it does not discount the idea of Bitcoin as a currency or payment system, albeit a presently volatile one.

Bitcoin as a desirable currency

There are a number of qualities that a currency must have to be effective and sustainable. The NSW colony’s use of rum fit the bill by being recognisable but it arguably wasn’t durable when holders got thirsty! Bitcoin has certainly captured the attention of markets and the media, but if it is to have longevity, these tried and tested qualities must be in existence. These are necessary but not sufficient conditions to qualify as currency.

Durability: the unique feature of Bitcoin is that they are electronic, and not physical money. The concept of electronic funds has grown, and examples of electronic units of exchange have been around for some time in the shape of, arguably, credit cards, but also PayPal. Stories of throwing the hard-drive at the local tip aside, crypto-currencies are durable in their electronic records. Computer back-ups are recommended.

Portability: similar to durability, with an electronic version of currency, the portability of Bitcoin is less of an issue. As long as you have a smart-phone. Clearly there are some issues here, with access to smart phones or portable technology not universal. There may be restrictions on use by age or location for example. Anyone trying to just make a mobile phone call in a remote area in Australia could perhaps attest to that.
Fungibility: or the ability to exchange Bitcoins for other Bitcoin without cost. For example, swapping a $10 note for two $5’s. Bitcoin are fungible, although as they come in only one denomination it is less of a concern.

Divisibility: the ability to split a whole Bitcoin. This is possible. It is this ability to split into fraction of Bitcoin that the proponents of the crypto-currency believe will solve the problem of there being a finite amount ever minted. They believe that when there is expanded use and demand for Bitcoin, combined with a limited supply (at 21 million), that Bitcoin will become increasingly divided or fractionalised.

The clear flaw of that plan is the concern regarding deflation. If one Bitcoin can provide the owner with increasingly more goods or services over time (ie. demand outstrips supply for Bitcoin, not goods and services), that means the price of goods and services are falling. This tends to dampen consumption. This may occur only when the final Bitcoin is minted and if demand for Bitcoin use continues to rise.

Scarcity: Bitcoins are scarce as they require expensive and time-consuming computing resources to create. Hacking or counterfeiting is claimed to be prevented by peer pressure or game theory to prevent an invalid increase in minting. This has not been entirely successful, with breaches in June and August 2011 and April 2013. The security features are being adapted over time to address problems as the system matures.

The scarcity can also be considered a flaw. The supply of Bitcoin is inelastic. There are periods of time at which an increase in the money supply is warranted, to meet demand and then cyclically reduced. Bitcoin does not allow for that. The current spike in Bitcoin is an example. Demand for it has risen (arguably on speculative grounds), and supply cannot match it; hence the rise from $100 to $1200 over four months.

One factor is that there are a number of alternative crypt-currencies. Bitcoin is the dominant system now but that is not to say that it will remain that way. Crypto-currencies may stay around and thrive as a payment system but not Bitcoin.

Recognisability: there is a growing awareness of Bitcoin as a payment system. But, its use is limited. Some might suggest that its recognisability at present is concentrated on its own price, rather than a medium of exhcange.

The Bitcoin website shows 1723 sites worldwide that advertise their use. In Australia, there is a café in Adelaide, a website services firm in Melbourne, a juice bar in Sydney and a currency exchange on the Gold Coast. There are likely to be more than that and it is growing. But it is not yet universal.

Mention Bitcoin at present and many would discuss its use as a store of value before its use as a medium of exchange. And this takes us to the other properties of being a currency.

Trust and Adoption are Critical

“Bitcoins have value because they are useful as a form of money”

In a discussion about Bitcoin with a computer engineer I asked “how is it created?” and had the spiel about computing power, energy and the resources needed to identify prime numbers. Ok, that’s great, I may never understand the maths but I get that it requires substantial resources to compute. The next question “so what does it produce that is valuable?” answer – nothing.

Bitcoin are valuable because they exist, because people believe that it may be so. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. There must be trust in the system, for Bitcoin to retain any value. This is how it differs from other payment methods like credit cards and PayPal, which have a pool of funds backing them. Crypto-currencies may be cheaper as a payment method because they do not have that asset backing, but it thus relies more on trust than alternatives.

Bitcoin comes about as a response to quantitative easing and concern regarding central banks’ printing money. But what it cannot replicate is the revenue generating abilities of central banks and the governments that control them, or their inflation fighting credentials. Neither does it have the centuries of history that gold is backed by.

Bitcoin will work as a medium of exchange as long as participants believe in the security of the triple-counting system and peer-to-peer security. But this takes time. Given this, we shall likely not know for a prolonged period of time how successful the crypto-currency experiment will be.
The other condition that Bitcoin needs to be successful is adoption. It needs to become broadly used and accepted. Its (short) history so far has mostly encapsulated illegal activity characterised by the deep-web site Silkroad; subsequently shut-down. As already noted, there are only four businesses in Australia registered on the Bitcoin User site showing they accept it as a medium of exchange.

The connection between Bitcoin and illegal activity will have to be broken before it becomes widely trusted and accepted. Again, this takes a long time to establish. So while we cannot say that Bitcoin will definitely not become a medium of exchange, what we can say is that it will take a prolonged period of time to prove.

The Regulatory Environment

The increased focus on Bitcoin has led to a wealth of commentary and legal stance on its use from central banks and regulators. A few are outlined below, no country has wholeheartedly adopted its use:

Australia – RBA’s Stevens: “maybe there will be a world in which currencies based on some computer algorithm to limit supply as opposed to physical gold or something. There have been many such currencies through the ages…the ones that will survive will be the ones that hold their value which is why we have an inflation target which we’re hitting.”.

China’s PBoC have banned the use of Bitcoin by commercial banks and the clearing of payments in Bitcoin by third-party providers. China has been the most vocal and proactive in preventing the use of Bitcoin as an alternative to local currency in the major nations using (or investing in) Bitcoin. With the Chinese market for Bitcoin the largest so far, this may be a natural response to protect the central bank’s authority on the money system. Needless to say, the price of Bitcoin in CNY fell sharply on the latest announcement (18 December 2013).

The Swiss have taken a slightly different tack, by preparing to declare Bitcoin as a foreign currency. This ensures that it is not a domestic alternative but that it can be tracked and must be declared so as to meet tax and money-laundering laws, but not banning it altogether.

Germany has acknowledged its existence by declaring it a “unit of account” for tax purposes. It is not a foreign currency but “private money.” It now attracts a 25% capital gains tax.

The EU banking regulator has warned on the use of Bitcoin, in regards to theft, price fluctuations and the lack of central bank backing or security on the same. This has been followed by the French Central Bank which said its use is highly speculative and poses a financial risk to users. Dutch Central Bank President Wellink noted that Bitcoin hype was akin to the 17th century tulip bubble (but didn’t result in a flower at the end of it). The Dutch central bank has warned against their use as they are not regulated and there was no underlying liability. There is no deposit guarantee scheme.

Most jurisdictions treat Bitcoin as assets and require tax to be paid on capital gains. The Norwegian government said that Bitcoin were not considered money or currency and will tax it as an asset, similar to Germany, at 25%,

Thailand was the first country to ban its use as it was ruled not to be a currency.

In November, the US held a Senate hearing on the use of crypto-currencies. Much of the discussion was positive and upheld their use as “legal means of exchange’” There are ongoing concerns about its use in illegal activity.

In a world that is used to being bailed out when the financial system fails, Bitcoin’s decentralised system is a benefit to those in favour of limited government control, but is a distinct disadvantage to those who are used to the final bill being picked up by governments. If the present leap in Bitcoin price proves to be a bubble, it will be the individuals picking up the tab, not governments. There is no deposit scheme or any “too big to fail.” While investment in Bitcoin is small, that poses individual risk. If Bitcoin use becomes much broader, that becomes a risk to financial stability. Caveat emptor.

Bitcoin to replace the AUD? Not Now

We have established that Bitcoin meet most, but not all the conditions required to be a currency. The rest may follow, but that it will take a very long time to be proven. Its success (or failure) will depend on establishing trust and adoption.

Bitcoin may not be the most efficient monetary system, given the costs to create, and that the supply set-up can be seen as both an advantage (hyperinflation is not possible) but also a disadvantage (there are conditions which may create deflation). But, if enough people believe in it, and use it, it may be here to stay as a payment system.

However, there is a large red flag saying buyer beware at current levels of price and use. With no macroeconomic backing, it is impossible to determine fair value for Bitcoin aside from demand and supply – but the chart of AUD/BTC (Chart 3) above shows, BTC’s trajectory is not one of a stable currency.
 


    



via Zero Hedge http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/zerohedge/feed/~3/4iQv5-AReO0/story01.htm Tyler Durden