US Regulators Ready to Engage Virtual Currency Operators

A top US regulator has provided the strongest indication yet that Washington is ready to engage virtual currency operators for the first time – a decision prompted by the recent fall of high profile digital currency service Liberty Reserve, which operated as a black market bank according to prosecutors, since its incorporation in Costa Rica in 2006. Bart Chilton, a commissioner at the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, speculated that transactions facilitated by digital currency operators may fall under the remit of US tax collectors in an interview with the FT, mentioning transactions completed through the popular – and as of yet unregulated – digital currency Bitcoin.

The news is a positive development both digital currency users, who until now have had to conduct business in an environment with no discernible regulation, and for payment facilitators, who will be welcomed in from the cold by panicked Washington, where Liberty Reserve’s fall, viewed in some quarters as the largest black market operation of all time, prompted a proverbial kick up the back side.

Leading the charge for the integration of virtual currencies to the US tax system is the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which is losing out on billions of dollars in tax: Liberty Reserve alone is estimated to have helped its customers hide up to $6 billion. Bitcoin and virtual currencies like it, known in the investment community as fiat money – tender unrecognised by any government but widely accepted as currency – can sometimes – by intent or inadvertently – result in transactions where no tax is paid.

The IRS began looking at the impact virtual currencies could have on the body’s ability to properly ensure tax compliance in 2007, though since then has it not kept up with these currencies’ rate of development and could have done more to prevent virtual currency operators from slipping through the cracks, or so says the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which recently published a report on the subject.

As well as providing a critique of the IRS’ handling of virtual currency operators, the office also suggested that integrating virtual currencies and doing business through virtual economies is possible, and can produce taxable income. It also included a caveat however, warning of the dangers posed by “closed flow” transactions: a closed flow is where a buyer purchases an online-based product or service – a film or television streaming subscription or social media game tokens for example – and no real world money or products or services change hands.

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Vodafone to Proceed with Kabel Takeover

Vodafone has announced that it will proceed with its planned €7.7bn takeover of Kabel Deutschland, Germany’s largest cable provider, after the terms it offered the company’s shareholders were accepted by a large majority.

Vodafone’s offer to buy up shareholders’ stock at a price of €87-a-share received the backing of 75% of voters, the minimum percentage it needed to proceed with an all-out takeover.

“The 75% minimum acceptance condition has been met,” the Berkshire-based company said. “Vodafone will publish a final announcement with the definitive tender ratio of September 16.”

The company added that it will allow shareholders who chose not to accept Vodafone’s offer until September 30 to change their minds.

The move marks a significant pivot towards Europe for Vodafone, which earlier this month agreed to sell its stake in US phone company Verizon for $130m. It will allow the company to join the likes of Deutsche Telekom and Unitymedia – owned by Liberty Global, which also run the UPC brand in Ireland – in offering “Quadplay” services to consumers, bundles which allow customers to draw their internet, television, landline and mobile services from one provider.

The announcement caps a long week for Vodafone in Germany. Earlier this week three hedge funds declared that they intend to sue the company to get a better price for their shares, and it conceded that a hacker had made off with the names, addresses and bank account details of around two million of its German customers.

Among the hedge funds that intend to sue Vodafone is Elliot Management, Kabel’s largest shareholder and a significant backer of the company’s approach early on.

The deal is still subject to the approval of EU regulators. The European Commission expected to undertake a review in the coming weeks.

Russia to Build on Mediterranean Fleet by Drafting in Battleships

Russia has revealed its intention to build on its presence in the Mediterranean Sea by increasing its fleet in the region to up to 10 battleships.

The additional deployment will primarily concentrate on the Eastern Mediterranean, the area nearest the Syrian crisis zone, Victor Chirkov, the head of the Russian Navy explained.

“The task is crystal clear: to avoid a slightest threat to the security of the state. This is a general practice of all fleets around the world, to be there when a tension level increases,” Chirkov, who holds the rank of Admiral of the Fleet.

“They are all going to act on the operational command plan of the offshore maritime zone. Russia will be building up its fleet until it is deemed sufficient to perform the task.”

Russia has retained a constant presence in the Sea as a matter of policy since the end of last year, when the Syrian struggle began to escalate from an offshoot of the Arab Spring into an all-out civil war. Currently, it has seven warships patrolling the region.

Moscow’s announcement that it intends to add to its Mediterranean presence was compounded by its decision to send in its flagship missile cruiser, the Moskva – a powerful destroyer fitted with Vulkan missiles, weapons specifically designed to disable large vessels. The ship is being called in from the Black Sea, a region which contains a notoriously high number of Russian naval vessels, and is expected to arrive in the Mediterranean sometime over the weekend.

Chirkov noted that approximately 80 Russian naval vessels are currently operating in international waters, ready to be called to action.

Russia’s decision to move additional ships into the region comes despite it denying at the beginning of the month that it intended to beef up its presence.

At the time, the country’s naval command had criticised the US for adding to its compliment in the Sea. On September 3 the US Navy announced that it would add two warships to the three that were already patrolling the region, significantly boosting its firepower. Together the five now in the region boast upwards of 200 Tomahawk missiles.

Facebook Roll Out New Auto-Play Video Feature on Mobile

Social networking behemoth Facebook has rolled out its latest on-site feature – auto-playing videos in users’ News Feeds.

The move is the company’s most recent attempt to garner attention from prospective online advertisers, with video advertisements also set to be introduced alongside users’ own shared content.

Facebook, which has sought to address investor unease regarding its inability to convert app download figures and “likes” to real revenue since its initial public offering last year, moved to evangelise the impact the feature could have on its app advertising space.

The company explained that videos will begin playing as soon as users scroll over them in their News Feed, but will only begin playing sound once a user has clicked to expand the video. USA Today says that the effect is similar to the effect generated by videos on Vine – a video hosting site that has become immensely popular with teens over the last few months.

Facebook hopes that the feature, which will only be available through the social network’s app for the time being, will allow the company to compete for a slice of the video advertising market, a niche which is set to explode in popularity over the coming years. In 2016, online video advertising is expected to be worth around $8bn in the U.S. alone, double the $4.1bn it’s expected to top this year.

The company began the roll out by testing the feature on a small number of users in the US on Friday. It will expand to the rest of its US base, and eventually to the rest of the world, in the coming weeks.

TechCrunch notes that only videos which originate from the Facebook platform, or from integrated sites like Instagram, will play automatically. Embedded videos from third-party sites like YouTube and Vimeo will have to be played as normal.

The feature’s big reveal took place two days after the Federal Trade Commission announced that it is probing an alteration the company made to its privacy policy back in August. The FTC is investigating if the company infringed on the rights of its users by altering its policy in order to allow it to use users’ images and information for marketing purposes without the consent of the user.

Mid-Term Break by Seamus Heaney

A classic, really tugs at the heartstrings. RIP.

Mid-Term Break by Seamus Heaney

I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o’clock our neighbors drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying–
He had always taken funerals in his stride–
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were “sorry for my trouble,”
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o’clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four foot box, a foot for every year.

More than 50 Police Injured in Belfast Violence

More than fifty Northern Irish police officers were left needing medical attention after clashing with loyalist protestors on Friday night. Members of the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) were pelted with bricks, masonry and other missiles as they patrolled the route of a controversial Republican parade held in central Belfast.

The march, which was approved by the body responsible for sanctioning marches in the six counties, the Parades Commission, had been expected to draw the attention of the loyalist community due to the highly controversial event it is held to commemorate.

It was held to remember two IRA volunteers who were killed 40 years ago when the explosives they were carrying to a site they intended to bomb, exploded accidentally in their car.

After the event, Northern Ireland’s chief constable Matt Baggot condemned the violence and challenged both Unionist and Nationalist politicians to behave as “statesmen” and not allow the rioting to affect the normal flow of politics.

“I know that 99 per cent, if not more, of the population will stand with me in utterly condemning those who scarred the reputation of our beautiful city last night,” Baggot told a packed press conference. “Those people had no intention of peaceful protest – they lack the self-respect, and they lack the dignity”.

Baggot, who confirmed that seven arrests had been made so far, issued a stark warning to the rest of the mob, warning that more arrests are to come and that the “prisons will be bulging” once the police have completed their investigation.

In all, fifty-six police officers were injured. Most injuries are believed to be minor. Two civilians were also injured.

The violence was also condemned by Theresa Villiers, Britain’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. “Last night’s violence and attacks on police officers were shameful. Disorder on the streets is a hugely regrettable step backwards,” she told media.

Parades are always a point of contention in Belfast, with both Republican and Loyalist events attracting troublemakers throughout the summer months, the period when most marches are held.

Last month, 12th of July celebrations – a Unionist holiday – saw Orangemen riot in the streets of Belfast, and again clash with police.

The violence comes one week after Belfast played host to thousands of police and fire personnel from around the world, who gathered in the Northern Irish capital to take place in the World Police and Fire Games.

Since the march on Friday, another Republican parade, this time in Castlederg, Co Tyrone, has passed off peacefully.