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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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.

Three Newly Discovered Exoplanets Could Yield Life

Astronomers in Germany have announced the discovery of three planets in a star system some twenty-two light years from Earth. The exoplanets, which are all believed to be rocky super-earths, orbit their host star in the so-called “Goldilocks” zone – where the temperature is not too hot and not too cold — meaning they may be capable of sustaining organic life, astronomers say.

The planets were discovered in a solar system which bears similarities to our own, astronomers at the University of Gottingen revealed. Between five and seven planets orbit Gliese 677C star – part of a trinary system called Gliese 667.

“We identified three strong signals in the star before, but it was possible that smaller planets were hidden in the data. We re-examined the existing data, added some new observations, and applied two different data analysis methods especially designed to deal with multi-planet signal detection,” commented Guillem Anglada-Escude, who led the initiative.

“Both methods yielded the same answer: there are five very secure signals and up to seven low-mass planets in short-period orbits around the star,” he continued.

The Gliese 667C system is unique as it is the first solar system discovered with more than one planet orbiting within its star’s habitable zone. In our own solar system the Earth is the only planet within the Sun’s “Goldilocks” zone, with Venus and Mars orbiting marginally outside.

The host star in the Gliese 997C system is just one-third the mass of our Sun, making the discovery of three planets within its habitable zone all the more impressive.

The newly discovered planets lie in the constellation Scorpius – which, at twenty-two light years away, is right in Earth’s cosmic back garden, and much closer than the stars being scanned by Nasa’s advanced Keplar telescope.

The discovery came about after scientists peering through the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope took another look at the Gliese 667 system, where they had already discovered three planets outside the host star’s habitable zone.

The discovery of the three new planets may mean that more habitable planets occupy the Milky Way than first thought.

Fermanagh G8 Summit Set to be Among Most Peaceful Ever

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has called on all segments of the North’s population to ensure that this year’s G8 summit is remembered as the “most peaceful summit in G8 history”.

McGuinness, who was speaking on the lawn of 10 Downing Street after a meeting with Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson and British Prime Minister David Cameron, said that he hopes “those people who are visitors to our country over the course of the next couple of days will respect the work to build the peace process that we have been engaged in for many years”.

Only a small scattering of protests have been held so far in the UK, with one high-profile raid last weekend leading to the detention of a handful of protesters in London, some 500km from the Lough Erne resort where this year’s summit is taking place. Smaller protests have been already taken place in Dublin and Belfast, both of which are reported to have ended without any violence or intervention from authorities, and although some protestors are expected to travel to Enniskillen – the town nearest to the resort – to protest in the next few days, the demonstrations are expected to pass off peacefully.

“My belief is its relatively small numbers would be wanting to cause trouble and the vast, vast sense of this is people wanting to protest peacefully,” commented Northern Ireland Assistant Chief Constable Alastair Finlay. “The vast majority of people are from Nothern Ireland or the island of Ireland and they don’t want us being put on the map for the wrong reasons.”

Finlay explained that although a small number of dissidents, mostly republican, are planning to use the summit to highlight their cause, it is likely that the 8,000 plus police and 900 strong Garda contingent which will patrol the Monaghan and Cavan borders, will present a strong enough security presence to deter any attacks.

“The sad reality is the dissidents are there, they will want to draw attention to themselves, but usually in a way that is targeting people (PSNI officers) and will be away from where the essence of the strong security round an iconic figure like the President (Obama) would be,” Finlay said.

Although the primary concern for the PSNI and Garda is rogue dissidents, the forces will also be tasked with policing planned protests, most of which have followed proper procedure and informed the authorities of their intentions beforehand. While the protests are not likely to pose the same security risk as dichotomous republicans, organised protests, like London in 2005, when the G8 was held in Gleneagles, Scotland, and in Rome a few years later, prove that even planned marches can pose problems for the authorities.

Among the groups planning demonstrations in Enniskillen is the Socialist Workers Party, which is billing its march as an ‘anti-summit’. “There’s going to be a lot of different groups there,” commented People Before Profit’s Brian O’Boyle. “So you might have every group from charities to trade unions to radical left organisations to the environmentalists. They’ll all have their own specific focus.”

Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy added that he doesn’t think protesters will flock from all corners of Europe to march, as was the case in London and Rome, predicting that most will travel to Enniskillen from somewhere in Ireland.

Around 1,500 people turned out in Belfast earlier on Monday to take party in a march organised by the Northern branch of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Like the protests in Fermanagh, many of the attendees were far-left liberals, with Amnesty International, pro-Palestinian groups and the anti-fracking community also represented. Observers estimated that around 1,500 protesters attended the march, which passed off peacefully without need for any significant police presence — a feature which had been a staple of any Northern Irish protest until only a few years ago.

While many of the headlines surrounding the G8 will focus on the issues highlighted by protesters, the leaders congregating in Lough Erne will be penning deals and thrashing out policies aimed at resuscitating global economic growth. US president Barack Obama has already held bilateral talks with Russian president Vladimir Putin and David Cameron prior to the summit, and is widely expected to focus his attention of shoring up ties with Pacific powers Japan and China during his time in Co Fermanagh.

Although each of the powers and protestors has its own agenda, the largest benefactor of the talks is set to be the host, Northern Ireland, with as mentioned above, a high-profile investment package already approved by Westminster, and the news that Obama is ready to engage with Stormont on a deeper level, including creating the position of a permanent US envoy to the region – reason enough some commentators believe for protesters in the North to keep their anti-capitalist sentiment to themselves for the next week.