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Bit[coin]burg II

Dave Emory’s entire life­time of work is avail­able on a flash dri­ve that can be obtained here. [1] (The flash dri­ve includes the anti-fas­cist books avail­able on this site.)

[2]COMMENT: Fol­low­ing our posts on Silk Road [3] and Bit­coin [4], we explore the phe­nom­e­non of bicoin against the “shut­down” milieu of the GOP, itself inex­tri­ca­bly linkd with the ele­ments sur­round­ing and pro­mot­ing Edward Snow­den. Review­ing pre­vi­ous points of infor­ma­tion:

Alleged mas­ter­mind of the Silk Road online clan­des­tine funding/merchandising net­work, Ross Ulbricht is a devo­tee of Ron Paul and the Lud­wig von Mis­es school of social and eco­nom­ic the­o­ry.

Exem­pli­fy­ing the appar­ent­ly well mean­ing but mis­in­formed young cit­i­zens attract­ed to Paul and the von Mis­es school, Ulbricht appears to exem­pli­fy the adage that “The [Silk?] road to Hell is paved with good inten­tions.”

Ron Paul is a hard­core fas­cist [5], joined at the hip with Nazi and white-suprema­cist ele­ments. The Lud­wig von Mis­es insti­tute is explic­it­ly anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic and is joined at the hip with the neo-Con­fed­er­ate move­ment, which jus­ti­fies African-Amer­i­can slav­ery and ratio­nal­izes a future seces­sion by the South­ern states.

Indica­tive of Ulbricht’s super­fi­cial­i­ty is his state­ment that; “Just as slav­ery has been abol­ished most every­where, I believe vio­lence, coer­cion and all forms of force by one per­son over anoth­er can come to an end. . . .” 

In addi­tion to the von Mis­es Insti­tute’s jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of African-Amer­i­can slav­ery pri­or to the Civ­il War, Wal­ter Block [6] (and aide to Ron Paul and a Lud­wig von Mis­es Insti­tute schol­ar) has craft­ed what he calls “vol­un­tary slav­ery.” [7]

We view “vol­un­tary slav­ery” as the ulti­mate col­lat­er­al­ized debt oblig­a­tion.

Alone among sov­er­eign nations, Ger­many has rec­og­nized bit­coin as legal ten­der, fol­low­ing on the the­o­ry of Friedrich von Hayek [8] of the Autri­an school of eco­nom­ic the­o­ry, dis­sem­i­nat­ed from (among oth­er insti­tu­tions) the Lud­wig von Mis­es Insti­tute [5].

Cred­it for cre­at­ing this vir­tu­al cur­ren­cy is gen­er­al­ly giv­en to one Satoshi Nako­mo­to. An arti­cle at Fast­com­pa­ny [9] hypoth­e­sizes that three indi­vid­u­als named Neal J. King, Charles Bry and Vladimir Oks­man are the true orig­i­na­tors of bit­coin. (Lis­ten­ers are emphat­i­cal­ly encour­aged to read the entire linked arti­cle to flesh out their under­stand­ing of Adam Penen­berg’s argu­ment.)

Of more than pass­ing inter­est under the cir­cum­stances is the fact that all three of the hypo­thet­i­cal cre­ators of bit­coin work for a com­pa­ny called Lan­tiq [10].

Lan­tiq is a Ger­man-based firm that has evolved from Siemens. Siemens spun-off Infi­neon A.G. [11](a semi­con­duc­tor firm). Then Infi­neon and Gold­en Gate Cap­i­tal [12]cre­at­ed Lan­tiq [13].

Gold­en Gate Capi­tol was formed by alum­ni of Bain Cap­i­tal [14], Mitt Rom­ney’s firm.

In addi­tion to links to the death squad-man­i­fest­ing El Sal­vado­ran jun­ta of the 1980’s, Bain has links [15] to the milieu of the late bil­lion­aire, Howard Hugh­es, as well as the milieu of Bebe Rebo­zo’s bank­ing oper­a­tions. The lat­ter appears to have had links to the Bor­mann cap­i­tal net­work [16].

If we were going to express this in bib­li­cal phrase­ol­o­gy, it would go some­thing like this: “And so Siemens begat Infi­neon. And Bain Cap­i­tal begat Gold­en Gate Cap­i­tal. Infi­neon did lie with Gold­en Gate Cap­i­tal. And thus did Infi­neon beget Lan­tiq.”

Among the points to be con­sid­ered here are:

“World to Wash­ing­ton: ‘Real­ly?’ ” by Serge Schme­mann; The New York Times; 10/20/2013. [22]

Some of the more alarmed and out­raged voic­es rose from Chi­na, the coun­try hold­ing the largest share of Amer­i­can debt. One com­men­tary from Chi­na that attract­ed atten­tion in Europe was by Liu Chang of Xin­hua, the offi­cial Chi­nese news agency, who called not only for the diver­si­fi­ca­tion of Beijing’s huge dol­lar hold­ings, but for a “de-Amer­i­can­ized world.” That, he wrote, would include “new inter­na­tion­al reserve cur­ren­cy that is to be cre­at­ed to replace the dom­i­nant U.S. dol­lar, so that the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty could per­ma­nent­ly stay away from the spillover of the inten­si­fy­ing domes­tic polit­i­cal tur­moil in the Unit­ed States.”

From Athens — where an Amer­i­can default could have turned an unend­ing eco­nom­ic cri­sis into cat­a­stro­phe — Nikos Kon­stan­daras wrote in the dai­ly Kathimeri­ni that Aristo­phanes, the mas­ter of ancient Greek com­e­dy, “would have loved the idea of a group of law­mak­ers exploit­ing their posi­tion to abol­ish the state they are sworn to serve. For Greece’s ancient trage­di­ans, the vain indif­fer­ence, the igno­rance of dan­gers caused by our char­ac­ter and actions, was famil­iar mate­r­i­al.” The ques­tion, he added, was whether Amer­i­ca is “the scene of com­e­dy or tragedy.”

When the deal was reached in Wash­ing­ton last Wednes­day, the world exhaled. But nobody believed it was over. “There is noth­ing more tem­po­rary than the defeats and vic­to­ries in Wash­ing­ton,” wrote Le Figaro, the Paris dai­ly. Even if civ­il ser­vants are back at work for now, “America’s finan­cial cred­i­bil­i­ty is dam­aged and its demo­c­ra­t­ic sys­tem has revealed to the world its gap­ing block­ages.”

The ques­tions abroad will con­tin­ue; answers, how­ev­er, are hard to find.

“The Fed­er­al Gov­ern­men­t’s Reactin to Bit­coin Is an Acknowl­edge­ment of the Dol­lar’s Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty” b Peter Fer­rara; Forbes; 8/25/2013. [27]

EXCERPT: The Sen­ate Home­land Secu­ri­ty and Gov­ern­ment Affairs Com­mit­tee has pri­vate alter­na­tive cur­ren­cies in its crosshairs.  The Chair­man, Sen­a­tor Tom Carp­er (D‑DE) and Rank­ing Mem­ber, Sen­a­tor Tom Coburn (R‑OK), sent a joint let­ter to sev­en fed­er­al agen­cies last week ask­ing for feed­back and pol­i­cy pro­pos­als for reg­u­la­tion of vir­tu­al cur­ren­cies, like Bit­coin.

Bit­coin has surged in val­ue and pop­u­lar­i­ty recent­ly as it has come to be embraced by more users across the plan­et.  In a world of gov­ern­ment fiat cur­ren­cies, Bit­coin is an admirable inno­va­tion.  But in a sense it extends the cur­rent cur­ren­cy frame­work, as opposed to rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing it.  It was cre­at­ed out of less than thin air when cybergeeks who saw it as a nat­ur­al pro­gres­sion of the mod­ern web spec­i­fied the cre­ation and dis­tri­b­u­tion of the new cyber­cur­ren­cy in a paper post­ed on the Inter­net in 2008.  The vir­tu­al cur­ren­cy was then launched into oper­a­tion in 2009. . . .

. . . . The econ­o­my is already bare­ly grow­ing, if infla­tion is cur­rent­ly mea­sured cor­rect­ly.  If the Fed fur­ther desta­bi­lizes the econ­o­my, the dol­lar will prob­a­bly fur­ther decline, as who will want to buy dol­lars to invest in a declin­ing econ­o­my only con­tin­u­ous­ly threat­ened with even high­er tax and reg­u­la­to­ry bur­dens?  But if the Fed redou­bles on its cur­rent poli­cies, the dol­lar will prob­a­bly decline fur­ther under the threat of even­tu­al infla­tion.  Who will want to hold dol­lars under this increas­ing­ly nar­row­ing conun­drum?  That is when the world may turn to some­thing dif­fer­ent.

It is not Bit­coin that will arise as the alter­na­tive glob­al reserve cur­ren­cy, because as dis­cussed above, it has no inher­ent val­ue either, so it is sub­ject to wide swings in mar­ket val­ue too.  The real threat to the dol­lar is a dif­fer­ent, pri­vate, alter­na­tive cur­ren­cy that can arise, that is based in real com­modi­ties with inher­ent val­ue. . . .

“The Anti­so­cial Net­work” by Paul Krug­man; The New York Times; 4/14/2013. [23]

Bitcoin’s wild ride may not have been the biggest busi­ness sto­ry of the past few weeks, but it was sure­ly the most enter­tain­ing. Over the course of less than two weeks the price of the “dig­i­tal cur­ren­cy” more than tripled. Then it fell more than 50 per­cent in a few hours. Sud­den­ly, it felt as if we were back in the dot-com era.

The eco­nom­ic sig­nif­i­cance of this roller coast­er was basi­cal­ly nil. But the furor over bit­coin was a use­ful les­son in the ways peo­ple mis­un­der­stand mon­ey — and in par­tic­u­lar how they are mis­led by the desire to divorce the val­ue of mon­ey from the soci­ety it serves.

What is bit­coin [28]? It’s some­times described as a way to make trans­ac­tions online — but that in itself would be noth­ing new in a world of online cred­it-card and Pay­Pal trans­ac­tions. In fact, the Com­merce Depart­ment esti­mates that by 2010 about 16 per­cent of total sales [29] in Amer­i­ca already took the form of e‑commerce.

So how is bit­coin dif­fer­ent? Unlike cred­it card trans­ac­tions, which leave a dig­i­tal trail, bit­coin trans­ac­tions are designed to be anony­mous and untrace­able. When you trans­fer bit­coins to some­one else, it’s as if you hand­ed over a paper bag filled with $100 bills in a dark alley. And sure enough, as best as any­one can tell the main use of bit­coin so far, oth­er than as a tar­get for spec­u­la­tion, has been for online ver­sions of those dark-alley exchanges, with bit­coins trad­ed for nar­cotics and oth­er ille­gal items [30].

But bit­coin evan­ge­lists insist that it’s about much more than greas­ing the path for illic­it trans­ac­tions. The biggest declared investors in bit­coins are the Win­klevoss broth­ers [31], wealthy twins who suc­cess­ful­ly sued for a share of Face­book and were made famous by the movie “The Social Net­work” — and they make claims for the dig­i­tal prod­uct sim­i­lar to those made by gold­bugs for their favorite met­al. “We have elect­ed,” declared Tyler Win­klevoss recent­ly, “to put our mon­ey and faith in a math­e­mat­i­cal frame­work that is free of pol­i­tics and human error.”

The sim­i­lar­i­ty to gold­bug rhetoric isn’t a coin­ci­dence, since gold­bugs and bit­coin enthu­si­asts — bit­bugs? — tend to share both lib­er­tar­i­an pol­i­tics and the belief that gov­ern­ments are vast­ly abus­ing their pow­er to print mon­ey. At the same time, it’s very pecu­liar, since bit­coins are in a sense the ulti­mate fiat cur­ren­cy, with a val­ue con­jured out of thin air. Gold’s val­ue comes in part because it has non­mon­e­tary uses, such as fill­ing teeth and mak­ing jew­el­ry; paper cur­ren­cies have val­ue because they’re backed by the pow­er of the state, which defines them as legal ten­der and accepts them as pay­ment for tax­es. Bit­coins, how­ev­er, derive their val­ue, if any, pure­ly from self-ful­fill­ing prophe­cy, the belief that oth­er peo­ple will accept them as pay­ment.

How­ev­er, let’s leave that strange­ness on one side, along with the pecu­liar “min­ing” process — actu­al­ly a process of com­plex cal­cu­la­tion — used to add to the bit­coin stock. Instead, let’s focus on the two huge mis­con­cep­tions — one prac­ti­cal, one philo­soph­i­cal — that under­lie both gold­bugism and bit­bugism.

The prac­ti­cal mis­con­cep­tion here — and it’s a big one — is the notion that we live in an era of wild­ly irre­spon­si­ble mon­ey print­ing, with run­away infla­tion just around the cor­ner. It’s true that the Fed­er­al Reserve and oth­er cen­tral banks have great­ly expand­ed their bal­ance sheets — but they’ve done that explic­it­ly as a tem­po­rary mea­sure in response to eco­nom­ic cri­sis. I know, gov­ern­ment offi­cials are not to be trust­ed and all that, but the truth is that Ben Bernanke’s promis­es that his actions wouldn’t be infla­tion­ary have been vin­di­cat­ed year after year, while gold­bugs’ dire warn­ings of infla­tion keep not com­ing true.

The philo­soph­i­cal mis­con­cep­tion, how­ev­er, seems to me to be even big­ger. Gold­bugs and bit­bugs alike seem to long for a pris­tine mon­e­tary stan­dard, untouched by human frailty. But that’s an impos­si­ble dream. Mon­ey is, as Paul Samuel­son once declared, a “social con­trivance,” not some­thing that stands out­side soci­ety. Even when peo­ple relied on gold and sil­ver coins, what made those coins use­ful wasn’t the pre­cious met­als they con­tained, it was the expec­ta­tion that oth­er peo­ple would accept them as pay­ment.

Actu­al­ly, you’d expect the Win­klevoss­es, of all peo­ple, to get this, because in a way mon­ey is like a social net­work, which is use­ful only to the extent that oth­er peo­ple use it. But I guess some peo­ple are just both­ered by the notion that mon­ey is a human thing, and want the ben­e­fits of the mon­e­tary net­work with­out the social part. Sor­ry, it can’t be done.

So do we need a new form of mon­ey? I guess you could make that case if the mon­ey we actu­al­ly have were mis­be­hav­ing. But it isn’t. We have huge eco­nom­ic prob­lems, but green pieces of paper are doing fine — and we should let them alone.

“Bit­coin’s Vast Over­val­u­a­tion Appears Par­tial­ly Caused by (Usu­al­ly) Ille­gal Price-Fix­ing” by Rick Falkvinge; Falkvinge.net; 9/2013. [24]

EXCERPT: . . . . In secu­ri­ties trad­ing, the expres­sion paint­ing the tape [32] is used for any trad­ing activ­i­ty that is intend­ed to manip­u­late the trad­ing sta­tis­tics (price, vol­ume, oth­er met­rics) rather than to exe­cute a trade. It is high­ly ille­gal, jail-time ille­gal, in all civ­i­lized parts of the world. The expres­sion comes from the ancient price tick­er tape, and how it could be “paint­ed” with false data.

I’m going to illus­trate how this Shark Squad has oper­at­ed recent­ly to fix the price in lur­ing oth­er traders of their mon­ey and hik­ing the price. (While lur­ing oth­er traders of their mon­ey is part of the game, there are legal and ille­gal ways to do so. Insid­er trad­ing, for exam­ple, is one of the bet­ter-known ille­gal ones – our legal frame­work gen­er­al­ly fights hard to cre­ate a lev­el play­ing field for all traders.) The squad is a small team of col­lab­o­rat­ing traders.

In Step 1 of the cycle, the shark squad makes a large buyup, caus­ing prices to sky­rock­et. Illus­trat­ed here, the buyup at 10:00 Euro­pean time on Thurs­day Sep­tem­ber 12, 2013, from USD 135 to 145.9, an instant 8‑percent increase. This caus­es a lot of down­ward-bet­ting traders to flush out.

In step 2, the shark squad revers­es this trend by caus­ing a slow pull­back, caus­ing those who bought in greed to sell off in pan­ic as the mar­ket has reversed and caus­ing more stop loss­es to trig­ger and peo­ple to sell to the squad‘s bids. Note that I write caus­es a pull­back – this is not a nor­mal mar­ket pull­back. Let’s look at the big pic­ture first as dis­played by the site bit­coin­wis­dom [33], which dis­plays much more detail than most sites. You can see the pull­back over Thurs­day lunch-to-after­noon (blue box, right half), and there is also a dis­play of the cur­rent order book (yel­low box) and the recent trans­ac­tions (red box) which we will look at short­ly. Note how the recent trans­ac­tions in the indi­cat­ed red box are all red, red, red, indi­cat­ing a mas­sive sell­off – there’s nobody buy­ing at all on cur­so­ry inspec­tion, only sell­ing, and a lot of sell­ing.

How­ev­er, let’s take a clos­er look at the minute details of the recent trans­ac­tions in the bot­tom right cor­ner, dis­play­ing time, price, and amount of the last bit­coin trans­ac­tions:

Do you see a pat­tern here? All the trans­ac­tions are for exact­ly one bit­coin, and the trans­ac­tions are spaced exact­ly five sec­onds apart. This pat­tern can con­tin­ue for hours, a claim ver­i­fi­able by check­ing the MtGox trans­ac­tion his­to­ry. This is not mar­ket trad­ing; this is one (1) auto­mat­ed process intend­ed to give the illu­sion of many dif­fer­ent play­ers pan­ic-sell­ing. Fur­ther­more, let’s take a clos­er look at the order book:

Do you see the num­bers below and to the left of the cur­rent big red price? That’s the bid order book. That’s the cur­rent buy orders. Note how the cur­rent­ly exe­cut­ing buy orders are at 7–8 bit­coin each, placed just 0.0001 (!) bit­coin apart in price, evad­ing detec­tion on most sites. This is coor­di­nat­ed with the sell­ing per­son. Those buy orders keep replen­ish­ing as the sales orders keep tick­ing one bit­coin per five sec­onds; they are coor­di­nat­ed. This is one per­son in the Shark Squad sell­ing to anoth­er per­son in the Shark Squad, to give the illu­sion of mar­ket down­ward pres­sure and sell vol­ume.

Both of these activ­i­ties – split­ting an order to give the illu­sion of many trades, and trad­ing with­in a group to give the appear­ance of increased vol­ume and a cer­tain mar­ket direc­tion – are con­sid­ered paint­ing the tape and high­ly ille­gal. (I’m going to stop writ­ing “usu­al­ly ille­gal” now, as it’s ille­gal in prac­ti­cal­ly all coun­tries where you can read this.)

So, how can I state with cer­tain­ty that the sell­er and buy­er are con­spir­ing? Based on only this screen­shot, the evi­dence could be improved, but hav­ing watched the mar­ket at this lev­el for some two months and seen how these kind of buy and sell orders fol­low each oth­er very close­ly, it’s obvi­ous there is talk­ing and coor­di­nat­ing with­in a team ded­i­cat­ed to fab­ri­cat­ing a mar­ket impres­sion. Nor­mal­ly, you would need to see how they moved in lock­step to iden­ti­fy this coop­er­a­tion, but it’s par­tic­u­lar­ly vis­i­ble in this snap­shot. (Besides, the vis­i­ble order-split­ting is enough to con­sti­tute tape-paint­ing entire­ly on its own.)

Here’s the kick­er, then: we have observed that the buy orders being exe­cut­ed – the ones with 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 8, 8, etc. bit­coin at the moment at a price of 137.64xyz – belong to this shark squad. What hap­pens when a trad­er sees the (false) image of a mas­sive sell­off going on, and sells in pan­ic? Well, he’s sell­ing his bit­coin into those buy orders to the shark squad, at the price they have set. Here, the price is 137.64. So the obvi­ous ques­tion is, what hap­pens next? Well, a fab­ri­cat­ed price hike, of course, trick­ing oth­er traders to buy those same bit­coin at high­er prices from the coor­di­nat­ed shark squad. We’ll be return­ing to when and how that hap­pens in step 4.

In Step 3, the shark squad puts up an enor­mous bid­wall – so large it’s effec­tive­ly a lid on the mar­ket – and lure oth­er traders to sell into it, intend­ing to sell the bought bit­coin at a high­er price after the next fab­ri­cat­ed hike. There is plen­ty of fake trad­ing going on into these bid­walls as vis­i­ble in step 2. We can also see that this lure is effec­tive – look at the trans­ac­tion his­to­ry of bit­coin around these walls, and you can eas­i­ly find trades of hun­dreds of coins amid the fake trad­ing. Or per­haps it’s the shark squad sell­ing to itself again with the trans­ac­tions in the hun­dreds. Hard to know – most like­ly a mix of in-group trad­ing and oth­ers being lured to sell. In any case, unsus­pect­ing traders are sell­ing into the shark squad‘s bid­walls. These lure­walls are eas­i­ly iden­ti­fi­able in the close-up mar­ket his­to­ry, as well as when they were removed:

In Step 4, final­ly, the price is hiked to new highs and the shark squad begins offload­ing its booty at high­er prices, and the cycle repeats with them trad­ing in-between them­selves to give the appear­ance of mar­ket activ­i­ty. That price hike hap­pened at 15:25 Thurs­day, Euro­pean time, up to 145 USD for this cycle, as also vis­i­ble in the image above.

This cycle has repeat­ed very vis­i­bly at least five times in the past weeks, and like­ly since much ear­li­er in a vari­ant ver­sion:

This – this ille­gal activ­i­ty – is very trou­bling for the bit­coin ecosys­tem. . . .

“Dark Wal­let: A Rad­i­cal Way to Bit­coin” by Michael del Castil­lo; The New York­er; 9/24/2013. [21]

EXCERPT: . . . . Wil­son believes Bit­coin should remain the back­bone of a sep­a­rate econ­o­my that under­mines the government’s abil­i­ty to col­lect tax­es and to con­trol the val­ue of currency—not be sub­sumed into the main­stream econ­o­my.

“The state is basi­cal­ly allowed because we have all cho­sen to use these cer­tain insti­tu­tions to chan­nel our activ­i­ty and com­merce,” he told me. “But when we are enabled, through alter­na­tive means and tech­nolo­gies, to chan­nel our com­merce as we will, chan­nel our pro­duc­tion as we will, the state sim­ply dis­ap­pears.”

Not every­one agrees, of course, that soci­ety would ben­e­fit from the dis­ap­pear­ance of gov­ern­ments. Wil­son used the Lib­er­a­tor to make the point that the gov­ern­ment shouldn’t reg­u­late the flow of infor­ma­tion; he wants to use Bit­coin to help build an econ­o­my out­side of the government’s reach.

But his ide­ol­o­gy, tak­en to its log­i­cal con­clu­sion, would also leave ser­vices like roads, libraries, fire fight­ing, and polic­ing in the hands of the pri­vate sector—whose inter­ests may not be aligned, Wilson’s crit­ics argue, with those of the pub­lic at large.

Wil­son knows that he could see blow­back for his stance against the foun­da­tion: as a self-described “cryp­to-anar­chist,” per­haps he shouldn’t be so con­cerned with who is or isn’t deter­min­ing the currency’s future. And if the U.S. gov­ern­ment attempts to reg­u­late the cur­ren­cy, which seems like­ly, Wil­son will also find him­self once again in direct oppo­si­tion to the gov­ern­ment. . . .

“For­mer Pay­Pal CEO Signs Off on Bit­con” by Sam Bid­dle; Val­ley­Wag; 5/16/2013. [26]

EXCERPT: Before he was one of the most pow­er­ful VCs in the world, Peter Thiel cre­at­ed Pay­Pal, which deals in real dol­lars and boomed accord­ing­ly. If you think this might make him wary of unreg­u­lat­ed inter­net fun­ny mon­ey, you’re wrong: $2,000,000 wrong.
Thiel’s Founders Fund just wrapped a $2 mil­lion round for Bit­Pay, which helps oth­er com­pa­nies accept Bit­coin payments—namely for things “like elec­tron­ics, pre­cious met­als, and oth­er low-mar­gin prod­ucts,” says TechCrunch.

The cash infu­sion comes only a week after Fred Wil­son led a $5 mil­lion round in anoth­er com­pa­ny that does pret­ty much the exact same thing, and at a time when the most pow­er­ful Bit­coin exchange in the world is get­ting its ass kicked by the US gov­ern­ment. [This is a ref­er­ence to Silk Road [3]–D.E..] . .