National News

It won't be easy for ISIS to create its own currency

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-11-14 11:00

Apparently the leader of ISIS, the so-called Islamic State, has been doing some sovereign financial planning. He is aiming to get his self-declared caliphate into the currency business.

Announcements on jihadi websites say ISIS plans to mint gold, silver, and copper coins — to be the currency used throughout the extensive areas it now controls in Iraq and Syria. The coins will reportedly be based on the Islamic dinar used in early Islamic times, specifically during the Caliphate of Uthman in the year 634.

There are some logistical hurdles for ISIS, like acquiring enough precious metal, minting and distributing the coinage, mandating that people in its zone of control use the coins and not other currencies (U.S. dollars, euros, Iraqi and Syrian dinars, etc.).

And then there's the problem of having the currency shunned by the global family of nations, along with international banks and corporations — as proceeds of terrorism and money laundering.

Former Treasury official Ted Truman, now at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, says it would be a "weird, difficult system to manage."

“Prices of bread and so forth would go up and down with the price of copper or gold or silver on the global market," Truman says. "A unit today would buy one loaf of bread, and tomorrow, half a loaf of bread."

That could spread panic and hoarding,  because people wouldn’t know how much food or gasoline those coins would purchase on a day-to-day basis. 

And then there's the problem of trade: It's based on systems of credit and banking, not the exchange of precious metals and coins, says Fariborz Ghadar, director of the Center for Global Business Studies at Penn State University. This is crucial for ISIS, Ghadar says, which does plenty of trade in black-market oil, weapons and food using international currencies such as the U.S. dollar.

“Imagine somebody wants to buy wheat from a trader in Iraq and wants to use it in Damascus," Ghadar said. "Does that mean then you have to put gold in a truck and ship it and exchange it for the wheat that’s coming. And then what happens if on the middle of the road, somebody steals your gold?”

Creating a gold-and-silver based currency has another drawback for ISIS. The value of the coins would be set by the global metals markets — in New York, London, Tokyo and other international financial hubs. This is exactly what the self-declared caliphate says it’s trying to avoid. Its intent is to isolate its citizens from the ‘tyrannical’ global financial system that has ‘enslaved and impoverished’ Muslims, according to online communications from ISIS explaining the new currency plan. Having a precious metals-based currency might bind the self-declared state even tighter to global finance.

Patrick Heller, a numismatic expert and owner of Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Michigan, says minting its own coins could serve a useful political purpose for the militant group, which is governing, providing services and administering justice in territories it controls.

"It's brilliant," said Heller. "ISIS is trying to pretend it's a government. And one of the things that governments do is set a monetary standard, and issue coins and even currency."

Truman speculates that even if the new coinage doesn't end up being adopted as an effective means of day-to-day commerce in ISIS's sphere of influence, it could have a morale-boosting effect. He predicted that ISIS sympathizers around the world would buy and collect the new coins — decorated with images of shields and spears, mosques and minarets — as a way of showing support and expressing their religious affiliation with the group. 

Pimco co-founder got a $290 million bonus last year

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-11-14 11:00

If you need a reminder that you picked the wrong profession, this is your story.

Legendary bond trader Bill Gross, left his firm, Pimco, a couple of months ago. But according to Bloomberg he left with plenty of money in his back pocket. The report, which Pimco denied, said Gross got $290 million as a year-end bonus last year.

Two-hundred ninety. Million. Dollars.

How your car's computers can spy on you

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-11-14 11:00

A group of major car-makers has come out with a set of consumer privacy protection principles. In essence, they promise to place limits on the ways their cars will spy on us – and who will get the information the cars collect.

The document includes rules for geolocation (where you are), driver behavior (how fast you drive, whether you’re wearing a seat belt and your "braking habits") and personal information, including — this is right there in the document — biometrics. 

Of course, modern cars already collect plenty of data.

"Anyone who's taken their car to a dealer knows that there's a port the dealer plugs into, and it gives them all kinds of diagnostic information," says Jules Polonetsky, executive director of the Future of Privacy Forum, which has issued a white paper about privacy and connected cars.

"But that data used to be in your car. You went into the dealer— he had to plug in," Polonetsky says. "That wasn’t being sent anywhere."

Now that cars can connect directly to the Internet, there’s more data to float out there – and some of that data is already floating.

"You’re driving along and advertisements will come up for certain hotels that we use," says Lori Rectanus, author of a Government Accountability Office report on location-based services in cars

"We look at that and we go, ‘How did they know that?'" she says. "'How did they know we would be interested in that?’"

The GAO did not find GPS navigation companies selling consumer-location data to advertisers, according to Rectanus. But they could. Or they could get hacked.

The point is: They know where you are, and that's enough to raise concerns, says Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Lee Tien.

"Somebody might say, 'Wait a minute. I drove to my oncologist's. I drove to Planned Parenthood. I drove to this location at this time when there's an AA meeting,'" Tien says. "There's lots of things about location that people would rather, often, keep private."

What if the car has a video camera that could record what you — and your passenger — are doing and saying?  Think about who you tend to be in a car with: "Parents with children, co-workers, colleagues, friends, family," Tien says. "A lot of conversations, a lot of activity [take place] inside the car."

There’s also the question of how you drive: Should your car have the ability to issue you a speeding ticket?

The new privacy principles don’t impress Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who has pushed for federal legislation to protect privacy in cars. "The principles do not provide consumers with a choice, whether sensitive information is collected in the first place," he says.

After all, if you don’t want anyone to track you through your phone, you can always turn it off.

How your car's computers could expose you

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-11-14 11:00

A group of major car-makers has come out with a set of consumer privacy protection principles. In essence, they promise there will be limits to the ways their cars will spy on us and who will get the information the cars collect.

The document includes rules for geolocation (where you are), driver behavior (how fast you drive, whether you’re wearing a seat belt and your "braking habits") and personally-identifiable information, including — this is right there in the document — biometrics. 

Of course modern cars already collect lots of data.

"Anyone who's taken their car to a dealer knows that there's a port the dealer plugs into, and it gives them all kinds of diagnostic information," says Jules Polonetsky, executive director of the Future of Privacy Forum, which has issued a white paper about privacy and connected cars.

"But that data used to be in your car. You went into the dealer— he had to plug in," Polonetsky says. "That wasn’t being sent anywhere."

Now that cars can connect directly to the Internet, there’s more data to float out there.

Some of that data is already floating. "You’re driving along and advertisements will come up for certain hotels that we use," says  Lori Rectanus, author of a Government Accountability Office report on location-based services in cars

"We look at that and we go, ‘How did they know that?'" she says. "'How did they know we would be interested in that?’"

Rectanus says the GAO did not find GPS navigation companies selling consumer-location data to advertisers. But they could. Or they could get hacked.

The point is they know where you are, and that's enough to raise concerns, says Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Lee Tien.

"Somebody might say, 'Wait a minute. I drove to my oncologist's. I drove to Planned Parenthood. I drove to this location at this time when there's an AA meeting,'" Tien says. "There's lots of things about location that people would rather, often, keep private."

Or, he says, what if the car has a video camera that could record what you — and your passenger — are doing and saying?  Think about who you tend to be in a car with: "Parents with children, co-workers, colleagues, friends, family," Tien says. "A lot of conversations, a lot of activity inside the car."

There’s also the question of how you drive: Do you want your car to be able to issue you a speeding ticket?

The new privacy principles don’t impress Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts who has pushed for federal legislation to protect privacy in cars. "The principles do not provide consumers with a choice, whether sensitive information is collected in the first place," he says.

After all, if you don’t want anyone to track you through your phone, you can always turn it off.

Missing Lynx? Search Continues For Mystery French Feline

NPR News - Fri, 2014-11-14 10:52

The animal, which was spotted Thursday, was initially thought to be a tiger. Officials now say it's not, but they aren't sure what it is. One theory is that it's a lynx.

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