Dec 262017
 
 December 26, 2017  Posted by at 11:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edward Hopper Christmas card 1928

 

Shale Gas Fuels 40% Increase In Funding For Plastics Production (G.)
Bitcoin Could Crash Financial Markets Because Of Massive Borrowing (MW)
Was Coinbase’s Bitcoin Cash Rollout A Designed Hit? (Luongo)
Japan PM Abe Urges Firms To Raise Wages By 3% Or More (R.)
Japan’s Household Spending Jumps But BOJ Seen Keeping Stimulus (R.)
Shanghai Sets Population At 25 Million To Avoid ‘Big City Disease’ (G./R.)
Europe Banks Brace For Huge Overhaul That Opens The Doors To Their Data (CNBC)
Scotland United In Curiosity As Councils Trial Universal Basic Income (G.)
UK Asylum Offices ‘In A Constant State Of Crisis’, Say Whistleblowers (G.)
‘Normality’ To Be Restored At Moria By End of January – Greek Minister (K.)
UNHCR Calls For Migrant Transfers, Blames Greece For Grim Conditions (K.)

 

 

It’s up to you to refuse plastics. Nothing else will work.

Shale Gas Fuels 40% Increase In Funding For Plastics Production (G.)

The global plastic binge which is already causing widespread damage to oceans, habitats and food chains, is set to increase dramatically over the next 10 years after multibillion dollar investments in a new generation of plastics plants in the US. Fossil fuel companies are among those who have plooughed more than $180bn since 2010 into new “cracking” facilities that will produce the raw material for everyday plastics from packaging to bottles, trays and cartons. The new facilities – being built by corporations like Exxon Mobile Chemical and Shell Chemical – will help fuel a 40% rise in plastic production in the next decade, according to experts, exacerbating the plastic pollution crisis that scientist warn already risks “near permanent pollution of the earth.”

“We could be locking in decades of expanded plastics production at precisely the time the world is realising we should use far less of it,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the US Center for International Environmental Law, which has analysed the plastic industry. “Around 99% of the feedstock for plastics is fossil fuels, so we are looking at the same companies, like Exxon and Shell, that have helped create the climate crisis. There is a deep and pervasive relationship between oil and gas companies and plastics.” Greenpeace UK’s senior oceans campaigner Louise Edge said any increase in the amount of plastic ending up in the oceans would have a disastrous impact. “We are already producing more disposable plastic than we can deal with, more in the last decade than in the entire twentieth century, and millions of tonnes of it are ending up in our oceans.”

The huge investment in plastic production has been driven by the shale gas boom in the US. This has resulted in one of the raw materials used to produce plastic resin – natural gas liquids – dropping dramatically in price. The American Chemistry Council says that since 2010 this has led to $186bn dollars being invested in 318 new projects. Almost half of them are already under construction or have been completed. The rest are at the planning stage. “I can summarise [the boom in plastics facilities] in two words,” Kevin Swift, chief economist at the ACC, told the Guardian. “Shale gas.”

Read more …

For now, crypto is too small to sink anything at all, but a potential future issue is: If derivatives and leverage play such a big role in crypto, how exactly is it different from all other ‘investments’?

Bitcoin Could Crash Financial Markets Because Of Massive Borrowing (MW)

Bitcoin mania is starting to look like a religion. I say that because both bitcoin and religion involve faith in the unknowable. Some bitcoin investors believe the cryptocurrency, along with the underlying blockchain technology, will be a vital part of a new, decentralized, post-government society. I can’t prove that won’t happen — nor can bitcoin evangelists prove it will. Like life after death, they can only say it’s out there beyond the horizon. If you believe in bitcoin paradise, fine. It’s your business … until your faith puts everyone else at risk. As of this month, bitcoin is doing it. Is bitcoin in a price bubble? I think so. Asset bubbles usually only hurt the buyers who overpay, but that changes when you add leverage to the equation.

Leverage means “buying with borrowed money.” So when you buy something with borrowed money and can’t repay it, the lender loses too. The problem spreads further when lenders themselves are leveraged. For bitcoin mania to infect the entire financial system, like securitized mortgages did in 2008, buyers would have to use leverage. The bad news is that a growing number do just that. In the U.S., we have a Financial Stability Oversight Council to watch for system-wide vulnerabilities. The FSOC issued its 164-page annual report this month. Here’s its plan on bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies: It is desirable for financial regulators to monitor and analyze their effects on financial stability. Sounds like FSOC is on the case — or at least will be on it, someday. Meanwhile, this month commodity regulators allowed two different U.S. exchanges to launch bitcoin futures contracts.

Oddly, instead of griping about slow regulatory approval, futures industry leaders think the government moved too fast. To get why, you need to understand how futures exchanges work. One key difference between a regulated futures exchange and a private bet between two parties is that the exchange absorbs counterparty risk. When you buy, say, gold futures, you don’t have to worry that whoever sold you the contract will disappear and not pay up. If you close your trade at a profit, the exchange clearinghouse guarantees payment. The clearinghouse consists of the exchange’s member brokerage firms. They all pledge their own capital as a backstop to keep the exchange running. So when the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) gave exchanges the green light to launch bitcoin futures, member firms collectively said (I’ll paraphrase here): “WTF?”

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No matter if crypto surges or collapses in 2018, controversies will be much much bigger than this year. Just getting started.

Was Coinbase’s Bitcoin Cash Rollout A Designed Hit? (Luongo)

[..] if there is a path to harming Bitcoin and the cryptocurrency market available to the money center banks, then they will always opt for it. I’ve been pretty vocal about the need for having a slow, annoying reserve asset in the cryptocurrency space. I’ve talked about it multiple times (here and here). This doesn’t jibe with Bitcoin Cash proponent and Bitcoin.com CEO Roger Ver’s image of Bitcoin. And that is to Roger’s credit, actually. It’s pretty obvious from a cursory glance at Roger’s Twitter feed that he approaches Bitcoin as a radical libertarian/Austrian Economist would — a purely decentralized, trustless money that can wrest control of the world’s monetary system from rentiers in Government and Banking. Music to my ears. On the other hand is the very shady attitude of Blockstream and the Bitcoin Core group who prevailed in the Segwit 2x fight, which, from Roger Ver’s perspective is actually a mop-up operation, not the decisive battle in the war.

“The reason there is so much hostility from Bitcoin Core towards Bitcoin Cash is because Core knows they have stolen the name but are advocating a completely different system than what was originally described by Satoshi. Bitcoin Cash is Bitcoin” — Roger Ver (@rogerkver) December 19, 2017

The real battle for the soul of Bitcoin happened back in August with the fork that created Bitcoin Cash. Complaining about all of these other forks, to Roger, is like closing the barn door after the horses are gone. By keeping Bitcoin slow and expensive they create the need for new solutions to improve it. Why solve a problem when you can artificially create one and then sell everyone the solution? So, I’m ambivalent about this fight for the soul of Bitcoin, because I want a real digital analogue to Gold which only moves the most important transactions. I don’t want all coins to be all things to all people. But, I also know that with this much money at stake there will be pushback from the ‘powers-that-be.’ The Banks and central banks are staring at an existential threat to their future and are doing what they can to stop it from happening. And that, to them, means gaining control over the Bitcoin blockchain. It also means cutting off the means of entry and exit from the cryptocurrency market for average people.

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Unemployment in Japan is almost non-existent, but apparently markets don’t work the way they’re supposed to. Tight labor doesn’t lead to higher wages.

Japan PM Abe Urges Firms To Raise Wages By 3% Or More (R.)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday urged companies to raise wages by 3% or more next year, keeping up pressure on firms to spend their huge cash pile on wages to broaden the benefits of his “Abenomics” stimulus policies.“We must sustain and strengthen Japan’s positive economic cycle next year to achieve our long-standing goal of beating deflation,” Abe said in a speech at a meeting of Japan’s biggest business lobby Keidanren. “For that, I’d like to ask companies to raise wages by 3% or higher next spring,” he said. Wages at big companies have been rising slightly more than 2% each year since 2014, government data shows, and an increase of 3% or more next year would help the Bank of Japan to reach its elusive 2% inflation target.

BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda told the same meeting that companies remain hesitant to raise wages because they had become accustomed to prioritising job security over wage hikes during 15 years of deflation. “With consumers remaining reluctant to accept price rises, many firms are concerned about losing customers if they raise prices,” he said. “It seems so difficult for many firms to take the first step to raise their prices, that they wait and see what other firms are doing.” Sadayuki Sakakibara, chairman of Keidanren, made no reference to wages at his speech at the meeting, focusing instead on the need for Japan to get its fiscal house in order. “We’d like to strongly call on the need to restore fiscal health,” as worries over the sustainability of Japan’s social welfare system could discourage consumers to spend, he said.

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“..due mostly to a boost from rising fuel costs that is seen fading in 2018..”

Japan’s Household Spending Jumps But BOJ Seen Keeping Stimulus (R.)

Japan’s households spent more than expected in November while consumer inflation ticked up and the jobless rate hit a fresh 24-year low, offering the central bank some hope an economic recovery will drive up inflation to its 2% target. But the increase in prices was due mostly to a boost from rising fuel costs that is seen fading in 2018, keeping the Bank of Japan under pressure to maintain its huge monetary support even as other central banks seek an end to crisis-mode policies. Minutes of the BOJ’s October rate review showed that while most central bank policymakers saw no need to ramp up stimulus, they agreed on the need to sustain “powerful” monetary easing for the time being. “There’s a chance inflation may gradually accelerate toward the fiscal year beginning in April,” as a tightening job market pressures companies to raise wages, said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute.

“But inflation remains distant from the BOJ’s 2% target, so the central bank will probably maintain its current policy framework.” Spending was driven by broadbased gains, with households loosening the purse strings for items such as refrigerators, washing machines, and sporting goods and services such as eating-out and travel. Data also showed wage earners’ disposable income rose 1.8% in November from a year earlier, suggesting that higher incomes have encouraged consumers to open their wallets. The nationwide core consumer price index (CPI), which includes oil goods but excludes volatile fresh food prices, rose 0.9% in November from a year earlier, government data showed on Tuesday, marking the 11th straight month of gains. The pace of price growth was just ahead of October’s 0.8% and a median market forecast of the same rate.

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Illusions of control. China’s no. 1 threat.

Shanghai Sets Population At 25 Million To Avoid ‘Big City Disease’ (G./R.)

China’s financial hub of Shanghai will limit its population to 25 million people by 2035 as part of a quest to manage “big city disease”, authorities have said. The State Council said on its website late on Monday the goal to control the size of the city was part of Shanghai’s masterplan for 2017-2035, which the government body had approved. “By 2035, the resident population in Shanghai will be controlled at around 25 million and the total amount of land made available for construction will not exceed 3,200 square kilometres,” it said. State media has defined “big city disease” as arising when a megacity becomes plagued with environmental pollution, traffic congestion and a shortage of public services, including education and medical care.

But some experts doubt the feasibility of the plans, with one researcher at a Chinese government thinktank describing the scheme as “unpractical and against the social development trend”. Migrant workers and the city’s poor would suffer the most, predicted Liang Zhongtang last year in an interview with state media, when Shanghai’s target was being drafted. The government set a similar limit for Beijing in September, declaring the city’s population should not exceed 23 million by 2020. Beijing had a population of 21.5 million in 2014. Officials also want to reduce the population of six core districts by 15% compared with 2014 levels. To help achieve this goal authorities said in April some government agencies, state-owned companies and other “non-core” functions of the Chinese capital would be moved to a newly created city about 100 kilometres south of Beijing.

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Well, actually, your data, that is.

Europe Banks Brace For Huge Overhaul That Opens The Doors To Their Data (CNBC)

From current accounts to credit cards, established lenders have access to vast amounts of information that financial technology (fintech) competitors could only dream of. In Europe, that could all be about to change. On January 8, banks operating in the European Union will be forced to open up their customer data to third party firms — that is, when customers give consent. EU lawmakers hope that the introduction of the revised Payment Services Directive (PSD2) will give non-banking firms the chance to compete with banks in the payments business and give consumers more choice over financial products and services. Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has set out similar plans to let customers share their data with other banks and third parties.

With customer consent, U.K. banks will be required to give authorized third-party firms access to current account data. Those regulations form part of a conceptual transition known as “open banking.” Under an open banking framework, proponents say, non-banking firms — from corporations as big as Amazon and IBM to start-ups — would be able create new financial products by utilizing the data of banks. Banks will be required to build application programming interfaces (APIs) — sets of code that give third parties secure access to their back-end data. Those APIs serve as channels for developers to get to the data and build their own products and services around it.

Such information could serve as a tool to understand things such as customers’ spending habits or credit history, and could lead to the creation of new services. “In a world of open banking, the customer can choose a provider in each part of the value chain. And each bank has to participate in the value chain as an earners’ right to be there,” Anne Boden, co-founder and chief executive of U.K. mobile-only bank Starling, told CNBC in an interview earlier this year. [..] Some European lenders are giving early signals as to what a post-PSD2 world will look like. Spain’s BBVA, Denmark’s Saxo Bank, Nordic lender Nordea and Ireland’s Ulster Bank have already published open developer portals ahead of the EU legislation.

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UBI experiments that are poorly designed are real threats to the principle.

Scotland United In Curiosity As Councils Trial Universal Basic Income (G.)

In Scotland, a country wearily familiar with divisions of a constitutional nature, the concept of a basic income is almost unique in enjoying multi-party favour. Across the four areas currently designing basic income pilots – Glasgow, Edinburgh, Fife and North Ayrshire – the projects have variously been championed by Labour, SNP, Green and, in one case, Conservative councillors. Matt Kerr, who has tirelessly lobbied for the idea through Glasgow city council, said: “Reactions to basic income have not split along the usual left/right party lines. Some people to the left of the Labour party think that it undermines the role of trade unions and others take the opposite view. But there should be room for scepticism; you need that to get the right policy.” Advocates are aware such unity of purpose is precious and worth preserving.

“The danger is that this falls into party blocks,” said Kerr. “If people can unite around having a curiosity about [it] then I’m happy with that. But having the first minister on board has done us no harm at all.” Inevitably, Sturgeon’s declared interest has invited criticism from her opponents. A civil service briefing paper on basic income, which expressed concerns that the “conflicting and confusing” policy could be a disincentive to work and costed its national roll-out at £12.3bn a year, was obtained by the Scottish Conservatives through a freedom of information request in October. The party accused her of “pandering to the extreme left of the [independence] movement”. But advocates argue the figures fail to take into account savings the scheme would bring.

The independent thinktank Reform Scotland, which published a briefing earlier this month setting out a suggested basic income of £5,200 for every adult, has calculated that much of the cost could be met through a combination of making work-related benefits obsolete and changes to the tax system, including scrapping the personal allowance and merging national insurance and income tax. [..] Joe Cullinane, the Labour leader of North Ayrshire council, said: “We have high levels of deprivation and high unemployment, so we take the view that the current system is failing us and we need to look at something new to lift people out of poverty. “Basic income has critics and supporters on the left and right, which tells you there are very different ways of shaping it and we need to state at the outset that this is a progressive change, to remove that fear and allow people to have greater control over their lives, to enter the labour market on their own terms.”

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“Two whistleblowers claim Home Office departments delay asylum applications for profit..

UK Asylum Offices ‘In A Constant State Of Crisis’, Say Whistleblowers (G.)

Staff in the Home Office’s asylum directorate are undertrained, overworked and operating in a “constant state of crisis”, two whistleblowers have claimed, as applicants endure long waits to have their case dealt with due to internal pressures. The Home Office staff have also told the Guardian that asylum case workers are making poor decisions about applications because they are under pressure to focus on more profitable visa applications. Despite a “shocking increase in complaints (from applicants) and MP enquiries questioning delays”, they say caseworkers have been told to brush off all enquires and “just give standard lines” of response when called to account.

A source from the UK Visa and Immigration Unit (UKVI) has alleged that caseworkers have been ordered to kick applications for spousal visas “into the long grass” because they can make more money for the directorate by processing student visas. Spousal visas, also known as settlement visas, cost more than student visas but take much longer to process. The source also claims visa applications are routinely labelled “complex” or ”non-straightforward” by staff – a term which excuses the UKVI from adhering to their standard processing times – it is, the source claimed, “just a euphemism for ‘there’s more profitable stuff we could be doing’”. Paying hundreds of pounds for priority services to try to avoid delays on decisions is a “waste of time”, they warned applicants.

The allegations reflect concerns expressed in a report earlier this year by David Bolt, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, who said the Home Office is not “in effective control” of its asylum process. [..] Some of the more shocking findings from Bolt’s report included pregnant women being made to wait more than two years for decisions on their immigration applications; an increasing numbers of applicants having their immigration applications registered as “not straightforward” and endlessly delayed; and Home Office employees being “pushed to the limit” by individual targets and threatened with disciplinary action as deadlines approach.

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At least one more month of utter despair, with little reason to assume any improvement by then. Mouzalas cannot escape his part of the blame.. That said, he’s not lying when he says “Here in Moria we have a problem with unaccompanied minor refugees. We have asked Europe to take a share of these children. It refuses to do so..”

‘Normality’ To Be Restored At Moria By End of January – Greek Minister (K.)

Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas said Monday authorities were making huge efforts to improve conditions at the Moria camp on the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos, while accusing European officials of “hypocrisy” for failing to shoulder their share of the burden. Speaking after an unannounced visit at the infamous migrant and refugee processing center, Mouzalas said Greek authorities were hoping to restore “normality” at the facility by the end of January. “It all depends on arrivals,” Mouzalas said. “Today it was good weather and a total of 175 arrivals have been recorded on Lesvos as of this morning,” he said.

Responding to criticism over the scenes of misery and squalor documented by foreign media at Moria last week, the leftist minister said: “Europe must put an end to its hypocrisy.” “Here in Moria we have a problem with unaccompanied minor refugees. We have asked Europe to take a share of these children. It refuses to do so,” Mouzalas said. “It’s very easy to act like a prosecutor. Dealing with the situation in a way that helps refugees and migrants is the hard part. And this is what we are expected to do,” he said. “There is no point in wagging your finger. What you need to do is mobilize the procedures and mechanisms in order to improve conditions and solve problems,” he said.

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And the UNHCR is not beyond blame, either. Pointing fingers at others is always easy, but hard to keep up after two whole years.

UNHCR Calls For Migrant Transfers, Blames Greece For Grim Conditions (K.)

As temperatures drop, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) once more urged Greek authorities to swiftly transfer thousands of refugees and migrants living in cramped and unsafe island camps to the mainland where better conditions and services are available. “Tension in the reception centers and on the islands has been mounting since the summer when the number of arrivals began rising,” UNHCR spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly told Voice of America. “In some cases, local authorities have opposed efforts to introduce improvements inside the reception centers,” Pouilly was quoted as saying. More than 15,000 people have been transferred to the mainland over the past year.

Meanwhile, speaking to the New Europe news website, the EU’s special envoy on migration, Maarten Verwey, suggested that Greek authorities were to blame for the grim living conditions inside island migrant camps, as recently documented by American news outlet BuzzFeed and Germany’s Deutsche Welle. “The Commission has made the funding available to ensure appropriate accommodation for all. However, the Commission cannot order the creation or expansion of reception capacity, against the opposition of the competent authorities,” Verwey said, according to New Europe.

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Dec 202017
 
 December 20, 2017  Posted by at 9:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Claude Monet Houses of Parliament, Sunset 1904

 

Bitcoin Plunges Over $2,500, Bounces Back Somewhat, Bitcoin Cash Surges (MW)
Coinbase Enables -Then Disables- Bitcoin Cash Trading: Insider Trading? (BI)
From Bitcoin To Hashgraph: The Crypto Revolution (Mike Maloney)
Is It 1999? 2007? Or Both? (Roberts)
China Is Having Second Thoughts About Cracking Down On Ballooning Debt (CNBC)
EU Commission May Launch Moves To Punish Poland Over Legal Reforms (R.)
Facebook’s New Nemesis Is a Besuited German Antitrust Watchdog (BBG)
Un-Merry Christmas: Perverse Incentives to Over-Consume and Over-Spend (CHS)
Too Late, Theresa – Brexit Offer To EU Citizens Leaves Many Cold (R.)
Centuries-Old Gibraltar Dispute Threatens Brexit Progress (BBG)
UK Government Condemned Over ‘Abject Failure’ To Tackle Homelessness (Ind.)
Salaries Continue To Decline In Greece
Footage Emerges From Lesbos Refugee Camp Showing Shocking Conditions (K.)
10 People Injured In Clashes At Moria Refugee Camp On Lesbos (K.)
Our Selective Blindness Is Lethal To The Living World (G.)

 

 

Pretty wild. You sure you want your savings go through that?

Bitcoin Plunges Over $2,500, Bounces Back Somewhat, Bitcoin Cash Surges (MW)

The price of bitcoin plunged about 14% — more than $2,500 — Tuesday night after cryptocurrency trading site Coinbase said it would allow its customers to buy and sell its rival offshoot currency, bitcoin cash. In a matter of hours, the price of bitcoin dropped from $18,125 to as low as $15,578. Bitcoin later rallied somewhat and was trading within a $1,000-range; it was last at $16,875 Tuesday night. Bitcoin futures on the CME Group’s Chicago Mercantile Exchange were last trading at $17,425, off more than $700 from the afternoon. Bitcoin cash, meanwhile, rallied more than 50% to all-time highs above $3,300. It was last trading at $3,303, according to CoinMarketCap. “Sends and receives are available immediately,” Coinbase said in a blog post Tuesday announcing bitcoin-cash trading.

“Buys and sells will be available to all customers once there is sufficient liquidity on GDAX. We anticipate that this will take a few hours.” However, Coinbase and its GDAX exchange late Tuesday suspended bitcoin-cash trading after just four minutes until 9 a.m. Pacific time Wednesday, apparently until traffic settles down and liquidity is established. Bitcoin cash was created by a split from bitcoin on Aug. 1 by a faction of disgruntled developers, and allows virtual miners to process transactions in larger units — 8 megabytes rather than the 1-MB bitcoin blocks. The fledgling cryptocurrency has expanded 10-fold since then, and is now the third-largest by market cap, at $55.6 billion, according to CoinMarketCap.com.

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Volatility, liquidity, insider trading.

Coinbase Enables -Then Disables- Bitcoin Cash Trading: Insider Trading? (BI)

Coinbase, one of the largest cryptocurrency trading platforms, shocked the crypto-world with its announcement Tuesday evening that it would allow users to buy and sell bitcoin cash. The news sent bitcoin cash, the spin-off cryptocurrency of bitcoin launched in August, to an all-time high above $3,609 per data from Markets Insider. On Coinbase’s GDAX platform, the price of the cryptocurrency reached well above $8,000 per coin. Bitcoin cash’s appreciation began slightly before the announcement on some exchanges, raising concerns about the possibility of insider trading by employees with advanced knowledge of the news. Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong said in a post early Wednesday morning that the company was looking into the matter.

“Given the price increase in the hours leading up the announcement, we will be conducting an investigation into this matter”, he said. If we find evidence of any employee or contractor violating our policies- directly or indirectly- I will not hesitate to terminate the employee immediately and take appropriate legal action. The price spike appeared to put pressure on Coinbase. Nearly four hours after the San Francisco-based firm announced it was supporting bitcoin cash trading, it said users wouldn’t be able to buy and sell the cryptocurrency until Wednesday. “An update on Bitcoin Cash for our customers: sends and receives are functional,” the company said in a tweet at 11:15 p.m. ET. “Buys and sells on Coinbase.com and in our mobile apps will be available to all customers once there is sufficient liquidity on GDAX. We anticipate that this will happen tomorrow.”

Ouch. The company said in a blog post it disabled trading because of “significant volatility.” In addition to bitcoin cash spiking by almost $1,000, cryptocurrency trading volumes reached an all-time high above $49 billion, according to data from CoinMarketCap. Coinbase has struggled to fully function under such demand in the past.


Bitcoin this week

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Our friend and gold bug Mike has lofty words.

From Bitcoin To Hashgraph: The Crypto Revolution (Mike Maloney)

Today, mankind stands at a crossroads, and the path that humanity chooses may have a greater impact on our freedom and prosperity than any event in history. In 2008 a new technology was introduced that is so important that its destiny, and the destiny of mankind are inextricably linked. It is so powerful that if captured and controlled, it could enslave all of humanity. But if allowed to remain free and flourish – it could foster unimaginable levels of peace and prosperity. It has the power to replace all financial systems globally, to supplant 90% of Wall St, and to provide some functions of government. It has no agenda. It’s always fair and impartial. It can not be manipulated, subverted, corrupted or cheated.

And – it inverts the power structure and places control of one’s destiny in the hands of the individual. In the future, when we look back at the 2.6 million-year timeline of human development and the major turning points that led to modern civilization – the creation of farming, the domestication of animals, the invention of the wheel, the harnessing of electricity and the splitting of the atom – the sixty year development of computers, the internet and this new technology will be looked upon as a single event…a turning point that will change the course of human history. It’s called Full Consensus Distibuted Ledger Technology, and so far its major use has been for cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin….but its potential goes far, far beyond that.

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Of course, as always, Lance has a lot more to say (click the link). I picked out his graph beacuse it is exceptionally strong.

Is It 1999? 2007? Or Both? (Roberts)

I have combined the three periods below, scaled to 100, so you can see just how far we have currently gone. Sure. This time could be different. It just probably isn’t.

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Beijing has been aware of this for a long time. Don’t watch what they say, watch what they do.

China Is Having Second Thoughts About Cracking Down On Ballooning Debt (CNBC)

China is planning to relax its goal of cutting debt in its economic outline that’s set for release Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. The revised plan will instead clamp down on the rise in borrowing, sources told the WSJ. The move would fly in the face of the Chinese government’s mission to bring down the country’s soaring debt, a goal President Xi Jinping has made a cornerstone to his economic platform. The weakened priority may prove to be a concession by top Communist Party leaders that China’s economy may be more reliant on leveraged growth than the government would like. The Journal added that, by cooling its stance on debt, Beijing is hinting that it would rather fuel growth with higher debt than pursue austerity measures.

Chinese debt levels jumped the most in four years in September, according to Reuters. There’s speculation that the size of China’s debt load may be three times its economy. China may be feeling pressure to keep its economy growing as the U.S. is set to pass its biggest tax overhaul in 30 years this week, which will lower the corporate tax rate to theoretically make more companies competitive with China. To be sure, Xi and the Communist Party have been hard at work to curb borrowing between banks, the Journal noted. But since the crackdown on intrabank lending, smaller banks have scaled risky borrowing.

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Don’t think Poland will react very well to being ‘punished’.

EU Commission May Launch Moves To Punish Poland Over Legal Reforms (R.)

In what would be an unprecedented move, the European Commission could invoke Article 7 of the European Union’s founding Lisbon Treaty to punish Warsaw for breaking its rules on human rights and democratic values. “Unless the Polish government postpones these court reforms, we will have no choice but to trigger Article 7,” said a senior EU official before a Commission meeting on Wednesday, where Poland’s reforms are on the agenda. Poland’s new prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in Brussels last week that “the decision has already been made”. The Commission’s deputy head Frans Timmermans warned in July that Poland was “perilously close” to facing sanctions. Such a punishment could still be blocked. Hungary, Poland’s closest ally in the EU, is likely to argue strongly against it.

But the mere threat of it underlines the sharp deterioration in ties between Warsaw and Brussels since the socially conservative Law and Justice (PiS) won power in late 2015. The Commission says Poland’s judicial reforms limit judges’ independence. Polish President Andrzej Duda has until Jan. 5 to sign them into law. If all EU governments agree, Poland could have its voting rights in the EU suspended, and may also see cuts in billions of euros of EU aid. The PiS government rejects accusations of undemocratic behavior and says its reforms are needed because courts are slow, inefficient and steeped in a communist era-mentality.

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Cartel Office, no less.

Facebook’s New Nemesis Is a Besuited German Antitrust Watchdog (BBG)

Andreas Mundt is Facebook’s new nemesis. Mundt, 57, is the president of the Federal Cartel Office, Germany’s competition regulator. For nearly two years, his agency has been probing whether a key part of the Silicon Valley giant’s business model is an abuse of a market dominance. In a case that caused much surprise outside Germany, Mundt unveiled preliminary findings on Tuesday, saying Facebook may take advantage of its popularity to bully users into agreeing to terms and conditions they often don’t understand. The small print allows using the data to generate the targeted ads that make the company so rich. “Competition law would be poorer without somebody like Andreas Mundt,” said Nelson Jung, a lawyer at Clifford Chance in London. “He’s characterized by his willingness to push boundaries and challenge the status quo.”

Facebook took a dim view, saying the report painted an “inaccurate picture” of how it operates, homing in on the criticism that it’s dominant, an important legal term that might curb future behavior. [..] Facebook didn’t hold back in its attempt to rebut Mundt’s report, saying that it’s wrong to label it as “dominant” in Germany. “A dominant company can save the expense of innovating because it doesn’t have to fear someone else developing better features. We must constantly innovate to attract people. If we fail, people will go elsewhere.” According to Mundt, when data is called the new currency of the digital age, then the relationship to competition law is obvious. That’s also why he’s rejecting criticism that the probe blurs the line between privacy and antitrust enforcement.

“It can only be an antitrust issue if a customer can’t avoid the company because it’s dominating the market. Of course that has a privacy angle but it certainly also has an antitrust angle.” Mundt calls the Facebook investigation a “pioneer case” since “for the first time we’re looking into the relation between market power and big data.” For him, it’s as important as the European Union’s clampdown on Alphabet’s Google, which in July was fined 2.4 billion-euros for skewing shopping search results. “I like the Google decision, it set out some markers for the future,” Mundt said. “That’s what we’re trying with the Facebook case as well, regardless of what the result will now be.”

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Well, Toys ‘R’ Us is already dying. Our economies run on overspending.

Un-Merry Christmas: Perverse Incentives to Over-Consume and Over-Spend (CHS)

Few topics are off-limits nowadays: the personal and private are now splashed everywhere for all to see. One topic is still taboo: the holiday’s perverse incentives to over-consume and over-spend,lest our economy implode. This topic is taboo because it strikes at the very heart of our socio-economic system, which is fundamentally based on permanent growth, the faster the better, as if unlimited expansion on a finite planet is not just possible, but desirable. In the current Mode of Production, the solution to every social and economic ill is to “grow our way out of it.” The solution to unemployment: jump-start growth by expanding consumption, spending and borrowing. The solution to stagnant wages: jump-start growth. The solution to declining profits: jump-start growth. The solution to government deficit spending: jump-start growth. And so on.

So what happens when most people have not just the basics of life, but a surplus of stuff? Where is the growth going to come from if people already have everything? The answer is three-fold: 1. Replace a perfectly good product with a new product and dump the old one in the landfill. 2. Buy duplicates and put the surplus products in the closet or storage facility. 3. Buy gimmicks (Pet Rocks, etc.) that are tossed in the dump shortly after the holiday gift-giving season ends. But does this Landfill Economy make sense? The cheap oil is about gone, and so does it make any rational sense to burn the last of the cheap fossil fuels on assembling stuff nobody needs in China, shipping it thousands of miles to retailers or Amazon warehouses, adding it to the immense piles of stuff most households already own, and then shipping the old but still functional products to the landfill, just to keep the economy humming?

This is of course insane. Decisions aren’t being made as if scarcity matters; the goals and incentives are set to encourage perverse and destructive overconsumption and overspending: not only are we squandering resources in the sacrifice to the false gods of “growth,” we’re indebting households to do so, stripping income that could have been saved and invested in productive uses. In the lunatic asylum of the current economic model, media anchors sport grins of delirious joy when reporting increases in holiday spending, as if a bump higher from $680 billion to $700 billion is a gargantuan win for the flailing economy.

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There are no Britons ready to fill the roles at either the high end -academics- or the low end -fruit pickers-.

Too Late, Theresa – Brexit Offer To EU Citizens Leaves Many Cold (R.)

Back from Brussels with a hard-fought Brexit deal, Prime Minister Theresa May wrote an open letter to the three million citizens of other European Union states living in Britain. “I know our country would be poorer if you left and I want you to stay,” she wrote after striking the initial agreement, which promises to secure their British residency rights after Brexit and allows the negotiations to move onto trade relations. But for some EU nationals – who have endured uncertainty over their rights since the Brexit vote in June 2016, not to mention an unpleasant feeling that many Britons do not want them around – May’s Dec. 8 deal is too little, too late. It’s too late to keep German nurse Daniela Jones in the chronically short-staffed National Health Service (NHS), where she worked for 35 years.

It’s too late for French psychotherapist Baya Salmon-Hawk, who after 40 years in Britain has moved to Ireland to remain in the EU. It’s too late for French accountant Nathalie Duran, who is planning early retirement in France because after 31 years as a taxpayer in Britain she objects to being told she has to pay a fee and fill in forms to be granted a new “settled status”. “I will have to regretfully decline your generous offer for settled status and oblige your lovely countrymen’s wishes and go home,” she wrote on Facebook in a response to May laden with irony. Duran told Reuters that the prime minister’s “late outpouring of love” for EU citizens, after years of tough talk on the need to cut immigration, could not mask negative attitudes towards immigrants unleashed by the Brexit vote. “I think it’s turning ugly,” said 56-year-old Duran. “It’s now OK to say ‘go home foreigners’.”

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It’s whack-a-mole thing. New issues keep popping up.

Centuries-Old Gibraltar Dispute Threatens Brexit Progress (BBG)

A 300-year-old argument between Britain and Spain over a small piece of land is threatening to derail Theresa May’s plans to help businesses navigate Brexit. U.K. officials fear Spain will threaten to veto a Brexit transition phase if the British prime minister refuses to negotiate a separate deal with the government in Madrid that covers the disputed territory of Gibraltar. While the peninsula has been in British hands since 1713, Spain maintains a claim over the 2.6 square miles (6.7 square kilometers) of land. Fears are growing among ministers in London that a new framework for the next phase of Brexit talks, due to be outlined by the European Union on Wednesday, might reignite the centuries-old arguments, a U.K. official said.

May faces pressure to quickly strike a deal on transitional terms to assure U.K.-based businesses that trade rules won’t change suddenly on Brexit day in March 2019. May wants an agreement on the transition – or “implementation” – phase by March 2018 in order to shift talks on to the long-term future trade agreement. She hopes the two-year period of stability immediately after Brexit will help encourage businesses to stay based in the U.K. Last week, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy suggested his government would need to give its explicit consent to any transitional deal affecting Gibraltar. The measure would require separate negotiations between London and Madrid, he said. [..] One U.K. official who asked not to be identified said British overseas territories must be included within the EU’s guidelines for negotiating an overall transitional period. To do anything else would be a contradiction in the EU’s own position, the official said.

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So does Labour stand up for them? really? How do they do that?

UK Government Condemned Over ‘Abject Failure’ To Tackle Homelessness (Ind.)

The Government has been condemned for taking an “unacceptably complacent” attitude towards tackling homelessness, as soaring numbers of people are forced to live on the streets or in temporary accommodation. A damning report by the cross-party Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said ministerial attempts to solve the “national crisis” had ended in “abject failure”. Figures show more than 9,000 people are sleeping rough on the streets of England at any one time – up 134% since 2011. Over 79,000 households, including 120,000 children, are meanwhile homeless and living in temporary accommodation – a rise of 65% since 2010.

Recent research by charity Shelter revealed that child homelessness has reached a 10-year high, with nearly 130,000 children in Britain set to wake up homeless and in temporary accommodation this Christmas. But the Government’s commitment to eliminate rough sleeping by 2027 will only address the “tip of the iceberg”, according to the PAC report, which found there to be an “unacceptable shortage” of realistic housing options for the homeless or those at risk of homelessness.

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Which cuts consumer spending, which cuts jobs, which cuts consumer spending, rinse and repeat.

Salaries Continue To Decline In Greece

Salaries have declined considerably and the number of workers on low wages has expanded, explaining the increase in jobs recorded by the Labor Ministry’s hirings database Ergani this year. A direct comparison of the first three weeks of October 2017 with the same period last year changes the rosy image of the local labor market that the government is attempting to present. The figures for this year show that more than six in 10 (64.27%) of the total 1,824,437 workers employed at 247,236 enterprises were on salaries of up to 1,000 euros per month gross. Fewer than two-thirds of them, accounting for 759,326 in absolute figures or 41.62% of all workers, were employed full-time, while the rest (22.65%) appeared to have part-time jobs that earned less than 500 euros a month.

Data also show the number of self-employed increased by 121,913 from October 2016, but this was not accompanied by an increase in salaries. The average salary in October 2017 dropped to 1,024.90 euros from 1,060.30 a year earlier. Across the labor market, full-time workers accounted for 68.44% of the total, virtually unchanged from the 68.28% rate in October 2016. However, the number of enterprises rose by 14,085, or 6.04%, from 233,151 in October last year. Over the 12-month period, flexible employment (part-time and shift work) grew by 30,556 jobs or 7.98%.

A growing trend has been recorded toward jobs paying between 500 and 600 euros per month: One in nine workers (11% or 200,759) fall into this revenue category, up by a remarkable 13.9% from October 2016 – a rise that is far greater than the overall increase in jobs. Eurostat data showed on Tuesday that while the hourly cost of labor in Greece rose 0.8% in the third quarter of 2017, salary costs fell 1.8% and non-salary costs (social security contributions etc) increased 8.6%.

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It’ll be a bitter winter.

Footage Emerges From Lesbos Refugee Camp Showing Shocking Conditions (K.)

US-based internet media company BuzzFeed has published a series of photographs and videos shot by residents inside the government-run Moria refugee and migrant processing center on the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos. The scenes of misery and squalor are also evident in a report on Deutsche Welle on Monday, which was International Migrants Day, showing footage taken by hidden camera inside the same facility. BuzzFeed’s Ryan Broderick said in his report that a 25-year-old man from Iraq named Noor and a 27-year-old man from Syria named Ammar agreed to provide the reporter with videos from inside the fenced-in perimeter of the former army camp, which is run by the Greek military.

The footage, which Broderick also posed on his Twitter account, provides a rare glimpse at conditions inside the camp, which was originally built to accommodate some 2,000 migrants and refugees and is now home to around 6,000 people, including unaccompanied minors, children, pregnant women and disabled or elderly individuals. Images of a shower area show a row of filthy stalls with doors hanging off their hinges, allowing little if any privacy. Many residents collect water in plastic bottles to bathe themselves rather than entering the showers, the witnesses inside the facility are quoted as saying after sending photographs of huge piles of plastic water bottled. The toilets are so unsanitary, they add, that many residents prefer to go to the bathroom in the open air, in a part of an olive tree grove set aside for this purpose.

Streets in the camp flood in the rain and are lined with tents that may accommodate more than one family and have been strengthened to withstand winter conditions with plastic sheets. In another video, two police officers are seen forcibly carrying a man by his arms and leg and shouting abuse at him after breaking up a fight between residents. Several international rights groups have decried conditions at Moria for months, calling on the Greek government to ease overcrowding and improve accommodation and sanitation standards. Squalid and cramped conditions have also led to riots and fights breaking out inside the facility.

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“300 to 350 unaccompanied minors and hundreds of children, women and elderly and disabled people.”

10 People Injured In Clashes At Moria Refugee Camp On Lesbos (K.)

Around 10 people were rushed to hospital on Lesvos on Tuesday night following violent clashes between rival groups in the Moria refugee and migrant camp. Riot police were called in to quell the unrest, which reportedly broke out between rival groups of Iraqi and Afghan nationals and resulted in several small fires being set. Tension is rife at Moria, where scant resources are being stretched at almost three times the camp’s capacity and conditions are squalid.

Among its 6,000-plus residents there are around 300 to 350 unaccompanied minors and hundreds of children, women and elderly and disabled people. Tuesday night’s clashes came a day after American news outlet BuzzFeed and Germany’s Deutsche Welle published videos of the camp’s interior showing the extent of the filth and squalor to which residents are being subjected. Journalists are not allowed into the military-run camp without the prior agreement of authorities, so the exact extent of Tuesday’s and other similar clashes are not known.

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Blind to the species that were already gone when you were born.

Our Selective Blindness Is Lethal To The Living World (G.)

What you see is not what others see. We inhabit parallel worlds of perception, bounded by our interests and experience. What is obvious to some is invisible to others. I might find myself standing, transfixed, by the roadside, watching a sparrowhawk hunting among the bushes, astonished that other people could ignore it. But they might just as well be wondering how I could have failed to notice the new V6 Pentastar Sahara that just drove past. As the psychologist Richard Wiseman points out: “At any one moment, your eyes and brain only have the processing power to look at a very small part of your surroundings … your brain quickly identifies what it considers to be the most significant aspects of your surroundings, and focuses almost all of its attention on these elements.” Everything else remains unseen.

Our selective blindness is lethal to the living world. Joni Mitchell’s claim that “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” is, sadly, untrue: our collective memory is wiped clean by ecological loss. One of the most important concepts defining our relationship to the natural world is shifting baseline syndrome, coined by the fisheries biologist Daniel Pauly. The people of each generation perceive the state of the ecosystems they encountered in their childhood as normal and natural. When wildlife is depleted, we might notice the loss, but we are unaware that the baseline by which we judge the decline is in fact a state of extreme depletion. So we forget that the default state of almost all ecosystems – on land and at sea – is domination by a megafauna.

We are unaware that there is something deeply weird about British waters; they are not thronged with great whales, vast shoals of bluefin tuna, two-metre cod and halibut the size of doors, as they were until a few centuries ago. We are unaware that the absence of elephants, rhinos, lions, scimitar cats, hyenas and hippos, that lived in this country during the last interglacial period (when the climate was almost identical to today’s), is also an artefact of human activity. And the erosion continues. Few people younger than me know that it was once normal to see fields white with mushrooms, or rivers black with eels at the autumn equinox, or that every patch of nettles was once reamed by caterpillars. I can picture a moment at which the birds stop singing, and people wake up and make breakfast and go to work without noticing that anything has changed.

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