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reality is only those delusions that we have in common...

Friday, September 14, 2018

week ending Sept 15

Lower For Longer - Yellen Urges Fed To Commit To Booms To Offset Crashes -  If there is one thing the history of the Fed has taught us, is that every boom eventually results in a painful bust. That, however, is not the way Janet Yellen sees things. The former Fed chairman, who last June said she doesn't believe that "we will see another crisis in our lifetime", urged the Fed to commit to a new approach to forward guidance, one which would let economic booms run long enough to fully offset crashes like the global financial crisis, recommending that the Fed make "lower-for-longer" its official motto for interest rates following serious downturns.  Of course, by doing so, the Fed also ensures that the subsequent crash would be far more serious, but Yellen's "strategy" is cunning: all the Fed would have to do is blow an even larger bubble as a result, guaranteeing an even greater wealth transfer during the next "recovery." What Yellen’s "new" approach boils down to is basically for the Fed to let the economy overheat, and let inflation run rampant as a result of looser monetary policy while shunning concerns about financial stability risks, even after a decade of low rates.  Of course, her logic presented in typical academic central banker fashion was far more simplistic: elaborating on how the central bank should think about what to do not if but when rates have to be cut to zero again in the future and can’t go any lower, she said the Fed should promise now that it will keep rates low enough to let a hot economy make up for lost time. “By keeping interest rates unusually low after the zero lower bound no longer binds, the lower-for-longer approach promises, in effect, to allow the economy to boom,” Yellen said her most extensive remarks about monetary policy since leaving the Fed early in the year delivered at a Brookings Institution conference. "The (Federal Open Market Committee) needs to make a credible statement endorsing such an approach, ideally before the next downturn."

 Fed Should Buy Stocks In The Next Recession- Former IMF Chief Economist - Our economy’s journey to becoming Japan will take one giant step forward if former IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard has his way. His "outside the box" solution for our next recession? The Fed should buy stocks, finance the federal deficit and buy goods. He detailed this thought provoking idea at the Boston Fed’s monetary policy conference that took place this past weekend. This thinking comes as a result of a "general sense [that] the Fed has to re-think its approach to combating recessions," according to a new MarketWatch article. Why must it re-think its approach? Because the Fed itself has eliminated most of its tools used to fight recessions by keeping the United States in a lower interest rate environment for too long, instead of raising rates as the market roared. Now we have a stock market at all time highs and record debt levels yet again - but this time with a Federal Reserve that has far fewer options to combat the next recession than it ever has had in the past and with a neutral rate of interest that is lower than it has ever been in the past.  Fascinatingly enough, economists are only now starting to realize that this lack of firepower could be a detriment to the Federal Reserve in the future. Blanchard stated over the weekend that the Fed could probably handle a small recession, but a more major recession, like the one we experienced in 2008, should prompt the Fed to resort to "previously unheard of policies". When interviewed by MarketWatch, Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren stated that he wasn’t sure there would be support for this type of monetary policy, as Blanchard was describing it. Rosengren then stated he would be "a strong advocate" of QE the way that we know it best: asset purchases and rate cuts. Such a cavalier attitude about this type of damaging monetary policy belies the larger problem of the Fed's balance sheet, which stands at over $4 trillion with no signs of lightning up in any material way. But Blanchard doesn’t seem to think that this $4 trillion dollar balance sheet is even a problem. "If we need it, we could clearly double it and nothing terrible would happen," Blanchard reportedly said.He concludes that he is not sure why people believe the Fed should only buy assets, but not goods. “We have this notion that it is only OK for the central bank to buy assets and not goods. But that’s a restriction we imposed on ourselves,” Blanchard is quoted as saying.

 Former Barclays' CEO- We Have to Continue Raising Rates  -Bob Diamond, former CEO of Barclay's, went on record with Bloomberg this week and stated that the Federal Reserve needs to raise interest rates so that the central bank could have resources for use in the future, should they need it.Of late, there has been a significant amount of discussion about whether or not the Fed's monetary policy is doing more harm than good, potentially backing the Fed into a corner and leaving it without tools for recourse in the event of an upcoming recession. Diamond is the latest voice to chime in, and he knows a little about crises: he helped lead Barclays’ purchase of parts of Lehman brothers after its bankruptcy ten years ago. “There is no question that we have to continue raising rates and get back to a more normalized level. The thing I worry about is, if there is a crisis or accident, and something has to be done, do we have the tools? Have we used all the ammunition in monetary policy?” Diamond asked on Bloomberg TV this week.He also states the obvious in noting that the slashing of interest rates and the purchase of $1 trillion in mortgage related securities helped generate a "recovery" after the crisis in 2008. But now, here we are, a decade later and interest rates don’t yet sit above 3%, despite the stock market's record run over the last decade. And Diamond is concerned by that. He believes that quantitative easing has left central banks "ill-equipped" to act the next time a crash hits. He believes that it may be difficult for the Fed to raise rates now, especially given the fact that about $8 trillion dollars in US corporate debt comes due by 2020, but that raising them now would certainly be a better option than waiting until we are in the midst of a full blown (probably inflationary) crisis that would force such a move.The economy can bear the brunt of rate hikes now, and so we should start to get more aggressive as a way to prepare for the future. Diamond stressed the importance of having options. “We have a recipe for issues, and how we manage through that is the single biggest impact of the financial crisis today,” he told Bloomberg.  Yesterday, we wrote an article about former IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard, who took the opposite view and didn’t seem to think the Fed was out of tools at all: he suggested that the Fed could start buying stocks, as well as goods and services, during the next recession.

  San Fran Fed Appoints First Openly Gay Woman As New President - Since John Williams officially took the reins at the New York Fed in June, investors have been waiting for the central bank to announce his successor. And on Friday afternoon, that wait came to an end: The Fed announced that Director of Research Mary Daly will take over the San Francisco Fed - a seat once held by former Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen - making Daly the first openly gay female president of one of the 12 district banks in the Fed's 100-year-history. As the Fed pushes for more diversity in its upper ranks, Daly will become one of only three women occupying a senior role. Daly, who ran one of the most widely respected research departments among the 12 district banks, will officially take over on Oct. 1 after serving as an executive vice president since late 2017. Her appointment was approved by the Fed board of governors in Washington following an exhaustive search that included interviews with more than 230 candidates - a third of whom were minorities, and a third of whom were women, according to Bloomberg. She first joined the SF Fed in 1996, and has a PhD in economics from Syracuse University. Crucially, Kansas City Fed President Esther George will cast San Francisco's rate-hike vote next week (George has been filling in for Williams as his official alternate). Daly will cast her first vote at the Fed's November meeting. However, the SF Fed has a reputation for being dovish, and Daly is widely expected to adhere to that view. "I am truly honored to have been given this opportunity," Daly said in a statement. "I believe very strongly in the Federal Reserve's mission and in the important role we play in helping to create strong, stable economic conditions in all corners of the country that allow individuals and businesses to prosper." The appointment carries additional weight because Daly will occupy a seat once held by former Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen, who ran the San Francisco Fed between 2004 and 2010. The San Fran Fed has a reputation for being dovish...

Key Measures Show Inflation Decreased on YoY Basis in August - The Cleveland Fed released the median CPI and the trimmed-mean CPI this morning:  According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, the median Consumer Price Index rose 0.1% (1.7% annualized rate) in August. The 16% trimmed-mean Consumer Price Index rose 0.2% (1.9% annualized rate) during the month. The median CPI and 16% trimmed-mean CPI are measures of core inflation calculated by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland based on data released in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) monthly CPI report.  Earlier today, the BLS reported that the seasonally adjusted CPI for all urban consumers rose 0.2% (2.7% annualized rate) in August. The CPI less food and energy rose 0.1% (1.0% annualized rate) on a seasonally adjusted basis.  Note: The Cleveland Fed released the median CPI details for August here. Motor fuel increased at a 42% annual rate in August.

Fed's Beige Book: Economic Growth "moderate", "Softer Home Sales" --Fed's Beige Book "This report was prepared at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York based on information collected on or before August 31, 2018" Reports from the Federal Reserve Districts suggested that the economy expanded at a moderate pace through the end of August. Dallas reported relatively brisk growth, while Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Kansas City indicated somewhat below average growth. Consumer spending continued to grow at a modest pace since the last report, and tourism activity expanded, to varying degrees, across the nation. Manufacturing activity grew at a moderate rate in most Districts, though St. Louis described business as little changed and Richmond reported a decline in activity. Transportation activity expanded, with a few Districts characterizing growth as robust. Home construction activity was mixed but up modestly, on balance. However, home sales were somewhat softer, on balance--in some cases due to reduced demand, in others due more to low inventories. Commercial real estate construction was also mixed, while both sales and leasing activity expanded modestly. Lending activity grew throughout the nation. Some Districts noted weakness in agricultural conditions. Businesses generally remained optimistic about the near-term outlook, though most Districts noted concern and uncertainty about trade tensions--particularly though not only among manufacturers. A number of Districts noted that such concerns had prompted some businesses to scale back or postpone capital investment. ... Labor markets continued to be characterized as tight throughout the country, with most Districts reporting widespread shortages. While construction workers, truck drivers, engineers, and other high-skill workers remained in short supply, a number of Districts also noted shortages of lower-skill workers at restaurants, retailers, and other types of firms. Employment grew modestly or moderately across most of the nation, though Dallas noted robust job growth, while three Districts reported little change that partly reflected a dearth of applicants. Six of the twelve Districts cited instances in which labor shortages were constraining sales or delaying projects. Wage growth was mostly characterized as modest or moderate, though a number of Districts cited steep wage hikes for construction workers.

Q3 GDP Forecasts -- From Merrill Lynch:3Q GDP tracking received a 0.5pp boost from this morning's data, leaving us at 3.7%. 2Q remains at 4.4%. [Sept 14 estimate].    And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNow    The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the third quarter of 2018 is 4.4 percent on September 14, up from 3.8 percent on September 11. [Sept 14 estimate] From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report   The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 2.2% for 2018:Q3 and 2.8% for 2018:Q4. [Sept 14 estimate] CR Note: It looks like GDP will be in the 3s in Q3.

 Government borrowing soars despite robust economy --The U.S. budget deficit is reaching levels that are abnormally high for a robust economy, and lawmakers from both parties are proposing ideas that would make the deficit swell even further. The government spent $895 billion more than it brought in from taxes and other revenue sources during the past 11 months, the Congressional Budget Office said this week, a 33 percent increase from one year before. Typically, the deficit shrinks during strong economic times, as the need for costly government support wanes and tax revenue rises. In 2000, the last time the unemployment rate was at its current level of 3.9 percent, the government ran a surplus, meaning tax revenue eclipsed all spending. The dynamic is much different now. Corporate tax receipts fell 30 percent in the past 11 months, the CBO said, precipitated by the large reduction in rates from the massive tax overhaul passed by Congress last year. Spending levels have risen sharply as a result of a bipartisan agreement to shed budget caps put in place to maintain fiscal discipline and pour more money into both military and domestic programs. “It’s not just irresponsible, it’s wildly irresponsible,” said retired senator Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who added that lawmakers are pushing the deficit higher because of political expediency.   Among the Republicans, the loudest voices recently have come from outside Congress. “With a booming economy, full employment, a soaring stock market and record asset values, we should be shrinking the deficit, not growing it,” Mitt Romney, a Republican and Senate candidate in Utah, wrote on his campaign website Monday. Leading House Republicans proposed an additional $646 billion in tax cuts this week — a number that could grow to roughly $2 trillion over a decade — and a growing number of prominent Democrats have proposed expanding access to government-sponsored health care, which could add trillions more. 

Budget Deficit Soars To $895 Billion; Will Hit $1 Trillion One Year Ahead Of Plan - The U.S. budget deficit rose to $211 billion in August, nearly double the deficit gap from one year ago, the Congressional Budget Office estimated late Monday, which however was largely due to a calendar quirk: adjusted for shifts in payments, which would have occurred on a weekend, the deficit would have grown by 19%. Excluding the timing shifts, outlays grew 8%, as the net interest on public debt jumped 25%, defense spending jumped 10%, outlays for Social Security grew 5%, and outlays for Medicare benefits rose 7%. Tax receipts fell by 3%, with corporate taxes dropping by $5 billion, while revenue from income and payroll taxes rose marginally.Revenue from individual and payroll taxes was up some $105 billion, or 4 percent, as increasing wages, mostly due to more people having jobs, offset a lower withholding rate. while corporate taxes fell $71 billion, or 30% largely due to Trump tax reform, which lowered corporate tax rates as well as the expanded ability to immediately deduct the full value of equipment purchases.Spending on Social Security and Medicare have climbed 4% as more baby boomers retire, outlays on net interest on the debt have jumped 19% in part due to a higher rate of inflation triggering more payments to inflation-protected securities holders, and defense spending has jumped 6%. Still, on a cumulative basis, the budget deficit is blowing out in a big way, and in the first 11 months of the fiscal year, the deficit was $895 billion, $222 billion or 39% more than the previous year. This is largely due to outlays which have climbed 7% while revenue rose a mere 1%. Commenting on the soaring deficit, White House chief economic adviser Kevin Hassett, told reporters on Monday that corporate tax cuts, but not the whole package, would pay for themselves with higher growth.  While other administration officials have made even more bombastic claims that the entire tax cut would pay for itself, including Treasury Sec. Steven Mnuchin and Gary Cohn, this has yet to manifest itself in the numbers. But what is most ominous, at least to budget hawks, is that the CBO now says the deficit will approach $1 trillion by the end of this fiscal year or one year sooner than disclosed in the CBO's most recent forecast ; in April the agency didn’t expect the deficit to reach $1 trillion until 2020.

Stephanie Kelton Wants You to Rethink the Deficit - Stephanie Kelton, an economics professor at Stony Brook University on Long Island in New York, has a radical new way for thinking about the economy: Governments that print and borrow their own currency can’t go bankrupt, she says, and the current U.S. budget deficit is, if anything, too small. That kind of thinking is part of a school of economic thought known as modern monetary theory, or MMT, which Kelton has helped develop. But she also wants to tell me a story from 2012, years before she became better known as an advisor to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. At that time, Kelton was invited to an all-male breakfast club of the Kansas City rich and powerful. Despite her left-leaning views—and being the only woman—she won the room over. How she did it is a testimony to her rhetorical and intellectual skills and to just how much her thinking confounds a political graph that is defined solely by tax and spending axes. Kelton, 48, explained to the room in Kansas City that the government budget is not like a household budget because the government prints its own money. But the problem is that Washington always wants to know how to pay for new programs. That’s a problem for you, she says she told her listeners, because the conventional wisdom in the capital is that money “grows on rich people” and you pay for nice things by taking it from them. “Don’t look at me,” she instructed her audience to tell lawmakers. “That’s where the money comes from. And you point at the Treasury. You point at Congress.” And she won the room over.

Tax Reform 2.0 - Republicans Unveil Second Round Of Proposed Tax Cuts -  House Republicans on Monday released plans for a second round of tax cuts, which follow comprehensive tax legislation enacted in December, just two months ahead of the midterms. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) on Monday unveiled the package of three bills touted as a sequel to the 2017 GOP tax law. JUST INTRODUCED: Tax Reform 2.0. Focused on permanence, retirement, and innovation. Learn more ➡️ https://t.co/3SLO4U0A42 — Ways and Means (@WaysandMeansGOP) September 10, 2018    "Last year we said goodbye to America’s old, broken tax code," said Brady. "Under our new system, we’re seeing incredible job growth, bigger paychecks, and a tax code that works on behalf of families and American businesses. Now it’s the time to ensure we never let our tax code become so outdated again. We look forward to bringing these bills to the Committee soon.”The three pieces of legislation proposed by Republicans on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee would make permanent lower individual rates, eliminate the maximum age for some contributions to retirement accounts and allow new businesses to write off more start-up costs, among other provisions Reuters reported.Eager to keep the spotlight away from Trump, the GOP has struggled to keep the political focus on the booming economy ahead of November's election, where forecasters are largely in agreement that Democrats will retake the House if not the Senate.According to the Hill, some vulnerable Republicans hoping to run on the tax cut and economy have been frustrated that scandals from the White House continue to drown out largely positive economic news.  Others in the GOP raised concern about the new round of tax cuts, which would make permanent a $10,000 cap for deducting state and local taxes, a provision that is unpopular in high-tax states. As a result, blue-state Republicans worry that focusing on the issue ahead of the election will make their reelection bids tougher. With the GOP set to lose a House majority, the probability of this tax package passing is slim to nil absent a pre-midterm hail mary. For those curious to read what is contained in the proposals, the bills introduced today as part of this Tax Reform 2.0 package can be found below: H.R. 6760, the Protecting Family and Small Business Tax Cuts Act of 2018, sponsored by Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL), and cosponsored by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX), and all other Ways and Means Committee Republicans.

Republicans Will Cut Social Security and Medicare After Tax Plan Passes, Says Marco Rubio - Florida Senator Marco Rubio admits that the Republican tax cut plan, which benefits corporations and the wealthy, will require cuts to Social Security and Medicare to pay for it.To address the federal deficit, which will grow by at least $1 trillion if the tax plan passes, Congress will need to cut entitlement programs such as Social Security, Rubio told reporters this week. Advocates for the elderly and the poor have warned that entitlement programs would be on the chopping block, but this is the first time a prominent Republican has backed their claims."You have got to generate economic growth because growth generates revenue,” Rubio said at a Politico conference. "But you also have to bring spending under control. And not discretionary spending. That isn’t the driver of our debt. The driver of our debt is the structure of Social Security and Medicare for future beneficiaries."Rubio's talk of structural change is vague but will likely include changing the rate and age of Social Security and Medicare payouts.Republicans have long said that the growth generated from slashing corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 20 percent would make their tax cuts "revenue neutral," but there's no evidence they're right. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Senate tax plan would increase the U.S. deficit by $1.4 trillion over the next decade, and the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation has said the plan will boost economic growth by only 0.8 percent over the next decade, leaving $1 billion in cuts unpaid for.So where does that money come from? The simple answer is Social Security and Medicare, which together make up 38 percent of the total federal budget, second only to military spending. 

Space: Another frontier for the US-Russian rivalry - It sounded like a dark twist to a science-fiction film: The head of Roscosmos, Russia's space agency, hinting at a foreign plot to sabotage the International Space Station.Last month, flight controllers in Houston and Moscow said they detected a minute pressure leak on the International Space Station, circling the globe in low Earth orbit. NASA said the crew used Kapton tape -- an industrial film -- to temporarily stop the leak. Roscosmos said the pressure on the International Space Station "is stable and no further leaks have been detected" after the international crew repaired the hole. End of story? Not quite. Earlier this week, Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin suggested that the leak was caused by something other than an accident or production defect.  "There is another version that we do not rule out: a premeditated action in space," he said, according to state news agencies. The US and Russia have enjoyed a long-running collaboration on the International Space Station. Launched in 1998, the station has mission control centers in Moscow and Houston. Russian Soyuz launch systems -- launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan -- ferry crew members to the station, with NASA paying for seats. The current crew of the International Space Station includes three Americans, two Russians and one German.That cooperation between US and Russian space agencies has been generally unaffected by the Cold War-style conflict that has ramped up between Washington and Moscow following Russia's annexation of the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. "There's always been a real kumbaya in space up until now" between the Russians and Americans, . "The International Space Station is remarkable because it's so successful and so long running." But Rogozin's appointment earlier this year injected some uncertainty into the mix. Rogozin, a former deputy prime minister in charge of the defense industry, is a hawkish and outspoken politician. And he has an ax to grind with the US: In 2014, he was placed on a US sanctions list, a move the White House said was designed to "impose costs on ... individuals who wield influence in the Russian government and those responsible for the deteriorating situation in Ukraine."

White House Coordinating Second Trump-Kim Meeting After North Korean Leader Sends "Very Positive Letter"  --  The White House is coordinating a second meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un, after the North Korean leader sent a "very warm, very positive letter" requesting a follow-up summit to their earlier sit-down in Singapore on June 12. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders says Pres. Trump received "a very warm, very positive letter" from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un: "The primary purpose of the letter was to request and look to schedule another meeting with the president, which we are open to" pic.twitter.com/nUuZMj4q6T— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) September 10, 2018"The primary purpose of the letter was to request, and look to schedule another meeting with the president," said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders during Monday's press briefing, adding that it was a request "which we are open to and already in the process of coordinating." "The recent parade in North Korea, for once, was not about their nuclear arsenal," Sanders said, pointing to the letter as "further evidence of progress" between Washington and Pyongyang over denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. On Sunday, North Korea celebrated the 70th anniversary of its founding with a massive military parade - which conspicuously did not include long-range ballistic missiles.

White House says it’s working to plan 2nd Trump-Kim meeting — President Donald Trump has received a request from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for a follow-up to their historic June summit, and planning is in motion to make it happen. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that no details had been finalized.Trump had told reporters last week that he was expecting a letter from Kim. Sanders said Trump has received the letter, which she described as "very warm, very positive." The White House will not release the full letter unless Kim agrees it should be made public, she said. The president seemed to correct Mattis in his tweet and cast doubt on possible joint exercises this spring. "The primary purpose of the letter was to request and look to schedule another meeting with the president, which we are open to and are already in the process of coordinating that," Sanders said at her first press briefing in nearly three weeks. She cited the letter as "further evidence of progress" in relations between the leaders.Relations between Trump and Kim have seemed to ebb and flow since Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to meet a North Korean leader. Their historic, one-day summit in June in Singapore was held to discuss denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, and Trump emerged from their talks full of praise for the authoritarian Kim.

Trump's Iran Stunt and 'International Order' - The New York Times reports on the president’s pointless U.N. stunt that will take place later this month: Exercising the prerogative of the chairman, Mr. Trump plans to focus on Iran and its malign activity around the Middle East. European diplomats said they fear that this will only underscore the disunity of the West, given the unpopularity of Mr. Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal.Already, the president’s choice of subject has drawn objections from Russia, which said the focus of the meeting should be entirely on the nuclear deal and Mr. Trump’s exit from it, and Iran, which accused Mr. Trump of abusing his leadership of the council to vilify a single country.The resistance is not limited to foreigners. At the State Department, the National Security Council and the American mission to the United Nations, there are privately voiced qualms about Mr. Trump leading a discussion on a complex, divisive subject with foreign leaders who were fiercely opposed to his handling of the nuclear deal. The meeting on Iran will be a waste of time at best, and it is more likely to be a high-profile embarrassment for the U.S. The Trump administration has managed to choose a subject that reminds everyone that the U.S. can’t be trusted to honor its commitments and that this president in particular has no respect for international agreements. It gives Iran and the other parties to the JCPOA a perfect opportunity to criticize U.S. actions before the entire world. Trump is always boasting about how respected the U.S. is now that he is president, and this meeting is going to drive home to everyone watching that the exact opposite is true. It is more likely than not that Trump will make outrageous and threatening remarks against one or more of the other Security Council members, and U.S. relations with many of them are likely to suffer as a result. The Iran obsession poisons and distorts U.S. foreign policy, and we are going to get a clear demonstration of that in a few weeks.;

 The U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Israel (vs. Iran and the World) - The increasingly embattled and reviled, soon to fall Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the “Iran nuclear deal”) in May.He did so in order to fulfill a campaign promise, and express his pathological resentment for his predecessor by undoing an Obama achievement. That’s how the whole world understands it—especially as his idiocy becomes widely acknowledged— even by his inner circle of frustrated leakers in an unfolding drama of White House chaos.Trump is a very unusual U.S. president, pursuing peace with North Korea, for example, while seeking regime change in Iran. Where’s the consistency, ask foreign leaders?  They understand that the U.S. leader is not guided by any coherent ideology and is hence unpredictable and often irrational. They also know that the conditions Mike Pompeo set for the U.S. to return to the agreement were outrageous, humiliating and designed for rejection.Trump has not only withdrawn the U.S. from the agreement but sought to block its implementation by imposing secondary sanctions on countries trading with Iran. These infuriate European officials and have produced strong protest. It’s preposterous to demand that Daimler AG cancel plans for Mercedez-Benz manufacture in Iran until Tehran ceases support for Hizbollah or the Syrian army.  Europeans vow to find ways to escape U.S. efforts to sabotage trade. The Chinese will surely continue to purchase Iranian oil; so will the Indians, South Koreans, Turks, Italians, and Japanese. These are Iran’s top petroleum customers. Who in the world supports the U.S. in its efforts to sabotage of the JCPOA? Who supports it in its drive to inflict economic pain, and then, according to the plan, the overthrow of the regime making use of MEK and other proxies? There are two countries whose leaders do, emphatically: Saudi Arabia and Israel. Unlikely bedfellows, would they not seem, even though united in hostility to Tehran? Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy governed by harsh Sharia law. Its royals view the Islamic Republic of Iran as a bastion of (Shiite) heresy and rival for regional influence. They see it as operating through any other Shiite forces in the region: various political parties and militias in (primarily Shiite) Iraq; the Alawite-led but secular government of Syria, commanding as it does the continuing loyalty of the Syrian Arab Army; the (Shiite-based) Hizbollah political party and militia in Lebanon; the mass movement of the Shiite majority in Sunni-ruled Bahrain; the Houthis of Yemen, etc.

White House expected to warn of sanctions, other penalties if international court moves against Americans  - The United States will threaten Monday to punish individuals that cooperate with the International Criminal Court in a potential investigation of U.S. wartime actions in Afghanistan, according to people familiar with the decision.The Trump administration is also expected to announce that it is shutting down a Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington, D.C., because Palestinians have sought to use the international court to prosecute U.S. ally Israel, those people said.White House national security adviser John Bolton, a longtime opponent of the ICC, is expected to outline threats of sanctions and a ban on travel to the United States for people involved in the attempted prosecution of Americans before the international court in an address Monday.  Bolton is a longtime opponent of the court on grounds that it violates national sovereignty. The speech, titled "Protecting American Constitutionalism and Sovereignty from International Threats," is Bolton's first formal address since joining the administration in April. It is sponsored by the Federalist Society, a conservative and libertarian policy group. Bolton is expected to outline a new campaign to challenge the court's legitimacy as it considers cases that could put the UnitedStates and close allies in jeopardy for the first time, according to individuals familiar with the planned remarks who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to do so on the record.

Bolton threatens sanctions against International Criminal Court | TheHill: The Trump administration on Monday threatened to impose sanctions on International Criminal Court (ICC) personnel if it continues with an investigation into alleged U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan, a move that could raise questions about the future of the court. National security adviser John Bolton, a longtime ICC critic, made the announcement in his first major speech since joining the Trump administration. "The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court," Bolton told members of the conservative Federalist Society gathered at a Washington, D.C., hotel.  The top security official argued the court poses a threat to U.S. sovereignty, is ineffective in prosecuting war crimes and too often targets American allies, such as Israel. The State Department also announced it is shuttering the Palestine Liberation Organization's (PLO) Washington office over concerns that it is attempting to trigger an ICC investigation of the Jewish state. "The United States will always stand with our friend and ally, Israel," Bolton said. "We will not allow the ICC, or any other organization, to constrain Israel’s right to self-defense." Palestinian officials said the decision would not affect its plans to pursue an ICC investigation and accused the U.S. of unfairly favoring Israel in stalled efforts to restart Middle East peace talks. "We reiterate that the rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale, that we will not succumb to U.S. threats and bullying," Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat said in a statement to news organizations in advance of the speech. "Accordingly, we continue to call upon the International Criminal Court to open its immediate investigation into Israeli crimes."

US threatens to arrest ICC judges over war crimes probe -  US National Security Adviser John Bolton on Monday threatened to sanction and prosecute International Criminal Court (ICC) judges if the tribunal attempts to charge US service members and intelligence agents with war crimes.  "The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court," Bolton said in a speech delivered to the conservative Federalist Society in Washington."We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us."The ICC responded on Tuesday to Bolton's threats, stating that its work would not be influenced by Washington in any way."The ICC, as a court of law, will continue to do its work undeterred, in accordance with those principles and the overarching idea of the rule of law," the body said in a statement. In November, ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said there was a "reasonable basis to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in connection with the armed conflict in Afghanistan" since the US-led invasion in 2001.Bensouda said a "meticulous preliminary examination" had led her to "the conclusion that all legal criteria to commence an investigation have been met."  But Bolton said that if ICC prosecutors attempted to do so, the US would target the international court's judges."We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the US financial system, and we will prosecute them in the US criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans," he said

U.S. to close Palestinian office in Washington, citing lack of progress on peace process with Israel -- The Trump administration has ordered the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington because the PLO “has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel,” the State Department said Monday. The decision follows an extended period of estrangement between the Palestinian Authority government on the West Bank and the administration, which has already canceled most U.S. aid to Palestinians and recognized Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. Those moves earlier this year provoked Palestinian withdrawal from talks over a still-to-be-released U.S. plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. “PLO leadership has condemned a U.S. peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the U.S. government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise,” the statement said. The office has been instructed to close no later than Oct. 10. Palestinian officials vowed to fight what they called bullying tactics and “collective punishment” of the Palestinian people. “These people have decided to stand on the wrong side of history by protecting war criminals and destroying the two-state solution,” said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. “I told them if you are worried about courts, you should stop aiding and abetting crimes.” In announcing the closure, the State Department said it was “consistent with” concerns about Palestinian calls for an investigation of Israel by the International Criminal Court. Neither the United States nor Israel recognizes the ICC, and existing U.S. legislation calls for closure of the PLO office following any Palestinian move to use it against Israel. 

US cuts aid to hospitals serving Palestinians - The US government has said it will redirect $25 million (€21.6 million) in aid for hospitals that mainly care for Palestinian patients. The decision came after a review of assistance to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza "to ensure these funds were being spent in accordance with US national interests and were providing value to the US taxpayer," according to the US State Department. "As a result of that review, at the direction of the president, we will be redirecting approximately $25 million originally planned for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network," a State Department official said Saturday, adding that "those funds will go to high-priority projects elsewhere." According to the World Health Organization, the US funds have previously made it possible for many Palestinians to seek specialized treatment, such as cardiac surgery, neonatal intensive care or children's dialysis, which are unavailable in the West Bank and Gaza. The US State Department already announced a cut of more than $200 million in bilateral aid to the Palestinians in August following a funding review. It comes as the US is preparing to unveil its peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians.

As Trump Commits to Endless War, Corporate Media Obsess Over Anonymous Op-Ed - The anonymous New York Times op-ed  (9/5/18), purportedly written by a senior Trump administration official, coupled with the release of Bob Woodward’s new book, Fear—itself full of White House back-stabbing and anonymous quotes—unleashed a veritable tsunami of breathless press speculation last week. But lost amidst the deluge was a Trump administration story that will have deadly, far-reaching consequences long after the Times op-ed is forgotten and Woodward’s book hits the discount pile. That’s because Trump effectively endorsed endless US war in Syria last week, and almost no one in the press noticed. There were a few lonely exceptions. The Washington Post (9/6/18) spelled out the new Trump administration policy quite clearly, though the banality with which US foreign policy is described belies the Groundhog Day nature of the goals being established (emphasis added):President Trump, who just five months ago said he wanted “to get out” of Syria and bring US troops home soon, has agreed to a new strategy that indefinitely extends the military effort there and launches a major diplomatic push to achieve American objectives, according to senior State Department officials…. US forces are to remain in the country to ensure an Iranian departure and the “enduring defeat” of the Islamic State.This kind of open-ended commitment and nebulous criteria for withdrawal all but consign the US to Syria forever. And the stipulation of an Iranian departure from Syria as a necessary end-state for redeployment would seem to strip away any last veneer that the 2001 AUMF can be used to justify the US presence there. But these thorny questions were conspicuously absent from a press corps that barely noticed the sea change underway in our Syria policy this week.The Associated Press (9/6/18) also covered the story, but its effort left much to be d esired. Its ponderous headline, “US Plays Down Talk of Imminent Pullout of Forces From Syria,” entirely missed the point of what this president had just committed to. Likewise, the article’s lead was a jumble of disingenuous and contradictory official statements that the reporter never bothered to deconstruct or challenge.  Instead, the AP allowed Trump’s special representative for Syria, James Jeffrey, to spin away, demanding an “enduring defeat” of ISIS while also casually claiming that “means we’re not in a hurry to get out,” and then adding that this didn’t necessarily require a long-term military presence in the country. All this in the first two paragraphs. Readers who weren’t already dizzy from hearing the press dutifully pass along the same shopworn clichés used to justify our multi-decade wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could be forgiven for having a case of journalistic whiplash as well.

New York Times goads Trump into major new war in Syria --The past week has seen a growing drumbeat of US threats against the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad and its Russian and Iranian allies that Washington and its NATO allies are preparing to launch a major military assault in response to the offensive begun by Damascus to reassert control over the northwestern province of Idlib.The Trump administration, which has twice carried out missile strikes on Syrian government targets on the pretext of responding to the alleged use of chemical weapons by government forces, is threatening to carry out significantly greater aggression this time around.While Washington and its allies have all issued repeated warnings about a supposedly imminent chemical weapons strike by Damascus, the Russian defense ministry has reported that it has intelligence that Western-backed “rebels” have brought quantities of chlorine into Idlib and are preparing to stage and film a bogus attack in order to provoke a US-led bombing campaign.US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley made it clear in an interview with Fox News this week that Washington would not rely on a fake chemical attack. “Any offensive on the civilian people in Idlib was going to be dealt with,” she said, warning Damascus, Tehran and Moscow, “Don’t test us again.”Under these conditions, one of the most right-wing figures in the New York Times’ stable of opinion writers has issued an angry indictment of the Trump administration for failing to prosecute a direct military confrontation with Iran in Syria.“The Trump administration has made clear that its top priority in the Middle East is to thwart Iran’s nuclear and regional ambitions. So why is it so reluctant to lift a finger against Tehran’s most audacious gambit in Syria?” demands the columnist, Bret Stephens, referring to Idlib. Stephens is an old hand at supporting and justifying US wars of aggression. In 2002-2003, his was one of the most vociferous voices in favor of an unprovoked war against Iraq. Writing for the Jerusalem Post—where he became editor—Stephens published a fearmongering article warning that without a US invasion, “an astonished world” would wake up to “the Arab world’s first nuclear bomb.” This was despite ample evidence that Baghdad’s limited nuclear program had long since been dismantled and that the entire campaign over Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” was phony propaganda used to drag the American people into a war based upon lies.

Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy Bait and Switch -- We must confess that we never read Donald Trump’s famous book, The Art of the Deal. And we don’t know if there is a chapter called “Bait and Switch.” But that’s precisely what Trump perpetrated upon the American people when he crafted a campaign decrying America’s destructive and costly military Middle East involvement—and then, as president, set in motion events seemingly calculated to get us into another war there. The president also promised to pull the United States out of the Iranian nuclear deal. However foolish, it was at least an honest representation of what his intention. And ultimately he did it. Thus it was possible to conclude that Trump was sincere on both his resolve to avoid further Mideast wars and his intention to exit the Iranian deal. Voters could draw their own conclusions about whether the two campaign promises were mutually exclusive or not. But voters had no reason to conclude during the campaign that he would deal with Iran so aggressively as to force a dangerous showdown. Two significant developments suggest Trump’s intentions far surpass his campaign rhetoric. One is the recent ultimatum delivered to Iran by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He listed 12 demands on what Iran must do to avoid “unprecedented” economic pressure designed to crush Iran’s ability to play a major role in its home region. The other is a remarkable New Yorker story by Adam Entous detailing how the Trump administration has joined hands with Iran’s regional enemies—Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—to strip Iran of its regional influence. As Pompeo put it, “Iran will never again have carte blanche to dominate the Middle East.” Of course Iran has not dominated the region in any serious way for centuries, but it does have significant influence there by dint of its size, population, economy, and military. And its geopolitical influence expanded exponentially when America destroyed Iraq’s Sunni regime and removed a major impediment to Iran’s freedom of action. So now Israel and those Gulf states want to put Iran back in its box, and they want America to supply the muscle. Pompeo demonstrated Trump is prepared to do so with demands that no sovereign nation could accept. As our Dan Larison wrote, they would require Iran “to surrender its foreign policy decision-making to Washington and U.S. clients and to abandon all of the governments and groups that have relied on its support.”

Why Are We Siding With Al-Qaeda - Ron Paul -  Last week, I urged the Secretary of State and National Security Advisor to stop protecting al-Qaeda in Syria by demanding that the Syrian government leave Idlib under al-Qaeda control. While it may seem hard to believe that the US government is helping al-Qaeda in Syria, it’s not as strange as it may seem: our interventionist foreign policy increasingly requires Washington to partner up with “bad guys” in pursuit of its dangerous and aggressive foreign policy goals. Does the Trump Administration actually support al-Qaeda and ISIS? Of course not. But the “experts” who run Trump’s foreign policy have determined that a de facto alliance with these two extremist groups is for the time being necessary to facilitate the more long-term goals in the Middle East. And what are those goals? Regime change for Iran.  Let’s have a look at the areas where the US is turning a blind eye to al-Qaeda and ISIS.   First, Idlib. As I mentioned last week, President Trump’s own Special Envoy to fight ISIS said just last year that “Idlib Province is the largest Al Qaeda safe haven since 9/11.” So why do so many US officials – including President Trump himself – keep warning the Syrian government not to re-take its own territory from al-Qaeda control? Wouldn’t they be doing us a favor by ridding the area of al-Qaeda? Well, if Idlib is re-taken by Assad, it all but ends the neocon (and Saudi and Israeli) dream of “regime change” for Syria and a black eye to Syria’s ally, Iran. Second, one of the last groups of ISIS fighters in Syria are around the Al-Tanf US military base which has operated illegally in northeastern Syria for the past two years. Last week, according to press reports, the Russians warned the US military in the region that it was about to launch an assault on ISIS fighters around the US base. The US responded by sending in 100 more US Marines and conducting a live-fire exercise as a warning. President Trump recently reversed himself (again) and announced that the US would remain at Al-Tanf “indefinitely.” Why? It is considered a strategic point from which to attack Iran. The US means to stay there even if it means turning a blind eye to ISIS in the neighborhood.  Finally, in Yemen, the US/Saudi coalition fighting the Houthis has been found by AP and other mainstream media outlets to be directly benefiting al-Qaeda. Why help al-Qaeda in Yemen? Because the real US goal is regime change in Iran, and Yemen is considered one of the fronts in the battle against Iranian influence in the Middle East. So we are aiding al-Qaeda, which did attack us, because we want to “regime change” Iran, which hasn’t attacked us. How does that make sense?

Days After 9/11 Tulsi Gabbard Slams "Betrayal Of American People" Over Syria --In a rare and unprecedented speech delivered on the House floor just two days after the nation memorialized 9/11, Democratic Hawaiian Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard on Thursday slammed Washington's longtime support to anti-Assad jihadists in Syria, while also sounding the alarm over the current build-up of tensions between the US and Russia over the Syria crisis. She called on Congress to condemn what she called the Trump Administration’s protection of al-Qaeda in Idlib and slammed Washington's policies in Syria as "a betrayal of the American people" especially the victims and families that perished on 9/11. Considering that Congresswoman Gabbard herself is an Iraq war veteran and current Army reserve officer who served in the aftermath of 9/11, it's all the more power and rare that a sitting Congress member would make such forceful comments exposing the hypocrisy and contradictions of US policy. She called out President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence by name on the House floor in her speech:“Two days ago, President Trump and Vice President Pence delivered solemn speeches about the attacks on 9/11, talking about how much they care about the victims of al-Qaeda’s attack on our country. But, they are now standing up to protect the 20,000 to 40,000 al-Qaeda and other jihadist forces in Syria, and threatening Russia, Syria, and Iran, with military force if they dare attack these terrorists." And in perhaps a completely unprecedented moment, the Congresswoman accused America's Commander-in-Chief during her floor speech for acting as "the protective big brother of al-Qaeda and other jihadists".  Interestingly she has elsewhere previously leveled the same blistering criticism of the Obama administration during media interviews for its "regime change policies" in Syria.

Study questions Iran-al Qaeda ties, despite U.S. allegations (Reuters) - There is no evidence that Iran and al Qaeda cooperated in carrying out terrorist attacks, according to a study published on Friday that casts doubt on Trump administration statements about close ties between the two. The conclusions of the study, by the New America think tank, were based on detailed analysis of documents seized in Osama bin Laden’s hideout after U.S. forces killed the al Qaeda leader in 2011. The findings clash with recent statements by U.S. President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggesting Iran has collaborated with al Qaeda, which carried out the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States. The bin Laden files, including a 19-page document not released until last November, show that Iran was uncomfortable with the militants’ presence on its soil, said Nelly Lahoud, the study’s author and an expert on al Qaeda. At first, Lahoud said, Iran tried to move as many as possible to third countries. Later, it detained al Qaeda members, including members of bin Laden’s family, after they violated the terms of their stay, which included a ban on phone communications, the study says. The militant group also viewed Tehran with deep mistrust, the study shows. Iran’s policies tightened even further after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, and detained al Qaeda members were forbidden from leaving the country, it says. “Iranian authorities decided to keep our brothers as a bargaining chip,” the unnamed al Qaeda operative wrote in the document, which was dated January 2007. Lahoud, who has studied the bin Laden documents since the first batch was released in 2012, said she looked for evidence that al Qaeda and Iran had operational ties in plotting terror attacks. “This I did not find,” she said. 

Saudis Hire Ex-Solicitor General Olson to Lobby Against NOPEC -- Saudi Arabia is taking no chances with the longshot "NOPEC" bill, hiring former Solicitor General Ted Olson as a lobbyist to campaign against the act. The Saudi embassy contracted with Olson’s law firm, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, to develop a white paper opposing the “No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act” legislation. It will also prepare a legal analysis of the bill and write an op-ed against it. The firm’s work also could include lobbying members of Congress and their staffs. Details of the embassy’s contract with the law firm are described in a Sept. 7 filing with the Justice Department, which maintains registrations of foreign agents in the U.S. Saudi Arabia is the de facto leader of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which pumps about one-third of the world’s crude. The group was said in July to be consulting with lawyers to prepare a strategy to defend against proposed U.S. legislation that could open up the cartel to antitrust lawsuits, according to people familiar with the matter at the time. Past Vetoes Although Congress has debated various forms of legislation targeting OPEC since 2000, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama threatened to use their veto power to prevent it becoming law. President Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked the cartel both before after being elected. The House of Representatives introduced a version of the bill in May. The Senate has also revived legislation which would amend the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. That’s the law used more than a century ago to break up the oil empire of John Rockefeller. The firm said it would be paid as much as $250,000 in a flat fee for the initial op-ed and legislative analysis. The embassy would pay an additional $100,000 per month if it wants the law firm to press the issue in meetings with lawmakers.

 Washington bullies Central American countries for adopting “One China” policy - This weekend, Washington temporarily recalled its ambassadors from the Dominican Republic and El Salvador, and its charges d’affaires from Panama over “recent decisions to no longer recognize Taiwan.” This referred to the decisions to establish diplomatic relations with the Chinese government in Beijing by El Salvador in August, the Dominican Republic in May and Panama last year.The Trump administration also canceled a meeting scheduled for this week with foreign ministers and top military officials of the Northern Triangle of Central America—El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.Having based its relations with China since 1979 on the “One China” policy, recognizing Beijing as the sole legitimate government of all of China, Washington’s measures against countries adopting the same policy constitute a remarkable level of imperialist bullying and rank political hypocrisy.The spokesperson of the Salvadoran government, Roberto Lorenzana, declared Monday that “We have no objections to this meeting [the recalling of the ambassadors], the only thing we ask is that our decisions are respected.” Far from protesting and sharply exposing the predatory character of Washington’s response, officials of the countries affected have only made meek appeals and otherwise insisted that relations with the US remain unchanged.The previous Monday, Republican Senators Cory Gardner and Marco Rubio, and Democrats Ed Markey and Bob Menendez, introduced a bill authorizing the State Department to suspend US aid and break diplomatic relations with any other countries that decide to establish ties with Beijing. With unbelievable cynicism, the press release announcing this proposed intimidation of impoverished and historically-oppressed countries denounces “Chinese pressure and bullying tactics.” The White House said in a statement in late August that it would “re-evaluate” its relations with El Salvador and condemned “China’s apparent interference in the domestic policies of a Western Hemisphere country.” China’s Foreign Ministry responded: “We hope that the relevant country [the US] can respect other sovereign states’ right to choose and formulate their foreign policies and stop interfering in other countries’ domestic affairs.”

Trump escalates trade war, threatens duties on nearly all Chinese imports (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump warned on Friday he was ready to slap tariffs on virtually all Chinese imports into the United States, threatening duties on another $267 billion of goods on top of $200 billion in imports primed for levies in coming days.The moves would sharply escalate Trump's trade war with Beijing over his demands for major changes in economic, trade and technology policy. China has threatened retaliation, which could include action against U.S. companies operating there.Hours after a public comment period closed on his $200 billion China tariff list, Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One that he was "being strong on China because I have to be.""The $200 billion we are talking about could take place very soon depending on what happens with them. To a certain extent it's going to be up to China," Trump said. "And I hate to say this, but behind that is another $267 billion ready to go on short notice if I want. That totally changes the equation." There was no immediate reaction to Trump's comments from the Chinese government, and the threat of more tariffs had not been reported by mainstream state-owned Chinese media as of Saturday evening.Trump has already imposed 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods, mostly industrial machinery and intermediate electronics parts, including semiconductors.The $200 billion list, which includes some consumer products such as cameras and recording devices, luggage, handbags, tires and vacuum cleaners, would be subject to tariffs of 10 percent to 25 percent.Cell phones, the biggest U.S. import from China, have so far been spared, but would be engulfed if Trump activates the $267 billion tariff list.Trump's threatened tariffs, now totaling $517 billion in Chinese goods, would exceed the $505 billion in goods imported from China last year. But 2018 imports from China through July were up nearly 9 percent over the same period of 2017, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

U.S. Weighs Sanctions Against Chinese Officials Over Muslim Detention Camps - — The Trump administration is considering sanctions against Chinese senior officials and companies to punish Beijing’s detention of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uighurs and other minority Muslims in large internment camps, according to current and former American officials.The economic penalties would be one of the first times the Trump administration has taken action against China because of human rights violations. United States officials are also seeking to limit American sales of surveillance technology that Chinese security agencies and companiesare using to monitor Uighurs throughout northwest China.Discussions to rebuke China for its treatment of its minority Muslimshave been underway for months among officials at the White House and the Treasury and State Departments. But they gained urgency two weeks ago, after members of Congress asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to impose sanctions on seven Chinese officials.Until now, President Trump has largely resisted punishing China for its human rights record, or even accusing it of widespread violations. If approved, the penalties would fuel an already bitter standoff with Beijing over trade and pressure on North Korea’s nuclear program. Last month, a United Nations panel confronted Chinese diplomats in Geneva over the detentions. The camps for Chinese Muslims have been the target of growing international criticism and investigative reports, including by The New York Times. Human rights advocates and legal scholars say the mass detentions in the northwest region of Xinjiang are the worst collective human rights abuse in China in decades. Since taking power in 2012, President Xi Jinping has steered China on a hard authoritarian course, which includes increased repression of large ethnic groups in western China, notably the Uighurs and Tibetans.

China is set to ask the WTO for permission to impose sanctions on the US-- China will seek permission from the World Trade Organization (WTO) to impose sanctions on the U.S. next week, according to the WTO's meeting agenda. The request comes at a time of escalating trade tensions between the world's two largest economies, with President Donald Trump saying last week he was "ready to go" on tariffs for another $267 billion on Chinese goods "if he wants." That would follow planned charges on $200 billion of Chinese goods in several industries, including technology. Beijing has vowed to retaliate if the U.S. takes any new steps on trade. China's WTO request cites Washington's non-compliance with a ruling in a dispute over U.S. dumping duties. It is likely to lead to years of legal wrangling over the case for sanctions. China will seek authorization at a special meeting of the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body on Friday September 21. The Asian nation initiated the dispute in 2013, complaining about U.S. dumping duties related to several industries including machinery and electronics, light industry, metals and minerals — with an annual export value of up to $8.4 billion. The case concerns the U.S. Commerce Department's process of calculating the amount of "dumping," which refers to Chinese exports that are priced to undercut American-made goods on the U.S. market. The U.S. calculating method was found to have been illegal in a string of trade disputes brought to the global trade regulator over recent years. Trump has since warned the world's largest economy could soon withdraw from the WTO if "they don't shape up." It follows a separate WTO Dispute Settlement Body meeting late last month, with China claiming U.S. tariffs targeting $16 billion worth of Chinese imports are inconsistent with the regulator's rules.

China hasn’t changed belt and road’s ‘predatory overseas investment model’, US official says South China Morning Post - The head of the US government’s international finance development agency has stepped up criticism of China’s overseas investment strategy, dismissing Beijing’s efforts to give it greater legitimacy by partnering with other countries on infrastructure projects and accusing China of being “in it to grab their assets”.Pushing back against international criticism that China’s finance model is predatory and smothers recipient countries in debt they cannot pay, Chinese officials and state media have recently scrambled to play down the geopolitical nature of the “Belt and Road Initiative”, instead focusing on sustainable development and job creation for recipient economies.But Ray Washburne, president and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) – an intergovernmental agency that channels US private capital into overseas development projects in the form of loans, funds and political insurance – said on Wednesday that China did not appear to be changing its modus operandi.“I haven’t seen it,” Washburne said. “[China is] not in it to help countries out, they’re in it to grab their assets.”Washburne made the remarks at OPIC’s Washington headquarters, almost five years to the day that Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled the “Belt and Road Initiative” – formerly “One Belt, One Road” – to build economic, political and cultural ties around Asia and beyond through state-led investment. Repeating criticism his agency has frequently directed towards Xi’s signature foreign policy initiative, Washburne said China was purposefully plunging recipient countries into debt, then going after “their rare earths and minerals and things like that as collateral for their loans”.

China Halts Licenses For US Companies Amid Tariff Battle - As the tariff battle between Washington and Beijing worsens, China has halted license applications from American companies in financial services and other industries until progress is made towards settling the trade dispute, reports AP, citing an official belonging to a business group.  The disclosure marks the first public acknowledgement that US companies expect their operations in China, or access to China's markets, may be disrupted by the dispute over Beijing's technology policy. China is running out of American imports for penalties in response to U.S. President Donald Trump's tariff hikes, which has prompted worries that Chinese regulators might target operations of U.S. companies.The license delay applies to industries Beijing has promised to open to foreign competitors, according to Jacob Parker, vice president for China operations of the U.S.-China Business Council. The group represents some 200 American companies that do business with China. –CNBC  In meetings held over the last three weeks, Cabinet-level officials told USCBC reps that applications from US firms will be put off "until the trajectory of the US-China relationship improves and stabilizes," according to Parker. Chinese officials, meanwhile, have promised to increase non-US foreign access to several areas, including banking, insurance, securities and asset management.  "There seem to be domestic political pressures that are working against the perception of U.S. companies receiving benefits" amid the dispute, said Parker, who added that Chinese officials want an end to Trump's tariff hikes as well as a negotiated settlement.   Beijing matched Trump's earlier tariff increase on $50 billion of imports but is running out of American goods for retaliation due to their lopsided trade balance. China bought American goods worth about $1 for every $3 of goods it exported to the United States. Trump is poised to decide whether to raise duties on $200 billion of Chinese goods. Beijing has issued a $60 billion list of goods for retaliation. –CNBC

U.S. Proposing New Round of Trade Talks With China – WSJ   The Trump administration is giving Beijing another chance to try to stave off new tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese exports, asking top officials for a fresh round of trade talks later this month, people briefed on the matter said. The invitation from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin comes as some Trump officials said they sense a new vulnerability—and possibly more flexibility—among Chinese officials pressured by U.S. tariffs imposed earlier this year and threats for more. It also follows a steady rise in political pressure on President Trump to ease up on trade fights—which have pinched consumers and prompted painful retaliation against U.S. exports—ahead of November elections in which his Republican Party risks losing congressional control. Given the difficult nature of the trade talks between the two countries over the past year, there is no guarantee the invitation will yield a meeting. On Thursday, China’s Commerce Ministry confirmed it received the invitation. Chinese officials said they have grown wary of the Trump administration’s unpredictable decision-making process and may be hesitant to accept without a clear sign U.S. negotiators have authority to speak for the president. The U.S. administration sent the invitation this week to a group of Chinese officials headed by Vice Premier Liu He. That follows an inconclusive session held in Washington last month among midlevel trade officials. The proposed higher-level talks might take place in Washington or Beijing, the people said. “Most of us believe it’s better to talk than not to talk, and I think the Chinese government is willing to talk,” Lawrence Kudlow, head of the White House National Economic Council, said Wednesday. “You could say that communication has picked up a notch.” Mr. Kudlow said he couldn’t provide further details, saying Mr. Mnuchin “is the leader on this.” A spokesman for Mr. Mnuchin declined to comment.  

Trump Denies WSJ Report, Says Under No Pressure To Make Deal With China - The reason why the market spiked yesterday just before noon, if briefly, was a WSJ report that the Trump admin is reaching out to China for a new round of trade talks, in an effort "to give Beijing another opportunity to address Washington’s concerns over trade issues before the Trump administration implements additional tariffs on Chinese imports." Many took this with a grain of salt - after all this would be the third time in the past month that the US and China were supposedly trying to break the trade war deadlock - but more importantly, the person behind the outreach was noted globaliset Steven Mnuchin who as we said yesterday, "is well known to be for a resumption of better trade relations", while trade hawk Navarro has been pushing for a far more hard line stance with China. To resolve this confusion, we said "Perhaps the best option is just to wait for Trump to tweet his own thoughts on the matter." Well, moments ago Trump did just that, when he poured cold water on the diplomatic implications of the WSJ's report, tweeting that "The Wall Street Journal has it wrong, we are under no pressure to make a deal with China, they are under pressure to make a deal with us." Why? Because as we also said yesterday, Trump remains convinced that he has all the bargaining leverage because - according to the stock market - he is winning the trade war with Beijing, to wit: Our markets are surging, theirs are collapsing. We will soon be taking in Billions in Tariffs & making products at home. So where does that leave us? Well, pretty much where we were before the WSJ report, or as Trump put it, "If we meet, we meet?" The Wall Street Journal has it wrong, we are under no pressure to make a deal with China, they are under pressure to make a deal with us. Our markets are surging, theirs are collapsing. We will soon be taking in Billions in Tariffs & making products at home. If we meet, we meet? — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 13, 2018

Trump Said to Want $200 Billion in China Tariffs Despite Talks - President Donald Trump instructed aides on Thursday to proceed with tariffs on about $200 billion more in Chinese products despite his Treasury secretary’s attempt to restart talks with Beijing to resolve the trade war, according to four people familiar with the matter. But an announcement of the new round of tariffs has been delayed as the administration considers revisions based on concerns raised in public comments, the people said. Trump may be running low on products he can target without significant backlash from major U.S. companies and consumers, two of the people said. The threat of fresh tariffs roiled financial markets. U.S. stocks erased gains, dropping to session lows, while the dollar strengthened versus the Chinese offshore yuan by the most in two weeks. Technology shares led declines, with Apple Inc. falling as much as 1.7 percent. The iPhone maker last week warned that new tariffs could increase the cost of its products. The White House didn’t immediately comment. Trump met with his top trade advisers on Thursday to discuss the China tariffs, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, the people said. Mnuchin has led a recent overture to the Chinese to re-start trade talks. Read more: Can Trump Win If He Escalates His China Trade War? Trump was asked during the meeting whether he was concerned about the impact of the new tariffs on negotiations with China. He responded that he wasn’t, two of the people said. The public comment period for a list of tariffs on about $200 billion in Chinese goods closed last week, and Trump said the duties would be imposed “soon.” The new round would be in addition to $50 billion in Chinese goods that already face a 25 percent duty.

US Ports Fear Tariffs Could Collapse Ship Traffic And Reduce Jobs -President Donald Trump has repeatedly told the American people his trade war pitch: “Tariffs are the greatest!”   Except they are not — and a new report from the Associated Press (AP) indicates tariffs are stirring uncertainty at many US points of entry for imports. Across the nation, at least 10 percent of imports at many ports could vanish if President Trump’s trade proposals take full effect, according to an exclusive investigation of government data by the AP. Port officials said it is becoming a growing concern that tariffs could trigger a domestic slowdown in shipping that would ripple through the transportation industry.Since March, President Trump unleashed new duties of up to 25 percent on $85 billion worth of aluminum, steel, and other various Chinese manufacturing related products.“Tariffs are working big time. Every country on earth wants to take wealth out of the U.S., always to our detriment. I say, as they come, Tax them. If they don’t want to be taxed, let them make or build the product in the U.S. In either event, it means jobs and great wealth,” Trump tweeted in early August.While President Trump has claimed tariffs will protect American workers and spark an economic boom, his administration is also preparing an alarming set of tariffs of up to 25 percent on an additional $200 billion on Chinese imports — many of which are consumer based products.  US manufacturers are now starting to feel the pinch, as tariffs are causing havoc on global supply chains. On Friday, Ford stated that it would abandon plans to import a crossover version of its Focus compact car from China to the US because of tariffs that took effect in July. Ford has already warned that it will cut most of its US car business as it shifts toward trucks and SUVs.

Global Trade Hit By Rare Decline As Supply Chains Seize Up -- With the Trump administration about to slap tariffs of up to 25% on an additional $200 billion in Chinese goods, new data suggests that the global slowdown has already begun. Confirming our observations from two weeks ago, in which we showed that the latest freight data indicated global trade volumes are slowing... ...on Friday Bloomberg highlighted that the world trade monitor compiled by the CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis showed the rolling three-month trade volumes are not only in decline but have entered into negative territory, an ominous harbinger of economic trouble.As Bloomberg notes, "the drop is particularly striking given that commodities, one of the largest and most volatile subsets of globally traded goods, have been doing quite well – the CPB’s indexes of fuels and non-fuel commodities both reached the highest levels since 2014 in May." Instead, confirming the ominous recent developments in Brazil, where a clustering of supply-chain linked problems has resulted in a near paralysis in the country's shipping industry, Bloomberg notes that "the weakness is coming not from materials but from manufactured goods, as global supply chains seize up." With the CPB index printing negative throughout the second quarter of the year, that echoes the numerous reports of a slowdown in the US. Manufactures “reported higher prices and supply disruptions that they attributed to the new trade policies,” according to the Federal Reserve’s July Beige Book, in addition to “higher input prices and shrinking margins.” Next Wednesday, another Beige Book is due, and it is likely to show more evidence of slowing trade as a result of escalating trade wars.

Ford insists it won't build Chinese-made car in US despite Trump tweet | TheHill: Ford Motor Company on Sunday pushed back against President Trump's claim that it can make a Chinese-built hatchback model in the U.S. after it scrapped plans to sell it domestically because of the president's tariffs. “It would not be profitable to build the Focus Active in the U.S. given an expected annual sales volume of fewer than 50,000 units and its competitive segment,” the company said in a statement, according to The New York Times. In a tweet earlier Sunday, Trump cited an Aug. 31 announcement from the company that said it had canceled plans to sell the Focus Active in the U.S."This is just the beginning. This car can now be BUILT IN THE U.S.A. and Ford will pay no tariffs!" Trump tweeted.“Ford has abruptly killed a plan to sell a Chinese-made small vehicle in the U.S. because of the prospect of higher U.S. Tariffs.” CNBC. This is just the beginning. This car can now be BUILT IN THE U.S.A. and Ford will pay no tariffs!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 9, 2018    But Ford indicated in its statement that would not be the case. The company announced late last month that Trump's decision to implement steep tariffs against China undermined the profitability of the new car, which the company had initially planned to ship into America for sale next year. "Our viewpoint on Focus Active was that, given the tariffs, obviously our costs would be substantially higher," said Kumar Galhotra, president of Ford's North America division.

Trump Presses Apple to Shift Production to U.S. – WSJ - President Trump called on Apple to shift production to the U.S. and out of China, reviving a longstanding criticism and pressuring the iPhone maker to help fulfill the administration’s economic goal of restoring American manufacturing.In a Saturday morning tweet, Mr. Trump said that if Apple wants to avoid tariffs on its products, it should make those devices in the U.S. rather than China. He wrote: “Start building new plants now. Exciting!”The tweet came a day after Apple said in a filing with the U.S. Trade Representative that proposed U.S. tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods would affect its watch, wireless headphones and other products, the first time the company has detailed specific damage from the trade battle. An Apple spokesman declined to comment.Apple assembles most of its products, including the iPhone, in China. The Cupertino, Calif.-based company directly employs at least 80,000 people in the U.S. and claims responsibility for two million jobs around the country, including its own employees and those of suppliers, app developers and entrepreneurs who offer products across its devices. It spent $50 billion last year with more than 9,000 U.S. suppliers maintaining manufacturing operations across 38 states.Apple said in July that it employs about 10,000 people directly in China and indirectly accounts for three million jobs there through its supply chain, which includes contract manufacturer Foxconn Technology Co. The company has also said it provides work for 1.5 million app developers in China. The Saturday tweet struck a friendlier tone than some of the missives Mr. Trump has fired off at companies such as Ford Motor Co. and Amazon.com Inc .Though Mr. Trump has criticized other technology companies, including Alphabet Inc. and Facebook Inc., over the past year, he has largely praised Apple. He has held up the company’s commitment to contribute $350 billion to the U.S. economy over the next five years as an example of the benefits of the administration’s tax cuts.  But a fissure is forming between the administration and the technology giant over trade issues with China. Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook has repeatedly urged Mr. Trump to avoid a trade battle, saying it would hurt American companies.The company said in its filing to the U.S. Trade Representative that the administration’s proposed $200 billion in tariffs wouldn’t only “divert our resources and disadvantage Apple compared to foreign competitors” but also lead to higher “consumer prices, lower overall U.S. economic growth, and other unintended economic consequences.”

China Pressures Wall Street To Intervene In Trade Fight - If anyone still doubted President Trump's determination to slap tariffs on all - or even more than all - Chinese goods flowing into the US, they probably don't anymore. So far this week, the president has taken to twitter to trash his own Treasury Secretary's efforts to restart talks with the Chinese, before Trump publicly declared on Friday that he intends to move ahead with plans to slap 25% tariffs on another $200 billion worth of goods.Given the president's unflinching resolve in pursuing his trade agenda, it's understandable why a shrewd businessmen would go to great lengths to avoid getting in the middle of what looks to be a protracted geopolitical dogfight. But unfortunately for top Wall Street firms, many of which harbor ambitions of expanding their business in China, that may no longer be an option. Because while the Trump administration has largely left them alone, the Chinese are now trying to use whatever leverage they can (i.e. preferential access to the world's second-largest economy) to push America's top bankers to intervene on Beijing's behalf.Reuters reported Friday that top Chinese officials have hastily organized an investment conference in Beijing and requested the presence of several top Wall Street firms. The conference will be chaired by former PBOC Governor Zhou Xiaochuan and ex-Goldman Sachs President John Thornton, and feature an appearance by Chinese vice-president Wang Qishan. Dubbed "the firefighter" by the Chinese people, Quishan, in addition to being the most powerful of China's vice presidents, is also one of the senior Communist officials involved in managing the trade dispute. While market liberalization is certainly a priority for the Chinese, it's difficult to imagine that these top officials are planning to attend this conference - especially with so much else going on - just to brainstorm ideas about how China can proceed with opening up its financial sector.The subtext here is obvious: China wants to figure out who in the US financial services community can help them get through to Trump and help stop this conflict before losses in China's currency and stock market spiral out of control. And if the carrot of access doesn't work, China has already proven adept at leveraging the stick.

Trump’s trade war is a circular firing squad - Pundits are engaged in an irresistible debate: who miscalculated more on trade – Donald Trump or Xi Jinping? A good argument can be made either way. The US president erred significantly when he argued: “Trade wars are good, and easy to win.” Not when your foe is the leader of a proud government whose legitimacy relies on looking strong and resolute. Xi’s miscalculation in Beijing was thinking the “America First” leader was bluffing. Clearly, Trump wasn’t. But the next misstep is all Trump’s as he turns on multinational companies that long made America’s economy great.“The goal is to ‘decouple’ the world’s two largest economies by encouraging US firms to invest less in China and more back home,” says Arthur Kroeber of Gavekal Research. “Given this aim, what will cause Washington to ease up on its tariff pressure is not any action by China, but evidence that American firms have changed their ways. This will be a long time coming.” If that time ever comes. Trumponomics has already created a circular-firing-squad dynamic between trading partners. While aimed at China, Trump’s tariffs are pitting the US against Europe, Canada, Mexico and giving Japan, South Korea and others reason to stop taking calls from the White House.But Trump’s ambivalence toward America’s top CEOs is a self-inflicted wound, and a lasting one.Ford Motor Co recently passed on becoming Exhibit A of Trump’s desire to reclaim America’s manufacturing mojo. After Trump stated as much in a Sept. 9 tweet, Ford explained it was not feasible to make models like the Focus Active in the US.At the same time, Trump’s tariffs make it pointless to assemble models in China for US import. That leaves Europe, where Harley-Davidson also is moving production. Apple, too. Trump wants CEO Tim Cook to stop assembling iPhones in China, moving jobs to the US instead. Aside from sharply higher US labor costs, about 90% of the smartphone’s parts are made abroad, the vast majority of which come from the East Asian supply chain. Transporting all those chips, batteries, camera modules and other components to the US, and paying Trump’s tariffs, makes zero sense. This choose-us-or-them policy has many problems. One, Kroeber says, is that US companies have more than $250 billion of direct investments in China, ginning up nearly $500 billion in mainland sales each year.

When Will The US Finally Feel The Pain From Trade Wars- One Bank Answers -  In a recent note, Deutsche Bank offers an answer: as soon as the $200BN in additional tariffs proposed by Trump goes live.As the bank's strategist Zhiwei Zhang notes, the coming round of tariff targets 200bn Chinese exports (not including the latest proposal of an additional $267bn in tariffs floated last Friday) is four times larger than the tariffs already charged on the 50bn Chinese exports. But the actual "damage" to the US economy and consumers is likely to be a lot more than four times bigger. Deutsche Bank reached this conclusion by analyzing the US government's decisions on tariffs announced so far.According to the analysis, it turns out there are a lot of interesting details from the US announcements that can help to gauge the coming "pains" from the trade war. The first $50bn list contains 1,333 tariff lines of products. It was based on "extensive interagency economic analysis", and would "target products that benefit from China’s industrial plans", such as Made in China 2025, while "minimizing the impact on the U.S. economy". The second $200bn list share the same considerations on US economy and consumers, though China's industrial policy was no longer a focus. All finalized lists also took into account public comments received. What do these criteria mean in practice? Zhiwei built a model to explore what Chinese exports the US government has preferred to target for tariff, and what they have preferred to avoid. The US government has so far made four rounds of decisions related to tariffs on China's exports, as illustrated in the chart above. Thousands of tariff lines were considered and 1097 lines (50bn) were eventually picked in the first three rounds of decisions, and the 6031 lines (200bn) now under review for the fourth round of announcement. So far the US have carefully avoided consumer and China dependent products. As a result, the trade war so far has had little impact on US economy and consumers.  But this is becoming harder as the tariff list expands to the next 200bn. Within the currently proposed 200bn list, about 78bn are consumer products (Figure 7). These include different types furniture (24bn), travel bags(2.2bn), vacuum cleaners (1.8bn), vinyl flooring(1.7bn), window/wall air conditioners (1.3bn), etc. Similarly, reliance on China increases sharply for the 200bn products in tariff pipeline. China import shares are above 20% for most of the products, and for about half of them, China's share are more than 50% ( Figure 8). Furthermore, many of the consumer products subject to tariff also happen to have very high China import share. China's import share is about 93% for air conditioners, 78% for vacuum cleaners, and 60-90% for various types of furniture. Therefore, we believe each dollar of tariff imposed on this 200bn list is a lot more painful for the US than one dollar of tariff imposed on the first 50bn list.

 What will it take for Trump to remove a tariff ? -- Spencer England - If Trump applies a 25% tariff on a $1.00 item the price will go to somewhere from $1.00 to $1.25.  At $1.00 domestic producers have have been building all they can to sell at $1.00.  In the short run they can not build more capacity so the domestic producer can raise their price to $1.25, or something under $1.25 if the foreign supplier can absorb part of the tariff.  In the longer run domestic producers can produce more of the item but their costs will now be over $1.00.  If they could have supplied it at under $1.00 they already would have been. Before they invest the capital to generate more capacity they will need some assurance that the tariff will not be removed and the import price will not go back to $1.00 making their new capacity unprofitable.  Does anyone, including Trump, have any idea how this end game will play out?  Or, will we just see a 25% increase in the price and no change in the domestic and foreigner market share.  In other words, why wouldn’t  a new tariff just lead to higher prices and lower demand  with no other changes?

 12,800 immigrant children detained in American internment camps - On Wednesday night, the  New York Times reported that the Trump administration has been covertly conducting a campaign to round up and detain thousands of immigrant youth traveling to the US without their parents or guardians. According to the report, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have increased the number of detained unaccompanied minors nearly six-fold, from an average of 2,400 each night in May 2017 to 12,800 each night this month. The network of some 100 child internment camps and relocation centers located throughout the US is now reaching capacity, with immigrant youth packed together in cells and bunk houses, subject to physical, emotional and sexual assault by guards.The Trump administration is preparing to drastically expand the size of the internment camp cities.Last Thursday, the administration announced it was abandoning a 1997 court settlement barring the government from detaining children for over 20 days, meaning the government will now detain children indefinitely.On Tuesday, the Trump administration announced it was tripling the size of the Tornillo tent city internment camp located outside El Paso. The camp, which was constructed in June to “temporarily” house children separated from their families under the Department of Justice’s “zero tolerance” policy, will now hold 3,800 children.In June, the administration initiated a new policy requiring potential sponsors to submit fingerprints to immigration authorities—a blatant attempt to scare undocumented relatives and isolate the young people in jail. As a result, although over 40,000 unaccompanied children have been arrested by CBP in the first 10 months of fiscal year 2018, the number of youth that have been released from detention and placed with sponsors has fallen 30 percent.The massive increase in the size of the interned child population comes six weeks after a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to reunite all children separated from their parents through the implementation of the “zero tolerance” policy in May.The administration has blatantly disregarded the court order, forcing non-profits to send representatives through remote villages in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to knock on doors in search of the deported parents of separated children. There are over 400 children who remain separated from their family as a result of the “zero tolerance” policy. As AZ Central recently noted, “It now appears increasingly likely that hundreds of those families will never be reunited because parents were deported from the United States intentionally or mistakenly waived their rights to reunification.”

Mexico 'evaluating' US offer to pay for deporting migrants (AP) — The Mexican government says it "continues evaluating" a U.S. offer to pay for returning foreign migrants in Mexico to their home countries. Mexico's Interior Department says no agreement has been reached on the offer, which apparently would help take mainly Central American migrants back to their homes. Many use Mexico as a base to attempt crossing the U.S. border. The department did not specify how much the U.S. government has offered. It said only that the government is "evaluating the proposal according to applicable laws, and in accordance with the priorities of Mexico's own immigration policies." The department added Thursday: "The Mexican government has not accepted this proposal either verbally or in writing." In the first seven months of 2018, Mexico deported more than 57,000 Central Americans, mainly by bus. 

Obama, who once surveilled reporters, criticizes Trump over press freedom - Pot, meet kettle. When former President Barack Obama blasted President Trump in a blistering speech that derided his successor’s frequent clashes with the press, he skirted the fact that his own administration surveilled reporters – and even polygraphed intelligence agency employees – in an effort to nail leakers. “It’s probably a good time to remind you that Obama used the Espionage Act to go after whistleblowers who leaked to journalists more than all previous presidents combined,” GOP consultant Caleb Hull tweeted. “It shouldn’t be Democratic or Republican to say that we don’t threaten the freedom of the press because they say things or publish stories we don’t like,” Obama said at the University of Illinois’s Urbana-Champaign campus on Friday, in his first overt foray back into politics since Trump’s inauguration. “I complained plenty about Fox News, but you never heard me threaten to hut them down, or call them ‘enemies of the people,’” Obama said.But in 2010, Obama’s Department of Justice began secret surveillance of James Rosen, then Fox News’ chief Washington correspondent, in the wake of his reports on American monitoring of North Korea’s nuclear program. They collected Rosen’s phone conversations and emails with sources – and even kept tabs on the reporter’s parents – and accused the reporter of being the “co-conspirator” of a State Department whistleblower. The surveillance did not come to light until 2013.Obama’s DOJ also seized records for 20 phone lines at the Associated Press – used by more than 100 reporters – in 2013, and subpoenaed emails and calls between New York Times reporters and government officials. The incidents, part of the administration’s crackdown on Washington leakers, were detailed in a highly critical 2013 report by the Committee to Protect Journalists.  Obama’s own administration used the justice system to prosecute eight people for leaking national security secrets under the Espionage Act. As part of that effort, James Clapper, Obama’s director of national intelligence, announced in June 2012 that employees of 16 intelligence agencies would be subject to stringent polygraph tests and quizzed about their communications with reporters.

At Stake in Lawsuit: What Can Bosses Access on Your Personal Devices? -- A new lawsuit in New York is highlighting the thorny legal issues concerning the degree to which employers can snoop through their employees’ electronic devices. Paul Iacovacci, an ex-managing director at Brevet Capital Management LLC, sued his former employer last week, accusing the New York investment firm of accessing his home computer to read his personal emails and steal data stored on personal hard drives. Mr. Iacovacci alleges the activity violated federal antihacking laws.  A spokeswoman for Brevet denied the company hacked into Mr. Iacovacci’s computer, saying the computer was Brevet’s property because the company purchased it. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Manhattan federal court, raises novel questions about what constitutes a work device, a gray area that’s expected to spawn more legal battles as employees increasingly use personal devices for work purposes. The case could also test the boundaries of how much authorization employers have to view the contents of personal devices while they are plugged into work devices. Mr. Iacovacci discovered the company had accessed his computer during a dispute over the compensation he said he was owed as part of his departure from Brevet in late 2016.Brevet’s employee handbook said the company reserves the right to read, access or monitor all electronic documents stored or processed on Brevet’s computers, including “documents and messages which don’t directly relate to Brevet’s business.” Mr. Iacovacci acknowledged his receipt of the handbook every year, the company said. Securities and Exchange Commission regulations require investment advisers like Brevet to maintain the ability to remotely monitor employees’ communications, according to the company.

Are New York’s Free LinkNYC Internet Kiosks Tracking Your Movements? -- LinkNYC kiosks have become a familiar eyesore to New Yorkers. Over 1,600 of these towering, nine-and-a-half-foot monoliths — their double-sided screens festooned with ads and fun facts — have been installed across the city since early 2016. Mayor Bill de Blasio has celebrated their ability to provide “the fastest and largest municipal Wi-Fi network in the world” as “a critical step toward a more equal, open, and connected city for every New Yorker, in every borough.” Anyone can use the kiosks’ Android tablets to search for directions and services; they are also equipped with charging stations, 911 buttons, and phones for free domestic calls. But even as the kiosks have provided important services to connect New Yorkers, they may also represent a troubling expansion of the city’s surveillance network, potentially connecting every borough to a new level of invasive monitoring. Each kiosk has three cameras, 30 sensors, and heightened sight lines for viewing above crowds.Since plans for LinkNYC were first unveiled, journalists, residents, and civil liberties experts have raised concerns that the internet kiosks might be storing sensitive data about its users and possibly tracking their movements. For the last two years, the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and a small but vocal group of activists — including ReThink LinkNYC, a grassroots anti-surveillance group, and the anonymous Stop LinkNYC coalition — have highlighted the kiosk’s potential to track locations, collect personal information, and fuel mass surveillance. Now an undergraduate researcher has discovered indications in LinkNYC code — accidentally made public on the internet — that LinkNYC may be actively planning to track users’ locations

It’s Now Possible To Telepathically Communicate with a Drone Swarm - DARPA’s new research in brain-computer interfaces is allowing a pilot to control multiple simulated aircraft at once.A person with a brain chip can now pilot a swarm of drones — or even advanced fighter jets, thanks to research funded by theU.S. military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.The work builds on research from 2015, which allowed a paralyzed woman to steer a virtual F-35 Joint Strike Fighter with only a small, surgically-implantable microchip. On Thursday, agency officials announced that they had scaled up the technology to allow a user to steer multiple jets at once.“As of today, signals from the brain can be used to command and control … not just one aircraft but three simultaneous types of aircraft,” said Justin Sanchez, who directs DARPA’s biological technology office, at the Agency’s 60th-anniversary event in Maryland.More importantly, DARPA was able to improve the interaction between pilot and the simulated jet to allow the operator, a paralyzed man named Nathan, to not just send but receive signals from the craft.  “The signals from those aircraft can be delivered directly back to the brain so that the brain of that user [or pilot] can also perceive the environment,” said Sanchez. “It’s taken a number of years to try and figure this out.” In essence, it’s the difference between having a brain joystick and having a real telepathic conversation with multiple jets or drones about what’s going on, what threats might be flying over the horizon, and what to do about them. “We’ve scaled it to three [aircraft], and have full sensory [signals] coming back. So you can have those other planes out in the environment and then be detecting something and send that signal back into the brain,” said Sanchez. 

Google Cloud’s new AI chief is on a task force for AI military uses and believes we could monitor ‘pretty much the whole world’ with drones - When Google Cloud chief Diane Greene announced that Andrew Moore would later this year replace Fei-Fei Li as head of artificial intelligence for Google Cloud, she mentioned he was dean of the school of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University and that he formerly worked at Google.What Greene didn't mention was that Moore also is co-chairman of an AI task force created by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) a think tank with strong ties to the US military. Moore's co-chair on the task force is Robert Work, a former deputy secretary of defense, who the New York Times has called "the driving force behind the creation of Project Maven," the US military's effort to analyze data, such as drone footage, using AI.Google's involvement in Project Maven caused a huge backlash inside the company earlier this year, forcing CEO Sundar Pichai to pledge that Google would never work on AI-enhanced weapons. The hiring of Moore is sure to re-ignite debate about Google's involvement in certain markets for artificial intelligence — one of the hottest areas of tech with a massive business potential — and the relationship the company maintains with the military.During his tenure at Carnegie Mellon, Moore has often discussed the role of AI in defensive and military applications, such as his 2017 talk on Artificial Intelligence and Global Security:"We could afford it, if we wanted to and if we needed, to be surveilling pretty much the whole world with autonomous drones of various kinds," Moore said. "I'm not saying we'd want to do that, but there's not a technology gap there where I think it's actually too difficult to do. This is now practical."

For safety’s sake, we must slow innovation in internet-connected things - MIT - Smart gadgets are everywhere. The chances are you have them in your workplace, in your home, and perhaps on your wrist. According to an estimate from research firm Gartner, there will be over 11 billion internet-connected devices (excluding smartphones and computers) in circulation worldwide this year, almost double the number just a couple of years ago.Many billions more will come online soon. Their connectivity is what makes them so useful, but it’s also a cybersecurity nightmare. Hackers have already shown they can compromise everything from connected cars to medical devices, and warnings are getting louder that security is being shortchanged in the stampede to bring products to market.In a new book called Click Here to Kill Everybody, Bruce Schneier argues that governments must step in now to force companies developing connected gadgets to make security a priority rather than an afterthought. The author of an influential security newsletter and blog, Schneier is a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and a lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Among other roles, he’s also on the board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and is chief technology officer of IBM Resilient, which helps companies prepare to deal with potential cyberthreats. Schneier spoke with MIT Technology Review about the risks we’re running in an ever more connected world and the policies he thinks are urgently needed to address them.

Kavanaugh Will Kill the Constitution – Krugman - At a fundamental level, the attempt to jam Brett Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court closely resembles the way Republicans passed a tax cut last year. Once again we see a rushed, nakedly partisan process, with G.O.P. leaders withholding much of the information that’s supposed to go into congressional deliberations. Once again the outcome is all too likely to rest on pure tribalism: Unless some Republicans develop a very late case of conscience, they will vote along party lines with the full knowledge that they’re abdicating their constitutional duty to provide advice and consent.True, Kavanaugh is at least getting a hearing, which the tax bill never did. But he’s bobbing and weaving his way through, refusing to answer even straightforward questions, displaying an evasiveness utterly at odds with the probity we used to expect of Supreme Court justices.No, the real difference from the tax bill story is that last year we were talking only about a couple of trillion dollars. This year we’re talking about the future of the Republic. For a Kavanaugh confirmation will set us up for multiple constitutional crises. After all, if Kavanaugh is confirmed, we will be trying to navigate a turbulent era in American politics with a Supreme Court in which two seats were effectively stolen. First Republicans refused even to give President Barack Obama’s nominee so much as a hearing; then they will have filled two positions with nominees chosen by a president who lost the popular vote and eked out an Electoral College win only with aid from a hostile foreign power.

Brett Kavanaugh reportedly accused of sexual misconduct in letter flagged to the FBI by Democrats President Trump's pick for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, has reportedly accused of sexual misconduct in letter flagged to the FBI by Democrats.  Democrats alerted the FBI on Thursday to decades-old sexual-misconduct allegations against President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, according to reports and a person familiar with the matter. The potentially damning claims, which come as the Senate prepares to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination to the highest court in the land, were made in a letter obtained by Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Dianne Feinstein, a Democratic source told the Daily News. AdvertisementTwo officials briefed on the letter’s contents told the New York Times the allegations relate to possible sexual misconduct between Kavanaugh and an unidentified woman when they were both in high school. The specific nature of the allegations was not immediately known. Kavanaugh, 53, graduated from Georgetown Preparatory, an all-boys Jesuit high school in North Bethesda, Md. “We have no knowledge regarding any accusation,” school spokesman Patrick Coyle said in an email. Feinstein (D-Calif.) informed her fellow committee Democrats about the letter late Wednesday, the sources said. Several of the Democrats advised her to contact the FBI. An FBI official told The News there was no open criminal investigation into the matter as of Thursday evening. The letter was included in Kavanaugh’s background check file on Wednesday night, the official added.

Brett Kavanaugh Committee Vote Delayed One Week - The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday delayed a vote to advance the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court until next week. Democrats on the committee, expected to oppose the judge, used a rule that allowed them to keep Kavanaugh’s nomination on hold for another week. A vote to move the nomination to the floor is expected to take place on Sept. 20. Kavanaugh’s nomination is likely to receive a favorable vote from all 11 Republicans on the panel, however, despite raucous confirmation hearings last week in which Democrats attempted to postpone the proceedings because of insufficient documents from Kavanaugh’s time as a George W. Bush administration official. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last week that the final vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination would take place in the last week of September, in time for the start of the Supreme Court term in October. At Thursday’s Judiciary Committee hearing, Republicans voted down Democrats’ attempts to subpoena hundreds of thousands of Kavanaugh documents that the Trump administration has deemed privileged and unavailable to the public, including those related to Kavanaugh’s work as a key Bush administration official. “Who the hell knows what that is? That’s never been asserted before,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said at the hearing, criticizing the administration for asserting a “constitutional privilege” to deny the release of documents related to the judge.

The Many Mysteries of Brett Kavanaugh's Finances. - Before President Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, he had a lot of debt. In May 2017, he reported owing between $60,004 and $200,000 on three credit cards and a loan against his retirement account. By the time Trump nominated him to the high court in July 2018, those debts had vanished. Overall, his reported income and assets didn’t seem sufficient to pay off all that debt while maintaining his upper-class lifestyle: an expensive house in an exclusive suburban neighborhood, two kids in a $10,500-a-year private school, and a membership in a posh country club reported to charge $92,000 in initiation fees. His financial disclosure forms have raised more questions than they’ve answered, leading to speculation about whether he’s had a private benefactor and what sorts of conflicts that relationship might entail. No other recent Supreme Court nominee has come before the Senate with so many unanswered questions regarding finances. During his confirmation hearing last week, he escaped a public discussion of his spending habits because no senator asked about it. But on Tuesday, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent Kavanaugh 14 pages of post-hearing follow-up questions, many of which involved his finances. On Thursday, Kavanaugh supplied answers, but he dodged some of the questions and left much of his financial situation unexplained. A number of the questions Whitehouse sent Kavanaugh dealt with the house he bought in tony Chevy Chase, Maryland, in 2006 for $1.225 million. Kavanaugh would have needed $245,000 in cash for the traditional 20 percent down payment on the house. But in 2005, when his nomination to the DC Circuit was pending, Kavanaugh reported a total net worth to the Senate of about $91,000, which reflected a mere $10,000 in the bank and $25,000 in credit card debt. According to his financial disclosure forms before and after the purchase of his house in 2006, Kavanaugh’s liquid assets and bank balances never totaled more than $65,000, and those balances didn’t decline after the purchase of the house. 

Facebook censors ThinkProgress -- On Monday, a ThinkProgress article posted on Facebook was labeled as “false” by right-wing magazine the Weekly Standard, a third-party “fact checker” for Facebook, and effectively censored on the site. The Weekly Standard, dubbed a ‘redoubt of neoconservatism’ and as ‘the neo-con bible,’ is one of only five organizations approved as fact-checkers by Facebook.As a result of the Weekly Standard’s “fact-checking,” the ThinkProgress story, entitled “Brett Kavanaugh said he would kill Roe v. Wade last week and almost no one noticed” will be accompanied by a companion article from the Weekly Standard: “Fact Check: Has Brett Kavanaugh ‘Stated He’d Overturn’ Roe v. Wade?”The original ThinkProgress article notes, “Kavanaugh believes that the way to determine whether the Constitution protects a particular unenumerated right is to apply the test the Supreme Court laid out in Glucksberg [a 1997 Supreme Court decision holding that the Constitution does not protect a right to physician-assisted suicide]. And the judge also thinks that ‘even a first-year law student could tell you’ that Roe is inconsistent with Glucksberg.” ThinkProgress continued, “It doesn’t take the brains of a fourth-term United States senator from Maine to figure out what this means if Kavanaugh is confirmed. Judge Kavanaugh will be the fifth vote to kill Roe if he joins the nation’s highest Court.”The Weekly Standard, replying to this article, simply declares, “Has Brett Kavanaugh ‘stated he’d overturn #Roe?’ No.” The Weekly Standard’s claim hinges on a sophistry: it interprets the word “said” to imply a direct quote, as opposed to the implications of his arguments. Any article deemed false by Facebook’s “fact-checkers” has its traffic significantly reduced. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently wrote in the Washington Post, “we demote posts rated as false, which means they lose 80 percent of future traffic.”

Facebook Condemned for Empowering Right-Wing Magazine to “Drive Liberal News Outlets Into the Ground” When Facebook selected the right-wing, Iraq War-boosting magazine The Weekly Standard as an official fact-checking partner last year as part of its effort to combat "misinformation," progressives warned that the conservative publication would use its power to suppress accurate articles published by center-left and left-wing outlets.  "This is what happens when you let non-reality-based organizations into the fact-checking community to achieve 'balance.' You achieve bullshit." —Dan Froomkin,  That's precisely what happened. After ThinkProgress published an article by Ian Millhiser last week arguing that Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh's comments during his Senate confirmation hearings combined with a speech he gave in 2017 eliminates "any doubt" that the judge opposes the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, the Weekly Standard deemed the article "false"—a designation that, given Facebook's rules and the platform's enormous power, cuts off 80 percent of the piece's future traffic and penalizes other pages that dare to post the article. Expressing opposition to Facebook's decision to hand the factually-challenged Weekly Standard the power to decide what is and isn't fact-based news, The Intercept republished Millhiser's piece on Friday with a statement from The Intercept's editor-in-chief Betsy Reed, who condemned the social media giant's decision to tank "a fairly straightforward legal analysis" at the behest of a right-wing magazine."That legal analysis, the article noted, matched comments Kavanaugh had made in a speech in 2017," Reed writes. "Facebook, meanwhile, had empowered the right-wing outlet the Weekly Standard to 'fact check' articles. The Weekly Standard, invested in Kavanaugh’s confirmation, deemed the ThinkProgress article 'false.' The story was effectively nuked from Facebook, with other outlets threatened with traffic and monetary consequences if they shared it." "The story is republished below with permission from ThinkProgress," Reed concluded, "though not from Facebook or the Weekly Standard."

 Court says protesters can't sue Trump over claims of inciting violence - A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that President Donald Trump Donald John TrumpPoll: Democrat McCaskill leads Republican Hawley by 3 points in Missouri Senate race Pence cancels trip to Georgia after Hurricane Florence path changes Trump's school safety commission will not support age limits for gun purchases: report MORE cannot be sued by protesters who said he incited a riot in 2016. The protesters alleged Trump incited violence against them at a March 2016 campaign rally at the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville when the then-candidate yelled at five different times during his 35-minute speech to "get them out of here.” The Cincinnati-based Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said Trump's remarks were protected by the First Amendment because it did not include a single word encouraging violence. "The fact that audience members reacted by using force does not transform Trump’s protected speech into unprotected speech," Judge David McKeague wrote in the court's majority ruling. "The reaction of listeners does not alter the otherwise protected nature of speech." In a 3-0 ruling, the court reversed the district court’s decision not to grant Trump’s motion to dismiss the case and remanded the case back down to the lower court to issue an order dismissing the claims. The court also said the protesters had failed to make a valid incitement-to-riot claim under Kentucky law. “The words allegedly uttered by presidential candidate Donald Trump during his speech do not make out a plausible claim for incitement to engage in tumultuous and violent conduct creating grave danger of personal injury or property damage,” wrote McKeague, a George W. Bush appointee.

Donald Trump could lose liquor license for hotel due to bad character -- Suddenly, the country is talking about character — which is really a discussion about our president’s lack of it.  Donald Trump has frequently been criticized, even by his political supporters, for lacking just those basic values. On Wednesday, by remarkable coincidence, the District of Columbia's Alcohol Beverage Control Board (ABCB) is weighing a request to revoke the liquor license of the Trump International Hotel in Washington. The grounds? That the president lacks the “good character” required by law for a license.The complaint to the ABCB was filed in June and amended three times as more examples of Trump’s character deficiencies, including revelations accompanying Michael Cohen’s guilty plea, came to light.This is no quixotic joust. The complaint was filed by respected lawyers on behalf offive local religious leaders and two retired judges. The complaint argues that Trump is a “nonstop, habitual and compulsive liar,” that he has “not removed himself from his businesses as promised” after he was elected, that he maintains “conflicts of interest,” that “at least 16 women have alleged that Donald Trump sexually assaulted them,” that he paid $25 million to settle claims of fraud against Trump University, that he made “outright racist statements,” and more.

Tiny Qatar plays a big, complicated role in Trump's world -- Qatar is a tiny, oil-rich country perched on the Arabian peninsula that plays an oversized role in the world's affairs. It also has had a surprisingly big and complicated part in the world of President Donald Trump.Trump accused Qatar — which hosts a key American military base — of being "a funder of terrorism at a very high level," only months after the country dropped more than $6 million for an apartment in a Trump-owned building.A year later, Qatar's leader was being warmly welcomed by the president at the White House.Also eyebrow-raising are interactions involving Qatar and major players in Trump's orbit, including his son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner, now-estranged personal lawyer Michael Cohen and top Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy. For a deeper dive into Qatar's curious relationships in the age of Trump, watch the video abov

Trump wants to toughen the nation's libel laws. Here's why he isn't likely to succeed: Donald Trump hates to lose unless he wins by losing.So, the president is quick to portray himself as a victim, especially when he thinks he has been defamed.On Wednesday, in response to the publication of excerpts from “Fear: Trump in the White House,” author Bob Woodward’s new, critical book on his presidency, Trump called on “Washington politicians” to change our nation’s libel laws.Earlier this year Trump called libel laws “a sham and a disgrace,” shortly after his lawyers had threatened a possible libel suit in an unsuccessful attempt to block publication of another book — Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.” He then renewed his campaign promise to “open up” America’s libel laws, pledging “to take a strong look” at them.Changing our libel laws is easier said than done and, upon reflection, Trump might not want to push for change. Neither the president nor Congress can easily change defamation laws, and Trump’s own inflammatory rhetoric would most certainly be a casualty were libel laws toughened.Trump has never brought a successful defamation case in court. Still, his lawsuits, including litigation deemed frivolous, are an effective tool for attacking his critics, forcing them to spend lots of time and money defending themselves.

The ‘adults’ in the White House are just as dangerous as Trump, by Patrick Cockburn - Before his election as president it was understandable that Donald Trump’s critics should have vastly underestimated his ability as a politician. It is much less excusable – and self-destructive to effective opposition to Trump – that they should go on underestimating him almost two years after his victory.  Every week there are more revelations showing the Trump administration to be chaotic, incompetent and corrupt. The latest are the anonymous op-ed in The New York Times in which one of his own senior officials’ claims to be working against him and Bob Woodward’s book portraying the White House as a sort of human zoo.The media gleefully reports these bombshells in the hope that they will finally sink, or at least inflict serious damage, on the Good Ship Trump. This has been the pattern since he announced his presidential candidacy, but it never happens. Political commentators, overwhelmingly anti-Trump, express bafflement at his survival but, such is their loathing and contempt for him that they do not see that they are dealing with an exceptionally skilled politician.His abilities may be instinctive or drawn from his vast experience as a showman on television. Priority goes to dominating the news agenda regardless of whether the publicity is good or bad. Day after day, hostile news outlets like The New York Times and CNN lead on stories about Trump to the exclusion of all else. The media does not do this unless they know their customers want it: Trump is an American obsession, even greater than Brexit in Britain. A friend of mine recently met a group of American folk singers touring the south coast of Ireland who told him that they had often pledged to each other that they would get through the day without mentioning Trump, but so far they had failed to do so. This tactic of dominating the news by deliberately headline-grabbing behaviour, regardless of the criticism it provokes, is not new but is much more difficult to carry out than it looks. Boris Johnson is currently trying to pull the same trick with outrageous references to “suicide vests” but his over-heated rhetoric feels contrived. MP David Lammy’s jibe about Johnson as “a pound-shop Donald Trump” is apt.

As White House Coups Go, Wall Street Has Staged Plenty - Pam Martens -The reverberations from the New York Times OpEd last week, where an anonymous “senior official” in the Trump administration effectively described a coup taking place to stop the President’s mad impulses, are still shaking the nation.But President Donald Trump, from the day he took office, has been little more than a titular figure head for the fossil fuels industry – with Koch Industries in particular calling the shots. The Trump administration took the unthinkable step of removing the United States from the Paris Climate Accord and there is breaking news that the Environmental Protection Agency will ease rules on methane gas emissions for oil and gas companies like Koch Industries.The only real difference between this coup and past coups is that Koch Industries and its front group,Freedom Partners, are so much more in your face than Wall Street’s highly finessed but equally predatory cabal. Americans have had hard evidence of the Wall Street cabal’s control of the President and much of the legislative branch throughout history. There is the famous video in Michael Moore’s movie, “Capitalism: A Love Story,” where Treasury Secretary Donald Regan whispers in President Ronald Reagan’s ear while he is delivering a speech and barks at him to “speed it up” — like Reagan is merely an actor on the payroll of an invisible but powerful authority. The President doesn’t seem surprised or annoyed but acts as if he is accustomed to taking orders from this man. Donald Regan had been the Chairman and CEO of Merrill Lynch, the largest Wall Street brokerage firm in terms of stockbroker headcount throughout much of the last century.  Regan first became Reagan’s Treasury Secretary and then his Chief of Staff and was viewed by many as the Acting President of the United States.

NYT Answers 9 Questions About Anonymous Op-Ed After Trump Demands DOJ Investigation - After publishing a highly controversial anonymous Op-Ed Wednesday purportedly written by a senior White House official who claims to be part of an internal "resistance" that is actively undermining the President, the New York Times has taken heat from all sides. The author has been generally deemed a coward - with the right knocking him or her for their pre-midterm "hit-job," while many on the left have suggested that the author should have published the piece under their real name in order to attach more credibility to a series of anonymous complaints about the President that the New York Times just doesn't have the journalistic credibility to pull off anymore.Indeed, the piece appears to have backfired - while President Trump has demanded that the Justice Department launch an investigation into the article for the sake of national security.  Speaking at a Thursday night campaign rally in Billings, Montana, Trump said:  for the sake of our national security, the New York Times should publish his name at once. I think their reporters should go and investigate who it is. That would actually be a good scoop.  That would be a good scoop. Unelected deep state operatives who defy the voters to push their own secret agendas are truly a threat to democracy itself. And I was so heartened when I looked And as The Intercept co-founder Glenn Greenwald points out: "The irony in the op-ed from the NYT's anonymous WH coward is glaring and massive: s/he accuses Trump of being "anti-democratic" while boasting of membership in an unelected cabal that covertly imposes their own ideology with zero democratic accountability, mandate or transparency"  Perhaps to try and win some points in the court of public opinion (and other possible courtrooms down the road), The Times has published answers to questions from nine readers out of 23,000 who submitted questions about the essay.  Via the New York Times:

Trump waives millions in claims against Stormy Daniels in new fallout from illegal payoff -- President Trump has agreed to give up his right to pursue millions of dollars in damages against Stormy Daniels in a move to kill litigation over an illegal payoff to the adult-film star.The maneuver marks a sharp reversal for Trump. His legal team sought earlier to pull Daniels into an arbitration that could have forced her to pay the president more than $20 million for breaking a nondisclosure agreement over her claim of a sexual liaison with Trump in 2006. Trump has denied the affair. The switch in tactics, disclosed late Saturday by a Trump attorney, highlights the legal trouble faced by the president and his private business, the Trump Organization, as federal prosecutors continue to investigate the $130,000 in hush money that Daniels received 12 days before the November 2016 election.Michael Cohen, who was executive vice president of the Trump Organization when he orchestrated the deal, told a federal judge last month that Trump directed him to make the payoff in an attempt to influence the election. Cohen also agreed Friday to give up any right to damages against Daniels under the nondisclosure agreement.Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is suing Trump and Cohen to void the nondisclosure pact, saying it’s invalid because Trump never signed it.“Mr. Trump hereby stipulates that he does not, and will not, contest Ms. Clifford’s assertion that the Settlement Agreement was never formed, or in the alternative, should be rescinded,” the president’s lawyer, Charles Harder, told Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti in a letter Saturday.As a result, Trump’s lawyer argued, Daniels should drop her lawsuit. Lawyers for Trump, Cohen and Daniels are set to gather Sept. 24 for a hearing on the case before District Judge S. James Otero in Los Angeles federal court.

Michael Cohen Wants A Refund On $130,000 Hush Payment To Stormy Daniels - The former Trump attorney's shell company, Essential Consultants, filed a status report on Friday night seeking to tear up the original 2016 agreement with Stephanie Clifford, a.k.a. Stormy Daniels to stay silent about an affair she claims to have had with President Trump over a decade ago. "Today, Essential Consultants LLC and Michael Cohen have effectively put an end to the lawsuits filed against them by Stephanie Clifford aka Stormy Daniels," said Brent Blakely, a lawyer for Cohen. "The rescission of the Confidential Settlement Agreement will result in Ms. Clifford returning to Essential Consultants the $130,000 she received in consideration, as required by California law."According to CNN, the logic behind the move is that since Cohen no longer benefits from Clifford remaining silent since her "coming out" over the alleged affair, he is entitled to a refund.  Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, told CNN's Cuomo Prime Time on Friday night that he only heard about the filing before going on air and hasn't had a chance to mull it over.

Manafort in talks with prosecutors about possible plea, according to people familiar with the discussions - Days before in-person jury ­selection is set to begin in his second trial, President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is in talks with the special counsel’s office about a possible plea deal, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions. The people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to ­describe the conversations, cautioned that the negotiations may not result in a deal with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is prosecuting Manafort for alleged money laundering and lobbying violations.But the discussions indicate a possible shift in strategy for Manafort, who earlier this year chose to go to trial in Virginia, only to be convicted last month in Alexandria federal court on eight counts of bank and tax fraud. He had derided his former business partner, Rick Gates, for striking a deal with prosecutors that provided him leniency in exchange for testimony against Manafort. “I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence,” Manafort said in February. The specifics of Manafort’s current negotiations with prosecutors were unclear, including whether he would provide any information about the president. Earlier this summer, Kevin M. Downing, an attorney for Manafort, said there was “no chance” his client would flip and cooperate with prosecutors.However, Manafort’s current willingness to engage in talks could rattle Trump, who in the past has praised his former campaign chairman for his unwillingness to cooperate with the special counsel. Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni and Mueller spokesman Peter Carr declined to comment. Manafort’s attorneys, Downing and Thomas E. Zehnle, did not immediately return calls for comment. Jury selection for Manafort’s second trial is set to begin Monday, with opening statements scheduled for Sept. 24.

 Manafort reaches 'tentative' plea deal with Mueller- report -- Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has reportedly reached a "tentative" plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller.ABC News reported news of the tentative deal on Thursday, saying it is expected to be announced in court in Washington, D.C., on Friday.ABC reported that it remains unclear whether Manafort has agreed to cooperate with Mueller's probe or is conceding to a guilty plea. Sources with knowledge of the discussions said conceding to a guilty plea would allow Manafort to avoid the expense and stress of a trial. It was previously reported that Manafort was seeking a plea deal that would keep him from having to cooperate with prosecutors.  Manafort was convicted on multiple criminal financial charges last month in a separate trial in Virginia.

Read Paul Manafort's Full Cooperation Agreement -- Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort agreed on Friday to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller. The deal comes after a 76-page "Superseding Criminal Information" document was filed against Manafort, charging him with money laundering and obstruction (see below). Jury selection in Manafort's second trial in US District Court in Washington was scheduled to begin on Monday. This could be bad for Trump, Podesta and several members of the Obama administration Language in the plea deal has fueled speculation that Manafort's cooperation could potentially be devastating for President Trump - however many have also pointed out that others may be directly in the special counsel's crosshairs. Those people include former Manafort associates Tony Podesta, Vin Weber and Greg Craig - all of whom failed to register as foreign agents in connection with work outside the United States, as well as members of the Obama administration.   See the filing below:

The Mueller Investigation Is Sending People to Jail - But Not For Collusion - The anonymous government official who revealed a “resistance” inside the White House has heightened the sense of doom hanging over Donald Trump’s presidency. A stream of disparaging claims from other White House insiders, the multiple criminal cases enveloping Trump’s inner circle, and the ongoing special-counsel investigation into possible collusion with the Russian government have all also added to anticipation of Trump’s imminent downfall. But the widespread perception that “the walls are closing in”; on a “ “teetering” Trump presidency is getting ahead of reality. While figures eyed as central to the suspected Trump-Russia conspiracy—campaign volunteer George Papadopoulos, longtime fixer Michael Cohen, and campaign manager Paul Manafort—have been convicted of criminal activity, their cases have not bolstered the case for collusion as many liberals had hoped. Last week, Papadopoulos was sentenced to 14 days in prison for lying to the FBI about the timing of his contacts with a Maltese professor, Joseph Mifsud. According to Papadopoulos, Mifsud claimed to have connections to Russia and information that the Kremlin had obtained Hillary Clinton’s stolen e-mails. In May 2016, Papadopoulos relayed vague details about his conversation with Mifsud to Australian diplomat Alexander Downer. According to press accounts, a tip from Downer about his encounter with Papadopoulos sparked the FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation into alleged Trump-Russia ties. Because Papadopoulos may have purportedly heard about stolen e-mails before their public release, he has been widely scouted as “Exhibit A” for a Trump-Kremlin conspiracy, part of a “secret channel through which the Russian government was able to communicate with the Trump campaign as it stole Democratic emails and weaponized them to help Trump win the presidency,” according to James Risen of The Intercept. In the end, Papadopoulos did not fill that role. According to special counsel Robert Mueller’s sentencing memo, Papadopoulos “did not provide ‘substantial assistance’” during his interviews in August and September of 2017. But in remarks made after his sentencing, Papadopoulos says that “I did my best…and offered what I knew.” It is not a surprise that he did not have much to offer. Not only did the Trump campaign rebuff Papadopoulos’s proposals to set up meetings with Russian officials, Papadopoulos now says that “I never met with a single Russian official in my life.”

US Prosecutors Misunderstood Text Messages When They Fingered Russian Woman As Gun-Rights Honeypot - US Prosecutors are walking back their claim that a now-jailed Russian woman, Maria Butina, traded sex in exchange for a job wihin a "special interest organization," reports the Washington Post.  Following the July arrest of Butina, 29, Assistant US Attorney Erik M. Kenerson said that she was offering "sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization." Now, months later, the government is backpedaling: The concession came in a late-night court filing Friday in which prosecutors said Maria Butina, 29, should stay in custody as a flight risk but wrote “the government’s understanding of this particular text conversation was mistaken.” -Washington PostThe 2015 text exchange between Butina and a married, longtime friend who does public relations work for a Russian gun rights group, and did her a favor by renewing her car insurance, reads:"I don’t know what you owe me for this insurance[.] They put me through the wringer," her friend texted her in Russian."Sex," responded Butina, who added: "Thank you so much. I have nothing else at all. Not a nickel to my name."The man later replied: "Think of something!! . . . Sex with you does not interest me."

Peter Strzok, Lisa Page conspired to leak anti-Trump stories to mainstream media – FBI Agent Peter Strzok conspired with his in-house lover to leak anti-Trump stories to the media in spring 2017 when he headed the Russia probe into the Trump campaign, a congressman said on Monday.Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican, sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein saying a House task force had just received a new shipment of Justice Department documents.“Our review of these new documents raises grave concerns regarding an apparent systemic culture of media leaking by high-ranking officials at FBI and DOJ,” Mr. Meadows said. “Review of these new documents suggest a coordinated effort on the part of the FBI and DOJ to release information in the public domain potentially harmful to President Donald Trump’s administration.”Mr. Meadows provided an example.On April 10, 2017, Mr. Strzok text-messaged Lisa Page, his lover and then-FBI counsel, to discuss a “media leak strategy.” “I had literally just gone to find this phone to tell you I want to talk to you about media leak strategy with DOJ before you go,” Mr. Strzok said.Two days later, Mr. Strzok congratulated Ms. Page on two derogatory stories that appeared about Carter Page, a former Trump volunteer whom the FBI was wiretapping.The Washington Post broke a story about the wiretap on April 11, Mr. Meadows said, which suggested Trump connections to Russia.Mr. Strzok became famous for previously released text messages that showed a strong bias against Mr. Trump. At one point he told Ms. Page he had a plan to “stop” Mr. Trump.In congressional testimony, Mr. Strzok denied that his bias affected how he conducted the Trump probe, saying that if he wanted to he could have leaked stories to the news media. The Justice Department fired Mr. Strzok after a scathing inspector general report.

Gallup chief: Americans have 'dismissed' idea that Trump acted illegally with Russia | TheHill: Gallup Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport said on Tuesday that Americans have come to reject the idea that President Trump did anything criminal with regards to Russian interference in the 2016 election. "A lot of Americans have kind of dismissed the idea that he [Trump] colluded to the extent that he did something illegal," Newport told Hill.TV's Joe Concha on "What America's Thinking." "A lot more Americans would say he did something wrong, but it wasn't illegal," he continued. Newport was referring to a Gallup poll released last week that found that only 29 percent of respondents said they believed Trump acted illegally concerning Russian involvement during the 2016 campaign. Twenty-seven percent said Trump acted unethically but did nothing illegal, while 35 percent said he did not do anything seriously wrong. The same survey also found that 31 percent of those polled said the president acted illegally with regards to nondisclosure payments to women who claim to have had affairs with him. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said Trump acted unethically but not illegally in the payments, and 23 percent said he did nothing seriously wrong.

Trump To Declassify Bruce Ohr, Carter Page Documents As Early As This Week - President Trump is expected to declassify documents connected to the Obama administration's surveillance of the Trump campaign during the 2016 US election, according to Axios, citing allies of the president who say it could happen as soon as this week.  Specifically mentioned are documents concerning former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, as well as the "investigative activities of Justice Department lawyer Bruce Ohr" - who was demoted twice for lying about his extensive relationship with Christopher Steele - the former MI6 spy who assembled the sham "Steele Dossier" used by the FBI in a FISA surveillance application to spy on Page. Republicans on the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees believe the declassification will permanently taint the Trump-Russia investigation by showing the investigation was illegitimate to begin with. Trump has been hammering the same theme for months.

  • They allege that Bruce Ohr played an improper intermediary role between the Justice Department, British spy Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS — the opposition research firm that produced the Trump-Russia dossier, funded by Democrats. (Ohr's wife, Nellie, worked for Fusion GPS on Russia-related matters during the presidential election — a fact that Ohr did not disclose on federal forms.)
  • And they further allege that the Obama administration improperly spied on Carter Page — all to take down Trump. -Axios

Ohr, meanwhile, met with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska in 2015 to discuss helping the FBI with organized crime investigations, according to The Hill's John Solomon. The meeting with the Putin ally was facilitated by Steele.

Joseph Mifsud, professor who discussed Clinton 'dirt' with George Papadopoulos may be dead, says DNC - Joseph Mifsud, an elusive professor considered a missing link between President Trump’s election campaign and Russia, may have died during the course of being sought in connection with Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 race, attorneys for the Democratic National Committee claimed Friday.One of more than a dozen defendants named in a lawsuit filed by the DNC in April, Mr. Milfsud “is missing and may be deceased,” attorneys for the committee wrote in a status report filed in Manhattan federal court.“Plaintiff continues to monitor news sources for any indicia of Mifsud’s whereabouts and will attempt service on Mifsud if and when he is found alive,” said a corresponding footnote.“The DNC’s counsel has attempted to serve Mifsud for months and has been unable to locate or contact him,” added DNC spokeswoman Adrienne Watson. “In addition, public reports have said he has disappeared and hasn’t been seen for months,” she said in a statement sent to The Hill following Friday’s filing.Russian state-sponsored hackers breached the DNC’s computer network and other Democratic targets during the 2016 race and stole emails and other documents later released by outlets including the WikiLeaks website and a pseudonymous internet personal known as Guccifer 2.0, according to U.S. federal law enforcement and intelligence officials.

Google Was Working To Get Hillary Clinton Elected With Silent Donation According To Leaked Internal Email -- Tucker Carlson just blew the cover off the 2016 election influence charade, after he read an internal email on Monday night's show from a senior Google employee who admitted to using company resources to make a "silent donation" to a liberal group that was creating ads and donating funds to bus Latinos to voting stations during the 2016 election in key swing states, in an effort to help Hillary Clinton win. The email was sent by the former head of Google's multicultural marketing department, Eliana Mario, on November 9, 2016.  "That email was subsequently forwarded by two Google VP's to more staff members throughout the company," says Carlson, adding "In her email, Mario touts Google’s multi-faceted efforts to boost Hispanic turnout in the election. She noticed that Latino voters did record-breaking numbers, especially in states like Florida, Nevada and Arizona - the last of which she describes as "a key state for us." She brags that the company used its power to ensure that millions of people saw certain hashtags and social media impressions, with the goal of influencing their behavior during the election."Elsewhere in the email Mario says "Google supported partners like Voto Latino to pay for rides to the polls in key states." She describes this assistance as a "silent donation"Mario then says that Google helped Voto Latino create ad campaigns to promote those rides. Now officially Voto Latino is a non-partisan entity, but that is a sham. Voto Latino is vocally partisan. Recently the group declared that Hispanics - ALL Hispanics are in President Trump’s "crosshairs." They said they plan to respond to this by registering another million additional Hispanic voters in the next Presidential cycle....It was, in effect, an in-kind contribution to the Hillary Clinton for President campaign.... In the end, Google was disappointed. As Mario herself conceded "ultimately after all was said and done, the Latino community did come out to vote, and completely surprised us. We never anticipated that 29% of Latinos would vote for Trump. No one did. -Tucker Carlson

LEAKED VIDEO: Google Leadership’s Dismayed Reaction to Trump Election A video recorded by Google shortly after the 2016 presidential election reveals an atmosphere of panic and dismay amongst the tech giant’s leadership, coupled with a determination to thwart both the Trump agenda and the broader populist movement emerging around the globe.The video is a full recording of Google’s first all-hands meeting following the 2016 election (these weekly meetings are known inside the company as “TGIF” or “Thank God It’s Friday” meetings). Sent to Breitbart News by an anonymous source, it features co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, VPs Kent Walker and Eileen Naughton, CFO Ruth Porat, and CEO Sundar Pichai. It can be watched in full above. It can and should be watched in full above in order to get the full context of the meeting and the statements made.It was reported earlier this week that Google tried to boost turnout among the Latino population to help Hillary Clinton, only to be dismayed as the usually solid Democratic voting bloc switched to the GOP in record numbers. This video shows a similar level of dismay among Google’s most high-profile figures.These individuals, who preside over a company with unrivaled influence over the flow of information, can be seen disparaging the motivations of Trump voters and plotting ways to use their vast resources to thwart the Trump agenda.Co-founder Sergey Brin can be heard comparing Trump supporters to fascists and extremists. Brin argues that like other extremists, Trump voters were motivated by “boredom,” which he says in the past led to fascism and communism.The Google co-founder then asks his company to consider what it can do to ensure a “better quality of governance and decision-making.”VP for Global Affairs Kent Walker argues that supporters of populist causes like the Trump campaign are motivated by “fear, xenophobia, hatred, and a desire for answers that may or may not be there.”Later, Walker says that Google should fight to ensure the populist movement – not just in the U.S. but around the world – is merely a “blip” and a “hiccup” in a historical arc that “bends toward progress.”

Google Is Handing the Future of the Internet to China -- In May, Google quietly removed “Don’t be evil” from the text of its corporate code of conduct, deleting a catchphrase that had been associated with the company since 2000. Amid startling revelations of how social media and internet platforms can enable political interference and new forms of stealthy cyberwarfare, avoiding evil in Silicon Valley has turned out to be harder than it looks. In a world where Twitter’s terrorist may be Facebook’s freedom fighter, decisions over what content to algorithmically uplift or suppress can involve agonizing questions of interpretation, intent, and cultural context.  But amid all the moral ambiguity and uncharted terrain of running an internet platform that controls vast swaths of global discourse and reaps commensurate revenues, some dilemmas are more straightforward than others. That’s why word of Google’s plans to substantially expand its currently minimal role in the Chinese market—through the potential launch of a censored search engine code-named Dragonfly—has provoked such uproar.  The plans were revealed through documents leaked to the Intercept, which reported that prototypes and negotiations with the Chinese government were far along, laying the groundwork for the potential service to launch as soon as early 2019. In late August, a group of free expression and human rights organizations published a joint letter proclaiming that the launch of a Chinese search application would represent “an alarming capitulation by Google on human rights.” Six U.S. senators, led by Marco Rubio and Mark Warner, sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai demanding answers to a series of queries about the company’s intentions. Last week, PEN America sent a detailed letter to Google executives spelling out specific human rights issues and subjects that, per Chinese censorship rules, would be treated repressively and deceptively by any information platform operating in the country. Google’s own employees are also up in arms: More than 1,400 signed a letter to management saying the floated China project “raise[s] urgent moral and ethical issues” and demanding greater transparency before any plans are implemented.  The utopian notion of an internet that unifies people across borders, fosters the unfettered flow of information, and allows truth and reason to triumph is already under attack on multiple fronts.  If Google is willing to play along with China, governments in Russia, Turkey, Iran, Egypt, and elsewhere will have little reason not to fortify their own measures to control content and opinion. At a time when even the U.S. president is attacking Google and other platforms as biased and rigged, for the company to signal a new willingness to bow before an overreaching government would represent a grave setback for the rights of citizens to harness digital technology as a tool of empowerment.

Trump to target foreign meddling in U.S. elections with sanctions order (Reuters) - President Donald Trump plans to sign an executive order as soon as Wednesday that will slap sanctions on any foreign companies or people who interfere in U.S. elections, based on intelligence agency findings, two sources familiar with the matter said. Trump’s decision coincides with intelligence agencies, military and law enforcement preparing to defend the Nov. 6 congressional elections from predicted foreign attacks even as Trump derides a special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. The White House declined to comment. Sanction targets could include individual people or entire companies accused of interfering in U.S. elections by cyber attacks or other means, a U.S. official told Reuters. “The administration is keen to set a new norm in cyberspace,” the official said. “This is a first step in stating boundaries and publicly announcing our response for bad behavior.” The order represents the latest in a series of Trump administration efforts to look tough on election security before voting in November that will decide whether Trump’s Republican Party can keep its majorities in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. The order will put a range of agencies in charge of deciding if meddling occurred, led by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and including the CIA, the National Security Agency and the Homeland Security Department, the sources said. Based on a recent draft of the order reviewed by the U.S. official, it will require any federal agency aware of election interference by foreigners to take the information to the office of Director of National Intelligence. Election interference will be defined in the order as hacking attempts against “election infrastructure,” and efforts to sway public opinion through coordinated digital propaganda or systematic leaks of private political information.

 Establishment Democrats Are Pouring Millions Into Rhode Island to Save an Unpopular Governor From an Insurgent Challenger -- Democrats across the country are zeroed in on a handful of dynamic gubernatorial candidates hoping to make history in three states currently governed by Republicans. In Florida, Georgia, and Maryland, Andrew Gillum, Stacey Abrams, and Ben Jealous are running unapologetically progressive campaigns that could result in each candidate becoming the first African-American to govern each state. The Democratic Party and its allies, meanwhile, are pumping much-needed resources into Rhode Island in an effort prop up an unpopular incumbent governor facing an insurgent challenge in a blue state. Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo is working to fend off a progressive, albeit underfunded, primary challenge from the left. Matt Brown, a former Rhode Island secretary of state, is running a grassroots campaign against Raimondo, who he describes as “the most extreme corporatist Democrat in the country.”  The Democratic Governors Association has pumped in $1 million to support Raimondo, money that won’t be available for Georgia, Florida, or Maryland. EMILY’s List, which helps elect pro-choice women, jumped in as well, spending $345,000 on pre-primary mailers for the incumbent. Although Raimondo presents herself as pro-choice, she was criticized by reproductive rights advocates for passing what amounted to restrictions on abortion access during her first term in office and is listed as “mixed-choice” by NARAL Pro-Choice America.

So this is how Paul Ryan leaves office? With lies and racism? -- Dana Milbank - So this is how retiring House Speaker Paul D. Ryan wishes to leave public service: with lies, name-calling and racism?The fall general-election season has begun, and the $100 million Congressional Leadership Fund, which Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, and his House GOP leadership team endorse and raise money for, has released a flurry of ads in recent days that leave no room for misinterpretation: It intends to make the election a series of personal attacks, largely devoid of policy.Consider what the CLF super PAC, the dominant player in the GOP’s campaign to defend its majority in the House, has done in recent days:A racist ad released Wednesday in Upstate New York has doctored images showing Democratic congressional candidate Antonio Delgado, an African American, rapping. It says he has “extreme New York City values” and shows an image of two white people who would pay “higher taxes” if he has his way. “He’s still New York City’s voice, not ours,” it says of Delgado — a Rhodes scholar and Harvard Law School graduate. CLF did this despite complaints about racism in previous versions of the ad.A week earlier, CLF offered a similar attack on Aftab Pureval, an Indian Tibetan Democrat running in Ohio. CLF’s ad accused Pureval of “selling out Americans,” and said “Pureval’s lobbying firm made millions helping Libya reduce payments owed to families of Americans killed by Libyan terrorism.” Pureval, fresh out of law school, didn’t work on the Libya settlement, which, in any case, was blessed by President George W. Bush.

Pigs Want To Feed at the Trough Again: Bernanke, Geithner and Paulson Use Crisis Anniversary to Ask for More Bailout Powers --Yves Smith - After a decade of writing about the crisis, we are now subjected to an orgy of yet more chatter with not much insight. It speaks volumes that the likes of Ben Bernanke, Timothy Geithner, and Hank Paulson are deemed fit to say anything about it, let alone pitch the need for the officialdom to have more bank bailout tools in a New York Times op-e titled What We Need to Fight the Next Financial Crisis.The fact that they blandly depict crises that demand extraordinary interventions as to be expected confirms that greedy technocrats like them are a big part of the problem. Their call for more help for financiers confirms that they have things backwards. How about doing more to make sure that future crises aren’t meteor-killing-the-dinosaurs level events, and foisting more costs and punishments on the financiers who got drunk and rich on too much risk-taking? The first line of defense should be stronger regulations, including prohibition of certain activities.As the Financial Times’ Martin Wolf pointed out in a recent crisis retrospective, the response of central bankers and financial regulators to the crisis was to restore the status quo ante, and not engage in root and branch reform, as took place in the Great Depression. But as we’ve pointed out, the response to the crisis represented the greatest looting of the public purse in history. The post-crisis era of super-low interest rates represented an additional transfer of income from savers to the financial system. In the US, the so-called “get out of massive mortgage securitization liability for almost free” card otherwise known as the National Mortgage Settlement represented a not-widely recognized second bailout of banks and mortgage servicers. No wonder banksters are seeking a rinse and repeat.An overfinancialized economy is good for no one save banksters and their paid retainers. Economists in recent years have been describing how larger financial systems hurt growth. For instance, the IMF found that the optimal development of a financial system was roughly where Poland is. The IMF conceded that it might be possible to have a larger banking system not drag down the economy if it were well regulated. Other studies have found that economies with large financial sectors typically have more inequality, and inequality is separately seen as a negative for growth. So there’s no sound policy reason to coddle banks rather than cut them down to size.

Regulatory Capture -- Bill Mcbride - Caroline Baum writes at MarketWatch: Opinion: An overlooked element of the financial crisis: To err is humanThere’s a name for what happened. It’s called regulatory capture, and it means just what the name implies. Regulators become sympathetic to those they are supposed to be regulating, losing sight of their actual function.Granted, some of the financial chicanery was going on in the accounting department, but regulators have access to the information they need to fulfill their supervisory and regulatory responsibilities. All they have to do is ask. This happened, but not at the field level. Here is an excerpt I wrote from the WaMu hearing: "My opinion is the OTS examiner in charge during the period of time I was there did an excellent job of finding and raising issues. Likewise, I found good performance from the FDIC examiner in charge. What I can't explain is why the superior in the agencies didn't take a tougher tone with banks, given the degree of negative findings. … seemed to be a tolerance there or political influence of senior management of those agencies that prevented them from taking more active stances …" I noted:   We have seen this over and over. Every time the inspector general's office issues a report on a failed bank, the field examiners had correctly identified the problems - usually going back to 2003 or so - but no further action was taken. Vanasek is arguing this was possibly because of "political influence of senior management of those agencies" - the political appointees in charge. I've heard the same thing from examiners. And from the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission report Crisis   Despite the expressed view of many on Wall Street and in Washington that the crisis could not have been foreseen or avoided, there were warning signs. ... Yet there was pervasive permissiveness; little meaningful action was taken to quell the threats in a timely manner.The prime example is the Federal Reserve’s pivotal failure to stem the flow of toxic mortgages, which it could have done by setting prudent mortgage-lending standards. The Federal Reserve was the one entity empowered to do so and it did not.

Is the next financial crisis already brewing? - Nouriel Roubini, FT -- As we mark the tenth anniversary of the global financial crisis, there have been plenty of postmortems examining its causes, its consequences and whether the necessary lessons have been learnt. So it seems a pertinent moment to ask when the next recession and financial crisis will occur and why. The global expansion is likely to continue this year and next because the US is running large fiscal deficits, China is continuing stimulative policies and Europe remains on a recovery path. Yet by 2020, there are several reasons why conditions for a global recession and financial crisis may emerge. To start with not only will the current US economic stimulus have gone away by 2020, but a modest fiscal drag will push growth below 2 per cent. Given the US fiscal stimulus has been ill-timed, the Federal Reserve will have to continue to hike to a level of about 3.5 per cent by early 2020. In addition to the Fed, other central banks will probably start or continue to normalise their policy stances. Then there are trade frictions with China, Europe and Nafta countries, which will increase even if they fall short of a full-scale trade war. These frictions are just symptoms of the much deeper rivalry to determine global leadership on the technologies of the future, but their effect will be to slow growth and increase inflation. And other US policies currently being pursued will ultimately lead to weaker expansion and higher inflation. Take, for example, curbs on foreign direct investment and technology transfers that disrupt supply chains, or restrictions to migration while the population is ageing. There are anti-environmental policies that will stymie the adoption of investments in green technology, and the absence of infrastructure policy that would reduce supply-side bottlenecks. If this is a set of policies that hurts the US, then expansion elsewhere will weaken for other reasons. China will be slow to deal with over-capacity and excessive leverage, while emerging markets — many of which are already fragile — will be further damaged by a higher dollar, weaker commodity prices and a less buoyant China. Although Europe has lost some momentum, rising trade tensions and the European Central Bank’s exit from its unconventional policies mean it will have lost more by 2020.

 In reg relief just as with Dodd-Frank, spotlight's trained on Fed  — The Federal Reserve Board commanded much attention after passage of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act for the agency's expanded authority to supervise big banks. The spotlight is again shining on the central bank as regulators implement a new law to ease regulatory burden. As the Senate Banking Committee prepares to hold its first hearing on implementing the regulatory relief law, some lawmakers are expected to pressure the Fed to be generous in using new power to excuse midsize banks from Dodd-Frank prudential standards. Some Democrats, meanwhile, will likely urge the agency to be more cautious.“As a result of S 2155, the Federal Reserve has even more regulatory discretion and I think both sides of the congressional aisle, those who are happy with it and those who are unhappy with it, are going to be interested in how the Fed plans to use its discretion,” Aaron Klein, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and former Senate Banking Committee staffer, said in reference to the new law. Some Republicans, for example, have already raised concerns about recent comments by senior Fed board governors signaling that the agency may still apply broad stress test requirements for banks with between $100 billion and $250 billion in assets, even though the new law says those banks are no longer "systemically important."The new law raised the asset threshold for "systemically important financial institutions" to $250 billion from $50 billion, but granted the Fed discretion to determine which banks between $100 billion and $250 billion should still face enhanced standards."There will be questions asked to Gov. Quarles as to what framework and methodology the Fed is planning to implement to make that assessment,” Klein said, referring to Fed Gov. Randal Quarles.But Democrats will likely urge Quarles, the agency's vice chairman of supervision, to use the Fed’s authority to keep the microscope on banks in that middle range.“I think [Democrats will be] grilling them to make sure they’re not rolling back more Dodd-Frank regulations because the regulators can reinterpret those,” said Justin Schardin, a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center and former director of the center’s financial regulatory reform initiative.

Senate banking panel postpones hearing on reg relief implementation - A Senate Banking Committee hearing scheduled Thursday on the implementation of a Dodd-Frank regulatory relief bill that President Trump signed in May has been postponed until Oct. 2, as Hurricane Florence is expected to hit the East Coast. Key officials from the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the National Credit Union Administration were expected to testify on their progress in implementing changes mandated by the regulatory relief bill, S 2155. A spokesperson for the Senate Banking Committee said the hearing is being rescheduled for “logistical reasons.” Several financial services lawmakers, including House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, the committee’s vice chairman, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., and Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., were also scheduled to speak at a conference with the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions this week. That conference was canceled because of travel concerns over the anticipated hurricane.

Is Glass-Steagall poised for a political comeback? - For the last couple of years, banking policy has been largely focused on the nuts and bolts of financial regulation. There was the considerable speculation around who President Trump would select to head the banking agencies, followed by a legislative push to enact regulatory relief for smaller institutions that passed Congress this past spring. More recently, interest has turned to the Trump regulatory team, now largely in place, and efforts to soften existing rules. But the time for loftier political battles over the very structure of the banking system may be just around the corner. And that will almost certainly include the fight to bring back the Glass-Steagall Act, a Depression-era division between commercial and investment banking that was largely repealed in 1999. Policymakers have sought to revive legislation originally sponsored by Sen. Carter Glass, left, and Rep. Henry B. Steagall, which passed Congress in 1933. This is not to say that a bill to break up the largest banks is set to pass Congress anytime soon — barring, perhaps, a sudden economic crisis — but broader messaging around the idea is likely in the offing.  “What you’re seeing on the Democratic side is a Tea Party moment for Occupy Wall Street,”  . If control of either chamber flips, bankers should expect the broader issue of “too big to fail” to be on the agenda in some form — and that would likely include at least a nod to Glass-Steagall. Building on that populist energy, the credit union industry is now also getting involved. The National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions released a white paper earlier this week calling for the return of Glass-Steagall. While it would still be an incredible uphill battle for the provision to be enacted into law, credit unions hold outsize power in Washington, which could help to put the issue back on the table in coming months. The Independent Community Bankers of America, another lobbying force, has said it also supports Glass-Steagall divisions in banking for banks with greater than $50 billion in assets. 

 Regulators clarify that guidance does not have the force of law — Five regulators issued a joint statement Tuesday clarifying that agency-issued supervisory guidance lacks the “force and effect of law” that is more akin to rules and regulations. The Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and National Credit Union Administration said supervisory guidance articulates their general views for appropriate practices but does not lead to enforcement actions. “A law or regulation has the force and effect of law,” the agencies said. “Unlike a law or regulation, supervisory guidance does not have the force and effect of law, and the agencies do not take enforcement actions based on supervisory guidance.” In an effort to clarify the role of guidance, the agencies said they will limit the use of numerical thresholds in describing expectations in supervisory guidance.  The agencies may identify unsafe or unsound practices or other deficiencies that do not constitute violations of the law and reference guidance in writing, but they will not issue citations relating to violations of supervisory guidance. "Any citations will be for violations of law, regulation, or non-compliance with enforcement orders or other enforceable conditions," the agencies said in the statement. They also said they will continue to seek public comment on supervisory guidance, but that seeking public comment does not mean that the guidance is intended to be a regulation or have the force and effect of law. The joint statement comes as Republicans in Congress have used the Congressional Review Act to repeal agency guidance that had been viewed as a rule or regulation. Congress was able to revoke the CFPB’s 2013 auto lending guidance in April after the Government Accountability Office determined it operated like a rule. The GAO made a similar determination about the 2013 interagency leveraged lending guidance last year. Once used, the Congressional Review Act prohibits agencies from issuing similar rules. Ed Mills, a policy analyst at Raymond James, said the joint statement “significantly” weakens the impact of guidance. “They leave it as a tool in their toolbox, but it’s no longer de facto law.”

 US regulators reportedly rejected Wells Fargo’s plan to repay customers forced into unnecessary auto insurance products (Reuters) - U.S. regulators have rejected Wells Fargo & Co's (WFC.N) plan to repay customers who were pushed into unnecessary auto insurance, telling the bank it must do more to ensure it has found and compensated every affected driver, three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. Wells Fargo gave regulators the plan in June, as required by a $1 billion settlement the bank reached with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) in April. After reviewing the plan - which could involve contacting some 600,000 drivers - the OCC told Wells Fargo it needed more assurances that the bank would find and repay everyone who was overcharged, said the sources, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the rejection. After reviewing the plan - which could involve contacting some 600,000 drivers - the OCC told Wells Fargo it needed more assurances that the bank would find and repay everyone who was overcharged, said the sources, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the rejection. The rejection is the latest wrinkle in Wells Fargo's long-running sales scandal, which began in September 2016 with revelations that the bank had opened perhaps millions of accounts in customers' names without permission to hit aggressive sales targets. Since then, Wells has disclosed more customer abuses in businesses including mortgage lending, wealth management and the auto loans at issue here. Customers who were charged for unneeded insurance could face overdraft fees, damaged credit or vehicle repossession. As part of its settlement agreement, Wells Fargo had to review several years' worth of bank and insurance paperwork for those customers. Although Wells Fargo gave regulators details on the number of customers harmed, what financial consequences they suffered and how the bank planned to compensate them, the OCC wants to see work behind the calculations before it will approve the plan, the sources said. The regulator also wants an explanation of how workers are performing day-to-day remediation tasks, they said. The OCC does not have a deadline for when it must approve the plan, but Wells Fargo cannot finish its work without that all-clear from regulators.

FSOC to detail new approach to nonbank supervision: Treasury official — The Financial Stability Oversight Council will publish more details this fall on a shift from targeting specific nonbanks for enhanced oversight to flagging activities across multiple firms, a senior Treasury Department official said Wednesday. Craig Phillips, counselor to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, said that all FSOC members are “actively engaged” in identifying activities that pose stress to the financial system. Mnuchin chairs the council, which was created under the Dodd-Frank Act as an early-warning system for risks across the financial markets. Dodd-Frank authorized the FSOC to designate specific nonbanks as "systemically important," thereby subjecting them to banklike supervision. But the Trump administration, as indicated by a November 2017 report, has indicated support for "activities-based" designations. "An activities-based approach for designation" serves to "really identify the activities that are causing potential stress to the system ... as opposed to focusing exclusively on the designation of the individual entity," said Craig Phillips, counselor to the Treasury secretary. "All the members" of the council "are now working towards publishing something on that in the fall, which is, I would sort of characterize it, an activities-based approach for designation ... to really identify the activities that are causing potential stress to the system and work with the primary regulator to address the appropriate means of best managing that risk as opposed to focusing exclusively on the designation of the individual entity," Phillips said Wednesday at the Exchequer Club in Washington.

House panel moves bills on brokered deposits, CFPB — will Senate bite? - — The House Financial Services Committee advanced a dozen bills Thursday, including bipartisan measures to revise the definition of deposit brokers and to require the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to establish a process for issuing guidance. The House committee has steadily moved regulatory reform legislation this year. But most reform provisions face a stiffer challenge in the Senate, where a coalition of Republicans and moderate Democrats enacted a targeted regulatory bill last spring. “I don't believe most, if any, of these bills will be going anywhere in the Senate,” Brandon Barford, an analyst at Beacon Policy Advisors, said of the legislation considered Thursday. “I think they are mostly doing it because House members want to be able to show progress on issues they care about and their job as a co-equal branch is to pass legislation that is a priority for House Republicans and their constituents, rather than worry about what the Senate may or may not do.” Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., the committee's ranking member said "there may be bipartisan recognition of the problem" addressed by the brokered deposits bill, but "I’m disappointed that the committee has skipped regular order and neither studied this issue in great depth or held a legislative hearing to evaluate" the legislation. Bloomberg News While the bills are unlikely to pass Congress during the current session, the committee's approval of the measures are a sign of which financial services legislation Republicans and Democrats will prioritize in the upcoming Congress. . The measure, which had two Democratic co-sponsors, has support from the banking industry. In a letter to Tipton, the American Bankers Association lauded the effort, saying the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has “continually applied an ever broader interpretation of what deposits are ‘brokered,’ unnecessarily subjecting a broad swath of deposits to supervisory stigma, limits, and additional regulatory costs, even when held by well-capitalized banks.” But some Democrats on the committee, including ranking member Maxine Waters of California and Bill Foster of Illinois, were concerned that the bill had not been properly vetted by the full committee through a legislative hearing.

Advisory boards are back at CFPB, but with fewer members -- After firing the members of a consumer advisory panel earlier this year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has reconstituted the panel in a way that excludes national advocacy organizations. The bureau’s new Consumer Advisory Board is much smaller than its previous incarnation — nine members were announced on Friday, down from 25 during Richard Cordray’s tenure as the agency’s director. The new roster does include one member from the consumer advocacy world, in addition to executives from fintech startups, the nonprofit sector and academia. The National Consumer Law Center and other national advocacy groups are not represented.  Back in June, when the bureau fired all of the panel’s members, acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney drew sharp criticism from consumer advocates, who saw the move as a purge of dissenting viewpoints. At least 11 of the 25 people who were removed from the advisory board took issue publicly with the bureau’s action. The board’s new members include Liz Coyle, executive director of Georgia Watch, which describes itself as the state’s leading consumer advocacy group. Other members of the reconfigured CFPB board include: Manning Field, chief operating officer of savings app maker Acorns; Brent Neiser, an official at the National Endowment for Financial Education; Luz Urrutia, chief executive of the nonprofit small business lender Opportunity Fund; and Ronald Johnson, president of Clark Atlanta University. “I am disappointed to see much less diversity in this new consumer advisory board, compared to past boards,” Ann Baddour, the panel’s former chair who was among those fired in June, said in an email Friday.

CRA reform, fintech threat shift bank lobbying effort toward regulators -- With regulatory relief signed into law and the strong possibility of divided government in 2019, banking industry groups like the Consumer Bankers Association will focus their lobbying efforts over the next year mostly on federal regulators, rather than lawmakers. During a recent interview, Todd Barnhart, the incoming chair of the association, mentioned just one policy proposal that the trade group hopes to persuade Congress to pass. And that particular legislative priority — replacing the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau with a multimember commission — is a perennial suggestion that has not drawn much Democratic support on Capitol Hill. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the CFPB have all gotten new leaders in the past 10 months — Trump appointees who are generally more skeptical of regulation than their Obama-era predecessors. “That’s where a lot of the activity is at the moment,” said Barnhart, who is head of retail distribution at PNC Bank. “We’re used to competition. We just think there should be a level playing field,” PNC's Todd Barnhart, the incoming chair of the Consumer Bankers Association, says in discussing commercial banks' interest in developing fintech regulations. At the CBA, which represents dozens of large and midsize institutions, one particular focus is the recently launched process of modernizing the Community Reinvestment Act. Last month the OCC sought public comment on how to revamp the law, which grades banks on how well they serve low-income and moderate-income communities. “Clearly we’ve got a regulation that’s nearly four decades old, doesn’t really contemplate, nor could it have contemplated, some of the technological changes that have shown up here, certainly in the last five years,” Barnhart said.

SEC halts trading in two cryptocurrency products, citing market confusion (Reuters) - The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said on Sunday it was immediately suspending trading in two investment products that track cryptocurrencies, citing confusion in the markets over whether the products are exchange-traded funds (ETFs).  The SEC said in a statement that trading in Bitcoin Tracker One and Ether Tracker One would be halted in the United States until at least Sept. 20. The products promise to track the price of the cryptocurrencies, less fees. They are both listed on a Nasdaq Inc (NDAQ.O) exchange in Stockholm, but trade “over the counter” in transactions that occur off exchanges within the United States. “It appears ... that there is a lack of current, consistent and accurate information,” the SEC said in a notice posted on its website. “Application materials submitted to enable the offer and sale of these financial products in the United States, as well as certain trading websites, characterize them as ‘Exchange Traded Funds.’” The issuer of Bitcoin Tracker One and Ether Tracker One, XBT Provider AB SE0010296574.ST and its parent company, did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment. Nasdaq declined to comment. The SEC has taken a strict stance against letting ETFs tracking bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies come to market. But investment firms have been pushing other types of investments that attempt to make it as easy to trade cryptocurrencies as a regular stock.

 Cryptocurrency Wipeout Deepens To $640 Billion As Ether Leads Declines -  The cryptocurrency bear market plumbed a fresh 10-month low, led by a slump in Bitcoin’s biggest rival. Ether fell 10 percent Monday to $196.275. Bitcoin also started the week on the back foot after U.S. regulators suspended trading in two securities linked to cryptocurrencies. The market capitalization of digital coins has tumbled about $640 billion from its January peak, according to CoinMarketCap.com.The move from the Securities and Exchange Commission on Sunday to halt trading of Bitcoin Tracker One and Ether Tracker One comes could deepen concerns that a broader adoption of digital assets will take longer than some had anticipated. Bitcoin fell as much as 3.7 percent early Monday and traded at $6,267.81 as of 8:40 a.m. in Tokyo. Cryptocurrencies struggled in August as U.S. regulators rejected another round of Bitcoin exchange-traded fund proposals and last week prices came under pressure amid a report Goldman Sachs Group Inc. was pulling back on plans to set up a crypto trading desk. The Bloomberg Galaxy Crypto Index is down more than 72 percent this year. Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin told Bloomberg over the weekend that the days of explosive growth in the blockchain industry have likely come and gone now that the average person is aware of its existence.

Crypto's 80% plunge is now worse than stocks' dot-com crash -- The great crypto crash of 2018 increasingly looks like one for the record books. As virtual currencies plumbed new depths Wednesday, the MVIS CryptoCompare Digital Assets 10 Index extended its collapse from a January high to 80%. The tumble has now surpassed the 78% peak-to-trough decline that the Nasdaq composite index took when the dot-com bubble burst in 2000. AdvertisementLike their predecessors during the internet-stock boom almost two decades ago, cryptocurrency investors who bet big on a seemingly revolutionary technology are suffering a painful reality check, particularly those in many secondary tokens, so-called alt-coins. “It just shows what a massive, speculative bubble the whole crypto thing was — as many of us at the time warned,” said Neil Wilson, chief market analyst in London for Markets.com, a foreign-exchange trading platform. Wednesday morning’s losses were led by ether, the second-largest virtual currency. It fell 6% to $171.15, extending this month’s retreat to 40%. Bitcoin was little changed, while the MVIS CryptoCompare index fell 3.8%. The value of all virtual currencies tracked by CoinMarketCap.com sank to $187 billion, a 10-month low. The virtual-currency mania of 2017 — fueled by hopes that bitcoin would become “digital gold” and that blockchain-powered tokens would reshape industries from finance to food — has quickly given way to concerns about excessive hype, security flaws, market manipulation, tighter regulation and slower-than-anticipated adoption by Wall Street. Crypto bulls dismiss negative comparisons to the dot-com era by pointing to the Nasdaq Composite’s recovery to fresh highs 15 years later, and to the internet’s enormous impact on society. They also note that bitcoin has rebounded from past crashes of similar magnitude..

State regulators renew push to block OCC's fintech charter — State regulators said Wednesday they intend to refile a lawsuit against the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in an effort to block it from offering a new federal bank charter for fintech firms. The Conference of State Bank Supervisors said its board recently decided to proceed with another round of litigation against the national bank regulator now that the agency said July 31 it would offer a so-called special-purpose national bank charter to fintech firms. This will be the state regulators' second attempt at blocking the OCC in court. The group first filed a lawsuit in April 2017, but a judge dismissed the case because at the time the OCC had not yet determined whether it would offer the charter. The concept was first proposed by the then-Comptroller Thomas Curry, but it was unclear how the new administration would proceed under Comptroller Joseph Otting until he recently made a final decision to move forward on the proposal. Comptroller Joseph Otting has argued that the OCC is well within its legal rights to offer a fintech charter. Bloomberg News In response, the CSBS said it will refile its suit “at a time deemed appropriate.” The underlying argument will remain the same, namely that the OCC has overreached its statutory authority under the National Bank Act by allowing nonbanks to become banks. "We continue to have the same view about the OCC’s legal authority as the day we filed our original complaint,” said Margaret Liu, senior vice president and deputy general counsel at the CSBS. “From a public policy standpoint, it is an improper distortion of the market and dictates who are the winners and losers.” An OCC spokesman responded Wednesday that the agency's new charter was within its legal limits. “The agency is confident in its authority to grant national bank charters, including special purpose national bank charters to companies that are engaged in the business of banking, meet the qualifications for becoming a national bank, and apply to conduct business as part of the federal banking system,” OCC spokesman Bryan Hubbard said in a statement.

N.Y. state refiles suit to block OCC's 'reckless' fintech charter  — New York state's financial regulator is reviving litigation against the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in an attempt to block the agency from offering a first-ever national bank charter for fintech firms. Maria Vullo, superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services, filed a lawsuit Friday arguing that a special-purpose charter, which the OCC recently said it would consider for fintech applicants, goes beyond the federal agency's statutory authority. The OCC charter is “lawless, ill-conceived, and destabilizing of the financial markets,” the lawsuit says. Maria Vullo, superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services, filed a lawsuit Friday arguing that a special-purpose charter goes beyond the OCC's statutory authority. Bloomberg News Vullo's complaint says "the OCC’s reckless folly should be stopped,” noting that the OCC has appeared to make the charter available to “a boundless class of undefined ... companies, including companies that do not accept deposits." “These newly forged institutions will seek to provide financial services in connection with an unidentified and sweeping array of commercial ventures never before authorized or regulated by the OCC,” the complaint says. The Conference of State Bank Supervisors also announced its intent Wednesday to refile a suit on similar grounds. 

N.Y. regulators have approved two cryptocurrencies. Now what? -- The New York State Department of Financial Services' approval this week of two digital currencies is raising questions about whether regulators are changing the way they view crypto-related firms. Certainly some saw it as a positive sign, noting that both currencies, the Gemini dollar and the Paxos Standard, are pegged to the U.S. dollar. In theory, every virtual token issued will match the value of a dollar at all times. “There’s a signal being given out that if you’re prepared to launch something in the digital currency space that has more stability, you’re probably going to get it approved,” said Christine Duhaime, managing partner at Duhaime Law. The announcement was curious because the New York regulator has been notoriously tough on fintechs. Cryptocurrency companies have called the process of getting a state BitLicense, for instance, a bottleneck and “an absolute failure.” Maria Vullo, the superintendent of the NYDFS, positioned the move as a way of “fostering innovation while ensuring responsible growth.” The New York State Department of Financial Services, run by Maria Vullo, has been seen as skeptical of digital currencies. It's not clear these approvals indicates a change, however. Bloomberg News But many observers remain skeptical the approvals represent a new attitude by regulators, including the NYDFS. Still, they say they are important for other reasons and are a sign of how the crypto space is evolving. That's in part because the new currencies are based around the idea of stability, rather than the volatility of bitcoin, the most famous cryptocurrency, and others. Gemini Trust, the virtual exchange run by Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, and Paxos Trust, which operates the virtual currency exchange itBit, were both approved to offer a kind of price-stable cryptocurrency commonly known as “stablecoin.” “The original premise of bitcoin was to have not just a store of value, like digital gold, but to have a medium of exchange and a unit of account, which suggests that goods would be priced in bitcoin and then you’d use bitcoin to buy them,”

 Robert Shiller- Look For One Final Surge In Stocks Before The Crash -- It seems like only yesterday that Robert Shiller, a Nobel-Prize winning economist (and esteemed member of the Yale School of Management's faculty), was telling anybody who would listen that the US equity market was headed for a vertigo-inducing correction. But with stocks once again hovering near record highs, it seems that Shiller - the co-creator of the Shiller P/E ratio - has become the latest CNBC stalwart to throw in the towel. While sell-side banks (most recently SocGen) are increasingly focusing on the fallout from the Trump trade war, Shiller has pivoted to an analysis of other Trump economic policies like the Trump tax cuts and his rollbacks of regulation, which, taken together, have provided an unprecedented level of support to corporate America, per Bloomberg. While he once lambasted President Trump as "totally unbecoming and unfit", Shiller demonstrated a newfound reverence for Trump and his policies during his latest interview (we can only imagine why).Shiller’s focus instead is on President Donald Trump’s support for corporate America, which he says is driving sentiment and market strength. The S&P 500 Index has climbed almost 9 percent this year, with the total return to investors running at an annual rate of more than 14 percent. It closed Thursday less than 0.5 percent from its August record high."It has something to do with our president, who is an exceptionally business-oriented president and who wants to deregulate and favors lower taxes," he said. "That has an effect on the market but it goes beyond the rational, logical effect - it has something to do with our animal spirits. The U.S. is just doing great right now in terms of the strength of the economy and the stock market. That seems to be built around the Trump story at this point in history."And while the economist raised a stink last year as his vaunted Shiller P/E index surpassed its pre-crisis levels, the Yale professor is now using the tech boom (when companies' near-$0 earnings caused the ratio to blow out to unprecedented levels) as his preferred reference point."The stock market could get a lot higher before it comes down. It’s highly priced, but it could get much more highly priced. It’s a risky market now," Shiller told Bloomberg Television on Thursday

SEC Seeks Software To Monitor Market-Moving Social-Media Posts -The SEC is seeking bids for a software tool that points out important and market moving social media posts. While astute and savvy traders have known about the market moving power of social media for years now – many independent research shops, bloggers and company executives use Twitter frequently – it seems that only now is the Securities and Exchange Commission getting hip to social media’s close relationship with the stock market.According to this write up at NextGov, the SEC is seeking a "out-of-the-box tool" that can monitor and flag posts that may have an effect on the financial markets. The description notes what the SEC is looking for:"...a complete, web-based tool to scrape the major sites for keywords on relevant topics. When a keyword pops, the tool should send an email alerting the appropriate SEC staff."Last Thursday, the SEC issued a solicitation for such a tool. They reportedly wanted to spend under $27.5 million for a "finished product ready to use". The article importantly pointed out that the SEC is "...NOT seeking sources for development of a new solution or customization of a product to acquire/add the required capabilities,” but rather it appears that they are seeking a finished product. Of course, the most recent prominent example of social media having an effect on the stock market was Elon Musk's famous go private Tweet, where he proclaimed that the company had "funding secured" for a bid to take itself private at $420 per share.

 SEC Charges Against Phillip Frost Might Just Be the Tip of the Iceberg - The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed stock fraud charges late last week against billionaire drug entrepreneur Phillip Frost and a group of associates, accusing them of making $27 million in pump-and-dump stock schemes. The civil suit filed in Manhattan’s federal district court alleges that Frost and nine others manipulated micro-cap stocks over the last five years, aided and abetted by Frost’s investment trust and a Miami-based drug development company where he is board chairman and chief executive, Opko Health.Since 2012, Barron’s has chronicled Opko’s rise to a stock market capitalization that peaked near $9 billion, despite repeated product flops and cumulative losses that surpassed $1 billion this year. The 81-year-old Frost is a prominent philanthropist in south Florida, where his name adorns a university music school, a science center, and an art museum. He is a trustee of the University of Miami and Miami’s Mt. Sinai Medical Center. Opko was supposed to be Frost’s crowning achievement after his 1986 sale of Key Pharmaceuticals to Schering-Ploughfor $800 million and his 2006 sale of IVAX to Teva Pharmaceuticalfor $7.5 billion. The latter deal rewarded Frost with some $500 million in cash, $600 million in Teva shares and, for four years, the board chairmanship of Teva, the world’s largest generic drug maker. Frost is also chairman of Ladenburg Thalmann Financial Services,a Wall Street investment bank where he became the controlling shareholder after converting loans to the Miami financier Bennett LeBow. When Opko stock peaked above $19 in 2015, it used its shares to acquire Bio-Reference Laboratories, a New Jersey-based outfit that was the country’s third-largest clinical lab by revenue. But as Barron’s reported in 2011, Bio-Reference produced little cash flow and had gotten financing from a Mafia-associated stock broker. The lab acquisition was the high-water mark for Opko stock. The stock fell 17% Friday before trading was halted, and trading remained halted Monday afternoon with shares at $4.58. The SEC complaint alleges that Frost participated in three stock manipulation schemes led by Barry Honig, a 47-year old investor in Boca Raton, Fla., whose penny-stock collaborations with the billionaire Frost were examined by Barron’s in 2014. Honig was “the primary strategist” of the three schemes, according to the complaint, which gained control of three tiny public companies — not named in the complaint — and then paid promoters to write favorable and misleading articles on the Seeking Alpha website. Honig then allegedly arranged manipulative trades — including some by Honig’s charitable foundation and Frost’s investment trust — to get the stocks to a level where the schemers could dump them on the public, according to the SEC complaint.

Construction lending is about to get hammered by trade war- Rising tariffs will put development projects and construction loans at risk. The Trump administration has begun renegotiating trade deals with many countries, while also increasing tariffs on imports such as steel and aluminum. These actions have led to what many are calling a trade war. This has important implications for banks and other lenders working with construction projects because these projects traditionally operate on a thin margin of profitability and are likely to be negatively affected by rising costs. Lenders should pay special attention to the current large material costs on their construction projects — a small rise in those costs could significantly jeopardize key vendor contracts. The rising costs from the trade war will adversely affect key parties involved in construction projects already underway. These vendors will struggle to meet obligations as the cost of materials rises abruptly. Every construction loan has a budget that outlines the costs the developer expects to spend on each part, including for labor and materials. This budget is put together months, if not over a year, before the project begins. In normal years, an increase in materials cost would be accounted for, but no one predicted the sharp increase in goods now resulting from the trade war. The prices of goods in the construction industry have already risen 9.6% in the last 12 months. These costs need to be absorbed for the project not to default. Traditionally, this problem falls on the shoulders of subcontractors. Agreements with subcontractors are often executed up to a year in advance, and it is common that the cost of materials is guaranteed by the subcontractor for 18 or 24 months. 

Mortgage fraud at highest level in seven years: Report -- Fraud on U.S. mortgage applications has risen to its highest level in more than seven years, according to a new report that details the risks to lenders. In the second quarter of 2018, one in every 109 mortgage applications contained an indication of fraud, said the report from CoreLogic, an Irvine, Calif.-based data provider. That finding was up from one in every 122 applications in the same period a year earlier. The report, which includes data from as early as 2010, also indicates that fraud has been on the rise throughout the post-crisis period. Growth in mortgage fraud risk, by metro areas “This year’s trend continues to show an increase in mortgage fraud risk year over year,” Bridget Berg, principal of fraud solutions strategy at CoreLogic, said in a press release Thursday. She added, “Undisclosed real estate liabilities, credit repair, questionable down payment sources and income falsification are the most likely misrepresentations.” Mortgage fraud reached epidemic levels before the 2008 crash amid the proliferation of loans that did not require borrowers to document their income. Regulations that were enacted later made it harder to get away with misrepresentations on a mortgage application. But as home prices and interest rates have risen, prospective borrowers are finding it harder to qualify for a mortgage, and some of them are obscuring the truth. One factor that appears to be contributing to the increased prevalence of fraud is the reduced number of less-risky transactions, such as those involving homeowners who refinance their existing loans at a lower interest rate. The report released Thursday found that fraud in which borrowers misrepresent their income rose by 22.1% between the second quarter of 2017 and the same period a year later. Occupancy fraud — involving borrowers who lie about how they plan to use a property — climbed by 3.5%. The U.S. states where the risk of mortgage application fraud is highest are New York, New Jersey and Florida, according to the report. The metropolitan areas with the highest risks are Miami, Springfield, Mass., and New York. CoreLogic compiles the report based on data provided by members of a mortgage fraud consortium. Subscribe Now

FHFA takes another big step toward single security for GSEs - The Federal Housing Finance Agency issued a proposal Wednesday that would require mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to align their policies on cash flows for current mortgage-backed securities, and eventually for a uniform security when it is implemented next year. The plan is crucial for the successful adoption of a single uniform mortgage-backed security. It would also enhance liquidity and competition in the "to-be-announced" MBS market, the agency said. Fannie and Freddie are slated to start issuing the new security through a common securitization platform in June 2019. The FHFA has said combining the two markets into a single market would increase liquidity and encourage market participation, which would ultimately benefit market participants and homeowners. The FHFA wants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to standardize certain regulations before the common securitization platform launches next year. Bloomberg News “By instituting regulations that further standardize those products, the proposed rule and the UMBS would reduce complexity and the cost of analytics,” the agency said in its notice, referring to the uniform mortgage-backed security. Freddie had started using the common security platform in 2016, in what was referred to as Release 1 of the plan, and the second phase, which would allow both of the government-sponsored enterprises to use the single platform, was planned for 2018. However, due to lessons learned from Release 1, the implementation was delayed until 2019. The FHFA also contended that this new proposal, along with the adoption of the single security, would better facilitate the transition to any form of future MBS market in potential housing finance reform legislation, because it would limit Fannie and Freddie’s advantages in infrastructure and liquidity — two major barriers to entry. The plan was proposed in part as a response to industry concerns that when implemented, the single security may not be completely fungible — or interchangeable — because the differences between Fannie and Freddie policies might result in differing cash flows.

Black Knight Mortgage Monitor for July --Black Knight released their Mortgage Monitor report for July today. According to Black Knight, 3.61% of mortgages were delinquent in July, down from 3.74% in June 2017. Black Knight also reported that 0.57% of mortgages were in the foreclosure process, down from 0.78% a year ago. This gives a total of 4.18% delinquent or in foreclosure. Press Release: Black Knight’s July 2018 Mortgage Monitor  Today, the Data & Analytics division of Black Knight, Inc.released its latest Mortgage Monitor Report, based on data as of the end of July 2018. This month, Black Knight looked at full Q2 2018 data to revisit the nation’s equity landscape. Despite the slowdown in the rate of home price appreciation seen throughout the second quarter, total tappable equity – the amount of equity available to homeowners with mortgages to borrow against before hitting a maximum 80 percent combined loan-to-value ratio – reached a record high. As Ben Graboske, executive vice president of Black Knight’s Data & Analytics division explained, even though Q2 2018 experienced the fourth strongest quarterly gain in equity since the housing recovery began, the slowing in growth observed was noteworthy. “As the second quarter came to a close, the total amount of tappable equity available to homeowners with mortgages surpassed the $6 trillion mark for the first time in history,” said Graboske. “There is now $636 billion more tappable equity available than at the start of 2018, and nearly three times as much compared to the bottom of the market in 2012. Despite the noticeable slowing in home price appreciation over the past four months that Black Knight has reported on recently, some 44 million homeowners now have equity that could be tapped via cash-out refinances or home equity lines of credit (HELOCs).

Mortgage delinquencies fall to 12-year low: Black Knight -- The mortgage delinquency rate dropped to its lowest level in 12 years despite foreclosure starts and active foreclosures both increasing in July, according to Black Knight. Mortgage delinquencies fell by 3.35% in July from June, and now sit at 3.61%. The decline stemmed from those unable to pay their loans from damage inflicted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma getting cured. The rate is down 7.5% year-over-year. There are now 1.861 million properties delinquent on their mortgage, down nearly 64,000 from June. Mortgage delinquencies fall Properties late by 90 days or more on their mortgage payment but not yet in foreclosure reached its lowest post-recession count of 528,000, down 20,000 from June. There were 48,300 foreclosure starts in July, up 11.03% from June's 17-year low but down 9.38% year-over-year. For the second time in the past three years, active foreclosures had a monthly increase, rising by 0.73%. However, it remained below the 300,000 threshold, going to 293,000 properties from about 291,000 in June. Tappable equity also had a historic month, clearing $6 trillion for the first time ever. "There is now $636 billion more tappable equity available than at the start of 2018, and nearly three times as much compared to the bottom of the market in 2012," Ben Graboske, executive vice president of Black Knight's data and analytics division, said in a press release. "Despite the noticeable slowing in home price appreciation over the past four months, some 44 million homeowners now have equity that could be tapped via cash-out refinances or home equity lines of credit."

 MBA: Mortgage Applications Decreased in Latest Weekly Survey, Refi Lowest Since 2000 -- From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly SurveyMortgage applications decreased 1.8 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending September 7, 2018. This week’s results include an adjustment for the Labor Day holiday... The Refinance Index decreased 6 percent from the previous week to the lowest level since December 2000. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 1 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 11 percent compared with the previous week and was 4 percent higher than the same week one year ago. ...The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($453,100 or less) increased to 4.84 percent from 4.80 percent, with points increasing to 0.46 from 0.43 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. (see graphs)

Leading Index for Commercial Real Estate "Falters" in August -- From Dodge Data Analytics: Dodge Momentum Index Falters in August The Dodge Momentum Index fell 2.9% in August to 164.1 (2000=100) from the revised July reading of 169.0. The Momentum Index is a monthly measure of the first (or initial) report for nonresidential building projects in planning, which have been shown to lead construction spending for nonresidential buildings by a full year.This graph shows the Dodge Momentum Index since 2002. The index was at 164.1 in August, down from 169.0 in July. According to Dodge, this index leads "construction spending for nonresidential buildings by a full year". This index suggests further growth into 2019.

US Consumer Credit Hits All Time High As Credit Card Usage Stalls - Two months after a near record surge in consumer credit driven by a spike in credit card debt, the US consumer went into a period hibernation to start the summer, when total consumer credit rose by just $8.5 billion in June, with revolving, or credit card debt posting only its second contraction since 2013. Then moments ago, the Fed reported that in July, consumer credit posted a solid rebound, rising by $16.6 billion, above the $14.4 billion expected, and bringing the total to $3.92 trillion, a 5.1% annualized increase from a year ago, and a new all time high. Of this increase, the bulk was from non-revolving credit, or auto and student loans, which rose by $15.4 billion to a new record high of $3.92 trillion, while revolving, or credit card, debt posted a minimal $1.3 billion increase, barely offsetting the June decline, if enough to also bring the total revolving credit to a new all time high of $1.04 trillion. In other words, while Americans continue to spend on cars and college, they were far less enthusiastic about charging everyday purchases on their credit cards. And while the recent flatlining in credit card debt will prompt questions about the resilience of the US consumer during the summer, the recent dramatic upward revision to personal savings notwithstanding, one place where there were no surprises, was in the total amount of student and auto loans: here as expected, both numbers were at fresh all time highs, with a record $1.532 trillion in student loans outstanding, an increase of $8 billion in the quarter, auto debt also hit a new all time high of $1.131 trillion, an increase of $18 billion in the quarter.

About a quarter of rural Americans say access to high-speed internet is a major problem - Pew - Fast, reliable internet service has become essential for everything from getting news to finding a job. But 24% of rural adults say access to high-speed internet is a major problem in their local community, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted earlier this year. An additional 34% of rural residents see this as a minor problem, meaning that roughly six-in-ten rural Americans (58%) believe access to high speed internet is a problem in their area.By contrast, smaller shares of Americans who live in urban areas (13%) or the suburbs (9%) view access to high-speed internet service as a major problem in their area. And a majority of both urban and suburban residents report that this is not an issue in their local community, according to the survey, conducted Feb. 26-March 11. (The survey categorized Americans as urban, suburban or rural based on their own description of their community type.)Concerns about access to high-speed internet are shared by rural residents from various economic backgrounds. For example, 20% of rural adults whose household income is less than $30,000  a year say access to high speed internet is a major problem, but so do 23% of rural residents living in households earning $75,000 or more annually. These sentiments are also similar between rural adults who have a bachelor’s or advanced degree and those with lower levels of educational attainment. There are, however, some differences by age and by race and ethnicity. Rural adults ages 50 to 64 are more likely than those in other groups to see access to high-speed internet as a problem where they live. Nonwhites who live in a rural area are more likely than their white counterparts to say this is a major problem (31% vs. 21%). (Racial and ethnic differences are also present across a number of other perceived problems for communities, ranging from traffic to crime.)

 Retail Sales increased 0.1% in August - On a monthly basis, retail sales increased 0.1 percent from July to August (seasonally adjusted), and sales were up 6.6 percent from August 2017. From the Census Bureau report: Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for August 2018, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $509.0 billion,an increase of 0.1 percent from the previous month, and 6.6 percent above August 2017. Total sales for the June 2018 through August 2018 period were up 6.5 percent from the same period a year ago. The June 2018 to July 2018 percent change was revised from up 0.5 percent to up 0.7 percent.This graph shows retail sales since 1992. This is monthly retail sales and food service, seasonally adjusted (total and ex-gasoline).Retail sales ex-gasoline were down 0.1% in August.The second graph shows the year-over-year change in retail sales and food service (ex-gasoline) since 1993. Retail and Food service sales, ex-gasoline, increased by 5.6% on a YoY basis.  The increase in August was well below expectations, however sales in June and July were revised up.

Retail Sales Miss Across The Board As Auto Spending Slides -  The summer spending spree is officially over. In August, the US consumer hit the breaks on spending as retail sales tumbled from 0.7% to just 0.1%, well below the 0.5% expected, driven by a decline in auto sales, however following a sharp upward revision to July retail sales from 0.5% to 0.7%. Core retail sales, ex. auto also missed, rising just 0.3%, below the 0.5% expected, while sales ex autos and gas barely rose by 0.2% in August, down "bigly" from the upward revised 0.9% in July (from 0.6%). The report also showed that the so-called retail control-group sales - which is used to calculate GDP and excludes food services, auto dealers, building-materials stores and gasoline stations -- rose a paltry 0.1%, far below the 0.5% consensus and down from 0.8% revised July print. This means that Q3 GDP forecasts are about to be trimmed. While Tax cuts and a strong job market had put more money in Americans' pockets this year, and consumer sentiment remained elevated, it appears that the sugar high from the tax boon is now over despite the recent sharp upward revision in personal savings rates. While household spending, the biggest part of the economy, continues to drive economic growth this quarter, still-tepid pay gains and higher borrowing costs are among reasons why it’s projected to cool from its second-quarter pace. Curiously, looking at the detailed sales breakdown, only 4 of 13 major retail categories showed decreases. Under the covers: motor vehicle, furniture, clothing and general merchandise store sales slumped, offset by solid sales for electronics, health and personal products, gasoline, online and miscellaneous store sales. Of note: clothing stores sales fell 1.7%, the biggest drop since February 2017. In contrast, sales rose 1.7% at filling stations, as Labor Department consumer-price data showed seasonally adjusted gasoline prices increased 3%, the most since April. Retail sales also got less of a boost from restaurants and bars after three months of outsize gains. Receipts at food services and drinking establishments cooled to a 0.2% increase in August, following an upwardly revised 1.6% in July. The latest broad miss, following similar disappointments from CPI and PPI, will only add to concerns that the US economy is finally rolling over, with the Citi US Econ surprise index recently sliding into negative territory where it has now joined Europe. 

BLS: CPI increased 0.2% in August, Core CPI increased 0.1% -- From the BLS:The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.2 percent in Auguston a seasonally adjusted basis, the same increase as in July, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. .....The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.1 percent in August, the smallest monthly increase since April. … The all items index rose 2.7 percent for the 12 months ending August, a smaller increase than the 2.9 percent increase for the 12 months ending July. The index for all items less food and energy rose 2.2 percent for the 12 months ending August and the energy index increased 10.2 percent; these were both smaller increases than for the 12 months ending July. I'll post a graph later today after the Cleveland Fed releases the median and trimmed-mean CPI. This was a smaller increase than the consensus forecast.

Consumer Price Index: August Headline at 2.70% – dshort - The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the August Consumer Price Index data this morning. The year-over-year non-seasonally adjusted Headline CPI came in at 2.70%, down from 2.95% the previous month. Year-over-year Core CPI (ex Food and Energy) came in at 2.20%, down from the previous month's 2.35% and above the Fed's 2% PCE target.Here is the introduction from the BLS summary, which leads with the seasonally adjusted monthly data:The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.2 percent in August on a seasonally adjusted basis, the same increase as in July, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 = months, the all items index rose 2.7 percent before seasonal adjustment.Increases in the indexes for shelter and energy were the main contributors to the seasonally adjusted monthly increase in the all items index. The energy index increased 1.9 percent in August; a 3.0-percent increase in the gasoline index was the largest factor, but the other energy component indexes also rose. The shelter index increased 0.3 percent in August, the same increase as in July. The food index rose only slightly in August, with the index for food at home unchanged.The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.1 percent in August, the smallest monthly increase since April. Along with the shelter index, the indexes for airline fares and used cars and trucks were among those that increased in August. An array of indexes declined, including apparel, medical care, communication,recreation, and personal care.The all items index rose 2.7 percent for the 12 months ending August, a smaller increase than the 2.9 percent increase for the 12 months ending July. The index for all items less food and energy rose 2.2 percent for the 12 months ending August and the energy index increased 10.2 percent; these were both smaller increases than for the 12 months ending July. The food index increased 1.4 percent over the last 12 months, the same increase as for the period ending July. [More…]Investing.com was looking for a 0.3% MoM change in seasonally adjusted Headline CPI and 0.2% in Core CPI. Year-over-year forecasts were 2.8% for Headline and 2.4% for Core. The first chart is an overlay of Headline CPI and Core CPI (the latter excludes Food and Energy) since the turn of the century. The highlighted two percent level is the Federal Reserve's Core inflation target for the CPI's cousin index, the BEA's Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) price index.

Early Look at 2019 Cost-Of-Living Adjustments and Maximum Contribution Base --The BLS reported this morning:The Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) increased 2.9 percent over the last 12 months to an index level of 246.336 (1982-84=100). For the month, the index increased 0.1 percent prior to seasonal adjustment.CPI-W is the index that is used to calculate the Cost-Of-Living Adjustments (COLA). The calculation dates have changed over time (see Cost-of-Living Adjustments), but the current calculation uses the average CPI-W for the three months in Q3 (July, August, September) and compares to the average for the highest previous average of Q3 months. Note: this is not the headline CPI-U, and is not seasonally adjusted (NSA).  In 2017, the Q3 average of CPI-W was 239.668. Last year was the highest Q3 average, so we have to compare Q3 this year to last year.This graph shows CPI-W since January 2000. The red lines are the Q3 average of CPI-W for each year.Note: The year labeled for the calculation, and the adjustment is effective for December of that year (received by beneficiaries in January of the following year).CPI-W was up 2.9% year-over-year in August, and although this is  very early - we need the data for September - my current guess is COLA will probably be just under 3% this year, the largest annual increase since 2011. The contribution base will be adjusted using the National Average Wage Index. This is based on a one year lag. The National Average Wage Index is not available for 2017 yet, but wages probably increased again in 2017. If wages increased the average of the last three years, then the contribution base next year will increase to around $132,000 in 2019, from the current $128,400.Remember - this is an early look. What matters is average CPI-W for all three months in Q3 (July, August and September).

Industrial Production Increased 0.4% in August - From the Fed: Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization: Industrial production rose 0.4 percent in August for its third consecutive monthly increase. Manufacturing output moved up 0.2 percent on the strength of a 4.0 percent rise for motor vehicles and parts; motor vehicle assemblies jumped to an annual rate of 11.5 million units, the strongest reading since April. Excluding the gain in motor vehicles and parts, factory output was unchanged. The output of utilities advanced 1.2 percent, and mining production increased 0.7 percent; the index for mining last decreased in January. At 108.2 percent of its 2012 average, total industrial production was 4.9 percent higher in August than it was a year earlier. Capacity utilization for the industrial sector moved up in August to 78.1 percent, a rate that is 1.7 percentage points below its long-run (1972–2017) average.This graph shows Capacity Utilization. This series is up 11.4 percentage points from the record low set in June 2009 (the series starts in 1967). Capacity utilization at 78.1% is 1.7% below the average from 1972 to 2017 and below the pre-recession level of 80.8% in December 2007. The second graph shows industrial production since 1967. Industrial production increased in August to 108.2. This is 24% above the recession low, and 3% above the pre-recession peak. The increase in industrial production was at the consensus forecast - however July was revised down, and capacity utilization was below concensus.

US Industrial Production Surges Most Since 2010 Amid Burst Of A/C Usage -- Today's data deluge continues with the latest Industrial Production data from the Fed, which rose 0.4% MoM in August, beating expectations of a 0.3% print, after July's 0.1% print was revised higher to 0.4%. Mining output rose 0.7% in August, the same as the prior month; it has advanced more than 14% in the past 12 months, supported by substantial increases in the oil and gas sector.The biggest contributor to the August increase was the index for utilities, which moved up 1.2% in August, as a rebound for electric utilities - i.e., soaring use of HVACs to offset the sweltering August heat - outweighed a small decline for gas utilities.However the key group inside the report, manufacturing production i.e. factory output, disappointed, increasing 0.2% in August, below the 0.3% expected, and was 3.1% higher than its year-earlier level. The index for durables rose 1.0% while the indexes for nondurables and for other manufacturing (publishing and logging) declined 0.5% and 0.9%, respectively.Within durables, the largest increases were recorded by motor vehicles and parts, primary metals, and machinery, while the only sizable decrease was registered by furniture and related products. By contrast, within nondurables, only textile and product mills posted a gain.Some more details:

  • Aug. consumer energy products posted a rise of 0.6% m/m after rising 0.2% in July, the Fed said
  • Aug. commercial energy products posted a rise of 0.9% m/m after falling 1.1% in July, the Fed said
  • The capacity utilization rate for petroleum and coal products fell to 78.9% from 79.2%

In any case, the overall data was quite solid, and YoY Industrial Production rose at the fastest pace since December 2010.

August Producer Price Index: Core Final Demand Down 0.1% MoM - Today's release of the August Producer Price Index (PPI) for Final Demand came in at -0.1% month-over-month seasonally adjusted, down from last month's 0.0%. It is at 2.8% year-over-year, down from 3.3% last month, on a non-seasonally adjusted basis. Core Final Demand (less food and energy) came in at -0.1% MoM, down from 0.1% the previous month and is up 2.3% YoY NSA. Investing.com MoM consensus forecasts were for 0.2% headline and 0.2% core.Here is the summary of the news release on Final Demand:The Producer Price Index for final demand declined 0.1 percent in August, seasonally adjusted, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Final demand prices were unchanged in July and increased 0.3 percent in June. (See table A.) On an unadjusted basis, the final demand index rose 2.8 percent for the 12 months ended in August.In August, the decline in the final demand index can be attributed to a 0.1-percent decrease in prices for final demand services. The index for final demand goods was unchanged.The index for final demand less foods, energy, and trade services edged up 0.1 percent in August after advancing 0.3 percent in both July and June. For the 12 months ended in August, prices for final demand less foods, energy, and trade services rose 2.9 percent. More… The BLS shifted its focus to its new "Final Demand" series in 2014, a shift we support. However, the data for these series are only constructed back to November 2009 for Headline and April 2010 for Core. Since our focus is on longer-term trends, we continue to track the legacy Producer Price Index for Finished Goods, which the BLS also includes in their monthly updates. As this (older) overlay illustrates, the Final Demand and Finished Goods indexes are highly correlated.

US producer price index down 0.1% in Aug, vs 0.2% increase expected --  U.S. producer prices unexpectedly fell in August, recording their first drop in 1-1/2 years, as declines in the prices of food and a range of trade services offset an increase in the cost of energy products.The Labor Department said on Wednesday its producer price index for final demand slipped 0.1 percent last month after being unchanged in July. August's fall in the PPI was the first since February 2017.In the 12 months through August, the PPI rose 2.8 percent, slowing further after July's 3.3 percent increase.Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the PPI increasing 0.2 percent in August and advancing 3.2 percent year-on-year.A key gauge of underlying producer price pressures that excludes food, energy and trade services edged up 0.1 percent last month. The so-called core PPI gained 0.3 percent in July.In the 12 months through August, the core PPI increased 2.9 percent after rising 2.8 percent in July. Despite the moderation in producer prices last month, overall inflation is steadily rising against the backdrop of a strong labor market and robust economy. The Trump administration's import tariffs on lumber, washing machines, solar panels, steel and aluminum, as well as a range of Chinese goods, are also expected to push up price pressures.Wholesale food prices fell 0.6 percent last month, pulled down by sharp declines in the costs of eggs and fresh fruits and melons. Food prices dipped 0.1 percent in July. Wholesale energy prices rose 0.4 percent, with gasoline prices increasing 0.6 percent after slipping 0.1 percent in the prior month.Overall, the cost of wholesale goods was unchanged in August after edging up 0.1 percent in July.The cost of services slipped 0.1 percent, led by a 0.9 percent decline in the index for trade services, which measures changes in margins received by wholesalers and retailers. Services dipped 0.1 percent in July.Over 80 percent of the drop in the cost of services last month was attributed to margins for machines and equipment wholesaling, which fell 1.7 percentThe cost of health-care services rose 0.3 percent as a 0.5 percent drop in prices for hospital outpatient care was offset by increases in hospital inpatient, dental and nursing home care. Healthcare prices ticked up 0.1 percent in July.

Producer Prices Unexpectedly Drop For The First Time In 18 Months - With all eyes on US CPI inflation data tomorrow to confirm the overheating aspects of last Friday's blistering hot jobs report, moments ago the BLS reported that wholesale inflation in the form of producer prices unexpectedly fell in August, its first drop in 18 months since last February; the decline followed an unchanged print in July and missed expectations of a 0.2% increase. Excluding food and energy, core PPI fell also 0.1% M/M, below the exp. 0.2% rise; On an annual basis, headline PPI rose just 2.8% y/y, missing expectations of a 3.2% print and down from 3.3% last month; core PPI was up 2.3% y/y, missing the estimate of 2.7%, and down from last month's 2.7% print. According to the BLS, the decline in the PPI reflected a 0.1 percent drop in the cost of services - more than 80% of which was accounted for by falling margins for machinery and equipment wholesaling. Additionally, the indexes for health, beauty, and optical goods retailing; application software publishing; airline passenger services; and hospital outpatient care also moved lower. On the other hand, prices for loan services (partial) jumped 3.0%. The indexes for food retailing, bundled wired telecommunication access services, and physician care also rose. Goods prices were unchanged, as a 0.6% drop in food costs offset a 0.4% increase in energy. While headline PPI fell, underlying producer prices rose, as core PPI - excluding food, energy, and trade services costs - rose 0.1% from the previous month following a 0.3% increase, however that too missed the 0.2% consensus print.The report also notes that in August, the index for residential electric power moved up 0.6 percent. Prices for fresh and dry vegetables, corn, gasoline, and passenger cars also increased. In contrast, the index for fresh fruits and melons dropped 11.3 percent. Prices for diesel fuel, meats, eggs for fresh use, and iron and steel scrap also declined. But perhaps the most interesting part of the report is that trucking costs finally posted their first monthly drop since early 2017, suggesting that one of the biggest drivers of inflation recently - and a harbinger of trade - is finally rolling over.  Some other details:

  • Machinery and equipment wholesale margins fell 1.7 percent, most since December; health, beauty and optical goods retail margins dropped 2.7 percent, most since February
  • Airline passenger services fell 2 percent, most since January
  • Construction machinery and equipment rose 0.8 percent, most since 2011
  • Processed lumber for intermediate demand fell 6.9 percent, the most since 1980

 Wholesale Trade Hit By Double Whammy As Inventories, Sales Miss - One month after wholesale trade was hit with a double whammy, after both wholesale sales and inventories missed, the bad news for businesses continued, with both inventories and sales missing expectations in the month of July.With expectations for a 0.1% rise in June wholesale sales after last month's -0.1% decline, the latest number was disappointing on both sides, with the July print coming in at 0.0%, after June was revised even lower, to -0.2%. Meanwhile, even as inventories rebounded from last month's disappointing 0.1% increase, the 0.6% print was also a miss to expectations of 0.7%. So while much of the rest of the economy continues to hum along, gliding on Trump's fiscal stimulus, when it comes to actual trade and commerce, it appears that the trade war with China is starting to impact if not sentiment just yet - with the latest ISM printing at near all time highs, then performance with two months in a row of disappointing wholesale trade data.

Small Business Optimism Index increased in August --From the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB): August 2018 Report: Small Business Optimism Index: The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index soared to 108.8 in August, a new record in the survey’s 45-year history, topping the July 1983 highwater mark of 108... After posting significant gains in employment in July, job creation slowed among small firms in August, perhaps because there were fewer workers available to hire because job openings hit a 45 year record high. Fifteen percent (down 2 points) reported increasing employment an average of 3.2 workers per firm and 10 percent (down 1 point) reported reducing employment an average of 2.4 workers per firm (seasonally adjusted). Sixty-two percent reported hiring or trying to hire (up 3 points), but 55 percent (up 3 points and 89 percent of those hiring or trying to hire) reported few or no qualified applicants for the positions they were trying to fill. A record 25 percent of owners cited the difficulty of finding qualified workers as their Single Most Important Business Problem (up 2 points). Thirty-eight percent of all owners reported job openings they could not fill in the current period, a new survey record high. This graph shows the small business optimism index since 1986.

Truckers Step Up Hiring; Maritime Sailing Away; Trade Biting Apple --There’s no shortage of hiring in the logistics sector. Trucking companies added 5,700 jobs last month as freight and parcel operators raced to keep up with a robust U.S. economy and what looks like a big and early start to the peak shipping season. Truckers have been on a hiring spree, the WSJ Logistics Report’s Jennifer Smith writes, and the August jobs growth capped the fastest 12-month pace for new employment since 2015. Fleets have added more than 30,000 workers in the past 12 months, according to Labor Department figures, as they’ve ramped up wages and recruiting incentives to get drivers. The broader transportation and warehousing sector was one of the fastest-growing in the U.S. economy last month, as courier and messenger firms added 3,800 positions while warehouse operators added 2,400 jobs. Some companies say they are already lining up more workers ahead of the fall, signaling they see no slowdown in demand on the horizon. Maritime’s alternative energy effort has a bit of wind in its sails. European plane maker Airbus SE is the latest and perhaps most unusual entrant in the wind power business, saying it hopes to use kite-like devices to cut its logistics costs. The WSJ’s Robert Wall reports the jet manufacturer will outfit one of the three vessels it uses to move giant aircraft parts from Europe to the U.S. with the sail technology called SeaWing. Airbus joins Maersk Tankers in trying to harness shipping’s oldest power source to meet new demands to reduce emissions and rein back rapidly rising bunker fuel spending. The operation will be little more than a drop in the ocean for broader anti-pollution efforts, but it may offer a strong test as the rest of the maritime world looks for how to steer research on fuel-saving technology.One of the electronics world’s bedrock supply chains is getting caught up in U.S.-China trade tensions. Apple Inc. warns proposed U.S. tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods would affect some of its signature products, the WSJ’s Tripp Mickle and Jay Greene report, highlighting questions over the global manufacturing strategies that are central to consumer electronics. Apple’s alarm marks the first time the company has detailed specific damage the trade battle could inflict on its hardware lineup, and its potential impact on network of suppliers across its Asia-focused supply chain.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decreased to 204,000, Lowest Since 1969 The DOL reported:In the week ending September 8, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 204,000, a decrease of 1,000 from the previous week's revised level. This is the lowest level for initial claims since December 6, 1969 when it was 202,000. The previous week's level was revised up by 2,000 from 203,000 to 205,000. The 4-week moving average was 208,000, a decrease of 2,000 from the previous week's revised average. This is the lowest level for this average since December 6, 1969 when it was 204,500. The previous week's average was revised up by 500 from 209,500 to 210,000 The previous week was revised up.  The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

BLS: Job Openings "Little Changed" in July --Notes: In July there were 6.939 million job openings, and, according to the July Employment report, there were 6.234 million unemployed. So, for the fourth consecutive month, there were more job openings than people unemployed. Also note that the number of job openings has exceeded the number of hires since January 2015. From the BLS: Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary The number of job openings was little changed at 6.9 million on the last business day of July, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the month, hires and separations were little changed at 5.7 million and 5.5 million, respectively. Within separations, the quits rate was little changed at 2.4 percent and the layoffs and discharges rate was unchanged at 1.1 percent. ...The number of quits was little changed in July at 3.6 million. The quits rate was 2.4 percent. The number of quits edged up for total private (+109,000) and was little changed for government. Quits increased in accommodation and food services (+61,000), other services (+49,000), and educational services (+12,000). The following graph shows job openings (yellow line), hires (dark blue), Layoff, Discharges and other (red column), and Quits (light blue column) from the JOLTS.This series started in December 2000.Note: The difference between JOLTS hires and separations is similar to the CES (payroll survey) net jobs headline numbers. This report is for July, the most recent employment report was for August.Note that hires (dark blue) and total separations (red and light blue columns stacked) are pretty close each month. This is a measure of labor market turnover.  When the blue line is above the two stacked columns, the economy is adding net jobs - when it is below the columns, the economy is losing jobs. Jobs openings increased in July to 6.939 million from 6.822 million in June.The number of job openings (yellow) are up 12% year-over-year.Quits are up 1% year-over-year. These are voluntary separations. (see light blue columns at bottom of graph for trend for "quits"). Job openings are at a record level, and quits are increasing year-over-year. This was a strong report.

660,000 More Job Openings Than Unemployed Workers, As People  As People Quitting Hits All Time High -- The US labor market continues to grow at a blistering pace. According to the BLS, in July the number of job openings in the US hit a new all time high of 6.939 million, up from an upward revised 6.822 million, and a new all time high. More importantly, despite recent revisions, July was the second consecutive month in which total job openings surpassed the number of unemployed Americans, which last month declined to 6.28 million. This means that there are 660 thousand more job openings than unemployed Americans who are seeking ajob (how accurate the BLS data is, is another matter entirely).In other words, in an economy in which there was a perfect match between worker skills and employer needs, there would be zero unemployed people at this moment (of course, that is not the case.)  According to the BLS, the number of job openings increased in finance and insurance (+46,000) and nondurable goods manufacturing (+32,000) but decreased in retail trade (-85,000), educational services (-34,000), and federal government (-19,000). The number of job openings was little changed in all four regions.Adding to the exuberant labor picture, while job openings remained above total unemployment, the number of total hires also increased to just shy of a new record, rising to 5.679 million in July from 5.677 million in June. Curiously, the one job category that caught the BLS' attention was the number of hires in finance and insurance, which decreased by -36,000. According to the historical correlation between the number of hires and the 12 month cumulative job change (per the Establishment Survey), either the pace of hiring needs to drop, or else the number of new jobs will rise significantly in the coming months. But the biggest surprise in today's report was the number of quits - the so-called "take this jobs and shove it" indicator - which showes worker confidence that they can leave their current job and find a better paying job elsewhere. According to the BLS, this number hit a new all time high, rising from 3.477MM in June to 3.583MM in July, an increase of 106K in the month, and further confirmation that Americans are increasingly confident in their job prospects should their part ways with their current employer. Putting all this in in context:

  • Job openings have increased since a low in July 2009. They returned to the prerecession level in March 2014 and
  • surpassed the prerecession peak in August 2014. There were 6.9 million open jobs on the last business day of July 2018.
  • Hires have increased since a low in June 2009 and have surpassed prerecession levels. In July 2018, there were 5.7 million hires.
  • Quits have increased since a low in September 2009 and have surpassed prerecession levels. In July 2018, there were 3.6 million quits.
  • For most of the JOLTS history, the number of hires (measured throughout the month) has exceeded the number of job openings (measured only on the last business day of the month). Since January 2015, however, this relationship has reversed with job openings outnumbering hires in most months.
  • At the end of the most recent recession in June 2009, there were 1.2 million more hires throughout the month than there were job openings on the last business day of the month. In July 2018, there were 1.3 million fewer hires than job openings.

Under Trump, the jobs boom has finally reached blue-collar workers. Will it last? - WaPo --Blue-collar jobs are growing at their fastest rate in more than 30 years, helping fuel a hiring boom in many small towns and rural areas that are strong supporters of President Trump ahead of November's midterm elections. Jobs in goods-producing industries — mining, construction and manufacturing — grew 3.3 percent in the year preceding July, the best rate since 1984, according to a Washington Post analysis.Blue-collar jobs, long a small and shrinking part of the U.S. economy, are now growing at a faster clip than those in the nation's much larger service economy. Many factors collided to produce the blue-collar boom. Some are linked to short-term boom-and-bust cycles, but others may endure.The rapid hiring in blue-collar sectors is delivering benefits to areas that turned out heavily for Trump in the 2016 election, according to the Brookings Institution, a shift from earlier in this expansion, when large and midsize cities experienced most of the gains.The biggest drivers of the blue-collar hiring surge are the rebound in oil prices, the need to rebuild after disasters such as Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, and rising demand generated by a growing economy.

New Census data show that low-income people are responding as they always do to tight labor markets…by working! -Jared Bernstein - One of the particularly frustrating, fact-free aspects of the conservative push to add (or ramp up) work requirements in anti-poverty programs like Medicaid or SNAP is that low-income people who can do so are already working hard. Moreover, as the job market tightens, they respond to tightening conditions.Using the new Census data, Kathleen Bryant and I, with help from Raheem Chaudhry, used the 2017 microdata (the data on which the poverty and income numbers are based) to compare the employment rates of low-income single mothers (with incomes below twice the poverty threshold) with prime-age (25-54), non-poor adults. We found that between 2010 and 2017, the employment rates of the low-income single moms increased by 5.4 percentage points (67.7% to 73.2%), while those of non-poor adults increased by just 1.2 percentage points (87.8% to 89%). It’s true that the single moms, by dint of their lower employment rate levels, have more room to grow, but the prime-age adults are not obviously hitting a ceiling on their rates.  At any rate, we believe this shows that a large and growing majority of low-income moms are already trying to both raise their kids and support their families through work, and that they’re actively taking advantage of the tight labor market. Adding work requirements will just give them one more needless, bureaucratic barrier to leap over, likely reducing their ability to maintain their benefits, even as they’re playing by the rules. Forgive me if I cynically suspect that such hassle-induced benefit losses are the point.

Real median household income rose 1.8% in 2017; poverty rate declined  - The Census Bureau reported Sept. 12 that *real* median household earnings rose 1.8% in 2017.  Here’s their presentation graph: This is another score by Sentier Research, whose monthly estimates have accurately forecast the Census Bureau’s (very tardy) annual reports and showed, on an annualized basis, growth in 2017, but on an averaged basis less than that from 2014 to 2015, or 2015 to 2016: Remember a couple of caveats: – “households” includes *all* households, including, e.g., year-round college roommates and, especially, retirees. Retirees’ income is typically only about 1/2 of that of workers, so hoardes of retiring Boomers are affecting the median. – “income” is more inclusive than “wages.” For example, stock dividends interest on bonds are forms of income. That being said, real income from full-time employment actually *declined* in 2017: The difference between the rise in “all workers'” incomes on the left, and that of full-time employees on the right, is the increase in the number of hours worked by part-time workers, including transitioning to full-time employment. Recall that involuntary part-time employment has been declining sharply over the last 18 months: The poverty rate did decline, so that is a definite plus: What I still haven’t found, and will update when I do, is real median household income by age cohort (that will take care of the issue of the increasing percentage of retiree households).

Household income growth slowed markedly in 2017 and was stronger for those at the top, while earnings declined slightly - EPI - Today’s report from the Census Bureau shows a marked slowdown in median household income growth relative to previous years. Median household incomes rose 1.8 percent, after an impressive 5.1 percent gain in 2015 and a 3.1 percent gain in 2016; median non-elderly household income saw a similar rise of 2.5 percent this year after gaining 4.6 percent and 3.6 percent in the prior two years, respectively. However, inflation-adjusted full-time annual earnings for both men and women fell by 1.1 percent in 2017. Men’s earnings are still below their 2007 level (by 2.5 percent points), while women’s earnings are now 0.9 percent above. This year’s report is hence a bit discouraging; earnings for low and middle-income workers need to make strong and sustained gains if we are to have an economy that works for typical American households and not just for the well-off.While the gains in household income are markedly slower than in previous years, they nonetheless represent another small step toward reclaiming the lost decade of income growth caused by the Great Recession. Part of this year’s slowdown in income growth relative to 2016 is likely driven by a small increase in the pace of inflation. In 2017, year-over-year inflation was 2.2 percent compared to 1.3 percent in 2016. However, as discussed below, this year’s report reminds us that the vast majority of household incomes (when corrected for a break in the data series in 2013) have still not fully recovered from the deep losses suffered in the Great Recession. The Census data show that from 2016–2017, inflation-adjusted median household incomes for non-elderly households (those with a head of household younger than 65 years old) increased 2.5 percent, from $67,917 to $69,628. Median non-elderly household income is an important measure of an improving economy, as those households depend on labor market income for the vast majority of their income. This continued, albeit slower, increase after large gains in the prior two years is a welcome trend. Median household income for non-elderly households, which finally recovered to its pre-recession level in 2017, was 0.8 percent, or $530, above its level in 2007. It’s important to note that the Great Recession and its aftermath came on the heels of a weak labor market from 2000–2007, during which the median income of non-elderly households fell significantly, from $71,577 to $69,098—the first time in the post-war period that incomes failed to grow over a business cycle. Altogether, from 2000–2017, the median income for non-elderly households fell from $71,577 to $69,628, a decline of $1,949, or 2.7 percent. In short, the last three years should not make us forget that incomes for the majority of Americans have experienced a lost 17 years of growth.

Household incomes in 2017 stayed on existing trends in most states; incomes in 21 states are still below their pre-recession levels - EPI - The state income data for the American Community Survey (ACS), released this morning by the Census Bureau, showed that in 2017, household incomes across the states stayed largely on the same trajectories that they were heading in 2016, with a handful of exceptions. From 2016 to 2017, inflation-adjusted median households incomes grew in 40 states and the District of Columbia (24 of these changes were statistically significant.) The ACS data showed an increase of 2.5 percent increase in the inflation-adjusted median household income for the country as a whole—an increase of $1,492 for a typical U.S. household. Despite these increases, households in 21 states still had inflation-adjusted median incomes in 2017 below their 2007 pre-recession values.From 2016 to 2017, the largest percentage gains in household income occurred in the District of Columbia, where the typical household experienced an increase of $5,258 in their annual income—an increase of 6.8 percent. With this increase, the District of Columbia now has the highest median household income in the country at $82,372—though comparing D.C. to states is problematic, since D.C. is a city, not a state. Maryland remains the state with the highest median household income at $80,776—a value essentially unchanged (0.2 percent growth) from 2016 to 2017. Households in 13 states experienced growth faster than the U.S. average of 2.5 percent: Montana (4.5 percent), Maine (3.8 percent), California (3.8 percent), Washington (3.6 percent), Tennessee (3.5 percent), Arizona (3.4 percent), Rhode Island (3.2 percent), Nebraska (3.1 percent), Colorado (3.0 percent) New Jersey (3.0 percent), Nevada (2.9 percent), Virginia (2.8 percent), and Georgia (2.7 percent).From 2016 to 2017, there were 10 states in which the median household income declined, though only 1 of these—Alaska, at 6.3 percent—had a statistically significant drop. Alaska was one of eight states plus the District of Columbia where median household income moved in a different direction in 2017 than it did in 2016. In D.C., Louisiana, Montana, and New Hampshire, incomes started rising in 2017, having declined in 2016. In Alaska, Connecticut, Idaho, New Mexico, and West Virginia, household incomes fell in 2017, having grown in 2016.

Black workers have made no progress in closing earnings gaps with white men since 2000 - EPI - This week, the Census Bureau released its report on incomes, earnings, and poverty rates for 2017. Most analysis has paid particular attention to the changes between 2016 and 2017, but this post takes a deeper look at earnings by race and gender over a longer period of time—since 2000—to paint a more complete picture of what has happened over the last full business cycle (2000-2007) plus the most recent recession and recovery (2007-2017). Since 2000, wages have been generally stagnant, and large gaps persist by race and gender, despite an expanding and increasingly productive economy.To a great extent, trends in annual earnings since 2000 resemble the overall wage stagnation we’ve seen since the mid-1970s. (Here, we discuss annual full time earnings, but the long-run trends are consistent with the hourly wage data. For an extensive discussion of hourly wage trends, see The State of American Wages 2017.) Between 2016 and 2017, full-time year-round men’s and women’s earnings fell 1.1 percent. Men’s median earnings are still 1.9 percent below their 2000 level, while women’s earnings are now 7.1 percent higher than in 2000. Because of these divergent trends, the overall gender wage gap narrowed between 2000 and 2017, though at a slower rate than in the previous two decades. These patterns in men’s and women’s full-time median annual earnings can be further broken down by race. As you can see in the figure below, real median earnings of full-time workers—male and female, black and white—have been relatively flat since 2000. Unlike the previous year’s data where only white women saw a significant increase in median earnings, only white men saw their median wages rise between 2016 and 2017. For the most part, median wages were flat or falling in the full business cycle of 2000–2007, and black men have still not grown past their 2000 levels.

10 years after the start of the Great Recession, black and Asian households have yet to recover lost income -- Today’s Census Bureau report on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage in 2017 shows that while all race and ethnic groups shared in the growth in median household incomes during the previous two years, that trend abruptly ended for African American households in 2017. Real median incomes were basically flat among African Americans (from $40,339 to $40,258) and down among Asians (from $83,182 to $81,331), but up 3.7 percent (from $48,700 to $50,486) among Hispanics, and 2.6 percent (from $66,440 to $68,145) among non-Hispanic whites. The decline in Asian household incomes was not statistically significant. As a result of stalled income growth among African Americans, recent progress in closing the black-white income gap over the last couple years has been reversed. The median black household earned just 59 cents for every dollar of income the white median household earned (down from 61 cents), while the median Hispanic household earned just 74 cents (up from 73 cents). Meanwhile, households headed by persons who are foreign-born saw little change in median incomes between 2016 and 2017 (from $56,754 to $57,273), compared to an increase of 1.5 percent (from $61,066 to $61,987) among households with a native-born household head.

Census Bureau Reveals Grim Facts about Real Earnings of Men -- Women weren’t so lucky either. But who got the spoils?On the surface, the annual household income data released by the Census Bureau today, looks mediocre. But beneath the surface, it looks grim – grim for whom? Ha, we’ll get to that.  So the mediocre news right up front: < Median household income in 2017, adjusted for inflation (via CPI), inched up a measly 1.8% to $61,372. “Household income” is the entire pre-tax “money income” of a household, including wages, interest, dividends, Social Security, Workers Comp, child support, and the like, but excluding capital gains. The mediocre news is that median household income has finally inched above where it had been 18 years ago, in 1999: Now the grim news: bitter reality for men. But it’s not great for women either: For women who were working full-time year-round in 2017, median wages (income obtained only from working) declined 1.1% on an inflation-adjusted basis to $41,977 – from a record in 2016 of $42,448.So a hiccup perhaps in a well-deserved series of increases going back to 1960. The female-to-male earnings ratio remained at the record level of 80.5%, first achieved in 2016, up from the 60%-range before 1982. But for men – oh dude! Median real earnings for men who worked full-time year-round fell a full 3.0% in 2017 to $52,146. On an inflation-adjusted basis, men had earned more than that in 1972 ($53,609). This translates into 45 years of real-earnings decline for men: Men have suffered the brunt of the real-wage repression over the past four decades, obtained in part via inflation, an insidious process where wages inch up, but not quite enough to keep up with the Fed-engineered loss of purchasing power of the dollar – a process Wall Street economists praise with conviction. In addition, even a slight but systematic and purposeful miscalculation of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is used to adjust this inflation-adjusted income data — for example a percentage point or less each year — is cumulative; and over the span of four decades, the real-real earnings decline is large. Wonder why many men are frustrated? So who got the spoils? “Household income” is measured on a pre-tax basis. But it does not include noncash benefits, such as food stamps, subsidized housing benefits, or healthcare benefits — a hefty amount for executives at big companies.

Government programs kept tens of millions out of poverty in 2017 - EPI - From 2016 to 2017, the official poverty rate fell by 0.4 percentage points, as household income rose modestly, albeit unevenly, throughout the income distribution. This was the third year in a row that poverty declined, but the poverty rate remains a full percentage point higher than the low of 11.3 percent it reached in 2000.Since 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau has also released an alternative to the official poverty measure known as the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM).1The SPM corrects many potential deficiencies in the official rate. For one, it constructs a more realistic threshold for incomes families need to live free of poverty, and adjusts that threshold for regional price differences. For another, it accounts for the resources available to poor families that are not included in the official rate, such as Medicare, food stamps, and other in-kind government benefits.As shown in Figure A, a larger proportion of Americans are in poverty as measured by the SPM than the official measure reports. (Importantly, however, researchers who constructed a longer historical version of the SPM found that it shows greater long-term progress in reducing poverty than the official measure.) In 2017, the SPM declined by 0.1 percentage points to 13.9 percent. Under the SPM, 45.0 million Americans were in poverty last year, compared with 39.7 million Americans under the “official” poverty measure.

Social class determines how the unemployed talk about food insecurity - A study by University of Missouri researchers that began as a survey of unemployment following the recession, led researchers to discover that participants used food to describe their circumstances.In lower classes, those surveyed tended to think about food as survival; they experienced food insecurity, but rarely asked for food from family because of perceived stigmas. People from the middle classes tended to use language to "blur" their relationship with food, making it challenging for the listener to know if they were experiencing food insecurity. As a result, they were unlikely to gain access to food resources to address food insecurity.However, people interviewed in the upper classes talked about food as a networking tool, rarely considering its physical necessity. Researchers believe that, given that food insecurity crosses social class boundaries during economic downturns, and given the variety of differing responses to food insecurity, policymakers should consider all demographics and socio-economic backgrounds when forming policies that affect food insecurity. "Food is the essence of social class—the way we talk about it, the way we think about it," said Debbie Dougherty, professor of communication in the MU College of Arts and Science. "We usually think about hunger as something that's purely material, we also need to think about hunger as something communicative. Food discourses are embedded into the U.S. culture and can reveal social and cultural capital. Our study revealed ways in which the food narrative shows the lived experiences of those experiencing unemployment."

  ‘Monster’ Turns Our Farmers into Serfs and Sharecroppers - The Midwest has always been a land of commodities—crops like corn, soybeans, and grain. Kansas is a grain-producing state: two years ago, it grew 467 million bushels of grain across 8.2 million acres. But as farmers compete in a global market that is overflowing with grain, they are struggling to survive—even though “they’ve never worked harder, they’ve never worked longer hours.” Meanwhile, a recent article in The Atlantic highlighted the “zombie small businesses” amongst chicken farmers across the United States, many of which are contractors to large agribusinesses like Tyson and Purdue. “The big company provides the chicks,” reporter Annie Lowrey writes. “The contract farmer raises them into chickens. The big company slaughters them for meat. It packages and brands that meat under one of dozens of labels. And it sells it cheap to the American consumer.” So what’s the big deal, you ask? Lowrey continues: The issue, the Small Business Administration report found, is the level of control that the integrated poultry company exerts over the farmer. These big operations do not act like department stores, choosing goods from a broad variety of vendors and fostering competition and innovation. They instead act like a lord with serfs, or a landowner with sharecroppers. …[F]armers have complained about and litigated against such contractual relationships for years. “The company has 99-and-a-half percent control over the grower,” said Jonathan Buttram, the president of the Alabama Contract Poultry Growers Association and an outspoken critic of the industry. “I’ll list what they tell you: what time to pick up the chickens, what time to run the feed, what time to turn the lights off and on, every move that you make. Then, they say we’re not an employee—we are employees, but they won’t let us have any kind of benefits or insurance.”

The final insult for desperate job seekers- Employers doing credit checks - Credit screenings are a common part of the hiring process. Nearly one in three employers will perform one on a job candidate during the hiring process,according to a 2016 study from job search site CareerBuilder. From the employers’ point of view, it is preferable to hire someone with good credit because that is an indicator of their productivity. But a new working paper from researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the University of Texas at Austin demonstrates how this standard can hurt low-income Americans.The use of pre-employment credit checks leads to a “poverty trap” in which an unemployed worker with poor credit has more difficulty finding a job. That causes them to go longer without a steady stream of income, which in turn makes it more difficult to pay off their debts. Consequently, their credit gets even worse. Overall, this poverty trap is associated with a 2.3% wage loss per month over a 10-year span, according to the working paper, which was distributed Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research.This echoes previous research from progressive policy group DEMOS, which found that 10% of people living in low-to-medium-income households were denied a job because of bad credit. To address this problem of profiling the most financially vulnerable job seekers, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts reintroduced a bill last year in the wake of the Equifax data breach that would prohibit the practice at the federal level.In fact, lawmakers at the state level have already banned pre-employment credit checks. Multiple states — including California, Connecticut, Illinois and Washington — have set limits on the use of credit information when hiring. Lawmakers in the District of Columbia and New York City have also enacted bans in recent years.

Missing wages, grueling shifts, and bottles of urine: The disturbing accounts of Amazon delivery drivers may reveal the true human cost of ‘free’ shipping Amazon solicits prospective courier companies through an online application process. It doesn't take much more than cargo vans and insurance to apply."Start your business with as little as $10,000," Amazon advertises on its website. "Logistics experience not required." Once Amazon accepts a courier into its system, it provides a set number of daily delivery routes. Each route, which is assigned to a single driver, has a daily volume of between 250 and 300 packages, on average. Drivers said that number could spike as high as 400 during peak holiday periods. Amazon also provides the electronic devices — referred to internally as "rabbits" — that drivers use for scanning each package and route navigation. Courier companies then handle the costs of running the business, including payroll, taxes, insurance, vans, and gas. In a recent push to add more couriers to its delivery network, Amazon started offering incentives, such as special rates on vans and employee insurance programs, to anyone willing to start a delivery business. The company announced last week that it was ordering 20,000 Mercedes-Benz vans for the new incentive program. "Our recently launched Delivery Service Partner program offers a number of new features including customized branded vehicles for delivery, preventative vehicle maintenance services, low-cost vehicle and employee insurance plans, and a payroll system customized for their business," Amazon said. "We are simultaneously recruiting new businesses into this program and transitioning our existing delivery partners into this new program."  Business Insider spoke with 31 current or recently employed drivers about what it's like to deliver packages for Amazon.

 Whole Foods Workers Revolt Against Amazon – Aim To Unionize After Awful Working Conditions - Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, earns $268,000,000 every day, while regular Amazon and Whole Foods Market employees make an average of $15 per hour. Reports have uncovered the horrible working conditions inside Amazon’s massive warehouses — as some employees had to pee in bottles because they lived in fear of being disciplined over ‘idle time’. Now a group of workers at Whole Foods is trying to form a union, seeking better compensation after the Amazon buyout left the company with deteriorating working conditions, workers claim. In a memo sent to nearly every Whole Foods employee on Thursday, the union’s organizers said Amazon is accelerating layoffs and consolidating stores put employees’ livelihoods at risk, and that more consolidation was expected. This is the second time Whole Foods workers have tried to organize, but it is the first time under the new ownership of Amazon, said the Fast Company.The union demanded a $15-an-hour minimum wage, better retirement benefits, paid maternity leave and lower health insurance costs, among other benefits — as the current situation shows all is not well in the popular grocery store as Amazon is their new corporate overlord.“Over the past year, layoffs and the consolidations of store-level positions at Whole Foods Market have upset the livelihood of team members, stirred, anxiety, and lowered morale within stores,” the memo declared. It then claims that Whole Foods CEO John Mackey sold the store to Amazon “with an agreement to trim hundreds of millions of dollars of labor from our stores.” The letter continues, “There will continue to be layoffs in 2019 and beyond as Amazon aims to aggressively trim our labor force before it expands with new technology and labor models.”Whole Foods workers seek to unionize, says Amazon is ‘exploiting our dedication’ https://t.co/uRkU85spZMA group of workers at Whole Foods Market are leading an effort to establish a union for the Amazon-owned company’s 85,000+ workforce.In a letter addressed to Whole Foods … pic.twitter.com/m7fLKeyWVW 

Steelworkers Demand Higher Pay as Tariffs Lift Profits - President Trump has said the 25% tariff his administration placed on steel imports earlier this year aimed to bring back good-paying blue collar jobs.“The steel industry is one of the great things to be talking about,” Mr. Trump told a crowd in North Dakota last week. “The manufacturing jobs are back.” U.S. steel companies are some of the clearest beneficiaries of the Trump administration’s tariffs on foreign goods. The trade action has enabled them to raise prices in a strong economy that has boosted orders for steel. The union’s demands could put a damper of the sector’s newfound fortune. Higher costs for wages and benefits would pressure steelmakers’ profit margins that are only beginning to improve after many years of being squeezed by cheap imports U.S. manufacturers in general are facing rising costs, even as they benefit from lower corporate taxes. Higher input prices, including for steel, have weighed on their business. Also wages are rising across the U.S. workforce as factories compete for a shrinking pool of available labor. Inflation is also picking up after years in low gear, putting pressure on employers to pay workers more. “We feel we need some recognition and to share in the profits of the company,” said Michael Young, president of the union local for U.S. Steel’s Midwest Plant in Portage, Ind. The United Steelworkers union is in a contract standoff with both companies. Workers have authorized union leaders to call a strike against U.S. Steel, and say they could do the same at ArcelorMittal if an agreement isn’t reached soon. Contracts for both companies expired Sept. 1. U.S. Steel said it doesn’t anticipate a strike. “Talks are ongoing, and we continue to work diligently to reach a mutually agreeable conclusion,” the company said. ArcelorMittal declined to comment on the strike threat. U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal account for 40% of the U.S. production capacity for flat-rolled steel used throughout manufacturing for products ranging from tin cans to car doors. The price of steel has risen by more than 30% this year, as the Trump administration’s tariffs on foreign steel have taken effect. U.S. Steel has forecast a more-than-60% increase in adjusted pretax income this year, compared with 2017. ArcelorMittal, which has mills throughout the world, doesn’t issue a profit forecast for its U.S. operations. 

US Workers Are Striking Again - US labor relations have never been cordial and large strikes have been declining since the 1970s. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) releases a report early every year of the number of large work stoppages the previous year. BLS defines large work stoppages as “involving 1,000 or more workers lasting one full shift or longer.” In counting work stoppages, it includes strikes and lockouts (where the employer refuses to let the union members work), but the list is usually mostly strikes. In 2017, BLS released this stunning chart summarizing seventy years of collecting this data. Clearly, the number of large strikes has plummeted. For the thirty-year period starting in the mid-1940s, the average number of annual strikes was over three hundred per year. That means on almost every day in that era a large strike would start. The average in the most recent decade has been about fourteen per year. Continuing this trend, the BLS’s most recent report listed only seven large strikes for 2017, the second lowest on record after 2009. There is another record of strikes maintained by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS). It tracks work stoppages of all sizes related to contract bargaining in the private sector, though it also seems to include some public sector strikes as well. A full analysis of this data needs to be done, and it’s not clear to me at this point how complete it is. Does any of this matter? It does if we’re interested in a labor movement that successfully fights to raise standards for its members and the working class as a whole. That thirty-year post-WWII era of striking coincides closely with the years of large union membership, higher union density (the percentage of workers who are union members), rising average working-class wages and decreasing inequality in society. The years ever since have seen a reverse of these trends, as I’ve discussed elsewhere. In the 1950s union density was about one-third of all workers, and in that era, strike activity grew the labor movement which made it stronger and therefore able to strike more. Today, union density is about 11 percent, and we’ve been in a downward cycle where unions strike less and grow weaker over time. This chart shows union density over time.

 Chicago hotel strike pits workers against Democrats’ billionaire candidate for governor --The strike by over 5,000 Chicago hotel workers spread to 26 locations Tuesday, as hundreds of workers walked off the job at the Cambria Chicago Magnificent Mile hotel, just north of downtown. Thousands of housekeepers, bellhops, servers, cooks and other hospitality workers walked out across the city last Friday to demand increased wages, year-round health benefits and reduced workloads.Labor agreements covering 6,000 members of the UNITE HERE in Chicago expired on August 31, along with thousands of others at major hotels across the country. On Tuesday, hotel workers in Hawaii voted by 95 percent to approve strike action at six Marriott-operated hotels in Honolulu and on Maui. Hospitality workers at Marriott, which became the world’s largest hotel chain after its $13 billion acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, will take strike votes today in Boston, September 13 in San Francisco and San Jose, and September 14 in Seattle. The strikes pit some of the most exploited sections of the working class, including large numbers of Latin American and Asian immigrant workers earning near poverty wages, against some of the most powerful and politically connected multinational businesses. This includes Marriott—which owns 30 brands and more than 5,800 properties in more than 110 countries—and Hyatt Hotels Corporation, which has 777 properties in 54 countries.  Hyatt Chairman and CEO Thomas Pritzker, whose net worth is $4.2 billion, is the former chairman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a major think tank for US imperialism, and Northwest America Western Asia Holdings. Penny Pritzker, one of the heirs to the Hyatt fortune with a net worth of $2.5 billion, was picked by President Obama as US Secretary of Commerce. Another heir, JB Pritzker, a venture capitalist with a net worth of $3.3 billion, was the national co-chair of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in 2008. He is the Democratic Party’s candidate for governor of Illinois in the November elections.Given the candidate’s family connections to Hyatt, a local ABC reporter asked the Pritzker for Governor campaign for its comments on the ongoing strike. “JB stands with the labor movement across Illinois in the fight for better wages, benefits, and working conditions,” the campaign cynically declared.

Prisoners Strike Across America & Canada to End Penal Enslavement -  Real News Network video & transcript - We are now into our second week of a nationwide prisoners’ strike that spread across at least seventeen states and into Canada. The strike began on August 21, the forty-seventh anniversary of the assassination of George Jackson, who a revolutionary serving time and murdered in San Quentin prison. It’s scheduled to end this Sunday, on September the 9th, the forty-fifth anniversary of the Attica uprising and rebellion took place in the New York state prison.There are many reasons why this fight is taking place across America. One among them, and one of the primary reasons, is the reality that slave labor conditions that exist for people serving time in our prisons, yes, slave labor conditions. They work in prison industries fighting forest fires, cleaning highways, cleaning and cooking food in the prisons and being employed by for-profit factories that have been set up in prisons and working for such well-known companies as Amazon, Starbucks, Victoria’s Secret and more. Prisoners are paid fifteen and twenty cents an hour in what is tantamount to legalized slave labor.So, one of the key demands is to end this peonage and legalized enslavement and to demand rehabilitation, training and education programs to be brought back to the prisons, along with an end to solitary confinement, for the right to vote and an end to mass incarceration. These are some of the reasons, and there are many other reasons for the strike, and it’s ongoing now. Most prison systems are denying it’s happening at all. And some, like Maryland, the state from which we were broadcasting from, have put their prisons under lockdown, allegedly for a fentanyl outbreak that happened in Ohio.Well, before we begin our conversation with our guests, let me show you a very short video taken from inside a prison, released by the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, which is one of the main groups organizing this prison strike around the country and in Canada.

SC officials won’t evacuate prison ahead of hurricane - As nearly a million people hit the road before Hurricane Florence nears the coast, 934 inmates and as many as 119 prison staff were ordered to stay behind despite a mandatory evacuation. Despite an evacuation order encompassing the prison’s location in Jasper County issued Monday, S.C. Department of Corrections officials decided not to remove inmates at the Ridgeland Correctional Institution as of that afternoon, SCDC spokesman Dexter Lee said in an interview with The State.“Right now, we’re not in the process of moving inmates,” Lee said. “In the past, it’s been safer to leave them there.”During a press conference Monday afternoon, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster revealed maps of the evacuation zones. McMaster commented that the darker the color, the more important it was for residents to evacuate.  Ridgeland falls within a red area on the evacuation map. “We know the evacuation order I’m issuing will be inconvenient,” McMaster said during the evacuation press conference. “But we’re not going to gamble with the lives of the people of South Carolina. Not a one.”  Along with the nearly 1,000 prisoners ordered to stay behind during the evacuation, essential personnel would have been required to stay behind and work at the prison, Lee said. Guards would not have the choice to opt in or out if they are scheduled to work during Hurricane Florence, he added.

Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos Pledge $2 Billion for Homeless and Preschoolers - NYT --The Amazon founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos, and his wife, MacKenzie, pledged $2 billion on Thursday for a new fund to start preschools and help homeless families. The money, put into what he called the Day 1 Fund, is by far the largest philanthropic donation by Mr. Bezos, the world’s richest person. It will support organizations that provide shelter and food for homeless families, and will start a network of nonprofit Montessori-inspired preschools for underserved communities. “If our own great-grandchildren don’t have lives better than ours, something has gone very wrong,” Mr. Bezos wrote on Twitter announcing the fund. View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter Jeff Bezos ✔ @JeffBezos 11:00 AM - Sep 13, 2018 23.9K 8,662 people are talking about this Twitter Ads info and privacy As Mr. Bezos’s wealth and influence has grown, he has faced increased public pressure to make significant philanthropic investments. His net worth is valued at $164 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He bought The Washington Post in 2013 for $250 million, and has said he’s put about $1 billion a year into his private spaceflight company, Blue Origin. ADVERTISEMENT His largest known philanthropic contribution to date was $33 million in scholarships to support the education of undocumented students who graduated from high school in the United States. Earlier this month, he made his first major political contribution, putting $10 million into a bipartisan political action committee to support military veterans running for Congress. You have 3 free articles remaining. Subscribe to The Times Other tech founders have come to see philanthropy as a major part of their legacy. Bill Gates, a founder of Microsoft, committed “the vast majority” of his assets to the foundation he started with his wife, Melinda. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla, said they would give 99 percent of their Facebook shares, valued at around $45 billion at the time of their 2015 announcement, to philanthropic work. Other tech leaders, including Paul Allen of Microsoft, Larry Ellison of Oracle and Brian Chesky of Airbnb, have signed the Giving Pledge, vowing to give away at least half of their wealth either during their lifetime or in their will.

The tech elite is making a power-grab for public education In the same week that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced a major move into education provision, the FBI issued a stark warning about the risks posed to children by education technologies. These two events illustrate clearly how ed-tech has become a significant site of controversy, a power struggle between hugely wealthy tech entrepreneurs and those concerned by their attempts to colonize the education sector with their imaginaries and technologies. Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and other super-wealthy Silicon Valley actors, are forming alternative visions and approaches to education from pre-school through primary and high schooling to university. They’re the new power-elite of education and their influence is spreading.I’ve previously written about the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capitalists making a power-grab for the education sector. Benjamin Doxtdator has also written brilliantly about their rewriting of the history of public education as a social problem requiring urgent correction for the future. Here I just want to compile some recent developments of Silicon Valley intervention at each stage of education, to illustrate the growing scale of their influence as they continue linking public education into their networks of technical development. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos announced via a letter on Twitter his plans to invest $2billion in support for homeless families and a ‘network of new, non-profit, tier-one preschools’. The ‘Academies Fund’ will create ‘Montessori-inspired’ preschools through a new organization to ‘learn, invent and improve’ based on ‘the same set of principles that have driven Amazon’. Most notably, Bezos added, ‘the child will be the customer’ in these schools, with a ‘genuine, intense customer obsession’. While many will admire the philanthropic efforts of the world’s richest man to support early years education, the idea of Amazon-style pre-schools that see children as customers problematically positions education as a commercialized service in ‘personalized learning’. Bezos is not the first tech sector entrepreneur to announce or invest in pre-schooling, and as Audrey Watters commented,  The assurance that ‘the child will be the customer’ underscores the belief – shared by many in and out of education reform and education technology – that education is simply a transaction: an individual’s decision-making in a ‘marketplace of ideas. … This idea that ‘the child will be the customer’ is, of course, also a nod to ‘personalized learning’…. As the customer, the child will be tracked and analyzed, her preferences noted so as to make better recommendations to up-sell her on the most suitable products.

Healthcare Triage: When Parents Go to Prison, Children Suffer Consequences --When parents go to prison, their children’s lives are changed.  It’s happening more and more to kids in the United States, and it comes at a price that can immediately impact their lives and can have long-term consequences. That’s the topic of this week’s HCT. When Parents Go to Prison, Children Suffer Consequences - YouTubeThis episode was written in conjunction with Karen Ruprecht and Angela Tomlin, who are 2016 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Interdisciplinary Research Leaders fellows. Interdisciplinary Research Leaders is a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation led by the University of Minnesota. Resources used in the creation of this video:

Criminalizing Childhood- School Safety Measures Aren't Making Students Any Safer - It used to be that if you talked back to a teacher, or played a prank on a classmate, or just failed to do your homework, you might find yourself in detention or doing an extra writing assignment after school. Of course, that was before school shootings became a part of our national lexicon. Nowadays, as a result of the government’s profit-driven campaign to keep the nation “safe” from drugs, weapons and terrorism, students are not only punished for minor transgressions such as playing cops and robbers on the playground, bringing LEGOs to school, or having a food fight, but they are being punished with suspension, expulsion, and even arrest. Welcome to Compliance 101: the police state’s primer in how to churn out compliant citizens and transform the nation’s school’s into quasi-prisons through the use of surveillance cameras, metal detectors, police patrols, zero tolerance policies, lock downs, drug sniffing dogs, strip searches and active shooter drills. If you were wondering, these police state tactics have not made the schools any safer. Rather, they’ve turned the schools into authoritarian microcosms of the police state, containing almost every aspect of the militarized, intolerant, senseless, overcriminalized, legalistic, surveillance-riddled, totalitarian landscape that plagues those of us on the “outside.” If your child is fortunate enough to survive his encounter with the public schools, you should count yourself fortunate. Most students are not so lucky. From the moment a child enters one of the nation’s 98,000 public schools to the moment he or she graduates, they will be exposed to a steady diet of draconian zero tolerance policies that criminalize childish behavior, overreaching anti-bullying statutes that criminalize speech, school resource officers (police) tasked with disciplining and/or arresting so-called “disorderly” students, standardized testing that emphasizes rote answers over critical thinking, politically correct mindsets that teach young people to censor themselves and those around them, and extensive biometric and surveillance systems that, coupled with the rest, acclimate young people to a world in which they have no freedom of thought, speech or movement. By the time the average young person in America finishes their public school education, nearly one out of every three of them will have been arrested.More than 3 million students are suspended or expelled from schools every year, often for minor misbehavior, such as “disruptive behavior” or “insubordination.”Black students are three times more likely than white students to face suspension and expulsion.

This School Year, Let’s Keep Kids in Classrooms - It’s no secret that our country incarcerates people of color at much higher rates than white people. What might be less well known is that this can begin in the classroom.Across the country, schools routinely punish, suspend, and expel students of color at higher rates than white students — setbacks that can follow students for years. Those were the findings of a new Institute for Policy Studies report called Students Under Siege.I saw this firsthand going to school in Indiana. A report by the Indiana Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found that Indiana “ranks second in the country in its rate of black male out-of-school suspensions” and “ranks fourth in the rate of black female out-of-school suspensions.”It’s not an issue of one group “misbehaving” more than another. An Indiana University study found that black and Latino students are suspended for much more subjective reasons than their white peers. For instance, a white student might be suspended for smoking, while a black, Latino, or Latina student might be suspended for the much murkier offense of being “disruptive.”I watched the same pattern play out at William Henry Harrison, the West Lafayette, Indiana high school I graduated from in 2015. Despite students of color making up less than a quarter of its student body, they’re overrepresented in suspension rates.In 2015, 20 percent of black students, 12.3 percent of Latino and Latina students, and 10.5 percent of students identifying with two or more races received in-school suspensions. Numbers were similar for out-of-school suspensions, and rose considerably for students who were expelled: Half were Latino and a quarter were black.

Call for atheism to be included in religious education -- Religious education in schools needs a major overhaul to reflect an increasingly diverse world and should include the study of atheism, agnosticism and secularism, a two-year investigation has concluded. The subject should be renamed Religion and Worldviews to equip young people with respect and empathy for different faiths and viewpoints, says the Commission on Religious Education in a report published on Sunday. Content “must reflect the complex, diverse and plural nature of worldviews”, drawing from “a range of religious, philosophical, spiritual and other approaches to life, including different traditions within Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism, non-religious worldviews and concepts including humanism, secularism, atheism and agnosticism”. All pupils in publicly funded schools should study the subject up to year 11, the report says, but it falls short of recommending the abolition of the right of parents to withdraw children from religious education. It comes three weeks after figures showed the number of pupils taking religious studies at A-level this year had fallen by 22% compared with 2017, and two days after new data suggested more than half the population has no religion. The commission was established in 2016 to review the provision of religious education since its last overhaul 30 years ago. It received more than 3,000 submissions from pupils, teachers, parents, and faith and belief communities. Its report says the quality of religious education at present is variable, and a growing number of schools have stopped providing it. The study of religion and worldviews provides “insight into the sciences, the arts, literature, history and contemporary local and global social and political issues”. It enables young people to develop greater respect and empathy for others, it adds. 

Teachers strike in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania - Roughly 600 public school teachers in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania walked off the job Monday in a strike over rising health care costs and wages. Teachers set up lines around some of the district’s ten schools, which are closed indefinitely.According to a spokesman for the school district, teachers on Monday were offered a cumulative five-year salary increase of 11.53 percent, as a “last, final, and best” offer. Even if the figure is accurate, it would be more than gobbled up by rising health care costs and inflation. In other words, the district’s proposal is to lock teachers into a long-term wage cut.The school board is also demanding drastic increases in health care premiums for employee spouses. This could force many teachers and professional staff to forgo health care coverage for husbands and wives.Teachers have been without a contract for two years, during which time their wages have been frozen. Meanwhile, previously scheduled salary “step” increases have not been distributed since the 2014-2015 school year, when they were shelved as a means of avoiding threatened furloughs during a financial crisis that year. Currently, East Stroudsburg teachers earn the lowest wages in the two-county region of the Delaware Water gap, roughly an hour west of metropolitan New York City.The school board’s position is a provocation against teachers, whose sacrifices have helped the East Stroudsburg school district build up $60 million in reserves—the third most of any district in Pennsylvania. Several school administrators take home salaries of more than $100,000. Borrowing from a playbook used across the country, the district school board has lashed out at teachers, accusing them of attempting to “hurt the students and their families.”

Teacher strike in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania wins broad support --A crowd estimated at approximately 1,000 picketed East Stroudsburg’s South High School on Friday morning as teachers completed their first week on strike against demands for major health care concessions. Teachers and professional staff in this northeastern Pennsylvania city of 11,000 people have worked for more than two years without a contract. In that time they have had no pay increases and regularly scheduled step salary increases have been on hold since a financial crisis in the school district during the 2014-2015 academic year. In real terms, teachers have suffered years of pay cuts. Contract negotiations, however, are not about returning pay to teachers. They instead revolve around how much more teachers will give up—the major issue being health care contributions. The local affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA) representing the teachers has repeatedly proclaimed its readiness to offer concessions.  Emboldened by the NEA’s capitulation, bargaining representatives for the East Stroudsburg Area School District are attempting to resolve the district’s financial problems at the expense of teachers and students. State mediators involved in the negotiations have indicated that the size of management’s offer is sufficient, but that the money might be parsed differently between nominal pay increases—as little as 11.5 percent over the next half decade—and increases to health care premiums.Despite the broad public support for the strike there is an imminent danger that the NEA will force teachers to accept a rotten deal, or that the state will seek an injunction to shut down the strike. Pennsylvania Secretary of Labor Pedro Rivera, a Democrat appointed by Governor Tom Wolf, used precisely this method to break a strike at nearby Dallas public schools in June.

Washington state strikes continue as Tumwater teachers defy back-to-work order - Teachers in the small town of Tumwater, Washington voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to continue striking in defiance of a back-to-work order issued earlier in the day by Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese. According to teachers, the walkout, which began September 1, will continue despite threats to impose sanctions on them.Tumwater union officials reported that after “intense debate” during a two-and-a-half hour mass meeting members voted “emphatically” to defy the order.This courageous action by the 400 teachers, just south of the state capital of Olympia, came after the judge hypocritically sided with the school district’s claims that the continuation of the strike would do “substantial harm to students.” In fact, teachers in Tumwater and across the state are fighting not just for themselves but for their students who are suffering from the effects of decades of budget cuts and chronic underfunding. Conditions have gotten so bad that the state supreme court ruled that the state politicians in Olympia violated their constitutional duty to provide quality education to the state’s 1.1 million students. “Sometimes what we need to do is stand up for something we don’t believe is right and, in this case, we don't believe that’s right,” teacher Doug Peltier told KOMO News. “So that’s why we’re out here.”“I am a paraeducator, not a teacher,” a Tumwater paraeducator who requested anonymity told the World Socialist Web Site Teacher Newsletter. “But, I am out in support of teachers because that is my job, supporting teachers and students.”Tumwater district officials threatened to seek massive fines against the teachers if they did not surrender. “If the teachers do not report to work, the district will be forced to take the necessary steps the judge outlined in court to seek relief,” the district said in a news release.

How Education Reform Taught Teachers to Cheat - Thirty years ago, the public schools in Prince George’s County, Md., were hailed as symbols of success. Their students ranked in the 70th percentile nationally in reading and math. Prince George’s seemed to be powerful evidence against the idea that a mostly black school district with a high concentration of children from low- to moderate-income families could not thrive. There was a simple reason for that, says Daniel Koretz, an education professor at Harvard University who has studied the county’s school system. In Koretz’ blunt words, the numbers were “juiced.” Test preparation was prioritized over genuine instruction. Children spent much of their time being trained to navigate the ever-more frequent exams and were tipped off on the actual test questions. The school district started test preparation in kindergarten for exams that students wouldn’t take until third grade.  Prince George’s County is far from the only school district where graduation rates have been pumped up, attendance records fudged or test scores inflated. Atlanta, Chicago, El Paso and Washington, D.C., have all been the subject of probes that revealed educators were gaming the system to boost either test numbers or graduation rates. The cheating by educators, says Koretz, was the result of “applied anxiety.” Teachers, administrators and faculty knew they needed to reach certain goals to satisfy the demands of parents, politicians and state policymakers. So, as in Maryland, they pushed through students who hadn’t met the requirements.  Indeed, the real culprit is the high-stakes numbers game that has dominated American public education in the past two decades. Test scores, graduation rates and attendance records all have been used to evaluate the performance of teachers, principals and administrators. The result, in many cases, has been a consistent invitation to bend the rules. “The higher the assessment stakes, the more likely the assessment is to be corrupted,” says Steve Tozer, coordinator of the Center for Urban Education Leadership at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “If you give someone an assessment with low stakes, their job is not on the line, there is little chance they will be tempted to cheat. When you raise those stakes, and their lives and jobs are on the line, there is more temptation.”

Nearly Half Of All Teens Wish They Could Travel Back In Time To An Era Before Social Media -- It should come as no surprise to anybody who hasn't been living under a rock for the past decade that teenagers' lives now revolve around social media and texting. Instead of interacting face-to-face, most teenagers now conduct most of their socializing using smartphone screens as their intermediaries. And while studies have shown that the advent of social media has been, overall, detrimental to the mental health of young people, a study conducted by a nonprofit called Common Sense Media has revealed some interesting new details about the social lives of the modern-day American teenager. While their parents have probably long been aware of the myriad ills of their childrens' digital lives, teenagers are also beginning to realize that all of this time spent on Instagram simply isn't healthy. To wit, the study found that today's teens overwhelmingly believe that social media interferes with homework, personal relationships and sleep.  Here's Axios with more: Today's teens prefer texting over in-person communication, use social media multiple times a day, and admit that digital distractions interfere with homework, personal relationships and sleep, according to a new survey of 13- to 17-year-olds. Why it matters: Concerns over the negative impact of social media use have increased recently with reports of teen depression, suicide and cyberbullying on the rise. The study by Common Sense Media, a non-profit group focused on tech and media's impact on kids, shows teens have a complicated relationship with technology. Interestingly, despite the increased use of social media, teens are more likely to say that social media has a positive effect on them. For instance, 25% say using social media makes them feel less lonely, compared to 3% who say it makes them feel more lonely. Still, more than two-thirds of teens agree with the statement, "social media has a negative impact on many people my age." And 40% agree with the statement, "I sometimes wish I could go back to a time when there was no such thing as social media."

Harvard Prof- Merit-Based Admissions Reproduce Inequality - A Harvard University professor claims in a new academic study that merit-based admission processes at elite universities “reproduce inequality.” Harvard education professor Natasha Warikoo draws on interviews with 98 white, native-born students at Harvard, Brown University, and the University of Oxford in “What Meritocracy Means to its Winners: Admissions, Race, and Inequality,” published in the journal Social Sciences.During interviews Warikoo conducted between 2009 and 2011, these students were asked to sound-off on whether they felt their school had meritocratic admissions and if they supported affirmative action. Many answered the second question affirmatively and hailed the benefits of a diverse student body. But Warikoo seems concerned with students’ responses. Analyzing data from these interviews years later, Warikoo points out that students’ approaches to diversity suggest that they’ve “internalized” the tokenistic rhetoric of the school admissions office, even if they had disagreed with policies like athletic recruitment or legacy admissions before coming to campus.“Unlike in other campus domains in which there is a history of social protest among college students, in the realm of admissions, students seem to agree quite strongly with their universities, and come to even more agreement rather than critique upon arriving to campus,” she writes. “They suggest that most actors in elite institutions espouse views that reproduce their elite status, rather than engaging in symbolic politics or protest.”

Fossil Fuel Divestment Debates on Campus Spotlight Societal Role of Colleges and Universities - As a new academic year begins after a summer of deadly heat waves, wildfires, droughts and floods, many college students and faculty are debating whether and how to get involved in climate politics.Climate advocacy has become well established on U.S. campuses over the past decade, in diverse forms. More than 600 colleges and universities have signed the American College and University President's Climate Commitment. Schools are expanding interdisciplinary teaching and research in environmental studies,sustainability science and climate resilience, and investing in "greening" their campuses. And many activists on campuses around the country are participating in global campaigns like "Rise for Climate, Jobs and Justice" and "Keep it in the Ground."One of the most controversial strategies is campaigning for schools to divest their holdings in fossil fuel companies. Campus divestment is widely viewed as mainly a student cause. But when I analyzed the movement with Peter Frumhoff of the Union of Concerned Scientists and Yale (now Stanford) graduate student Leehi Yona, we found widespread faculty support for divestment. For example, in a survey at Harvardin spring 2018, 67 percent of faculty respondents supported divestment, while only 9 percent were opposed and 24 percent were neutral.So far, however, only about 150 campuses worldwide have committed to fossil fuel divestment—and less than a third of those are in the U.S. Why so few? I see two reasons. First, divestment is controversial because it acknowledges the need for radical change. Second, there is a disconnect in institutional priorities between administrators on one side and faculty and students on the other side. Fossil fuel divestment is intended to stigmatize the industry and hold companies accountable for opposing action to slow climate change and for their strategic misinformation campaign designed to confuse the public about climate science and the risks of climate change. To date, more than 800 institutions with assets valued at more than $6 trillion have committed to some form of fossil fuel divestment. They include the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Guardian Media Group and the World Council of Churches.

 Is speech critical of Israel anti-Semitic? In a case that could redefine campus politics, Trump administration weighs in: As protests against Israel and the U.S. government’s alliance with it have roiled college campuses across the country — with demonstrations in recent years shutting down speeches by pro-Israel speakers from the University of Minnesota to San Francisco State University — a few questions have repeatedly come up. How much is Jewish identity tied to the modern nation of Israel? Is there a point at which criticism of Israel turns into hatred of Jewish people? If so, when is that line crossed? What is the difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism?Not surprisingly, pro-Palestinian activists and pro-Israeli ones often give contrasting answers to the questions. In addition to conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians that have prevented peace in the Middle East, and a possible two-state solution, recent events have included the Trump administration’s move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which Palestinians considered a major slight, and this week’s announcement by the State Department that it has ordered Palestinian leadership to close its office in Washington. The Trump administration has now weighed in on the college issue, with the Department of Education’s civil rights office reopening a 2011 complaint against a New Jersey university about alleged bias against Jewish students. In a recent letter to the Zionist Organization of America, a conservative group that has for years fought what it believes is widespread bias against Israel at colleges, the office said it would relaunch an investigation about Rutgers that closed four years ago under the Obama administration. In the letter, the department said it would examine reports of discrimination on campus against Jewish people as an ethnic group and for the first time defined what it counts as anti-Semitism. The letter listed Holocaust denial — a widely agreed upon sign of anti-Jewish beliefs — alongside common pro-Palestinian activist refrains, such as saying that “the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavor.” Calling Israel racist was listed under “denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination.” Another example of anti-Semitism, according to the letter, included “applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

University Announces White Awake Safe Space For White Students --The University of Maryland at College Park announced Friday a new diversity support group to create a “safe space” for white students to discuss their feelings about “interactions with racial and ethnic minorities.”The support group, called “White Awake,” will help white students who may “sometimes feel uncomfortable and confused before, during, or after interactions with racial and ethnic minorities.”“This group offers a safe space for White students to explore their experiences, questions, reactions, and feelings,” the description explains. “Members will support and share feedback with each other as they learn more about themselves and how they can fit into a diverse world.”The description asks students if they want to “improve [their] ability to relate to and connect with people different from [themselves]” or if they want to become a better “ally.” The new group is now one of four in the university’s “Diversity Issues” program series. The group is being led by Noah Collins, who works for the UMD Counseling Center, and will be held once a week. Collins specializes in group therapy and is interested “especially in the areas of racial and cultural awareness,” according to his faculty bio.The safe space has been met with harsh criticism from students on social media.“I am ashamed over the execution of white awake nor do I fully understand its clause. ‘How they can fit into a diverse world’? Why do they need to attend therapy sessions on how to be a decent human being in society?” a UMD student wrote on Twitter. “Why do they need to have these sessions to learn how to coexist?”

The Most Valuable College Major Is One You Might Not Expect - In a new survey, Bankrate.com studied more than 162 degrees to determine the most- and least-valuable college majors. And the winner for the most valuable criteria might seem somewhat obscure to the unfamiliar reader. That major? Actuarial science. Actuarial science, for those who don't know, focuses on the use of statistical modeling to help insurance companies and other financial services firms measure risk. In support of its findings, Bankrate used an anecdote from recent actuarial sciences grad to illustrate just how much of an advantage degree-holders have in the job market. Landing a job after college was a breeze for Jessica Ackley. The 22-year-old received three full-time offers by the end of her first month of interviewing and ultimately secured a starting salary north of $60,000 with an international consulting firm. "I graduated from Illinois State University in December 2017 and have been working full-time in actuarial consulting since January of this year," Ackley says.Ackley’s success is common for those who graduate with an actuarial science degree, according to Krzysztof Ostaszewski, director of the actuarial program at Illinois State University."I like to say, 'Being an actuary is the best job in America because you get paid like doctors and lawyers, but you don’t have to work with blood or visit your clients in jail,'"  The other majors that topped the list were mostly from the STEM - that is, science, technology, engineering and mathematics - fields. Ideally, findings like this will encourage more students to choose these majors. Meanwhile, a smattering of liberal arts and fine arts degrees dominated the bottom of the list, with miscellaneous fine arts coming in dead last with an average income of just over $40,000 and an unemployment rate of just over 9%. Students who land a job with an arts degree often wind up as art teachers, music contractors, craft artists and illustrators. Meanwhile, business, science and math degrees claimed the first 10 spots.

Fine Arts Majors Have A Higher Unemployment Rate Than High School Dropouts - As we've demonstrated in the past, the US labor market contains vicissitudes that at times run contrary to the conventional wisdom. For example, going strictly on the percentage of people accepted vs. total number of applicants, Delta is more selective about hiring flight attendants than Harvard is when selecting its undergraduate class.The same is true when it comes to analyzing the value of a college degree.For a long time, conventional wisdom held that, in the long run, Americans would always be better served by having a college degree than not having one, because according to data, college graduates earn nearly 60% more, on average, than workers with only a high school diploma. This stat was often invoked to encourage uncertain young people to enroll, even if they didn't have a coherent long-term plan. This is one of the reasons why skyrocketing student-loan delinquencies are nearing a crisis level.And the latest example of this fallacious thinking comes to us courtesy of Bankrate.com, which recently conducted a study on the most- and least-profitable college majors. While actuaries earn the most on average (while also benefiting from low unemployment and little incentive to obtain a graduate degree), the study found that the "niche" fine arts majors not only earn one of the lowest average salaries of the 162 majors examined, but worse, graduates with that major struggle with a 9.1% unemployment rate. What is astonishing is that if that number is indeed correct, college grads with a fine arts degree are far worse off than the average high school dropout in the labor market. Even the lucky ones who do have a job are worse off. The rest are not only unemployed, but probably drowning in student-loan debt.Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for people with less than a high school diploma is 5.7% - significantly better than those with art school degrees - as America's employers increasingly turn to the cheapest unemployed resources and train them on the spot.

Judge rules against DeVos rollback of Obama-era student loan regulations | TheHill: A federal judge on Wednesday ruled against the Trump Education Department regarding its rollback of Obama-era student loan regulations, Bloomberg reported. U.S. District Court Judge Randolph Moss sided with 19 Democratic state attorney generals and the District of Columbia, who argued in a lawsuit against Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos that the Department of Education violated federal law by rolling back its Borrower Defense to Repayment rule. The judge ruled the department violated procedure in its decision.The program was meant to protect students from predatory student loan practices. Meanwhile, for-profit institutions have argued that the program was unfair. The program set up automatic triggers requiring a school to put up a large sum of money each time a lawsuit is filed against it to protect taxpayers, should the institution fail. DeVos had sought to delay the regulations until July 1, 2019 to give the Education Department more time to rewrite them. DeVos said last year that it was “time for a regulatory reset.” The court ruled that DeVos's actions were "unlawful" and "arbitrary and capricious." Moss wrote in the 57-page ruling that the delay was "otherwise invalid without negotiated rulemaking, notice, and an opportunity for public comment." Moss also wrote that he will determine how to proceed with the case following a hearing on Friday at 10:30 a.m. 

Judge Rejects DeVos’s Halt of Rule to Help Defrauded Students - A federal judge will rule Friday on how to address an improper decision by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to freeze a plan to help student loan borrowers who were cheated by their schools.A new Education Department rule would have sped up and expanded a system for erasing the federal loan debts of students at schools that broke state laws and misled their attendees. It may now be revived: Judge Randolph D. Moss, a federal judge in Washington, said Wednesday that the department’s move to postpone the rule just weeks before its start date last year was “arbitrary and capricious.”The ruling was a victory for attorneys general from 18 states and the District of Columbia, who filed a lawsuit last year challenging the Education Department’s decision.“It’s time for this rule to go into effect and give thousands of students the relief they’ve been waiting for,” said Maura Healey, the Massachusetts attorney general, who led the multistate coalition opposing the delay.  The Education Department is reviewing the ruling, said Liz Hill, a spokeswoman.Judge Moss’s decision may lead to changes in how the government handles tens of thousands of existing claims from students seeking to have their loans discharged. But any remedies he orders may soon be blunted: The Education Department is working to completely revise its system for handling future requests. Even so, the ruling was the latest in a series of judicial rebukes to the Trump administration for trying to shortcut the government’s formal process for adopting and eliminating agency rules. Judges have rejected attempts by multiple agencies to eliminate or indefinitely suspend rules they disliked, including new restrictions on methane emissions from oil and gas wells and an immigration pathway for entrepreneurs running technology start-ups.

Digging Into Data on the Student Loan Scam -- Michael Olenick: The New York Times ran an op-ed piece on student loan debt, The Student Debt Problem Is Worse Than We Imagined by Ben Miller of the Center for American Progress. As Yves would say, Quelle Surprise: it’s a disaster. Using an Infographic derived from data in a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request, for over 5,000 schools, the article shows student loan defaults will soar to about 15.5% after five years.While the FOIA is a dramatic way to get the results, there’s an easier method: looking at investor reports. Like most asset backed securities, reporting data on student loan performance  is readily available. Plus, as a public company, the one of the biggest student loan servicer, Navient, is required to disclose much of the information.Let’s look at Student Loan Servicer Navient’s first quarter 2018 71-page investor deck, here. Page 10 clarifies that as of Sept. 30, 2017 there are $1.5 trillion in student loans. 22% are for $40,000 or more, 21% are $20K-40K, and 21% are $10K-20K, and 36% are under $10K. On page 20, Navient explains that average student loan payments have increased by $64.79, from $263.19 to $327.79 from 1999-2000 graduates to 2018 graduates. If true, that great; the 24.6% increase is well under inflation which itself is far below tuition increases over the same timeframe. If their repayment information is comparing the same loan terms, then keeping payments under control – especially in the education sector where tuition far outpaces inflation – is a remarkable feat.Moving on, we find that borrowers who compete a degree are about three-times more likely to default than borrowers who do not finish a degree. That makes sense and is a reason that Obama’s Department of Education shuttered scam schools, a policy Betsy DeVos – a longtime proponent of scam schools (like her boss) – is working furiously to reverse.On page 41 Navient cleanly lays out, in three bullets, why investors love and the general public loathes these loans. Quoting directly:

  • Insurance or guarantee of underlying collateral insulates bondholders from most risk of loss of principal
  • Typically non-dischargeable in bankruptcy
  • Offer significantly higher yields than government agency securities with comparable risk profiles

Translating: this is effectively the same as US debt, since it is guaranteed by the US government and cannot be discharged, but at much higher interest rates. They’re all but bragging that it’s corporate welfare. On page 53 we get to the part the default triangles, the historical default rates. For overall undergraduate and graduate rates, the default rate peaked at 25.7% in repayment year 2008. You’d think that is caused by the financial crisis, but the rate was creeping up for years before that, at 24.6% for 2007, 23.7% for 2006, 22.7% for 2005. In 2015, the last year data is available shows a default rate of 10.4%. Either students are better managing their loans or servicers have done a better job of masking defaults through gaming the system.

Arkansas scraps Medicaid coverage for thousands of individuals | TheHill: Arkansas has removed thousands of individuals from its Medicaid program for failing to comply with work requirements — a first in the 53-year history of the federal health insurance program for the poor. More than 4,300 Medicaid recipients in Arkansas have lost coverage after failing to meet the state's new work requirements, which were approved by the Trump administration and took effect in June.“Personal responsibility is important. We will continue to do everything we can to ensure those who qualify for the program keep their coverage, but it is equally important that we make sure those who no longer qualify are removed," said Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. A total of 4,353 individuals have been booted from the program for not reporting to the state how they're meeting the requirements or for not working enough hours. Under the new program, those who are out of compliance three months in one year become ineligible for coverage the remainder of the year. The state's Department of Human Services said it conducted outreach from April through August to let beneficiaries know about the new requirements. But "some simply chose not to comply. Those are the ones who will lose their Arkansas Works coverage for the remainder of 2018," Hutchinson said. 

Michigan asks Trump administration to approve Medicaid work requirements | TheHill: Michigan is asking the Trump administration to approve work requirements for thousands of low-income adults who gained health care under ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion. Under the proposal, beneficiaries between the ages of 19 to 62 will have to work, volunteer or attend job training for at least 80 hours a month to keep their benefits. There are 12 exemptions, including for those who are caretakers of family members younger than six and those who are pregnant.People not exempt from the work requirements will have to complete monthly verifications to prove they are working. "Beneficiaries who fail to meet the requirements will lose [Medicaid coverage] until they comply," reads the application Michigan officials sent to the Department of Health and Human Services. Beneficiaries who don't meet the requirements for three out of 12 months will lose coverage for "at least one month" and will have to find a way to meet the requirements before they are reinstated. 

"Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2017" -- Note: Changes to health insurance policy will probably start showing up in the 2018 report.
From the Census Bureau: Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2017 The U.S. Census Bureau announced today that real median household income increased by 1.8 percent between 2016 and 2017, while the official poverty rate decreased 0.4 percentage points. At the same time, the number of people without health insurance coverage and the uninsured rate were not statistically different from 2016.Median household income in the United States in 2017 was $61,372, an increase in real terms of 1.8 percent from the 2016 median income of $60,309. This is the third consecutive annual increase in median household income.The nation’s official poverty rate in 2017 was 12.3 percent, with 39.7 million people in poverty. The number of people in poverty in 2017 was not statistically different from the number in poverty in 2016. The 0.4 percentage-point decrease in the poverty rate from 2016 (12.7 percent) to 2017 represents the third consecutive annual decline in poverty. Since 2014, the poverty rate has fallen 2.5 percentage points, from 14.8 percent to 12.3 percent. The percentage of people without health insurance coverage for the entire 2017 calendar year was 8.8 percent, or 28.5 million, not statistically different from 2016 (8.8 percent or 28.1 million people). Between 2016 and 2017, the number of people with health insurance coverage increased by 2.3 million, up to 294.6 million.

 High Price Of Insulin Leads Patients To Ration The Drug. That Can Be Lethal - Diabetic ketoacidosis is a terrible way to die. It's what happens when you don't have enough insulin. Your blood sugar gets so high that your blood becomes highly acidic, your cells dehydrate, and your body stops functioning. Diabetic ketoacidosis is how Nicole Smith-Holt lost her son. Three days before his payday. Because he couldn't afford his insulin. "It shouldn't have happened," Smith-Holt says looking at her son's death certificate on her dining room table in Richfield, Minn. "That cause of death of diabetic ketoacidosis should have never happened."  The price of insulin in the U.S. has more than doubled since 2012. That has put the life-saving hormone out of reach for some people with diabetes, like Smith-Holt's son Alec Raeshawn Smith. It has left others scrambling for solutions to afford the one thing they need to live. I'm one of those scrambling. Most people's bodies create insulin, which regulates the amount of sugar in the blood. In the U.S., the roughly 1.25 million of us with Type 1 diabetes have to buy insulin at a pharmacy because their pancreases stopped producing it. My first vial of insulin cost $24.56 in 2011, after insurance. Seven years later, I pay more than $80. That's nothing compared with what Alec was up against when he turned 26 and aged off his mother's insurance plan.   Alec's pharmacist told him his diabetes supplies would cost $1,300 a month without insurance — most of that for insulin. His options with insurance weren't much better. Alec's yearly salary as a restaurant manager was about $35,000. Too high to qualify for Medicaid and, Smith-Holt says, too high to qualify for subsidies in Minnesota's health insurance marketplace. The plan they found had a $450 premium each month and an annual deductible of $7,600. "At first, he didn't realize what a deductible was," Smith-Holt says. "You have to pay the $7,600 out of pocket before your insurance is even going to kick in," she remembers telling him. Alec decided going uninsured would be more manageable. He died less than one month after going off of his mother's insurance. His family thinks he was rationing his insulin — using less than he needed — to try to make it last until he could afford to buy more. He died alone in his apartment three days before payday. The insulin pen he used to give himself shots was empty.

Five million deaths a year due to poor-quality health care -   A new analysis published in the Lancet this month reveals what can only be described as an epidemic of poor-quality health care in the world’s low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Researchers found that of the 8.6 million deaths worldwide treatable by health care, poor-quality care is responsible for an estimated 5 million deaths per year, more than the 3.6 million resulting from insufficient access to care.These findings are part of a two-year project of The Lancet Global Health Commission on High Quality Health Systems, which is the work of 30 academics, policymakers and health systems experts from 18 countries. The new analysis exposes that while some LMICs have made progress in improving access to care, this access is no guarantee of improved health. The total number of deaths attributed to poor-quality care is estimated to be five times higher than annual global deaths from HIV/AIDS.Researchers found that poor and more-vulnerable segments of the population in LMICs are far more likely to lack access to high-quality health care. “Quality care should not be the purview of the elite, or an aspiration for some distant future; it should be the DNA of all health systems,” said Dr. Margaret E. Kruk of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, who chairs the commission and is one of the study’s authors.The analysis shows that as social inequality continues to widen and the super-rich become increasingly richer, millions are dying because adequate resources are not allocated to promote public health and properly train medical professionals. The 8 million deaths in LMICs due to overall poor-quality health systems led to economic welfare losses of US$6 trillion in 2015 alone.The deadly impact of poor-quality care is found across Latin America, Africa, Asia, and eastern Europe, with India and Southern and Central Africa seeing the highest death rates. The researchers note that these are most likely conservative figures.

  • • In India, an estimated 1.6 million deaths were due to poor-quality health care, with an additional 838,000 deaths due to insufficient access to care.
  • • In China, 630,000 deaths per year were due to poor-quality care, with 653,000 deaths due to poor access.
  • • In Brazil, 153,000 deaths per year were due to poor-quality care, with 51,000 due to insufficient access.
  • • In Nigeria, 123,000 deaths per year were attributed to poor quality care, with 253,000 due to insufficient access.

It’s Hard for Doctors to Unlearn Things. That’s Costly for All of Us. -  We know it can be hard to persuade physicians to do some things that have proven benefits, such as monitor blood pressure or keep patients on anticoagulants. But it might be even harder to get them to stop doing things.In May, a systematic review in JAMA Pediatrics looked at the medical literature related to overuse in pediatric care published in 2016. The articles were ranked by the quality of methods; the magnitude of potential harm to patients from overuse; and the potential number of children that might be harmed.In 2016 alone, studies were published that showed that we still recommend that children consume commercial rehydration drinks (like Pedialyte), which cost more, when their drink of choice would do. We give antidepressants to children too often. We induce deliveries too early, instead of waiting for labor to kick in naturally, which is associated with developmental issues in children born that way. We get X-rays of ankles looking for injuries we almost never find. And although there’s almost no evidence that hydrolyzed formulas do anything to prevent allergic or autoimmune disease, they’re still recommended in many guidelines.Those researchers had reviewed the literature on overuse in children before, looking at all the studies from a year earlier. They modeled the work on a set of papers in JAMA Internal Medicine that looked at overuse in adults through a review of the literature published in 2015, 2014 and 2013. Overuse is rampant. And it can harm patients.

A physician shortage and the role of non-physician providers --Austin and I coauthored an article on the impending physician shortage, out in STAT today. We reason that while a physician shortage is likely, the best solution may not be more physicians.Specifically, we argue for expanded autonomy for non-physician providers and standardized scope of practice laws nationwide. The number of nurse practitioners, physician assistants, etc. is growing rapidly and they could play a critical role in improving access to care amid a physician shortage.We also suggest reforming the current resident physician training program – graduate medical education – for the sake of efficiency and simplicity.The U.S. has the best health care in the world but access to it is fading fast. Reforming graduate medical education may be needed to prepare for future workforce demands, but independent practice for non-physician practitioners is likely at the crux of an immediate solution. Go read the whole thing.

Healthcare Triage News: That Booze News? Look Past the Headlines and Don’t Panic The recent alcohol study made a lot of breathless headlines along the lines of “no amount of alcohol is safe!” Well, it turns out, there’s some value to looking at the nuances of the study. Aaron Carroll takes a look at the details. Soak it in. That Booze News? Look Past the Headlines and Don't Panic – YouTube  This episode was adapted from a column Aaron wrote for the Upshot. Links to sources can be found there.

MGM offers $500 donation to charity for each shooting survivor who waives notice of lawsuit - An unprecedented legal move by MGM Resorts International to sue surviving victims of the Las Vegas mass shooting took another unusual turn Tuesday when the casino-operator offered to make $500 charitable donations for each person who waives or has their lawyer accept legal notice of the lawsuits.The move is part of MGM's attempt to have a federal judge hear the cases and declare that the casino-operator has no liability for the mass shooting at one of its properties under a law enacted after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.The federal law cited by MGM limits damages against entities that implement security measures approved by federal officials.MGM has insisted its lawsuits, which don't demand money, are meant to avoid years of costly litigation.However, attorney Robert Eglet, part of a group representing victims, said MGM is just trying to "spin" its attempt to save money on serving legal notices."This is just more outrageous conduct by them," Eglet said.The mass shooting occurred Oct. 1 at an outdoor music festival when a high-stakes gambler opened fire on the venue from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay casino-resort, killing 58 people and injuring more than 800 others.Twenty-two thousand people were at the festival during the shooting. The company sued more than 1,900 of them in July and has been working to notify them of the lawsuits.As part of the offer, each victim would choose a charity that supports survivors or families of slain victims, and the donation would be made in his or her name. MGM could end up donating close to a $1 million if everyone took its offer.MGM says it would rather make the donations to charities than spend the money to pay people to serve the legal notices."The money spent on personal service of process — up to $250 per person — could be better directed to do some affirmative good," MGM's attorneys wrote in the letter shared with The Associated Press. If the offers are not accepted, "we will personally serve the complaints courteously and respectfully," MGM spokeswoman Debra DeShong said.

The Secret Drug Pricing System Middlemen Use to Rake in Millions - Not everybody reads the legal notices inside the Ottumwa Courier. But in January, Iowa pharmacist Mark Frahm noticed something unusual in the paper.For years, Frahm’s South Side Drug bought pills from distributors, and dispensed prescriptions to the Wapello County jail. In turn, the pharmacy got reimbursed for the drugs by CVS Health Corp., which managed the county’s drug benefits plan.As he compared the newspaper notice with his own records, and then with the county’s, Frahm saw that for a bottle of generic antipsychotic pills, CVS had billed Wapello County $198.22. But South Side Drug was reimbursed just $5.73.So why was CVS charging almost $200 for a bottle of pills that it told the pharmacy was worth less than $6? And what was the company doing with the other $192.49?Frahm had stumbled across what’s known as spread pricing, where companies like CVS mark up—sometimes dramatically—the difference between the amount they reimburse pharmacies for a drug and the amount they charge their clients.It’s where pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) like CVS make a part of their profit. But Frahm says he didn’t think the spread could be thousands of percent.“Middlemen have to make some money, but we didn’t expect it to be this extreme,” said Frahm, who said his pharmacy lost money in the jail account last year because CVS paid so little. “We figured everyone was playing fair.”

Billionaire Blamed For Opioid Crisis Patents New Drug To Fight Opioid Addiction - A member of the billionaire family that owns Purdue Pharmaceuticals, which is currently the target of multiple lawsuits over its complicity in perpetuating the opioid crisis, just received rights to a patent for a drug intended to curb the opioid crisis.Dr. Richard Sackler is listed as one of six inventors of the patent, which was approved in January but came to light this week in a report from the Financial Times. The patent office granted the rights to Rhodes Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Purdue. The patent is for a new version of the drug buprenorphine, which is already FDA approved in tablet and film form. The new version would come in wafer form, meaning it can dissolve more quickly. According to claims in the patent, the faster the treatment dissolves, the less risk of diversion among addicts The patent was granted amid lawsuits from 1,000 jurisdictions against Purdue Pharmaceuticals, which has been accused of marketing Oxycontin, a popular opioid, despite knowing the great risks of addiction the drug carried. Another suit targets the Sackler family directly. In 2014, Purdue received FDA approval for an opioid drug that claimed to help curb opioid addiction. As Anti-Media reported at the time, “Hysingla contains a potent dose of highly addictive hydrocodone—120 mg… Hysingla is taken once a day and releases over a 24-hour period.” The drug, which carried great potential for abuse, was approved without the input of an expert panel. The New York Times cited Dr. Andrew Kolodny, who at the time was the chief medical officer for Phoenix House, which runs non-profit addiction treatment centers (he is now the co-director of opioid policy research at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management). He questioned the drug’s approval, saying “addicts knew how to break down abuse-deterrent products for oral use, and that the 120-milligram tablets were particularly dangerous because they ‘pack an enormous amount of hydrocodone.’” Kolodny told FT that Dr. Sackler “could get richer” from the patent was “very disturbing.” He added: “Perhaps the profits off this patent should be used to pay any judgment or settlement down the line.”

What would happen if we all took smart drugs? - BBC - For centuries, all workers have had to get them through the daily slog is boring old caffeine. But no more. The latest generation has been experimenting with a new range of substances, which they believe will supercharge their mental abilities and help them get ahead. In fact, some of these so-called “smart drugs” are already remarkably popular. One recent survey involving tens of thousands of people found that 30% of Americans who responded had taken them in the last year. Two increasingly popular options are amphetamines and methylphenidate, which are prescription drugs sold under the brand names Adderall and Ritalin. In the United States, both are approved as treatments for people with ADHD, a behavioural disorder which makes it hard to sit still or concentrate. Now they’re also widely abused by people in highly competitive environments, looking for a way to remain focused on specific tasks. Amphetamines have a long track record as smart drugs, from the workaholic mathematician Paul Erdös, who relied on them to get through 19-hour maths binges, to the writer Graham Greene, who used them to write two books at once. More recently, there are plenty of anecdotal accounts in magazines about their widespread use in certain industries, such as journalism, the arts and finance. Those who have taken them swear they do work – though not in the way you might think. Back in 2015, a review of the evidence found that their impact on intelligence is “modest”. But most people don’t take them to improve their mental abilities. Instead, they take them to improve their mental energy and motivation to work. (Both drugs also come with serious risks and side effects – more on those later). One consequence of taking stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin is the ability to stick with mentally taxing tasks, especially those with a clear reward in sight at the end. One study found that people considered a maths task “interesting” when they were on the latter.If the entire workforce were to start doping with prescription stimulants, it seems likely that they would have two major effects. Firstly, people would stop avoiding unpleasant tasks, and weary office workers who had perfected the art of not-working-at-work would start tackling the office filing system, keeping spreadsheets up to date, and enthusiastically attending dull meetings. And secondly, offices would become significantly more competitive. This fits with the general consensus about the long-term side effects of smart drugs more generally, though whether it’s a good thing is debatable.

Young blood could be the secret to long-lasting health: study --Drinking young people’s blood could help you live longer and prevent age-related diseases, a study has found.  Blood factors taken from younger animals have been found to improve the later-life health of older creatures.The study, published in Nature, was conducted by researchers from University College London (UCL), who said it could reduce the chances of developing age-related disorders.Geneticist Dame Linda Partridge said these included cancer and heart disease. She told The Times: “I would say aging is the emperor of all diseases.”“A lot of people regard aging as ‘natural’ and that therefore you shouldn’t interfere with nature. But we’ve always considered it an ethical imperative to cure illness where we find it.”  The research is part of a wave of studies and trials backed by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel at a San Francisco start-up called Ambrosia. Separate trials by Ambrosia involved 70 participants, all 35 or older.After being given plasma — the main component of blood — from volunteers ages 16 to 25, researchers noted improvements in biomarkers for various diseases.Ambrosia currently offers teenage blood plasma to customers at a cost of $8,000 for 2½ liters.The UCL trials showed older mice did not develop age-related diseases after being given young blood.The mice also maintained sharp cognitive function.The opposite was true for younger mice injected with old blood. The study did not: “Research in animals is needed to establish the long-term consequences and possible side effects.”

Scientist Is 'Furious' the Media Misrepresented Her Research to Promote Drinking Teen Blood - A researcher is “furious” after a review on anti-aging science she published was misrepresented in the media as evidence that drinking blood can make you live longer—particularly because her research doesn’t actually say anything about drinking blood. After a review paper on research into anti-aging techniques was published in Nature last week, multiple publications quickly wrote about the magic of young blood. The New York Post straight up claimed that “a study” found that “drinking young people’s blood could help you live longer and prevent age-related diseases,” while the Sunday Times was more coy, stating that “scientists feast on the prospect of young blood ‘elixir.’”In a brief email exchange, Linda Partridge, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Germany and lead author of the review, said she was “furious” that her work had been misrepresented as evidence that drinking the blood of young people will help people live longer, and wanted people to understand the true nature of her research.The review looks at dozens of published studies into interventions for improving health as people age, such as increasing exercise and avoiding obesity.  Partridge and her co-authors also detail different techniques that have been tested on mice to reduce the effects of aging, including transfusing blood from human umbilical cords into older mice. According to the review, “this has recently been shown to rejuvenate hippocampal function in old mice, suggesting that there may be evolutionary conservation of the effector molecules between mice and humans.”

Antidepressants may cause antibiotic resistance  -A key ingredient in common antidepressants such as Prozac could be causing antibiotic resistance according to new University of Queensland research. A study led by Dr Jianhua Guo from UQ’s Advanced Water Management Centre focused on fluoxetine, a prescription drug used to help people recover from depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder or eating disorders. Dr Guo said while overuse and misuse of antibiotics is generally considered the major factor contributing to the creation of ‘superbugs', researchers were often unaware that non-antibiotic pharmaceuticals could also cause antibiotic resistance. “Our previous study reported that triclosan, a common ingredient in toothpaste and hand wash can directly induce antibiotic resistance,” he said.“We also wondered whether other non-antibiotic pharmaceuticals such as fluoxetine can directly induce antibiotic resistance.” Up to 11 per cent of the fluoxetine dose a patient takes remains unchanged and makes its way through to the sewer systems via urine. “Fluoxetine is a very persistent and well-documented drug in the wider environment, where strong environmental levels can induce multi-drug resistance,” said Dr Guo. “This discovery provides strong evidence that fluoxetine directly causes multi-antibiotic resistance via genetic mutation.” Fellow researcher Dr Min Jin said that under laboratory conditions, the higher the exposure concentration was, the faster the mutation frequency increased with time.

  What's With All The Planes Full Of Sick People? - Has anyone else found all those planes full of sick people rather alarming?  The first one that came to my attention was a flight into the United States from the Dubai.   On that plane headed toward JFK International Airport in New York City, approximately 100 passengers and members of the crew became ill. The CDC met the flight at the airport and determined that out of the plane full of 521 people, about a hundred of them self-reported fevers of over 100 degrees and coughing. 19 of those people were found to be ill, 10 or 11 (reports vary) of them enough to be hospitalized by the CDC and the other 500+ people on that plane were sent on their ways…all over the nation, as JFK is a hub for international flights. Some point to a particularly aggressive strain of the virus ravaging Mecca, where some of the passengers had recently spent time. (source) But don’t worry. CNN reported that it’s “just the flu or common cold.” No biggie. That was on September 5th. On the same day as the UAE flight was briefly quarantined, 147 passengers on a flight into the Perpignan airport in the south of France were held for over an hour when it was feared that a child on board the plane was suffering from cholera. “It is likely the child is carrying cholera and they will be evacuated to the hospital for examination,” said firefighters.. (source) The good news is that the little boy did not have cholera. He just had regular old vomiting and diarrhea during the flight. The following day, passengers from two different flights originating in Paris and Munich and landing in Philadelphia became ill enough for the CDC to be contacted. According to a Customs and Border Control spokesperson, 12 passengers, who had attended the hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia (sound familiar?) had complained of sore throats and coughs were not considered to be “extremely ill.” All 250 people on the two flights were assessed and everyone who wasn’t sick (yet) was released to go travel wherever it is that they were going. Possibly the strangest story yet is the one about the flight from Nigeria to London. The flight happened before all the other flights, but the information just came out on the news on the 8th. A Nigerian naval officer has been diagnosed with monkeypox but not until after everyone was already gone from the flight to their corners of the earth. Monkeypox is a rare viral zoonotic disease that occurs primarily in remote parts of central and west Africa, near tropical rainforests. Typically, case fatality in monkeypox outbreaks has been between 1% and 10%, with most deaths occurring in younger age groups.There is no specific treatment or vaccine available although prior smallpox vaccination was highly effective in preventing monkeypox as well. (source) The risk to the wider public is considered to be very low, PHE (Public Health England) said.  (source)  Monkeypox certainly sounds delightful.

First U.S. BPA Lab Study on Humans Finds Troubling Health Effects at Levels Deemed ‘Safe’ -- The first U.S. study of the effect on people of exposure to a hormone-disrupting chemical widely used in food packaging showed that levels the Food and Drug Administration deems "safe" can alter insulin response, a key marker for diabetes. The groundbreaking study, published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society, administered low doses of bisphenol A, or BPA, to 16 people, then tested their insulin production in response to glucose, commonly called blood sugar. When insulin and blood glucose levels were compared to the same measurements taken without exposure to BPA, researchers found that BPA significantly changed how glucose affected insulin levels. Similar insulin and glucose tests are used by doctors for diagnosing diabetes."We're living in an age where type 2 diabetes is rampant. Here is a signal of a new path to explore for what is causing it," Pete Myers, a co-author of the study, told Environmental Health News. "These troubling findings should raise alarms at the Food and Drug Administration and ignite renewed efforts to drastically reduce all Americans' exposure to BPA," said Alexis Temkin, Ph.D., an EWG toxicologist. "It's appalling that the FDA and other federal agencies continue to say current exposure levels to BPA are safe, and refuse to ban BPA from food and food packaging."The study also adds to the body of literature suggesting that insulin response could be a key link between BPA exposure and obesity. In recent years, studies from researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, Columbia University and the University of Michigan reported that children exposed to BPA had increased amounts of body fat.In the new study, people who were less effective at controlling blood sugar levels seemed more sensitive to BPA's effects. In addition to diabetes and obesity, it has been linked to ADHD in children and breast cancer in laboratory animals.

BPA-Free Plastics Are Just as Toxic as BPA-Laden Ones, Study Says. Here’s Why   - BPA is a chemical compound that has long been used to make plastic products including water bottles and to coat cans. But in recent years, following studies warning of the potential health consequences of minute traces, many companies have substituted similar chemicals into their food and drink containers that they then label “BPA-free.”The widespread use of BPA has, in theory, been reduced.The problem is that the chemical composition of BPS, short for bisphenol S, varies very little from BPA, or bisphenol A. This means that the supposed health benefits of replacing BPA with BPS and other similar compounds simply don’t exist, according to a new study in the journal Current BiologyAn estimated 93% of Americans have BPA in their bodies, potentially impacting the human body’s endocrine system and causing fertility complications in men and women, according to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). BPA has also been linked to early puberty in girls and genital deformation in boys, as well as metabolic conditions related to obesity and even some cancers.In the latest study, researchers from Washington State University and the University of California at San Francisco, wrote that the effects of bisphenol exposure can persist for several generations. That means that even if safe in small doses, the accumulation over time would continue to impact people’s health.The study wasn’t exactly intentional. When the authors noticed laboratory mice producing abnormal eggs and sperm, they looked for the cause and discovered replacement bisphenols were causing contamination. They then conducted subsequent studies to show how chromosomal abnormalities can persist for up to three generations.This isn’t even the first time the study authors have stumbled upon BPA’s effects in their labs. In fact, some of the authors of this most recent study are the same that authored a definitive report on BPA in the same journal in 2003 after noticing BPA contaminants in their labs caused female mice to produce chromosomally abnormal eggs.Over the years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said BPA is safe to use in food packaging. And food makers like Campbell Soup, Del Monte, General Mills continue to use BPA in cans and food packaging.A new FDA report expected in 2019 will no doubt set off further debate about how these chemicals should be used and labeled going forward.

U.S. “most dangerous” place to give birth in developed world, USA Today investigation finds - A USA Today investigation finds the United States is the "most dangerous place to give birth in the developed world." Every year in the U.S., more than 50,000 mothers are severely injured during or after childbirth and 700 die. USA Today's investigation, "Deadly Deliveries," claims women are dying and suffering life-altering injuries during childbirth because hospitals are not following long-known safety measures.  Maternal death in the United States has been steadily rising. The U.S. now has the highest rate in the developed world. USA Today conducted a four-year investigation into the nation's hospital maternity wards and spoke to several families who lost loved ones and to women who were permanently harmed during their deliveries. In one example, Ali Lowry had internal bleeding after having a baby by C-section. It took medical staff hours to act on the warning signs, and in that time she nearly bled to death. Ali needed a hysterectomy to stop the bleeding. She and her husband, Shaun, sued Knox Community Hospital in Ohio and settled out of court. The doctor and hospital denied wrongdoing, and Knox Community told CBS News it could not comment on the case due to patient privacy laws. "Experts say that about 50 percent of the deaths of women from childbirth-related causes could be prevented if they were given better medical care and that's a really surprising thing given that we're one of the wealthiest countries in the world and we spend so much on medical care. We're not just talking about the women who die, we're talking about 50,000 U.S. women who are suffering life-altering harms," USA Today investigative reporter Alison Young told "CBS This Morning" on Thursday.

September 11: nearly 10,000 people affected by 'cesspool of cancer' -- John Mormando was at a loss to explain his rare diagnosis – fewer than 1% of breast cancer cases occur in men, and he has no family history of the disease. Then colleagues reminded him of the months he worked close to the site of the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York’s World Trade Center. Tens of thousands of people who lived or worked in the neighborhood at the time found themselves breathing in air thick with toxic fumes and particles from the pulverized, burning skyscrapers. Many have since become sick, many have died and new cases are still occurring all the time that are linked back to the poisons that were in the air around the wreckage. The latest example is a cluster of men who have developed breast cancer, including Mormando. Now a commodities broker at the RJ O’Brien office in the city, he worked at the time at the New York Mercantile Exchange, a block away from the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, where extremists flew hijacked passenger jets into the center’s twin towers that morning in 2001, causing their collapse shortly afterwards.The site of the towers became known as Ground Zero and the attacks, which involved two other hijacked jets, one that was flown into the Pentagon and one that was brought down in a field on its way to Washington DC, collectively known as 9/11. “We went back to work exactly one week after 9/11, while the towers were still burning and everything else crumbled around us. We were told that the air was fine, and we needed to get back to work,” he said. “It was ridiculous. It was horrible. The smell downtown was as pungent as you could imagine. There were buildings still on fire. Those buildings burned for months.”Mormando, who is undergoing chemotherapy, is one of at least 15 men who spent time near Ground Zero and have now been diagnosed with breast cancer, according to their attorney, Michael Barasch. There are likely many more.The new cluster of male breast cancer diagnoses is just one face of a health crisis that is only getting worse 17 years after the terrorist attacks. As people who lost loved ones in the attack on lower Manhattan will gather on Tuesday once again to mark the anniversary, on the site of the towers, New York is nearing a grim milestone: 10,000 people diagnosed with cancer linked to 9/11.

New ‘Poison Papers’ Leak: EPA Knew About Many Dangerous Toxins, But Kept Quiet – video and transcript - Earlier this year The Real News reported on a trove of documents published in late 2017 known as the Poison Papers. These extensive files demonstrate that the EPA failed to fulfill its mandate long before Donald Trump was elected as United States president. The Poison Papers were analyzed and published by the Center for Media and Democracy and Dr. Jonathan Latham. They are a compilation of over 20,000 documents obtained from federal agencies and chemical manufacturers via open records requests in public interest litigation. They include internal scientific studies and summaries of studies, internal memos and reports, meeting minutes, strategic discussions, and sworn testimonies. The poison papers were recently augmented by a collection of documents from EPA whistleblower William Sanjour. Mr. Sanjour worked at the Environmental Protection Agency for over 30 years. Now here to discuss the Sanjour documents with us is Dr. Jonathan Latham himself. He is the co-founder and executive director of the Bioscience Resource Project and editor of the Independent Science News website. He holds a master’s degree in crop genetics and a Ph.D. in virology, and he joins us today from Auckland, New Zealand. Thank you for joining us again, Dr. Latham.

Research Links Long-Banned Insecticide DDT to Autism -- High levels of exposure to the insecticide DDT in women seems to more than double the risk of autism in their children, new research suggests. The study looked for a link between the development of autism and two common environmental chemicals -- DDT and PCBs. PCBs are chemicals that were used in many products, especially transformers and electrical equipment. In this study, they weren't linked to autism. Both DDT and PCBs have been banned in the United States and many other countries for more than three decades. Yet they're still present in soil, groundwater and foods. "They break down slowly over time. Even though they're not produced any more in the Western world, almost everyone is exposed to some of them," said study author Dr. Alan Brown. He's a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. "In our Finnish population-based sample of more than 1 million pregnancies, virtually all of the women had exposure to DDT and PCBs," Brown added. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects social skills and nonverbal communication and also can cause repetitive behaviors. Signs include avoiding eye contact, speech delays, behaviors such as flapping or rocking, and intense reactions to stimulation such as sounds or lights. The exact cause is unknown, but the disorder is believed to involve both genetic and environmental factors. Some studies have found links between autism and certain toxins.. 

Bayer Beware- Lawyers Claim To Have Explosive Monsanto Documents -- Lawyers involved in a California lawsuit against Monsanto claim to have "explosive" documents concerning the Bayer-owned agrochemical giant's activities in Europe, according to Euronews"What we have is the tip of the iceberg. And in fact we have documents now in our possession, several hundreds documents, that have not been declassified and some of those are explosive," said US lawyer Robert Kennedy Jr, adding"And many of them are pertinent to what Monsanto did here in Europe. And that's just the beginning."Monsanto - bought by Germany's Bayer AG in June for $66 billion, was ordered in August to pay a historic $289 million to a former school groundskeeper, Dewayne Johnson, who said Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller gave him terminal cancer. Monsanto says it will appeal the verdict.Environmental lawyers have been in Brussels in order to address a European Parliament special committee on the issue.  "They are fighting a fight for more democracy and for transparency and to get a better insight in how big corporation such as Monsanto act and try to manipulate the facts," said Belgium MEP Bart Staes.Last November EU approved the use of glyphosate - a key chemical in Roundup, following five years of heated debate over whether it causes cancer. While it was approved for just five years until 2022 vs. the usual 15 years, there are now rumors that they will withdraw Roundup's license this year altogether.  Labeled a carcinogen by the EPA in 1985, the agency reversed its stance on glyphosate in 1991. The World Health Organization's cancer research agency, however, classified the compound as "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. California, meanwhile, has the chemical listed in its Proposition 65 registry of chemicals known to cause cancer.

GMOs Are Not Agriculture's Future--Biotech Is -- It is clear to me agriculture needs to adapt. The only question is how can we move forward in a way that does not repeat the mistakes of the GMO (genetically modified organism) era? The answer lies in newer technologies that allow us to responsibly develop crops that never integrate non-native elements into a plant. This was the catastrophic mistake of GMO. Today’s science is very different and enables us to precisely target and direct a plant’s natural gene-editing process. This approach accelerates natural breeding that has been a staple of farming for thousands of years and is already proving to be a rapid, versatile and low-cost way to improve nutrition, increase crop yields and reduce waste.  In 1994 agribusiness giant Monsanto offered a partial answer when it introduced Roundup Ready soybeans and corn. Farmers flocked to these crops because they could use them in conjunction with Monsanto’s herbicide, which killed weeds that competed with crops for sunlight, water and nutrients. Regulators in many countries, including the U.S., deemed the product safe but the public continued to be concerned because such crops are transgenic, meaning that they have been created by the transfer of genetic material from unrelated living organisms.Despite 25 years of widespread use, public resistance to such transgenic crops has only grown, and this has limited enthusiasm for the further spread of GMO. This posed a dilemma. Agriculture needed a new engine to boost yields, but the public had no appetite for the further deployment of GMO. Enter precision gene editing, an entirely new approach to plant breeding that is radically different from what we know as GMO. Forty years ago scientists resorted to inserting foreign genetic material because in the 1970s no one knew how to precisely change particular genes associated with a specific trait. In other words, transgenic technology (GMO) was a kind of stopgap, used in the absence to tools to achieve what plant breeders have always wanted to accomplish: to make a particular change and obtain a particular result.

Citrus disease could kill California industry if Congress slows research, growers warn - A disease called citrus greening has devastated Florida’s citrus industry since its discovery in 2005. Agriculture officials are hoping they can stop it before California suffers the same fate. Congress is poised to continue spending $25 million a year into finding a way to stop it. But the money will not come without second thoughts. Lawmakers are debating a variety of aspects of the farm bill, and some have quietly suggested that the citrus research money could be shifted into a general agricultural research category.And while representatives of the citrus industry admit current progress on finding a cure — or lessening the impact of the disease — has been disappointing, they say the alternative is the death of the nation’s citrus industry. “I’ve been involved in this industry for a long time, and this is the biggest fight we’ve ever had,” said Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, an advocacy organization for California citrus growers. “It’s got us frustrated, it’s got us scared, it’s got us nervous.”As recently as 2012, Florida produced the vast majority of the nation’s oranges. California’s citrus production surpassed Florida’s after citrus greening infected about 80 percent of citrus trees in the Sunshine State — making the fruit bitter and unusable and permanently damaging the trees. Texas’s citrus production has also been effected by the disease. The disease is caused by a bacterium called Huanglongbing, which is passed by the Asian citrus psyllid, a tiny insect that feeds on the leaves and stems of citrus trees. It can easily spread to other neighboring trees, decimating a commercial citrus grove in a matter of years. There is no cure right now, only ways to slow down the disease. It was found in the Southern California city of Hacienda Heights in 2012.

New global study reveals the ‘staggering’ loss of forests caused by industrial agriculture -- A new analysis of global forest loss—the first to examine not only where forests are disappearing, but also why—reveals just how much industrial agriculture is contributing to the loss. The answer: some 5 million hectares—the area of Costa Rica—every year. And despite years of pledges by companies to help reduce deforestation, the amount of forest cleared to plant oil palm and other booming crops remained steady between 2001 and 2015.The finding is “a really big deal,” because it suggests that corporate commitments alone are not going to adequately protect forests from expanding agriculture.Researchers already had a detailed global picture of forest loss and regrowth. In 2013, a team led by Matthew Hansen, a remote-sensing expert at the University of Maryland in College Park, published high-resolution maps of forest change between 2000 and 2012 from satellite imagery. But the maps, available online, didn’t reveal where deforestation—the permanent loss of forest—was taking place. For the new analysis, Philip Curtis, a geospatial analyst working with The Sustainability Consortium,  trained a computer program to recognize five causes of forest loss in satellite images: wildfire, logging of tree plantations, large-scale agriculture, small-scale agriculture, and urbanization.The program’s decisions were based on mathematical properties of the images, which can help distinguish the larger blocky shapes of industrial agriculture from the smaller, irregular fields in shifting subsistence farming, for example. All told, about 27% of the total loss between 2001 and 2015 was due to large-scale farming and ranching, Curtis and his colleagues report today inScience. Such farming includes industrial plantations for palm oil, a valuable biofuel and a major ingredient in food, cosmetics, and other products. Forest cleared for those plantations is gone for good, whereas forest cleared for other purposes, including small-scale farming, typically grows back. (Urbanization, also a permanent conversion, made up just 1% of the total loss of forest.)

 Fraud in honey content | The Economist --ACCORDING to the National Honey Board, per person consumption of the regurgitated nectar has doubled in America since the 1990s. As demand has increased, prices have followed. Domestic production has not. In 2016 American bees produced 73,000 tonnes of honey, or 35% less than they did 20 years ago. This has given honey-sellers an incentive to dilute it with cheaper things like corn, rice and beet syrup. According to the US Pharmacopeia’s Food Fraud Database, honey is now the third-favourite food target for adulteration, behind milk and olive oil. The mismatch between domestic production and demand means America imports a lot of honey (203,000 tonnes of it in 2017). Most once came from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Mexico and Uruguay, but now nearly half comes from Asia. High tariffs are imposed on Chinese honey, disguised versions of which drizzle into America via China’s neighbours. Although there are tests to screen honey for things that do not belong in it, a newer test that uses nuclear magnetic resonance is more effective. In addition to screening for over 40 unnatural substances, it can spot the geographical origin and botanical source (clover, heather, hawthorn, etc). “Honey fraud”, cautions Mr Garcia, “is a threat to national food security.” The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is alert to the scourge of honey fraud, and has published guidelines which require any additives to honey to be listed as ingredients. But they are not legally enforceable. One problem is that the FDA’s definition of honey is rudimentary. It describes honey as “a thick, sweet, syrupy substance that bees make as food from the nectar of plants or secretions of living parts of plants and store in honeycombs.” This somewhat insults bees, who take great care to deposit, dehydrate and allow their honey to ripen in the honeycomb, a process which is important to its taste. Fraudsters often harvest prematurely, leaving the liquid with a high water content. Nor does this definition take a clear position on whether something sold as honey should be free of additives.

Lab-grown meat and the fight over what it can be called, explained - Lab-grown meat. Cultured meat. Cell-based meat. Clean meat. It’s all the same thing: meat grown from just a few cells from an actual animal. And although it’s years away from your supermarket, its potential to radically change animal agriculture as we know it is stirring up tensions.At the urging of traditional meat producers, Missouri passed a law in May prohibiting anything not “derived from harvested production livestock or poultry“ from being marketed as “meat” in the state. This week, advocates of lab-based meat sued, alleging freedom of speech infringement, just before the law went into effect on Tuesday.While the Missouri law covers both imitation meats — like the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger, which get their protein from plants — and lab-grown meat, they are not the same. Lab-grown meat is animal tissue, grown in a tank by putting a few cells in a growth medium and letting them reproduce. No plants.The lab-grown startups and their supporters believe that their products can one day make cows, pigs, and chickens — and even fish — obsolete. Memphis Meats, Just, Finless Foods, SuperMeat (in Israel), and Mosa Meat (in the Netherlands) are a few of the companies working on it. Nonprofits like the Good Food Institute and New Harvest are working to help fund them. And they have a compelling argument. If you could grow enough meat in a lab to satisfy at least some of the world’s meat demand, and if you could solve all the problems of animal welfare and environmental impact while you’re at it, why on earth wouldn’t you?

  China's Pig Market On Lockdown As African Swine Fever Spreads - A series of African Swine Fever outbreaks in China is “here to stay,” the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Friday, adding that it could spread to neighboring countries in Asia.On Wednesday, the FAO assembled an emergency meeting in Bangkok consisting of health experts, government officials, and industry participants from China and surrounding countries to develop a regional response to east Asia’s first outbreak of the disease.While the virus is not a direct threat to humans, it is extremely contagious and has a high mortality rate among pigs, and can have a devastating economic impact on meat producers.Apparently this is how they 'cull' pigs in #xuancheng city. #ASF #AfricanSwineFever pic.twitter.com/kq7BKXy50V— Björn Ooms (@Bjornooms) September 3, 2018“It’s critical that this region be ready for the very real possibility that African Swine Fever could jump the border into other countries," said Wantanee Kalpravidh, regional manager in Asia for the FAO’s Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases. “That’s why this emergency meeting has been convened.”Reuters said the virus was first detected in China last month and has been found in 18 farms with many cases more than 600 miles apart, the FAO said in a statement.With an abundance of pork farms across China, the FAO indicated the spread of the virus to neighboring countries is almost inevitable."The geographical spread, of which African Swine Fever has been repeated in such a short period of time, means that transboundary emergence of the virus, likely through movements of products containing infected pork, will almost certainly occur," said Juan Lubroth, chief veterinary officer at FAO.

China detects new African swine fever case in Anhui province (Reuters) - China on Monday reported another outbreak of the deadly African swine fever in the eastern province of Anhui as the highly contagious disease spreads further in cities that have already reported infections. China's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said in a statement on its website www.moa.gov.cn that 23 hogs have died and 63 were infected in the new case in Tongling city in Anhui. The outbreak is the 14th reported in China since African swine fever was first detected in the country on Aug. 3 and the eighth in Anhui alone. Cases have been found in five other Chinese provinces, including northeast China’s Liaoning, where the first outbreak occurred, and in some instances have been more than 1,000 km (621 miles) apart. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) last week said around 40,000 hogs had so far been culled in China in an attempt to stop the disease from spreading through the world’s largest pig herd. 

A deadly pig disease raging in China is bound to spread to other Asian countries, experts warn -African swine fever (ASF), a deadly virus in pigs and wild boar, continues to spread in China and will almost certainly wreak havoc in other countries in Asia soon. That's the somber conclusion from a meeting of animal health experts organized by the United Nations's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Bangkok late last week. "It's no longer ‘if’ [spread beyond China] will happen but when, and what we can do collaboratively to prevent and minimize the damage,” FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth said in a statement issued on Friday, at the end of the 3-day meeting. Veterinary authorities from 12 countries agreed to form a new network to share information and work jointly to control the spread of the disease.The virus that causes ASF doesn't infect humans, but the most virulent strains are nearly universally fatal for pigs. There is no vaccine and no cure, so controlling the spread of the disease requires destroying all animals on infected farms. The appearance of the virus in China in August—and its inevitable spread—threatens devastating economic losses for farmers and shortages of a vital source of protein for citizens of developing countries, particularly in East and Southeast Asia. China's agriculture ministry reported a new outbreak while the Bangkok meeting was in progress; the virus has now been found at 18 farms or slaughterhouses in six provinces, according to FAO. The outbreak sites are widely dispersed, indicating that shipments of pork products are spreading the disease; live animals aren't usually shipped over such long distances.

Investigation Exposes Animal Abuse at U.S. Supplier to World's Largest Meat Company -- In September of last year, two executives of JBS, the world's largest meat producer, based in Brazil, were arrested and charged with insider trading. In May 2017, the billionaire siblings—Wesley Batista, JBS's CEO, and his younger brother Joesley, the firm's former chairman—admitted to bribing more than 1,800 politicians and government officials, including meat inspectors, in an effort to avoid food safety checks.Now, new undercover video shot by a Mercy for Animals (MFA) investigator at Tosh Farms, a JBS pork supplier based in Franklin, Kentucky, exposes what the animal rights group calls the "malicious and systemic abuse of mother pigs and piglets."  Extreme Animal Abuse Uncovered at JBS Pork Supplier – YouTube   Tyler witnessed workers at Tosh Farms kicking and striking animals in their faces, ripping out the testicles of piglets without any pain relief, and even smashing the heads of piglets against the ground in order to kill them.Those piglets who did not immediately die were left to suffer, denied proper veterinary care. "A worker grabbed a piglet, just hours old, by the feet and swung him high and then slammed his head down against the hard concrete," said Tyler. "Any life left quickly vanished.""From the day pigs are born until the day they are violently killed for JBS pork, their lives are filled with misery and deprivation," said Matt Rice, president of MFA, in a press statement. "If JBS executives abused even one dog or cat the way their suppliers abuse millions of pigs, they would be jailed for cruelty to animals. As the largest meat company in the world, JBS has the power and responsibility to end this torture."

 More dead pigs? Hurricane threatens hog farms, sewage plants and people downstream - Hurricane Florence threatens to kill thousands of farm animals and trigger catastrophic spills of waste as it bears down on a Carolina coastal region dotted with sewage treatment plants, hog waste lagoons, poultry farms and coal ash ponds.Past hurricanes, including Matthew in 2016, caused numerous spills from sewage treatment plants and livestock farms, complicating the task of cleaning up after the storm. Florence poses an even more serious risk, especially if the Category 4 hurricane parks itself over the region and dumps record amounts of rain.Soil in much of the Carolinas is already saturated by several months of rainfall, adding to the potential risk of flooding and the collapse of earthen lagoons containing hog manure, coal ash or other types of waste.“It heightens the risk,” said Frank Holleman, a senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The fact that the soil is already wet means surrounding land has less capacity to absorb the water. That means these lagoons are at greater threat of being overwhelmed.”Hurricane Florence is so large it is certain to cause pollution releases in the Carolinas and Virginia, especially in urban areas that have combined sewer and storm-water systems. In 2016 and 2017, there were 136 sewage spills in an eight-county of eastern North Carolina, 36 of which were caused by severe weather, including 11 caused by Hurricane Matthew, according to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.

Wet weather brings rise in tick-related cattle deaths in Zimbabwe  - A combination of late, heavy rains and a shortage of cattle dip have contributed to a rise in tick-borne diseases in Zimbabwe this year, a government official said. As climate change brings more extreme and uncertain weather, as well as warmer conditions in many places, worries about such pest outbreaks are growning, experts say. Figures released by Zimbabwe's Department of Livestock and Veterinary Services (DLVS) showed tick-borne diseases killed 3,430 cattle between last November and May - nearly twice as many as died during the same period in 2013/14. DLVS Director Josphat Nyika said the incidence of the most lethal tick-borne killer - called theileriosis, also known as January disease - had shown a sharp increase. About half of the tick-borne fatalities - some 1,751 cattle - succumbed to theileriosis in this period, he said. That is nearly seven times as many cattle as were lost to the disease in the previous period, according to government figures. "The wet and warm weather contributed to rising cases of tick-borne diseases as the rainy season progressed into May this year," he said. And, he added, a shortage of foreign currency meant Zimbabwe had imported less cattle dip - known as acaricide - leaving the country facing "a serious shortage" of the tick killer. In Zimbabwe's rural communities, cattle are a common source of wealth - and draught power - and about 90 percent of the country's nearly 5.5 million cattle are owned by small-scale farmers, the government said. 

Wisconsin's Floods Are Catastrophic—and Only Getting Worse - AN ENTIRE SUMMER’S worth of rain has fallen across a broad swath of the Midwest in recent days. The resulting record floods have wrecked homes and altered the paths of rivers, in one case destroying a waterfall in Minnesota. The worst-affected region, southwest Wisconsin, has received more than 20 inches of rain in 15 days– more than it usually gets in six months.Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin declared a statewide emergency last week, mobilizing the Wisconsin National Guard to assist flood victims if necessary. The Kickapoo River in southwest Wisconsin rose to record levels — as high as six feet above the previous high water mark —producing damage that local emergency management officials described as “breathtaking.” In the tiny Wisconsin town of Gays Mills, this is the third catastrophic flood in 10 years. After floods a decade ago, about a quarter of the residents left, and the town was partially rebuilt on higher ground. But this time around is even worse—with almost every home in the town damaged. Is there a connection to climate change? Well, a warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapor, and the region’s main moisture source — the Gulf of Mexico — has reached record-warm levels in recent years, helping to spur an increase in precipitation intensity. But there’s more to it than that. Decades of development have also paved over land that used to soak up rainwater. Earlier this year, Wisconsin took controversial steps to loosen restrictions on lakeside development. Madison, home to the state’s flagship university, has seen the brunt of the flooding so far. The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s center that specializes in studying lakes is itself flooded.  On Twitter, the center posted maps of recent floods alongside projections for the worst expected floods later this century. They matched remarkably well.  For Eric Booth, a climate scientist at the university, the whole thing is almost too much to comprehend. His research project on small stream water temperatures was washed away by the flooding. “The scale of what is happening is absolutely unbelievable to witness,” Booth wrote in an email. Booth’s own calculations showed that rainfall over the past 30 days is an approximately 1-in-1,000 year occurrence, assuming a stable climate. (That, obviously, isn’t a good assumption anymore.)

House Sends Water Resources Infrastructure Bill to Senate with Unanimous Vote - The House of Representatives today unanimously approved bipartisan, comprehensive water resources infrastructure legislation, which includes the Water Resources Development Act of 2018 (WRDA). The bill will improve America’s harbors, ports, waterways, flood protection, and other vital water infrastructure.The America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (S. 3021), approved today by voice vote, is the product of negotiations and agreement between House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over various water resources and energy infrastructure issues.Title I of S. 3021 is WRDA 2018, which authorizes locally driven water transportation and resources infrastructure improvements, to be carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, that are critical to our economy and to protecting our communities. Additional titles of the bill address stormwater, wastewater, and drinking water infrastructure and hydropower development. WRDA:

  • Authorizes locally driven, but nationally vital, investments in our Nation’s water resources infrastructure.
  • Strengthens economic growth and competitiveness, helps move goods throughout the country and abroad, and protects our communities.
  • Follows the transparent process Congress established under the 2014 reforms for considering proposed Army Corps of Engineers activities.
  • Builds upon previous reforms of the Corps to further accelerate the process for moving projects forward more efficiently and at lower cost.
  • Upholds Congress’ constitutional duty to provide for infrastructure and facilitate commerce for the Nation.

What the world needs now to fight climate change: More swamps - For centuries human societies have viewed wetlands as wastelands to be "reclaimed" for higher uses. China began large-scale alteration of rivers and wetlands in 486 B.C. when it started constructing the Grand Canal, still the longest canal in the world. Today many modern cities around the world are built on filled wetlands. Large-scale drainage continues,particularly in parts of Asia. Based on available data, total cumulative loss of natural wetlands is estimated to be 54 to 57 percent – an astounding transformation of our natural endowment.Vast stores of carbon have accumulated in wetlands, in some cases over thousands of years. This has reduced atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and methane – two key greenhouse gases that are changing Earth's climate. If ecosystems, particularly forests and wetlands, did not remove atmospheric carbon, concentrations of carbon dioxide from human activities would increase by 28 percent more each year. Wetlands continuously remove and store atmospheric carbon. Plants take it out of the atmosphere and convert it into plant tissue, and ultimately into soil when they die and decompose. At the same time, microbes in wetland soils release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as they consume organic matter. Natural wetlands typically absorb more carbon than they release. But as the climate warms wetland soils, microbial metabolism increases, releasing additional greenhouse gases. In addition, draining or disturbing wetlands can release soil carbon very rapidly.For these reasons, it is essential to protect natural, undisturbed wetlands. Wetland soil carbon, accumulated over millennia and now being released to the atmosphere at an accelerating pace, cannot be regained within the next few decades, which are a critical window for addressing climate change. In some types of wetlands, it can take decades to millennia to develop soil conditions that support net carbon accumulation. Other types, such as new saltwater wetlands, can rapidly start accumulating carbon.Arctic permafrost, which is wetland soil that remains frozen for two consecutive years, stores nearly twice as much carbon as the current amount in the atmosphere. Because it is frozen, microbes cannot consume it. But today, permafrost is thawing rapidly, and Arctic regions that removed large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere as recently as 40 years ago are now releasing significant quantities of greenhouse gases. If current trends continue, thawing permafrost will release as much carbon by 2100 as all U.S. sources, including power plants, industry and transportation.

Toxic red tide algae moves north near Tampa Bay, killing hundreds of thousands of fish - The toxic algae bloom that has carved a trail of dead animals and triggered a putrid stench along western Florida's coastline has drifted further north, killing hundreds of thousands of fish in the Tampa Bay region.The legions of dead fish were reported in a 20-mile stretch of coastline from Clearwater to St. Petersburg, environmental officials with Pinellas County told the Tampa Bay Times on Saturday.County workers roamed beaches and trawled offshore to collect the fish carcasses to head off decomposition as some beachgoers turned back. Rotting fish and the strong odor of the algae has previously repelled locals and imperiled Florida's vital tourism sector for much of the summer. The toxic algae has claimed countless fish, hundreds of sea turtles, dozens of bottlenose dolphins and even a 26-foot whale shark in the past few months. The toxic algae stretches in varied density for about 120 miles of coastline, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said.  In August, Gov. Rick Scott (R) declared a state of emergency and released funds to help with the massive cleanup effort and help businesses recover from lost profits. The algae has affected the coast in some way for 10 months — and has become a key political issue in the midterms for Scott, a U.S. Senate hopeful. A red tide is a natural phenomenon that develops miles offshore before making its way to the coast, where it feeds on a variety of pollutants, including phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilizer, along with other runoff and wastewater. The toxins can aerosolize in the wind that drifts ashore, triggering respiratory problems or worsening conditions such as asthma. Until this past week, the red tide lurked south of Tampa Bay, the Times reported. But samples of high concentration of the algae have been found in waters near Clearwater Beach in the past few days.

Hundreds of seals are dying on the New England coast - Harbor and gray seals are dying by the hundreds from Southern Maine to northern Massachusetts, apparently from a combination of a measles-like illness and the flu.Late last month, the federal government declared the summer’s toll on seals an “unusual mortality event,” meaning federal resources would be provided to help understand and cope with the deaths.Teams have responded to more than 600 reports of dead or dying harborand gray seals, but there are probably more that have gone unreported or washed up on private property, said Mike Asaro, chief of the marine mammal and sea turtle branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “The total could be up to 1,000 at this point. We just don’t know,” he said.Marine mammal stranding agencies always expect to find some sick and deceased animals this time of year, as a percentage of newborn pups fail to thrive after weaning. But the carcasses washing up on New England beaches reveal an epidemic that’s touching all ages, said Katie Pugliares-Bonner, a senior biologist and necropsy coordinator for the New England Aquarium in Boston.Although research is still underway, the disease outbreak appears to be centered on the Isles of Shoals, a small group of islands off the coasts of Southern Maine and New Hampshire, Ms. Pugliares-Bonner said.Animals are suffering from phocine distemper virus, which is closely related to canine distemper in dogs, and a cousin of the measles, said Tracey Goldstein, a professor at the University of California, Davis, and a member of NOAA’s unusual mortality working group.Phocine distemper causes lung infections and seizures as it attacks the seal’s brain tissue. Some animals have washed up on beaches still alive, but lethargic and coughing, she said.

A powerful current just miles from SC is changing. It could devastate the East Coast. -- Off South Carolina, the ocean suddenly changes color, from green to deep blue. You’re in the Gulf Stream now, in warm and salty water from the tropics, with swordfish, tuna and squid, in a current so strong that it lowers our sea level.The Gulf Stream is one of the mightiest currents on Earth. It moves at a rate of 30 billion gallons per second, more than all of the world’s freshwater rivers combined. On its way, it hauls vast amounts of heat; a hurricane that twists into it gets a blast of fuel. It’s a highway for migrating fish and a destination for deep-sea fishermen. It courses through an area that oil companies want to probe; an oil spill in the Gulf Stream would spread far and wide. Though just 50 miles from Charleston, the Gulf Stream has so much momentum it tilts the sea level down like a seesaw. If you could walk on water, a trek from the Gulf Stream to Folly Beach would go downhill 3 to 5 feet. Put another way, without the Gulf Stream whisking all that water past us, our tides would be at least 3 feet higher. In 2009, the Atlantic’s system of currents, including the Gulf Stream, slowed by 30 percent in a matter of weeks. Sea levels in New England also rose 5 inches above normal. Scientists were stunned. The currents regained their strength a year later, but scientists wondered: Was this a blip? Has global warming somehow gummed up the currents? If so, what’s next? The race to understand the Gulf Stream and its associated currents is a deep dive into history, technology and recent aha moments in science. But the impact of this great current is undeniable. Changes in its velocity could rearrange marine life throughout the hemisphere. If it’s slowing for the long term — as a growing chorus of scientists fear — sea levels on the East Coast would rise more quickly, further threatening billions of dollars in shoreside property. It would alter weather patterns, affecting everything from hurricanes here to monsoons in India.

Hurricanes and wildfires overwhelmed FEMA in 2017, according to new GAO report - The Federal Emergency Management Agency was stretched thin and overwhelmed in 2017 by the sequence of major hurricanes and wildfires that caused disasters across the country, according to a massive Government Accountability Office “performance audit” released Tuesday. The GAO report concludes that FEMA generally carried out its duties as expected when responding within the continental United States — to hurricanes Harvey and Irma and the California wildfires — but it found that FEMA was not ready for what Hurricane Maria did to Puerto Rico. “They were completely overwhelmed from a workforce standpoint,” . “Once Maria hit, their staff resources were pretty exhausted. Their other commodities and resources were exhausted.” Some of the FEMA staff deployed to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands “were not physically able to handle the extreme or austere environment of the territories, which detracted from mission needs,” according to the report. FEMA officials told the auditors that “the physical fitness of staff could be assessed” before future deployments. At one point last October — as FEMA struggled to respond to multiple disasters — 54 percent of FEMA’s deployed workers were forced to perform tasks for which they did not meet the agency’s standard of “qualified,” the report states. And many staffers couldn’t speak Spanish, something that hindered efforts in Puerto Rico: “FEMA did not have enough bilingual employees to communicate with local residents or translate documents.” FEMA had problems locating people on the islands “because many affected areas did not have posted addresses, many individuals use nicknames instead of their given names, and often several families were located on a single property,” the report states. .

FEMA Left 20,000 Pallets of Water Bottles on Puerto Rico Runway for at Least Four Months --As the federal government prepares for Hurricane Florence this week, alarming photos are raising fresh questions about its response to Hurricane Maria last year. The photos, first reported by CBS Wednesday after going viral on social media the day before, show potentially millions of water bottles sitting on a runway in Ceiba, Puerto Rico nearly a year after the storm."If [FEMA] put that water on that runway there will be hell to pay ... If we did that, we're going to fess up to it," a senior FEMA official told CBS News' David Begnaud, who has covered the Maria recovery process extensively.However, in an interview with CBS Thursday morning, FEMA Deputy Administrator Daniel Kaniewski defended the placement of the water bottles.He said they were excess water bottles not needed during recovery that were taken out of storage and placed on the runway in January to save money."I'm confident that those that needed those bottles of water got them during the response phase and these were excess bottles of water that were, again, transferred to save money for the American taxpayer in January," Kaniewski said.

As Hurricane Florence Approaches, Document Shows Trump Admin Funneled Nearly $10 Million From FEMA to ICE -  As Hurricane Florence threatens the East Coast, a newly released document shows that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) transferred almost $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show reported Tuesday night.The document was released by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), who said he believed the transfer of $9,755,303 occurred this summer."$10 million dollars comes out of FEMA when we're facing hurricane season, knowing what happened last year, and then look what we've had since?" Merkley told Maddow, referring to Hurricane Lane's near miss with Hawaii, a tropical storm that hit Mississippi, and the oncoming Hurricane Florence. The money was earmarked for more detention beds and for ICE's "transportation and removal program," Maddow said. DHS confirmed that the transfers were made, but said they did not come from any of FEMA's "disaster response and recovery efforts," Maddow reported. "The money in question—transferred to ICE from FEMA's routine operating expenses—could not have been used for hurricane response due to appropriation limitations," Houlton said.However, Maddow and Merkley noted that the document does appear to show money coming out of "response and recovery."

Navy Evacuates 30 Warships Out Of Norfolk as Hurricane Bears Down - The US Navy is not taking any chances with Hurricane Florence. US Fleet Forces Command Public Affairs released a statement that Navy officials ordered all warships in the Hampton Roads, a body of water in Virginia and the surrounding metropolitan region in Southeastern Virginia and Northeastern North Carolina, to set Sortie Condition Alpha.  According to the report, 30 warships are actively departing from Naval Station Norfolk and Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek as Hurricane Florence is forecasted to bring Category 4 storm conditions to the Mid-Atlantic coast this week.UPDATE: #USNavy ships underway from Naval Station Norfolk following Sortie Condition Alpha order by @USFleetForces ahead of #HurricaneFlorence. Will be directed to areas of Atlantic Ocean where they will be best positioned to avoid the storm : https://t.co/XRMEeai9eC pic.twitter.com/Snp7TMdGxp — U.S. Navy (@USNavy) September 10, 2018   Officials have directed the vessels to regions of the Atlantic where they will evade the storm. The report did not mention where the ships were headed and indicated that not all warships were able to flee the naval ports. "Some units will not get underway due to maintenance status but will be taking extra precautions to avoid potential damage. Commanding officers have a number of options when staying in port, depending on the severity of the weather. Some of these options include adding additional mooring and storm lines, dropping the anchor, and disconnecting shore power cables," said Fleet Forces Public Affairs.  Additionally, the report stated all Navy installations in the Hampton Roads region are set Tropical Cyclone Condition of Readiness Three (III), meaning the Navy expects destructive winds of greater than 50 knots.

In Hurricane Florence’s Path: Giant Toxic Coal Ash Piles - Dozens of toxic coal ash piles across the Southeast are in the path of what is forecast to be days of torrential rains and flash flooding from Hurricane Florence.Environmental advocates are warning that the giant impoundments, often built beside waterways, are at risk of spills or collapsing.They've seen what extreme rainfall can do: When Hurricane Matthew crossed North Carolina two years ago, it caused a breach in a cooling pond, and coal ash leaked from a nearby coal ash basin at a power plant on the Neuse River.That was a Category 1 hurricane. Florence was headed toward the coastal Carolinas as a much more powerful storm, and it carried another threat: Meteorologists warned that Florence was looking a lot like Harvey, a slow-moving storm that parked itself over Houston last year and inundated parts of that city with 60 inches of rain.The National Weather Service on Wednesday warned of "life-threatening, catastrophic flash flooding and significant river flooding" over portions of the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic states from late this week into early next week as Florence arrives and moves inland.’

 Hurricane Florence has gas stations running dry as residents make a mad dash to fuel up - Gasoline shortages are spreading in North and South Carolina as locals brace for the impact of Hurricane Florence or evacuate their communities.While most stations still have fuel, some are running out and long lines have formed at others as supplies dry up.In Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, 11 percent of stations are out of gas, according to fuel-station finding appGasBuddy. In Wilmington, North Carolina, 10.5 percent of stations are out.Motorists lined up at a Carolina Petro station near the coast in Wilmington on Wednesday.Margie Garrabrand was among them. "I have a home in town so I'll be staying in town," she said.Outages are worsening in South Carolina, as well. In Charleston, 9.9 percent of stations don't have fuel. In both states, outages have more than doubled over the last 24 hours. In North Carolina, 4.8 percent of stations were out of fuel as of Wednesday morning, while 2.1 percent of stations were out in South Carolina, according to GasBuddy. To be sure, analysts don't expect gasoline to be extremely hard to find as Florence barrels toward the coast.But shortages are expected to get worse — especially in South Carolina — after new forecasts projected the storm would hit the state harder than expected. When "more of the purchases are condensed" into a small window, "gas stations are not able to keep up," said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.

 Hurricane Florence deluges Carolinas, makes landfall as Category 1 -- Hurricane Florence crashed ashore Friday in North Carolina, packing 90 mph wind and swamping the coast with torrential rain. Nearly half a million homes and businesses lost power, and 200 people have been rescued, authorities said.The hurricane had weakened to a Category 1 storm with maximum sustained wind of 90 mph as of 6 a.m. ET, the National Hurricane Center said. Florence was expected to swamp almost all of North Carolina in several feet of water, Gov. Roy Cooper told reporters. The National Weather Service said as much as 7 inches of rain had fallen overnight in some coastal areas.Florence was moving slowly toward the west at near 6 mph and was expected to head west-southwestward through Saturday, forecasters said. The slow movement ad life-threatening storm surges were expected to add to the misery."Already getting reports of quite a bit of storm surge in the water and that's one of the most deadly parts of these hurricanes," NHC Director Ken Graham said during a livestream.The long period of winds are driving the storm surge inland, up several rivers in North Carolina, where 7 feet of flooding or more is expected as far west as Greenville."In a situation like this with the hurricane force winds, all this water is blown right up into these river basins and, as a result, it piles up," Graham said. "You start getting flooding well inland."More than 415,000 homes and businesses were without power Friday morning, The Associated Press reported, citing poweroutage.us, which tracks the nation's electrical grid.More than 7,000 members of the military were on alert to help with rescue and recovery. In Jacksonville, North Carolina, home of the Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune, about 70 people were rescued from a hotel after officials found a basketball-sized hole in a wall and other life-threatening damage, AP reported.  Near New Bern, North Carolina., 150 were awaiting help, according to The News & Observer.About 10 million people could be affected by the storm and more than 1 million were ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia, jamming westbound roads and highways for miles. There are also tornado warnings across most of North Carolina.

Hurricane Florence live updates: Now a tropical storm, Florence has left at least 5 people dead. It's expected to drop more than 18 trillion gallons of rain. -- Hurricane Florence has been downgraded to a tropical storm, but its strong wind and heavy rain are still battering the Carolinas. The center of the storm moved toward eastern South Carolina on Friday night, hours after making landfall at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, hours earlier.The storm has killed at least five people in North Carolina.A mother and baby died when a tree crashed into their home, the Wilmington Police Department said on Twitter Friday afternoon. A 78-year-old man was killed while trying to connect two extension cords outside in the rain, ABC News reported citing Lenoir County Emergency Services Director Roger Dail.The storm was also implicated in the death of a woman who suffered a heart attack, since emergency crews couldn't reach her due to a fallen tree, as The Wall Street Journal reported. And a man was blown away by strong winds while outside checking on his dogs. The man's family found his body Friday morning, according to Dail.The storm's center made landfall at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina on 7:15 a.m. ET Friday morning.Winds up to 70 mph are still lashing the coast, and a storm surge up to 12 feet high is expected in some areas, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). The storm could drop up to 40 inches of rain in some spots, causing "catastrophic" floods and a "life-threatening" situation, the NHC said.

North Carolina didn't like science on sea levels … so passed a law against it - When North Carolina got bad news about what its coast could look like thanks to climate change, it chose to ignore it.  In 2012, the state now in the path of Hurricane Florence reacted to a prediction by its Coastal Resources Commission that sea levels could rise by 39in over the next century by passing a law that banned policies based on such forecasts. The legislation drew ridicule, including a mocking segment by comedian Stephen Colbert, who said: “If your science gives you a result you don’t like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved.” North Carolina has a long, low-lying coastline and is considered one of the US areas most vulnerable to rising sea levels. But dire predictions alarmed coastal developers and their allies, who said they did not believe the rise in sea level would be as bad as the worst models predicted and said such forecasts could unnecessarily hurt property values and drive up insurance costs.  As a result, the state’s official policy, rather than adapting to the worst potential effects of climate change, has been to assume it simply won’t be that bad. Instead of forecasts, it has mandated predictions based on historical data on sea level rise.   “They need to use some science that we can all trust when we start making laws in North Carolina that affect property values on the coast.” The legislation was passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature and allowed to become law by the then governor Bev Perdue, a Democrat who neither signed nor vetoed the bill.The law required the coastal resources commission to put out another study in 2015, looking at expected sea level rise. That report looked only 30 years ahead, rather than a century. It found that the rise in sea level during that time was likely to be roughly 6in to 8in, with higher increases possible in parts of the Outer Banks. Some outside studies have offered more dire warnings. A report last year by the Union of Concerned Scientists said 13 North Carolina communities were likely to be “chronically inundated” with seawater by 2035.

Super Typhoon Mangkhut is hurtling toward 37 million people in Asia with winds of 180 mph - Super Typhoon Mangkhut is hurtling through the Pacific, boasting maximum wind speeds of 180 mph that threaten millions of people across Asia in what is estimated to be one of the strongest systems on record.  The system is hovering some 280 miles, or 450 kilometers, from the Philippines.According to the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System, the Philippines, Vietnam, and the Chinese regions of Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macau are among places likely to be affected. In all, nearly 37 million people are estimated to be in Mangkhut's path. GDACS estimates that the typhoon will have a "high humanitarian impact" based on the high wind speeds and the exposed population located in vulnerable areas.Mangkhut, which is equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane, has prompted mass evacuations in the Philippines. Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat, the commander of North Luzon forces, said 2,000 families had been evacuated from their homes as of Friday. Tens of thousands more have been evacuated from China's Guangdong province, CNN reported. The super typhoon is expected to touch down on the Philippines' largest island, Luzon, on Saturday. The Philippines' flagship airline has canceled flights to cities in northern Luzon. The Philippine budget airline Cebu Pacific, along with multiple Hong Kong airlines including Cathay Pacific, also announced flight changes.

A Record 7 Named Storms Are Swirling Across The Globe – Has 'The Day After Tomorrow' Arrived? - Is something extremely unusual happening to our planet?  At this moment, Hurricane Florence is just one of seven named storms that are currently circling the globe.  That matches the all-time record, and it looks like that record will be broken very shortly as a couple more storms continue to develop.  Back in 2004, a Hollywood blockbuster entitled “The Day After Tomorrow” depicted a world in which weather patterns had gone mad.  One of the most impressive scenes showed nearly the entire planet covered by hurricane-type storms all at once.  Of course things are not nearly as bad as in that film, but during this hurricane season we have definitely seen a very unusual number of hurricanes and typhoons develop.  As I mentioned above there are currently seven named storms that are active, but an eighth is about to join them, and that would break the all-time record And actually there is an additional storm that is also developing in the Pacific which could bring the grand total to nine. Overall, there have been 9 named storms in the Atlantic and 15 names storms in the Pacific since the official start of the hurricane season.That is not normal.In fact, one veteran meteorologist has said that he has “NEVER seen so much activity in the tropics”...Far from being the biggest threat facing the US coastline this hurricane season, Florence will be followed by several other storms that rapidly strengthening in the Atlantic. As one veteran meteorologist remarked, “in my 35 years forecasting the weather on TV, I have NEVER seen so much activity in the tropics all at the same time.”Meanwhile, the biggest storm on the planet is actually in the Pacific Ocean.Super Typhoon Mangku is a Category 5 hurricane, and it absolutely dwarfs Hurricane FlorenceThe devastating force of Hurricane Florence is nothing when compared to the category 5 hurricane sweeping over the Pacific Ocean, Super Typhoon Mangkhu. With winds close to 180mph, the fierce hurricane is feared to land over a mountainous terrain in the northern Philippines on Friday night, before moving over the South China Sea and potentially impacting Hong Kong and Vietnam.

Scientists get ready to begin Great Pacific Garbage Patch cleanup -- A team of scientists and engineers will on Saturday begin an ambitious cleanup of plastics in the Pacific Ocean targeting a stretch of water three times the size of France known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. A 600m-long floating barrier will be launched off the coast of San Francisco and, powered by currents, waves and wind, will aim to collect five tonnes of plastic debris each month. The marine apparatus known as System 001 is the brainchild of the Dutch inventor Boyan Slat who founded The Ocean Cleanup at the age of 18 in 2013. Along with 70 staff he has spent the last five years testing 273 models and six different prototypes as part of the $20m (£15.5m) Netherlands-based project before arriving at the current design – nicknamed “Wilson” in reference to the famous volleyball from the film Castaway. System 001 graphic The structure comprises 60 adjoining units forming a giant C-shaped tube attached to a three-metre deep impenetrable skirt which will collect plastic waste of 1cm diameter and larger, as well as discarded fishing nets, as it skims the ocean’s surface. The cleanup system will be towed out past Alcatraz and beneath the Golden Gate Bridge into the Pacific Ocean where it will undergo two weeks of operational testing at around 250 nautical miles (463km) offshore before starting its mission. The system will be equipped with location-broadcasting technology in order to stop vessels from running into it. The team expects to remove the accumulated debris every six weeks using a support vessel before transferring the plastic waste to the Netherlands to be recycled. 

Official defends Trump plan to revamp Endangered Species Act - A top Trump administration official on Monday defended a plan to revamp the Endangered Species Act, saying the proposed changes would result in more effective, quicker decisions on species protection. Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt dismissed criticism by environmental groups that the plan would "gut" crucial protections for threatened animals and plants. "That's laughable," he said, adding that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and other officials "respect the law" and know the law. While he disagrees with critics, Bernhardt said he recognizes that any plan to change the 45-year-old law was bound to create controversy. "People are passionate about the Endangered Species Act, and that's a good thing," he said. Bernhardt told an audience at the conservative Heritage Foundation that the Obama administration too often "strayed" from the law to focus solely on species protection without regard for costs to nearby land owners or businesses. "The reality is there is a cost" to listing a species as endangered or threatened, Bernhardt said. "It's not a free choice by society." The "true costs" of the species law "are often borne by folks who just happen to be in a certain geographical area" where an endangered animal lives, he added. Conservatives have long complained that the law hinders drilling, logging and other activities while failing to restore endangered species to unprotected status. 

Zinke Increases Hunting and Fishing Areas in 30 Wildlife Refuges - Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is expanding or opening hunting in 30 National Wildlife Refuges, the Department of the Interior (DOI) announced Friday. The move will open more than 251,000 acres and raise the total number of places where hunting is permitted to 377 and where fishing is permitted to 312. The expansion will be in effect in time for the 2018-2019 hunting season. Federal law mandates that hunting and fishing can only take place in wildlife refuges if it does not conflict with conservation, The Hill pointed out.  Refuges to be opened to certain types of hunting and fishing for the first time include Florida's Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge to turkey hunting, Illinois' Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge to migratory bird and game hunting, Maine and New Hampshire's Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge to turkey hunting, Michigan'sShiawassee National Wildlife Refuge to additional migratory bird, small game and furbearer hunting, Minnesota's Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge to some gamebird and small mammal hunting, Montana'sSwan River National Wildlife Refuge to big game hunting, New Jersey's Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge to wild turkey and squirrel hunting, New Mexico's Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge to Eurasian-collared dove and Gambel's quail hunting, North Dakota's J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge andLostwood National Wildlife Refuge to moose hunting, Ohio's Cedar Point National Wildlife Refuge to white-tailed deer hunting, Ohio's Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge to certain gamebird, small mammal and furbearer hunting, Pennsylvania's John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum to white-tailed deer hunting and Wisconsin 's Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge to certain gamebird, small mammal and furbearer hunting.

Millions of Acres of 'Public' Land Are Not Legally Accessible –  Nearly 10 million acres of federal land in the rural West lie locked behind private holdings that prevent the public from using the property for recreational activities like hiking or hunting, a new report says. The inaccessibility of this federal property is slowing down rural economies that depend on income from the outdoor recreation industry, said a representative of the organization that commissioned the report.“At 9.52 million acres, the massive scale of the landlocked problem represents a major impediment to public access and the growth of the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy,” said Joel Webster, Western lands director with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. The study, “Off Limits But Within Reach: Unlocking the West’s Inaccessible Public Lands,” was conducted by the Conservation Partnership and a private mapping company.“These are lands that all Americans own, and yet public access is not readily available or guaranteed,” Webster said.  The problem is that these federal lands are surrounded by private property and have no public easement that allows hunters, anglers, cyclists or other users to gain access to the public land.

 Shall We Kill the Hay Exports or the Cows? - Exporters are hitting back at calls for the Federal Government to seize hay supplies destined for Japan and China, saying it will bring about the end of a $500 million industry.  Many drought-stricken farmers have taken to social media calling for a halt to hay exports as demand on domestic supplies reach unprecedented levels. CEO of the Australian Fodder Industry Association, John McKew, said there has been an extraordinary turnaround in demand as an oversupply in 2017 turned into a shortage. “We’ve hit this situation where demand has just gone unbelievably strong for fodder products,” he said. “There’s always going to be hay in the system, but in terms of what’s available commercially, we’re about as low as you’d want to go.” With almost 1.2 million tonnes exported, 2017 was a record year for the industry, but Mr McKew said exports represent 10 to 15 per cent of the total supply.He said the export industry has taken three decades to build, and that major competitors in north America are ready to step in should Australian exports stumble.“The relationships that have taken this long to build, you cannot just turn export markets on and off, so if we were to turn our export fodder industry off at anytime, it’s gone — we won’t get it back,” Mr McKew said. Mr McKew said a seizure of hay exports now would mean the collapse of the domestic hay market once the drought finally breaks and supplies return to a significant surplus. “We get to the stage where we’ve got a lot of stock available in the industry, what do we do with that?” Northern Victorian hay grower, Luke Felmingham, said calls for a seizure of hay exports are short-sighted and “farcical”. Managing Director of Haylink Marketing and Logistics in South Australia, Alister Turner, said with new crops of hay still growing, export supplies should be used to help farmers in the short term.“It’s something we’d have to manage very carefully because to alleviate a short-term domestic crisis, we in no way want to damage our very valuable and established export hay industry,” Mr Turner said.“It’s a little frustrating to see carryover of contracts of export hay still sitting in sheds with the new crops almost upon us, when we desperately need hay for our drought regions in particular, and our dairy farms.” While Mr Turner said a seizure of export supplies would be a draconian measure, exporters and governments need to come to some sort of an agreement.

The Colorado River is evaporating, and climate change is largely to blame   - Over the last century, the river’s flow has declined by around 16 percent, even as annual precipitation slightly increased in the Upper Colorado River Basin — a vast region stretching from Wyoming to New Mexico.  New research published in the journal Water Resources Research argues that over half of this decline is due to sustained and rising temperatures in the region, which ultimately means more water is evaporated from the river, diminishing the flow. But it’s really been in the last twenty years that matters have deteriorated into a major drought, edging the region toward a potential water-rationing crisis. It's the worst drought in Colorado River history.“The river since 2000 has been in an unprecedented decline,” Brad Udall, coauthor of the new study and senior water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University, said in an interview. “There’s no analog, from when humans started gauging the river, for this drought,” said Udall. To be clear, tens of millions of Americans are not yet imperiled by the drought, but trouble lies in the years ahead.If trends continue, Udall previously projected considerable declines of Colorado River flow by around 20 percent in the next 30 years. By the century's end, this number could increase to 35 percent. The Southwestern U.S. cities dependent on the Colorado River for life and prosperity will have to adapt to a world that’s now warming at an accelerating pace. "We need to adapt to drier circumstances," Karl Flessa, a geoscientist at the University of Arizona who studies water policy in the U.S., said in an interview.  In practice, this means using significantly less water both in communities and agriculture (which drinks some 80 percent of the Colorado River), Flessa, who had no involvement in the study, said. 

California has 129 million dead trees. That’s a huge wildfire risk. -- California has a problem to the tune of 129 million dead trees, spread across 8.9 million acres. That’s 6,450 times the number of trees in Central Park, truly “astronomical,” in the words of Heather Williams, a spokesperson for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.In dry, hot times like these, the record number of decaying ponderosa pines, sugar pines, and other towering species can become kindling for errant sparks, fallen power lines, cigarette butts, and lightning strikes.The bumper crop of kindling helps explain why this has been the worst year on record forCalifornia wildfires. Already, more than 876,000 acres have burned in California, compared to 228,000 last year at the same time. The Mendocino Complex Fire, now almost fully contained at more than 459,000 acres, is the single largest fire on record in state history. The largest fire before that, the Thomas Fire, was just put out in January this year. These recent fires have barely made a dent in the glut of dead trees, CalFire says, and peak fire season in Southern California is still to come later this year.The die-off, meanwhile, that’s created so much fuel is a symptom of the years-long drought that has parched the Western United States. With limited water, trees have shriveled up or succumbed to bark beetle infestations, with some of the most severe declines in central California. And as the climate warms and more people move into high-risk areas, the damages from wildfires are projected to increase. Here is a map of how the die-off has progressed over the last four years: State fire officials are well aware that these trees pose an immense fire hazard, but controlling them is not as simple as cutting them all down. For starters, the sheer number of these trees is poses an immense logistical challenge. Nearly 1.3 million trees have been removed so far, but many are in remote areas where it’s difficult to bring tree harvesting equipment. It’s also expensive to try to process so many trees. Lumber companies can sell some of the wood to recoup their expenses, but many of the trees are too decayed or structurally unsound to sell. There are jurisdictional hurdles as well, since the forests span federal, state, and private land.

Forest-thinning measures likely dead in Congress, despite Trump, California Republicans - For more than a month, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue have been calling for a rollback of environmental regulations on forest-thinning projects they argue will help reduce the risk of wildfires, including the ones ravaging California.“For too long, our forest management efforts have been thwarted by lawsuits from misguided, extreme environmentalists,” Zinke and Perdue wrote in a Sept. 4 op-ed in The Sacramento Bee. “The time has come to act without flinching in the face of threatened litigation.”The state’s Republicans in Congress have been pressing the same agenda for years.Congress, however, is poised to brush aside their pleas. Multiple sources on Capitol Hill and from advocacy groups affirmed that lawmakers are likely to drop most of the controversial forestry measures from the Farm Bill, the multi-year agriculture and land use law that members of Congress are trying to finalize this month.“I see a common-sense, practical policy agenda emerging on wildfire management,” said Peter Nelson, director of federal lands at the Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation group. Indeed, federal and state policymakers are increasingly acknowledging that forests in California and throughout the west have become badly overgrown, and a more proactive policy of controlled burning and forest clearing is necessary. The question is how big a part logging should play in the solution, and how rigorous the review process should be for tree thinning proposals.Defenders of Wildlife and other environmental advocates are vociferously opposed to weakening environmental review standards for large-scale forest thinning projects, as the House-passed Farm Bill proposes. Those provisions were not included in the Senate version of the legislation.

Firefighters battle to gain on blazes across Northern California -- Interstate 5, the state’s main north-south transportation artery, will remain closed indefinitely by the raging Delta Fire, authorities said Sunday. The freeway has been shut down since Wednesday afternoon in both directions for a roughly 45-mile stretch from 10 miles north of Redding to 3.6 miles south of Mount Shasta. With I-5 closed, drivers — many of them truckers — are forced to take a lengthy detour on highways 229 and 89 that adds two hours or more to the trip. The Delta Fire is burning mostly to the northwest and north, Vaccaro said. The fire, which has scorched 40,903 acres and was just 5 percent contained Sunday night, burned intensely throughout Sunday with high temperatures and dry vegetation. The fire’s eastern flank has connected with already burned areas of the Hirz Fire, where containment lines are restraining both fires. Fire officials said those shared lines account for the 5 percent containment. In Napa County, the Snell Fire, which ignited Saturday near Lake Berryessa, grew to almost 2,000 acres in 24 hours. It grew by 500 acres Sunday to 2,400 acres, forcing evacuations of Berryessa Estates, Snell Valley Road and the west side of Berryessa-Knoxville Road from the Pope Creek Bridge to the Napa-Lake county line. According to California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection officials, about 180 homes are threatened. The fire was burning in grassy oak woodlands at a moderate rate of spread in remote areas that make access more difficult. It was being fought by 1,241 firefighters on 31 crews. It was just 20 percent contained Sunday evening. Its cause is under investigation. Meanwhile, firefighters were extending containment lines around the Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Complex burning in Lake, Mendocino and Colusa counties. The fire northeast of Ukiah was 98 percent contained and could reach full containment Monday. The conflagration began July 27 and has burned through 459,123 acres. It is the state’s largest wildfire, far exceeding the previous record-holder, the Thomas Fire, which consumed 281,893 acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in December.Off of Interstate 80 near Emigrant Gap in Placer County, the North Fire was 77 percent contained Sunday after burning 1,120 acres and closing several campgrounds last week. Some of those campgrounds were reopening Sunday. The U.S. Forest Service had reported the acreage at nearly 1,300, but downsized the estimate after getting better mapping.The Hirz Fire, northeast of Redding, was 95 percent contained Sunday after charring 46,150 acres.

2018 now worst fire season on record as B.C. extends state of emergency - The B.C. government has extended the provincial state of emergency because of wildfires that have now burned more area than any other season on record. As of Tuesday, more than 12,984 square kilometres of the province had burned, pushing past the previous record set just one year earlier. As 534 fires continued to burn on Wednesday morning, the province announced that it has extended the state of emergency through to the end of the day on Sept. 12. About 3,200 people have been removed because of the wildfires, and another 21,800 are on alert. In the catastrophic wildfire season of 2017, which saw 65,000 people forced from their homes, 12,161 square kilometres of British Columbia went up in flames. Scientists suggest there are several reasons for the severity of the last two wildfire seasons in B.C., including a lack of controlled burning and aggressive firefighting efforts that have allowed potential fuels to build up across the province. But they say a change in weather patterns driven by climate change has pushed things over the edge, bringing warmer, drier weather and more lightning to B.C. This year, 1,467 fires have been started by lightning and another 443 by human activity. 

Hot nights: Summer low temperatures were warmest on record in the lower 48 - Americans seeking to cool off after long, hot days this summer found little relief in the dark of night. Windows were shut, and air-conditioners kept humming as low temperatures averaged over the nation were the warmest in over 120 years of records.In its latest climate report, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced the hot nights pushed the average summer temperature to its fourth-warmest level on record, tied with 1934.The average high temperature ranked 11th warmest in records that date back to 1895, but the average low was a record-warm, 2.5 degrees above average, and 0.1 degrees above the previous record in 2016.“Every state had an above-average summer minimum temperature with five states record warm,” the report said. As greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere keep increasing, overnight low temperatures are warming “nearly twice as fast as afternoon high temperatures,” according to NOAA. “[T]he 10 warmest summer minimum temperatures have all occurred since 2002,” it wrote.Such warm nights have important consequences. They increase heat stress on the homeless and those without air conditioning, which can lead to heat-related illness and death. At the same time, they require increased use of air-conditioning for those with access, which adds more heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.Day and night combined, almost the entire nation notched above average temperatures during the June to September summer months.From the Great Plains to the East Coast, the warmth was accompanied by frequent downpours. In the Northeast, in particular, the combination of warmth and above normal rainfall led to record-challenging humidity levels. The waterlogged air, more difficult to cool, was a key factor in the record high nighttime temperatures.

Heat killed a record number of people in Phoenix last year as days, nights grow warmer -   Heat killed 172 people in the Phoenix area last year, a record for a second consecutive year as rising temperatures take a worsening toll in the country’s hottest major city. Health officials recently revised the 2017 tally of heat-associated deaths in Maricopa County, raising it from 155 after concluding a number of pending investigations. The updated toll is 11 percent higher than the 150 heat-related deaths recorded in 2016, and more than double the 85 deaths tallied in 2015. The climbing figures show the Phoenix area has a great deal of work to do in expanding efforts to prevent heat-related deaths and illnesses. The area has been getting hotter because of the combined effects of human-caused climate change and the local urban heat-island effect. Those effects have pushed more days and nights above temperature thresholds that threaten outdoor workers, the elderly and other vulnerable people. So far this year, health officials have confirmed 18 heat-related deaths. Although that's fewer than at this time last year, the causes of 128 deaths are still under investigation. At the same time last year, 33 deaths were confirmed and 131 deaths were under investigation. The first confirmed death this year occurred in May. Officials don't expect to have a final tally until the heat season is over, well into fall.  "People need to be aware of the choices that they’re making as far as their activities and taking appropriate steps to mitigate those if they can’t abstain from those activities." 

Limiting Warming to 2°C Would Prevent ‘Worldwide Increases’ in Heat-Related Deaths -- Restricting global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels would prevent large increases in temperature-related deaths across much of the globe, a new study finds.And keeping warming to 1.5°C—the aspirational target of the Paris agreement—would further limit the number of people dying from temperature extremes in some parts of the world, including in southeast Asia and southern Europe.However, in some countries with a cooler climate, such as the UK, Ireland and Japan, overall temperature-related deaths would be higher at 1.5°C of warming than 2°C. This is because the additional 0.5°C of warming is expected to bring a bigger drop in winter deaths than the increase in deaths in hot summers, the researchers say.The findings—which draw on data taken from 451 locations in 23 countries—show that, overall, taking steps to meet the 1.5°C limit could prevent "a hell of a lot of people" from  dying as a result of temperature extremes in tropical countries, a study author tells Carbon Brief. During a heatwave, the number of "heat-related deaths"—whereby exposure to heat either causes or significantly contributes to a death—tends to increase. For example, research shows that, during a heatwave, the risk of death from a heart attack is higher. Heatwaves are also associated with increased rates of suicide.However, research also suggests that, as temperatures warm, numbers of "cold-related" deaths—which are caused by exposure to cold weather and winter illnesses—could decrease in some regions. Whether or not this "cold effect" could partially offset the expected rise in heat-related deaths has long  been debated by scientists. The new study, published in Climatic Change Letters, seeks to solve this conundrum by comparing the expected number of heat- and cold-related deaths in 23 countries under different levels of global warming. (see graphic)

Global hunger levels rising due to extreme weather, UN warns - Progress made in the past decade has been reversed, with climate extremes such as droughts and floods identified as a main cause. Global hunger has reverted to levels last seen a decade ago, wiping out progress on improving people’s access to food and leaving one in nine people undernourished last year, with extreme weather a leading cause, the UN has warned. Hunger afflicted 821 million people last year, the third annual rise since 2015, with most regions of Africa and much of South America showing worsening signs of food shortages and malnutrition. More than half a billion of the world’s hungry live in Asia. The reversal of progress made in slowing malnutrition in the first half of this decade has caused serious concern among international agencies. Climate shocks, such as droughts and floods, were identified by the UN as “among the key drivers” for the rise in 2017, along with conflict and economic slowdowns. Nearly 100 million people were left dependent on humanitarian aid during the year. The UN report covers last year, and does not take account of 2018’s extreme weather which has brought heatwaves and high temperatures to much of the northern hemisphere, accompanied by droughts in some parts of the globe and floods in others. However, the changing climatic trends are likely to spell trouble for years ahead. According to the report, there are more undernourished people in areas of the world that are highly exposed to extremes of climate. The authors note that there have been more frequent spells of extreme heat in the last five years, and that the nature of rainfall is changing in some areas, with rainy seasons starting earlier or later. Staple crops such as wheat, rice and maize are particularly at risk from climate extremes. “It is shocking that, after a prolonged decline, this is the third consecutive year of rising hunger,” 

UN sees 70% chance of El Nino event this year - The World Meteorological Organisation forecast "a 70 percent chance of an El Nino developing by the end of this year," a WMO statement said. El Nino is triggered by periodic warming in the eastern Pacific Ocean which can trigger drought in some regions, heavy rain in others. "WMO does not expect the anticipated El Nino to be as powerful as the 2015-2016 event, but it will still have considerable impacts," the statement said. The organisation sees increased odds of higher surface temperatures in most of Asia-Pacific, Europe, North America, Africa and along much of South America's coastline. Interior parts of South America, Greenland, many south Pacific islands and some in the Caribbean were identified as possible exceptions. WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas noted that 2018 "is on track to be one of the warmest on record," after especially high temperatures in July and August across several parts of the world.

As global warming raises sea levels, Bangkok struggles to stay afloat -- Bangkok, built on once-marshy land about 1.5 metres (five feet) above sea level, is projected to be one of the world's hardest hit urban areas, alongside fellow Southeast Asian behemoths Jakarta and Manila. "Nearly 40 per cent" of Bangkok will be inundated by as early as 2030 due to extreme rainfall and changes in weather patterns, according to a World Bank report. Currently, the capital "is sinking one to two centimetres a year and there is a risk of massive flooding in the near future," said Tara Buakamsri of Greenpeace. Seas in the nearby Gulf of Thailand are rising by four millimetres a year, above the global average. The city "is already largely under sea level", said Buakamsri. In 2011, when the monsoon season brought the worst floods in decades, a fifth of the city was under water. The business district was spared thanks to hastily constructed dikes. But the rest of Thailand was not so fortunate and the death toll passed 500 by the end of the season. Experts say unchecked urbanisation and eroding shorelines will leave Bangkok and its residents in a critical situation. With the weight of skyscrapers contributing to the city's gradual descent into water, Bangkok has become a victim of its own frenetic development. Making things worse, the canals which used to traverse the city have now been replaced by intricate road networks, said Suppakorn Chinvanno, a climate expert at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. Shrimp farms and other aquacultural development -- sometimes replacing mangrove forests that protected against storm surges -- have also caused significant erosion to the coastline nearest the capital. This means that Bangkok could be penned in by flooding from the sea in the south and monsoon floods from the north,

China launches first homemade polar icebreaker - (Xinhua) -- China has launched its first domestically built polar research vessel and icebreaker "Xuelong 2" or "Snow Dragon" which will be operational in the first half of 2019.The vessel was deployed in Shanghai on Monday and will go through a series of tests and interior decoration before beginning official operations, according to its builder Jiangnan Shipyard Group.The launch of the vessel has extensively boosted China's polar research and expedition capabilities, said the builder.The vessel is 122.5 meters long and 22.3 meters wide, with a displacement of 13,990 tonnes and a navigation capability of 20,000 nautical miles. It can sail on 60-day expeditions with 90 crew members and researchers."Xuelong 2" is able to turn quickly, has high safety standards, and strong icebreaking abilities. It also has two-direction icebreaking capabilities with both its bow and stern.Construction of the vessel started in December 2016.

The danger of Arctic Methane - As the Arctic regions warm up, undersea and underground methane reservoirs will increasingly begin to out-gas into the atmosphere. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, and increases in atmospheric methane will significantly speed up global warming and its effects.  In the Arctic regions of Northern Canada and Siberia, there exists a layer of permafrost which acts as a "lid" or a "seal" over vast reservoirs of methane gas. This is especially the case in an area known as the Eastern Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS), an underwater shelf in the Arctic Sea to the North of Eastern Siberia. This is an area of reasonably shallow sea, with a mean depth of 50 metres. Below the bottom of this shallow sea is a layer of "subsea permafrost" which has remained permanently frozen for many thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years. Beneath this layer of subsea permafrost is what is known as a "sedimentary basin" - a geological feature which is essentially made up of sediment depositions over a very long time (most likely to be from the many rivers that flow out of Eastern Siberia into the Arctic Ocean). Along with river sediments, the basin was also filled up with the biomass of plants and animals from ages past. Over time, this biomass was subjected to heat and pressure, and turned into methane. The situation now is that heat from global warming is now beginning to melt the ice cap. Data from the past few decades has shown that the Arctic ice cap is quickly melting, and there is a reasonable expectation that the ice cap will completely melt during a northern summer some time in the next 10-15 years.  Once the ice cap has melted and phase transition is no longer an issue, the temperature of the Arctic ocean will begin to steadily increase. Moreover, a greater mixture of the water column will occur due to the effects of wind and waves - presently this process is prevented over much the north pole during winter by the presence of sea ice, which stratifies water temperature. With a greater mixing of warmer water with water from the bottom, a heat pulse will begin to melt the subsea permafrost. As this subsea permafrost melts, cracks called gas migration pathways will open up, leading to a release of the methane trapped under the ice seal into the water. With only 50 metres of sea level, the methane will quickly exit the water and enter the atmosphere, where it will spread over the globe. It is estimated that there are 5 gigatonnes of methane currently in our atmosphere. It is also estimated that the ESAS contains 100s to 1000s of gigatonnes of Methane beneath the permaforst seal. The chances are that 50 gigatonnes of methane could be released into the atmosphere within the next few decades, at most 100 years. A tenfold increase in atmospheric methane would lead to a major acceleration in warming.

Trump Administration Wants to Make it Easier to Release Methane Into Air  - — The Trump administration, taking its third major step this year to roll back federal efforts to fight climate change, is preparing to make it significantly easier for energy companies to release methane into the atmosphere.Methane, which is among the most powerful greenhouse gases, routinely leaks from oil and gas wells, and energy companies have long said that the rules requiring them to test for emissions were costly and burdensome.The Environmental Protection Agency, perhaps as soon as this week, plans to make public a proposal to weaken an Obama-era requirementthat companies monitor and repair methane leaks, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times. In a related move, the Interior Department is also expected in coming days to release its final version of a draft rule, proposed in February, that essentially repeals a restriction on the intentional venting and “flaring,” or burning, of methane from drilling operations. The new rules follow two regulatory rollbacks this year that, taken together, represent the foundation of the United States’ effort to rein in global warming. In July, the E.P.A. proposed weakening a rule on carbon dioxide pollution from vehicle tailpipes. And in August, the agency proposed replacing the rule on carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants with a weaker one that would allow far more global-warming emissions to flow unchecked from the nation’s smokestacks.  Industry groups praised the expected changes. “It’s a neat pair” of proposals on methane, said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, an association of independent oil and gas companies that is based in Denver. The Obama-era E.P.A. methane rule, she said, “was the definition of red tape. It was a record-keeping nightmare that was technically impossible to execute in the field.”

Carbon dioxide emissions fall as nation uses less coal and more natural gas --The electric power industry made such a dramatic shift last year away from coal and toward natural gas and renewable energy sources, contributing to the industry's 4.6 percent decrease in emissions of carbon dioxide, the Energy Department reported. The decline was enough to offset emissions increases from all other business sectors. Electricity producers cut their emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere and increases worldwide temperatures, by relying more on natural gas, a cleaner, more efficient fuel source that uses less energy to generate each kilowatt hour of power. Electricity generation from wind and solar power is also on the rise which does not emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. RELATED: NRG is back promoting solar power Less demand for electricity is also playing a role in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, the government reported. Electricity sales last year were the lowest they've been since the economic recession in 2009. The government attributed last year's lower sales to milder weather. Cooler summers don't require as much energy for air conditioning and warmer winters lowers the need for heating. Overall, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions decreased last year to 5.14 billion metric tons, about 1 percent lower than they were in 2016. Energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide have fallen in seven of the past 10 years, the Energy Department reported, and are 14 percent lower than what they were in 2005.

Is Nationalization an Answer to Climate Change? - Earlier this month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., proposed a slew of measures to rein in corporate power, the centerpiece of which was ensuring that 40 percent of corporate boards be comprised of workers, rather than just shareholders. While it’s a novel idea in the United States, this sort of corporate co-governance is standard fare in Germany, Europe’s largest economy — and a heartily capitalist one at that.None of that stopped the right from losing its collective mind about the idea. The National Review’s Kevin Williamson called Warren’s notion a plan to “nationalize every major business in the United States of America,” which would “constitute the largest seizure of private property in human history.” The actual plan, of course, would do no such thing. At its most radical, Warren’s proposed bill — titled the “Accountable Capitalism Act” — would essentially bring American capitalism more in line with its Western European counterparts, and also closer to what that economic system looked like here before the shareholder revolution encouraged corporations to focus narrowly on short-term profits.If the right is freaking out about a plan as modest as Warren’s, what will it do once the left actually starts putting nationalization on the table? The United Kingdom might find out soon enough, and in the process become one of the only countries to take the problem of climate change seriously, by letting the state — not just market tweaks — play a driving role in the transition away from fossil fuels.  With Theresa May’s Conservative government looking increasingly weak, it’s possible that the opposition Labour Party in the U.K. — under the leadership of socialist Jeremy Corbyn — could take power in the coming years, or even months. Among the party’s top-line demands is nationalizing or renationalizing several basic services.   Labour’s climate plans extend well beyond nationalization, too. The party hopes to factor climate and the environment into just about every level of Britain’s economic decision-making, including climate concerns in forecasts created by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility, which reports to the Treasury — a rough amalgam of the U.S.’s Office of Management and Budget.  “What we’re trying to do is say that if we can do it — the oldest industrial nation, where the first industrial revolution started — if we can do it, it can provide an example for others,” McDonnell said. “But it needs a recognition that you cannot rely upon market forces to do this.”

Yellen Touts Carbon Tax as ‘Textbook Solution’ to Climate Change - Former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen says a tax on carbon dioxide emissions would do more to combat climate change than a slew of federal environmental regulations being undone by the Trump administration. Yellen joins former Walmart Inc. Chairman Rob Walton, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers and former Secretary of State George Shultz in delivering a pitch for the carbon tax-and-dividend plan, released Monday along with an analysis of its potential emissions reductions. “From the standpoint of an economist, the most efficient way to tackle climate change is to tax emissions -- to create a disincentive to emit carbon dioxide,” Yellen said in an interview before the report’s release. “It’s the right solution to a problem, and it’s collected in a way that is practical and feasible.” The proposal has the backing of a broad coalition of prominent conservatives, economists and corporations that have united as the Climate Leadership Council and developed a multiyear strategy for advancing the initiative on Capitol Hill. Corporate supporters, which have a roughly $2.4 trillion market cap, include Exxon Mobil Corp. and three other oil giants as well as the largest U.S. automaker, General Motors Co.; utility, Exelon Corp., and telecommunications firm, AT&T Inc. Will Judges Have the Last Word on Climate Change?: QuickTake The campaign is the broadest, most serious effort in years to put a price on the carbon dioxide emissions that drive climate change. The proposed tax aims to increase the cost of energy derived from oil, natural gas and coal, thereby discouraging the use of those fossil fuels and encouraging the free market to develop low-carbon power alternatives.

With a shrinking EPA, Trump delivers on his promise to cut government - WaPo --  During the first 18 months of the Trump administration, records show, nearly 1,600 workers left the EPA, while fewer than 400 were hired. The exodus has shrunk the agency’s workforce by 8 percent, to levels not seen since the Reagan administration. The trend has continued even after a major round of buyouts last year and despite the fact that the EPA’s budget has remained stable.  Those who have resigned or retired include some of the agency’s most experienced veterans, as well as young environmental experts who traditionally would have replaced them — stirring fears about brain drain at the EPA. The sheer number of departures also has prompted concerns over what sort of work is falling by the wayside, from enforcement investigations to environmental research.According to data released under the Freedom of Information Act and analyzed by The Washington Post, at least 260 scientists, 185 “environmental protection specialists” and 106 engineers are gone.  Several veteran EPA employees, who have worked for both Republican and Democratic administrations, said the agency’s profound policy shifts under Trump ­hastened their departure.   Ann Williamson, a scientist and longtime supervisor in the EPA’s Region 10 Seattle office,  left in March after 33 years at the agency, exasperated by having to plan how her office would implement President Trump’s proposed cuts and weary of what she viewed as the administration’s refusal to make policy decisions based on evidence. “I did not want to any longer be any part of this administration’s nonsense,” she said.

Kavanaugh’s views on EPA’s climate authority are dangerous and wrong --Donald Trump’s latest Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh accepts that humans are causing global warming and we need to take action to stop it.  The problem is that he doesn’t trust the experts at EPA to do so and wants to erode their authority to regulate carbon pollution. When discussing Chevron and climate change, we usually focus on the company’s legal liability.  However, in Kavanaugh’s context, ‘Chevron deference’ is even more important.  The term refers to the fact that courts will generally defer to government agency interpretations of laws as long as Congress hasn’t spoken directly to the issue at hand.  David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council noted that Kavanaugh doesn’t believe Chevron deference applies on issues of major importance.  In a recent net neutrality case, Kavanaugh argued, “While the Chevron doctrine allows an agency to rely on statutory ambiguity to issue ordinary rules, the major rules doctrine prevents an agency from relying on statutory ambiguity to issue major rules.” That’s Kavanaugh’s position on climate change.  In oral arguments before his DC Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2016 Clean Power Plan case, Kavanaugh said: This is huge case … it has huge economic and political significance … it’s fundamentally transforming an industry by telling existing units you in essence have to pay a penalty, a huge financial penalty in order to continue to exist, in order to shift from coal plants to solar and wind plants, at the same time the coal mining industry is in essence greatly harmed, as well. But while regulating carbon pollution would have a major impact on the fossil fuel industry, the same is true of most pollutant regulations.  It’s nevertheless EPA’s job to regulate pollutants, and the agency has been doing exactly that since its inception.

FBI Mysteriously Closes New Mexico Observatory - An observatory in New Mexico has been unexpectedly closed due to an unnamed "security issue," prompting evacuations and a visit from the FBI. The Sunspot Observatory is now currently closed to both staff and the public, with no word on why or when it will be open again. “We have decided to vacate the facility at this time as precautionary measure,” said spokesperson Shari Lifson to the Alomogordo Daily News. “The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy who manages the facility is addressing a security issue at this time.” Lifson said that the facility was first evacuated on September 6 and has remained closed since then. According to Lifson, the observatory has no date for reopening yet. As part of the investigation into the security issue, the observatory has contacted the FBI, which has been reported on the scene with multiple agents and a Blackhawk helicopter. According to local sheriff Benny House, the agency has been working with local law enforcement but refuses to share any details.  “The FBI is refusing to tell us what’s going on,” said House. “We’ve got people up there that requested us to standby while they evacuate it. Nobody would really elaborate on any of the circumstances as to why.”

 Update: Authorities not saying a lot as Sunspot Observatory remains closed - Sunspot Observatory was closed and evacuated Sept. 6 due to an undisclosed security risk. Federal officials aren't saying why it was closed, and the silence has led to international media coverage and plenty of speculation.Authorities remain tight-lipped.The FBI referred all questions to the group that manages the site, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy. Officials there say they’re working with authorities.AURA released a statement Friday, stating it has "decided that the observatory will remain closed until further notice due to an ongoing security concern. The rest of the National Solar Observatory (NSO) facilities remain open and are operating normally."“Nothing’s changed from last week,” AURA spokeswoman Shari Lifson said by phone Thursday afternoon. Lifson offered no further information.Security guards from Alamogordo private security firm Red Rock Security were posted at the observatory's gate on Thursday due to the amount of curious visitors who have come to the site since the closure, said Red Rock security guard Angel Escalante.Approximately 35 people had come to the site by Friday afternoon, she said."(Thursday) was way worse and that's why they had us come up here — tons of people were trying to get in," Escalante said. The guards are stationed at the gate around the clock, but they have not been in the facility and have no more of an idea about what's going on than anyone else, Escalante said. "We're just mainly right here making sure people don't come past this point," said Red Rock guard Joe Mangum. "Everybody was evacuated, and from that point, that's as far as they can go."

Europe’s renewable energy strategy will destroy forests and harm climate -Leading climate scientists have denounced the EU’s decision to push wood as a “renewable” energy source. They say the move will likely result in both a boost in greenhouse gas emissions across Europe and devastation of some of the world’s most ancient forests. Not only are forests home to much of the planet’s biodiversity, they absorb climate-damaging CO2 from the atmosphere and are therefore considered a vital buffer against climate change.Despite this, earlier this summer European officials decided – against the advice of hundreds of scientists – that wood could be considered a low-carbon fuel, meaning that trees can be cut down directly to burn.The thinking behind this action, which would double Europe’s use of renewable energy by 2030, is that new trees can be planted to replace the forests that have been removed.However, in a paper published in the journalNature Communications, scientists have outlined what they see as the flaws in this logic.  Burning forests releases a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere, and it can take many years for the new trees to absorb enough carbon to make up for the quantity that has been released.

German forest activists brace for eviction in anti-coal fight - German activists living in treehouses to protect an ancient forest from being razed for a nearby coal mine were bracing Thursday for a forced eviction by police, in a major escalation of the long running environmental battle. Hundreds of police officers descended on the area in the early morning, after local authorities ordered the Hambach Forest in western Germany to be cleared immediately, citing fire hazards.Dozens of protesters are holed up in some 60 treehouses, some as high as 25 metres off the ground. The occupation began in 2012 and their presence had until now been quietly tolerated.But the state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, Armin Laschet, told local broadcaster WDR late Wednesday that this was "an illegally occupied area" and accused the protesters of being violent.The activists, who are protesting the expansion of energy giant RWE's  massive open-pit lignite mine, one of Europe's largest, have vowed to  peacefully resist the evacuation."For many of us this is home. Some of us have lived here for years," a tree-dweller who gave his name only as Freddy told DPA news agency. A spokesman for the city of Kerpen said the forest dwellers had been told by megaphone to clear the site.

 Trump Says He’ll Save Coal Power Plants, But Even Utilities Know He's Blowing Smoke - The Trump administration’s latest idea to “bring back coal” is to let individual states decide how – or even whether – to cut air pollution from coal-burning power plants. The plan is meant to encourage electric utilities to invest in upgrading their dirty, aging coal plants or build new ones.It’s a reckless scheme that would threaten the health of Americans and worsen climate change – and even the utilities aren’t buying it.The Washington Examiner queried some of the nation’s biggest utilities and couldn’t find any who would “commit to improving their coal plants, or re-evaluate planned coal plant retirements because of the Trump administration's new rule.” Instead, the companies plan to continue shutting down money-losing coal plants and instead relying on electricity generated by natural gas and renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power.The White House could have anticipated this response.  In a survey of 600 utility companies released earlier this year, Utility Dive reported:After more than a century, the utility industry appears to finally be putting this baseload fuel (coal) out to pasture.  Nearly 60% of 2018 survey participants predict a significant decrease in their usage of coal in coming years, and a further 26% a moderate decrease. Virtually no one foresaw any increase in their coal use.This is mixed news.On one hand, a source of power devastating to public health, clean air and water, and the climate is on its way out. On the other hand, despite utilities’ limited embrace of renewables, the big driver in coal’s demise is cheap natural gas. Natural gas plants emit far less carbon dioxide and lung-damaging soot than coal-fired power plants, but the extraction of natural gas through hydraulic fracturing is a public health disaster. Utilities refer to natural gas as a clean resource and a way to reduce their carbon footprint, but this is far from the truth.  The amount of methane that leaks from fracking rigs and other natural gas infrastructure is likely to be 60 percent higher than what the Environmental Protection Agency forecasts. Methane is 80 times more potent in fueling climate change than the carbon dioxide emitted by coal plants.   A growing body of research shows how fracking pollutes air and water. One study found that low birth weights in newborns are more frequent for mothers living near fracking sites.  A recent study by Duke University found that from 2011 to 2016, the toxic wastewater produced by fracking has risen by a factor of 14.

 Major Pa. anthracite coal mine project to be financed by $1 million grant - Coal could be coming out of the ground as early as next month at what is described as the largest current development in the commonwealth's anthracite region. The rain has to let up for that to occur, Gregg Driscoll, president and chief executive officer of the Blaschak Coal Co., said Tuesday. The company, based in Mahanoy City, is in the process of reopening an old surface mine north of Route 61 between Mount Carmel and Centralia in Columbia County. "We're excited about it," he said. The state recently approved a $1 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant to help fund the project. The company sought $4.5 million. Blaschak, owned by Milestone Partners Inc., a Radnor-based investment firm, expects to spend $13 million to reopen and provide equipment for the mine, Driscoll said. It already has invested a little more than $10 million, he said. Preparation work includes removing material placed in the pit by the owner, Mallard Contracting, as part of a reclamation process, Driscoll said. Blaschak has signed a 20-year-lease with the Helfrick family that owns Mallard and anticipates mining between 200,000 and 300,000 tons of ready-to-burn anthracite annually, he said.

Nearly 200 clean-up workers sickened or dead from 2008 Tennessee coal ash spill -- Almost a decade after the worst coal ash spill in US history, clean-up workers are dying from exposure to arsenic and radium.The spill took place in December 2008 at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Kingston Fossil Fuel Power Plant, in the Swan Pond community of Roane County, Tennessee, near the city of Knoxville. The disaster smothered 300 acres of land and over two-dozen homes in 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash, releasing 140,000 pounds of arsenic into the nearby Emory River—more than twice the reported amount of arsenic discharged into US waterways from all US coal plants in 2007.A recent USA Today Network-Tennessee investigation into the cleanup, testing, and treatment of workers revealed what can only be described as a horrendous social crime against the working class. Last year, more than 50 workers and workers’ survivors filed a lawsuit against Jacobs Engineering, the company hired by the TVA to oversee the cleanup, citing the company’s failure to provide workers with the necessary protective clothing, as well as failing to reveal the toxic nature of the coal ash. By March of this year, there were over 180 new cases of dead and dying workers. At least 30 workers have died, and at least 200 are estimated to be sick with lung diseases, cancers, and skin conditions.  Testing by the state’s Department of Environment and Conservation before the TVA took over cleanup found levels of arsenic 36 times higher than in the surrounding soil. During the recovery work, workers were putting in more than 70 hours a week for months, or even years, while exposed to “dust devils of fly ash” without protection. According to USA Today, the internal investigation found that the TVA had treated toxic chemicals and metals “like it was garbage in a kitchen.” The newspaper uncovered video evidence that Jacobs Engineering contractors lied to cleanup workers about the danger of the chemicals they handled. One site safety manager, Tom Bock, was captured on video declaring that the workers could eat coal ash on a daily basis “without harm.” The firm reportedly “refused to provide protective gear, threatened to fire them if they brought their own, manipulated toxicity test results and abandoned testing for the most dangerous chemicals entirely well before the seven-year cleanup effort ended.” A TVA official admitted to refusing to provide respirators even after they were ordered by workers’ doctors, and threatening to fire workers who continued to request protective gear.  “These men were treated like collateral damage, and they fell between the cracks in this toxic place.”

1 Dead, Dozens Injured In Gas Explosions In Lawrence, Andover and North Andover -  At least one person died and thousand of residents in three Merrimack Valley communities were urged to evacuate from their homes after a series of gas explosions ignited fires in the area.The affected communities are Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence, died after a chimney from a house explosion fell on the car he was in on Chickering Road, the Essex County district attorney's office said in a statement late Thursday.About 20 other people, including at least one firefighter, were injured and being treated at local hospitals as a result of the explosions or fires.A map shared on Twitter by Massachusetts State Police showed 70 confirmed incidents of fires, explosions or gas odor investigations as of 7:25 p.m.:State police troopers, emergency responders from surrounding Massachusetts towns and cities, and public safety officials from New Hampshire, rushed to the scene to assist.At least 10 people were being treated at Lawrence General Hospital for issues ranging from smoke inhalation to traumatic blast injuries, the hospital said around 9 p.m. At least one patient was in critical condition, another was in serious condition.Another 10 people were under the care of Holy Family Hospital, which said the patients all were "either stable or being actively discharged."After fires tore through the communities, officials called for widespread evacuations." Residents in the affected towns [sic] of Lawrence/North Andover/Andover who have gas service from Columbia Gas should evacuate their homes immediately if they have not already done so," state police tweeted at 6:10 p.m. "Gas lines are currently being depressurized by the company[;] it will take some time."Columbia Gas of Massachusetts is the gas company covering the region. As of late Thursday, it remained unclear what exactly caused the blasts. The state fire marshal's office had said the fires followed a high pressure gas main explosion. State emergency management officials said that "possible gas line over-pressurization" could be the source of the explosions. However, state police officials said in a tweet Thursday evening that it is "far too early to speculate on [a] cause."

Australian coal exports hit record high -  Australia’s thermal coal exports have grown 14 percent on the back of high demand from Asia. Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) data released on Tuesday revealed that the value of thermal coal exports rose 14 percent in July to 2.45 billion Australian dollars (1.74 billion U.S. dollars). Export volume rose to an all-time high of 19.87 million tonnes; a rate that, if upheld, would see Australia export 238 million tonnes of thermal coal per year. Andrew Cosgrove, a mining analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence, said that coal prices would remain high for the remainder of 2018 because of demand in China and India.

Paris climate deal doesn’t stop Australia building new coal plants, Canavan says - Australia does not need to quit the Paris climate agreement because our commitments are non-binding, and new coal plants can continue to be constructed, according to the resources minister, Matt Canavan. People needed to be clear that the treaty Tony Abbott committed Australia to in 2015 “doesn’t actually bind us to anything in particular”. Abbott said in 2015, when he announced Australia would be signing up, that the government was making a “definite commitment” to a 26% reduction in emissions by 2030 and “with the circumstances that we think will apply … we can go up to 28%”. But Canavan said on Friday the Paris commitment was a three-page document that allowed Australia flexibility to build new coal plants. The resources minister said rather than focusing on the situation in 2030, “what I want to focus on is solving the crisis we have in energy today”.

Cambodia shows no sign of backing down on coal -- At the 23rd UN Climate Change Conference (COP23) in November last year, many countries around the world made their pledges for the coal power phase-out to curb the global greenhouse gas emissions, and ultimately keep global temperature increases within 2°C or, if possible, to 1.5°C of pre-industrial levels under the 2015 Paris Agreement. Environmental groups also called upon Southeast Asian countries to join the effort in order to keep the region safe from climate change‘s threats.Coal-fired power plants are the most polluting way to produce electricity, and burning coal is the most prominent contributor to climate change. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 7 million people die every year due to air pollution, which is mainly caused by “the inefficient use of energy by households, industry, the agriculture and transport sectors, and coal-fired power plants.” However, according to the report by ASEAN Center for Energy (ACE), in Southeast Asia, coal is projected to rise from 47 gigawatts (GW) in 2013 to 261 GW in 2035, which means each country is moving in the opposite direction to construct more coal-fired power plants.Cambodia is one example. As a least developed country, it becomes even more reliant on coal-fired power, deeming it as the key factor to bringing an end to energy shortage in the future amid rapid economic growth.According to Cambodian National Strategic Development Plan 2014-2018, the Royal government of Cambodia has committed to an ambitious goal of achieving nationwide electrif ication by 2020, providing all villages across the country access to electricity.

Yucca Mountain Halted Again as GOP Aims to Retain Senate - Supporters of the controversial Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada face a familiar fate despite bipartisan momentum to restart progress on the site: Once again, their hopes appear dashed by a Silver State senator. For years the Senate spoiler was the chamber’s top Democrat, Harry Reid, who departed in 2017. This year Republican Dean Heller played the role, a vocal opponent of the project who faces an uphill re-election bid in a state that went for Hillary Clinton and Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto in 2016. The outcome: Funding backed by the House to restart the Yucca process was dropped. A top Yucca advocate pointed to Heller’s race as the reason for stripping out the funding. “A single senator’s short-term political calculations again triumphed over long-term, bipartisan policy priorities,” Illinois Rep. John Shimkus said in a statement.

No need to feel guilty about reliance on Utica shale gas - Crain's Cleveland Business - Ted Auch argues in a Aug. 26 op-ed that opponents of the Lake Erie offshore wind project should be swayed to support the project by guilt over Cleveland's reliance on Utica shale natural gas development for much of its energy needs. His rationale is based on his contention that fracking has made the rural region of the state where Utica development has occurred a sacrifice zone rife with economic and environmental devastation. But Cleveland residents can rest assured — there is no need to lose sleep over using natural gas produced here in the Buckeye State, because most people who live along the Ohio River simply don't share Auch's view on the shale development taking place in their corner of the state. If they did, one would think "Keep It in the Ground" gubernatorial candidate Dennis Kucinich's "ban fracking" campaign would have captured at least 25% of the vote in one of the state's top-10 natural gas producing counties in the May Democratic primary. But it didn't. Not even close in those counties. And for good reason — there is also simply no factual evidence to support Kucinich and Auch's anti-fracking claims.

Oil and gas industry 'here to stay' in Harrison County - Nearly two dozen elected officials met in Harrison County on Tuesday for an update on the oil and gas industry. The meeting, held at the Tappan Lake Marina, was led by two oil and gas representatives who say the industry is here to stay. "Oil and gas has been here for 8-9-10 years now, so it’s very prevalent here to stay for the next 30-40 years, so it’s better to keep everyone informed," said Nick Homrighausen, executive director of community and economic development for the county. "We covered all aspects of oil and gas. We talked about what was happening in the upstream industry. There’s been a lot of deals this summer. … There’s a lot of movement there, and we wanted to explain some of that," said Mike Chadsey, Director of Public Relations, Ohio Oil and Gas Association. Closing those new deals has allowed for continued growth across the county within the industry. Chadsey explained that he views Harrison County as one of the leader in downstream, upstream and midstream potential. "It’s really the heart of the Utica Shale Play,” Chadsey said. “And we take all responsibility to engage with elected officials and talk about the industry very seriously." With five major pipeline projects in the community right now, organizers felt now was the time for an update. "Everyone is waiting on that ethane cracker plant which we anticipate, fingers crossed, hopefully our final investment decision here soon,” Chadsey said. “It’s really a lot of exciting times in Harrison County and really all of southeast Ohio." "What we’re trying to do is be proactive in the county and meet with local residents and public officials just to give an update on what’s been going on over the past year,” Homrighausen said. Leaders expect the next meeting to take place sometime in November

Ohio on receiving end of fracking waste - Warren Tribune Chronicle  — Residents working to fend off a proposal to place a wastewater injection well along Hubbard Masury Road said this fight is about more than just their community.One trustee thinks it sends the wrong message about the entire state of Ohio.“We’ve absolutely become a dumping ground,” said Rick Hernandez. Data from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources shows from 2012 to so far in 2018, more than 91 million barrels of brine from the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, industry in Ohio have been injected into class II injection wells in Ohio. That equates to more than 3.8 billion gallons of brine — a salt / water mix used to extract natural gas from below ground shale formations. ODNR numbers also show that more than 85 million barrels — 3.5 billion gallons — of brine produced outside the state have been injected into Ohio’s injection wells between 2012 and so far this year. Steve Irwin, ODNR spokesman, said the regulatory environments in Ohio and Pennsylvania may lead drilling companies to choose to inject their waste in Ohio. Irwin said ODNR has “primacy” to regulate the state’s oil and gas industry, meaning companies that want to establish injection wells in Ohio can apply for permits directly from ODNR. On the other hand, Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry is regulated by both the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which increases the permit application time and expense because a prospective injection company needs a permit from both agencies. State Rep. Glenn Holmes, D-Girard, has introduced House Bill 723 that would cap the number of injection well permits the chief of ODNR’s Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management can issue at 23 per county. Ohio has 216 active injection wells, according to ODNR. Trumbull and Ashtabula counties top the list with 17 active wells apiece. Next are nearby Portage and Stark counties with 16 each followed by Meigs County in southeast Ohio with 14. The legislation also would mandate the division chief to notify relevant state legislators whenever a request for a well permit is made. It’s expected the bill will be assigned to a committee when the General Assembly returns from its summer recess. State law allows Ohio to benefit financially from accepting fracking waste from other states. The state charges a 5-cent fee for the injection of each barrel of brine that is produced in Ohio. Conversely, the fee for the injection of each barrel of out-of-state brine is 20 cents.

Cabot to drill two more exploratory wells in Ohio by Dec. 31 -- Cabot Oil & Gas has drilled three exploratory wells in north-central Ohio and intends to add two additional wells before the end of the year, Kallanish Energy reports. The three wells drilled are all in Ashland County, between Cleveland and Columbus. That drilling began last June. The wells are in Green, Vermilion and Mohican townships north and northeast of Loudonville. One of the three wells has been hydraulically fractured. The Houston-based company, a major player in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, reported it is unclear where the fourth and fifth well will be drilled, it told the Columbus Dispatch newspaper last week. The company is interested in the Knox formation in Ashland, Richland, Holmes, Wayne and Knox counties at the western edge of Ohio’s Utica Shale. That formation is below the Utica, and is north and west of Ohio’s main Utica drilling area. Cabot Oil & Gas had announced plans to spend $75 million in the first half of 2018 to look closely at two exploratory areas. The company gave no clue as to where that exploratory wells might be drilled. If the tests reveal that additional drilling is warranted in the second half of 2018, Cabot is prepared to sell off assets to fund that work, the company said in releasing its 2018 operating plan. It later announced it had scrapped one exploration area as a failure. Analysts said that was likely the High Alpine area of Texas. Ashland County is where Oklahoma-based Devon Energy drilled for oil in the early days of Utica Shale drilling — with little or no success. 

National Forests Being Impacted by Marcellus Drilling, Fracking and Pipelines  The withdrawal of two mineral leases set to be auctioned later this month in the Wayne National Forest was received with relief from an organization that had protested the proposal and frustration from the state trade organization for oil and gas interests. The two plots, one of 35 acres and the other about 40 acres, are in Monroe County, and the mineral leases were scheduled for auction Sept. 20, according to an announcement in July by the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM announced Aug. 28 that the auction was canceled, citing Title 43 Code of Federal Regulations, paragraphs 3120.1-3, but offering no further explanation. That part of the code refers to suspending the offering of a parcel while an appeal is under consideration. Wendy Park, a senior lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity, said Wednesday that her organization’s protest was the only one she could find that was lodged against the lease offering. She said the center opposed the lease because of its potential impact on nearby water bodies and settled areas. “This is the first time the feds have pulled parcels from a Wayne National Forest lease auction after approving its fracking plan for the Wayne, in response to environmentalists’ concerns,” she said. When the 400,000 acres of the Wayne National Forest was opened to oil and gas extraction leasing in 2016, she said, the environmental impact examination was general rather than site specific, and the leases offered since then have not taken local conditions into account. “This is pretty much what we’ve been saying in all our protests, that they’re not taking a hard look at the impact of fracking on site-specific resources,” she said. In addition to endangered species of bats, she said, there also are public health and cultural concerns. “There are homes and communities near these leases, and toxic chemicals and air pollution would certainly have an impact on the health of local residents,” she said. “They also have failed to comply with the obligation to make sure cultural and historical resources are not harmed.” The Ohio Oil and Gas Association, however, was not pleased by the decision, and its spokesman Mike Chadsey said the association members are frustrated with the federal government.

Haunting Poems and Photos From a State Torn by Fracking -- When Julia Spicher Kasdorf pulled off Pennsylvania’s Route 15 on her way upstate in 2012, she noticed something she’d never seen before. Across the highway, by the restaurant where she and her husband stopped for lunch, helicopters dangling strange pendants were hovering over the mountainside. Kasdorf, a poet and English professor at Pennsylvania State University, asked her server what was going on. “Those guys are here because of fracking,” the waitress said. Oil and gas companies were doing seismic testing for a new pipeline.  Kasdorf grew up in central Pennsylvania surrounded by dairy farms. She’d seen the way coal mining had ravaged the state’s southwest, but this destruction was new. Determined to keep an open mind, she began seeking out stories from people affected by fracking. Her curiosity turned into a six-year project and a collaboration with documentary photographer Steven Rubin that culminated in their recent book, Shale Play: Poems and Photographs from the Fracking Fields. Her conversation at a roadside restaurant inspired the opening poem, “Fry Brothers Turkey Ranch with Urbanspoon and Yelp Reviews.” Here’s a snippet:

Report: More than half of Pennsylvania gas wells used 'secret' fracking chemicals -- Energy companies in Pennsylvania did not identify potentially harmful chemicals used for drilling and fracking for natural gas in more than half of the wells created between 2013 and 2017, according to a recently released report. The report, from the Partnership for Policy Integrity, a nonprofit based in Massachusetts that does energy research and advocacy, says companies withheld information about at least one chemical in 55 percent of wells drilled between 2013 and 2017. Dusty Horwitt, who wrote the report, said that health effects of so-called secret chemicals can't be ascertained if the chemical's identity is not disclosed, but he also said that the public has a right to know about all the chemicals used. "We cannot be sure of the effects of any chemical whose identity is withheld as secret," Horwitt said. "However, EPA records indicate that the fracking chemicals declared security in Pennsylvania may have serious negative health effects." However, even if the companies do not publicly disclose every chemical, according to state and federal law, they are required to disclose all chemicals to the EPA and DEP. “State and federal law requires hydraulic fracturing fluids – which are typically made up of more than 99 percent water and sand, and less than 1 percent of highly diluted additives that we all commonly use in our everyday lives – to be transparently disclosed via an online, searchable database. Our organization – which represents the energy companies responsible for safely producing more than 95 percent of Pennsylvania’s natural gas – was an early and vocal supporter of greater transparency and disclosure. Pennsylvania has some of the strongest environmental rules in the nation and we’re committed to continuously improving best practices to protect and improve our environment.” Marcellus Shale Coalition president David Spigelmyer. Frac Focus is the national hydraulic fracturing chemical registry. The site provides public access to reported chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing.

Beaver County Pipeline Explosion Destroys Home, Prompts Evacuations - Beaver County officials say an early morning methane gas pipeline explosion in Pennsylvania destroyed one home and prompted an evacuation of others. The blast in Center Township was reported shortly before 5 a.m. Monday. Officials say a home, two garages and several vehicles were destroyed by fires stemming from the explosion. No injuries have been reported and crews were able to move several horses to safety. The community of Center Township is located roughly 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. Witnesses reported hearing a loud boom and seeing an orange glow fill the sky. Pipeline owner Energy Transfer Partners says the valves to the pipeline were shut off and the fire was out by 7 a.m. The 100-mile pipeline, known at the Revolution line, began operating earlier this month. It was built to supply the company’s Rover pipeline and Mariner East 2 lines. About 25 to 30 homes were evacuated as a precaution. The Central Valley school district canceled classes. Interstate 376 was closed due to danger from falling power lines. In June, a newly-built TransCanada natural gas pipeline exploded near Moundsville, West Virginia. No injuries or damage to private property were reported, but a fireball burned for several hours after an 83-foot section of the pipeline burst into flames, releasing more than $430,000 worth of natural gas. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said shifting land likely triggered the explosion of the Leach Xpress pipeline.

Revolution Pipeline Explosion After a Week of Operation Burns Up One Home & Two Barns, Horses are Saved - An explosion from a natural gas pipeline operating for only a week sparked a fire early Monday that destroyed a Beaver County home and two garages and prompted authorities to evacuate about two dozen other homes in the area. The 24-inch pipeline’s owner, Dallas-based Energy Transfer Corp., said it was investigating but an early assessment of the explosion site showed there had been “earth movement in the vicinity of the pipeline.” Center police Chief Barry Kramer attributed that to heavy, continuous rain over the weekend, but he said he’d leave determining the exact cause “up to the experts.” Nearly 5 inches fell between Friday night and Monday morning, according to the National Weather Service. An orange glow lit up the dark-morning sky after the fire began along Center Township’s Ivy Lane around 5 a.m. “It was just a huge fireball. My house was shaking,” said Ivy Lane resident Toni DeMarco, 54. Another Ivy Lane resident, 64-year-old Karen Gdula, heard what she said sounded like an 18-wheel tractor-trailer idling outside her bedroom window before the blast. “The ground shook,” Gdula said. “It looked like it was noon and it was 5 a.m. The flames were shooting higher than the pine trees.” Residents of between 25 and 30 homes on Ivy Lane and Pine Drive were evacuated to a nearby fire social hall along Brodhead Road and were being assisted by the American Red Cross. Authorities closed busy Brodhead Road, which is connected with Ivy Lane, and Interstate 376 between the Center and Aliquippa interchanges. About 1,500 people lost power after the explosion brought down six high-tension electrical towers, according Kramer. Central Valley School District also canceled classes.

ETP Pipeline Explosion Unlikely to Impact Appalachian Natural Gas Production - An explosion that ripped through an Energy Transfer Partners LP (ETP) pipeline in Western Pennsylvania early Monday isn’t likely to disrupt production significantly, as the system serves an older part of the Marcellus Shale where fewer producers operate, compared to other parts of the basin. Torrential rain and saturated ground likely caused the line to slip and explode, the company said, but the exact cause remains unclear as an investigation is underway. The pipeline was placed into service last week and is part of the broader Revolution system, which gathers wet gas and includes a 30-inch diameter pipeline and has a capacity of more than 400 MMcf/d. At the time of the blast, the company was in the process of purging and packing the gathering lines that feed ETP’s Revolution Plant in Washington County, where construction was recently completed. The plant would deliver tailgate volumes to affiliate Rover Pipeline’s Burgettstown lateral.The explosion is unlikely to have any meaningful impacts on the line’s producer customers or other interstate pipelines, such as those owned by Columbia Gas Transmission LLC or National Fuel Gas Co., in the area, Genscape Inc. analyst Vanessa Witte said. ETP in 2015 inked a long-term deal with privately owned EdgeMarc Energy Holdings LLC, announcing at the time that it would build the cryogenic gas processing plant, a fractionator and the gathering lines to facilitate the agreement. EdgeMarc has subscribed to more than 160 MMcf/d on Rover. Witte said the incident could limit some volumes from reaching the Burgettstown lateral, which was only recently authorized for service by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and has shown no scheduled nominations yet. ETP has also said there are other producer customers subscribed to the Revolution system, but it’s unclear who they are.

ETP to Inspect Entire Blast-Damaged Gas Pipeline in Pennsylvania - Energy Transfer Partners LP (ETP) representatives said late Monday the company plans to inspect the entire 24-inch diameter segment of the Revolution pipeline system that runs from Butler County, PA, to Washington County, PA, after part of it exploded during commissioning operations earlier in the day.“We’ll be inspecting the full line, looking at areas where, with all of this rain, there may be other areas that we need to take a look at and go back in to do some additional work,” said spokesperson Vicki Granado, who traveled from Dallas to address news media and local residents from Center Township in Beaver County, PA, where the ruptured pipeline destroyed a house, garage and multiple vehicles. There were no injuries.Heavy rain that has fallen throughout the region since late last week finally moved out Monday. However, ETP management suspects that unstable ground caused the pipeline, which is buried about three feet below the surface, to slip and explode. The impacted section was isolated and the fire extinguished itself once the gas flow was cut.“The gas caught some ignition source when it leaked out,” said Center Township Police Chief Barry Kramer, when asked to describe the accounts of residents living nearby who were evacuated for part of the day. “I don’t think there was time to smell it. It happened relatively quickly, although I don’t know that for sure.”

Pipeline that Exploded in Pennsylvania Part of Push to Build Fracking-Reliant Petrochemical Network - DeSmog (blog) A column of fire shot 150 feet in the air and destroyed a home, a barn, and several cars. Residents of over two dozen homes, including Belczyk, were evacuated, with one family barely escaping the flames that engulfed their home, neighbors said. Interstate 376 was shut down amid concern over falling power lines, including a half-dozen high tension towers, which left 1,500 people temporarily without electricity. No one was injured or killed by the blast, authorities said, and because of recent rains, the possibility of a forest fire was averted. The 24” diameter pipeline responsible for the blast had gone into service just seven days earlier. It’s owned by Energy Transfer Partners, the same pipeline company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline project and the Bayou Bridge pipeline in Louisiana. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has said it suspects that the blast was caused by heavy rainfall, which they believe may have caused the pipeline to slip on the saturated ground, break, and then explode. Energy Transfer Partners dubbed its new “gathering” line the Revolution pipeline. Revolution was built to connect individual gas wells to a new cryogenic plant, the Revolution gas processing plant, where so-called “wet gas” from Marcellus wells would be separated into natural gas liquids and dry gas. From the Revolution plant, that dry natural gas, a fossil fuel made of methane that’s used for electricity and heat, would be shipped west direction on the 725 mile Rover pipeline. Natural gas liquids like ethane, which is used to make plastics and petrochemicals, would head out on the Mariner East 2 pipeline to a shipping terminal near the Atlantic Coast, where it could be shipped to the Gulf Coast or abroad. By providing a path for the liquids and gas to flow to market, the Revolution gathering line would facilitate the drilling and fracking of roughly 500 Marcellus and Devonian wells in just one Pennsylvania County, Butler County, alone, officials from the company building the cryogenic plant said in 2015, when the deal was announced. Or at least that was Energy Transfer’s $1.5 billion plan. All three pipelines have been plagued by construction problems, particularly the much larger Mariner East natural gas liquids pipeline project. In the meantime, Energy Transfer Partners has faced strong pressure to finish the project from shale drillers, who aim to sell ethane for a higher price than it commands when it’s left mixed in with methane.

Mariner East Facing Additional Scrutiny After ETP Pipeline Explosion -- Pennsylvania lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are again airing concerns this week about natural gas pipeline projects, calling on Energy Transfer Partners LP (ETP) to halt construction of the Mariner East (ME) 2 and 2X projects, after a gathering system in the western part of the state exploded on Monday.Democratic state Sen. Andrew Dinniman, who filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) earlier this year that eventually led to a construction suspension on parts of the ME projects that is partially in effect, said on Twitter the incident in Beaver County’s Center Township is a “chilling reminder” of just how “powerful and dangerous these pipelines can be.”The infrastructure “shouldn’t be so close to our schools, residential neighborhoods and community centers. Mariner East should be permanently halted until we get real assurance that they’re being installed, inspected and operated with safety as the top priority.”Dinniman, who represents Chester County where sinkholes formed near the ME project earlier this year, was joined by another lawmaker from the area, Republican state Rep. Chris Quinn, in calling for work to stop.“While I’m relieved to know that no injuries occured, I also realize that this area of Beaver County is far less dense than the pipeline corridor in Delaware County,” Quinn said of a heavily populated area where the ME system is located. “A similar incident in my district could be even more destructive and have a greater human toll.“Therefore, I’m calling for an immediate halt to all pipeline construction activities,” Quinn added of the ME project. “This pipeline should not be built until the real and legitimate safety and environmental concerns raised by myself and local residents have been fully addressed.” Republican state Sen. Tom McGarrigle, who represents constituents near the ME projects, also called on ETP to stop construction until a full investigation of the Beaver County incident has been completed.

25 zones along the proposed Shell Falcon Pipeline are at risk of explosions due to landslides – EHN —Shell Pipeline Company has identified 25 locations that are prone to landslides in or near the route of its proposed Falcon Ethane Pipeline through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. Fourteen of those locations are in Southwestern Pennsylvania. The Falcon Pipeline is just one piece of a massive network of unconventional oil and gas-related infrastructure being built by Shell and its affiliates and business partners in Pennsylvania with the aim of turning the region into a new petrochemical hub. The development has elicited concern from researchers, residents and environmental groups about the increased risk of explosions and spills, as well as the cumulative impact on air and water quality in the region. Two of the sites identified by Shell as being prone to landslides along the proposed Falcon Pipeline route are in Allegheny County. The other 12 sites are in Beaver County—35 miles west of Pittsburgh—where on Monday a natural gas pipeline not affiliated with Shell exploded, destroying one home, two garages, a barn, and several vehicles.  The explosion, in a brand new section of Energy Transfer Partners' Revolution Pipeline, is being attributed to a landslide following heavy rains over the weekend. This isn't the first time a landslide has caused a natural gas pipeline to explode: In June, landslides resulted in the rupture and explosion of a TransCanada natural gas pipeline in Marshall County, West Virginia.Shell is currently constructing a multi-billion dollar ethane cracker plant in Potter Township, just five miles from the site of the Energy Transfer Pipeline explosion. Shell's proposed Falcon Pipeline would transport large volumes of natural gas and liquids to the ethane cracker plant to be converted into ethylene for use in plastics manufacturing. In its permit application, Shell identified "landslide risk" areas along the proposed route for the Falcon Pipeline. The FracTracker Alliance, a Pittsburgh-based oil and gas industry watchdog group, has mapped those locations. In Pennsylvania, the 14 landslide-prone areas on or near the proposed pipeline route total 2.1 miles.

Spill sends diesel fuel into Arthur Kill -- Authorities were at the scene of a spill at the Buckeye Terminal in Port Reading that sent an unknown amount of diesel fuel into the Arthur Kill Waterway, officials said Friday. The mishap was reported around 7:15 p.m Thursday and occurred during a product transfer at the terminal, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. "Due to high winds and rain at the time of the incident, facility personnel were unable to calculate the exact amount of fuel spilled into the waterway," the Coast Guard said in a statement. "All fuel transfers at the facility are temporarily suspended until investigators can determine the cause of the spill and the facility can safely conduct fueling operations," the statement said. A representative for the Buckeye Terminal could not be immediately reached. The Coast Guard said it deployed a pollution response team to the scene and an oil spill removal company was called to handle the cleanup. Crews put a containment boom in the water. More information was not immediately available Friday. The cause of the spill was being investigated. 

 Man killed, 12 injured after 70 gas explosions, fires rock Lawrence, Andover, North Andover - WHDH - - At least one person has died and 13 others were injured when as many as 70 gas-related explosions and fires rocked multiple homes and buildings in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover Thursday night, prompting officials to order widespread evacuations and establish emergency shelters. In the wake of the explosions, which were first reported around 5 p.m., all Columbia Gas customers in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover have been urged to evacuate immediately and National Grid has turned off power in all three communities.Gov. Charlie Baker joined city officials from Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover during a 9 p.m. press conference to stress to area residents to leave their homes and seek shelter at one of the many emergency shelters that have been set up to handle the thousands of displaced. Crews are working to depressurize gas lines across the region but the process may take quite some time.Lawrence police say a woman who was left trapped in a home on Chickering Road suffered leg injuries.The Essex District Attorney’s Office said 18-year-old Leonel Rondon was killed when a chimney fell onto his car.Andover town officials say at least four people were injured, including two firefighters and two civilians.At the peak of the chaos, 18 fires were burning at the same time in Andover.  Video from Sky7 HD showed fires burning at multiple homes and buildings. One home appeared to be completely leveled and many others were seriously damaged. The total number of affected structures is expected to climb throughout the evening.Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera has ordered all residents to evacuate the southern section of the city.Fire departments from across the region, including Boston, Methuen and New Hampshire, are responding to the impacted areas.The Red Cross and FEMA are also responding.  All off-ramps along Interstate 495 between exits 41 and 45 have been closed until further notice. Service on the Haverhill commuter rail line has been temporarily suspended beyond North Wilmington Station.Shelters have been set up at Lawrence High School, North Andover Middle School, and at the Andover Senior Center. The Red Cross has set up three reception centers for people who have evacuated their homes:

Thousands of residents still out of their homes after gas explosions trigger deadly chaos in Massachusetts — Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) declared a state of emergency Friday as officials inspected more than 8,600 homes and businesses to determine if it was safe for people to return, a day after a series of gas line explosions left one person dead and injured at least 23. The blasts, which led to scores of simultaneous structure fires across three towns in the Merrimack Valley, filled otherwise sunny skies with thick smoke and pushed thousands of residents out of their homes indefinitely. Electrical power has been cut to the communities, and residents have been told not to enter their homes until each one has been inspected for potential dangers. Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, which owns the gas lines involved in the blasts, has thus far given no indication of what might have caused the disaster. Baker and other officials, including Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera, issued scathing criticisms of the company. “Since yesterday, when we first got word of this incident, the least informed and the last to act have been Columbia Gas,” Rivera said, with Baker at his side at a news conference. He said that the company had promised “hundreds of teams of technicians” but that “none have materialized.” “It just seems that there’s no one in charge,” Rivera said. “Like they’re in the weeds.” At a news conference a couple of hours later, Columbia Gas President Steve Bryant defended the company’s response. “We advanced this as rapidly as it could possibly be advanced,” he said. “I don’t think that anybody else managing this would have been further down the road then we are at the moment.” Bryant said the company had nearly 300 technicians in the field who had turned off gas to more than 3,200 of the affected customers, a necessary step before electricity can be restored. He said gas would be shut off to all homes in the area by Saturday or Sunday, allowing power to be turned back on and people to move back in. He referred questions about the cause of the incident to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which is leading the investigation.

Company Involved in Massachusetts Gas Explosions Has History of Blasts - As thousands of people were fleeing their coastal homes in the Carolinas yesterday, thousands more were forced from their homes in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover, Massachusetts yesterday. The Massachusetts evacuations came without prior warning as more than 60 homes erupted in flames yesterday and at least three exploded from a natural gas malfunction involving the utility company, Columbia Gas of Massachusetts.Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield told local reporters that “It looked like Armageddon,” saying he could see “billows of smoke coming from Lawrence behind me” and “pillars of smoke in front of me from the town of Andover.”The Associated Press reported that “some local officials described scenes of panic as residents rushed to evacuate, many wondering if their homes would be next to erupt in flames. In North Andover, town selectman Phil Decologero said his entire neighborhood had gathered in the street, afraid to enter their homes. Just a few streets down, he said, homes were burning.”As of early this morning, local news channels were reporting one person was dead and approximately 25 individuals were injured in the fires. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency has initially suggested the possibility that gas lines became over-pressurized but a full investigation will be conducted, including one by Federal authorities including the National Transportation Safety Board.In a statement on their website, Columbia Gas referred to the disaster as an “incident” and said “crews need to visit each of the 8,600 affected customers to shut off each gas meter and conduct a safety inspection.”  Yesterday, just hours before chaos would descend on the three towns in Massachusetts, Columbia Gas sent out a letter indicating it would be “upgrading natural gas lines in neighborhoods across the state.” The letter linked to a video which carried this statement in the accompanying text:“As with many other types of infrastructure, like roads, dams, and bridges, deterioration occurs over time and repairs or replacement are eventually needed. The old gas pipes installed in your neighborhood generations ago served us well, but they are now ready to be retired.” Pipes installed “generations ago” raise the question as to whether the pipes should have been upgraded long before now. The video shows deeply corroded metal pipes being replaced with “state-of-the-art plastic” pipes “more suited for underground use.”

FERC schedule slips for Transco project as NY primary politics complicate path for gas — The US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has pushed back the timeline for completing its environmental review of Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line's Northeast Supply Enhancement Project to January 25, 2019, from September 17, 2018. The revised schedule adds to the federal review timeline for a protect (CP17-101) that would allow for as much as 400 MMcf/d of incremental supply into New York markets and potentially place downward pressure on Transco Zone 6 pricing. The project is viewed as facing headwinds in state reviews in New Jersey, as well as in New York, where opposition to natural gas has played into the Democratic primary, set for Thursday. Transco spokesman Christopher Stockton said the company is assessing FERC's updated schedule, "but we currently do not believe it will negatively impact the project's winter 2020 [in-service date]." Williams in August moved its targeted start to the fourth quarter of 2020. FERC said the change was based on the status of the project's general conformity review with state implementation plans to meet national air quality standards, as well as feasible mitigation options. The NESE project entails a new compressor station in Somerset County, New Jersey, as well as installation of about 23.5 miles of pipeline in the New York Bay, 3.5 miles of pipeline in Middlesex County, New Jersey and 10 miles of 42-inch-diameter pipeline in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Washington Analysis in a note said the new FERC schedule "underscores a difficult state-level review path that colors our bearish outlook for the pipeline's chances of being built." It said the delay of the final environmental report will delay the start of critical state reviews. While the project has filed with New York and New Jersey for Clean Water Act Section 401 certifications, state officials have made clear they will not consider the application complete without the final environmental impact statement, Washington Analysis noted. Also pending are determinations under the Coastal Zone Management Act. 

Pipeline spills 8K gallons of fuel into Indiana river | TheHill -- A Houston-based company says one of its pipelines has spilled more than 8,000 gallons of jet fuel into a river in Indiana. Buckeye Pipe Line says it shut the line down immediately when it found the pressure problem Friday night, The Associated Press reported on Sunday. Local officials say they have placed booms in St. Marys River, the body of water into which the fuel spilled, and are vacuuming the oil off the surface, the AP reported. The cleanup may take weeks, according to Decatur Mayor Kenneth L. Meyer. The Environmental Protection Agency said it's monitoring the air around the area, as well as the water quality at a few places downstream from the contamination, according to the AP.

Pipeline Spills More Than 8,000 Gallons of Jet Fuel Into Indiana River - A pipeline spilled more than 8,000 gallons of jet fuel into an Indiana river, The Associated Press reported Sunday.The affected river was St. Marys River in Decatur, which is a town of 9,500 people about 100 miles from Indianapolis.Cleaning the spill could take weeks, Decatur Mayor Kenneth L. Meyer told the Fort Wayne, Indiana-basedJournal Gazette.The spill was first reported Friday night in a safety warning issued by the Decatur Police Department urging residents to avoid the area around the spill, local news outlet WANE reported Saturday.Houston-based Buckeye Pipe Line Company, L.P., which owns the pipeline, confirmed the spill to WANE Saturday.Company officials said there had been a failure Friday evening that had caused the spill. "One of their workers discovered a pressure drop, went immediately to check on it and immediately shut it down," Allen County Homeland Security Director Bernie Beier told The Journal Gazette.The pipeline will remain shut off until it is repaired and safe to operate, and Buckeye's Emergency Response Team worked to control the spill and clean the area, WANE reported. The company is investigating the cause of the failure.

CSX derailment and oil spill leads to federal lawsuit - — Federal and state officials accuse CSX Transportation of several environmental torts in response to oil spilled from a derailed train.The United States of America, the state of West Virginia and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection filed a complaint in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia against CSX Transportation Inc. According to the complaint, a CSX train derailed in February 2015 and spilled oil into the Kanawha River and Armstrong Creek. The spill also affected the land around the waterways. Government officials allege the spilled oil violated the West Virginia Water Pollution Control Act, West Virginia Groundwater Protection Act, and Clean Water Act.The plaintiffs seek civil penalties up to $2,100 per barrel of oil discharged for violation of the Clean Water Act, civil penalties up to $25,000 per day for violation of the West Virginia Water Pollution Control Act and civil penalties up to $25,000 per day for violations of the West Virginia Groundwater Protection Act.  They are represented by Devon A. Ahearn of Department of Justice in Washington, Fred B. Westfall, Jr. of Department of Justice in Charleston and Lauren E. Ziegler of Environmental Protection Agency in Philadelphia.

Orphan Wells: States Wrestle With Soaring Costs For Oil & Gas Industry Mess – - The latest boom in natural gas is transforming the Ohio Valley’s energy landscape. But over the years the industry has also abandoned thousands of oil and gas wells, often polluting nearby air, land, and water.  An analysis by the Ohio Valley ReSource estimates more than 8,000 old wells in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia are considered “orphan,” with no company responsible. The costly process of plugging these wells often falls to state agencies struggling to pay for the cleanup.   Across the country, many state regulators have few resources to deal with an ever-expanding list of abandoned wells. “The states are pretty good at regulating wells that are being explored, are being fracked, are in production, but they kind of lose interest once that happens,” said Alan Krupnick, a senior fellow with the nonpartisan environmental think tank, Resources For the Future. “There’s not enough attention being paid to reducing the risk from these abandoned wells.” Across the Ohio Valley, thousands of oil and gas wells sit idle. An analysis of state data by the Ohio Valley ReSource estimates more than 8,000 oil and gas wells are considered “orphan.” Definitions of orphan and abandoned wells vary by state, but in general, orphan wells lack an operator or company that can pay to plug them. That responsibility then falls to state regulators who are frequently struggling to keep up with demand and scrambling to find money to clean up the mess.  A 2016 study of inactive well regulations in 22 states by Resources for the Future, a nonprofit advocacy group, found the majority lack policies to deal with legacy wells drilled decades ago and the means to collect sufficient funds to plug wells currently being drilled.  “We want good policy to make sure that these wells when they’re eventually abandoned do not present environmental risk” Krupnick said. “One thing is they could raise the bonding amounts to the point where they’re covering the costs of these wells, of decommissioning the wells.”He said another challenge is that many states allow wells to remain in “idle status” for years. These wells aren’t producing, but operators aren’t being required to plug them. Unplugged wells can leak oil and other pollutants into water or the ground and inactive wells can emit methane, a powerful greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Pipeline in Hurricane Florence’s Potential Path Poses Added Danger - Hurricane Florence is projected to be an "extremely dangerous" storm, poised to inflict life-threatening impacts on low-lying coastal communities—and it may also dump vast quantities of rain over a limited area after making landfall, catastrophic rainfall and flooding as Hurricane Harvey did last year to Houston, Texas. Forecasters don't know where such flooding will occur, but one possible target is the Appalachian Mountains, including mountainous southwest Virginia—the site of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). The pipeline would carry fracked methane gas from West Virginia into Virginia, where it will connect with an existing pipeline system. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that accelerates climate change, and extracting methane using fracking utilizes complex mixes of chemicals, many known to be toxic, contaminating millions of gallons of water as well as emitting dangerous air pollutants. Residents along the route have protested the loss of private property and destruction of treasured places, but the pipeline company has secured the right of eminent domain and has so far proved unstoppable. Along its 303-mile route, a swath 125 feet wide is now being clearcut; trenches are being opened; pipes 42 inches in diameter are being laid. This heavy-construction scar will through farms and national forests, up and down steep mountain slopes, even across the Appalachian Trail. Where the pipeline crosses steep mountains, erosion is a grave hazard. Locals fear that sediment will choke local streams and rivers, damaging the water sources of cities like Salem and Roanoke, VA as well as private wells and springs serving rural homes. Clearing land and digging trenches has already muddied local streams, choked off intermittent streams, and caused a mudslide that closed a local road, despite erosion control measures taken by the pipeline company. Heavy rainfall poses a particular threat. The geology of southwest Virginia magnifies the danger. Much of the land is karst, a porous limestone that has eroded over time, producing sinkholes, caverns and underground channels. Should the ground sink, pipes could buckle into underground caves. Heavy rainfall increases the threat. Now, with Florence on its way, residents and developers alike worry about what may happen if the hurricane drops torrents of rain. Construction on the MVP was temporarily halted on Tuesday, and the pipeline company said it was focusing on steps to maintain erosion and sediment controls. However, such controls have failed repeatedly in the face of normal rainfall events.

Mountain Valley Pipeline halts construction as Hurricane Florence takes aim at Carolinas, Virginia - With Hurricane Florence forecast to make landfall later this week, Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) temporarily halted construction on its 303-mile pipeline project on Tuesday and is taking measures to prevent extensive damage to its construction zone.Forecasters are expecting an unprecedented amount of rainfall from Florence across portions of Virginia, starting late this week and continuing through the weekend. MVP said it is taking “all possible precautions in Virginia” in consultation with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to maintain erosion and sediment controls along the pipeline’s right of way.Locals, however, worry about the impact heavy rainfall will have on the land. From the tree-clearing phase to the laying of the 42-inch-diameter pipe into trenches, MVP has faced problems with erosion and sediment controls when it rains. In July, the Virginia DEQ served the company with a notice of violation for failing to install proper erosion controls.But the rains that have slowed construction of the pipeline so far do not compare to the potentially catastrophic rains that Hurricane Florence could unleash on a large part of Virginia, including the MVP construction zone south of Roanoke, Virginia. Last weekend, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in anticipation of the potential impact of Florence. “MVP has failed with the normal rainfalls we have in this area,” Sandy Schlaudecker, chair of Preserve Montgomery County, Virginia, said in an email to ThinkProgress. “I have great doubts that anything they have done will be enough. We will have people out documenting the damage as soon as it is safe.”

Virginia pipeline construction to continue with ‘aggressive’ monitoring - Will existing environmental rules be enough to protect Virginia streams from the potentially damaging side effects of two pipeline projects? Citizens and environmental groups cry no, but the State Water Control Board says its hands are tied. The seven-member board decided at a contentious Aug. 21 meeting to continue allowing two natural gas pipelines — the Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline — to be constructed across the state, under additional oversight.The governor-appointed board is charged with administering the state’s water control laws and resolving special issues.Both pipelines will carry natural gas, extracted from underground shale formations using a controversial technique called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” Pipeline construction entails disrupting wetlands, crossing streams, removing trees and exposing bare soil, sometimes on steep slopes.The Mountain Valley Pipeline travels a largely north-south route through West Virginia into Virginia’s southwest corner, where work is already under way. Construction has also begun on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in West Virginia. From there, it will cut a southeastern path through Virginia, including parts of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, to North Carolina. According to the Southern Environmental Law Center, it will cross Virginia waterways nearly 1,000 times.

Dominion’s 600-mile gas pipeline heading in direction of South Carolina   -- Bolt by bolt, a major pipeline is running toward South Carolina. Conservation advocates fear it could mean that exporting natural gas from the state is getting closer to reality. It would be one of the more controversial fallouts from the sale of SCANA to Dominion Energy, if that agreement actually goes through. The 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline being built by Dominion is projected to pump 1.5 billion cubic feet per day of gas fracked from the ground under various Northern states. It would run from West Virginia to North Carolina. It could be expanded to cross into South Carolina near the mixing of Interstate 95 and South Carolina’s inland port shipping facility near Dillon, conservationists say. The route would put it on a line to continue on to ports such as Georgetown or Charleston, they warn. A Dominion spokeswoman said that’s not part of the company’s current plans. “Dominion Energy has not proposed any expansion of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline beyond what has already been approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,” said spokeswoman Kristen M. Beckham. Extending the pipeline into South Carolina could give fracking companies a much sought-after larger East Coast port from which to export gas to Europe. That would bring the state a new tax source and potentially jobs, particularly in Georgetown, which is struggling economically. Such an extension would also continue Dominion’s growing reliance on pipeline building for revenue. Conservation groups are concerned it could also mean building an onshore facility for processing any oil or gas drilled offshore South Carolina — a proposal opposed by most coastal residents, surveys show. It would add to pollution threats in waters already compromised by development.

If oil spilled off SC’s coast, a huge current would make it ‘impossible to control’ Oil spills in the Gulf Stream off South Carolina could form fast-moving slicks for hundreds of miles, making cleanup nearly impossible, devastating one of the Atlantic’s most important fisheries and wreaking havoc with the state’s billion-dollar tourist industry, a Post and Courier analysis shows.While spills in the Gulf Stream would travel far, spills closer to shore could ooze their way toward land, fouling beaches and marshlands anywhere from the Lowcountry to North Carolina’s Outer Banks.In what’s thought to be a first for a news organization, The Post and Courier generated more than 1,000 simulations of potential spills off the East Coast. To tell this undercovered story, The Post and Courier weaves history and science into a story that captures the majesty of the Gulf Stream and the stakes as the climate warms.The newspaper used a program developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that takes into account amounts of oil spilled, weather patterns and ocean currents, including the Gulf Stream.Simulations ranged from a spill of 1,000 barrels to a worst-case scenario: the 4.9 million-barrel BP/Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010.  Among the findings:

  • In many medium-to-large spill scenarios, the Gulf Stream is like a high-velocity pump. Spills in the powerful current would spread quickly. Within two weeks, slicks off Georgia could hit the Outer Banks and then move into deeper waters off Virginia and pivot toward Europe.
  • The Gulf Stream also serves as a lid — one that traps oil between the current and our coast. If spills happened within 50 miles of South Carolina — before the Gulf Stream — oil plumes could coat beaches along the tourist-driven Grand Strand. Other simulations show oil hitting the North Carolina coast around Wilmington and the Outer Banks.
  • Shifting winds and currents add layers of complexity to oil-spill predictions — and potential cleanup operations. In some scenarios, winds push oil ashore. In others, oil ends up in eddies that spiral miles offshore.

The newspaper’s simulations come amid a heated debate about the potential risks and rewards of oil exploration along the East Coast.

 Bayou Bridge Pipeline halted by property rights challenge - A legal challenge from Atchafalaya River Basin landowners and environmental groups has temporarily halted construction of the controversial Bayou Bridge Pipeline. On Monday (Sept. 10), a judge was scheduled to hear the case of St. Mary Parish landowners who filed an injunction against builders of the pipeline, which they say would cross their property illegally. But just before the hearing, Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, which is constructing the pipeline jointly with Phillips 66, came to an agreement with landowners that effectively stops construction on a key section of the route. "It's a huge victory and blow to Bayou Bridge," said Anne Rolfes of Louisiana Bucket Brigade, one of the groups opposed to the pipeline.  The proposed 162-mile pipeline would run from St. James to Lake Charles, with portions crossing the ecologically-sensitive Atchafalaya Basin. The pipeline would link to Energy Transfer's Dakota Access Pipeline and the oil fields in North Dakota.  The injunction was filed in July after members of the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, a preservation group, noticed pipeline workers cutting trees and digging trenches on a 38-acre marshland in St. Mary. The property's owners, which includes Peter Aaslestad and other members of his family, had not granted access to the property and opposed the pipeline's construction through the basin, which contains one of the largest swamps in North America. 

 Why The U.S. Is Suddenly Buying A Lot More Saudi Oil - For a few months now, OPEC has been boosting production to ease concerns about high oil prices amid expected supply losses from Venezuela and Iran.  The cartel’s largest producer and exporter, Saudi Arabia, has been specifically targeting an increase in crude oil exports to the most transparent market, the United States, which reports crude oil imports and inventory levels every week.On the one hand, the Saudis are looking to regain their foothold in the American market after having cut shipments to the United States to a 30-year-low at the end of last year, when OPEC’s efforts to erase the global oil glut were in full swing.On the other hand, the Saudis are responding to the demands of their staunch ally U.S. President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly slammed OPEC for the high gasoline prices, urging the cartel in early July to “REDUCE PRICING NOW!”In the week to August 31, the four-week average of U.S. crude oil imports from Saudi Arabia exceeded 1 million bpd for the first time since June 2017, data by the EIA showed.At that time last year, Saudi Arabia started to purposefully reduce its exports to the United States, where inventory data and refinery runs are reported every week. Those reports influence the price of oil and investor sentiment. In the last week of October 2017, the four-week average of U.S. imports from Saudi Arabia was just 506,000 bpd—almost half of the four-week average of 1.009 million bpd for the last week of August this year.

Midland WTI gets its own cavern at LOOP crude terminal - The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port has quietly allocated one of its eight underground crude oil storage caverns to West Texas Intermediate, a reflection of the Texas grade’s continued ascent as the US’ flagship oil. In documents published to its website, LOOP established this month a “Midland WTI cavern” into which the grade may be delivered. LOOP defines Midland WTI as maximum 44 API, maximum 0.45% sulfur, maximum 10 psi RVP, maximum 11 psi TVP and maximum 1% sediment and water. The cavern is known as Segregation 21. It replaces Segregation 20, which allowed for deliveries of maximum 46.5 API Eagle Ford, Bakken and Midland WTI. That took effect in October 2017. The cavern has historically been used for light grades. Before October 2017, LOOP in the past also allowed for the Nigerian grades Bonny Light (34.4 API, 0.20%S), Forcados (30.3 API, 0.18%) and Qua Iboe (36.3 API, 0.12%) to be delivered. The best option for delivering WTI into LOOP would be via Shell’s 375,000 b/d Zydeco pipeline (formerly known as Ho-Ho), which extends from Houston to the Louisiana terminal. Another option would be by barge or tanker from Corpus Christi or the Houston area delivering into LOOP’s offshore platform. A typical river barge holds 10,000-30,000 barrels of oil, while new articulated tug-barges (ATBs) used on the ocean can hold as much as 340,000 barrels. Shippers can also rail crude to Genesis Energy’s Raceland, Louisiana, terminal, where it can be injected into pipe and reach LOOP. The move reflects the rising importance of WTI globally. The Permian region of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico, from which WTI comes, is currently producing around 3.4 million b/d of oil, according to US government figures. The Permian accounted for 26% of total US oil production in 2017. Phillips 66 is a large regional consumer of light sweet grades at its 249,700 b/d Alliance refinery in Belle Chasse, Louisiana. LOOP’s eight caverns hold about 60 million barrels in total, or roughly 7.5 million barrels each. LOOP currently lists assignments for six of the eight caverns. This includes Mars in two caverns, Thunder Horse, LOOP Sour, and Segregation 17, into which Arab Medium, Basrah Light and Kuwait may be delivered. The status of two caverns is not known.

Big Oil Seeks Billions from U.S. Government to Protect It From…Climate Change - Gaius Publius: In a masterstroke of irony — and hubris — the oil industry wants the federal government to build and pay for “a nearly 60-mile ‘spine’ of concrete seawalls, earthen barriers, floating gates and steel levees on the Texas Gulf Coast” to protect “the crown jewels of the petroleum industry.” What are those crown jewels? One of the “world’s largest concentrations of petrochemical facilities, including most of Texas’ 30 refineries, which represent 30 percent of the nation’s refining capacity.” The cost, of course, is in the billions. From the AP:Texas is seeking at least $12 billion for the full coastal spine, with nearly all of it coming from public funds. Last month, the government fast-tracked an initial $3.9 billion for three separate, smaller storm barrier projects that would specifically protect oil facilities.That followed Hurricane Harvey, which roared ashore last Aug. 25 and swamped Houston and parts of the coast, temporarily knocking out a quarter of the area’s oil refining capacity and causing average gasoline prices to jump 28 cents a gallon nationwide. Many Republicans argue that the Texas oil projects belong at the top of Washington’s spending list. The industry doesn’t care at all about the “overall economy.” They only care about their own economy. If industry CEOs could hire Texans to work for a pittance instead of a wage, they would do that. If they could hire Texans to work for nothing instead of a pittance, they would do that too.  The planned infrastructure is quite extensive. Just some of the detail: “While plans are still being finalized, some dirt levees will be raised to about 17 feet high, and 6 miles of 19-foot-tall floodwalls would be built or strengthened around Port Arthur, a Texas-Louisiana border locale of pungent chemical smells and towering knots of steel pipes.” The stink of the town is obviously due to the massive refinery structures. Note that this federal spending protects the property of non-U.S. companies as well: The town of 55,000 includes the Saudi-controlled Motiva oil refinery, the nation’s largest, as well as refineries owned by oil giants Valero Energy Corp. and [the French company] Total S.A. There are also almost a dozen petrochemical facilities.

U.S. Department Of Energy Authorizes Freeport LNG Exports --Last week, the U.S. Department of Energy authorized Freeport LNG to export up to 2.14 billion cubic feet of LNG from the same-name facility in Texas “to any country not prohibited by U.S. law or policy” beginning in the third quarter of 2019 when the Freeport facility will begin exports.The Energy Department release explained that the short-term order for Freeport LNG “allows for additional flexibilities to export LNG pursuant to short-term contracts and for the initial commissioning volumes from the project. Freeport will also still be able to export LNG pursuant to its long-term authorizations from DOE.”Last week, Freeport LNG said it had sealed a long-term deal with a U.S. division of Japan’s Sumitomo Corp for the delivery of 2.2 million tons of liquefied natural gas annually over a 20-year period, Reuters reported.The deal, to enter into effect in 2023 when the fourth liquefaction train at the Freeport facility is due to be completed, will be instrumental in providing the funds for the completion of the unit, which will have an annual capacity of 3.5 million tons of LNG. Now Freeport LNG needs to find long-term commitments for another 1.3 million tons of LNG to guarantee the construction of the fourth train. The first train should begin operating by the end of June 2019. Liquefied natural gas exports from the United States began in 2016, and since then, the Department of Energy reports, total production has reached the equivalent of more than 1.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The only two operating LNG export facilities in the country are Sabine Pass and Dominion Cove Point, with a combined capacity of 3.5 billion cubic feet of gas daily. So far, the government has approved long-term LNG export contracts to the tune of 21.35 billion cubic feet of gas daily.

Projects may double Corpus Christi crude oil export capacity by late 2019— Options for exporting more US crude oil from the burgeoning hub of Corpus Christi, Texas, continue to expand as companies prepare for a flood of crude available to head there within the next year. And infrastructure expansion is sorely needed. Planned long-haul pipelines out of the Permian Basin will potentially bring an additional 1.9 million b/d of light, sweet crude and condensate to Corpus Christi by the end of 2019. That's on top of the about 2 million b/d of crude from the Permian Basin and Eagle Ford Shale play that reaches the port city currently. As the area only has three refineries and two condensate splitters, with a combined capacity of about 795,000 b/d, much of the oil that makes its way to the port has to be exported, or transported by water. Exports of WTI and Eagle Ford crude and condensate out of Corpus Christi are also ramping up. The port is the closest -- and cheapest -- point along the Gulf Coast to buy Eagle Ford crude and condensate. WTI Midland crude also is available there. Corpus Christi, located about 220 miles southwest of Houston, is less congested, has less fog and has a deeper draft than the Port of Houston. All of those reasons, traders say, can make it more appealing for exports. By exporting crude from Corpus Christi, buyers and sellers can avoid the snarl of Houston pipeline and port logistics and marine bottlenecks there. In June, the port of Corpus Christi exported 619,242 b/d of crude, according to port data. In January, the port exported 458,153 b/d. Current facilities in Corpus Christi have the ability to export some 1.1 million b/d of crude. By late 2019, numerous projects at the port aim to more than double the export capacity to around 2.4 million b/d, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics data. That number could top 3.2 million b/d in early 2021 if all of the proposed projects are completed. Driving this is expansion are expected production increases in the Permian Basin, as well as the nearby Eagle Ford play. Crude pumped there will feed new or expanded pipelines including the 590,000 b/d EPIC line; Plains All American's 650,000 b/d Cactus II line and the 700,000 b/d Gray Oak line proposed by Phillips 66/Andeavor. Some planned infrastructure projects in Corpus Christi have focused on the need to directly load VLCCs that can transport some 2 million barrels of crude. However, until planned dredging of the Corpus Christi main channel is complete, or until a offshore crude export terminal is built, that will be impossible as the bay is too shallow to load VLCCs currently.

Permian E&Ps Significantly Boost 2020 Oil Hedges -- Possibly on Doubts about Pipeline Completion --  Oil and gas producers working in the Permian Basin increased their 2020 oil basis hedge positions by 431% during the second quarter, a sharp uptick that may signal doubts about 2019 target dates for key pipeline projects, Wood Mackenzie analysts said Tuesday. "It was an anomalously high trading volume” for 2020 Midland-Cushing (Mid-Cush) basis swaps during the quarter, said corporate research analyst Andrew McConn. “The only reasonable conclusion one can draw from this surge is that Permian producers are concerned that key pipeline projects won't be completed on schedule." With oil production forecast to grow on average in the Permian by more than 400,000 b/d year/year through 2022, output has been overwhelming takeaway capacity and causing oil and gas to sell inside the basin at steep discounts to national indexes. As recently as 2015, pipeline capacity constraints caused the Mid-Cush West Texas Intermediate discount to widen to $20/bbl, according to Wood Mackenzie researchers. “This has prompted many Permian operators to use derivatives to hedge against the risk of price differentials growing wider.” According to a U.S. exploration and production (E&P) review by Goldman Sachs of all hedging completed during 2Q2018, operators overall only slightly increased their 2018 oil hedging, but 2019 still was near normal levels. Hedging activity of Goldman’s covered E&Ps was considered to be minimal at the end of June versus the end of March. Post-2Q2018, E&Ps were 52% hedged for oil, 3% above an equivalent 49% at the end of the first quarter. For 2019, hedging had climbed to 23% from 16% post-1Q2018 results. 

Study Suggests Pipeline Delay Worries Among Permian - Oil producers in the Permian Basin appear to be worried that key pipeline projects to boost takeaway capacity from the region might not hit their 2019 targeted start-up dates. That is the conclusion of Wood Mackenzie analysts, who in a new report observe that Permian producers increased their 2020 oil-basis hedge positions by 431 percent – or 175,000 barrels per day – during the second quarter of this year. “It was an anomalously high trading volume for this particular hedging derivative,” Andrew McConn, corporate research analyst at Wood Mackenzie, said in a written statement Tuesday regarding the 2020 Midland to Cushing WTI discount (Mid-Cush basis-swaps). “The only reasonable conclusion one can draw from this surge is that Permian producers are concerned that key pipeline projects won’t be completed on schedule.” Wood Mackenzie noted that Permian oil production is ramping up at “breakneck speed,” with growth estimated at more than 400,000 barrels per day year-over-year on average through 2022. The study’s authors contend the production surge is overwhelming takeaway capacity within the Permian, causing oil and gas to sell inside the basin at steep discounts to national indexes. To illustrate, they noted that significant pipeline capacity constraints as recently as 2015 caused the Mid-Cush WTI discount to widen to $20 per barrel. As a result, many Permian operators have turned to derivatives to hedge against the risk of price differentials growing wider, Wood Mackenzie stated. “The more than 52 percent increase in 2019 Mid-Cush hedge positions suggests that producers perceive risk for that year as well,” continued McConn. “Specifically, the risk that Midland oil prices don’t gradually rise and converge back to parity with the Cushing index – as futures markets currently imply.”  Acknowledging that midstream companies are “racing” to add new pipeline capacity to ease congestion, Wood Mackenzie estimates that West Texas producers may not get “sustained relief” from current under-construction and final investment decision projects until late 2019. Wood Mackenzie stated that its most recent North American Crude markets short-term outlook projects that more than 2 million barrels per day of capacity should go online in the late-2019/early 2020 time frame.

Permian Takeaway Pains Leading to Other U.S. Basin Gains - Pipeline capacity constraints in the crowded Permian Basin won’t lead to any sharp pullback but they have led to opportunities elsewhere in the U.S. onshore, many of the largest domestic producers said last week.The annual Barclays Energy and Power CEO Conference, held in New York City, drew almost 200 companies and nearly 2,000 clients. Analysts Michael Cohen and Samuel Phillips offered a macro view of the salient points by exploration and production (E&P) companies and oilfield service (OFS) operators.There was no surprise about the leading topic at the flagship confab: Permian oil and gas takeaway constraints.“The key concern is in the Permian, where mixed messages from producers and service companies is keeping investors wondering about the sector overall,” said the analyst team.“Producers universally indicated that they planned to marginally slow down their drilling and completion activity in the Permian because of pipeline constraints.”But it’s not a long-term issue. Halliburton Co., which announced a reduction in its 3Q2018 outlook, said several E&Ps may have “blown through” 2018 Permian budgets, but they planned to get “straight back to work” in January.“E&Ps have strategies in mind” should a major price collapse occur in the Permian, said the Barclays team.They cited Diamondback Energy Inc. and Encana Corp., among a few others, which indicated that if differentials blow out too much, they “would likely adjust the shape of their production profiles in 2019 to deal with the egress issues.”

Oil and gas well fracking creates a lot of wastewater. Here's where things get interesting -- The extraction of petroleum hydrocarbons, particularly from impermeable strata like shale, is a thirsty process. It requires millions (and sometimes tens of millions) of gallons of water to stimulate a single production well. Couple this need with the feverish pace at which oil and gas production is expanding across the epicenter of shale energy extraction (far West Texas and eastern New Mexico), and it is easy to see the concerns about water resource management. Unconventional oil and natural gas extraction processes yield an incredible amount of wastewater. In the Permian Basin, as many as two to six barrels of wastewater are collected for every barrel of oil. This is where the story of shale energy extraction and the quest for domestic energy security becomes a tale of tremendous responsibility and opportunity. The bad news is that the systematic use of underground injection wells, known in the industry as saltwater disposal wells, has been linked to induced seismicity in several shale basins in the U.S. These induced earthquakes can damage property, thus potentially triggering a wave of litigation for energy companies. Equally problematic is the simple fact that pumping these large volumes of wastewater into the subsurface strata essentially removes that water from the water cycle. This may not be an emergency issue today in the U.S., but water management could become a pertinent topic in the very near future as the U.S. rig count rises.  Our research group, the Collaborative Laboratories for Environmental Analysis and Remediation at the University of Texas at Arlington, has studied this extensively under some of the most complex and diverse field conditions. We found that multiple treatment technologies are required to remove the contaminants that generally preclude oilfield waste from reuse. 

U.S. oil boom starts to cool, tightening global market-  (Reuters) - U.S. oil production is running into capacity constraints, which are starting to have a material impact on the global availability of crude, causing the market to tighten and putting upward pressure on prices. The biggest problem is the lack of sufficient pipeline capacity to move oil from shale wells in western Texas and eastern New Mexico to refineries in the Midwest and export terminals on the Gulf Coast. But production in the Permian Basin has also been constrained by shortages of labour, equipment and materials, which have pushed drilling, pressure pumping and completion costs sharply higher. The most obvious impact has been a sharp drop in the price that Permian producers receive for their oil compared with other benchmarks, especially Brent (https://tmsnrt.rs/2p0CTbx ). West Texas producers are currently receiving just $55 per barrel for oil delivered to Midland, in the heart of the Permian, compared with $79 for North Sea Brent. The massive discount reflects the twin difficulties of moving the crude out of the Permian to the main inland trading hub at Cushing in Oklahoma or down to the refineries and export terminals on the coast. Midland crude is currently trading at discount of $14 per barrel compared with Cushing, while Cushing is itself priced at a further discount of $10 to Brent. Midland has traded at an average discount to Brent of more than $12 per barrel this year, up from $4 in 2017 and less than $1 in 2016, and the price differential is steadily worsening. Midland prices have mostly been falling this year while Brent has climbed, leaving Midland up by just $10 per barrel (22 percent) since the end of June 2017 while Brent has risen by $32 (68 percent).  Well completions, which are more relevant for production, also show signs of stabilising in recent months, after increasing fairly consistently over the two previous years (“Drilling productivity report”, EIA, August 2018).Since the Permian Basin has been the biggest contributor to U.S. oil output growth in the last two years, the slowdown is starting to temper expectations for further increases in the rest of 2018 and through 2019.

Domestic Onshore Drilling Permits Gain in August, Slow Down in Early September - A total of 4,389 permits to drill in the U.S. onshore were filed by operators during August, up 22% from July and nearly one-third higher from a year ago, according to data compiled by Evercore ISI.Each month the analyst team provides an overview of domestic drilling permit activity onshore and offshore using data compiled from all major states and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Drilling permits require approval before exploration and production companies may drill a new well or bypass/sidetrack an existing well.According to Evercore, August data is nowhere near the heights achieved in August 2014, when 7,746 permits were filed, nor the monthly onshore permit count peak of 8,441 in June 2008.Analysts also cited some “weakening” permit numbers for the month in Wyoming, down 24% from July, as well as Mississippi (off 44%) and Ohio (off 15%), which pressured the permit totals.However, the permit losses in August from July were “more than offset” by gains in Colorado (66%), Texas (21%) and Kansas (66%).Still, the year-to-date domestic permit count remains 2% below the count during the 2009 cyclical downturn, according to Evercore.This month began slow for permitting, with a total of 742 U.S. onshore permits and one new offshore plan issued during the first week of September, down from the first week of August at 830.“Year-to-date onshore weekly average is down at 742 permits from 2017’s weekly average of 847 permits,” said analysts. For the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), 18 permits were issued in August, up from 13 in July and 11 in the year-ago period. Eight permits were issued for new wells, two deepwater, three midwater, and three shallow water. Seven permits were issued for sidetracks, while three were issued for bypasses.

Pioneer Secures In-Basin Sand, 15-Year Contract for Permian Operations with U.S. Silica -- Dallas-based Pioneer Natural Resources Co., one of the largest Permian Basin producers, has secured fracture sand reserves near its West Texas operations in a 15-year deal with U.S. Silica Holdings Inc.The contract guarantees long-term supply from U.S. Silica’s mine now underway near Lamesa, TX, which is close to Pioneer’s Midland sub-basin operations. Pioneer also took a stake in the Lamesa mine, but no details were disclosed.“Strategically located in close proximity to our Midland Basin acreage, delivered sand from the Lamesa mine will cost approximately half that of our current delivered sand, reducing well costs into 2019 and beyond,” CEO Timothy Dove said. “The long-term nature of this agreement will benefit both companies. U.S. Silica has been a trusted partner for many years, and this contract solidifies their position as one of our key suppliers of proppant.” Pioneer, the largest acreage holder in the Midland with an estimated 750,000 gross acres, last month increased its Permian capital spending by about 15% for the year to $3.4 billion.

Ex-CEO of Texas fracking sand company gets 15 years in scam - (AP) - The former CEO of a Texas fracking sand company must serve 15 years in federal prison over a $6 million Ponzi scheme that also landed an ex-lawmaker behind bars. Stanley Bates was sentenced Tuesday in San Antonio. The ex-FourWinds Logistics executive pleaded guilty to counts including securities fraud and money laundering in the scam linked to oil production. State Sen. Carlos Uresti of San Antonio resigned in June before being sentenced to 12 years for his conviction on counts including money laundering and wire securities fraud. Uresti was general counsel for now-defunct FourWinds. A consultant was also convicted and sentenced to more than five years. Prosecutors say investments were wrongly spent on gifts, travel, luxury vehicles and prostitutes. The three men must also repay more than $6.3 million.

Pipeline in fatal blast had a dime‑sized hole in it - A natural gas pipeline that exploded in Texas, killing a 3-year-old girl, had been leaking gas through a dime-sized hole for some time, records show. Delaney Tercero, 3, died and her sister and parents were badly burned in the explosion. A gathering line owned by Targa Pipeline Mid-Continent WestTex exploded on Aug. 9 near their mobile home outside Midland, Texas.  Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) records obtained by E&E News through an open-records request indicate that Targa had the pipeline excavated. They found that the steel wall of the line and the tar coating that is supposed to protect it had been "compromised," according to the RRC incident report. There was a hole, three-eighths of an inch by five-eighths of an inch wide, that had been leaking for "an undetermined length of time." The gas in the 10-inch-diameter pipeline was not odorized. The line was about 20 feet from the front of the family's mobile home. Targa hired a contractor to remove a 19-foot section of the pipe, and it was taken to a Targa location under "lock and key,"   RRC officials wrote that only Targa lawyers have access to the damaged pipe. Targa plans to reroute the gathering line in the area, the report said. Delaney's 2-year-old sister, Dalayza, remains hospitalized at University Medical Center in Lubbock. Her parents, Auden Tercero, 32, and Lucia Cereceres, 29, were also airlifted there after the explosion. The Aug. 10 posting by the sheriff's office said Cereceres was on a ventilator and Dalayza was considered "extremely critical" and on a breathing tube. 

‘We’ve waited a long time for this:’ Iowa Supreme Court to decide fate of Dakota Access pipeline - More than a year after the contentious Dakota Access pipeline began carrying crude oil underneath Iowa fields, local landowners who opposed the project finally got the chance to argue their case in front of the Iowa Supreme Court."We've waited a long time for this," Boone County farmer Dick Lamb said.The 1,172-mile pipeline transports about 470,000 barrels of crude oil each day from the Bakken formation in North Dakota to a distribution hub in Patoka, Illinois, cutting through 18 Iowa counties along the way. After the Iowa Utilities Board approved the project and the use of eminent domain to gain easements on properties, several landowners contested the decision in court.They were joined by other groups, including the Sierra Club Iowa chapter. In demonstrations, landowners, environmentalists and American Indians fought the $3.8 billion pipeline up and down the route as crews built the pipeline in 2016.  In February 2017, Polk County District Judge Jeffrey Farrell ruled that pipeline builders acted lawfully in seizing private land through Iowa's eminent domain laws. But the landowners appealed the decision to the state's highest court.The case is being closely watched because it will determine the fate of the hotly contested pipeline in Iowa. But the ruling could also set a precedent for how courts interpret Iowa's eminent domain laws in the future. Lawyers argued in front of Iowa's seven justices for about an hour Wednesday. The case now awaits the court's decision.

State regulators postpone Enbridge meetings after protests erupt - State regulators on Tuesday postponed a meeting on Enbridge's controversial new $2.6 billion oil pipeline project after protests erupted in the hearing room.The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) was evaluating whether Enbridge met conditions imposed by the panel in June in regard to the pipeline project, which would replace the company's current Line 3. The conditions, which must be met for the company to receive its permit, include details of Enbridge's corporate guarantee and insurance coverage in case of an oil spill.A disruption started around 11:15 a.m. when three pipeline opponents in the back of the PUC hearing room in downtown St. Paul took out a bullhorn and made speeches aimed at the commissioners."You should all be ashamed," one protester said."It's going to be really uncomfortable for you for the next couple of years," another protester said.PUC Chairwoman Nancy Lange then recessed the meeting until 11:45 a.m. The commissioners came back at 11:55, and they were greeted with protesters shouting, "What do you do when your land is under attack? Fight back."Lange tried to restart the meeting, and the protests diminished, though one pipeline opponent continued playing music on a boombox. Lange then canceled the rest of the meeting when her request to turn the music off wasn't heeded. The PUC will reschedule the meeting as soon as possible, said Dan Wolf, the commission's executive secretary. There were at least 20 opponents in the crowd, and about 20 pipeline supporters.

Colorado industry pumps millions into effort to defeat drilling setback — Oil and gas companies have pumped millions this campaign cycle into an effort to defeat a Colorado ballot measure that would increase new drilling setbacks by five-fold and cripple the future of the industry there. The pro-industry group Protecting Colorado's Environment, Economy and Energy Independence, received $7.9 million during August alone, according to data from the state's secretary of state. The industry learned in late August that Initiative 97 had received enough valid signatures to secure a spot on the November ballot. If approved, drilling setbacks would increase from the current 500-foot setback to 2,500 from all occupied structures as well as vulnerable areas, including waterways and parks. It will appear on the ballot as Proposition 112. "Proposition 112 will devastate the economy and cut nearly 150,000 jobs and billions in tax revenue for critical local services like schools, public safety and roads," said Karen Crummy of Protect Colorado. "The measure is so extreme it has bipartisan opposition from former, current and future elected officials, including gubernatorial candidates Jared Polis and Walker Stapleton." Protect Colorado has been running ads in an attempt to educate the public about what is at stake if Proposition 112 passes. More than 94% of non-federal land in the state's top five producing oil and natural gas counties (Weld, Garfield, La Plata, Rio Blanco and Las Animas) would be unavailable for new production. And at least 85% of all new oil and natural gas development on non-federal lands would be off limits, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. "What is clear, and what industry clearly understands, is that 97 is a must kill for the Colorado oil and gas industry, which will spare no expense or effort, especially key players, to educate voters about the economic harm that 97 likely would inflict upon the state," according to a note by Baird Equity Research. Key players in Colorado have already poured a lot of money into fighting the measure. Anadarko Petroleum, for instance, has contributed a total of $5.8 million to Protect Colorado so far this election cycle, including $1.83 million last month. DCP Midstream has donated $1 million, while Noble Energy and PDC energy have contributed $4.4 and $3.3 million, respectively, in 2018. Contributions have also come in from SRC Energy, Whiting Oil and Gas Corporation and many others. Total contributions to Protect Colorado throughout 2018 top $21 million through the end of August.

Trump's EPA proposes weaker methane rules for oil and gas wells (Reuters) - The Trump administration on Tuesday proposed weakening requirements for testing and repairing methane leaks in drilling operations, among other measures, in a step toward rolling back an Obama-era policy to combat climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said the changes will save the industry $75 million a year in regulatory costs between 2019 and 2025, while increasing methane emissions. Methane, the primary component of natural gas, leaks from oil and gas wells during drilling. It accounts for 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and has more than 80 times the heat-trapping potential of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it escapes into the atmosphere. The oil and gas sector is the largest single source of U.S. methane emissions, according to EPA data. The proposal is the latest move by the Trump administration to roll back environmental rules put in place by former President Barack Obama. Last month, the administration proposed rolling back tougher fuel efficiency standards for vehicles and moved to replace a policy to limit emissions from power plants with one that would allow states to write their own standards. Last year, it delayed implementing the Obama-era rule limiting methane gas emissions from oil and gas operations on federal and tribal lands. Under the new proposal methane gas emissions will increase by a total 380,000 short tons between 2019 and 2025 compared with the EPA’s 2018 baseline estimate. Obama’s updates to the EPA’s New Source Performance Standards envisioned preventing emissions of 300,000 short tons of methane in 2020, rising to preventing 510,000 short tons of methane emissions in 2025. “It’s unfortunate that the Trump Administration is once again ignoring facts and common sense only to put the interests of the nation’s worst-run oil and gas companies ahead of the health and welfare of all Americans,” Matt Watson, associate vice president, energy, for the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement. 

Forest Service Proposes Faster Permitting For Oil, Gas Leasing -- The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) plans to propose streamlining environmental reviews and permitting for oil and gas leasing in the forests and grasslands it manages, which it said should lead to expedited leasing decisions.In an advance notice of public rulemaking published in Thursday's issue of the Federal Register, the Department of Agriculture agency said the proposed rule would also improve coordination with the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and create "one simplified permitting system" for oil and gas operators."The potential changes to the existing regulation permitting sections include eliminating language that is redundant with the National Environmental Policy Act process, removing confusing options, and ensuring better alignment with the BLM regulations," USFS said. "The intent of these potential changes would be to decrease permitting times by removing regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production. These potential changes would promote domestic oil and gas production by allowing industry to begin production more quickly."USFS is accepting public comments through Oct. 15. The agency said the proposed changes would help modernize legislation that was first promulgated in 1990 and only given a minor update once, in 2007. According to the notice, USFS proposes to streamline and reform the process used to identify national forest land that BLM may offer for oil and gas leasing, and to update regulatory provisions that cover lease stipulation waivers, exceptions and modifications. It also plans to review language addressing an "operator's responsibility to protect natural resources and the environment."

Trump panel weighs change on royalties for gas from public land - (AP) — A Trump administration advisory committee on Thursday recommended a change in the way energy companies calculate how much money they owe taxpayers for pumping natural gas from public lands. But the U.S. Interior Department's Royalty Policy Committee first had to clear up an apparent misunderstanding over how much leeway the companies would have in determining how much they owed. Critics said the proposal would have allowed companies virtually a free hand in calculating the royalties they had to pay, but committee members said that was not their intent. Instead, they said companies should get a choice between two formulas, both set by the government. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke formed the committee to recommend ways to remove barriers to getting coal, oil and gas from public land while ensuring taxpayers get fair prices. The panel held its fourth meeting in the Denver suburb of Lakewood. Royalties from publicly owned energy reserves are distributed among federal, state and tribal governments, and billions of dollars are at stake. In fiscal year 2017, the government passed out $7.1 billion in royalties on oil, gas and coal extracted from federal lands, federal offshore areas and Native American lands, according to the Interior Department, which manages most federally owned energy. Environmentalists and taxpayer advocates said an early version of the Royalty Policy Committee's proposal — posted on the Interior Department's website — had a loophole that would have let companies decide how to calculate royalties instead of using a formula set by the Bureau of Land Management, part of the Interior Department. The proposal "would remove BLM's authority to determine valuation, handing power over to producers to self-regulate,"

North Dakota Geologists Seek Local Sand Source for Fracking — North Dakota geologists are attempting to locate local sources of sand to be used for hydraulic fracturing as the oil industry demand grows. The North Dakota Geological Survey is collecting sandstone samples from Billings and McKenzie counties this year, the Bismarck Tribune reported. The agency had already collected samples in other areas and authored a 2011 study that found the state's sand sources are lower in quality than other U.S. sources. This second phase of research comes as demand for sand increases and companies experiment with lower-cost options. Companies are now accepting sands that they wouldn't have accepted between 10 and 15 years ago, according to Monte Besler, who owns FRACN8R Consulting in Williston. "We're trying to test and characterize our sand resource so that industry can decide whether or not we have a usable alternative," said Fred Anderson, a geologist with the state survey agency.   Preferred sand for fracking is spherical and close to pure quartz, similar to the Northern white sand that's shipped to the Bakken from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. North Dakota's sand contains quartz, but it's more mixed than pure, according to Anderson. Anderson said it's possible that the state's sand could be processed to get it closer to the desired sand characteristics. North Dakota operators want to find a local sand source to save on transportation costs instead of importing by rail, said Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council. 

Native American tribes sue over Keystone XL pipeline | TheHill: Two Native American tribes are suing the Trump administration over its approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which they say will damage important cultural sites. The Fort Belknap and Rosebud Sioux tribes brought the lawsuit against the State Department on Monday, claiming the pipeline was approved last year without consideration of the harm it could inflict. The tribes are asking a court to rescind the permit, arguing that the president ignored their human rights and specific protections for tribes when he approved the project last year. "All historical, cultural, and spiritual places and sites of significance in the path of the pipeline are at risk of destruction," the tribes told the federal District Court for the District of Montana in their filing. The lawsuit is the latest in a series of ongoing legal battles which have stalled the pipeline's construction since the State Department issued a permit allowing it to move ahead in 2017. The pipeline was most recently delayed last month after a judge ordered an environmental review of the project.

California Jury Finds Plains Guilty in 2015 Oil Spill - A jury in Santa Barbara County, CA, has found Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline LP guilty of criminal charges in a 2015 pipeline oil spill that fouled local beaches.  After a four-month trial, the state Superior Court jury found Plains guilty of one felony count for causing the spill by failing to properly maintain its pressurized oil pipeline, the 10.2-mile Las Flores to Gaviota Pipeline, or Line 901, that ruptured with some of the oil reaching the Pacific Ocean at Refugio State Beach through a drainage culvert. Plains shut down Line 901 and another nearby pipeline, Line 903.The jury also found Plains guilty on eight misdemeanor counts for failing to report the spill in a timely manner, knowingly making false reports to the state, and for killing marine mammals, protected sea birds and other sea life. The jury considered 13 counts against Plains, which had been whittled down from an original list of 46 counts in a 2016 indictment by a California grand jury.Plains was acquitted on one misdemeanor charge. The judge declared a mistrial on three other counts after the jury failed to come to agreement.Plains officials said the publicly traded master limited partnership "continues to accept full responsibility for the impact of the accident, and we're committed to doing the right thing." They cited the company's "comprehensive clean up effort" and the absence of any "knowing wrongdoing" by the company or its employees in the verdicts.Plains maintained that its operations of Line 901 met or exceeded all applicable legal and industry standards, and that the jury "erred in its verdict on one count where applicable California laws allowed a conviction under a negligence standard." Plains indicated it would evaluate legal options regarding the jury's decision. In the original 46 counts, Plains and a former employee, who was terminated before the trial began, were specifically named for allegedly violating state laws. Following the spill, Gov. Jerry Brown signed three laws on oil pipeline preventive and contingency planning requirements spurred by the Plains incident.

California Gov. Jerry Brown moves to block Trump on offshore drilling, declares 'not here, not now' - California Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday signed legislation to thwart the Trump administration's efforts to expand offshore oil drilling along the California coast. At the same time, the Democratic governor announced the state's opposition to the federal government's plan to expand oil drilling on public lands, an idea that's is controversial in conservation-minded California. It follows the U.S. Interior Department move in January that proposed to open up 90 percent of the country's offshore oil and gas reserves through new federal leases.  "Today, California's message to the Trump administration is simple: Not here, not now," Brown said in a press release. "We will not let the federal government pillage public lands and destroy our treasured coast." The two bills signed by Brown on Saturday, Senate Bill 834 and Assembly Bill 1775, seek to prohibit new construction of oil drilling-related infrastructure, such as pipelines, within state waters if the federal government authorizes any new offshore oil leases.The White House and Interior Department did not immediately return CNBC's request for comment. California can make it difficult to expand oil and gas drilling, because it controls waters that are within three miles of its shoreline. The federal government has rights over waters between three and 231 miles offshore. Moreover, the new legislation signed by the governor require new public notices and processes for lease renewals, as well as other hurdles to authorize new construction of oil and gas-related infrastructure associated with new federal leases. There has been no federal expansion of oil drilling along California's coastline for more than three decades, and public opinion polling in the state has shown Californians oppose more oil drilling off the coast.Back in 2015, the state experienced its worst oil spill in 25 years when a ruptured oil pipeline spilled over 140,000 gallons of crude into the ocean, and coastal beaches near Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County. On Friday, a jury in Santa Barbara County convicted Texas-based Plains All-American Pipeline of nine criminal charges related to the spill, including a felony for failing to properly maintain its pipeline infrastructure.

Gov. Brown signs bills to block Trump's offshore oil drilling plan: Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday signed two bills that would block new offshore oil drilling in California by barring the construction of pipelines, piers, wharves or other infrastructure necessary to transport the oil and gas from federal waters to state land. This locks into law the vows of Brown and other state officials who declared earlier this year they would do whatever it takes to stop the Trump administration from opening California waters to drilling on an unprecedented scale. Bills AB 1775 and SB 834 prohibit the State Lands Commission, which has jurisdiction over tidelands and waters extending roughly three miles offshore, from granting leases for new pipelines and infrastructure — the most economical way to transport oil and gas to land. The Senate version of the bill also bans the commission from renewing an existing lease if that action would result in increased oil or natural gas production from federal waters.A similar Senate bill last year had failed amid pressure from oil and business interests that said stripping the state of this decision-making authority could do more harm than good.Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), who wrote the Senate bill last year and this year, said she was pleased to see it succeed: “From the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill to the 2015 Refugio spill, I represent a community that knows all too well the devastation oil spills can bring to our economy and environment.”Polls today show 69% of California residents oppose more drilling off their coast. Both the Republican and Democratic candidates vying to be the next governor have declared that the state's commitment to block new offshore drilling would not change under their leadership.Oil and gas production from the state’s tidelands peaked in the 1960s and has been more or less declining ever since. The state has not issued a new offshore oil and gas lease since the devastating 1969 spill in Santa Barbara turned public sentiment against offshore drilling. In 1994, the state Legislature passed the California Coastal Sanctuary Act, which prohibits new leasing in state waters.

ExxonMobil strikes deal with Alaska to feed LNG project — ExxonMobil has agreed on terms and conditions for the sale of its 13.8 Tcf of natural gas resources in the Prudhoe Bay and Point Thomson fields of Alaska's North Slope to Alaska Gasline Development Corp., the state-owned entity leading development of the Alaska LNG Project, state and AGDC officials announced Monday. The agreement follows a similar commitment of gas to the LNG project made last May by BP, also a major North Slope gas owner. State Commissioner of Natural Resources Andy Mack said the two agreements commit 22.7 Tcf to the LNG project, the majority of the about 32 Tcf of gas identified on the slope. The figures include the state's royalty share of gas, which ranges between 12.5% and 16.6% of the gas depending on the leases involved. "Today's announcement is further evidence that the major North Slope producers are committed to this project. It's good news, but it's just one step of many needed for a major project like this," Mack told a briefing for reporters. As part of the deal, the state reached an agreement with ExxonMobil to modify certain terms of a 2012 lawsuit settlement with the owners of Point Thomson, the largest stakes in which are held by ExxonMobil and BP, Mack said. ConocoPhillips, the third major North Slope gas owner, is still in discussions with AGDC on commitment of its gas to the project,

Prices Slide As Weather Moderates And Summer Comes To A Close -- Highlights of the Natural Gas Summary and Outlook for the week ending September 7, 2018 follow. The full report is available at the link below.

  • Price Action: The October contract fell 14.0 cents (4.8%) to $2.776 on a 14.5 cent range ($2.904/$2.759).
  • Price Outlook: Weather forecasts are beginning to moderate and summer cooling demand is rapidly coming to a close. However, the storage deficit remains daunting and although US production is set to rise, impending nuclear maintenance may keep power burn elevated and the storage deficit to the 5-year looks to remain very high for the next two weeks. For daily updated storage projections, subscribe to our joint publication with RBN Energy. CFTC data indicated a (21,987)contract reduction in the managed money net long position as longs liquidated and shorts added. This is the lowest long position since January 5, 2016. Total open interest rose 57,630 to 3.830 million as of September 04. Aggregated CME futures open interest rose to 1.657 million as of September 07, a new record. The current weather forecast is now warmer than 8 of the last 10 years. Pipeline data indicates total flows to Cheniere’s export facility were at 2.8 bcf. Cove Point is net exporting 0.7 bcf.
  • Weekly Storage: US working gas storage for the week ending August 31 indicated an injection of +63 bcf. Working gas inventories rose to 2,568 bcf. Current inventories fall (652) bcf (-20.2%) below last year and fall (581) bcf (-18.4%) below the 5-year average.
  • Storage Outlook: The EIA weekly implied flow was 2 bcf from our EIA storage estimate. Although our weekly storage error has been somewhat disappointing, over the last 5 weeks the EIA has reported total injections of 232 bcf compared to our 233 bcf estimate and that is more than acceptable. The forecasts use a 10-year rolling temperature profile past the 15-day forecast. Our joint publication with RBN updates storage projections daily.
  • Supply Trends: Total supply rose 0.7 bcf/d to 80.5 bcf/d. US production rose. Canadian imports rose. LNG imports rose. LNG exports rose. Mexican exports fell. The US Baker Hughes rig count was unchanged +0. Oil activity decreased (2). Natural gas activity increased +2. The total US rig count now stands at 1,048 .The Canadian rig count fell (24) to 204. Thus, the total North American rig count fell (24) to 1,252 and now exceeds last year by +106. The higher efficiency US horizontal rig count rose +1 to 918 and rises +125 above last year.
  • Demand Trends: Total demand rose +2.1 bcf/d to +72.1 bcf/d. Power demand rose. Industrial demand fell. Res/Comm demand rose. Electricity demand rose +4,347 gigawatt-hrs to 89,856 which exceeds last year by +12,756 (16.5%) and exceeds the 5-year average by 4,846 (5.7%%).

The cooling season is now entering its final stretch. With a forecast through September 21 the 2018 total cooling index is at 5,367 compared to 4,638 for 2017, 5,391 for 2016, 4,230 for 2015, 3,351 for 2014, 4,793 for 2013, 7,110 for 2012 and 6,577 for 2011.

 Volatile Day for October Natural Gas as Market Fixated on Florence, Storage Data - October natural gas appeared ready to stage a third day of solid gains as the prompt month rose 4 cents Wednesday morning but then retreated throughout the remainder of the session as traders began to consider the potentially devastating effect Hurricane Florence could have on natural gas demand in the coming weeks. The Nymex October futures contract ultimately settled at $2.829, up just one-tenth of a cent on the day. November and December slipped less than a penny to $2.82 and $2.91.Spot gas prices, however, were mixed despite mostly warm to hot conditions across the country. The NGI National Spot Gas Avg. rose a penny to $2.63.Meanwhile, all eyes were on Hurricane Florence, which as of 2 p.m. ET, had been downgraded to a Category 3 storm as maximum sustained winds decreased to near 125 mph. Florence was moving toward the northwest near 16 mph and this general motion, accompanied by a gradual decrease in forward speed, was expected through Saturday.On the forecast track, the center of Florence was expected to move over the southwestern Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda and the Bahamas Wednesday, and then approach the coast of North Carolina or South Carolina in the hurricane warning area on Thursday and Friday and move slowly near the coastline through Saturday.“Demand wise, Florence will play out primarily b earish from rain, cooling and power outages,” NatGasWeather said.

US natural gas in storage increases 69 Bcf to 2.636 Tcf: EIA — US natural gas in storage increased by 69 Bcf to 2.636 Tcf for the week ended September 7, the US Energy Information Administration reported Thursday. The build was slightly less than an S&P Global Platts' survey of analysts calling for a 70-Bcf addition. The injection was less than both the 87-Bcf build reported during the corresponding week in 2017 and the five-year average addition of 76 Bcf, according to EIA data. As a result, stocks were 662 Bcf, or 20%, less than the year-ago level of 3.298 Tcf and 595 Bcf, or 18%, less than the five-year average of 3.232 Tcf. The injection was more than the 63-Bcf build reported the week prior as cooler temperatures across the South dropped gas-fired power generation by 7 Bcf, with estimates in Texas reaching the lowest levels since June, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. The East region added 20 Bcf to 659 Bcf, which was 103 Bcf less than the five-year average. The Midwest gained 32 Bcf to 734 Bcf and is now 155 Bcf below average. A 4-Bcf injection in the Mountain region brought stocks up to 166, or 29 Bcf less than average, while the Pacific also added 4 Bcf to 250 Bcf, compared the five-year average of 326 Bcf. South Central posted a 7-Bcf injection, bringing volumes to 806 Bcf, which is 226 Bcf below average. At 2,636 Bcf, total working gas is below the five-year historical range. The NYMEX October Henry Hub natural gas futures added 1.3 cent to $2.842/MMBtu following the 10:30 am EDT storage announcement. Over the past five years, storage levels peaked in the week ending November 9 at 3.8 Tcf. That would allow for nine more injections before the flip to net withdrawals begin. An early forecast for at least the next three weeks show no reduction in the deficit, according to Platts Analytics. Storage is expected to peak at approximately 3.3 Tcf before the switch to withdrawals in early November. If so, it would be the lowest level to start the heating season since 2005 when stocks peaked at 3.2 Tcf. However, high gas production has kept prices from rising despite the large storage deficit.

Natural Gas Price Moves Higher Briefly After Storage Report - The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported Thursday morning that U.S. natural gas stockpiles increased by 69 billion cubic feet for the week ending August 31.  Analysts were expecting a storage injection of around 65 billion cubic feet. The five-year average for the week is an injection of 74 billion cubic feet, and last year’s storage increase for the week totaled 87 billion cubic feet. Natural gas inventories rose by 63 billion cubic feet in the week ending August 31.  Natural gas futures for October delivery traded up about a penny in advance of the EIA’s report, at around $2.83 per million BTUs, and it rose to about $2.85 shortly after the report was released.  For the period between September 13 and September 19, NatGasWeather.com predicts “moderate” demand and offers the following outlook:  It remains hot over the Southwest with 90s and 100s, while also hot over the Southeast with lower 90s. Warm high pressure will strengthen over the northern half of the country to close out the week with 80s becoming widespread besides the Northwest.  In its Short-term Energy Outlook published earlier this week, the EIA forecast dry natural gas production to average 81 billion cubic feet per day in 2018, up by 7.4 billion cubic feet in 2017 and establishing a new record high. The agency expects natural gas production will continue to rise in 2019 to an average of 84.7 billion cubic feet per day. Total U.S. stockpiles slipped slightly week over week to 20.1% below last year’s level and rose to 18.4% below the five-year average.  The EIA reported that U.S. working stocks of natural gas totaled about 2.636 trillion cubic feet at the end of last week, around 596 billion cubic feet below the five-year average of 3.232 trillion cubic feet and 662 billion cubic feet below last year’s total for the same period. Working gas in storage totaled 3.298 trillion cubic feet for the same period a year ago.

Henry Hub Natural Gas to Average $2.99 in '18, $3.12 in '19, Says EIA - Relatively low storage levels, robust domestic consumption and growing export levels are propping up Henry Hub prices, which are expected to average $2.99/MMBtu this year and $3.12/MMBtu in 2019, slightly higher than previously forecast, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).Both price forecasts, found in EIA's latest Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), are up marginally from last month, when the agency said it expected 2018 Henry Hub prices to average $2.96/MMBtu and upward pressure to push average prices to $3.10/MMBtu in 2019.New York Mercantile Exchange contract values for December 2018 delivery traded during the five-day period ending Sept. 6 suggest a price range of $2.31-3.77/MMBtu, encompassing the market expectation of Henry Hub prices in December at the 95% confidence level, EIA said.The front-month natural gas futures contract for delivery at Henry Hub settled at $2.77/MMBtu on Sept. 6, an increase of 1 cent/MMBtu from Aug. 1."The Henry Hub natural gas spot price averaged $2.96/MMBtu in August, 12 cents/MMBtu higher than in July," EIA said. "Cooling degree days in the United States averaged 13% higher than the 10-year (2008-2017) average in August, which contributed to high natural gas demand for power generation."Natural gas inventories have been low this year compared to the five-year (2013-2017) average, reflecting relatively high residential and commercial gas consumption early in the year and growth in both liquefied natural gas and pipeline exports throughout the year, according to EIA.Last week, EIA reported a 63 Bcf build, growing natural gas inventories to 2,568 Bcf/d, which was 643 Bcf below the same time a year earlier and 590 Bcf below the five-year average. EIA is forecasting that natural gas inventories will reach 3,308 Bcf by the end of October, which would be the lowest end-of-October inventory level since 2005.

Oil set to be toppled as North America's 'main energy source' this year, risk management firm says --Oil will be toppled as North America's primary energy source this year, according to risk management firm DNV GL, with natural gas and electrification set to reshape the region's energy future.The Norway-headquartered firm said Monday that overall energy demand in the U.S. and Canada would continue to decline over the coming months, as improving efficiencies in the transport sector dramatically reduce North America's reliance on oil."Energy efficiency is going to outpace the growth in GDP (gross domestic product), that's the main reason why energy demand is peaking," DNV GL's group president and CEO Remi Eriksen told CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe" on Monday."(And) there will be a massive change in technology in the transport sector, not only on the roads but also at sea," he added.In a separate report published Monday by DNV GL, the company said "natural gas is set to overtake oil as the region's largest single energy source (this year) and remain the dominant source until 2050."DNV GL predicted overall energy demand in the U.S. and Canada would continue to shrink as the regional economy becomes less based on manufacturing and as electricity plays a greater role. This would eventually lead to energy demand falling 43 percent by 2050, it added. The world's largest oil firms have different views over the potential for an oil demand peak, but all say that even if demand peaks, trillions of dollars of investments in oil gas would be required to develop new barrels.

The United States is now the largest global crude oil producer - The United States likely surpassed Russia and Saudi Arabia to become the world’s largest crude oil producer earlier this year, based on preliminary estimates in EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO). In February, U.S. crude oil production exceeded that of Saudi Arabia for the first time in more than two decades. In June and August, the United States surpassed Russia in crude oil production for the first time since February 1999. Although EIA does not publish crude oil production forecasts for Russia and Saudi Arabia in STEO, EIA expects that U.S. crude oil production will continue to exceed Russian and Saudi Arabian crude oil production for the remaining months of 2018 and through 2019. U.S. crude oil production, particularly from light sweet crude oil grades, has rapidly increased since 2011. Much of the recent growth has occurred in areas such as the Permian region in western Texas and eastern New Mexico, the Federal Offshore Gulf of Mexico, and the Bakken region in North Dakota and Montana. The oil price decline in mid-2014 resulted in U.S. producers reducing their costs and temporarily scaling back crude oil production. However, after crude oil prices increased in early 2016, investment and production began increasing later that year. By comparison, Russia and Saudi Arabia have maintained relatively steady crude oil production growth in recent years.  Saudi Arabia's crude oil and other liquids production data are EIA internal estimates. Russian data mainly come from the Russian Ministry of Oil, which publishes crude oil and condensate numbers. Other sources used to inform these estimates include data from major producing companies, international organizations (such as the International Energy Agency), and industry publications, among others.

U.S. Hydraulic Fracturing Market Estimated to be Valued at $13.91 Billion by 2025 | Hexa Research - The U.S. Hydraulic Fracturing Market to reach USD 13.91 billion by 2025, owing to the rise in the oil and gas exploration and extraction activities in the country over the forecast period. There is a rise in the demand for primary energy resources owing to the rise in population and industrialization. To meet these demands and ensure the continuous supply of natural resources in the country, the market for unconventional techniques such as hydraulic fracturing is expect to grow over the forecast period. This technology was first employed in in the U.S.in 1947 and has been constantly upgraded since then. In 2015, around 67% of natural gas was produced from hydraulically fractured wells in the country. The U.S. hydraulic fracturing market is expected to grow significantly owing to the rise in the recent developments and innovations such as using hydraulic fracturing in combination with horizontal drilling during shale formations. This has revealed new sources for huge amount of natural gas supplies, which is fulfilling the energy needs of the nation and is expected to transform the energy future. The use of this technology was first employed around the year 2000 after which it was continuously being used in the oil and gas production and extraction processes. There is a significant rise in the domestic oil and gas production from hydraulically fractured oil and gas production wells. In 2015, the production of oil from hydraulically fractured reservoirs accounted for more than 50% of the total oil production and the gas production accounted for around 70% of the total gas production in the country. This combination technology of directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing allows the oil and gas reservoirs to be punctured directionally or horizontally alongside the foundation of targeted rocks, giving exposure to the rock formation bearing oil and gas in the production well, which is expected to drive the growth for this market over the forecast period.

EIA Cuts Forecast For 2019 US Crude Production Growth (Reuters) - U.S. crude oil production in 2019 is expected to grow at a slower rate than previously forecast, according to a monthly U.S. government forecast on Tuesday. U.S. crude production is expected to rise by 840,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 11.5 million bpd next year, lower than a previous expectation for it to rise 1.02 million bpd to 11.7 million, according to a report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Oil demand growth in 2019 is expected to rise by 250,000 bpd, a decrease from EIA's previous projection for an increase of 290,000 bpd. The agency largely left 2018 production and demand growth forecasts unchanged. A shale boom has helped send U.S. production surging above 10 million bpd this year for the first time since the 1970s. But drilling activity in the Permian basin, the largest U.S. oil patch, has begun showing signs of a slowdown due to limited pipeline takeaway capacity. U.S. crude oil production in 2018 is expected to grow 1.31 million barrels per day (bpd) to 10.66 million bpd, little changed from EIA's previous forecast. Demand in 2018 is likely to grow by 470,000 bpd, also unchanged. "EIA's September outlook revised expectations for Brent spot prices upward to an average of $73 per barrel for 2018," EIA Administrator Linda Capuano said. "The change was largely due to lower expectations for Canada's crude oil production and OPEC's condensate production," she said. Saudi Arabia wants oil to stay between $70 and $80 a barrel for now as the world's biggest crude exporter strikes a balance between maximizing revenue and keeping a lid on prices until U.S. congressional elections in November, OPEC and industry sources have told Reuters. EIA forecasts Brent spot prices to average $74 per barrel in 2019. 

Why a 'new energy order' is threatening shareholder returns for oil companies --Oil companies are soon to be stuck between a rock and a hard place despite increased oil prices, according to energy analysts at J.P. Morgan.Under pressure from consumers and governments to transition to new and greener energy sources, oil majors will have to "reinvent themselves," Christyan Malek, head of EMEA oil and gas research at the bank, told CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe" on Tuesday.But this will increase capital expenditure and thereby hit shareholder returns, the companies' primary lure for investors, he added.In a research note published this week, J.P. Morgan described a "trilemma" facing oil firms: traditional oil and gas revenue growth, energy transition to reduce carbon footprint, and returning surplus cash to shareholders.  "The industry has gotten to a point where they can no longer pay lip service, they have to spend dollars [on diversifying]," Malek said. "But they've got to do that whilst giving back cash to shareholders, as well as supporting the bread and butter business. To do all three is very difficult, and that is why we think the sector's risk-reward is, at best, challenged." Fossil fuels divestments now total an eye-popping $6 trillion, with nearly 1,000 institutional investors having pledged to divest from coal, oil and gas under pressure from environmental groups, governments and increasingly conscientious consumers. This is according to a recently-published divestment report from Arabella Advisors, which revealed an increase in divestment from the 2016 figure of $5.2 trillion. The growing movement has been led by the insurance industry but followed by universities across 37 countries, sovereign wealth funds, medical institutions, cities including New York, and the nation of Ireland. The Church of England last month voted to divest from fossil fuel companies if by 2023 they had not shown ample progress in abiding by the parameters of the Paris Climate Accord to limit global warming. Oil majors like Shell have publicly labeled divestment as a material risk.

Next Financial Crisis Lurks Underground - In 10 years, fracking in America has turned the energy world upside down. A decade and a half ago, Congress was hand-wringing about impending shortages of oil and natural gas. By the end of 2015, President Barack Obama lifted the ban against oil exports. Today, America is the world’s largest producer of natural gas and is an oil powerhouse, ready to eclipse both Saudi Arabia and Russia. This has led to muscular claims about American energy wealth. Erik Norland, executive director of CME Group, a derivatives marketplace,calls fracking “one of the top five things reshaping geopolitics.” This radical change has resulted in widespread concern about the impact of fracking on the environment, about earthquakes and water contamination. But another, less well-known controversy may prove to be more important.  Some of fracking’s biggest skeptics are on Wall Street. They argue that the industry’s financial foundation is unstable: Frackers haven’t proven that they can make money. “The industry has a very bad history of money going into it and never coming out,” says the hedge fund manager Jim Chanos, who founded one of the world’s largest short-selling hedge funds. The 60 biggest exploration and production firms are not generating enough cash from their operations to cover their operating and capital expenses. In aggregate, from mid-2012 to mid-2017, they had negative free cash flow of $9 billion per quarter. These companies have survived because, despite the skeptics, plenty of people on Wall Street are willing to keep feeding them capital and taking their fees. From 2001 to 2012, Chesapeake Energy, a pioneering fracking firm, sold $16.4 billion of stock and $15.5 billion of debt, and paid Wall Street more than $1.1 billion in fees, according to Thomson Reuters Deals Intelligence. A key reason for the terrible financial results is that fracked oil wells show a steep decline rate: The amount of oil they produce in the second year is drastically smaller than the amount produced in the first year. According to an economist at the Kansas City Federal Reserve, production in the average well in the Bakken — a key area for fracking shale in North Dakota — declines 69 percent in its first year and more than 85 percent in its first three years. A conventional well might decline by 10 percent a year. For fracking operations to keep growing, they need huge investments each year to offset the decline from the previous years’ wells.

No fracking boom if not for low interest rates after financial crisis, CNBC contributor says – video - Bethany McLean, author and CNBC contributor, says fracking companies haven't proven that they can produce cash flow and have incurred a lot of debt, which isn't good for shareholders.

Barge holding fuel drifts near Skidegate Inlet - A barge carrying thousands of litres of fuel broke free from its moorings during Saturday’s storm and has drifted southeast of Queen Charlotte near the community of Skidegate in Haida Gwaii. The Canadian Coast Guard has responded and is working with the barge’s owner as well as Haida Gwaii Nation and provincial and federal authorities to manage any public safety and environmental risks. “We are also mobilizing a hazmat team to do an initial search of the vessel,” Jocelyn Lubczuk, a spokesperson with the Canadian Coast Guard, said. Lubczuk said the luxury fishing lodge was moored in Alliford Bay but was spotted adrift in Skidegate Bay near Jewell Island around 9:30 p.m. and a four-inch crack in the hull kept it grounded on the island’s shore. The Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC), which handles marine spills, was called in to help and its skimming vessel was dispatched from Prince Rupert. “We staged some equipment nearby. Right now the barge is on the ground so it is right up on the beach. It is not spilling,” While no pollution has been observed, authorities are carefully watching the situation. “The estimated volume of hydrocarbons on board is about 18,000 litres of gas and about 15,000 litres from diesel. We haven’t observed any pollution in the water yet,” Lubczuk said. 

First Nations group proposes oil pipeline that protects indigenous rights - First Nations have played a central part in Canada's national debate over pipeline projects, leading protests that have seen thousands take to the streets or building tiny homes in hopes of thwarting construction.Behind the scenes, however, one group has been quietly refining a precedent-setting proposal that they say offers a means of protecting indigenous rights while unlocking the country’s vast oil and gas reserves: a First Nations-led pipeline.“We did this because First Nations wanted to be able to demonstrate how to do this right,” said Calvin Helin, the chairman and president of Eagle Spirit Energy Holdings and a member of the Lax Kw’alaams band on Canada’s west coast. Six years in the making, plans for the Eagle Spirit pipeline envision transporting up to 2m barrels a day of medium to heavy crude oil from Alberta’s landlocked oil sands to tide water on the west coast.The proposal still faces considerable hurdles, leading some to describe the project as far-fetched. But Helin describes it as an alternative way forward at a time when the politics around pipelines has become increasingly sensitive.The project was launched amid complaints by some First Nations over the Northern Gateway pipelines, a proposed project that sought to carry Alberta oil to a port in northern British Columbia for export. Despite their concerns about the project’s environmental standards, the communities most affected by the proposal didn’t feel like anyone was paying attention, said Helin.Their viewpoint was vindicated in 2016 when a court ruled that Ottawa had failed in its duty to consult with aboriginal groups. Soon after, the project was cancelled by the prime minister, Justin Trudeau.It was a victory for First Nations, said Helin. “But at the end of the day, they weren’t opposed to pipelines. And so they came together and have led this project from the very beginning.”The Eagle Spirit pipeline – since expanded into plans for a C$12bn ($9bn) multi-pipeline energy corridor that could include liquefied natural gas and natural gas liquids – would see First Nations become the major equity holders, giving them a share of the profits and control over its environmental model. According to Helin, so far the project has the support of 34 of the 35 communities it would traverse. “We’ve just gotta have meetings with one community,” he said. “We’ve gone to great pains to meet with everybody, we’ve done thousands of meetings.”

 Mexico oil production to reach 2.6 mil b/d by 2025: Lopez Obrador — Mexico's President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Sunday he plans to focus on developing and exploring onshore and shallow water areas under the control of state oil company Pemex to boost the country's oil production. "We have a projection, and our plan is to have production of at least 2.6 million b/d by the end of the presidential term; additional production of 800,000 b/d," Lopez Obrador said in webcast press conference. Lopez Obrador was speaking to journalists after a meeting with Mexican drilling and oil service companies at Villahermosa in Tabasco. Mexico's production averaged 1.8 million b/d in July, down from an historical high of 3.4 million b/d in 2004, latest data from Mexico's National Hydrocarbon Commission showed. Lopez Obrador said the incoming administration plans to tender drilling contracts in December when his six-year term begins to develop Pemex's shallow water and inland areas to boost oil production. "We are inviting all companies to participate in these tenders. However, we will have a preference over domestic contractors," he added. He said he planned to add Peso 75 billion ($3.9 billion) to Pemex's exploration and production budget to boost drilling and thus raise output. The tenders will help Mexico reverse its production downtrend by the end of 2019, he added. Mexico's oil industry is at a crisis as a result of low public investment in the sector. Pemex in 2017 had an E&P capital expenditure budget of Peso 81.5 billion, down from Peso 222 billion in 2014, the company's annual financial statements show. The cut in Pemex's budget resulted in a significant decrease in drilling activity; it drilled 83 wells in 2017, compared with 705 in 2013. Lopez Obrador blamed the previous administration for Pemex's lower capital expenditure, claiming it was done on purpose amid expectations the private sector would offset lower activity from the state company. "It has been a complete failure, this wrongly named energy reform," Lopez Obrador said The president-elect has historically been an opponent of private participation in Mexico's energy sector. His critics note Pemex's spending cuts reflect lower global oil prices after 2014.

Worldwide oil and gas rig count grows again - The number of working oil and gas rigs working worldwide grew again month-on-month in August 2018 according to the Baker Hughes, a GE company, (BHGE) monthly rig count, monitored by Kallanish. The rise was due to a monthly increase in the number of international and Canadian rigs. The U.S. rig count, was unchanged on-month, whilst still remaining ahead year-on-year.The number of rigs operating in the US remained at 1050 following increases in April, May and June and a fall in July. Numbers in Canada grew strongly again m-o-m in August, rising by 16 units to 220.The North American rig count for the month was therefore 1,270, an increase of 16 (1.3%) m-o-m and still up by 106 (9.1%) y-o-y. The international rig count for August 2018 was 1008, up by 11 from the 997 polled in July and also well ahead of the 952 rigs counted in August 2017.The worldwide rig count for August 2018 was 2,278 therefore, up by 27 (1.2%) from the 2,251 counted in July and up by 162 (7.7%) from the 2,116 counted in the same period 12 months before.Internationally, the rig count rose m-o-m in all monitored regions except Asia Pacific. It rose by 6 in Africa to 104 although numbers in the Asia Pacific region fell by 4 rigs to 225. The rig count ticked up again m-o-m in Latin America by 2 to 192. The count in Europe rose m-o-m by 5 rigs to 85. The second largest region in terms of rig numbers after North America, the Middle East, also saw working rig numbers improve by 2 to 402. This was 11 more than in August 2017.     The BHGE Rotary Rig Counts assess the number of rotary drilling rigs actively exploring for or developing oil or natural gas in the United States, Canada and international markets.

Ukrnafta to conduct at least 18 hydraulic fracturing operations in 2018 -- PJSC Ukrnafta this year plans to carry out at least 18 hydraulic fracturing operations in 2018. The company's press service reported that since early 2018, Ukrnafta conducted nine operations at wells of the eastern and western oil regions. "During this year the company plans to conduct at least 18 hydraulic fracturing operations," the press service said. The company said that in H1 2018, Ukrnafta conducted several successful hydraulic fracturing operations in the western oil region: on Pivdenno-Hvyzdetske, Bytkiv-Babchynske, Zavodivske, Pivnichno-Dolynske and Strutynske fields. At the end of the summer Ukrnafta switched to hydraulic fracturing operations in the eastern oil and gas region: on the Prylutske, Bohdanivske and Velykobubnivske fields. Now the company is working on the Buhruvativske field in Sumy region. Ukrnafta uses only own hydraulic fracturing equipment.

Ports compete to build ‘white elephant’ gas terminal -- Three German cities are competing to become the site of Germany’s first import terminal for liquified natural gas (LNG). Whichever of Stade, Brunsbüttel and Wilhelmshaven, all located on or close to the country’s North Sea coast, wins the contract, they will likely be helped by substantial federal government subsidies.Plans to liquefy gas from the North Atlantic coast of the United States and Canada are well advanced, and German energy giant Uniper agreed to a 20-year deal to buy LNG from Pieridae, the Canadian enterprise behind the scheme.After liquification, the gas would be shipped across the Atlantic in tankers. But as yet there are no ports in Germany with an LNG terminal equipped to process the gas and deliver it into the national network.Berlin is very keen to see the infrastructure developed, citing the need for energy supply diversification. The Economic Affairs ministry indicated that it is willing to guarantee loans for half of the investment needed. The government’s spokesman on maritime affairs confirmed the taxpayer may also directly contribute tens of millions of euros.So why the rush to build? The answer is Donald Trump. When Mr. Trump’s administration ratcheted up trade tensions with Europe earlier this year, one of his complaints was Germany’s reliance on Russian gas and its failure to import American gas.The German government, which never previously lamented the lack of an LNG terminal, saw a chance to make a relatively harmless concession. A small price to pay to stop a damaging trade war, especially since Berlin continues to support Nord Stream 2, a controversial new pipeline which will bring even more Russian gas to Germany. Wherever it is delivered, LNG is unlikely ever to be competitive with Russian gas, which can be pumped directly into the grid, without the elaborate processing needed by LNG.

US Warns Russia It May Sanction New Gas Pipeline to Germany-- The U.S. warned Russia that it may follow through on sanction threats over the construction of a major natural gas pipeline to Germany. Asked if the U.S. might impose punitive measures against Nord Stream 2 and other projects, Energy Secretary Rick Perry answered “yes,” during a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart Alexander Novak on Thursday in Moscow. “Minister Novak and I both agree that getting to that point of sanctions is not where we want to go,” he said. Perry urged Russia to be a “responsible supplier” and to stop using its resources for “influence and disruption,” adding that the U.S. opposes the gas link because it would concentrate two-thirds of Russian exports of the fuel to the European Union in a single choke point. Novak said that Russia was concerned if the U.S. sanctions a “competitive” gas pipeline. Nord Stream 2 would double Russia’s current capacity to deliver natural gas directly to Germany under the Baltic Sea and circumvent Ukraine. The project would be a major supply route to the EU and has been a sore point between the U.S. and its allies. In July, U.S. President Donald Trump slammed what he called German dependence on Russian energy, saying it made the nation “captive” to Moscow. The Kremlin said Trump’s attacks were economically motivated and an attempt to promote U.S. liquefied natural gas in Europe. Later that month, Trump eased his tone after a summit with President Vladimir Putin, saying the U.S. could compete successfully with the Russian gas pipeline even if the project wasn’t in Germany’s best interests

Zohr Field Now Producing 2 Bcf Per Day - Eni SpA announced Saturday that the Zohr field offshore Egypt is now producing 2 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), equivalent to approximately 365,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.In a statement posted on social media site Twitter, the Italian oil and gas company labeled the development as an “outstanding result”.Eni announces that #Zohr field is now  producing 2 bcfd. This outstanding result has been achieved only a few months after the first gas in December 2017 & one year before the schedule of the Plan of Development https://t.co/7F2vupEIdF pic.twitter.com/498QNQvFnb— eni.com (@eni) 8 September 2018   The production start-up of Zohr was announced in December 2017, after being discovered in August 2015. The project is described by Eni as one of its seven “record-breaking” projects, which the company says is “playing a fundamental role in supporting Egypt’s independence from LNG imports”. Earlier this year, Eni announced on Twitter that production at Zohr would be increased to 2 Bcf/d by September. The Zohr field, which is the largest gas discovery ever made in Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea, is located within the offshore Shorouk Block. In the block, Eni holds a 50 percent stake, Rosneft holds a 30 percent stake, BP a 10 percent stake and Mubadala Petroleum a 10 percent stake of the contractor’s share. Eni has been present in Egypt since 1954, where it operates through its subsidiary IEOC. The company is the country's leading producer with an equity of around 340,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.

Russia Looks To Boost Gas Sales In Tighter European Markets - Western Europe will need more flexibility in natural gas supplies in the coming winter season.The European market has been tight amid higher demand in the summer’s heat wave, while natural gas stockpiles are lower than usual after one of the coldest winters in the past decade. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is more profitable to send out to other (Asian) destinations. So some additional flexibility will be needed in the near term as the northern hemisphere is preparing for the winter.This additional flexibility in natural gas supplies to Northwest Europe, the Netherlands in particular, is likely to come from Russia, S&P Global Platts said in an analysis this week. The prime source of Russian supplies will be pipeline gas from gas giant Gazprom, which holds more than a third of the European gas market. The Yamal LNG facility in Russia, which started operations last winter, could also provide more flexibility in winter supplies, traders tell S&P Global Platts.Russian pipeline volumes via the Velké Kapušany point on the Ukraine-Slovakia border bound for further west in Europe have been somewhat depressed over the past week. Traders are not sure what the cause is, telling Platts that the Russian flows remain a sort of a wild card.Yet, pipeline supply from Russia’s Gazprom is likely to be Northwest Europe’s key flexibility source this winter—a role that Gazprom would only be too happy to play.“LNG is out of the picture. Storage is not that great. Solution: LNG from Yamal and the wildcard: the Russians,” a European gas trader told Platts.

Russia, Japan discuss energy cooperation, sign LNG agreement in Vladivostok — Russia and Japan are considering further expansion of their economic cooperation, a core element of which is energy projects, following a meeting between national leaders and the signing of new cooperation agreements between several companies in Vladivostok on Monday. "The energy sector is a key area of bilateral cooperation," Russian President Vladimir Putin said following a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, ahead of the opening of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok on Tuesday. Putin said the LNG sector in particular was a key focus area for future cooperation, noting that Japanese companies may take part in the planned expansion of Sakhalin 2, Arctic LNG 2 and Baltic LNG projects as well as an LNG transshipment facility in Kamchatka. Following the meeting on Monday, several Russian and Japanese companies signed agreements, including Novatek and Jogmec who signed a memorandum of understanding on LNG cooperation. The MoU covers exploring opportunities for cooperation "on Novatek's projects in the Yamal and Gydan peninsulas, including the Arctic LNG 2 project and on developing a regular transport link via the Northern Sea Route for LNG deliveries to the Japanese and Asia-Pacific markets, as well as exploring LNG marketing opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region," Novatek said. 

PetroChina and Qatargas Sign 22-Year LNG Supply Deal -- PetroChina Co. signed a deal with Qatargas Operating Co. to purchase 3.4 million tons of liquefied natural gas annually, the Chinese company’s biggest supply deal, amid a brewing trade war with the U.S. that threatens to stifle the Asian nation’s purchases of American fuel. Under the 22-year agreement, Qatargas will supply LNG from the Qatargas 2 project, a joint venture between Qatar Petroleum, Exxon Mobil Corp. and Total SA, state-controlled Qatargas said in a statement Monday. The first cargo will be delivered later this month. The contract is PetroChina’s largest by annual volume, according to data compiled by Bloomberg NEF. China’s LNG imports have surged 35 percent in the first eight months of this year, helping it overtake Japan as the world’s biggest buyer of natural gas, amid a drive by President Xi Jinping’s government to boost use of the fuel. The deal comes as President Donald Trump’s trade war threatens to snuff out the budding energy relationship between the U.S. and China. Just last year, U.S. officials were courting Chinese companies to invest in new export projects. Now, the Asian nation is poised to hit American supplies with a 25 percent retaliatory duty, a move that’s pushed PetroChina to consider a temporary halt to U.S. spot purchases and increased buying from other nations. The new long-term Qatar agreement may also help insulate China from volatility in the spot market this winter. Regional spot prices this month have already topped last winter’s peak, which was reached in January when they hit the highest since 2014 as the government’s campaign sent domestic demand soaring. 

The Qatar-China LNG Deal Is A Game Changer -- PetroChina has just inked a deal to buy 3.4 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) of LNG from QatarGas in a move representing the Chinese firm’s largest ever to date LNG supply deal by volume. Per terms of the new 20-year agreement, state-controlled QatarGas has agreed to supply PetroChina from the QatarGas 2 project, a joint venture between Qatar Petroleum, U.S.-based oil major Exxon Mobil and French major Total SA. The first cargo will be delivered later this month. The deal has several market and geopolitical take-aways. First, it comes as President Donald Trump ramps up the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China. On Friday, Trump said he was ready to levy additional taxes on practically all Chinese imports, threatening duties on $267 billion of goods over and above planned tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese products. On cue, China’s foreign ministry on Monday vowed (once again) to defend itself over any possible new tariffs on its products going into the U.S. "If the U.S. side obstinately clings to its course and takes any new tariff measures against China, then the Chinese side will inevitably take countermeasures to resolutely protect our legitimate rights," Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular briefing, when asked about Trump's warning. China has already threatened a 25 percent tariff on American LNG imports that have the potential to dramatically set back the so-called second wave of the U.S. LNG sector. Most new American LNG project proposals have been counting on not only Chinese funding for their CAPEX intensive LNG projects, but for Chinese firms to sigh much needed long term off-take agreements that help projects reach a final investment decision (FID) that must be in place before projects can be built. Moreover, the new deal between PetroChina and QatarGas could also arguably be called an opportunity cost/loss for U.S.-based LNG projects already operational that need to sign new agreements to finance additional production trains. Not only is it a potential loss for American projects but these volumes can also help PetroChina offset the reduction and possible elimination of buying U.S. LNG cargoes on the spot market in Asia. If Beijing pushes through with its retaliatory LNG threat, those duties would push up the price of U.S. LNG above what companies could afford to pay for them in the near term. 

Queensland LNG exports hit 7-month high in August at 1.76 mil mt — LNG exports from Gladstone port in the eastern Australian state of Queensland hit a seven-month high in August, with strong volumes recorded to the key destinations of China and South Korea, data from Gladstone Ports Corporation showed Thursday. A total 1.76 million mt of LNG was shipped in August from the port - where all three of Australia's eastern seaboard LNG terminals are based - up 8% year on year and up 7% from July. It was the highest monthly volume since January, when 1.77 million mt was exported, and the third-highest on record, the GPC data showed. The terminals at the port are the Origin-ConocoPhillips Australia Pacific LNG, Santos-led Gladstone LNG and Shell's Queensland Curtis LNG. Each facility has two trains, with the first of the lot having come online in January 2015 and the last in October 2016. They have a combined nameplate capacity of 25.3 million mt/year. The 9 million mt/year APLNG terminal had a half train outage for maintenance over August 21-August 26 and is scheduled for further maintenance over September 11-17, according to a notice given to the Australian Energy Market Operator earlier in the year. As with total LNG exports from the port, volumes bound for China were also at a seven-month high in August, at 1.26 million mt, up 13% on year and up 3% from July. It was also the third strongest month on record for Gladstone-China volumes, the GPC data showed. Australia's LNG imports to China could benefit from the trade dispute between the US and China, in which China has threatened to impose a 25% tariff on US LNG. 

China's Fracking Shakeup Won't Spur an Oil and Gas Boom -Could China’s oil and gas industry be on the brink of a revolution? That’s one interpretation of the government’s shakeup of regulations on petroleum production this month. The introduction of drill-it-or-lose-it rules and a possible extension of subsidies for unconventional gas output could end up dismembering sprawling industry leader PetroChina Co. and creating a new sector of independent upstream producers like those that have transformed the U.S. energy industry over the past decade, according to Laban Yu, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Jefferies LLCFracking made the U.S. a major oil producer, but not energy independent | WBFO: The oil shortages of the 1970s triggered laws that banned the export of American crude oil. Those lingering fears of scarcity kept those laws around for decades. Then came the shale revolution in mid-200os, otherwise known as the fracking boom, which helped the United States become one of the world's top oil and gas producers. In her book, “Saudi America: The Truth About Fracking and How It's Changing the World,” author and journalist Bethany McLean explores fracking's nuanced success, but also cautions that this energy revolution is not the country's golden ticket to energy independence. She spoke to host Sabri Ben-Achour on Marketplace Morning Report. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation. That would be great news for Beijing. China overtook the U.S. as the world’s largest importer of crude last year, a headache for a country that’s long fretted about its dependence on imported raw materials. It’s hard to believe that would have happened had oil production roughly doubled over the past decade (as it did in the U.S.) instead of standing still.  The question is whether radical change is a realistic prospect. After all, China’s oil and gas companies have hardly been sitting passively on their land holdings. About 64 percent of PetroChina’s net acreage was under development at the end of 2017, making it look more like an entrepreneurial wildcatter than the likes of Total SA, BP Plc and Exxon Mobil Corp., which typically have wells drilled on 10 percent or less of their leases.  Nor has it been left behind by the revolution in unconventional oil and gas. Indeed, almost half the wells that PetroChina drills each year are in the Changqing field, an area near the Mongolian border characterized by impermeable rock, horizontal bore holes and all the usual features of the fracking revolution.

Oil spill clean-up operations in progress -  A leakage in a fuel pipeline from the tankers to the Muthurajawela Oil Refinery Complex was reported in the Uswetakeiyawa area on Friday night. A Ceylon Petroleum Corporation team (CPC) on patrol visit observed the leakage on Saturday morning and immediate steps were taken to bring the situation under control, Petroleum Ministry Secretary Upali Marasinghe said. “Due to the leakage, an oil spill was identified in the beach area from Dikovita to Uswetakeiyawa, while efforts to clean the sea area by removing the fuel spill are being carried out with the support of Sri Lanka Navy, Ceylon Petroleum Storage Terminals Ltd., Marine Environment Protection Agency and the Coast Conservation Department,” he said. Over 300 naval personnel attached to the Western Naval Command and Coast Guard joined the cleaning up operation with the support of Sri Lanka Coast Guard ships ‘Samaraksha’ and ‘Samudra Raksha’, which were presented to the SLCG by the Japanese Government on August 29. According to the Secretary, the CPC has incurred a loss due to the leakage. He said an assessment in this regard will be carried out. According to Marasinghe,a new pipeline is being laid replacing an old one and 90 per cent of the construction work has been finished. The rest of the construction work is expected to completed by year’s end, but a group of illegal dwellers in the Mahawatte area, beside the railway track from the Colombo harbour to Kolonnawa are protesting against the project. 

Cleanup operation underway following oil spill in Dikkowita - A major cleanup operation is underway following an oil spill off Dikkowita. The Navy said that it had deployed a team to minimize the environmental damage caused by the oil spill from a pipeline carrying oil to the Muthurajawela Oil Refinery Complex. The cleanup operation is being carried out by Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and Sri Lanka Coast Guard (SLCG) together with the Navy. The Navy media unit said that a group of naval personnel attached to the Western Naval Command was rushed to the location following directives issued by the Naval Headquarters. Sri Lanka Coast Guard ships 'Samaraksha' and 'Samudra Raksha' – two vessels presented to the SLCG by the Japanese Government, were also deployed. Meanwhile, officers and sailors of the Navy and Coast Guard commenced cleaning up the oil along the beach from Dikovita to Uswetakeiyawa this morning with the assistance of experts from the Marine Environment Protection Authority. 

Iraq protests threaten oil production and critical ports | Asia Times: Basra protesters set the Iranian consulate ablaze on Friday night, the latest manifestation of outrage against influential actors in Basra city, which should be one of the richest in the country with its massive oil reserves and port, but which has become one of the most decrepit. More than 18,000 Basra residents have been poisoned by tap water since the start of the month, according to the Basra province health directorate. Hospitals, inundated with patients, have collapsed under the pressure.Basra, like neighboring Iran, is majority Shiite. But in recent years, residents have grown hostile toward Tehran over its dominance of Iraqi affairs, its support for political parties notorious for public waste and its backing of armed factions that enforce themselves as morality police. The torching of the Iranian consulate came just 24 hours after the protesters — ignoring a government curfew — set fire to the offices of powerful Shiite political parties and Iran-backed militias that formed the backbone of the paramilitary Popular Mobilization Units. The demonstrators did not spare the local government headquarters and provincial council, setting those ablaze as well. Basra has been roiled by unrest since July, and the latest round of revolt was met with tear gas and live fire. The first week of September saw nine demonstrators killed and 93 wounded, according to the UN. The deadly force has only inflamed the movement. Over the past two nights, security evaporated from the streets while the military kept to the sidelines. Angry groups of youths roamed the city center, demanding revenge for those killed and for years of neglect. The city appears out of control. The unrest has put a spotlight on corruption in Iraq’s economic capital, just as the Ministry of Oil seeks foreign investment – including from China – to transform the country from an importer of oil products to an exporter. Demonstrators on Thursday shut down the country’s most important port, Umm Qasr. Basra province is Iraq’s only outlet to the sea, and Umm Qasr is just one of five commercial sea ports that serve as the country’s main gateway for basic necessities. Like the oil fields, these critical hubs have drawn protesters, who see the wealth they create being siphoned off by corruption. 

Oil production at risk as violent protests rock Iraq's Basra province -- Iraq's oil-rich Basra province is being rocked by renewed violence as summer protests regain momentum, threatening oil facilities and the country's leadership.Thousands of Iraqis have been taking to the streets daily over the last week, torching government buildings and political party offices in a show of anger against abject living conditions, government corruption and foreign influence.The past week saw rockets fired at the U.S. consulate and Basra airport. The Iranian consulate and offices of powerful Iranian-backed Shia paramilitary groups were also set alight.So far, at least 12 protesters have been killed and more than 200 injured by security forces, deployed against the demonstrators for the first time this year in a sign of mounting panic from the government.As home to most of the oil production facilities for OPEC's second-largest producer, Basra in crisis could have a material impact on oil output and prices, analysts say.It may also see Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi pushed from power, creating even more uncertainty for the war-scarred nation and its 15-year old democracy.

Why the World Should Care About What Happens in Basra - The current protests in Iraq are the most serious seen in the country for years, and are taking place at the heart of some of the world’s largest oilfields. The Iraqi government headquarters in Basra was set ablaze, as were the offices of those parties and militias blamed by local people for their wretched living conditions. Protesters have blockaded and closed down Iraq’s main sea port at Umm Qasr, through which it imports most of its grain and other supplies. Mortar shells have been fired into the Green Zone in Baghdad for the first time in years. At least 10 people have been shot dead by security forces over the last four days in a failed effort to quell the unrest.If these demonstrations had been happening in 2011 during the Arab Spring then they would be topping the news agenda around the world. As it is, the protests have so far received very limited coverage in international media, which is focusing on what might happen in the future in Idlib, Syria, rather than on events happening now in Iraq.Iraq has once again fallen off the media map at the very moment when it is being engulfed by a crisis that could destabilise the whole country. The disinterest of foreign governments and news outlets has ominous parallels with their comatose posture five years ago when they ignored the advance of Isis before it captured Mosul. President Obama even dismissed, in words he came to regret, Isis as resembling a junior basketball team playing out of their league.The causes of the protests are self-evident: Iraq is ruled by a kleptomaniac political class that operates the Iraqi state apparatus as a looting machine. Other countries are corrupt, notably those rich in oil or other natural resources, and the politically well connected become hugely wealthy. However big the rake-off, something is usually built at the end of the day.

Are Iran and Iraq Headed toward Another Conflict? - The latest protests in Iraq have taken a distinctly anti-Iran character, as shown by the attack on Iran’s consulate in Basra. According to reports in Iranian and some Iraqi news outlets, the Iraqi security authorities were lax in preventing the attack. More or less simultaneously, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) targeted the bases of the Iranian Kurdish Democratic Party, which in the last several months had increased its violent activities in the northwestern regions of Iran with large Kurdish populations. The IRGC noted that the attack was a warning to the Iraqi Kurdish government in Erbil to be more diligent in preventing anti-Iran activities conducted at least partly from its territory. Despite Arab and Western claims—and some Iranian officials’ boasts—that Iraq has become a satrapy of the Islamic Republic, Baghdad was never and will never be a vassal of Tehran. Even from the early days of the post-Saddam era, tensions and rivalries existed between Iran and Iraq at both the governmental level and at the level of their religious establishments. Iran’s influence, to the extent that it existed, was mostly a function of the Sunni Arab government’s shunning Iraq’s Shia-dominated government and its efforts to undermine it. Meanwhile, the behavior of some Iranian officials and commanders and their comments about Iran’s influence in Iraq helped to undermine Iran’s image and generated resentment among Iraqis. More important, it was obvious from the beginning that once Iraq recovered from its problems, it would assert its national and state identity and try to regain its regional role. Such a development, in turn , was also bound to bring to the fore the competitive aspects of its relations with Iran. Moreover, in the process of redefining and recreating its national and state identity, it was almost inevitable that Iraq , as in the past, would use Iran as the hostile other against whom the Iraqis should define and defend themselves.

White House Threatens Military Response Against Iran-Backed Militias in Iraq - Iraq may once again, for the first time in nearly a decade, become a theater of US-Iran confrontation according to a White House statement published Tuesday evening.“The United States will hold the regime in Tehran accountable for any attack that results in injury to our personnel or damage to United States government facilities,” press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a written statement posted to WhiteHouse.gov. “America will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of American lives.” The threat of military force comes after the American embassy in Baghdad's 'green zone' came under a brazen overnight mortar attack last Thursday, which left no one injured but started a blaze near the sprawling embassy's gate.Up to four mortars were fired in what officials confirmed was a targeted assault American diplomatic soil. Defense analysts and officials were quick to blame Iran-backed militias in the area, which had previously in the week vowed in a joint statement to expel all "foreign occupying forces" from the country.  And days later multiple rockets were fired at the Basra airport, which is also site of the United States consulate for the area. Though denying it had a role in events in Basra or Baghdad, Tehran's leaders did admit to a major missile attack on the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Northern Iraqi Kurdistan, which resulted in up to a dozen killed and scores wounded.  The White House statement, which condemns "life threatening attacks" against "the United States consulate in Basra and against the American embassy compound in Baghdad" also follows two weeks of heightened sectarian tensions across various parts of the country, but especially the southern Sunni-majority city of Basra, where the Iranian consulate was burned to the ground after it was stormed by a mob late last week.

 South Korea Grants US Wish for Zero Oil Imports From Iran - -- South Korea has become the first of Iran’s top-three oil customers to fulfill a hard-line U.S. demand that buyers cut imports to zero. The Asian nation didn’t import any crude from Iran last month, compared with 194,000 barrels a day in July, tanker-tracking and shipping data compiled by Bloomberg show. While bigger consumers China and India have curbed buying from the OPEC producer, South Korea’s gone one step further by halting purchases before the U.S. imposes sanctions on the Islamic republic on Nov. 4. Donald Trump’s administration made the demand over Iranian oil after the U.S. president in May withdrew from a 2015 deal that lifted many sanctions on the Middle East nation in exchange for restrictions on the country’s nuclear program. South Korea heeding that call may signal America’s clout over the North Asian nation. Trapped in a decades-long war in the Korean peninsula, the South’s government has relied on the U.S. to pressure the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, to abandon its nuclear program. Political ties to America mean it can’t ignore Trump’s order for allies to adopt a tough policy on Iran, according to the Korea Energy Economics Institute. “Maintaining relations with the U.S. is of the utmost importance to South Korea,” The South Korean government’s official stance over Iranian sanctions is that it’s continuing talks with the U.S. in a bid to seek a waiver. While the Trump administration has softened its stance slightly, going from zero tolerance on purchases to saying it will consider exemptions, they are yet to be granted and buyers still face the risk of being cut off from the American financial system after the November deadline.

Will The U.S. Let India Continue To Import Iranian Crude? -- India is increasingly finding itself caught between competing alliances.On one hand, ties between Washington and New Delhi have improved in recent years in large part to what both sides perceive as increased threats from China both militarily and economically in the South China Sea and overall Indo-Pacific region. On the other, New Delhi has also experienced improved bilateral relations with Tehran. This improvement in relations, in large part, comes from the two countries’ own oil related interests. Iran, since earlier sanctions against its energy sector were removed in 2016, has been eager to recapture lost market share both in India and the overall Asia-Pacific region as it quickly ramped up oil production post sanctions. India, as the world’s third largest oil importer after China and the U.S., needs Iranian oil for its expanding refinery sector and also the diversity of supply extra Iranian oil imports would provide. Iran has also been offering India generous discounts on its oil imports this year. As recently as late July, with the first phase of new U.S. sanctions impending, Iran upped the ante ever more by offering to ensure oil cargoes to India after some local insurers stopped providing the service. Currently, India is Iran’s second largest buyer of crude oil after China. Now, recent data shows that India has been trimming its purchases of Iranian crude due to increased pressure from Washington. Earlier this week, preliminary tanker arrival data indicated that India had imported 5320,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Iranian oil in August, a 32 percent plunge from just one month earlier. Despite the marked decrease, the August figure is still 56 percent higher than the same period last year as Indian refiners continue to take advantage of Iranian discounts.Another problem for India is the fact that annual import plans from its refiners were already in place before President Trump’s decision in May to reimpose sanctions against Iran over its nuclear development plans. In April, industry sources told media outlets that Indian refiners had planned to double its import of Iranian crude in 2018/19, mostly due to advantageous pricing and discounts offered by Iran. The development at the time marked a pivot in Indian-Iranian bilateral relations and a win-win scenario for the energy sectors in both countries. Though India trimmed its Iranian oil procurement last month, the question going forward is whether or not this trend will last.

India's Iran oil purchases to fade ahead of U.S. sanctions (Reuters) - Indian refiners will cut their monthly crude loadings from Iran for September and October by nearly half from earlier this year as New Delhi works to win waivers on the oil export sanctions Washington plans to reimpose on Tehran in November. India’s loadings from Iran for this month and next will drop to less than 12 million barrels each, after purchases over April-August had been boosted in anticipation of the reductions. The United States is renewing sanctions on Iran after withdrawing from a nuclear deal forged in 2015 between Tehran and world powers. Washington reimposed some of the financial sanctions from Aug. 6, while those affecting Iran’s petroleum sector will come into force from Nov. 4. India, Iran’s No.2 oil client behind top buyer China, does not recognize the reimposed U.S. sanctions, but winning a waiver from the restrictions is a must for New Delhi to protect its wider exposure to the U.S. financial system. India’s oil ministry in June told refiners to prepare for a “drastic reduction or zero” imports from Iran from November. “Some refiners have either already exhausted or front-loaded their term contract to a large extent, which allows them the flexibility to go to zero if required, or until clarity on the waivers emerge,” Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at Energy Aspect, told Reuters. Washington will consider waivers for Iranian oil buyers such as India but they must eventually halt crude imports from Tehran, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week in New Delhi after a meeting of high level officials. The Indian government, already facing a backlash over a falling rupee INR=D2 and record high fuel prices, does not want to halt the oil imports from Iran as the Islamic republic offers a discount on oil sales to India. Government sources said India made this point clear in last week’s meetings with U.S. officials and remains engaged with Washington to work out waivers on its oil purchases from Iran. “We have a special relationship with both the U.S. and with Iran, and we are seeing how to balance this all, and also to balance out the interest of the refiners and end-consumers,” said one of the government officials. 

Iran oil embargo: Impossible to bring down oil imports to zero, India tells US - Amid looming US sanctions, India has conveyed to Trump administration that it couldn’t stop its oil imports from Iran, sources say. Indian officials are believed to have made it clear, in three rounds of technical discussions with US officials as well as the most recent 2+2 Dialogue, that while India was willing to negotiate the amount of oil it could continue to import from Iran, it would be impossible to completely scrap its dealings.The 2+2 Dialogue were September 6 meetings held between India's Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis.  Iran is India’s third largest supplier of oil, behind Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Another American delegation is expected later this month to negotiate how much India would have to cut down its imports by to help make exception for other kinds of tradings with Iran, such as the Chabahar Port that India projects as “humanitarian development project with special significance to Afghanistan”. At the end of the 2+2 talks, US Secretary of State Pompeo in his press interaction said: “We have told the Indians consistently, as we have told every nation, that on November 4, the sanctions with respect to Iranian crude oil will be enforced, and that we will consider waivers where appropriate, but that it is our expectation that the purchases of Iranian crude oil will go to zero from every country, or sanctions will be imposed”. India however cites domestic needs, rising crude oil prices, sustainability and supply issues to insist that stopping its nearly 12 per cent crude oil imports is impossible. “Already fuel prices are high in India. If cost of production of oil goes up internationally, it will add to our problems. Companies will pass on added prices to consumers,” said an official, pointing out that US was currently isolated internationally over its stance, with Europe, China and Russia still standing by the Iran nuclear deal.   India has been holding separate discussions with Europe over US ultimatum.

Analysis: Iran starts to feel pinch from US sanctions on refined oil products -  Iran's headache ahead of looming US sanctions is not going to be limited to crude oil exports.While Iran's crude exports have started to slide, its woes could intensify as it is likely to face further obstacles in condensate and refined product markets.Imports and exports of refined products and condensates for Iran will be affected as the OPEC member's economy comes under increasing pressure when the US sanctions snap back early November.Besides crude, Iran is dependent on exports of condensates and fuel oil, while it relies on gasoil and gasoline imports.Unlike when the US imposed sanctions in 2011, the Trump administration has broadened the list of secondary sanctions, not just targeting Iran's crude exports but also condensates and other oil products.The new sanctions relate to the purchase of "petroleum products" which covers products "obtained from the processing of: crude oil (including lease condensate), natural gas, and other hydrocarbon compounds," according to the US Treasury.There have been signs Iran's exports of fuel oil and LPG have started to fall in the past few weeks. Iran's fuel oil exports have also started to see a small impact, shipping and trading sources said.The country exports most of its fuel oil to Singapore and Fujairah, and flows from Bandar Mahshahr and Abadan have fallen more than 10%, according to data from Platts cFlow, trade flow service. The Fujairah marine fuels market is one of the key export destinations for Iranian fuel oil. Its close proximity to Iran's refineries makes it hard to track exactly how much Iranian product is being bunkered there, and large quantities were said to have been sold at Fujairah while the previous sanctions were in force. This time around the Fujairah market is in a much weaker state as a result of the diplomatic impasse following the imposition of sanctions on Qatar by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in June 2017.Why, then, has production failed to take off? The best explanation isn’t that the country’s big three oil companies are an oligopoly — though they are — but that China’s geology is fundamentally more difficult than that of North America. Many prospective fields are buried deep below the surface. To make matters worse, they’re often riven with seismic faults from the slow collision of continental plates that have built the Himalayas and the Japanese and Philippine island chains.

Iran Sanctions Fuel OPEC Tensions - Two months before renewed U.S. sanctions on its oil exports take effect, Iran has already suffered a sharp drop in sales and lost key buyers in Asia and Europe.That slump will continue in coming weeks. Meanwhile, rising output from other OPEC members is fueling tensions within the producer group that could come to a head at a meeting in Algeria later this month.Iran exported just over 2 million barrels a day of crude oil and condensate (a light form of crude extracted from gas fields) in August, according to Bloomberg tanker tracking. That is the lowest since March 2016, and down 28 percent from April, the last month before President Donald Trump announced that he was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and reimposing sanctions.  Several key buyers of Iranian oil have already halted purchases. There have been no shipments to South Korea or France since June, while overall exports to the European Union have fallen by about 40 percent since April. The loss of the South Korean market creates a particular problem for Iran, as it was the destination for almost 60 percent of the country’s condensate exports. These flows were exempted from sanctions under President Barack Obama — but have been included this time around.Iran has built a new refinery to process its condensate, but exports are still needed to support the growth in gas production from the South Pars field that straddles the border between Iran and Qatar. If it can’t dispose of the condensate, Iran may be forced to reduce gas extraction and risk triggering winter fuel shortages. Iran’s other Asian markets have proved more resilient, so far. China appears to be making good on its pledge to neither raise nor cut its purchases of Iranian crude, while India and Japan are still seeking waivers from U.S. sanctions in return for a reduction, rather than a full curtailment, of their purchases. Those discussions are continuing, but, in the meantime, buyers are holding off on booking cargoes for October loading, suggesting a further drop in Iran’s exports is likely.

Iran Develops a $5 Billion Weapon to Fight Sanctions - With much fanfare, a French-Iranian scientist recently announced a $3 million plan to invest in a bankrupt medical factory that had become a symbol of France’s troubled economy and revive it.The majority owner wasn’t disclosed: Iran’s government.It was the latest example of how Tehran is quietly leveraging its Iran Foreign Investments Co. to loosen the Trump administration’s tightening economic noose. The fund, with dozens of investments and cash accounts in 22 countries worth $5 billion, prioritizes assets that give it access to services, goods and technologies that it is at risk of losing under U.S. sanctions, the fund’s advisers say. Iran’s government also hope to build good will and counter the nation’s isolation. And, it hopes, to make money. In this case, the fund bought the French medical factory and its weed-strewn grounds in June to ensure Iran can obtain medicine for tuberculosis, bladder cancer and other afflictions—drugs that could become difficult to obtain because of U.S. sanctions, said people familiar with the project.“Their aim is to make Iran independent” from sanctions, said a fund adviser.Iran’s already weak economy has worsened since President Trump withdrew in May from a U.S.-led international accord that curbed Tehran’s nuclear-weapons program in exchange for sanctions relief, and restored some financial penalties. The U.S. administration is pressing Iran to abandon its military role in the Middle East and scale back its missile program.Iran’s currency has plummeted to record lows, foreign investors have fled, and inflation has risen to its highest levels since the previous round of U.S. sanctions ended in 2015. Another round of U.S. sanctions to begin Nov. 5 will ban companies from working both with Iran and the U.S. financial system at the same time.Iran’s foreign-investment arm is one of several ways Iran is trying to work around U.S. sanctions. Iran is also exploring a barter system with oil buyers taking goods as payment and finding Asian companies to replace the business of departing European companies.The Iran Foreign Investments Co.’s managers didn’t respond to requests for comment. A U.S. Treasury spokesman declined to comment.

Russia warns of 'fragile' oil market due to geopolitics, but says it can raise output (Reuters) - Global oil markets remain “fragile” due to geopolitics and production declines in several regions, Russia’s energy minister said on Wednesday, but added his country could raise output if needed. r The comments come amid oil prices eyeing $80 per barrel LCOc1, up from little over $60 in February, amid supply disruptions and expected U.S. sanctions against Iran. “Today, the situation is quite fragile, of course, and it is related to the fact that not all the countries have managed to restore their market and production,” Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said at an economic conference in the Russian far eastern city of Vladivostok. “We observe such situation in Mexico, where the decline more than halved from the forecasts on 2018. In Venezuela production is falling quite strongly, by 50,000 barrels per day. This means that the market is still not balanced in long-term perspective.” Venezuelan oil exports have halved over the past year to little more than 1 million barrels per day (bpd) as the South American country grapples with a political and economic crisis. Novak also warned of the impact on markets of looming U.S. sanctions against Iran’s oil exports, which will be implemented from November. “This is huge uncertainty on the market – how the countries, which buy almost 2 million barrels per day of Iranian oil will act. Those are Europe, Asia Pacific region ... There is a lot of uncertainty. The situation should be closely watched, the right decisions should be taken.” Washington has put pressure on other countries to also stop importing Iranian oil. Despite some opposition from governments in Europe and Asia, many oil firms have already started dialling back purchases in anticipation of U.S. sanctions. 

US trade war and sanctions are not helping oil markets, Russian energy minister says - The U.S. trade war against China and sanctions regime is contributing to instability in the global oil market and putting pressure on prices, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak told CNBC on Wednesday."We can see that the pricing situation today depends not just on the supply/demand balance or the general economic situation but also on the uncertainty that we observe today in the global markets: the trade wars, the sanctions that the U.S. pursue," Novak said, speaking to CNBC's Geoff Cutmore at the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in Vladivostok, Russia.Novak said geopolitical uncertainties such as the U.S.' decision to impose a massive package of tariffs on Chinese imports, as well as its sanctions on Russia and those coming up on Iran, could prompt oil prices to rise modestly."If we talk figures, I think that the additional premium is about $5-6 on top of the usual oil price, that would reflect the supply/demand balance," he said. Benchmark Brent crude futures are currently trading at $79.21 while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures are at $69.82 per barrel.  Novak's comments come as oil market focus shifts away from a successful 2016 deal between OPEC and Russia (and other non-OPEC producers) to curb output in order to support prices, to current threats to the global oil supply.Forthcoming U.S. sanctions on Iran's oil sector, coming into effect in November, are seen as the biggest disruptive force with oil market analysts predicting that Iran's daily production could fall by as much as 1.5 million barrels a day. Novak's prediction that $5-$6 could be added to the price of a barrel of oil is conservative with many oil market watchers predicting prices per barrel could rise to $90 or even $100 per barrel, particularly when sanctions against Iran take hold.

 Oil prices may spike on a coming mismatch between supply and demand, an expert says -- After cruising to four-year highs earlier this year, crude oil has hit the skids. Since hitting $70 a barrel for the first time since 2014 in May, prices have been range-bound, but it could soon snap out of that range, according to energy expert Robert Raymond. "We've sort of achieved [a recovery to the $70] level probably a little faster than we thought we would have relative to declines in Venezuela and Mexico and parts of China and so the production side of the equation has actually rolled over a little faster than we thought it would," Raymond, investment strategist at hedge fund RCH Energy, told CNBC's "Futures Now" on Thursday. Global inventories have since drawn down to border on "critical levels" as demand remains robust, explained Raymond.The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries' (OPEC) spare capacity, which measures their bandwidth to ramp up production to cushion price fluctuations, is below 3 percent of total global demand. Lower spare production levels restricts how able OPEC is to respond to spiking prices.Oil companies' re-investment and capital expenditure levels are also signaling a potential squeeze in supplies, he adds."The industry, for the last three years, has been chronically underinvesting and continues to do so at a rate of only 60 percent of cash flow being reinvested in the form of capex," explained Raymond. "The last time that happened [was] in 2004 and '05 which precipitated a spike to $147 a barrel." Oil producers tightened their belts during crude oil's sell-offs in 2014 and 2015, in an attempt to minimize losses. Exxon Mobil, for instance, reduced its exploration expenses in 2014 by 15 percent and by another 9 percent in 2015.

Could Oil Demand Peak in Just Five Years? – WSJ -  The Era of Oil is coming to a close but experts and corporate analysts disagree about just when that will happen. The time left before global demand for crude peaks is increasingly tightening, according to new projections from industry analysts. Two reports published this week point to an end of oil’s growth within the next five years, far earlier than many in the industry are expecting. Though most forecasts of oil’s demise project a long tail, the estimates put increased pressure on big oil companies to clarify how they intend to confront a looming energy transition. Demand for fossil fuels will peak around 2023, as increasingly cost-competitive solar and wind are buoyed by supportive government policies to displace growth in oil, coal and natural gas, according to an analysis by London-based think tank the Carbon Tracker Initiative.   Norwegian risk-management company DNV GL takes a similar view in an analysis released in London on Monday. It predicts oil demand will max out in five years’ time, making way for renewables to dominate an increasingly electrified and efficient energy system. “The transition is undeniable,” said DNV CEO Remi Eriksen. .The aggressive forecasts add to a raging debate among energy executives and analysts over what the coming decades may hold for the industry. Mainstream views have shifted from a decade ago, when many fretted over the prospect that oil supply could run out. Now, global ambitions to curb global warming, coupled with cheaper and better renewable technologies, are pressuring assumptions about long-term demand. Investors are increasingly sitting up and taking notice, demanding big oil companies outline how resilient their businesses are to an energy transition. While the industry unsurprisingly has a more bullish outlook on the commodity, even some big oil companies acknowledge a tipping point may be coming sooner than previously anticipated.

Trump's sanctions on Iran could push oil prices above $100 per barrel -  U.S. sanctions on Iran's energy industry, when they come into effect in November, could potentially drive oil prices above $100 per barrel, according to an industry expert.U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude oil futures traded at about $68 per barrel on Tuesday, while Brent crude futures sat at nearly $78."If there was not that set of sanctions, I think prices would go to $70 or even a little bit lower. But now the sanctions threat is real and less than two months in front of us, that will transform the market into much higher prices," Fereidun Fesharaki, founder and chairman of consultancy FACTS Global Energy, told CNBC's Akiko Fujita at the CLSA Investors' Forum in Hong Kong."The higher price will only be blamed on the Trump administration. There's not much anybody can do if the sanctions come in and are enforced properly," he said on Tuesday.U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from an international agreement to curb Iran's nuclear program has resulted in a round of sanctions being re-imposed on the country's financial, automotive, aviation and metals sectors. The U.S. State Department has set Nov. 4 as a deadline for Iranian oil buyers to completely cut their purchases to avoid American sanctions.Iran is currently one of the largest oil exporters in the world. Cutting off Iranian supplies entirely would push oil prices above $100 per barrel because other major producers could not easily fill the void, said Fesharaki. Trump said on Twitter in July that energy prices were too high and urged the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to reduce prices. But OPEC and Russia don't have the spare capacity to ramp up supply much more, Fesharaki said.

Hedge funds turn bullish again on oil -- (Reuters) - Hedge fund managers have turned bullish again towards crude and fuels, adding a significant number of new long positions in the last two weeks, after spending much of the previous four months liquidating positions.Hedge funds and other money managers raised their combined net long position in the six most important petroleum futures and options contracts by 47 million barrels in the week to Sept. 4.Fund managers have boosted their net long position by 172 million barrels in the last two weeks, after cutting it by 508 million barrels since April 17, according to regulatory and exchange records.The most recent week saw portfolio managers add to net long positions in Brent (+28 million barrels), NYMEX and ICE WTI (+17 million), U.S. heating oil (+4 million) and European gasoil (+3 million).Only U.S. gasoline futures and options saw a small reduction in fund managers' net long positions last week (-4 million barrels).Net long positions in Brent have jumped by 92 million barrels since Aug. 21 while net positions in WTI are up by 45 million barrels over the same period (https://tmsnrt.rs/2CF2Wia). Fund managers' combined net long in Brent and WTI has risen to 803 million barrels, from a low of 666 million barrels just two weeks ago, and the highest since early July.During the four months from late April to late August, position changes were led by the liquidation of old long positions rather than the creation of fresh shorts.The last two weeks has seen that reversed, however, with the creation of new long positions leading the market higher.

Oil steadies as U.S. inventory concerns curb gains (Reuters) - Oil prices were mixed on Monday, pulling back from an early rally after data suggested U.S. crude inventories might build, weighing on the market.   Traders said weekly data from Bloomberg suggested U.S. oil inventories are rising, contradicting an earlier report from energy information provider Genscape, which forecast declining inventories. The data put a damper on a bullish mood that had driven trading early in the session. “This has been a Monday morning special that the Bloomberg or Genscape numbers can kill a rally,” said Bob Yawger, director of futures at Mizuho in New York. U.S. crude futures settled down 21 cents at $67.54 a barrel. Brent crude oil rose 54 cents to $77.37 a barrel after touching a session high of $77.92 a barrel. Earlier in the session, crude had strengthened as growth of U.S. drilling braked and investors anticipated lower supply once new U.S. sanctions against Iran’s crude exports kick in from November. “The low rig count set the stage for us to move higher,” said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. “At the end of the day you also have storms that could impact inventories for some time to come.” U.S. drillers cut two oil rigs last week, reducing the total count to 860, Baker Hughes said on Friday. Growth of the number of rigs drilling for oil in the United States has stalled since May, reflecting increases in well productivity but also bottlenecks and infrastructure constraints.

Crude oil futures supported by sanctions, US rig count, Libya attack — Crude oil futures held on to gains during midday European trading Monday as the market weighed likely tighter global supply conditions ahead of the reintroduction of US sanctions against Iran and news of an attack by gunmen at the headquarters of Libya's National Oil Corporation. At 1220 GMT, the November ICE Brent crude futures contract was up 62 cents/b from Friday's settle at $77.45/b, while the NYMEX October sweet light crude contract was up 49 cents/b at $68.24/b. The looming re-imposition of US oil sanctions on Iran, scheduled to begin November 4, was keeping oil market prices in firm territory. South Korea has been the first of the top consumers of Iranian oil to announce it will be halting purchases and cutting imports to zero ahead of the sanctions. Prices were further supported, meanwhile, on the latest reports that the US oil rig count fell by two to 860 last week as operations in the country's most active play, Permian Basin, continued to slow as takeaway capacity approached its limit, weekly data released by Baker Hughes showed Friday. Elsewhere, tensions flared in Libya once again as the headquarters of the NOC were raided by several armed men. NOC chairman Mustafa Sanalla was evacuated from the Tripoli headquarters after gunmen stormed the building and detonated grenades, sources in the country told S&P Global Platts. So far, however, there has been no impact on the OPEC member's upstream production. Crude production has recovered to more than two-month highs of 1 million b/d in the past few weeks. 

Oil Steadies As US Inventory Concerns Curb Gains (Reuters) - Oil prices were mixed on Monday, pulling back from an early rally after data suggested U.S. crude inventories might build, weighing on the market. Traders said weekly data from Bloomberg suggested U.S. oil inventories are rising, contradicting an earlier report from energy information provider Genscape, which forecast declining inventories. The data put a damper on a bullish mood that had driven trading early in the session. "This has been a Monday morning special that the Bloomberg or Genscape numbers can kill a rally," U.S. crude futures settled down 21 cents at $67.54 a barrel. Brent crude oil rose 54 cents to $77.37 a barrel after touching a session high of $77.92 a barrel. Earlier in the session, crude had strengthened as growth of U.S. drilling braked and investors anticipated lower supply once new U.S. sanctions against Iran's crude exports kick in from November. "The low rig count set the stage for us to move higher," "At the end of the day you also have storms that could impact inventories for some time to come." U.S. drillers cut two oil rigs last week, reducing the total count to 860, Baker Hughes said on Friday. Growth of the number of rigs drilling for oil in the United States has stalled since May, reflecting increases in well productivity but also bottlenecks and infrastructure constraints. "A higher oil price scenario is built on lower exports from Iran due to U.S. sanctions, capped U.S. shale output growth, instability in production in countries like Libya and Venezuela and no material negative impact from a U.S./China trade war on oil demand in the next 6-9 months," 

Oil firm as Iran sanctions loom, but US seeks to prevent supply shortfall --Oil prices rose on Tuesday as U.S. sanctions squeezed Iranian crude exports, tightening global supply despite efforts by Washington to get other producers to increase output.Brent crude oil was up 51 cents at $77.88 a barrel. U.S. light crude was up 16 cents at $67.71."The impact of the U.S. sanctions on Iran is firmly being felt," said Tamas Varga, analyst at London brokerage PVM Oil. "The biggest worry is obviously the amount of Iranian oil that is disappearing from the market."Washington has told its allies to reduce imports of Iranian oil and several Asian buyers, including South Korea, Japan and India appear to be falling in line.But the U.S. government does not want to push up oil prices, which could depress economic activity or even trigger a slowdown in global growth.U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry met Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih on Monday in Washington, as the Trump administration encourages big oil-producing countries to keep output high. Perry will meet with Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak on Thursday in Moscow.Russia, the United States and Saudi Arabia are the world's three biggest oil producers by far, meeting around a third of the world's almost 100 million barrels per day (bpd) of daily crude consumption.Their combined output has risen by 3.8 million bpd since September 2014, more than the peak output Iran has managed over the last three years.Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Tuesday that Russia and a group of producers around the Middle East which dominate the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries may sign a new long-term cooperation deal at the beginning of December, the TASS news agency reported. Novak did not provide details. A group of OPEC and non-OPEC producers have been voluntarily withholding supplies since January 2017 to tighten markets, but with crude prices up by more than 40 percent since then and markets significantly tighter, there has been pressure on producers to raise output.

Traders bet Iran sanctions will leave market short of crude: (Reuters) - Oil traders have become much more concerned in recent weeks about the potential impact of U.S. sanctions on Iran and the effect on the availability of crude at the end of the year. Brent futures for November have moved to a premium of 45 cents a barrel over the December contract, in a sharp reversal from early last month, when the earlier contract traded at a 20 cent discount. The gyrations in the futures curve are linked closely to traders’ perceptions of the availability of seaborne crude once sanctions are re-imposed from early November (https://tmsnrt.rs/2oZ5MoB). The November-December calendar spread moved into an increasing premium (backwardation) between July 2017 and May 2018, reflecting the overall tightening of the oil market. Rapid growth in consumption, output restraint by OPEC and its allies as well as unexpected disruptions to production in Venezuela and some African countries all helped to reduce excess oil inventories. The U.S. decision to re-impose sanctions on Iran’s exports from early November contributed to a forecast tightening of the market, pushing the Nov-Dec spread to a premium of more than 50 cents in early May. But the calendar spread subsequently collapsed as OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia, and its non-OPEC allies, led by Russia, started to increase production from May onwards. For a short period, in late July and early August, the Nov-Dec spread was trading at a small but significant discount (contango) consistent with plentiful availability of oil at the end of the year. In recent weeks, however, the spread has tightened again, amid signs that output from the Permian Basin in Texas is levelling off and that Saudi Arabia is raising production more slowly than expected. Traders have become much more cautious about crude availability late this year, reflected in a rise in spot oil prices, tighter calendar spreads and an increase in bullish hedge fund positioning in crude futures. Concerns about crude availability have been exacerbated by signs that the threatened re-imposition of sanctions is already having an impact on Iran’s exports, even before the secondary embargo formally goes into effect. 

Oil Nears $80 On Iran Concerns - Oil prices were quiet at the start of the week, but rose more than 1 percent in early trading on Tuesday on concerns about outages in Iran and turmoil in Libya and Iraq, although that bullish sentiment was offset by ongoing concerns about emerging markets. Still, after the recent price correction, there is room on the upside. “The path of least resistance for oil prices, given the supply fundamentals, remains up,” Harry Tchilinguirian, oil strategist at BNP Paribas, told Reuters Global Oil Forum.. The EPA is reportedly set to release a proposal on Wednesday that would make it easier for oil and gas companies to meet rules on methane emissions. The proposed rule would extend the time that companies are required to assess and repair infrastructure in remote locations. For instance, drillers would have a year to conduct an inspection rather than six months, and 60 days to make repairs instead of 30. In a related move, the Interior Department is expected to release its final rule (it was proposed earlier this year) to loosen restrictions on flaring. Long known for its coal production, Wyoming’s Powder River Basin is starting to receive more attention from the oil and gas industry as the Permian becomes crowded and expensive. The Powder River Basin produces less than 200,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d), but as Bloomberg Opinion points out, a growing number of shale companies are highlighting their assets in the region. Land prices can be a tenth of what they are in West Texas, so the spillover from the Permian is underway. The Powder River Basin has seen a fourfold increase in the rig count, a sign that drilling activity is on the upswing.  California took a bold step by passing legislation requiring 100 percent clean electricity by 2045, with the interim goal of 60 percent by 2030 (up from a previous target of 50 percent). Separately, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that effectively bans offshore oil drilling on California’s coast. Because any drilling (were it to occur) would likely lie in federal waters beyond the reach of California, the legislation bans the construction of associated pipelines, piers, wharves or other infrastructure that would support drilling. “Today, California’s message to the Trump administration is simple: Not here, not now,” Brown said in a statement. “We will not let the federal government pillage public lands and destroy our treasured coast.”

Iran OPEC governor accuses Trump of 'bullying world' and oil markets — Iran's OPEC governor has blamed US President Donald Trump for "bullying" oil markets and warned of the economic consequences for Europe and Asia from higher prices after crude breached $80/b. "Oil prices are getting higher in favor of Russia and Saudi Arabia while the US is punishing its allies," said Hossein Kazempour Ardebili in an interview with S&P Global Platts on Wednesday. His remarks come as Brent crude breached $80/b in London trading and Europe's largest bank HSBC warned a spike to $100/b was a risk when US sanctions on Iran, which come into force in November, limit the Middle East producer's exports. "The US' only choice is to appeal to Russia and Saudi to produce more. They already started in Washington and Moscow, but seems they cannot do more," said Kazempour. OPEC's latest survey of production on Wednesday showed Iranian output already falling, down to 3.60 million b/d in August, its lowest production in more than two years. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, pumped almost 10.5 million b/d in the same period. His remarks also come as Russian energy minister Alexander Novak asserted that his country could boost supply if required. Iran is due to attend the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee meeting of OPEC and its allies led by Russia in Algiers on September 23. Kazempour added that Trump's policies would "punish Europe, Japan, China and India with higher oil and gas prices and rush to [sell] arms to Saudi Arabia."

ICE Brent/NYMEX spread crosses $10/b amid Brent volatility ahead of Iran sanctions - — The front-month ICE Brent/NYMEX futures spread crossed the $10/b mark at the Asian close on Tuesday for the first time since June, as the uncertainties surrounding the impact of US sanctions on Iran has started to inject volatility into Brent crude prices. The November ICE Brent/NYMEX spread stood at $10.36/b at 4:30 pm Singapore time (0830 GMT) on Tuesday, S&P Global Platts' data showed. The spread was last higher on June 12, when it stood at $10.56/b, Platts' data showed. The spread, however, lost some steam later Tuesday, as the November NYMEX contract price climbed in anticipation of demand spikes ahead of Hurricane Florence's arrival on the East Coast later this week. The November Brent/NYMEX futures spread settled at $10.02/b on Tuesday, and as at 0600 GMT Wednesday was at $9.79/b Prompt-month Brent futures had been subject to volatility as markets head closer towards November when the US sanction on Iranian crude is to take effect, and concerns over reduced global supply start to weigh in on prices, market sources said. While there are looming fears in the market about the loss of Iranian crude grades, markets are also looking to OPEC and Russia to pump more oil to compensate for the loss. Since mid-August, the prompt-month Brent futures contract has risen by more than $8/b or 11.73% to-date, to settle at $79.06/b on Tuesday. According to the latest Platts survey, Iranian crude production in August fell to its lowest level in more than two years at 3.6 million b/d. Oil exports from the country plunged 17% from July, as key buyers China and India cut purchases significantly, data from Platts trade flow software cFlow showed. Platts Analytics estimates that the market may lose some 1.4 million b/d of Iranian oil by November, when the sanctions are set to take effect.

 Hurricane danger lifts oil prices - Hurricane Florence, which is moving towards the U.S. East Coast, helped push prices higher today and will continue to act as a tailwind for West Texas Intermediate until at least Thursday, based on the latest updates from the National Hurricane Center.The NHC said that the hurricane might strengthen further, reaching Category 5 before making landfall, and warned that “A life-threatening storm surge is likely along portions of the coastlines of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, and a Storm Surge Watch will likely be issued for some of these areas by Tuesday morning.”Another two storms are developing in the Atlantic—hurricane Helene and tropical storm Isaac—but are yet to make an entrance near the U.S. coast.Last week, tropical storm Gordon shut in oil production amounting to 160,000 bpd for several days as it passed through the Gulf of Mexico. That represented about one-tenth of total oil production in the GOM.Unlike the 2017 hurricane season that caused serious production outages in the Gulf of Mexico and at Gulf Coast refineries, this year’s hurricanes are thought to be fewer and weaker. Colorado State University recently revised its forecast for the number of named storms this season to 11 from 14, as per a Bloomberg report from July.   Still, any hurricane approaching the U.S. coast will affect prices in the current supervolatile state of the market, with demand concerns adding to the already high geopolitical risk premium.

WTI Rises 2.5 Percent on Hurricane Threat - Crude oil and reformulated gasoline surged Tuesday as three named tropical systems churned in the Atlantic Ocean.The October WTI futures contract gained $1.71 Tuesday to settle at $69.25 a barrel. The intraday range for the benchmark was a low of $67.48 and a high of $69.55. Traders continued to monitor Hurricane Florence, a Category 4 storm packing maximum sustained winds of 140 miles per hour as of 4 p.m. Eastern Tuesday. According to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), Florence is expected to make landfall in the Carolinas Friday and could cause widespread flooding throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. It could also affect operations at major East Coast fuel terminal facilities.“The market was focused on a series of storms headed toward the U.S. East Coast, which helped lift gasoline prices on the day,” Delia Morris, Houston-based commodity pricing analyst, told Rigzone. “The RBOB contract for October was up almost 3 percent, to $2.01 per gallon, which had a knock-on effect on oil prices.”NHC forecasters are also monitoring Tropical Storm Isaac, which could enter the Caribbean Sea Thursday, and a tropical disturbance north of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Another named storm in the Atlantic, Hurricane Helene, is predicted to weaken as it moves northward into cooler waters.Ongoing concerns tied to pending U.S. economic sanctions on Iran also factored into Tuesday’s crude price movements.

Oil up over two percent on concerns over Iran, slower U.S. output growth (Reuters) - Oil prices rose more than 2 percent on Tuesday as U.S. sanctions squeezed Iranian crude exports and after U.S. crude oil production in 2019 was forecast to grow at a slower rate than previously expected, prompting supply concerns.  Since spring when the Trump Administration said it would impose sanctions on Iran, crude traders have priced in a risk premium reflecting the supply shortages that may occur when exports from the third-largest OPEC member are cut. As the Nov. 4 date for imposing sanctions draws nearer, the premium has increased. Brent crude futures rose $1.69, or 2.2 percent, to settle at $79.06 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude settled $1.71, or 2.5 percent, higher at $69.25 a barrel. Prices extended gains in post-settlement trade after industry data from the American Petroleum Institute showed U.S. crude inventories slumped 8.6 million barrels last week, versus analysts’ forecasts of a 805,000-barrel decrease. Official U.S. government data is due to be released on Wednesday. Washington has told its allies to reduce imports of Iranian oil and several Asian buyers, including South Korea, Japan and India appear to be falling in line. But the U.S. government does not want to push up oil prices, which could depress economic activity or even trigger a slowdown in global growth. U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry met Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih on Monday in Washington, as the Trump administration encourages big oil-producing countries to keep output high. Perry will meet with Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak on Thursday in Moscow.

WTI Spikes Above $70 After Huge Crude Draw  Amid east coast disruptions and Iran-related headlines, WTI spiked above $69 ahead of tonight's inventory data, before extending gains when API reported a much bigger than expected crude draw (-8.4mm vs -1.75mm exp). API

  • Crude -8.636mm (-1.75mm exp) - biggest draw since July 2018
  • Cushing +2.122mm (+900k exp) - biggest build since March 2018
  • Gasoline +5.821mm - biggest build since Dec 2017
  • Distillates -1.165mm

This is the 4th weekly crude draw in a row (and the biggest since July) but most notable was the huge build in gasoline - the biggest weekly rise in inventories since Dec 2017...  Bloomberg reports that East Coast motorists may see “dramatic” spikes in gasoline prices, according to AAA, as mass evacuations stretch supplies and Florence’s heavy rains imperil major fuel pipelines. Meanwhile, France and South Korea are shunning Iranian crude, forcing the Islamic Republic to effectively remove some oil from global markets. Some investors “believe we are going to see a significant jump in gasoline prices,” said John Kilduff, a partner at New York-based hedge fund Again Capital LLC. “The supportive factors in this market still remain.” WTI traded above $69 ahead of API and spiked up to within a tick of $70 on the crude draw...

 Oil prices leap higher after API reports huge crude draw - The American Petroleum Institute (API) reported a major draw of 8.636 million barrels of United States crude oil inventories for the week ending September 7, compared to S&P Global Platts analyst expectations that this week would see a draw in crude oil inventories of 2.7 million barrels. Last week, the American Petroleum Institute (API) reported a modest draw of 1.17 million barrels of crude oil. The API reported a build in gasoline inventories for week ending September 7 in the amount of 2.122 million barrels. Platts analysts predicted no change in gasoline inventories for the week. Oil prices were trading up in late morning trade prior to the release of the API data on inventories. At 11:17am EDT, WTI was trading up 1.72% (+$1.16) at $68.70 per barrel—down slightly from prices this time last week. Brent crude was also trading up, by 1.56% (+$1.21) at $78.58—almost $1.00 over last week’s figures.Tuesday’s rising prices were largely the result of OPEC geopolitical woes and supply outages, both real and imagined, including in Iraq, Libya, Venezuela, and Iran. Also a boost for prices is Hurricane Florence—a Category 4 hurricane that is expected to hit the Carolinas this week. Florence may prove to be the worst storm to hit North Carolina in 60 years, and nearly 1.5 million people have been ordered to evacuate, according to CNBC. US crude oil production as estimated by the Energy Information Administration was unchanged for yet another week at 11.0 million bpd for the week ending August 31—unable to break through the 11 million barrier. Distillate inventories were also up this week—by 5.82 million barrels, compared to an expected build of 2.3 million barrels. Inventories at the Cushing, Oklahoma, site decreased this week by 1.165 million barrels. The U.S. Energy Information Administration report on crude oil inventories is due to be released on Wednesday at 11:30a.m. EDT.

Oil prices rise on lower U.S. crude inventories, looming Iran sanctions = Oil eased on Wednesday, having neared its highest level this year after a drop in U.S. crude inventories and the prospect of the loss of Iranian supply added to concerns over the delicate balance between consumption and production. Brent crude futures were last down 23 cents on the day at $78.83 a barrel by 0923 GMT, having touched a session peak of $79.66, the highest since late May, when the price broke above $80.U.S. crude futures were up 35 cents at $69.60 a barrel."We think oil market fundamentals are increasingly supportive of crude prices, at least at current levels," said Gordon Gray, HSBC's global head of oil and gas equity research."While we aren't explicitly forecasting Brent to rise to $100 a barrel, we see real risks of this happening. The fact that much higher supply is already needed from the likes of Saudi Arabia - and the low levels of spare capacity remaining - leave the global system highly vulnerable to any further significant outage."U.S. crude stocks fell by 8.6 million barrels in the week to Sept. 7 to 395.9 million, the American Petroleum Institute (API) said on Tuesday, while the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) cut its forecast for U.S. crude output growth in 2019.Outside the United States, traders have been focusing on the impact of U.S. sanctions against Iran that will target oil exports from November."Iran is increasingly becoming the preoccupation of the crude market. The last couple of weeks have seen the expected squeeze on Iranian crude flows taking shape, with overall outflows down markedly," consultant JBC Energy said.

Crude oil futures higher on US stocks draw, Iran sanctions -- Crude oil futures were stable to higher during mid-morning trade in Asia Wednesday after the American Petroleum Institute reported a larger-than-expected draw in US crude inventories and geopolitical tensions remained in focus ahead of the re-imposition of US sanctions on Iran.n At 10:41 am Singapore time (0241 GMT), November ICE Brent crude futures were up 55 cents/b (0.70%) from Tuesday's settle at $79.61/b, while the NYMEX October light sweet crude contract was 79 cents/b (1.14%) higher at $70.04/b."The American Petroleum Institute figures for the week ended September 7 showed a much larger-than-expected 8.6 million barrels and WTI reacted positively," OANDA's head of trading Stephen Innes said.The draw exceeded analysts' expectations of a 2.7 million-barrel draw in a survey by S&P Global Platts Tuesday."Even Cushing, which everyone was fretting about early in the week due to pipeline bottlenecks, showed a decrease of 1.17 million barrels," Innes added."The oil market is directionally bullish now," Mitsubishi Corp.'s senior adviser Tony Nunan said. "The biggest driver of crude [Wednesday] is the big draw on crude, especially towards the end of summer season when demand starts to fall," he added."The underlying strength also lies in the US sanctions on Iran. In addition, the market is factoring in possible pipeline disruptions as a result of the hurricane," Nunan added.Market participants have increased hedging activity ahead of the re-imposition of US sanctions on Iranian oil exports in November, when many expect prices to climb above $80/b, the US Energy Information Administration said Tuesday in a report.

EIA- US Crude Stockpiles Fall More Than Expected To Below 400 Million Bbls (Reuters) - U.S. crude oil inventories fell more than expected last week to below 400 million barrels, while gasoline and distillate inventories rose as refiners ramped up production, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday. Crude inventories fell 5.3 million barrels in the week to Sept. 7 to 396.2 million barrels, the lowest level since February 2015, and about 3 percent below the five-year average for this time of year, the EIA said. Analysts had forecast a decrease of 805,000 barrels. U.S. Midwest crude oil inventories fell to 105.9 million barrels last week, the lowest weekly level since January 2015, EIA data showed. Inventories at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub for U.S. crude futures, located in the PADD 2 or the Midwest, fell 1.2 million barrels, EIA said. The bullish weekly report sent crude futures higher, with global benchmark Brent rising more than $1 a barrel in the session to a high of $80.13 a barrel. U.S. crude rose $1.65 a barrel to $70.90 after the report was issued. "A solid draw to crude inventories this week was the result of a counter-seasonal increase in refining activity - at a point when we should be tumbling into fall maintenance," said Matt Smith, director of commodities research at ClipperData. "The Midwest accounted for the lion's share of the inventory drop, while lower crude imports, higher crude exports and higher refinery runs on the Gulf Coast also help explain away a good part of today's crude draw," he said. Net U.S. crude imports fell last week by 443,000 barrels per day. Refinery crude runs rose by 210,000 bpd and utilization rates increased 1 percentage point to 97.6 percent of total capacity, EIA data showed. Gasoline stocks rose 1.3 million barrels, slightly below analysts' expectations. Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, rose by 6.2 million barrels, versus expectations for a 1.4 million-barrel increase, the EIA data showed. 

 Oil prices rise on lower US crude inventories, looming Iran sanctions - (Reuters) - Oil prices rose on Wednesday following a report that crude inventories in the United States fell and as looming sanctions against Iran raised expectations of tightening supplies, with top producer Russia warning of a “fragile” global crude market. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures CLc1 were at $69.81 per barrel at 0047 GMT, up 56 cents, or 0.8 percent, from their last settlement. WTI futures gained 2.5 percent in the previous session. Brent crude futures LCOc1 climbed 24 cents, or 0.3 percent, to $79.30 a barrel. Brent has climbed for four straight days and gained 2.2 percent in the previous session. “Oil prices jumped overnight as American Petroleum Institute inventory data showed a large drawdown in inventories,” said William O’Loughlin, investment analyst at Australia’s Rivkin Securities. U.S. crude stocks fell by 8.6 million barrels in the week to Sept. 7 to 395.9 million barrels, the American Petroleum Institute (API), a private industry group, said on Tuesday. Official weekly government data will be published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Wednesday. Outside the United States, traders have been focusing on the impact of U.S. sanctions against Iran that will target oil exports from November. Washington has put pressure on other governments to also cut imports, and many countries and companies are already falling in line and reducing purchases, triggering expectations of a tighter market.

Oil prices are re-entering the Tweet zone: Kemp (Reuters) - Oil prices have risen back to levels that earlier this year prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to take to Twitter and demand OPEC do more to bring them down.Front-month Brent futures settled well above $79 per barrel on Wednesday, the highest for over three months, and above levels that have spurred the president to complain in the past (https://tmsnrt.rs/2p5xq3j)."The OPEC monopoly must remember that gas prices are up and they are doing little to help. If anything, they are driving prices higher as the United States defends many of their members," the president wrote in July."REDUCE PRICING NOW!" the president demanded in his trademark all-capitals style when Brent was trading at only $78 per barrel on July 4.The president had already grumbled on June 13, when Brent was over $76, writing "Oil prices are too high, OPEC is at it again. Not good!".And his first intervention came on April 20, when Brent was just $74, tweeting "Oil prices are artificially Very High! No good and will not be accepted!" The president has repeatedly blamed OPEC for not pumping enough, even as his administration has worked closely with Saudi Arabia to cut off oil exports from Iran.The renewed rise in prices must therefore be increasing the risk the president will complain again and press OPEC - in effect Saudi Arabia, which holds almost all spare capacity - to increase production further.There is some evidence that presidential tweets, as well as private conversations with Saudi policymakers, have influenced the kingdom's production policy.The president's tweets between late April and early July coincided with a sharp change in Saudi rhetoric about the state of the oil market and need for more supplies, followed quickly by a ramp up in the kingdom's production.While some commentators have dismissed the tweets as empty political theatre, they have probably had a real impact on supplies. The president's interventions, on twitter and behind-the-scenes, are therefore significant for prices, at least in the short and medium term.

OPEC Warns Of Slowing Oil Demand Amid Growing Risks To Global Economy - Amid fears of global oil supply disruption and production curbs, in its latest monthly report, OPEC expects global oil supplies to remain stable, while cautioning that demand is becoming a growing concern.In the latest report, OPEC said that preliminary data suggested that the global oil supply increased 490,000 barrels a day to average 98.9 mb/d in August, compared with the previous month. OPEC projects that in 2018, non-OPEC oil supply will grow by 2.02 mmb/d despite making a downward revision of 64,000 b/d from its last report. In 2019, non-OPEC oil supply is expected to grow by another 2.15 mb/d, an upward revision of 17,000 b/d. Meanwhile, OPEC's supply is also rising. According to secondary sources total crude oil production by OPEC members averaged 32.56 mb/d in August, an increase of 278,000 b/d over the previous month. As shown in the table below, oil output increased mostly in Libya, Iraq and Nigeria, while production declined in Iran, which is due to be hit with sanctions on its oil industry from November onwards, Venezuela, which is experiencing economic and political upheavals depressing production, and Algeria. Meanwhile, oil production by OPEC's leader Saudi Arabia rose by 38kb/d to 10.4 million barrels daily, ticking up every months since May, when it and Russia signalled that they could increase output to fill any supply shortages due to incoming U.S. sanctions on Iran's oil industry.One curious divergence: according to secondary sources, Iran's oil supply production fell by 150,000 barrels a day from July to August to around 3.5 mb/d. But according to Iran's own reporting, production was stable and unchanged production figures for the last three months, however, of 3.8 mb/d.  But while OPEC sees supply as stable, some clouds emerged on the demands side, where OPEC expects that in 2018 global oil demand is expected to grow by 1.62 million barrels a day, a minor downward revision from last month's projection. "World oil demand growth in 2018 was revised downward by around 20,000 b/d, primarily as a result of the slower-than-expected performance by non-OECD Latin America and the Middle East during the second quarter of 2018" OPEC said. "Hence, world oil demand growth is now pegged at 1.62 mb/d for 2018, with total global consumption at 98.82 mb/d." OPEC revised world oil demand growth lower for 2019 as well. "In 2019, world oil demand growth was revised slightly lower by 20,000 from the previous month's report, primarily as a result of economic revisions to Latin America and the Middle East. World oil demand growth is now anticipated at 1.41 mb/d and total global consumption at around 100.23 mb/d."

IEA report: Global oil supply hit a record high in August despite Iran, Venezuela fallout - Global oil supply was firing on all cylinders in August, reaching a record 100 million barrels per day (bpd), the International Energy Agency revealed in its monthly Oil Market Report Thursday. Higher output from Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) managed to more than offset seasonal declines from non-OPEC members, although non-OPEC supply was also up 2.6 million bpd in August of the previous year, led by the U.S. The IEA forecasts non-OPEC production to grow by 2 million bpd in 2018 and 1.8 million bpd in in 2019, characterized by "relentless growth led by record output from the U.S." Meanwhile, August saw OPEC's crude supply hit a nine-month high of 32.63 million bpd, despite concerns over falling production and slashed access in major producers Venezuela and Iran. Higher volumes from Nigeria and Saudi Arabia as well as increased production in Libya and Iraq served to outweigh these drops. Welders work on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve pipeline on June 1, 1980, in West Hackberry, Louisianna. Begun under President Ford to reduce the threat of oil embargoes, the SPR crude oil is stored in huge underground salt caverns along the Gulf of Mexico, a natural choice due to the proximity of many refineries and distribution points.The 15-nation cartel's members agreed to start raising output beginning in July this year to stabilize markets and offset losses in major suppliers Iran and Venezuela, OPEC's third and sixth-largest producers, respectively.Tehran is facing the loss of most of its energy export markets as the Trump administration prepares tosanction its oil sales on November 4 after pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal in May. August saw Iran's production drop dramatically by 150,000 bpd to 3.63 million bpd, its lowest level since July 2016, as buyers cut orders in the face of impending U.S. penalties.The Iran deal, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and signed with five other world powers, offered sanctions relief to the Islamic Republic in exchange for limits to its nuclear program. Renewed sanctions imposed by Washington on other parts of its economy in August have already sent its currency, the rial, into a tailspin.Meanwhile, Venezuela's protracted economic crisis has led to a production collapse that's seen 1 million bpd wiped off the market in the past two years, and supply there is expected to continue to deteriorate rapidly.The demand outlook is less bullish. Global oil demand growth for 2018 and 2019 are unchanged, the IAE reported, remaining at 1.4 million bpd and 1.5 million bpd, respectively.

IEA Warns of Higher Oil Prices as Iran and Venezuela Losses Deepen -- -- The International Energy Agency warned that oil prices could break out above $80 a barrel unless other producers act to offset deepening supply losses in Iran and Venezuela. Iranian crude exports have fallen significantly before U.S. sanctions even take effect, the IEA said in a monthly report. The Middle Eastern nation will face further pressure in coming months and the economic crisis in Venezuela is pushing output there to the lowest in decades. It’s uncertain whether Saudi Arabia and other producers will fill any shortfall, or how far they’re able to, the agency said. “Things are tightening up,” said the Paris-based IEA, which advises most major economies on energy policy. “If Venezuelan and Iranian exports do continue to fall, markets could tighten and oil prices could rise” unless there are offsetting production increases elsewhere, it said. Oil climbed to a three-month high above $80 a barrel in London on Wednesday as fears of a supply crunch eclipsed concern about the risks to demand such as the U.S.-China trade dispute. While the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies including Russia pledged to boost supply, the IEA said it remains to be seen how much will be delivered. Saudi Arabia lifted output by 70,000 barrels a day to 10.42 million last month, but that remains “some distance from the 11 million barrels a day level that Saudi officials initially suggested was on the way,” the IEA said. While the agency warned that “there is a risk to the 2019 outlook” for demand from challenges in emerging markets such as currency depreciation and trade disputes, it kept forecasts for consumption unchanged.

OMR: Tightening up on the way - Since the previous edition of this Report, the price of Brent crude oil fell close to $70/bbl and is now flirting with $80/bbl. Two reasons for the swing are that Venezuela’s production decline continues, and we are approaching 4 November when US sanctions against Iran’s oil exports are implemented. In Venezuela, production fell in August to 1.24 mb/d and, if the recent rate of decline continues, it could be only 1 mb/d at the end of the year. Evidence provided by tanker tracking data suggests that Iran’s exports have already fallen significantly but we must wait to see if the 500 kb/d of reductions seen so far will grow. (See Iran supply tumbles as buyers take heed of US sanctions).  If Venezuelan and Iranian exports do continue to fall, markets could tighten and oil prices could rise without offsetting production increases from elsewhere. Supply from some countries has grown since the Vienna meetings in June: last month Saudi Arabia and Iraq combined saw output increase by 160 kb/d. In Iraq’s case, exports have grown to such an extent that they are greater than Iran’s production, and there is still about 200 kb/d of shut-in capacity in the north of the country due to the ongoing dispute with the Kurdistan Regional Government. Based on our August estimates of production, OPEC countries are sitting on about 2.7 mb/d of spare production capacity, 60% of which is in Saudi Arabia. But the point about spare capacity is that, having been idle, it is not clear exactly how much, beyond what is widely thought to be “easy” to bring online, will be available to coincide with further falls in Venezuelan exports and a maximisation of Iranian sanctions. It is not just a question of volume; refiners used to processing Venezuelan or Iranian crude will compete to find similar quality barrels to maintain optimal refinery operations. Alternative supplies of lighter crude might not be ideal for this reason. Even before we factor in any further fall in exports from Venezuela or Iran, record global refinery runs are expected to result in a crude stock draw of 0.5 mb/d in 4Q18. Any draw will be from a basis of relative tightness: in the OECD, stocks at end-July were 50 million barrels below the five-year average.

Oil Slips as Economic Concerns Counter Tightening Supplies- (Reuters) - Oil prices fell on Thursday, reversing some of the strong gains from the previous session, as economic concerns raised doubts about ongoing fuel demand growth. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $69.88 per barrel at 0635 GMT, down 49 cents, or 0.7 percent, from their last settlement. Brent crude futures slipped 38 cents, or 0.5 percent, to $79.36 a barrel. The falls were due to concerns of a potential slowdown in fuel demand growth because of trade disputes between the United States and China, the world's two largest oil consumers, as well as emerging market turmoil. American companies in China are being hurt by tariffs in the growing trade war between Washington and Beijing, according to a survey of hundreds of firms, prompting the U.S. business lobbies behind the poll to urge the Trump administration to reconsider its approach. The Trump administration has invited Chinese officials to restart trade talks, just as Washington prepares to escalate the U.S.-China trade war with tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) on Wednesday reduced its forecast for 2019 global oil demand growth, pointing to economic risks. In its monthly report, OPEC said world oil demand next year would rise by 1.41 million barrels per day (bpd), 20,000 bpd less than last month and the second consecutive reduction in the forecast. One factor that could weigh on long-term fuel demand is China's decision to take at least 1 million heavy duty diesel trucks off the roads by 2020, and to replace them with vehicles using alternative fuels like electric engines, liquefied natural gas or to shift transport to rail. Despite this, the short-term outlook for oil markets is for tighter supply.

Oil prices slip as economic growth concerns counter tighter supplies - Oil prices fell on Thursday, slipping back from four-month highs as investors focused on the risk that emerging market crises and trade disputes could dent demand.Benchmark Brent crude oil was down 70 cents a barrel at $79.04 by 0830 GMT. U.S. light crude fell $1.15 to a low of $69.22 a barrel.The International Energy Agency said on Thursday that although the oil market was tightening at the moment and world oil demand would soon reach 100 million barrels per day (bpd), global economic risks were mounting."Things are tightening up," the agency said in its monthly report, but added: "As we move into 2019, a possible risk to our forecast lies in some key emerging economies, partly due to currency depreciations versus the U.S. dollar raising the cost of imported energy.""In addition, there is a risk to growth from an escalation of trade disputes," the Paris-based agency said.U.S. companies in China are being hurt by tariffs in the growing trade war between Washington and Beijing, according to a survey, prompting U.S. business lobbies to urge the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump to reconsider its approach.The White House has invited Chinese officials to restart trade talks just as it prepares to escalate a trade war with China with tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. Short-term, the outlook is for tighter supply.Brent rose above $80 per barrel on Wednesday for the first time since May, spurred by expectations that U.S. sanctions against Iran's oil exports, which will start in November, will tighten global markets.U.S. light crude pushed over $70 on Wednesday due to falling U.S. crude inventories and production levels. The IEA said tightening supply was putting increasing pressure on prices: "The price range for Brent of $70-$80 per barrel in place since April could be tested," it said. U.S. crude stocks fell 5.3 million barrels in the week to Sept. 7 to 396.2 million barrels, the lowest since February 2015 and about 3 percent below the five-year average for this time of year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Wednesday.

Oil prices claw back some ground, but demand worries drag --Oil on Friday clawed back some of its losses from the previous session, when prices fell the most in a month, as concerns about oil supply are countering worries that emerging market crises and trade disputes could dent demand.Brent crude was up 8 cents, or 0.1 percent, at $78.26 a barrel by 0338 GMT, after falling 2 percent on Thursday. The global benchmark rose on Wednesday to its highest since May 22 at $80.13.U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures were up 18 cents, or 0.2 percent, at 68.76 a barrel, after dropping 2.5 percent on Thursday.Brent is heading for a 1.8 percent gain this week, while WTI is on track for a 1.5 percent increase."Prices remain well supported as the market continues to fret about ongoing structural supply issues elsewhere," ANZ Research said in a note.The International Energy Agency on Thursday warned that although the oil market was tightening at the moment and world oil demand would reach 100 million barrels per day (bpd) in the next three months, global economic risks were mounting."As we move into 2019, a possible risk to our forecast lies in some key emerging economies, partly due to currency depreciations versus the U.S. dollar, raising the cost of imported energy," the agency said."In addition, there is a risk to growth from an escalation of trade disputes," the Paris-based agency said.China will not buckle to U.S. demands in any trade negotiations, the major state-run China Daily newspaper said in an editorial on Friday, after Chinese officials welcomed an invitation from Washington for a new round of talks.U.S. President Trump said on Twitter on Thursday that the United States holds the upper hand in talks."We are under no pressure to make a deal with China, they are under pressure to make a deal with us," Trump tweeted. Still, supply concerns are supported by data showing that U.S. crude production fell by 100,000 bpd to 10.9 million barrels per day last week as the industry faces pipeline capacity constraints.

Oil Prices Unfazed By Growing Rig Count - Baker Hughes reported an additional seven U.S. rigs this week, bringing the total number of active oil and gas rigs to 1.055, according to the report. The number of active oil rigs increased by 7 to reach 867 while the number of gas rigs held steady at 186. The oil and gas rig count is now 119 rigs higher that it was this time last year.At 11:37am. EDT on Friday, WTI Crude was trading up 0.13 percent at $68.68—over $1 per barrel up over this time last week, while Brent Crude was trading down 0.20 percent at $78.02—about $1.50 above last week’s levels. The mixed directions of WTI and Brent likely the cause of a perfect storm of catalysts including increasing worries that Iran’s oil exports will be curtailed beyond what OPEC and friends can offset with their own production. Other factors contributing to the volatility of oil prices include Venezuela’s continuing freefall into economic collapse, violence in Libya’s oil-rich areas, and fears that the trade war between China and the United States may indirectly hurt oil demand if global trade were to slow.Canada’s oil and gas rigs for the week picked up 22 rigs this week after losing 24 rigs last week, bringing its total oil and gas rig count to 226, which is 14 more than this time last year, with a 15-rig increase for oil and a 7-rig increase for gas for the week.  On the production side, the EIA’s estimates for U.S. production for the week ending September 7 were for an average of 10.9 million bpd. By 1:09pm EDT, WTI was trading up 0.83% (+$0.57) at $69.16. Brent crude was trading up 0.18% (+$0.14) at $78.32 per barrel.

Oil mixed as China tariff talk scotches early rally -- (Reuters) - Oil prices pulled back on Friday on concerns additional U.S. tariffs would be placed on Chinese imports, after an earlier rally triggered by worries that more sanctions on Iran might constrict supply. Crude futures ended the week up more than 1.6 percent. Traders said an early rally on Friday was sparked by reports U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo was going to announce new sanctions on Iran. “It increases the odds that there will be less oil coming out of there,” said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures Group. The gains were curbed though by reports U.S. President Donald Trump instructed aides to proceed with tariffs on about $200 billion more of Chinese products. Brent crude oil futures pulled back on the reports of additional tariffs, dropping 9 cents a barrel to settle at $78.09. The global benchmark fell 2.0 percent on Thursday after rising on Wednesday to its highest since May 22 at $80.13. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures settled up 40 cents at $68.99 a barrel after dropping 2.5 percent on Thursday. After a volatile week, Brent was set for a 1.6 percent weekly rise and WTI 1.8 percent. Brent reached a session high of $78.94 a barrel, as speculators attempted to push the price above the $79.00 level. Brent crude futures have reached a high around $80.00 a barrel three times this year before pulling back.

White House warns Iran over attacks on US diplomatic missions in Iraq | TheHill: The White House on Tuesday blamed Iran for recent attacks against U.S. diplomatic facilities in Iraq, warning that it will hold Tehran accountable if U.S. personnel are injured. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders blamed "proxies" of Iran for recent attacks at the U.S. consulate in Basra, Iraq, and near the American Embassy compound in Baghdad."Iran did not act to stop these attacks by its proxies in Iraq, which it has supported with funding, training, and weapons," Sanders said in a statement. "The United States will hold the regime in Tehran accountable for any attack that results in injury to our personnel or damage to United States Government facilities," she added. "America will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of American lives." The U.S. and Iran have for years backed opposing political groups in Iraq, contributing to tensions between the two countries. The Wall Street Journal reported that Iraqi protesters lit the Iranian consulate on fire last week and chanted "Iran out out!" Hours later, an unknown party fired rockets toward the Basra airport that houses the U.S. consulate, as well as toward the Green Zone in Baghdad, where the U.S. Embassy is located. While tensions between the U.S. and Iran have simmered for decades, the Trump administration seemingly escalated the war of words between the countries after it withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal earlier this year. The Obama-era deal offered Tehran economic sanctions relief in exchange for limitations on its nuclear program. 

Bloody siege of Yemeni port resumes as US certifies Saudi concern for civilians -- US-backed forces led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates renewed their assault on Yemen’s Red Sea port of Hodeidah on Wednesday, carrying out as many as 60 airstrikes on the densely populated city.Saudi-backed mercenary ground forces have reportedly cut off the main road linking Hodeidah with the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, threatening to cut off food and medical imports upon which at least 22 million people, three-quarters of the population, depend. An estimated eight million Yemenis—a number equivalent to the entire population of Switzerland—are already confronting famine.Aid groups have warned that the renewed assault on Hodeidah threatens to not only kill tens of thousands of civilians, but to push millions more over the brink of starvation.The ferocious new Saudi-UAE assault came on the same day that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a criminally cynical statement certifying that the two US-allied Gulf oil monarchies “are undertaking demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure resulting from military operations.”The “certification” was required under the terms of a toothless amendment to the $717 billion 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed into law by President Donald Trump last month. Inspired in part by the international outcry over the initial launching of the Saudi-led siege of Hodeidah in June, the measure required the secretary of state to report to Congress within 30 days that Saudi Arabia and the UAE were seeking to end the more than three-year-old war, ameliorate what is universally recognized as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and reduce the slaughter of civilians.The ostensible penalty for a failure to provide such assurances would be the cut-off of funding for US tanker jets providing the mid-air refueling that makes it possible for Saudi and UAE w arplanes to carry out the continuous aerial bombardment of Yemen. These airstrikes are responsible for the vast majority of the well-over 10,000 deaths of civilians since 2015, when Saudi Arabia initiated the war to stop Houthi rebels from establishing their control over the entire country and to reinstall the US-Saudi puppet government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who currently resides in Riyadh.

Saudi-led coalition seizes main road linking Yemen's Hodeidah to Sanaa - (Reuters) - Yemeni forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition seized the main road linking the port city of Hodeidah to the capital Sanaa, blocking a supply route for the Houthi group that controls both cities, military sources and residents said on Thursday. The Western-backed alliance in Yemen resumed its offensive after the collapse of peace talks on Saturday which the United Nations had hoped would avert an assault on the Red Sea city, the country’s main port and a lifeline for millions of Yemenis, and start a process to end the three-year war. “The situation has deteriorated dramatically in the past few days. Families are absolutely terrified by the bombardment, shelling and airstrikes,” U.N. humanitarian coordinator Lise Grande said in a statement on Thursday. The coalition of Sunni Muslim states led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates has said taking control of Hodeidah would force the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement to the negotiating table by cutting off its main supply line. “The main entrance in Hodeidah leading to Sanaa has been closed after forces backed by the UAE took control of the road,” a pro-coalition military source told Reuters. Residents said the main eastern gate had been damaged in air strikes by coalition warplanes and that fighting was continuing on secondary streets off the main road. There is another more circuitous route between Hodeidah on the western coast of Yemen to the capital in the north. The United Nations fears an attack on Hodeidah, the entrypoint for the bulk of Yemen’s commercial imports and aidsupplies, could lead to a famine in the impoverished country where an estimated 8.4 million people are facing starvation. Grande said people in Hodeidah are struggling to survive.

Another Coalition Strike On Yemen Civilian Bus Occurs The Same Day US Affirms It Stands By Saudis Just as the U.S. in typical fashion continues lecturing countries like Syria, Russia, and Iran over severe human rights violations, including allegations of everything from launching barrel bomb strikes on civilian areas in Idlib to chemical weapons attacks to sensational spy poisoning ops in the U.K., the Saudi-US coalition in Yemen has attacked another bus full of children and civilians in Yemen. On Wednesday multiple Yemeni journalists reporting from on the ground confirmed a new airstrike resulting in mass civilian casualties, this time a Saudi-US coalition strike scored a direct hit on a bus station in beseiged Hodeidah City. The strike occurred the same day Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced they've certified the legality of US assistance to the coalition in Yemen before Congress. Aftermath of the reported Wednesday airstrike in Hodeidah, via Hussain AlbukhaitiAnd this further comes, as NPR reports, after a long litany of instances of the coalition "causing disproportionate civilian deaths in the Yemen conflict because of airstrikes that have hit markets, weddings and even a bus carrying children from summer camp." The Red Cross identified 40 children dead from that first major bus attack in Yemen's north on August 9th. Sanaa-based journalist Ahmad Algohbary reports of the new Wednesday attack: Civilians were Killed & injured by Saudi led coalition airstrikes on bus station in Hodeidah City, Yemen. The warplanes are preventing the paramedics from getting into the attack scene. Mainstream media has been slow to pick up the new report, however the graphic video of the aftermath of the horrific airstrike spread quickly on social media, and was quickly picked up by various journalists (warning: graphic content).

Two killed after armed militants storm Libya's state oil corporation HQ in Tripoli -Two workers at Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC) have been killed after a militant attack on the company’s headquarters in Tripoli on Monday, according to local law enforcement. They say two of the attackers were also killed. "The death toll so far is two killed from NOC staff and two attackers," Ahmed Ben Salim, a spokesman for the Special Deterrence Force, told Reuters. Earlier on Monday, witnesses reported hearing explosions and gunfire, with smoke rising from close to the NOC offices. Security officials said they were attempting to deal with militants attacking the building. Security forces took up positions around the offices in central Tripoli, while surrounding roads were cordoned off. Witnesses said they saw ambulances leaving the site. A member of staff from a hotel next to the NOC offices said that he had heard around five blasts. Tripoli has been shaken by clashes between rival armed groups since the beginning of this month. The capital has also seen occasional militant attacks. In May, Islamic State claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on the National Election Commission offices in Tripoli. Libya’s oil production has plunged since the overthrow of long-serving ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The country has been torn apart by civil war with rival factions vying for power.

After Tehran talks, Syria and Russia forces step up Idlib attacks - Syrian government forces backed by their Russian allies have stepped up their bombardment of rebel-held territories in northwest Syria, killing at least six civilians, according to local activists.  The air raids and shelling on Saturday came a day after Russia rejected a Turkish call for a ceasefire in Syria's Idlib province, where a major government assault aimed at recapturing the last rebel stronghold in the country is seemingly imminent.The attacks targeted areas in southern Idlib province and in the north of neighbouring Hama province, in what is seen as the biggest escalation over the past week.One hospital in the village of Hass in southern Idlib was destroyed by a barrel bomb dropped from a helicopter.Local activists told Al Jazeera that six civilians died in the bombardment, including one child.According to Abd al-Kareem al-Rahmoun, a representative of the White Helmets, a volunteer rescue group operating in rebel-held parts of Syria, the town of Qalaat al-Madiq in northern Hama province was targeted with more than 150 shells.The shelling killed two men and wounded five others, including two children.At least 26 people in rebel-held areas have been killed since the beginning of the month, the White Helmets said. Rebel factions in northern Hama province responded to Saturday's attacks with rocket fire and shelling of areas under government control, including the city of Salhab further west.

Syria: Rebel-held areas bombed as Turkey reinforces outposts  --   Syrian government forces have pounded rebel-held areas in northwest Syria, killing at least five people in a second day of heavy bombardment, according to rescuers, as Turkey sent more troops to the region.The intensified strikes on Sunday, including air attacks, shelling and helicopter-dropped barrel bombs, targeted villages in southern Idlib and northern Hama provinces.The escalation comes amid growing fears over a seemingly imminent all-out offensive against the densely populated Idlib province, the last rebel bastion in Syria.  A baby and a young child were killed in the village of Habeit in southern Idlib in a barrel bomb attack, according to the White Helmets, a civil defence group operating in rebel-held areas.Three others, including a rebel officer, were killed in air raids and shelling that struck the northern Hama province.Abd al-Karim al-Rahmoun, a member of the White Helmets in northern Hama, said that about half of the local population had left the sparsely populated region to escape the bombardment.Activists told Al Jazeera that while hundreds of people have been fleeing the attacks in northern Hama and southern Idlib provinces, there has not been a significant wave of civilians moving towards the north. In some cases, the activists said, people would leave their villages early in the morning and return after sunset once the bombardment stopped.According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), over the past 72 hours, forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian ally have hit rebel-held areas 1,060 times with air attacks, shelling and barrel bombs. In response, al-Jabha al-Wataniya lil-Tahrir (NLF), a major armed opposition group, on Sunday shelled government forces' positions in northern Hama, SOHR reported.

Israel Secretly Armed and Funded 12 Syrian Rebel Groups, Report Says - Israel discreetly funded and armed at least 12 rebel groups in southern Syria in order to keep Iranian-backed militias and Islamic State fighters away from Israel's border, Foreign Policy magazine reported on Thursday.  Foreign Policy's Elizabeth Tsurkov interviewed more than two dozen members of the rebel groups, who reported that Israel's support took place in recent years and ended last month.   The weapons transfer, according to the report, included assault rifles, machine guns, mortar launchers and transport vehicles, all delivered through three border crossings – gates that connect the Golan Heights and Syria.  These crossings are the same ones through which Israel transferred humanitarian aid to Syria. According to Tsurkov, Israel paid each rebel approximately 75 dollars per month, with additional money transfers for the groups to purchase weapons on Syria's black market. When Bashar Assad's forces retook south Syria in July, rebel groups expected Israel to intervene, due to the support they had received, sources told Tsurkov. One fighter said: “This is a lesson we will not forget about Israel. It does not care about … the people. It does not care about humanity. All it cares about it its own interests.”  Similar reports about Israel's support to Syrian rebels were published in 2017.

US sanctions target Syrian petroleum trade network — The US Treasury Department Thursday sanctioned four individuals and five entities it claims set up a delivery network supplying the Syrian government with crude oil, fuel and LNG as well as financing and weapons. The sanctions, which will prohibit transactions between these individuals and entities and US persons, target the fuel trade between the Syrian regime and ISIS.The US sanctioned Muhammad al-Qatirji and his Qatirji Company, a Syria-based trucking company, which facilitated this fuel trade, including providing oil products to ISIS and setting contracts with the Syrian Ministry of Oil, according to Treasury. The Qatirji Company was the exclusive agent for providing oil to ISIS-controlled areas in a 2016 trade deal between ISIS and Syrian government, the agency said.In addition, the US sanctioned Abar Petrolem, a Lebanon-based company that Treasury said worked with the Syrian government to evade sanctions and import crude oil and petroluem products to Syrian ports."Abar Petroleum consigned on nearly all petroleum product shipments delivered by commercial vessels to Baniyas, Syria, throughout 2016 that were not jet fuel or Iranian-origin," Treasury said in a statement. "Additionally, Abar Petroleum coordinates the movement of payments for petroleum products through bank accounts belonging to Government of Syria entities and front companies."Abar Petroleum brokered more than $30 million in shipments of gasoline, gasoil and liquefied petroleum gas to Baniyas in 2017, according to Treasury. Treasury also sanctioned Lebanon-based Nasco Polymers and UAE-based Sonex Investments for facilitating shipments of petroleum products to Syrian ports by serving as consignees and chartering the vessels. Sonex consigned a shipment of over 90,000 mt of fuel oil delivered to Baniyas in May 2017 and a shipment of over 43,000 mt of crude oil delivered to Baniyas in November 2017, Treasury said.

 Moscow Has Upped the Ante in Syria - Mr. President: We are concerned that you may not have been adequately briefed on the upsurge of hostilities in northwestern Syria, where Syrian armed forces with Russian support have launched a full-out campaign to take back the al-Nusra/al-Qaeda/ISIS-infested province of Idlib.  The Syrians will almost certainly succeed, as they did in late 2016 in Aleppo.  As in Aleppo, it will mean unspeakable carnage, unless someone finally tells the insurgents theirs is a lost cause.That someone is you. The Israelis, Saudis, and others who want unrest to endure are egging on the insurgents, assuring them that you, Mr. President, will use US forces to protect the insurgents in Idlib, and perhaps also rain hell down on Damascus.  We believe that your senior advisers are encouraging the insurgents to think in those terms, and that your most senior aides are taking credit for your recent policy shift from troop withdrawal from Syria to indefinite war. Russian missile-armed naval and air units are now deployed in unprecedented numbers to engage those tempted to interfere with Syrian and Russian forces trying to clean out the terrorists from Idlib. We assume you have been briefed on that — at least to some extent. More important, we know that your advisers tend to be dangerously dismissive of Russian capabilities and intentions.We do not want you to be surprised when the Russians start firing their missiles.  The prospect of direct Russian-U.S. hostilities in Syria is at an all-time high.  We are not sure you realize that.The situation is even more volatile because Kremlin leaders are not sure who is calling the shots in Washington.  This is not the first time that President Putin has encountered such uncertainty (see brief Appendix below).  This is, however, the first time that Russian forces have deployed in such numbers into the area, ready to do battle.  The stakes are very high.We hope that John Bolton has given you an accurate description of his acerbic talks with his Russian counterpart in Geneva a few weeks ago. In our view, it is a safe bet that the Kremlin is uncertain whether Bolton faithfully speaks in your stead, or speaks INSTEAD of you. The best way to assure Mr. Putin that you are in control of U.S. policy toward Syria would be for you to seek an early opportunity to speak out publicly, spelling out your intentions.  If you wish wider war, Bolton has put you on the right path.

Will World War III Start This Week? - A report posted by the Wall Street Journal, late yesterday, gives reason to ask that question. "President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has approved the use of chlorine gas in an offensive against the country's last major rebel stronghold, U.S. officials said, raising the prospects for another retaliatory U.S. military strike as thousands try to escape what could be a decisive battle in the seven-year-old war," it begins. "In a recent discussion about Syria, people familiar with the exchange said, President Trump threatened to conduct a massive attack against Mr. Assad if he carries out a massacre in Idlib..." .The Journal article otherwise repeats ad nauseum all of the propaganda about Assad and chemical weapons, including quotes from Bob Woodward's latest book, demonstrating how deeply entrenched it has become, like the "intelligence" about Saddam Hussein's WMD in the run up to the Iraq invasion. "I will not comment on U.S. military plans, but Assad's use of chemical weapons, sarin and chlorine, and disregard for civilian lives is well documented and contrary to regional stability," Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said. Clearly, the Al Qaeda terrorists that run Idlib are getting a free pass. The propaganda and the pressure for war is apparently getting results in Germany. The German Bild tabloid reported yesterday (here in English translation) that the German government is now considering joining any US-UK-French offensive against Syrian government troops. Previously, Angela Merkel has rejected German participation in such military actions "But now a radical change is being discussed in the ministry." Ursula von der Leyen, the defense minister, appears to be fully onboard. According to Bild's account, it began with a request from the US side, and progressed to meetings of experts between the German Defense Ministry and the US military attache. The two sides discussed several options relating to a possible military alliance against Assad, including pre- and post-strike reconnaissance and even combat missions. "Should Assad verifiably use chemical weapons against its own people again, armed Bundeswehr [Luftwaffe actually] Tornados could fly attacks on military infrastructure — barracks, air bases, command posts, ammunition and weapon depots, factories, and research centers, for example," Biild reports. "In doing so, Germany would risk a direct confrontation with Syria's allied Russia for the first time." 

YouTube Shuts Down All Syrian State Channels As Idlib Assault Begins - Syrian state YouTube channels have been shut down this morning just as the Syrian Army's ground offensive has officially begun.This includes the following now terminated Syrian state and pro-government channels: Syrian Presidency, Syria MoD (Ministry of Defense), SANA, and Sama TV. This follows YouTube reportedly closing Syria's Ortas News last week.    It is unclear whether or not the action is part of a broader move among US social media companies to close "Iran-linked" accounts, or if directly connected to events now rapidly unfolding in Idlib.A number of Syria observers say the account closures could be connected with potential US plans for military action in response to the Syria-Russian forces air and ground attack on Idlib.This news comes just as CENTCOM chief Gen. Joseph Dunford said on Saturday t he Pentagon is preparing "military options" and is in "routine dialogue" with the White House concerning a potential military response.

US Military Preparing For Options In Syria - Events are moving rapidly in Syria as Russian jets pound insurgent positions in Idlib Province and as the Syrian Army initiates a ground invasion which Damascus has described as coming in a "phased" approach. The White House responded to the Syrian and Russian bombing campaign by vowing it would act “swiftly and vigorously” should chemical weapons be used, and a day ago claimed there's “lots of evidence” chemical weapons are being prepared by the Syrian forces, citing intelligence of such activities. And now America's top general has confirmed the Pentagon is drawing up military options to attack Syria and is in currently in close discussion with the White House over the plans.  Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters on Saturday during a trip to India, according to Reuters: ...he was involved in “routine dialogue” with the White House about military options should Syria ignore U.S. warnings against using chemical weapons in an expected assault on the enclave of Idlib.However, Gen. Dunford noted that no decision has been made to intervene militarily in response to Idlib. “But we are in a dialogue, a routine dialogue, with the president to make sure he knows where we are with regard to planning in the event that chemical weapons are used,” he told a group of reporters.Dunford added in reference to his talks with President Trump: “He expects us to h ave military options and we have provided updates to him on the development of those military options.”

Pentagon Sends Strong Message To Russia With Live-Fire Assault Drills In Syria - The Pentagon responded to the highly unusual and unique Russian amphibious landing drills staged Saturday on the Mediterranean Sea along the Syrian coast, involving both its Navy and Air Force. Russia released footage of the large-scale exercise amidst threats issued from leaders in Washington, Paris, and London over the Russian-Syrian allied assault on al-Qaeda held Idlib Province. The Pentagon has publicized its own military exercise that took place just prior to the Russian drills. US officials related to reporters that over 100 Marines flown to southeast Syria for what have been described as "snap live-fire excercises" in order to send a "strong message" to Russia after earlier this week Moscow warned its forces could attack in the area near US-occupied At Tanf.   In a statement a spokesman for the U.S. military’s Central Command said the air-assault drill was an effort to “demonstrate the capability to deploy rapidly, assault a target with integrated air and ground forces, and conduct a rapid exfiltration anywhere in the Operation Inherent Resolve combined joint operations area.”The spokesman, Navy Capt. Bill Urban, explained further that “Exercises like this bolster our defeat-ISIS capabilities and ensure we are ready to respond to any threat to our forces.” However, with ISIS essentially now wiped out and driven almost completely underground, the threat appears more immediately aimed at Moscow.  It reportedly involved a company-sized unit and took place near or outside of the American garrison at Tanf, and the deployment of heavy artillery. Marines were deployed at the start of the exercise via assault helicopters.

 Russia Accuses US Of White Phosphorus Attack In Syria - President Trump has continued to threaten Syrian and Russian forces planning to take back the terrorist-controlled stronghold of Idlib in northwestern Syria, potentially bringing the world to the brink of World War III, as we explained yesterday. But Trump's tweets about the potential "humanitarian catastrophe" have exposed a guiding principle of the US's involvement in Syria (and indeed across the Middle East): A chemical weapons attack isn't a "catastrophe" if it's carried out by the US.In what Russian officials warned could be a preamble to another US-approved false flag attack, US jets on Saturday reportedly dropped white phosphorus on Hajin, a Syrian town in the Deir Ez-Zor province. When it comes in contact with oxygen, white phosphorus can cause massive fires. Because of this, it's banned by the Geneva Convention for use in combat. Russian officials said they're still waiting for information on casualties.Here's more from RT:Two F-15 jets on Saturday bombed the town of Hajin with white phosphorus incendiary munitions, banned under the Geneva Convention, according to the Russian Center for Reconciliation in Syria. "Following the strikes, large fires were observed in the area," Lieutenant-General Vladimir Savchenko said Sunday. There’s still no information on casualties caused by the bombing run, he added.The US promptly denied responsibility for the attack.A Pentagon spokesperson denied the allegations of dropping white phosphorus bombs. "At this time, we have not received any reports of any use of white phosphorous," Commander Sean Robertson told the media on Sunday. "None of the military units in the area are even equipped with white phosphorous munitions of any kind."Photos of the attack have emerged on social media:

U.S. Again Cries ‘Chemical Warfare’ in Syria - The Syrian government, backed by Russian airpower and Iranian advisors, is preparing to undertake a major offensive designed to retake the province of Idlib from opposition forces. The newly appointed State Department Special Representative for Syria, Jim Jeffreys, claims that there is “Lots of evidence” that Syria is preparing to use chemical weapons, specifically chlorine gas, in support of the Idlib operation. For its part, Russia claims to have specific intelligence that al Qaeda affiliates, working in conjunction with the White Helmet organization, is preparing to stage a chlorine gas attack designed to look like it was done by the Syrian government. The U.S. has warned that it would launch a major military strike against not only the Syrian government, but also Russian and Iranian targets in Syria, if chemical weapons were used in Idlib. The issue of provenance is as relevant today as when this article was originally written, with the OPCW still assessing information to determine how the chlorine canisters discovered at Douma got there, and who was responsible for their use. The Douma incident stands as a case study against the rush to judgment when it comes to the attribution of blame, and is even more relevant today, when the mere allegation of chemical weapons use in Syria could lead to a major escalation in the fighting:   This summer the international monitoring organization tasked with investigating an alleged chemical weapons incident in the Damascus suburb of Douma on April 7 quietly published an interim report listing its preliminary findings. Interestingly, the report, issued by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the Nobel Peace Prize-winning agency mandated to implement the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention, noted that “no organophosphorus nerve agents or their degradation products were detected” on the scene—more simply put, there was no evidence of Sarin nerve agent present at the incident site, despite wide speculation otherwise at the time of the incident. In fact, this speculation, for which the Trump administration insisted it had evidence, was used as an excuse for the U.S., France, and the UK to launch a coordinated bombing campaign against the Syrian government on April 12. The “chlorinated organic chemicals” listed by the OPCW are commonly found in residential environments; several are by-products of chlorinated drinking water. The OPCW report does not provide any information about the concentrations of these chemicals, nor their physical location in relation to the victims alleged to have been killed or injured in the incident.

Are Warnings About Chemical Warfare in Syria Another ‘Weapon of Mass Distraction’? (Real News Network interview & transcript) Larry Wilkerson -  Russian and Syrian jets resumed intensive strikes in Idlib and Hama on Sunday. Damascus has been stepping up its assault on the rebels’ last major stronghold after a Russian-Iranian-Turkish summit failed to deliver a cease fire. In the meantime, the Russian news agency TASS and RT are both reporting that the Russian military detected two U.S. F-15 fighter jets dropping phosphorous bombs over Syria as Deir ez-Zor province on Saturday.A Pentagon spokesperson, who is Commander Sean Robertson, denied the allegations, saying that “At this time we have not received any reports of any use of white phosphorus.” In the meantime, there has been reports that Bashar al Assad is claiming that U.K.’s MI6 is planning a chemical attack in Syria so that they could blame it on President Assad. Joining me now to discuss the attacks on Syria is Larry Wilkerson. Larry is the former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell and now a distinguished professor at the College of William and Mary. Col. Larry Wilkerson says that it was the plan of John Bolton and the neocons to take Iraq, then Syria, and then Iran. These false flag operations are all about maintaining the perpetual war in the region. Thanks for joining us, Larry.

German government plans combat mission against Syria - Behind the backs of the German people, the grand coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats is preparing a massive combat mission against the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad. According to a report in the Bild newspaper published on Monday, Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen (Christian Democratic Union—CDU) is examining possible reprisals by the Luftwaffe (Air Force) against Syrian government troops should chemical weapons be used against “rebel”-held areas in Idlib province.The Bild, which has close connections to military and intelligence circles, describes a “simulation game” being conducted: “If Assad were to attack his own people with poison gas, then, besides the US being joined again by Britain and France (and possibly other new allies), armed Luftwaffe tornadoes could fly missions against military infrastructure (barracks, air bases, command posts, ammunition depots, weapon depots, factories, research centres).”The newspaper reports that the preparations by the Ministry of Defence are in response to a request from the US government to the federal Chancellery. The Bild writes that two weeks ago, at high-level talks, “various options were discussed in the ministry.”In subsequent talks, options discussed included “reconnaissance flights and damage analysis following a possible attack (‘Battle Damage Assessment’), as well as possible participation in combat missions in which German tornadoes would drop bombs for the first time since the Balkan War.” To carry out the mission, parliamentary oversight powers laid down in the Constitution are to be effectively abrogated. “Parliament would be consulted only retrospectively in the event of a rapid intervention, due to time pressure,” the newspaper reports.

Russia postpones Syrian offensive in Idlib as NATO threatens escalation -- Moscow announced yesterday the postponement of a planned joint offensive by Syrian and Russian government forces against Islamist opposition militias in Syria’s Idlib province, after growing threats from the militias’ backers in Turkey and the NATO imperialist powers.Before yesterday, Moscow and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime had made clear that they intended to crush the Islamist terrorist militias inside Idlib. The United Nations has estimated that there are 10,000 Al Qaeda-linked forces among the Islamist militias in the province, primarily from the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham militia. They are the last bastion of opposition support in Syria, after the lack of popular support for the NATO-backed forces and Russian and Iranian military aid to the Syrian regime turned the tide of the war against NATO.Over the last several days, however, US, European and Turkish officials blocked the Russian-Syrian offensive, at least temporarily, by drastically escalating military tensions in the region. They repeatedly threatened to strike Syrian forces and their allies, risking a direct military clash with nuclear-armed Russia, if the Syrian regime attacked Al Qaeda-linked forces in Idlib.Yesterday, the Times of London reported that “Britain is preparing to join the United States and France in launching waves of airstrikes against Syria,” identifying a long list of potential targets. It added, “The Pentagon has begun drawing up a list of chemical weapons sites inside Syria that could be targeted in a far wider campaign of retribution than the single night of strikes in April involving British, American and French warplanes, after a chemical attack near Damascus killed at least 40 people.”After conducting eight days of large-scale military exercises with US troops in Syria, Colonel Muhanad al-Tanaa of the Pentagon-sponsored Maghawir al-Thawrah (“Revolutionary Commando Army”) militia said US-backed opposition militias “are staying whether the Russians or Iranians want or not.” He added that if they approached restricted areas of Syria the Pentagon considers to be its territory, “there is a big likelihood they will be hit” by US air strikes.Yesterday, Turkey continued to send Special Forces troops, tanks and heavy artillery to reinforce its 12 military posts in Idlib. It also threatened to retaliate against any military attack on them. On Wednesday, a Turkish military source had told Reuters: “We have a military presence there, and if that military presence is damaged or attacked in any way, it would be considered an attack on Turkey and would therefore receive the necessary retaliation.”

Iran Mulling Export of Missile Solid Fuel Production Technology - (FNA)- A senior Iranian official underlined the country's capability to export the technology needed for the production of solid fuel for missiles. "We could produce solid fuel for missiles after a year of day-and-night efforts with the help of our experts," Secretary-General of the Strategic Center of National Defense University and former deputy defense minister Brigadier General Majid Bokayee said, addressing a forum in Tehran on Sunday. "Today, we have advanced to such levels that we can export the technology for the production of solid fuel for missiles," he added. In relevant remarks earlier this month, a senior advisor to the Iranian defense ministry announced the country's plans to increase the power of its ballistic and cruise missiles. "The defense ministry's new plans include enhancement of the power of different types of ballistic and cruise missiles, manufacturing a new generation of fighter jets and heavy and long-range surface and subsurface vessels with various weapons systems and capabilities," Amir Mohammad Ahadi said, addressing the foreign military attaches in Tehran. He added that Iran enjoys the necessary infrastructures to further develop its defense industries. Last month, a new generation of home-made pin-pointing missiles, named 'Fateh Mobin' and equipped with an advanced and smart explorer, was unveiled in Iran. The radar-evading, tactical and pin-pointing missile which was unveiled in a ceremony participated by Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami enjoys high agility and can operate against sea and land-based targets in all types of environment, even in electronic warfare conditions. The missile is also capable of penetrating anti-missile defense shields.

 Israel's Secret War Against Iran Is Widening - It has recently become clear that Israel is engaged in a secret war against Iran in Syria. The war is conducted mainly by means of air power, presumably combined with the intelligence work necessary to provide the country’s airmen with the relevant targets; there is also evidence that targeted killings are among Israel’s tactics in Syria. The objective of this campaign, as plainly stated by senior officials such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, is the complete withdrawal of Iranian forces and their proxies from Syria.  Given the government’s strategy, this objective is unlikely to be achieved. But its lesser goal of disrupting Tehran’s efforts to consolidate and entrench itself in Syria is within reach. Israel has carried out periodic strikes against the Syrian regime and Hezbollah targets throughout the country’s civil war. Starting this year, however, there has been a sharp increase in the frequency of such attacks and the commencement of the direct targeting of Iranian facilities and personnel. The imminent demise of the Syrian rebellion spurred this shift.  So long as the insurgency remained viable, Israel was content to observe from the sidelines. At most, the Israeli government maintained a limited relationship with rebels in the Quneitra area to ensure that the war did not reach the border with the Golan Heights while intervening sporadically to disrupt the supply of weaponry to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Beyond that, Israel was content to allow Bashar al-Assad’s regime and Iran and the mainly Sunni Islamist rebels to subject one another to a process of mutual attrition. This year, however, it became clear that the rebellion, thanks to Iranian and Russian intervention, was going to be defeated. Israel could no longer afford the luxury of relative inaction if it wished to prevent the consolidation of an independent infrastructure of military and political power by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Syrian soil, along the lines of its existing bases in Lebanon and Iraq. Israel’s direct targeting of this nascent infrastructure began shortly thereafter.  It’s difficult to trace the precise contours of this campaign, given Israel’s reticence about taking responsibility for attacks. It is also sometimes in the interest of both Tehran and the Assad regime to avoid publicizing Israel’s strikes.

Iranian Money Exits For Turkey's Troubled Economy As Immigrants Buy Up Turkish Property - A new extensive report in Middle East Eye charts the unsurprising trend of Iranians of means pulling money out of Iran to invest and lay down roots abroad. The only surprise, however, is that they appear to be fleeing one smashed economy for another troubled one in the region: Turkey has experienced a surge in recent Iranian real estate purchases in the country, according to the report. One Iranian economic migrant interviewed by Middle East Eye summarizes the trend: “To survive and to have a better life, we chose to migrate to Turkey,” said Ali, an Iranian living in Ankara. “Iranian currency has lost its value, even against Turkey’s," he said, but the Turkish lira still remains more affordable for Iranians than the euro or the dollar. Image via Hurriyet Daily, Istanbul"That’s why Iranian’s first step would always be Turkey, even when they actually want to migrate to Europe or America,” Ali said. For other Iranians who had ever had an inkling of relocating abroad, those plans have now been dramatically hastened, as people's entire savings have turned to nothing seemingly overnight. “Over one night, I lost half of it after the US president issued an ultimatum and then killed the nuclear deal,” another Iranian told Middle East Eye while filing immigration paperwork at an Istanbul office. Last week the rial for the first time since President Trump pulled the US from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal began trading at over 150,000 rials to $1USD in the currency exchange shops of Tehran, which marks a dramatic plummet of 140 percent since the since the May White House decision to end its terms of the JCPOA agreement and reimpose new rounds of crippling sanctions.

Turkish Lira Crashes After Erdogan Attacks Central Bank Hours Before Rate Decision - After a few weeks of relative stability in the Turkish Lira - the currency many say started the current EM turmoil - moments ago the TRY collapsed after Erdogan decided to slam the country's "independent" central bank. Just hours before a widely expected, and much needed to restore investor confidence, rate hike by the Turkish central bank, President Recep Erdogan decided to attackd the central bank out of the blue for "continuously missing inflation targets" just two hours before the bank announces its interest rates decision. "I have never seen the central bank meeting its year-end inflation forecast," Erdogan said in speech at Confederation of Turkish Tradesmen and Craftsmen meeting in Ankara. Stating that inflation is the result of wrong steps by central bank, Erdogan warned the central bank saying that Turkey "should cut this high interest rate", even as economists and traders expect another rate hike of as much as 400 bps to be announced shortly. While bashing the bank, Erdogan repeated his bizarre "theory" on the relationship between interest rates and inflation, saying that rate hikes only lead to faster price gains. While conventional economics says that higher rates slow demand and lower inflation, Erdogan has long preached the opposite even as the market repeatedly told him he is wrong, sending the lira crashing in recent months and making it one of the worst performing currencies of 2018, plunging over 41% YTD. Erdogan also said that Turkey "will suspend some tendered projects" that haven’t started yet, and explained that his "sensitivity on interest rates remains the same" even as he clarified that the central bank is independent and will take its own decisions, even as he made it painfully clear that a major rate hike will be frowned upon. “This is not a crisis, it’s a manipulation" he concluded. The Turkish central bank is set to announce its benchmark one-week policy rate at 2 pm in Istanbul. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey forecast the rate would be increased to 21 percent from 17.75%. And following a few weeks of calm, the TRY promptly crashed, tumbling as much as 3% on Erdogan's comments, which will now make any announcement by the central bank moot as traders panic what Erdogan may do even if the CBRT does hike rates as expected.

Seventeen years after Sept. 11, Al Qaeda may be stronger than ever -- In the days after Sept. 11, 2001, the United States set out to destroy Al Qaeda. President George W. Bush vowed to “starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest.” Seventeen years later, Al Qaeda may be stronger than ever. Far from vanquishing the extremist group and its associated “franchises,” critics say, U.S. policies in the Mideast appear to have encouraged its spread.  What U.S. officials didn’t grasp, said Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intelligence Group, in a recent phone interview, is that Al Qaeda is more than a group of individuals. “It’s an idea, and an idea cannot be destroyed using sophisticated weapons and killing leaders and bombing training camps,” she said. The group has amassed the largest fighting force in its existence. Estimates say it may have more than 20,000 militants in Syria and Yemen alone. It boasts affiliates across North Africa, the Levant and parts of Asia, and it remains strong around the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. It has also changed tactics. Instead of the headline-grabbing terrorist attacks, brutal public executions and slick propaganda used by Islamic State (Al Qaeda’s onetime affiliate and now rival), Al Qaeda now practices a softer approach, embedding itself and gaining the support of Sunni Muslims inside war-torn countries. Here’s a look at how Al Qaeda has grown in some key Middle Eastern countries: 

Afghanistan, the endless war  -- Afghanistan has changed a great deal since the U.S.-led coalition first invaded in December 2001 to topple a Taliban government that had given safe haven to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The population of Kabul has shot up from 1.5 million then to almost 6 million now, and that's bad news for the Taliban, because cosmopolitan urbanites are much less likely than rural peasants to submit to the Taliban's harsh form of Sunni Islam. Women, ruthlessly oppressed under the Taliban, are now freer, at least in Kabul. Still, the war is everywhere, and the Taliban are on the offensive. The government controls the cities and about 60 percent of the country overall. The rest is either contested or under Taliban control — which means the Taliban now rule more territory than they have at any time since 2001. And the Taliban have stepped up attacks this year, possibly in preparation for talks, so they can negotiate from strength. Just last month, the Taliban laid siege to the southeastern city of Ghazni for days, killing hundreds of Afghan soldiers and civilians. The Taliban are believed to number from 20,000 to 40,000 fierce and committed fighters — about the same as a decade ago, even though Afghan forces regularly report killing more than 1,000 a month. And the Taliban are rich, with an annual budget of an estimated $2 billion. They get foreign funding from Pa­ki­stani intelligence, Qatar, Saudi sources, and probably Russia; local funding comes from their control of the lucrative international opium and hashish trades, which employ nearly 600,000 Afghans. "If we compare the anti-government forces with Afghan security forces, the Taliban are better equipped, have more resources, and have access to modern weapons," a Logar Province councilman, Abdul Wali, told The New York Times. Faced with the impossibility of military victory, the Pentagon's goal has changed. "We are going to drive this to a negotiated settlement," Defense Secretary James Mattis recently said. Up to now, however, the Taliban have never negotiated in good faith, and have rejected the terms the U.S. has set for peace: They must renounce violence, break ties with al Qaeda, accept the protections of women's rights in the Afghan constitution, and negotiate directly with the Afghan government.

Trade wars- China fears an emerging united front - When US trade representative Robert Lighthizer and his EU and Japanese counterparts announced their initiative on the sidelines of last December’s World Trade Organization meeting in Buenos Aires, they did not single out any one country for fostering allegedly “unfair competitive conditions caused by large market-distorting subsidies and state-owned enterprises, forced technology transfer and local content requirements”. But there was little doubt about the identity of the elephant in the room. As EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said at the time: “There’s no secret that we think China is a big sinner here.” The trilateral gathering represents a potentially critical shift in the confrontation between Washington and Beijing. Chinese Communist party and government officials are confident they can cope with a full-scale trade war with the US, which increasingly feels like a foregone conclusion in Beijing. On Saturday, Chinese officials woke up to President Donald Trump’s threat to tax all Chinese exports to the US — worth more than $500bn last year — within months. On Sunday, they were greeted by a presidential tweet admonishing Apple to repatriate its China-based supply chain.

Why Beijing will sacrifice its middle class in trade war with Donald Trump -- US President Donald Trump’s trade war has little chance of reversing China’s economic and political model. But it could stimulate China’s hardliners to reinforce state controls and social constraints. As a result, China’s nascent middle class will bear the brunt. If the trade war is a competition about which side can withstand more misery, China holds at least one crucial advantage. As its propaganda puts it, China can outlast the US in a trade war because its people “are willing to bear losses in their personal life and share hardship with the state”. But China’s middle class, namely urban white-collar workers and private business owners, may not be as patriotic as the government hoped. They generally own property and other assets, so they value private property rights and the market economy; they are often fans of the iPhone, Google and Hollywood, with aspirations for Western lifestyles; they are those people complaining about Beijing on the Weibo account of the US embassy with regard to China’s stock market fall and air pollution. Their endorsement of the free market and individualism are closer to the core values of the US than the collectivism and nationalism dogma of China’s propaganda department, which calls on people to surrender individual interests and rights for the sake of a powerful state and an upcoming “national rejuvenation”. In fact, many of China’s middle class even welcome the trade war as a necessary external pressure on Beijing to change its increasingly heavy-handed interventionist approach to the economy. The prospects of this class – a group ranging from 100 million to 300 million people, according to different estimates and standards – are, however, not bright. 

China’s auto sector is shrugging off the trade war - China has hiked tariffs on US imported vehicles but simultaneously lowered tariffs on automobiles from other countries alongside promoting foreign ownership in the industry. We think this is a response to the intensifying trade dispute and will change both the production and consumption of China's automobile industry.Most of China's automobile production are passenger cars. Commercial vehicles make up less than 20% of the auto production market, though, in terms of growth rates, commercial vehicle production has grown more quickly than passenger cars since early 2017. But we don't think China is about to make significant changes to the market share of this industry. As passenger cars constitute the bulk of automobile production in China, we will focus on their production and sales and how tariffs and changes in foreign ownership could affect this market. The Chinese automobile market is mainly a joint venture market with both domestic and foreign auto producers producing joint venture brands. This is a legacy of the first auto manufacturing in China, which started with joint ventures. Local brands did not have a chance to develop. There might also be a "consumption bias" on JV brands, since early on, there may have been little trust in local brands, even if the foreign joint venture brands were manufactured in China. Most automobile companies in China have joint ventures with European and Japanese manufacturers. There are only a few Korean and American joint ventures.According to media reports, foreign players have around 60% of sales in the Chinese automobile market which includes joint ventures. The chart below shows the Chinese passenger market, and then how this translates into better known JV brands. However, one caveat to this are the new "energy cars" that are being built from scratch recently. One consequence of this is that some local brands are becoming more popular in the electric car arena than established JVs of traditional combustion cars, e.g. BYD.

In Trump’s trade wars, China’s unexpected win: More friends - Since trade tensions between the United States and China began to soar this year, China’s markets have lost 20 percent, its currency has wobbled and exports have decelerated. But China is gaining something else: friends.Under pressure from President Trump’s tariff war, China has embarked on a charm offensive on the diplomatic circuit, smoothing over old disputes and courting partners who could help Beijing weather the storm with Washington. Germany, which perennially harangued Beijing over market access restrictions, recently let Chinese investors hold bigger shares in joint ventures in a significant concession. South Korea, the target of withering Chinese boycotts last year over its deployment of a U.S. missile defense system, is seeing Chinese tourism revenue and automobile sales return.This week, China’s relations with its heavyweight neighbor, Japan, reached its highest level in years. After meeting at a summit in Russia, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that China will welcome Abe on his first state visit to Beijing next month after he was frozen out for years over territorial disputes and the Japanese leader’s visits to a controversial shrine for wartime dead. The two men smiled for a photo together, a stark turnaround from four years ago, when they could barely face each other for a memorably grim snap. During their meeting, Xi told Abe that the two countries should “firmly defend multilateralism, the free trade system and the rules of the World Trade Organisation to push forward an open global economy,” according to China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency. Later, a Japanese foreign ministry official told the Mainichi Shimbun that Japan could play a “mediating” role in the ongoing China-U.S. dispute. Although Trump has yet to confront Japan as he has China, Mexico, Canada and the European Union, the United States' most critical ally in the Pacific could be in his sights next. The White House has been weighing tariffs of up to 25 percent on autos and car parts, and the president said this month that he plans to tell Japanese leaders “how much they have to pay” — at the risk of straining the relationship.

China Poised to Win Major Victory in Sea Dispute With Help of Philippine Resources Deal —Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is negotiating an agreement with China to share oil and natural-gas resources in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, a deal that would be a major policy victory for Beijing. It would open the door for China to push for similar arrangements with other Southeast Asian nations that have challenged its expansive claims and potentially lock Western oil companies out of the resource-rich region. Mr. Duterte’s opponents and legal experts say joint development—which Beijing has long advocated—legitimizes China’s assertion that it has historic rights over almost the entire South China Sea, undermining a 2016 international tribunal ruling that invalidated those claims. It would also fortify Beijing’s control over the strategic waters, where tensions between the U.S. and China have surged. Beijing has blocked the Philippines from operating in an area of seabed known as Reed Bank, 85 nautical miles off the Philippine coast, using patrol vessels and threats of war. Manila is eager to tap those reserves to address a looming energy shortfall. The 2016 ruling held that the Philippines has exclusive rights over Reed Bank but China has refused to comply with the decision. After a visit to Beijing in late August, Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said both sides would “set aside the issue of our claims” in order to break the logjam. Philippine officials said the two governments are working on a legal framework with an eye toward an expected visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping in November. China’s foreign ministry said in a faxed statement that the leaders of both sides “have reached an important consensus on properly handling the South China Sea issue, including commitment to pragmatic cooperation and joint development,” adding that such cooperation wouldn’t affect either side’s legal position on the dispute. Arguments over the proposed pact capture the dilemma smaller countries in the region face as China asserts its military, diplomatic and economic clout, with U.S. policies falling short. Officials in Manila say they see few alternatives to working with China, even if that means entrenching Beijing’s influence. “We just have to make a good situation out of a bad situation by dealing with China,” Philippine Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana said in an interview in June. On the tribunal decision, he said: “Should we wave it in the face of Xi Jinping and say, ‘Follow this?’ There is a giant there that will not honor the ruling. What can you do?” 

Duterte deepens economic ties with China -- In late August, a team of high level Philippine officials visited Beijing to discuss expanded Chinese infrastructural investment in the country.  At stake in the negotiations were a range of major projects, which are being funded through Chinese loans provided by the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the Export-Import Bank of China, and the newly created government agency, the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA).CIDCA was established in April 2018 as a central organizational apparatus for coordinating the functions of the Ministries of Commerce and Foreign Affairs in keeping with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI). The Philippine delegation was the first major foreign delegation to meet with CIDCA since its creation.  Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has placed the development of infrastructure, particular that of the provinces, at the center of his executive agenda, calling his campaign to construct bridges, dams, expressways, railroad lines, airports, and irrigation projects, “Build Build Build.” Duterte has projected that his Build Build Build program will cost a total of $US155 billion by 2022. Funding for this does not exist within the Philippines and Duterte is looking to secure loans and direct investment, relying above all on Beijing.At the center of the Duterte construction agenda is the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), headed by Mark Villar, the son of real estate billionaire and former presidential candidate, Manny Villar. In 2017, Duterte increased the budget of the DPWH by 40 percent to $US11 billion. Duterte’s mammoth drive to create new infrastructure and his crusade of mass murder targeting the poor in the name of the war on drugs are two sides of the same coin. Duterte is seeking to expand foreign investment by transforming the entire archipelago, not simply its handful of Economic Processing Zones (EPZ) located near major cities, into a cheap labor platform. This requires major new infrastructure and a policed and disciplined workforce.

Why China Has Its Eyes Set On Greenland, Could Threaten US Air Force Base -As China seeks to become a power player in the Arctic, Beijing has recognized that Greenland is the answer to faster shipping routes and access to mineral deposits to further the Belt and Road Initiative.So when Greenland issued a solicitation to build three new airports, a Chinese company, controlled by Beijing, and once blacklisted by the World Bank — submitted a bid for the project.Denmark, which has final say on national security issues involving all things Greenland, strongly objected. Greenland then asked China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), which has worked on large infrastructure projects around the world, to remain one of its finalists for the projects, setting up for future negotiations between both governments, said Defense News.Chinese economic influence on the continent has sent leaders in Europe into a panic — worried that a government-controlled company in Greenland could jeopardize a key American military base located there.The Chinese “are players in the world economy, as are others, and should be treated equally. But we are on our guard,” Danish Defence Minister Claus Hjort Fredericksen said in a June interview in his Copenhagen office.“Of course, we welcome cooperation with China in the commercial field. As long as it has commercial purpose, we are not opposed to that. That is a normal way to expand world trade,” Fredericksen said, he added, “we are very careful looking at the issues if these installations may have other purposes, and that is what is causing trouble.” Since President Xi Jinping launched the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, the country has invested in everything from mines to scientific expeditions in the high north, said Magnus Nordenman, a regional analyst with the Atlantic Council, and the country has used its economic leverage to drive public policies. China “scooped up a bunch of stuff for cheap, and later, when there was time for votes in the United Nations about human rights, all of a sudden these countries started backing off,” Nordenman notes.

Russia kicks off massive war games, hosts Putin-Xi meeting CNN - Russia kicked off what it says are its largest war games since the fall of the Soviet Union on Tuesday, as it hosted a bilateral meeting between President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in the far eastern city of Vladivostok.Tuesday's meeting between the two leaders comes amid continued US-led sanctions against Russia and an escalating US-China trade war.At least 300,000 Russian troops, 36,000 vehicles and 1,000 aircraft are taking part in the Vostok 2018 exercises, according to the Russian Ministry of Defense.They'll be joined by thousands of troops from China and Mongolia, which the Chinese Defense Ministry insisted wasn't "directed against any third party" and would focus purely on "defenses, firepower strikes and counterattack."The exercises will be held from September 11 to 17 in Russia's Eastern Military District, an underdeveloped and sparsely populated close to the country's borders with China and Mongolia.In a statement in August, Gen. Sergi Shoigu, supreme commander-in-chief of the Russian armed forces, said the games would be at an "unprecedented scale both in territory and number of troops involved." The Ministry has previously characterized the exercises as the largest war games since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Russia and China are looking at launching joint projects worth more than $100 billion -- A group composed of Russian and Chinese businesses is considering 73 joint investment projects cumulatively worth more than $100 billion, according to a Tuesday statement. Cooperation between China and Russia is an issue of global importance as both nations try to achieve economic stability despite the pain of U.S. penalties — sanctions against Russia, and an escalating tariff war against China. Beijing and Moscow have had a rocky relationship, but the two governments have publicly sought closer ties in recent years. The group overseeing the potential billions in investment is the Russian-Chinese Business Advisory Committee, which held an annual meeting this week during the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia. The committee includes more than 150 representatives from "leading Russian and Chinese companies," according to a statement from the Russia-China Investment Fund. The RCIF was established in 2012 by China's state-owned China Investment Corporation and Russian sovereign wealth fund the Russian Direct Investment Fund. The announcement said seven projects worth a total of $4.6 billion had already been implemented as a result of work by the China-Russia group. That cooperation will focus on technology, seeing $1.28 billion invested in the Russian Tushino Project Technology Park in the northwest of Moscow, RCIF said in a statement. The two groups are considering building a Sino-Russian tech innovation park with more than $100 million investment and have launched a Russia-China venture fund with capital of $100 million, the news release added.

 What the Heck Happened on the International Space Station? A story emerged this week involving a surprising leak, a Russian investigation, and suggestions of sabotage, but it wasn’t set in Washington. The story unfolded about 250 miles above Earth, where a mysterious hole was discovered leaking pressurized air out of a capsule on the International Space Station. Officials said the people on board the station—three Americans, two Russians, and one German—were never in any danger, and the leak has since been patched up. But the mystery of how it got there in the first place remains. On August 30, in the middle of the night, flight controllers on Earth noticed that the air pressure on the ISS had dropped slightly. The change suggested there was a leak somewhere on the station.  The astronauts eventually traced the leak to a two-millimeter hole in the hull of a Soyuz capsule, a type of Russian spacecraft that delivers people to and from the ISS. Since the American Space Shuttle ended in 2011, Russia offers the only transportation option to the station. The capsule had arrived in June, carrying a Russian cosmonaut, an American astronaut, and an astronaut from the European Space Agency. Flight controllers in Russia boosted the oxygen supply to the Soyuz as a protective measure. Astronauts covered the opening with some Kapton tape, an adhesive film that remains sticky in extreme temperatures, as a temporary fix. Later in the day, the Russian cosmonauts plugged the hole with sealant and gauze. They photographed and filmed it for official records, and monitored the conditions every hour. The pressure inside the ISS eventually stabilized.With one investigation over in the Soyuz, another began. The Russians at first considered whether the hole was created by a type of space rock known as a micrometeoroid.But this week, they tossed out the micrometeoroid explanation. After examining the hole, officials determined the impact was likely made from the inside of the capsule, said Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos.  “It is too early to say definitely what happened. But, it seems to be done by a faltering hand,” Rogozin said earlier this week, according to tass, Russia’s government-run news agency. “It is a technological error by a specialist. It was done by a human hand. There are traces of a drill sliding along the surface. We don’t reject any theories.”

The Northern Sea Route and its Impact on World Trade – infographic

Global Shipping Rates Collapse As Trade War Spreads -- When President Donald Trump fired the first shot of his trade war cannon at China, the market for international shipping rates spiked higher in April through July amid a jump in demand for hauling of bulk commodities that are essential in powering the Asian country's economy, as traders sought to front-run the implementation of tariffs. Fast forward several months, with the Trump administration on the verge of slapping even more tariffs on Chinese goods worth $200 billion, and the uncertainties around global trade appear to have finally collapsed some shipping rates.BIMCO's chief shipping analyst Peter Sand said, “85.3% of Chinese seaborne imports from the US and 58.5% of US seaborne imports from China could become affected by the trade war, if the US and China implement tariffs on a further USD 200 and USD 60 billion worth of goods respectively." And with no demand to pull forward from the future left, Bloomberg reports that demand for the transportation of iron ore and coal on 1,000-foot Capesize vessels has collapsed by 39% since reaching a 2018 peak in early August.  "Some of the weakness we have seen in dry bulk freight rates can to some extent be attributed to growing uncertainty around the trade war," said Sand, who provides industry trends for more than 2,000 ship owners and operators."It is an increasing worry that we hear amongst our members."

No long-range missiles, North Korea military parade features floats and flowers (Reuters) - With no long-range missiles on display, North Korea staged a military parade on Sunday focused on conventional arms, peace and economic development as it marked the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding. The reduced display compared to past years earned a thank you note from U.S. President Donald Trump, who hailed it as a “big and very positive statement from North Korea.” Trump on Twitter quoted a Fox News description of the event without long-range nuclear missiles as a sign of North Korea’s “commitment to denuclearize.” “Thank you To Chairman Kim. We will both prove everyone wrong! There is nothing like good dialogue from two people that like each other! Much better than before I took office,” Trump tweeted. In Pyongyang, line upon line of goose-stepping soldiers and columns of tanks shook the ground before giving way to chanting crowds waving flags and flowers as they passed a review stand where North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sat with a special envoy from China, as well as other visiting foreigners. Kim told the envoy, Chinese parliament chief Li Zhanshu, that North Korea was focusing on economic development and hopes to learn from China’s experience in this regard, Chinese state television reported. “North Korea upholds the consensus of the Singapore meeting between the leaders of North Korea and the United States and has taken steps for it and hopes the United States takes corresponding steps, to jointly promote the political resolution process for the peninsula issue,” the report paraphrased Kim as saying. 

Hopes rise as two Koreas open liaison office on North’s side of border (Reuters) - North and South Korea opened a liaison office on the North’s side of their heavily militarized border on Friday, setting up a permanent channel of communication as part of a flurry of efforts to end their decades old rivalry. Steps by North and South Korea to improve their relations are running parallel to a bid by the United States and its allies to press North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. The opening of the joint liaison office at Kaesong, just inside the North Korean side of the border, comes days before North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are due to hold their third meeting this year. “The two sides are now able to take a large step toward peace, prosperity and unification of the Korean peninsula by quickly and frankly discussing issues arising from inter-Korean relations,” said Ri Son Gwon, the head of North Korea’s delegation at the opening ceremony. The two Koreas previously communicated by fax and special telephone lines, which were often severed when their relations took a turn for the worse. Now they will now be able to “directly discuss issues 24 hours, 365 days”, South Korea’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said at the ceremony. The office will be staffed by up to 20 people each from the two sides with the South Koreans on the second floor and the North Koreans on the fourth floor of the four-story building. Vice minister-level officials will head their teams at the office and will attend weekly meetings, the South Korean Unification Ministry said.

A would-be city in the Malaysian jungle is caught in a growing rift between China and its neighbors - On a recent morning, cleaners rushed to sweep around models showing the future dreams of Forest City developers: residential skyscrapers, malls, parks, a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course. Hopeful buyers — busloads of Chinese for the Chinese-built project — were guided around the showroom. They all got the pitch about how a new city of 700,000 people — “jade carved out of the ocean” — would rise from coastal palm plantations and reclaimed land just north of Singapore.But there was one important element left out of the glowing promises for Forest City.Malaysia’s new government, led by senior statesman Mahathir Mohamad, has swiftly moved to block or amend the rules for major Chinese-led works in the country, canceling a slew of projects including a $20 billion railway and two gas pipelines totaling $2.3 billion.For the $100 billion Forest City project, it could mean no sales for foreigners, effectively killing the target Chinese market for the planned development.The tougher line by Malaysia — and the 93-year-old Mahathir — marks perhaps the most powerful slap yet at China’s fast-moving economic expansionism in the region and beyond. Beijing calls it the Belt and Road Initiative. Critics, like Mahathir and others in Asia, call it an attempt by China to become the unchallenged economic big brother in the region and indirectly influence political affairs through its spending. There are also long-term fears that Chinese-funded projects will leave countries with decades of debt — on the hook to maintain the ports, railways and other points on what many call Beijing’s modern Silk Road.

UIDAI Fails to Address Security Concerns After Software Hack Exposé - On Tuesday, HuffPost India published the results of a three-month-long investigation about a serious breach in the security of the Aadhaar identity database. The investigation revealed that the data stored by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has been compromised by a software patch that disables critical security features in the enrolment software. The findings of our investigation were endorsed by reputed international experts. The UIDAI was asked for a response three months before the story was eventually published, followed by a reminder shortly before publication. They chose not to respond. After the story went viral, and opposition leaders called for an inquiry, the UIDAI has issued a series of tweets dismissing our story. We stand by our story. HuffPost India made three key claims in the story, which were validated by an expert analysis of the code:

  • •The software patch lets a user bypass critical security features such as biometric authentication of enrolment operators to generate unauthorised Aadhaar numbers.
  • •The patch disables the enrolment software's in-built GPS security feature (used to identify the physical location of every enrolment centre), which means anyone anywhere in the world — say, Beijing, Karachi or Kabul — can use the software to enrol users.
  • •The patch reduces the sensitivity of the enrolment software's iris-recognition system, making it easier to spoof the software with a photograph of a registered operator, rather than requiring the operator to be present in person.
  • •The UIDAI has not responded directly to any of these claims. Rather, it has simply stated that its systems are completely secure without any supporting evidence. Needless to say, we stand by our story.

For India’s poorest, an ID card can be the difference between life and death (Reuters) - Prem Malhar says his 50-year-old father died of hunger a few months ago because he did not have the Indian government’s Aadhaar identity card that would have given him access to subsidized food. At least 14 people have died of starvation in Jharkhand, the eastern Indian state where the Malhars live, activists say. They say the deaths have occurred since authorities canceled old handwritten government ration cards last year and replaced them with the biometric Aadhaar card to weed out bogus beneficiaries. Taramani Sahu, an activist with the Right to Food Campaign, blamed the Jharkhand government for delays in issuing the Aadhaar cards after one million old cards were canceled. For some who depended on the rations for subsistence, the results were fatal, she said. In July, three sisters under the age of 10 died of hunger in New Delhi, the capital, sparking accusations of government apathy. The deaths were not linked to possession of the Aadhaar card, but there has been widespread outrage that people are dying of hunger in a country where, according to government and industry data, grains and produce worth 580 billion rupees ($8 billion), or 40 percent of total output, go to waste every year. Opposition parties have seized on the issue ahead of three big state elections this year and the national election in 2019, whittling into support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Modi’s office did not respond to requests for comment on the starvation deaths. Nishikant Dubey, a BJP lawmaker and a member of a parliamentary panel on the Aadhaar policy, said linking the card to welfare programs was the best way to check siphoning off funds meant for the poor.

US, India sidle Gingerly Towards Each Other - The first edition of the highly anticipated “2 plus 2” dialogue between India and the United States in New Delhi has turned out to be a mixed bag, generating criticism but also enthusiasm over breaking new ground.   The talks between US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and their Indian counterparts – External Affairs Minister Sushma and Defense Minister Nirmala Seethamaran – in New Delhi hewed to the overarching US Indo-Pacific Strategy that aims to bolster military and diplomatic ties between Delhi and Washington with containing China in mind.The most striking outcome of the engagement has been the inking of a historic defense pact – the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement – that in an unprecedented move would allow New Delhi to access encrypted military technologies. The pact, which comes into effect immediately, is designed to ensure interoperability among the US and the Indian armed forces and will be valid for a period of 10 years. It will also allow the installation of high-security US communication equipment on defense platforms being sourced from the US.According to a joint statement issued after the talks, COMCASA will also facilitate India’s access to advanced defense systems and enable it to optimally utilize its existing US-origin platforms.Reinforcing India’s importance as a pivotal ally, Pompeo said:  “We have a true strategic partner who, frankly, is our only ‘Major Defence Partner,’ the only designated ‘Major Defense Partner,’ with whom we have a great relationship and who is very important to our success in our Indo-Pacific strategy – enormous country with incredibly opportunity and capacity for wealth creation. We hope we can find opportunities to continue to expand the relationship not only diplomatic and military-to-military but a good set of business relationships as well.” The statement came as a much-needed salve for a New Delhi currently scrambling to make sense of the Donald Trump administration’s continued disruption of ties between the US and its long-standing political and military allies.

Rupee Tumbles as Current-Account Deficit Widens to 5-Year High -- The Indian rupee and bonds sunk after the current-account deficit widened to the most in five years, as an emerging-market rout raises investor scrutiny of countries with worsening balance of payments. The rupee slid as much as 1.3 percent Monday to a new low of 72.6738, leading losses among Asia’s emerging-market currencies. Sustained weakening has prompted authorities to ask the central bank to intervene more aggressively to support the currency, people familiar with the matter said. “While the Reserve Bank of India has been intervening in the FX market, the size of recent intervention looks to be a lot less compared to before,” said Khoon Goh, head of research at Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. in Singapore. “The rupee’s continued decline stems from dollar strength and concerns over India’s external position.” Rupee Tumbles to New Record as India Scrambles to Halt Decline State-owned lenders were seen selling dollars, possibly on behalf of the central bank, around 72.50-72.65 levels in early trading, Mumbai-based traders said. The banks were subsequently not seen intervening heavily, they said. The rupee closed down 1 percent to 72.4575 per dollar. The rupee has been roughed up in the past month amid a selloff sweeping emerging markets following a rout in the currencies of Argentina and Turkey. The currency has set a string of record lows, dampening some of the optimism about India’s world-beating economic growth that sent the local stock market to record highs last month. The weakness is credit negative for companies which generate revenue in rupees but rely on U.S. dollar debt to fund their operations, Moody’s Investors Service said Monday.

US groups protest against India’s proposed data rules - A recent draft Indian government policy on ecommerce, circulated among sector companies, included a prohibition of the international transfer of data generated by Indian ecommerce users. US payment card companies have also been lobbying against a similar order from the Reserve Bank of India, the country’s central bank, requiring a halt to overseas data transfers by October. In contrast with China, India has long allowed foreign technology groups a relatively open field, speeding the development of its digital market but increasing competition for homegrown groups.  Analysts say Indian authorities are now taking a tougher line, aimed at helping the country’s start-ups and boosting the national presence in data storage and processing. The RBI’s prohibition of data offshoring “is something that we haven’t really seen anywhere else”, said Porush Singh, south Asia president at Mastercard. Brazil proposed rules last year against banks’ use of offshore cloud computing services but backtracked after protests from lobbyists. Meanwhile new data sovereignty laws that sometimes include requirements to keep data onshore are being proposed throughout Asia, but in many instances are still in the drafting phase. But the issue is coming to a head in India. In letters seen by the Financial Times, lobby groups including the US-India Business Council (USIBC) urged the central bank to reconsider its policy. They argued the proposed rules would make Indian card users less secure by preventing the card companies from analysing their data in their global risk-assessment hubs.

Atif Mian Debacle: Should Imran Khan be Applauded or Attacked? -- Pakistani-American Princeton economist Atif Mian was named to Pakistan Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council and then promptly let go because of his Ahmadi faith. Two other economists Harvard's Professor Asim Khwaja and University College London's Imran Rasool have since quit the council in protest over Atif's removal. Is Atif Mian's removal a victory of bigotry over meritocracy promised by Imran Khan? Was it a mistake to name him and even bigger mistake to remove him? Did the PTI government underestimate strong reactions to the appointment and subsequent back-tracking? Was PTI caught off-guard by tweets such as "liberal" PPP leader Shehla Raza's tweet attacking Imran Khan for picking  "the great grandson of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani" as top economic advisor? Would PTI's refusal to remove Atif Mian lead to derailment of the entire PTI's anti-corruption and reform agenda? Should Imran Khan be applauded or criticized for taking such political risks? Does Imran Khan realize that he lacks sufficient political capital for such risks? What message does it send about the limits of Imran Khan's capacity to bring about change in Pakistani society? What can political leaders do to lead the people to greater tolerance of differences and acceptance of diversity in Pakistan? What must educators, mass media and civil society do to move Pakistan toward Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah's vision of an inclusive and tolerant Pakistan?  Azad Labon Kay Sath host Faraz Darvesh discusses these questions with Sabahat Ashraf and Riaz Haq : https://youtu.be/OC-ttXil-8c

 The number of hungry people in the world continues to grow – UN -- FAO’s annual hunger report says there are 821 million people hungry and over 150 million children stunted today.New evidence by the United Nations shows that the number of the hungry people worldwide has grown for the third consecutive year, reaching 821 million people or one in every nine person hungry in 2017, putting at risk the Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger by 2030. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report 2018 released by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on Tuesday, also warned there was not enough progress in addressing the multiple forms of malnutrition, ranging from child stunting to adult obesity, putting the health of hundreds of millions of people at risk. FAO’s annual hunger report indicated a worsening situation in South America and most regions of Africa, while the decreasing trend in undernourishment that characterized Asia seems to be slowing down significantly.  Asia accounted for 515 million, Africa 256.5 million and Latin and America and the Carribean 39 million hungry people.  2017 was the third year in a row that global hunger levels have increased, following a decade of declines.  The report found that climate variability affecting rainfall patterns and agricultural seasons, and climate extremes such as droughts and floods, are among the key drivers behind the rise in hunger, together with conflict and economic slowdowns.

They killed people until they got tired. – VICE News— Sitting in a tiny concrete office in eastern Congo, Jean Baptiste Kavunga opened his laptop and clicked through a slideshow of mutilated bodies. “I took this video while crying, “ he said, showing me a picture of charred corpses, ”they burned down this house with the civilians inside it.” He shuffled through pictures of adults with their heads sliced open. “They might kill people with a machete… or they might cut their throats.” One picture featured at least nine children in the foreground, not bloodied like the adults but clearly lifeless. They had been clubbed to death.Jean Paul and Jean Baptiste are the entire staff of the Convention for the Respect of Human Rights (CRDH). Along with a few volunteers, they operate in North Kivu, Eastern Congo, on the edge of an area known among locals as the “triangle of death.” Whenever there is a massacre, Jean Baptiste borrows a motorcycle and races to the site, recording as much evidence as he can. It’s a heroic effort, not only for the fact that they are so vulnerable but because it seems that no matter how much evidence there is, no one is listening. Lately, the pair’s work has focused on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), one of the least known, but most vicious terror groups in the region. While their exact number is unknown, monitors estimate that the ADF currently has between 1,000 and 2,000 members, are training hundreds of children, and have established a large stronghold that has attracted recruits from across East Africa — Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi. More recently, there is evidence they have also attracted recruits from further away, including Mozambique, South Africa, and even the U.K. If this continues, the ADF’s fiefdom in Eastern Congo could become as dangerous as ungoverned spaces in Libya, Iraq, Syria, Mali and Afghanistan, if it isn’t already.“They go in and just take advantage of villages,” Russ Feingold, Obama’s former special envoy for Africa's Great Lakes region and the Democratic Republic, told me last July. “There’s nobody to really stop them. That’s exactly what parts of the Eastern Congo are, and it can become a very strong hotbed of people who want to do us harm if we don’t pay attention.” It is within this chaos that the ADF have thrived, killing hundreds of civilians, clearing entire towns and escaping back into the bush unscathed. Over the last few years, they’ve become one of region's most highly organised and powerful terror organizations.

 Latin America says U.S. has itself to blame for Chinese entry into region that it opposes - Latin American diplomats say the United States has only itself to blame for retreating from the region, allowing China to move into the region and establish stronger economic and diplomatic ties in the Western Hemisphere. The Trump administration announced late Friday it was at least temporarily pulling its ambassadors out of El Salvador and the Dominican Republic and the charge d’affaires out of Panama after the three countries broke diplomatic ties with Taiwan in an effort to get closer with China, a U.S. trade adversary. China doesn’t recognize Taiwan’s independence.The administration describes Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative, the global investment and lending program, as a debt trap fueling greater economic dependency. It has warned that the communist government would not think twice about taking Latin American shipping ports and assets, as it has before. But leaders across Latin America largely shrug their shoulders at American warnings. They need cash for infrastructure projects. They need new roads, telecommunications equipment and energy systems. And China is willing to provide it in ways that the United States has not.“You left some space and the other guy moved in,” a Latin American diplomat toldMcClatchy, speaking anonymously so he could more freely discuss the relationship with the United States and China. “The region will work first with the people who bring the money.”The Chinese have been constructing roads, designing new embassies and building technology infrastructures from Argentina to Mexico. It has expanded its interests of Latin American oil, copper and iron and now wants to become a more equal trade and diplomatic partner. Xi is ready to embrace Latin America as the Trump administration, carrying out its “America First” agenda, has pulled away from multilateral trade policies such as the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.

China Offers Venezuela $5 Billion Loan To Support 'Ideological Ally' Maduro - For a brief period earlier this year, it appeared that Beijing had finally had enough of supporting its "ideological allies" in Caracas when it decided to limit its "exposure" to Venezuela after the country struggled to make interest payments on a $19 billion loan. But in the wake of reports that the US nearly supported a military uprising against the socialist government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the Chinese Communist Party has apparently changed its mind. Instead of tightening the leash, Beijing has offered a $5 billion loan to the struggling socialist "republic" as Maduro prepares to travel to Beijing to grovel before the Party bosses, according to a Bloomberg report. The loan will provide the Venezuelan regime with a badly needed source of financing after it stopped making payments on its foreign debt earlier this year, effectively shutting the country out of international capital markets (and forcing Maduro to rely on unorthodox financing alternatives like the "petro").Venezuelan Finance Minister Simon Zerpa told Bloomberg News on Thursday that the country would pay back the loan with either cash or oil. The countries were expected to sign what Zerpa described as a strategic alliance on gold mining."Venezuela has a great alliance with China," Zerpa said.The finance minister was speaking in Beijing ahead of a state visit by Maduro, who’s seeking greater Chinese support to weather a financial crisis that has led to unrest, assassination attempts and the collapse of the country’s currency. Maduro has halted most payments on Venezuela’s foreign debt and owes more than $6 billion to bondholders, cutting off most sources of new financing. Amusingly, Geng specified that the financing agreement would be "in line with international norms" (though, last time we checked, offering refinancing after refinancing with only promises of future oil shipments as a security is hardly 'standard' in global capital markets).

White House pledges support for Venezuelan democracy after report of meetings with coup plotters - President Donald Trump is seeking “a peaceful, orderly return to democracy” in Venezuela, the White House insisted Saturday following a report contending that administration officials met in secret with coup plotters from the restive South American nation over the past year.“U.S. policy preference for a peaceful, orderly return to democracy in Venezuela remains unchanged,” National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said in a statement. “The United States government hears daily the concerns of Venezuelans from all walks of life – be they members of the ruling party, the security services, elements of civil society or from among the millions of citizens forced by the regime to flee abroad. They share one goal: the rebuilding of democracy in their homeland,” Marquis added.The New York Times earlier Saturday reported that members of the Trump administration established a clandestine backchannel to arrange covert meetings starting in the fall of 2017 with aggrieved military officers who had grown disenchanted with leftist President Nicolás Maduro’s authoritarian rule. The U.S. officials eventually opted not to abet the conspirators, according to the report. “A lasting solution to Venezuela’s worsening crisis can only arise following restoration of governance by democratic practices, the rule of law, and respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms,” Marquis said.

Massive student protests hit Mexico City universities -- In Mexico City on Monday September 3, right-wing shock groups known as “porros” physically attacked high school students who attend the College of Science and Humanities (CCH) of Azcapotzalco at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), the largest University in Latin America. The students were peacefully protesting in front of the main UNAM administration building, calling for an end to the violence they face at the hands of porro groups, who are known for attacking left-wing demonstrations.  The students were demanding the expulsion of porro groups from campuses when they were attacked by porros wielding sticks, rocks, Molotov cocktails and firecrackers. Over a dozen students were injured during the attack, which involved stabbings, and two were seriously hurt. Students charged that UNAM security officers did not attempt to stop the attacks last Monday, and even that the head of the university’s emergency unit, Teofilo Licona, coordinated the attacking groups. On Tuesday the University’s rector identified 18 student porros involved in the attacks, along with the groups they belonged to, and announced their expulsion. On Wednesday tens of thousands of students from UNAM as well from other major metropolitan education centers such as the Metropolitan Autonomous University, the College of Mexico, and the National Polytechnical Institute marched in solidarity at UNAM. Classes at UNAM and other schools were suspended and students barricaded several classrooms. The UNAM student assembly met on Saturday to consider further action. They agreed on the following demands: prosecution of the “intellectual and physical” authors of the attacks; the ouster of Rector Enrique Graue and of the University’s head of security; adequate protection for students from violence by porro groups; greater democratization of the university, with students, faculty and workers given more control; and large increases in funding for students and schools.

Over 100 drowned in shipwrecks off Libya in early September - More than 100 people, including 20 children, died in early September when their rubber boats were wrecked off the coast of Libya, according to the aid agency Doctors Without Borders (known by the French initials MSF). A pair of twins about 17 months old, as well as their parents were among the fatalities, MSF said in a statement on Monday, quoting a survivor. The two boats had set out from the Libyan coast early on September 1, each carrying scores of people, mostly from African countries such as Sudan, Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Libya, Algeria and Egypt. WATCH: Migrant detention centres in Libya unable to cope amid fighting (2:58) One boat's engine failed and the other began to deflate, the aid agency quoted a survivor as saying. Some survived by clinging to floating wreckage. Many people were brought to the Libyan port of Khoms on September 2 by the Libyan coastguard, MSF said. "While the first boat had stopped due to an engine failure, our boat continued to navigate and began deflating around 1pm. There were 165 adults and 20 children on board," a survivor told MSF. The survivor said that at the time of the incident, mobile phone navigation showed the people were not far from the coast of Malta. They reportedly sought help from the Italian coastguard, but the boat started sinking before assistance arrived. "We couldn't swim and only a few people had life jackets. Those among us who could hold on the boat's floating hood stayed alive," the survivor said.

ECB To Cut Euro Area Growth Outlook In Latest Global Slowdown Warning - One week ago, Bank of America's CIO Michael Hartnett predicted that Europe will be the "missing link" for the emerging market crisis to spread to the rest of the developed world and "morph into a global deleveraging event." But where would the crack appear: after all, until recently European economic data had been surprisingly strong... if not so much in the past few days, because after emerging into the green, the Citi Eurozone economic surprise index appears to have rolled over, and returned back into negative territory. Then, as if to confirm that Europe was finally starting to groan under the weight of EM turmoil, overnight Bloomberg reported that the ECB was set to revise its forecasts lower for euro-area economic growth during its press conference on Thursday "as global trade tensions damp external demand, according to officials familiar with the latest projections."According to Bloomberg's sources, the main nations dragging on demand were the U.K. and Turkey, though the U.S. outlook is still positive.In June, the ECB predicted economic growth would slow from 2.1 percent this year to 1.7 percent in 2020, with inflation averaging 1.7 percent in all three years covered in the forecast.The growing pessimistic outlook comes at an "awkward time" for the Governing Council, just as it prepares to wind back stimulus, though the adjustments probably aren’t big enough to derail those plans yet, unless of course the EM turmoil continues and results in even more German foreign factory order weakness.

 The New Normal In Europe- Increasing Population, Decreasing GDP - Leading European politicians and economists argue that the influx of immigrants is an economic necessity.Naturalization of foreigners implemented for the purpose of executing a re-population program (resembling the Sinicization of Tibet) has become a national policy in most European countries. Replacing the dying European population with workers from Africa and the Middle East is supposed not only to save national economies and support the pension systems but also to boost economic growth.  Basic economic indicators, however, show that the opposite is true.  A year ago The Economist wrote that migration is beneficial to the global economy.The Gefira team has shown that economic immigrants are more frequently beneficiaries of social benefits, and are less professionally active than non-native Europeans.Our analysis is also validated by the scientists from the University of Basel. The result is that indigenous Europeans have to provide for immigrants. The fertility rate among indigenous (i.e. white) Europeans has been below replacement for nearly half a century, while that in African countries is approaching 5. It is because of the continuous inflow of high-fertility people 4) that the populations of France, Sweden, the United Kingdom and other European countries enlarge, but the hard fact is that it does not translate into a higher GDP, which in France and the UK has been in decline since 2008, and in Sweden – since 2014. Not only is the GDP dwindling, but also GDP per capita.

EU approves controversial Copyright Directive, including internet ‘link tax’ and ‘upload filter’ The European Parliament has voted in favor of the Copyright Directive, a controversial piece of legislation intended to update online copyright laws for the internet age.The directive was originally rejected by MEPs in July following criticism of two key provisions: Articles 11 and 13, dubbed the “link tax” and “upload filter” by critics. However, in parliament this morning, an updated version of the directive was approved, along with amended versions of Articles 11 and 13. The final vote was 438 in favor and 226 against.  The fallout from this decision will be far-reaching, and take a long time to settle. The directive itself still faces a final vote in January 2019 (although experts say it’s unlikely it will be rejected). After that it will need to be implemented by individual EU member states, who could very well vary significantly in how they choose to interpret the directive’s text. The most important parts of this are Articles 11 and 13. Article 11 is intended to give publishers and papers a way to make money when companies like Google link to their stories, allowing them to demand paid licenses. Article 13 requires certain platforms like YouTube and Facebook stop users sharing unlicensed copyrighted material. Critics of the Copyright Directive say these provisions are disastrous. In the case of Article 11, they note that attempts to “tax” platforms like Google News for sharing articles have repeatedly failed, and that the system would be ripe to abuse by copyright trolls.

Swedish election results in gridlock and growth of the far-right --Sweden’s national parliamentary elections were held Sunday amid widespread fear of the growth of the neo-fascist Swedish Democrats combined with contempt for the mainstream political parties, particularly the Social Democrats.The election resulted in a state of political gridlock between the two major coalitions. The “center-left” bloc, an alliance between the Social Democrats, the Left Party and the Greens, won 40.6 percent of the vote, while the “center-right” bloc, called the “Alliance,” composed of the Moderates, the Centre Party, the Christian Democrats and the Liberals, won 40.2 percent of the vote.Neither coalition has a sufficient number of deputies in the Swedish Riksdag (parliament) to form a government on its own. In the coming two weeks, before the parliament opens, the two coalitions will attempt to cut deals with sections of the opposing coalition or seek a deal with the Swedish Democrats. Swedish Democrat leader Jimmy Akesson has made clear that his party will seek to force the entirety of Swedish politics to the right by playing the “kingmaker” in this political crisis. He stated at an election rally, “We will increase our seats in parliament and we will gain huge influence over what happens in Sweden during the coming weeks, months and years.”The Swedish Democrats, which emerged out of the neo-Nazi and white supremacist movement, won 17.6 percent of the vote and 63 seats in the 349-seat Riksdag, making it the third largest single party after the Social Democrats and the Moderates. The Swedish Democrats’ share of the vote increased from 2014, when it won 12.9 percent, however, the party’s electoral result was lower than polls had anticipated. During the summer, some polls predicted it would win almost 25 percent of the vote. To the extent that the Swedish Democrats have been able to win a hearing, it is because of the bankruptcy of the traditional ruling parties in Sweden. The Social Democrats, working in alliance with, at different times, the Moderates, the Green Party, the Left Party, the liberals and the Christian Democrats, have overseen decades of growing inequality and deteriorating social services, particularly education and healthcare. Years of scandals, incompetence and deception have eroded the support sections of workers and youth once gave to the Social Democrats. The Social Democrats, who have ruled Sweden for most of the past 100 years, received their lowest vote in over a century. The Moderates, traditionally the second largest party, also experienced a sharp decline in support, losing 14 parliamentary seats.

 In Fiery Speech, Hungary PM Slams EU- You Condemn Us Because We Are Not A Nation Of Migrants - Hungary's populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivered a fiery speech in the European Parliament in Strasbourg in which he claimed his country was being condemned for choosing not to be a "country of migrants", as he conceded that the European parliament was set to trigger the EU’s most serious sanction against his government. Arriving late to the debate in the chamber in Strasbourg on Tuesday on the country’s courts, treatment of its Roma community and media and academic freedoms, Orban told MEPs that the parliament was “insulting” his nation.A defiant Orban accused the “pro-migrant majority” of having “already made up their minds” to invoke the European Union Treaty’s Article 7 against Hungary, for its treatment of migrants and minorities, and the ruling party purported abuse of the law and suppression of media freedoms."But still I have come heretoday because you are not going to condemn a government but a country as well as a nation. You are going to denounce Hungary that has been a member of the family of Christian nations for a thousand years."The Hungarian populist nationalist, who won landslide general election victory in April, was addressing the parliament before a vote on Wednesday on a report which has advised it to trigger article 7, which can ultimately lead to an EU member state losing its voting rights in the union’s institutions, according to the GuardianOrbán stands accused of undermining the independence of its judiciary and media, waging a propaganda and legal war against the Central European University, founded by the philanthropist George Soros, and mistreating asylum seekers and refugees while limiting the functioning of non-governmental organisations who seek to aid them. "Hungary will not accede to this blackmailing, Hungary will protect its borders, stop illegal migration and - if needed - we will stand up to you,” said Orban. Calling the proceedings an “insult” to his nation, Orban called Hungary the “defender of Europe” and spoke of its “different view on Christianity in Europe, the role of nations and national culture.”“These differences cannot be a reason to brand any country and be excluded from joint decisions. We would never go as far as to silence those that do not agree with us,”

Merkel Melts Down After Thousands Of Germans Protest Violent Migrants - German Chancellor Angela Merkel was heckled as she condemned thousands of right-wing protesters in eastern Germany, who took to the streats after the deadly stabbing of a 22-year-old German man at the hands of two Afghan nationals in the town of Chemnitz.  The German chancellor was heckled during a lively Bundestag debate by the head of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party (AfD), Alexander Gauland, who accused her of dividing Germany with her immigration policy, endangering peace and spreading fake news by supporting controversial evidence that far-right protesters were hounding foreigners through the streets. –Guardian   Merkel shot back, acknowledging the anger felt over the stabbing - however she said that "there is no excuse or explanation for rabble-rousing, in some cases the use of violence, Nazi slogans, hostility towards people who look different, to the owner of a Jewish restaurant, attacking police."She also responded to comments made by the head of Germany's BfV domestic intelligence agency, Hans-Georg Maaßen, who criticized her spokesman for characterizing the anti-immigrant protesters as "hunting" immigrants.Gauland accused Merkel of "spreading fake news when your spokesman spoke of ‘Hetzjagd' (hunting)," adding "The truth is, there was no hunting down of people in Chemnitz."Merkel shot back: "Abstract rows about ‘Hetzjagd’ are not helpful." Gauland came under fire for his comments; In an interruption to Gauland, allowed under the rules of Bundestag discourse, Martin Schulz, the former leader of the Social Democrats, referred to him as “belonging to the dungheap of German history” over what he saw as the AfD’s contribution to the spread of anti-immigrant sentiment. -GuardianMeanwhile, Maaßen faced questioning Wednesday by Germany's interior affairs committee over p ublic remarks he gave to a newspaper in which he questioned the veracity of a video which allegedly depicts protesters chasing foreigners. A police report from the night in question emerged on Wednesday, claiming that "right-wing extremists" did in fact chase foreigners through the streests.

German Social Democrats feign opposition to fascist AfD - In this week’s budget debate in the German Parliament, the Social Democrats (SPD) sought to fraudulently present themselves as opponents of the neo-fascist Alternative for Germany (AfD).After AfD chairman Alexander Gauland opened the debate on Wednesday with one of his infamous tirades against refugees and left-wingers, former SPD chairman and chancellor candidate Martin Schulz came to the microphone. “Reducing complex political issues to a single issue, usually referring to a minority in the country, is a traditional means of fascism,” he said. “We saw that presented again today. Immigrants are to blame for everything.”Then he added, “There has been a similar language in this House before, and it is time to fight back against this kind of rhetorical rearmament, which in the end leads to a disinhibition, the result of which is violence on the streets.” Schulz commented on an earlier statement by the AfD leader, “Hitler and the Nazis are just a speck of bird shit in over a thousand years of successful German history,” by saying, “Mr Gauland, a large quantity of bird shit is a dung heap, and you belong atop that in German history.”Schulz’s performance, which was prominently featured in all media and news programs, has a transparent aim. Following the far right riots in Chemnitz, which prompted shock and outrage among workers and young people in Germany and around the world, establishment politicians and the media are trying to disguise their own responsibility for the provocative behaviour of the AfD and organized neo-Nazi gangs. Following Schulz’s statement, representatives of the SPD, Left Party and Greens rose from their seats, along with parliamentarians from the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and Free Democrats (FDP), and gave Schulz a standing ovation.During the debate, leading politicians of almost all the establishment parties feigned outrage at the right-wing extremist attacks in Chemnitz and their incitement by the AfD. “No, there is no excuse and justification for incitement, use of violence, Nazi slogans, hostility towards people who look different, who own a Jewish restaurant, attacks on police,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU). In his speech, the SPD politician Johannes Kahrs thanked Schulz for his “clear message” and called out to AfD deputies, “Look in the mirror and see what led this republic into misery in the 1920s and 30s.” In response, the AfD faction rose to its feet and left the plenary chamber en bloc for a few minutes.All the posturing in the German Bundestag cannot hide a central political fact: The AfD is not being “combatted” by the grand coalition government, but consciously built up and politically promoted. The right-wing extremists can only behave so provocatively because the establishment parties have de facto adopted the AfD’s policies, made pacts with the right-wing extremists and afforded them ever-greater influence in the state apparatus, the security forces and in the federal and state parliaments.

Sergei Skripal and the Russian disinformation game - When the UK authorities announced on Wednesday that they suspected two alleged Russian agents in the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, they released CCTV images of the suspects arriving at Gatwick airport. Two of the images, framed side by side, began to spread on social media, driven by pro-Russia conspiracy theorists and suspected troll accounts. They showed the alleged agents - Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov - passing through a non-return gate at the airport. The images had identical timestamps. How could two men be in exactly the same place at the same time, a flood of tweets asked. Speaking on state TV, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova claimed that either "the date and the exact time were superimposed on the image" or that Russian intelligence officers had "mastered the skill of walking simultaneously". Her remarks were echoed by pro-Kremlin accounts on Twitter and on the messaging app Telegram, which is popular in Russia. Users suggested the CCTV images had been manipulated. They mocked the British authorities and alleged it was an MI6 operation. Soon it would not necessarily matter that the background of the CCTV images were not identical; that the camera was at a different angle; that Google Maps shows that the non-return gates at Gatwick are a series of near-identical corridors that the two men could easily have passed down, adjacent to one another, at the same time. What would matter would be that some people following the story would begin to question what was real and what wasn't. Some might even begin to question the very idea that there was a real, reliable version of events at all. 

We Have Found Them Putin Says Of Skripal Suspects, They Are Civilians - President Vladimir Putin addressed the Skripal case during comments made before an audience at the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in the Russian city of Vladivostok, and to the audience's great surprise, he said "we have found them".He said during the Wednesday comments that Moscow knows exactly who the men named by UK authorities as suspects are, saying they are not some kind of notorious criminals but mere civilians. Putin at one point seemed make a direct appeal to the suspects: "I want to address them [the suspects]... [I hope] they contact the media. I hope they appear and tell everything about themselves," he said before the audience. UK prosecutors in early September named two Russians they suspect of poisoning Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury last March, identifying them as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov. In the aftermath Russia slammed Britain as seeking to stir anti-Russian sentiment while making accusations with no substantial evidence to back it.Upon announcing the suspects, which the UK accuses of being part of Russia's military intelligence agency, the GRU, British authorities issued European arrest warrants. Russia denies any involvement: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had immediately pushed back on the suggestion of a GRU link, saying “Neither Russia’s top leadership nor those with lower ranks, and [Russian] officials, have had anything to do with the events in Salisbury.” But Putin shocked with this bombshell on Wednesday: "We know who they are, we have found them," he said during the EFF panel event with Japan's Shinzo Abe and China's Xi Jinping, according to the AFP. And in what appears a reference to Britain's charge that the suspects are actually members of Russian intelligence, Putin said, "They are civilians, of course."Hinting that the men might appear to make a public statement from Russia, Putin said, "I hope they will turn up themselves and tell about themselves," and added, "There is nothing special there, nothing criminal, I assure you. We'll see in the near future."

Skripal Suspects Speak For First Time In Interview- We Are Framed Tourists - The same day the US announced it plans a second round of "very severe" sanctions on Russia over the use of a nerve agent in connection to the West's allegations surrounding the Skripal poisoning, the alleged perpetrators of the poison attack have appeared on RT News for an exclusive interview with RT's Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan.  Suffice it to say the whole strange Skripal saga just got a lot more bizarre. The pair told Simonyan in the televised interview that they had nothing to do with it, but were very excited to visit the famous Salisbury cathedral as mere sightseers and were in the Salisbury town briefly on two consecutive days, but that they are not GRU agents or Russian spies. "Our friends had been suggesting for a long time that we visit this wonderful town," they said, and explained that after the short visit, their "whole lives were turned upside down" as they suddenly became "framed tourists" caught up in the Skripal cause after being falsely accused by UK authorities. The pair sat stone-faced throughout the interview and delivered brief, concise answers to RT's questions, while consistently claiming to have been visiting Britain as tourists, but while also acknowledging it was indeed them that appeared in CCTV footage published by the UK authorities. “Salisbury? A wonderful town?” RT's Margarita Simonyan asked. “Yes,” Petrov answered tersely. “It is a tourist town,” Boshirov offered. “There’s a famous cathedral there... It is famous not just in Europe, but in the whole world. It’s famous for its 123-metre spire, it’s famous for its clock, the first one [of its kind] ever created in the world, which is still working.”Upon the start of the interview wherein the two confirm their true identities as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov to RT's Simonyan, the interview proceeds:

Huge rise in deaths of homeless people in the UK --Aaron French-Willcox, aged just 19, was found dead in a tent in Cardiff in the early hours of February this year. Aaron had type one diabetes and he died from diabetic ketoacidosis.  He was one of the many people who have been forced to live in temporary and semi-permanent tented encampments across the UK, an increasing number of whom are dying on the streets.Across Britain, it is common to see tents and encampments set up in cleared wooded areas, underneath bridges, underpasses, or the less noisy areas of city centres.The reaction of the local authorities to these encampments has been mainly to break them up, and move them on, utilising Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) and enforcement orders.In July, 10 police officers broke up an encampment on the banks of the Severn river near Worcester Cathedral, where six rough sleepers had been living. Only days later, some of those who had been forced to leave were seen sleeping out in Worcester town centre.Data on those living in tents and encampments is not formally collated. However the homeless charity Crisis said that last Christmas it was estimated that more than 9,000 people would have been sleeping out in tents, cars, trains and buses.This figure is on top of the many thousands who are already sleeping out across Britain and represents an increase of 57 percent since 2011.The official figures as to how many people are sleeping out in England are calculated based on a “head count” of rough sleepers carried out on a given night. The count itself is guided by strict rules, including what constitutes a rough sleeper. Those sleeping in what are defined as encampments, including tents, and cars are not necessarily included in the total figure of the 4,751 who were accepted as bedding down outside overnight in 2017. The official rough sleeper counts are considered a vast underestimation of the true scale of rough sleeping in England.

NHS vacancies a ‘national emergency’ - BBC - The shortage of NHS staff in England has started worsening again, official figures show. One in 11 posts is vacant with the situation particularly bad among the nursing workforce. Experts described the situation as at risk of becoming a "national emergency" given the rising demands on the NHS. It comes after sustained efforts by ministers and NHS bosses to tackle the shortages, including a new pay deal and recruitment and retention campaigns. The latest figures have been published by the regulator, NHS Improvement, for the April to June period.They showed:

  • 11.8% of nurse posts were not filled - a shortage of nearly 42,000
  • 9.3% of doctor posts were vacant - a shortage of 11,500
  • Overall, 9.2% of all posts were not filled - a shortage of nearly 108,000

This is slightly worse than this time last year and comes after improvements at the end of last year and start of this year. The difficulties facing hospitals, ambulances and mental health services mean spending on temporary staff is going over budget.   Analysis: 10 charts illustrating NHS woes.

Brexit: wading through treacle - We live in surreal times. Britain totters ever closer to a "no-deal" Brexit yet, on the very day Lord King, the former governor of the Bank of England, complained that the government was unprepared for its "disastrous consequences", the lead headline of the Daily Telegraph was "Calorie counts to be listed on menus". This still leaves Theresa May persisting with her Chequers plan despite it being rejected as unworkable by virtually everyone else. But, even if we drop out of the EU with a "no deal", the talking cannot stop there. Despite the difficulties, we would still need to cobble together a host of what the Brexit minister Dominic Raab calls "side-deals", simply to keep much of our economy functioning.  With this in mind, Booker in his column this week (no link) lists just three of the problems which, as the European Commission has repeatedly warned, we will face if we fall out of the EU to become a "third country", causing a myriad legal authorisations and arrangements to lapse . One structure we shall drop out of is the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA), which provides the legal framework for members of the EU and neighbourhood countries to fly freely in each other's air space, subject to their complete conformity with EU aviation rules. On becoming a "third country" we could not apply to rejoin it, to allow continued air traffic between ourselves and the EU, without lengthy negotiations; and even then only if we have established a framework of "close economic cooperation" with the EU. A second institution, about which Booker first wrote in March 2017, is Formula One motor racing. With seven of its nine teams based in Britain, driving cars largely designed and manufactured here by an industry turning over £9 billion a year, it would be severely disrupted.  New border controls would make it so difficult to maintain the rapid movement involved in transferring thousands of tons of equipment between Britain and the seven other EU countries which stage Grands Prix that teams might have to relocate to the continent.

Brexit talks at risk of collapse as British cabinet ministers brand EU compromise on Irish border ‘unacceptable’ -- Brexit talks are at risk of collapse as a planned EU compromise on the critical question of the Irish border has been branded “unacceptable” by British cabinet ministers.The Independent has learnt that EU officials believe they have struck upon “the only way” to bring the two sides together on the Irish border in a bid to secure a withdrawal agreement later this year. But their proposal has already been outright rejected by at least two cabinet ministers, with one going further and branding the EU’s suggestion “bollocks”.The impasse over the Irish border threatens to bring the talks crashing down with Theresa May’s beleagueredChequers proposal already lacking support both in Europe and among her own MPs in Westminster.The Independent now understands that the EU will try to break the deadlock in negotiations by offering the UK a vague political declaration on the future UK-EU relationship in return for a deal on the Irish border.A well-placed Brussels source said: “This may well prove the only way to respect the EU’s red lines and allow Theresa May to win approval for a deal in the UK parliament. “The political declaration holds the key to reaching a deal.”Since the start of Brexit talks Brussels has insisted the UK sign up to a legally binding “backstop”, which would come into play if no arrangement to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland is found before Brexit day. It would see Northern Ireland effectively remain in the EU’s customs union and single market, creating a customs border down the Irish sea – something both Ms May and her DUPpartners say is unacceptable.

Open warfare between top Tories over Boris Johnson ‘suicide vest’ jibe at May -- Internal divisions in the Conservative Party have exploded into a bitter public row over Boris Johnson‘s “disgusting” criticism of Theresa May.Some senior Tories furiously denounced the former foreign secretary after he accused the prime minister of having ”wrapped a suicide vest” around Britain.Sajid Javid, the home secretary, rebuked his former cabinet colleague and said: “I think there are much better ways to articulate your differences.”He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that the public wanted politicians to use “measured language”.But other MPs leapt to Mr Johnson’s defence, as dividing lines ahead of a possible leadership contest begin to take shape. The Uxbridge MP has repeatedly criticised Ms May’s Chequers plan and used a newspaper article on Sunday to suggest it amounted to “wrapping a suicide vest around the British constitution”.His latest salvo at the prime minister prompted immediate condemnation, with one minister publicly vowing to end Mr Johnson’s career over the matter. Alan Duncan, a foreign minister who worked in Mr Johnson’s team for two years, wrote on Twitter: “For Boris to say the PM’s view is like that of a suicide bomber is too much. This marks one of the most disgusting moments in modern British politics.  Housing secretary James Brokenshire added his voice to the criticism, calling Mr Johnson’s comments ”wrong”. But as Tory hostilities spilled over into open public warfare, Richmond Park MP Zac Goldsmith, an ally of Mr Johnson, hit back at Mr Duncan. He wrote: “There are a number of possible motives behind this tweet, but given its author, we can be certain ‘principles’ aren’t one of them.”Senior Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg told The Independent he thought Mr Johnson’s “suicide belt” accusation was little more than “a characteristically colourful catchphrase”.He added: “I agree with the sentiment. The criticism of Boris’s wording merely serves to highlight his point. It means more people hear of Boris’s criticism of Chequers and many will agree with him.”Nadine Dorries, another Brexit supporter, said Mr Johnson’s opponents were “terrified of his popular appeal”, adding: “Don’t underestimate the vitriol that’ll be directed towards Boris today. He delivered the Leave vote, Remainers and wannabe future PMs hate him.”If Mr Johnson became leader and prime minister he would deliver a “clean and prosperous” Brexit, she said.

Brexit: clash of the pygmies - There is no Brexit debate in this country, at least not in the legacy media. We merely have opposing sides parading their ignorance. The role of the media is to provide an uncritical platform, the effect of which is to block the flow of information with a cascade of never-ending noise. A classic example of this we saw yesterday in the Mail on Sunday with a "he says, she says" confrontation between the oaf Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, the current holder of the office of foreign secretary. The oaf's contribution quickly gained for the Mail a desirable level of notoriety with an ill-judged assertion that Mrs May's Chequers plan has "wrapped a suicide vest around the British constitution", with the "detonator" handed to Michel Barnier.  Apart from anything else, the analogy is muddled. If Barnier activated the detonator, it wouldn't be suicide. Literally, it would be murder. And that's what Johnson is arguing that Mrs May is giving him the means to do. The theme is typical Telegraph/"ultra" rhetoric, with Johnson demanding: "Why are they bullying us?", and "How can they get away with it?" "It is", he goes on to write, "one of the mysteries of the current Brexit negotiations that the UK is so utterly feeble". He argues that we have a massive economy; the sixth largest in the world. We ought to be able to do that giant and generous free trade deal the Prime Minister originally spoke of. Yet, the oaf complains, "And yet it's, 'yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir'". And so continues the litany: At every stage in the talks so far, Brussels gets what Brussels wants. We have agreed to the EU's timetable; we have agreed to hand over £39 billion, for nothing in return. Now under the Chequers proposal, we are set to agree to accept their rules – forever – with no say on the making of those rules.To this man, "It is a humiliation. We look like a seven-stone weakling being comically bent out of shape by a 500 lb gorilla. And the reason is simple: Northern Ireland, and the insanity of the so-called 'backstop'". And there's the crunch. According to the oaf, this has opened us to "perpetual political blackmail", whence we get the "suicide vest" jibe which then becomes a "jemmy with which Brussels can choose - at any time - to crack apart the Union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland". Johnson interprets the "backstop" as Northern Ireland remaining in the customs union and the Single Market, in other words part of the EU, with a border down the Irish Sea and then sees the Chequers plan as "our own version of the backstop". If we can't find ways of solving the Irish border problem, then the whole of the UK must remain in the customs union and Single Market". This then is what the Mail calls a "blistering denunciation of our Brexit strategy", but if we're to evaluate it, we have to start from the basics – of which Johnson has never shown any grasp.

Brexit: “ultras” on the back foot - Yesterday should have been a big day for the "ultras". Despite the 140-page "alternative" to Mrs May's Chequers plan, produced by the European Research Group (ERG), having been dumped, they had managed to find another three-letter acronym to produce a plan, ready to show the world that they mean business. This last-minute substitution was the Economists for Free Trade (EFT), led by Patrick Minford who gave a presentation to the House of Commons, in a press launch fronted by Jacob Rees-Mogg. Their task was to launch the EFT's latest report, this one termed the "World Trade Deal: The Complete Guide by the Economists for Free Trade", a 27-page guide which purported to be a "major new academic study" aimed at demonstrating that the UK would be better off trading with the EU under WTO rules, the so-called "no deal" option.  Outside the "ultras" Holy Trinity of the Express, Mail and Telegraph, the media tends to ignore material produced by the EFT, but this was not to be the case yesterday – and rather to their disadvantage. Normal