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

Saturday, August 17, 2019

week ending Aug 17

Economist El-Erian: Fed now has no choice but to cut rates or risk disrupting markets - The Federal Reserve has “no choice” but to cut interest rates again at its September policy meeting, economist Mohamed El-Erian told CNBC on Wednesday. If the Fed doesn’t cut its benchmark federal funds rate, it risks further disrupting the stock market, Allianz’s chief economic advisor said in an interview on “Closing Bell. ” Central bankers are being “held hostage” by markets, El-Erian continued. “The market is going to push the Fed to do 50 basis points. Some are saying, ‘Why not even do an emergency cut?’” El-Erian spoke after the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 800 points on Wednesday. It was its worst performance of 2019. The spread between the U.S. 10-year note and 2-year note inverted, a signal investors take as a recession indicator. President Donald Trump on Wednesday once again blamed the Fed for mounting fears about a slowing U.S. economy. The president has blamed the central bank for previous declines in the stock market and has repeatedly pushed Fed Chairman Jerome Powell to cut rates. The fed funds futures market now points to a 100% probability that there will be another Fed cut in September, according to the CME FedWatch Tool. Last month, the Fed, as expected, cut rates for the first time in more than a decade. But El-Erian, former CEO and co-CIO of Pimco, said the rate cuts come with a price. “The more it cuts, the less impact it has on the economy, the less impact it has on markets and the greater the risk they have no ammunition when they will really need to cut.” El-Erian has been more bullish on the U.S. economy than some other major analysts, telling CNBC in March that the country will not see a recession this year or in 2020 barring a major policy mistake from the Fed.

  JPMorgan- The Fed Will Need To Restart QE Soon -  Earlier this week we received an unexpected email from a researcher at the Federal Reserve with an "urgent request" to provide the US central bank with details on an analysis we presented on Tuesday, according to which the Fed was about to be hit with a major liquidity drain as the Treasury, unshackled from the limits of debt ceiling constraints, set off to replenish its cash balance from roughly $130 billion to $350 billion over the next two months, as disclosed recently by the US Treasury. The reason why the Fed reached out is because as we explained in "Forget China, The Fed Has A Much Bigger Problem On Its Hands", according to an analysis from Bank of America, the Fed may be forced to launch Quantitative Easing as soon as Q4 to provide the market with the much needed liquidity, or else suffer the consequences of a major liquidity shortage. To wit, in describing the various steps the Fed can engage in, this is what the BofA strategist said:Outright QE: after OMO dealer capacity is exhausted the Fed may need to start permanently expanding its balance sheet. The Fed would likely describe this as offsetting "bank reserve demand and growth in other non-reserve liabilities". Regardless, it would represent the Fed permanently buying USTs outright to maintain control of funding markets well above the ZLB. Apparently this is something that the Fed, which until recently was engaging in additional liquidity draining via QT, was unaware about, and since a return of QE - something that Trump has yet to demand - would cause all sorts of political problems and demand lengthy congressional explanations, the BofA analysis was one of the various factors cited for the dramatic rebound in the market starting on Tuesday, which promptly transformed into the strongest 3-day rally of the year. Well, it's no longer just Bank of America that believes the Fed may be forced to pursue QE to replenish the sudden drain in interbank liquidity that would accompany such a dramatic cash rebuild by the Treasury. In the latest Flows and Liquidity report from JPMorgan's Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou published late on Friday, the strategist analyzes various components of market liquidity and concludes that "liquidity will likely continue to tighten gradually in the US banking system even after the Fed has stopped its balance sheet shrinkage." Specifically, the JPM analysis looks at the bank's model of US excess money supply, which derives a medium-term money demand target based on 1) the transaction motive, which relates money to nominal incomes and 2) the portfolio motive, which relates money to the nominal values of other assets such as bonds and equities, and 3) the precautionary motive, proxied by US policy uncertainty, whereby agents wish to hold more cash during periods of elevated risk perceptions. This model suggests that this broad US excess liquidity evaporated during the course of 2018 and shifted further into negative or contractionary territory this year.

Trump Bashes Clueless Jay Powell And CRAZY Inverted Yield Curve - As the 2s10s curve inversion continues to rattle investor confidence, President Trump has chimed in with roughly half an hour left in the trading day to try and revive the market's optimism during what's looking to be the worst session for stocks this year (and the second 700+ point loss for the Dow this month)...We are winning, big time, against China. Companies & jobs are fleeing. Prices to us have not gone up, and in some cases, have come down. China is not our problem, though Hong Kong is not helping. Our problem is with the Fed. Raised too much & too fast. Now too slow to cut....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 14, 2019...While also seizing on yet another opportunity to blame the Fed for the latest inversion in the curve (and let's not forget about 30-year yield hitting all-time low)...Spread is way too much as other countries say THANK YOU to clueless Jay Powell and the Federal Reserve. Germany, and many others, are playing the game! CRAZY INVERTED YIELD CURVE! We should easily be reaping big Rewards & Gains, but the Fed is holding us back. We will Win!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 14, 2019 It's hardly a coincidence that Trump - who is hell bent on blaming Powell for the coming crash - is now slamming the Fed Chairman with a fresh harshly worded tweet every time the Dow slides 200 points lower.

Trump, Navarro are the only officials in the White House blaming the Fed for volatility, sources say - President Donald Trump and economic advisor Peter Navarro are alone in the White House when it comes to blaming Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell for the economic slowdown, administration officials told CNBC.The president has criticized his central bank chief sharply, but stepped it up in recent days when he labeled the Fed leader “clueless Jay Powell.” Trump has said the U.S. economy would be much stronger had the Fed not been raising interest rates and otherwise tightening monetary policy.Two senior administration officials told CNBC that the overriding belief in the White House is that the rate hikes are not the main source of the problem. Rather, they say, it is Trump’s trade war and tariffs against China that began more than a year and a half ago holding back growth. The president, though, is not expected to relent in his criticism of Powell.“It is what it is,” both officials said in describing the feelings around the Trump-Powell dispute.CNBC has reached out to the White House for further comment. Other officials have been willing to join in anti-Fed messaging publicly, even as other policy concerns weigh privately. National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow, for instance, attacked Powell’s “extreme tightening” on CNBC after the second-quarter GDP numbers were released. Kudlow did not respond to a request for comment.

 Cleveland Fed: Key Measures Show Inflation Above 2% YoY in July, Core PCE below 2% --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 0.3% (3.4% annualized rate) in July. The 16% trimmed-mean Consumer Price Index also rose 0.3% (3.3% 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 0.3% (4.1% annualized rate) in July. The CPI less food and energy also rose 0.3% (3.6% annualized rate) on a seasonally adjusted basis. Note: The Cleveland Fed released the median CPI details for July here. Motor fuel was up 34% annualized.

Wall Street sees risk of recession rising --Wall Street is getting seriously gloomy about the economy, with recession warnings mounting and stock-market volatility rising just as President Donald Trump prepares to fire up his reelection campaign machine.Over just the last few days, economists at Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America all warned that Trump’s bitter trade war with China is taking a bigger bite out of economic growth than expected.The warnings came as stocks suffered another big dip on Monday with the Dow closing off nearly 400 points, or 1.5 percent, putting the blue-chip index at 25,897, over 700 points lower than it was in January of 2018 before Trump’s trade fights began in earnest. Stocks bounced back Tuesday after the Trump administration’s announcement about postponing some tariffs that had been set to take effect next month, continuing a long track record of market volatility tied to trade policy.The collective wisdom now spreading across Wall Street is that no trade deal will be struck with China before the 2020 election; business investment will continue to sag; and a series of interest-rate cuts from the Federal Reserve won’t be enough to juice more growth out of an economy now in its tenth year of expansion — the longest stretch in American history.“It makes sense for everyone to be downgrading, because everyone assumed we’d have some kind of trade deal with China by now and we don’t,” said Megan Greene, an economist and senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “And now we have the risk of the trade war turning into a currency war,” she said. “The consumer is still pretty strong, but business investment looks really bad and if it was going to pick up again it would have by now.”

On the Eve of Recession? Five Graphs from Two Courses -  Menzie Chinn -  I get to teach Public Affairs 854, “Macroeconomic Policy and International Financial Regulation” and Economics 435 “The Financial System” this fall. There’s a cosmic confluence this year, in terms of the subject:

  • Figure 1: 10yr-3mo term spread in %, lagged one year (blue, left scale), and Q/Q growth rate SAAR, in % (red), and forecasted using spead, time trend over 1986-2019Q2 (green). 2019Q3 is July data. NBER recessions shaded gray. Forecast period shaded light green. Source: Federal Reserve via FRED, BEA 2019Q2 advance release, NBER and author’s calculations.
  • Figure 2: 10yr-3mo term spread in % (blue, left scale), and implied probability of recession, in % (red), probabilities estimated using probit on 10yr-3mo term spread estimated over 1986-2019Q2 (green). NBER recessions shaded gray. Forecast period shaded light green. Source: Federal Reserve via FRED, BEA 2019Q2 advance release, NBER and author’s calculations. I’ve got a feeling that if not recession, then flagging growth, will be topics moved up in the syllabi in each course. In PA854, the international dimension will emphasized (and there, look at this scary picture):
  • Figure 3: 10yr-3mo spreads, in %, as of December 14, 2018 (light blue bar), and as of August 9, 2019 (red bar). Source: Reuters, Bloomberg, TradingEconomics, and author’s calculations.   and this graph: Spreads have gone negative in most other advanced economies, and PMI diffusion indices are even as I write moving toward negative. I’ll talk about the two country Keynesian model reinforcing the downdraft, in PA854. For Economics 435, well I’ll talk about expectations, uncertainty, and asset prices. One example will be to show how given a pecking order of finance, vast amounts of cash/retained earnings won’t be sufficient tooffset sufficiently high levels of uncertainty.
  • Figure 4: Shortfall in equipment investment, in bn.Ch.2012$ SAAR (blue, left scale), trade policy uncertainty (brown, right scale). Light orange shading denotes TCJA in effect. Predicted investment using first difference equipment investment on current and lag of first difference GDP and first difference of real interest rate, 09Q2-2016Q. Source: BEA 2019Q2 advance release, policyuncertainty.com, and author’s calculations.

Bond market close to sending biggest recession signal yet - As Wall Street economists up the odds for a recession in the coming year, the bond market is sending its own scary warning about an economic downturn.Various parts of the yield curve have been inverted, but the traditionally watched 2-year to 10-year spread looks set to invert any day now, with the curve at its flattest level since 2007.The 10-year yield, at its low yield of 1.64% Monday came less than 6 basis points above the 2-year yield, which was at 1.58% in afternoon trading. The spread broke below 10 basis points last week. An inverted curve simply means a shorter-term interest rate is higher than the longer-term one that it is being compared too, and that inversion has been a reliable recession signal.“It’s the whole idea that the Fed is making a mistake. There’s more fear that the Fed is going to be slow in making moves, and the economy is going to to into recession,” said Andrew Brenner, National Alliance head of international fixed income. The Fed watches the spread between the 3-month bill yield and the 10-year note yield which has been inverted, but the markets traditionally have watched the 10-year and the yield on the 2-year note. “I don’t know if it matters more than the 3-month to the 10-year, but you can call it the final nail in this whole yield curve inversion discussion,” said Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group.Economists lately have been more concerned about the chances for a recession. Bank of America Merrill Lynch economists said they see odds for a recession now at a 1-in-3 chance in the next 12 months, and Goldman Sachs economists lowered their forecast for fourth quarter growth to 1.8% and said fears of a recession are growing because of the trade war.  The spread between the 3-month Treasury bill and the 10-year note has been inverted with the 3-month bill yielding about 35 basis points more. The benchmark 10-year note yield has been falling as global interest rates decline in a flight-to-safety play and on worries about economic growth.

U.S. Long-Bond Yield Nears All-Time Low as Global Anxiety Grows - The rate on 30-year Treasury bonds approached an all-time low and a closely monitored section of the U.S. yield curve hurtled closer to inversion as investors sought shelter amid a fraught geopolitical backdrop.The yield on the long bond tumbled as much as 14 basis points on Monday to close in on its record-low of 2.0882% from July 2016. The 10-year note fell 10 basis points to 1.65%, and at one point was just 5 basis points more than two-year notes. That’s the flattest that part of the curve has been since 2007.“The general risk-off theme is driving the move, which is actually flattening the curve rather than steepening it,” said Gennadiy Goldberg, a senior U.S. rates strategist at TD Securities. “This suggests that the market is being driven less by Federal Reserve expectations and more by a flight to quality or global uncertainty.” The rush for cover came as global trade concerns rumbled on, with investors also bidding up haven assets including the Japanese yen and gold. The unexpected defeat of Argentine President Mauricio Macri in a primary vote sparked a selloff of the nation’s assets, and the Monday cancellation of flights in Hong Kong due to protests added to a broader sense of unease.Asia wasn’t spared. Australia’s 10-year bond yield opened at a fresh all-time low on Tuesday, while Japan’s 30-year yield dropped to 0.2050%, the lowest since July 2016.Fed funds futures showed traders betting on more easing from t he U.S. central bank, with around 66 basis points of cuts priced in for the rest of this year.

Fed may not have enough firepower to prevent a recession - President Donald Trump wants the Federal Reserve to help head off a feared economic slowdown, but it’s not clear the central bank has enough firepower left to do so. Besides, some economists say, there’s really not much reason for the Fed to act any more aggressively than it already plans, considering that growth signs remain intact, though dinged a little bit, by worries over tariffs and a slowdown in some other areas outside the U.S. “Federal Reserve officials have some explaining to do when it comes to cutting interest rates and driving down the yields on safe investments like Treasury bonds and notes to near record low levels,” Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG, said in a note following a raft of positive economic data on Thursday. “They don’t need to explain their rate cuts to voters or to the Trump economics team, but they will have to explain themselves to the history books. The Fed’s interest rate cut looks more out of line than ever given the strength of the economy,” he added. “Recession? What recession? That’s what we want to know.” Still, Trump continues to clamor for rate cuts, and the market anticipates at least two more this year. That will leave the Fed with only scant room to cut further, as it currently is targeting its benchmark rate between 2% and 2.25%. The question, though, is whether the Fed can even save the U.S. from a soft patch or worse. Wall Street saw its worst day of the year Wednesday, as the Dow industrials fell 3% while the bond market, albeit briefly, saw the 2-year Treasury note yield rise above the 10-year, a sign that has pointed to recessions in the past. By itself, the Fed may have a hard time stemming such fears, following a decade in which the central bank has been pretty successful in stepping in to save the day during market queasiness.  The Fed under Chairman Jerome Powell has sought to reposition itself this year from an intention to continue raising rates this year to holding a “patient” stance before changing policy to one that now is actively assuring markets that it will do what is needed to keep the decade-old expansion going. However, its 25 basis point rate cut on July 31 has been treated with relative ambivalence — whereas such a move normally would cause the yield curve to steepen, the gap actually has contracted to the point of the inversion that so startled markets Wednesday.

Q3 GDP Forecasts: Around 2%  From Merrill Lynch: The data boosted our 3Q GDP tracking estimate by 0.4pp to 2.1% qoq saar. 2Q was unchanged at 1.8%. [Aug 15 estimate]   From Goldman Sachs: we left our Q3 GDP tracking estimate unchanged on a rounded basis at +2.1% (qoq ar). [Aug 16 estimate]   From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report:  The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 1.8% for 2019:Q3. [Aug 16 estimate].  And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNow: The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the third quarter of 2019 is 2.2 percent on August 16, unchanged from August 15 after rounding. After this morning's new residential construction report from the U.S. Census Bureau, the nowcast of third-quarter real residential investment growth increased from -1.2 percent to 0.7 percent. [Aug 16 estimate]  CR Note: These early estimates suggest real GDP growth will be around 2% annualized in Q3.

Japan Overtakes China As Top Foreign Holder Of US Treasuries  -- In recent months, many were wondering if, or rather when, as a result of the ongoing trade war, China would lose its status as the largest US foreign creditor. The answer, according to the just released TIC data: this happened in June, although not as a result of a major drop in Chinese Treasury holdings, but rather thanks to a dramatic surge in Japanese holdings of US paper. Indeed, while in June China added a modest $2.3 billion to its Treasury holdings after three consecutive months of sales, bringing its total to $1.113 trillion...... it was Japan that stole the show with a whopping $21.9 billion in Treasuries added in June, and a whopping $58.9 billion in May and June, the biggest two month increase since June 2013. As shown in the top chart, the last time Japan held the position as America’s largest foreign creditor was May 2017. China’s US treasury holdings have come under increased scrutiny in the trade dispute amid speculation that the Asian nation could sell Treasuries in response, especially after a former Chinese central banker hinted over the weekend that a treasury dump is certainly possible: "The U.S. believes, in a geopolitical point of view, it’s being contained by China with China’s holding of its sovereign bonds," said Chen Yuan, former deputy governor of the PBOC. “That means the U.S. is not completely without weakness." And while China has yet to activate the nuclear option, at least we now know which country's retirees are the biggest US Treasury bagholders. Except for America's own of course.

US Surpasses Entire 2018 Budget Deficit With Two More Months To Go In 2019 (see graphs) There were no surprises in the US budget deficit for July, the 10th month of fiscal 2019: it came in just as consensus had expected, at $120 billion, and about 55% higher than the $76.9BN deficit reported in July 2018. This was the 2nd biggest July deficit in the past 8 years...  ...  and was the result of $251BN in government receipts in July, up 11.6% from the prior year, however offset by $371.0BN in government outlays, a rate of increase double that of revenues, or +22.8% from a year earlier. The biggest sources of government revenue were individual income taxes (127BN) and social insurance/retirement ($94BN), while the biggest outlays were social security ($88BN), Medicare ($56BN), National Defense ($56BN) and Health ($50BN). On a year-to-date basis, for the first 10 months of Fiscal 2019, receipts were up 3.4%, while outlays increased more than double by 8.0%. More notably, on a cumulative basis, the US budget deficit for the 10 months of fiscal 2019 was $867 billion, surpassing the $779 billion deficit for all of fiscal 2018, with more months of deficit spending in 2019 to go.  As shown below, the ballooning budget deficit shows no sings of slowing and is set to surpass $1 trillion in just a few months: as of July 2019, the US deficit on an LTM basis was just shy of $1 trillion, or $962 billion to be precise, a number that was last surpassed in early 2013, and which will again be surpassed in by the calendar winter. After that, it will never drop below $1 trillion again.

Trump’s Deficit Economy -  Joseph Stiglitz - In the new world wrought by US President Donald Trump, where one shock follows another, there is never time to think through fully the implications of the events with which we are bombarded. In late July, the Federal Reserve Board reversed its policy of returning interest rates to more normal levels, after a decade of ultra-low rates in the wake of the Great Recession.. And a trade war with China, which Trump had tweeted would be “good, and easy to win,” entered a new, more dangerous phase, rattling markets and posing the threat of a new cold war.  At one level, the Fed move was of little import: a 25-basis-point change will have little consequence. The idea that the Fed could fine-tune the economy by carefully timed changes in interest rates should by now have long been discredited – even if it provides entertainment for Fed watchers and employment for financial journalists. If lowering the interest rate from 5.25% to essentially zero had little impact on the economy in 2008-09, why should we think that lowering rates by 0.25% will have any observable effect? Large corporations are still sitting on hoards of cash: it’s not a lack of liquidity that’s stopping them from investing.  The lower interest rates do lead to a lower exchange rate. Indeed, this may be the principal channel through which Fed policy works today. But isn’t that nothing more than “competitive devaluation,” for which the Trump administration roundly criticizes China? And that, predictably, has been followed by other countries lowering their exchange rate, implying that any benefit to the US economy through the exchange-rate effect will be short-lived. More ironic is the fact that the recent decline in China’s exchange rate came about because of the new round of American protectionism and because China stopped interfering with the exchange rate – that is, stopped supporting it. But, at another level, the Fed action spoke volumes. The US economy was supposed to be “great.” Its 3.7% unemployment rate and first-quarter growth of 3.1% should have been the envy of the advanced countries. But scratch a little bit beneath the surface, and there was plenty to worry about. Second-quarter growth plummeted to 2.1%. Average hours worked in manufacturing in July sank to the lowest level since 2011. Real wages are only slightly above their level a decade ago, before the Great Recession. Real investment as a percentage of GDP is well below levels in the late 1990s, despite a tax cut allegedly intended to spur business spending, but which was used mainly to finance share buybacks instead.  America should be in a boom, with three enormous fiscal-stimulus measures in the past three years. The 2017 tax cut, which mainly benefited billionaires and corporations, added some $1.5-2 trillion to the ten-year deficit. An almost $300 billion increase in expenditures over two years averted a government shutdown in 2018. And at the end of July, a new agreement to avoid another shutdown added another $320 billion of spending. If it takes trillion-dollar annual deficits to keep the US economy going in good times, what will it take when things are not so rosy?

Trump lost $34 billion in corporate revenue by cutting IRS budget by $13 billion: study - Internal Revenue Service budget cuts enacted by President Donald Trump’s administration are responsible for the loss of tens of billions of dollars in revenue, according to a new report. A study from Indiana University Kelley School of Business found that the IRS could have collected an additional $34.3 billion or more from the country’s largest companies. USA Today noted that the figure represents “nearly 20% of the estimated gap between what corporations paid in taxes and what they owed from 2002 through 2014.” From USA Today: Researchers looked at confidential IRS audit data from large, publicly-traded corporations for tax returns years 2000 through 2010. They estimated the government could have collected an additional $34.3 billion in taxes from those filings if they’d had $13.7 billion in additional resources. And that estimate of lost revenue is potentially only a fraction of what the amount would have been if the study had included audit data from other businesses, individuals and foreign taxpayers.  Casey Schwab of the Kelley School of Business attributed the losses to a reduction in the scope of audits. “While the IRS appears to still target the most aggressive positions, they can’t audit as many positions within the return. They just don’t have the resources,” he explained.

Military Spending: Ignoring the $738 Billion Elephant in the Room  - The Democrats running for president are busy stumping their way through the country. But despite all the issues they’re purporting to address, we’ve heard very little about how to manage our national debt, and whether the continued use of our current military force is sustainable. These are two “elephants in the room” that are being ignored. Shouldn’t they be discussed and debated? President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi banged out a two-year budget deal last month that includes $738 billion in Pentagon spending for Fiscal Year 2020, more than half of the entire budget. It was cleared by the House, and the Senate approved it on August 1.Even before the deal was announced, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a fiscal watchdog, said it had the potential to be “the worst budget agreement in our nation’s history,” and could add as much as $2 trillion to the deficit over the next decade. The U.S. national debt was more than $7 trillion in 2004. In the years since, it has roughly tripled, and much of that growth is due to our continued military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We are sustaining enormous costs in terms of the nation’s treasury, human lives, and misery for troops and families. How long can all of this be sustained? 

 Pentagon Launches Investigation Into $10 Billion JEDI Cloud Contract With Amazon --The Pentagon's Inspector General has launched a probe into key aspects of the DoD's forthcoming $10 billion JEDI cloud-computing program, and has vowed to "expeditiously" review whether there was any malfeasance in the bid process - including conflicts of interest, according to Bloomberg.   "We are reviewing the DoD’s handing of the JEDI cloud acquisition, including the development of requirements and the request for proposal process," said Pentagon IG spokeswoman Dwrena Allen in a statement, adding that a "multidisciplinary team" of auditors, attorneys and investigators are investigating JEDI matters "referred to us by Members of Congress and through the DoD Hotline." "In addition, we are investigating whether current or former DoD officials committed misconduct relating to the JEDI acquisition, such as whether any had any conflicts of interest related to their involvement in the acquisition process."  The OG intends to write a report and notify Defense Secretary Mark Esper and DoD leaders of the findings, as well as inform Congress, according to standard protocols, she said. “We will also consider publicly releasing the results, consistent with our standard processes. -BloombergOn August 1st, Defense Secretary Esper ordered a separate review of the Pentagon's JEDI cloud contract after President Trump supported critics saying that Amazon was given an unfair advantage. In July, the WSJ publicized new evidence showing that senior Amazon executives met with senior DoD officials, including then-Defense Secretary James Mattis, to discuss the project before the bidding even began, while the decision over the program was expected this month.

Navy ditches touchscreens for knobs and dials after fatal crash -A collision at sea that claimed the lives of 10 sailors has led to the Navy deciding to replace an unpopular touchscreen interface in some ships with more traditional mechanical controls. “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should,” a Navy official said of the outgoing technology.The crash in question involved the U.S.S. John S. McCain and an oil tanker in August of 2017. The sailors at the helm lost control of the ship and put it in the path of the tanker, resulting in the collision that killed 10 and injured 58 more. A National Transportation Safety Board investigation was issued recently and found that essentially, the sailors didn’t know how to control the ship properly due to a lack of proper training and documentation. The Northrop-Grumman designed “integrated bridge and navigation system,” or IBNS, is a pair of touchscreens that incorporate a number of functions — not so different from the dash touchscreen in a new car taking over the temperature and radio knobs and buttons. But the complexity of the system led to one sailor thinking he was controlling the ship’s entire throttle, while only in fact controlling one side. This led to the John S. McCain making a sharp turn directly into the path of the oncoming tanker. Turns out no one really knew how these systems, which were installed only a year ago, really worked, and in a crisis situation were unable to quickly perform the maneuvers necessary. So the Navy is pulling the systems out of the destroyers they have been installed in.

The NYT’s Pro-War Arguments Against War With Iran --The New York Times has published five editorials since the beginning of May that are ostensibly critical of a possible military war between the United States and Iran. As anti-war arguments, however, they are woefully lacking—vilifying Iran without subjecting the US to comparable scrutiny, and hiding US aggression towards Iran.The editorials regurgitate the same anti-Iran demonology pro-war voices offer to try to justify an attack on the country. In one case (5/4/19), readers are told thatthere is no doubt that the Revolutionary Guards is a malign actor. Founded in 1979, it was the revolution’s protector. In time, the corps became a tool of violence and military adventurism as Iran expanded its regional influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria.The same editorial implies that Iran has a nuclear weapons program about which Americans should be concerned, writing:The administration has fiercely debated imposing sanctions on European, Chinese and Russian entities working with Iran to convert facilities capable of pursuing nuclear-weapons related activities to more peaceful, energy-oriented projects. On Friday, the State Department announced that while work at three key facilities will be allowed to continue for 90 days, the administration will reconsider the decision at the end of that period. Some other nuclear-related activities will be prohibited.Saying that Iran has “facilities capable of pursuing nuclear-weapons related activities,” which should be “convert[ed]” so that they can work on “more peaceful, energy-oriented projects,” strongly implies that Iran has a nuclear weapons program or is close to having one, as does an editorial (7/19/19) that claims Iran has “nuclear ambitions.” There is no basis for this insinuation: Iran has no nuclear weapons program, hasn’t been close to having one since at least 2003, and perhaps never has. (See FAIR.org, 10/17/17.)

Trump Privately Urged Israel To Bar Entry To Reps. Omar & Tlaib- Report - President Trump is reportedly seeking to have Israeli authorities bar progressive Democrat lawmakers Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from entering Israel ahead of a planned trip later this month.  Axios reported that "Trump's private views have reached the top level of the Israeli government" based on three sources close to the situation. He allegedly expressed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should use Israel's anti-boycott law to bar the congresswomen after he last month said in a tweet the progressive freshmen lawmakers should "go back" where they came from. Trump's remarks were also reportedly driven by the fact that the two congresswomen favor a boycott of Israel, also known as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS movement. According to the Axios report:Trump's private views have reached the top level of the Israeli government. But Trump denies, through White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, ever giving any kind of directive to the Israelis. "The Israeli government can do what they want. It's fake news," Grisham said on Saturday.The pair, one of whom has Palestinian ancestry, have lately been bold in denouncing Israeli settlement expansion and the Israeli military's harsh crackdown in Gaza and home demolition protests in the West Bank. Given their public stance they've caused a divide among Israeli officials, given a 2017 Israeli law blocking foreign nationals who are on record as supporting boycotts of the Jewish state. So far Omar and Tlaib have been given the green light to go ahead with their visit, with Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer's saying last month the Israeli law should be overlooked in the case of US Congressional members, despite their politics: "Out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America, we would not deny entry to any member of Congress into Israel," he said. However, Trump reportedly reacted that if they wanted to boycott  Israel, "then Israel should boycott them," according to the Axios report.

A dictatorial move: Trump blocks travel to Israel by two congresswomen -- The Israeli government’s decision Thursday to bar a visit to Israel and the West Bank by US congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar is an authoritarian attack on democratic rights, carried out by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the direction of US President Donald Trump against two critics in the legislative branch, in violation of US constitutional norms. On Thursday, President Trump denounced the prospective visit by Tlaib and Omar in a tweet filled with his brazen lies. He claimed the two representatives “hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is noting that can be said or done to change their minds.” He warned, “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit.” The Israeli inner cabinet, meeting a few minutes later, got the message. It reversed a previous decision and decided to bar Tlaib and Omar from entering either Israel or the territories it occupies, such as the West Bank and East Jerusalem. What brings Trump and Netanyahu together is not merely the relationship of imperialist paymaster and stooge regime, important as that is, but a common political strategy. Both are seeking to prop up crisis-ridden right-wing governments by making common cause with fascist elements in their respective countries—for Netanyahu, the settlers on the West Bank and sections of the military, for Trump, the white supremacists, co-thinkers and inspirers of the El Paso gunman. The Israeli media has already noted the brazen hypocrisy of Netanyahu denying entry to Omar and Tlaib when he has effusively welcomed right-wing anti-Semites like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Italian Deputy Prime Minister—and would-be Mussolini—Matteo Salvini.

 41 Democrats went on an AIPAC-sponsored trip to Israel but you wouldn’t know that from their Twitter accounts - Last week 41 Democratic members of Congress went to Israel on a trip sponsored by American Israel Education Foundation, a branch of AIPAC. “This is the largest delegation that has ever visited Israel,” bragged House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who led the trip. However, there was a curious element to the annual trip: hardly any of these visitors has tweeted about their vacation. Apart from reports in the Israeli media that the Dems stood and clapped for Benjamin Netanyahu, and sightings by their Republican counterparts who were over there, you’d hardly know that the Dems even went.By contrast, 31 Republicans have been tweeting up a storm from Israel. Briefings by Netanyahu and visits to military installations are all over their social media accounts.The absence of chatter from the Democrats obviously reflects the misgivings that the Democratic base has about the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel. A recent survey shows that a majority of Democrats support sanctionsagainst Israel over settlements, even as the House votes overwhelmingly to condemn the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. And a poll shows that Americans by two-to-one want their congresspeople to visit the district, not Israel at the behest of an Israel lobby group. Let’s go to our unscientific sampling of the twitter feeds.

 Distorting the Definition of Antisemitism to Shield Israel from All Criticism - There is a growing tendency among both Jews and non-Jews to label those with whom they have profound political differences, especially on the subject of Israel-Palestine, as antisemitic. The accusation is a severe one: in most countries in the West, antisemitism is considered a taboo, and the identification of a person or organization with antisemitism often renders them illegitimate in the public arena.Two major techniques facilitate such allegations. The first relates one’s claim very illusively to some antisemitic imagery. The fact that 2,000 years of hostility and hatred toward Jews have created a storehouse of anti-Jewish imagery so rich – and at times contradictory – means that nearly any claim can be linked to at least one of those images.Through manipulation of these images, along with a little imagination, one could identify any form of criticism as antisemitic. This kind of logic is deployed by supporters of Israel’s occupation and nationalistic government in order to delegitimize anyone who dares criticize Israeli policies. The second technique draws on the definition of antisemitism formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Founded in 1998 (under a different name), the IHRA is a political body with considerable political power, uniting government representatives and Holocaust scholars from 33 countries, nearly all of them in the West. The IHRA agreed on a definition of antisemitism in 2016, along with a list of examples, based on previous definitions. It has since become a kind of “soft law” that is binding in many institutions and even states across the world. The problem is that the IHRA definition deals obsessively — more than with any other topic — with the degree of antisemitism in criticism of Israel, making it far more difficult to identify real instances of antisemitism, while casting a cloud of suspicion over nearly all criticism of Israel. Meanwhile, the burden of proof lies with critics of Israel, who are constantly asked to prove that they are not anti-Semites.

PHOTOS: Venezuelans march against US embargo in enormous #NoMoreTrump protest -- Venezuela has been reeling for years from the effects of a suffocating blockade by the United States. This August 5, US President Donald Trump tightened the noose when he declared a total economic embargo of the country.Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans responded to Trump’s executive order by flooding the streets of the capital, Caracas.  They protested the crippling US blockade with the slogans “No more Trump!” (No más Trump!) and “Trump unblock Venezuela!” (Trump desbloquea Venezuela!) The embargo freezes all of Venezuela’s assets, blocks it from the global financial system, and forbids US companies from doing business with its democratically elected government. Even more severely, Trump’s order threatens secondary sanctions against any company in the world that does business with Venezuela’s internationally recognized government. The brutal US sanctions imposed by the Trump administration in August 2017 have already led to the excess deaths of at least 40,000 Venezuelans in less than two years, in a conservative estimate by renowned economists Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs.  Now the collective punishment of Venezuela’s civilian population is certain to worsen. On August 10, Venezuela and solidarity groups around the world held a joint protest against the embargo. I attended the gargantuan march in the capital Caracas, where masses of Venezuelans marched with signs and banners reading #NoMoreTrump!  The demonstration was gigantic — one of the largest I have attended in my life.  If you stood in place and watched the march go by, you could witness rows and rows of demonstrators proceed for possibly an hour.After demonstrating for five hours, protesters gathered next to the Stairs of El Calvario, a historic monument in Caracas. Thousands of people filled the streets, and many more covered the enormous staircase.  The government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has denounced the US embargo as a form of “economic terrorism,” and issued a “call for the unity of all Venezuelans” to “defend the motherland and its sacred national sovereignty.” His rhetoric echoed that of Javad Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran — another country enduring crushing US sanctions, after Trump unilaterally sabotaged an international nuclear agreement. Zarif has pointed out that, according to any consistent meaning of the term, sanctions that collectively punish entire populations and destabilize whole economies, harming civilians to advance political interests, are, definitionally speaking, a form of terrorism.

RMB reaches 7.0; US names China a manipulator - The US-China trade war heated up in the first week of August.   On August 1, Donald Trump abruptly announced plans to impose a 10 % tariff on the remaining $300 billion of imports from China that he had not already hit with earlier tariffs.   The Chinese authorities then allowed their currency, the renminbi (RMB), to fall in value below the highly visible line of 7.0 RMB/$.  The US Administration promptly reacted on August 5 by naming China a “currency manipulator” — the first time any country had been given that designation in 25 years.   Pundits declared a currency war, while investors responded by immediately sending stock markets down.  The accusation that depreciation of the RMB is manipulation of the currency to gain unfair competitive advantage is not true.  It would be more correct to say that the Chinese authorities gave in to market pressure – that there had been more sellers of RMB than buyers in the foreign exchange market – and that the immediate source of that market pressure was none other than Trump’s announcement of the new tariffs.   When the exchange rate is market-determined, it automatically moves to offset the tariff.  Intuitively, if tariffs stop American consumers from buying Chinese goods, then the demand for RMB on the foreign exchange market goes down.  So the price of the RMB goes down. The US Congress in 1988 gave the Treasury the task of evaluating whether trading partners manipulate their currencies.  It laid out three specific criteria that Treasury was instructed to use to make this judgment. (Congress slightly modified the rules in 2015.)  Two out of the three tests coincide with internationally agreed criteria for manipulation, under the Articles of Agreement of the International Monetary Fund: persistent one-sided intervention by the country to push down the value of its currency and a large current account surplus.  China is not violating either of the two criteria.  The third criterion specified by Congress – a large bilateral trade imbalance with the US – makes no sense in economic terms and accordingly has no role in international agreements.   The US runs bilateral trade deficits with most trading partners.  This is simply because its total trade deficit is large and getting larger, which was in turn the predictable consequence of Trump actions to pump up the US budget deficit, a familiar pattern known as the twin deficits.    In any case, even under the US procedures, the single criterion of a bilateral trade deficit is not supposed to be enough to get a country named a manipulator.

Goldman: "A Bigger Growth Hit from the Trade War"  - A few brief excerpts from a Goldman Sachs research note: We expect tariffs targeting the remaining $300bn of US imports from China to go into effect and no longer expect a trade deal before the 2020 election. … Overall, we have increased our estimate of the growth impact of the trade war. In our baseline policy scenario, we now estimate a peak cumulative drag on the level of GDP of 0.6%, including a 0.2% drag from the latest escalation. The drivers of this modest change are that we now include an estimate of the sentiment and uncertainty effects and that financial markets have responded notably to recent trade news. Based on our estimates, we have taken down our Q4 growth forecast by 0.2pp to 1.8% (qoq ar). CR Note: This isn't enough drag to take the economy into recession, but the trade war appears to be slowing growth.   Also, the Fed can't offset all of the negative impacts of the trade war.

"Trump is ruining our markets': Farmers lose a huge customer to trade war – China  -U.S. farmers lost one of their biggest customers after China officially cancelled all purchases of U.S. agricultural products, a retaliatory move following President Donald Trump’s pledge to slap 10% tariffs on $300 billion of Chinese imports. China’s exit piles on to a devastating year for farmers, who have struggled through record flooding and an extreme heat wave that destroyed crop yields, and trade war escalations that have lowered prices and profits this year. “It’s really, really getting bad out here,” said Bob Kuylen, who’s farmed for 35 years in North Dakota. “Trump is ruining our markets. No one is buying our product no more, and we have no markets no more.” Agriculture exports to China dropped by more than half last year. In 2017, China imported $19.5 billion in agricultural goods, making it the second-largest buyer overall for American farmers. In 2018, that dropped to $9.2 billion as the trade war escalated, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. This year, China’s agricultural imports from the U.S are down roughly 20%, and U.S. grain, dairy and livestock farmers have seen their revenue evaporate as a result. Over the last 6 years, farm income has dropped 45% from $123.4 billion in 2013 to $63 billion last year, according to the USDA. Kuylen, who farms roughly 1,500 acres of wheat and sunflowers, lost $70 per acre this year, despite growing good crops. Current government subsidies only cover about $15 per acre, he said. “There’s no incentive to keep farming, except that I’ve invested everything I have in farming, and it’s hard to walk away,” he said. “When four to five generations ahead of you have succeeded, and you come along and fail, you don’t see it as not your fault. You snap.”

 US Lobster Exports To China Plunge Amid Escalating Trade War - VOA News interviewed a business owner and a trade official in Maine following a massive drop in lobster exports due to President Trump's escalating trade war. Their comments on the trade war are an eye-opener that contradicts the president's claim that his trade duties on China won't hurt American firms. VOA spoke with Vice President of sales and marketing at Maine Coast, Sheila Adams, who said her company saw a 20% plunge in business activity in a matter of days last July after China retaliated against US tariffs on Chinese goods by raising duties on US food and agricultural exports, which included live lobsters. "Essentially what's happened is about 80% of our sales into mainland China have gone away," she said. "And that's purely because our product is simply just too expensive compared to the Canadian because of the additional 25% tariff that was levied."

U.S. Healthcare Industry Could Be Decimated by China Trade War - According to Bloomberg, Trump’s administration has become increasingly wary of China’s dominance in the global drug supply chain and now sees it as a genuine national security threat. China has grown into the world’s largest supplier of active pharmaceutical  ingredients (APIs)–useful drug-making compounds supplied to drugmakers.A year-long recall of blood pressure and heart medication such as losartan, valsartan and irbesartan after discovering they contained trace amounts of cancer-causing impurities has turned attention to this real or perceived threat even as the trade war escalates to unprecedented proportions.What has rung the tocsin for the authorities, including the Pentagon, is the fact that millions of civilians and military staff take drugs whose active ingredients are made in China.For instance, Larry Wortzel, a military retiree and member of the U.S.-China commission, has told Bloomberg that four versions of  his blood-pressure lowering medication valsartan were recalled over a three-month period after it was discovered that they were laced with rocket fuel. Specifically, the drugs contained NDMA, a manufacturing by-product and potential carcinogenic that was once used to make rocket fuel. The drugs were manufactured in India but had active ingredients sourced from China.“They were contaminated with rocket fuel,” he revealed. “I imagine active people have the same problem. This affects the readiness of our troops.” Just like the rare earths dilemma, the U.S. healthcare industry is finding itself in a Catch 22 situation since it cannot easily cut off all drug supplies from China.The Trade Agreements Act of 1979 requires the Defense Health Agency and other federal agencies to only use pre-approved drugs that are made in the U.S. or from a compliant country. As you might imagine, China is not on the approved list; however, the agency has waivers for nearly 150 drugs from the country because it would not be able to procure them from anywhere else. Moreover, the TAA only covers finished products and not their components–though that’s more of a legislative issue that can probably be fixed.Yet, quality is just one of the concerns here. China can potentially cut off actual drug supplies to the U.S. thus crippling the industry. Rosemary Gibson, the author of China Rx, highlights this dilemma: “If China shut the door on exports, our hospitals would cease to function, so this has tremendous urgency,” she has told Bloomberg.

Trump Bows to Economic Fears in Move to Delay China Tariffs -- President Donald Trump bowed to pressure from U.S. businesses and concerns over the economic fallout of his trade war with China, delaying the imposition of new tariffs on a wide variety of consumer products including toys and laptops until December. Tuesday’s move to at least hit the pause button in his fight with China came as senior officials on both sides had their first phone conversation since Trump threatened the tariffs at the beginning of this month. It also cheered markets that had been growing increasingly concerned over the impact of trade tensions on a slowing global economy. U.S. stocks halted a two-day slide, and Asian equities climbed.Trump said the latest conversation with China had been “productive” and that “they would really like to make a deal.” Though he has often denied his tariffs have any impact on consumer prices and insists their cost is being borne by China, he also said the delay had been made “so it won’t be relevant to the Christmas shopping season.”The move announced Tuesday involved the splitting of an almost $300 billion list of products from China into two separate ones. Lots of agricultural products, antiques, clothes, kitchenware and footwear remained on the list to be hit Sept. 1 -- with a total value of more than $110 billion, according to a Bloomberg News analysis of last year’s import figures. But big-ticket categories such as smart-phones, laptops, and children’s toys -- worth about $160 billion -- would only be subject to tariffs after Dec. 15, according to Tuesday’s announcement. Nearly $2 billion worth of products were removed from the combined lists including bibles and shipping containers. The delay “is an incrementally positive sign,” Goldman Sachs Group Inc. chief economist Jan Hatzius wrote in an note. “It suggests that the disruption in financial markets over the last several days could have led to a softening of the White House position.”    While markets applauded the splitting of the new tariffs, some businesses expressed frustration with the sudden turnaround and the fact that they were once again being left to make important business decisions on the fly because of the president’s trade policies.

Trump avoids becoming the Grinch, but weakens trade hand with China: Russell (Reuters) - President Donald Trump has inadvertently admitted that the United States no longer holds the whip hand in the ongoing trade dispute with China, after backtracking on his latest escalation of the tariff war. Tariffs of 10% were due to be imposed on the remaining $300 billion of annual imports from China on Sept. 1, but some will now only come into effect on Dec. 15, the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office announced on Wednesday. Among the items getting a reprieve are mobile phones, laptop computers and clothing, and it’s estimated that about half of the $300 billion of goods will benefit from the delay. Trump told reporters that the decision to defer the tariffs on a range of mainly consumer goods was to protect U.S. consumers from price increases ahead of Christmas holiday shopping. “We’re doing this for Christmas season, just in case some of the tariffs would have an impact on U.S. customers,” Trump told reporters in New Jersey. That statement alone makes a mockery of Trump’s long-held assertion that China is paying for the tariffs, not the U.S. consumers. If the U.S. public really wasn’t paying for the tariffs then logically there would have been no need to delay them, since doing so would only provide relief to China’s economy. Apart from undermining his own arguments that the tariffs were only hurting China, Trump also sent a message that political expediency will win out over strategy. Delaying the tariffs appears to be a move driven by the domestic political considerations of not risking public anger at more expensive Christmas gift shopping, and also to shore up equity markets spooked by the escalation of the trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies.

Trump blinks as trade war threatens consumers - President Trump on Tuesday moved to protect U.S. consumers from the next round of his trade war with China amid mounting threats to the economy and his reelection. The White House said it would delay 10 percent tariffs slated to take effect Sept. 1 on certain consumer goods from China while exempting other products — less than two weeks after Trump announced the new import taxes. Postponing the tariffs until Dec. 15 is expected to temporarily cool U.S. trade tensions with China while also shielding consumers and American businesses from higher costs. Financial markets also rallied on the news after weeks of anxiety over a global slowdown. But narrowing the scope and delaying the impact of the trade war suggests dwindling odds of striking a broader agreement with China. Trump insisted Tuesday that he maintains the upper hand in his battle with China, arguing that Chinese President Xi Jinping is eager to make a deal. Even so, Trump conceded that he decided to hold off on additional tariffs because of the potential harm to consumers. “We’re doing this for Christmas season, just in case some of the tariffs would have an impact on U.S. customers,” Trump said. Trump has already imposed a 25 percent tariff on $250 billion in Chinese imports and will subject roughly $300 billion more to a 10 percent tariff starting in mid-December. The new set of tariffs would cover and likely raise prices for hundreds of food and agricultural products, articles of clothing, shoes, household staples and a slew of other crucial consumer goods made in few places, if any, beyond China.

Trump just blinked, giving China a possible edge in trade war, Jim Chanos and others say - In backing off on China tariffs Tuesday, President Donald Trump showed just how much pain the U.S. could tolerate — and China may use that to its advantage, key voices on Wall Street say.Markets rallied on the announcement by the U.S. Trade Representative office that certain items were being removed from the new tariff list, while duties on others would be delayed until mid-December.The short-seller Jim Chanos, who tweets under the alter ego “Diogenes,” hinted that Chinese President Xi Jinping may take this as a sign that the U.S. may cave with enough pressure.“So then tell me why Xi should not continue to wait out The World’s Greatest Negotiator, who keeps ‘dealing’ with himself?” tweeted Chanos, founder and managing Partner of Kynikos Associates.Some investors took Tuesday’s announcement as a sign that despite the White House’s claim that China would bear the brunt of tariff impacts, the trade war was indeed hurting consumers. The products in the group exempt from tariffs include cellphones, some apparel, and video games — all of which are crucial to the U.S. consumer market, especially during the holiday shopping season. Trump announced on Aug. 1 that 10% tariffs would go into effect on Sept. 1 on the remaining $300 billion worth of Chinese imports that had not been slapped with U.S. duties. Trump told reporters Tuesday afternoon that he postponed tariffs for the Christmas season “in case it had an impact on shopping” and the delay would “help a lot of people.”

China Pours Cold Water On Trump's Tariff Delay Olive Branch - First China mocked Trump's unsolicited tariff delay "olive branch" as evidence that the US is now losing the trade war. Now, the Asian superpower has also made it clear that the proposed delay - which came out of the blue and was not made in exchange for any concessions from Beijing - will be too little, too late, and that if Trump hopes China will resume agricultural imports from the US simply in exchange for the 2.5 month delay in imposing the new Chinese import tariffs, he will be waiting for a long time. As a reminder, yesterday in his tariff delay takeaway note, Standard Chartered's Steven Englander said that in his view, "the US will expect China to reciprocate by buying US agricultural products in the coming weeks." Alas, as Global Times editor in chief and legendary twitter troll, Hu Xijin made clear moments ago (on twitter, of course), such a reciprocal action won't be coming, and instead China will be demanding that Trump revert back to the Osaka G-20 "ceasefire" which means scrapping the newly proposed tariffs entirely, for negotiations to resume as "the Chinese side requests that both sides respect the consensus reached at Osaka summit, which is removing all additional tariffs, not delaying some", to wit: As far as I know, the Chinese side requests that both sides respect the consensus reached at Osaka summit, which is removing all additional tariffs, not delaying some. I doubt Chinese side will resume large-scale purchase of US farm products under current circumstances. pic.twitter.com/74vf9PrKXo— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) August 14, 2019 So if Trump is expecting Beijing - as a token of its appreciation - to resume importing US agri products in coming weeks, he will not only be disappointed, but will most likely respond with even harsher measures at what he sees as China's "irrational" obstinacy. In other words, it's only a matter of time before the trade war returns front and center, in its most violent iteration to date.

 China Mocks Trump Tariff Delay As Proof He Is Losing The Trade War -- Tuesday’s move to hit the pause button in his fight with China came as senior officials on both sides had their first phone conversation since Trump threatened the tariffs at the beginning of this month. It also cheered markets that had been growing increasingly concerned over the impact of trade tensions on a slowing global economy, and in response, stocks halted a steep two-day slide. There were some question how Trump picked the list of goods he did to delay tariffs on. According to Axios, "the list of goods from China that won't be subject to a 10% tariff until Dec. 15 is made up of "products where 75% or more of the 2018 U.S. imports of that product were from China," according to an email sent to trade groups from the U.S. Trade Representative Office. And while the significance of the 75% cutoff is unclear, it is likely the threshold level for substitute goods beyond which the USTR finds that the risk of an inflationary spike is too high. According to Standard Chartered's Steven Englander, the US will now expect China to reciprocate by buying US agricultural products in the coming weeks. That may very well not happen.But while it is unclear if the lack of a reciprocal "olive branch" would be a dealbreaker for Trump, what is likely is that any widespread shift in sentiment that Trump retreated and waved a white flag of surrender, could very quickly undo the tariff delay as the last thing Trump wants, is to be seen as weak and ineffectual, or his trade war strategy as inefficient, not by his base, and certainly not by his opponent, China.And yet, in the first reactions to Trump's announced tariff delay, this is precisely how China is describing today's event. As the state-owned, nationalist tabloid Global Times "explains" to the Chinese population, "Chinese experts said the sudden postponing of impending tariffs showed that the maximum pressure tactics of the US are losing their bite when it comes to China." As the Chinese tabloid further notes, "these measures are set to greatly reduce the weight of US tariffs, as electronics goods alone account for about $130 billion" and adds that according to "Chinese experts reached by the Global Times on Tuesday night the latest development showed the US maximum pressure tactic is not working on China, but they said it could pave the way for trade talks scheduled for September. However, they were cautious about the potential for any flip-flopping." "The US has realized that its maximum pressure strategy to force China back to the negotiating table has not worked as expected. Washington knows that only through talks can the two sides reach a deal," Wang Jun, chief economist at Zhongyuan Bank, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Trump administration releases new 'public charge' rule making it easier to reject immigrants - The Trump administration on Monday released the final version of a controversial rule that dramatically increases the government's ability to reject green cards for people who are deemed likely to depend on government aid such as food stamps, housing assistance and Medicaid.The new "public charge" rule would link a subject's immigration status to their income and their use of certain public programs. Published in the Federal Register, the rule will officially be released Wednesday and go into effect 60 days later.  Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, announced the rule at a press briefing at the White House on Monday morning. The administration has portrayed the rule as a way to promote sufficiency and independence among immigrants.  "We certainly expect people of any income to be able to stand on their own two feet," Cuccinelli said. "A poor person can prepare to be self-sufficient... so let's not look at that as the be all end all." But immigration advocacy groups have expressed concerns that it could discourage immigrants from seeking necessary assistance and lead to a chilling effect in minority communities.  The National Immigration Law Center announced as Cuccinelli took the podium that it would challenge the rule in court. "It will have a dire humanitarian impact, forcing some families to forego critical life-saving health care and nutrition," NILC executive director Marielena Hincapieé said in a statement. "The damage will be felt for decades to come." The rule defines the term "public charge" in the Immigration and Nationality Act, which gives the Department of Homeland Security authority to deny applicants green cards, visas or entry into the U.S. if there is a risk they will become public charges. The public charge term has historically referred to someone who is “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence" based on their receipt of "public cash assistance." The new rule expands the definition to include anyone who receives food stamps, Medicaid and housing subsidies. Receipt of one or more of those designated public benefits for an aggregate 12 months within any three-year period by any noncitizen will be considered a negative factor in determining whether or not they become a public charge.

Most Latinos Now Say It’s Gotten Worse For Them In The U.S. - Since Trump took office, surveys and studies have shown that Latinos, particularly Latino immigrants, have become more insecure and fearful about their place in the country.   The direct effect of a politician’s words is impossible to measure, but there’s evidence that in addition to creating a general sense of distress, Trump’s words may be fueling prejudice and aggressive behavior against Latinos and other minority groups. In the wake of the El Paso shootings, many Latinos have said they are afraid for their safety. But George Escobar, the chief of programs and services at CASA de Maryland, an immigrant rights advocacy group, told me that this fear is just an escalation of concerns that are already common among the communities he works with. “Many people are afraid to go outside, to go to the grocery store — but we’ve been hearing similar fears for the past three years,” he said.  And overall, Latinos felt pessimistic and insecure about their place in the country well before the attack occurred. According to a Latino Decisions pollconducted in April, 51 percent of Latino registered voters think racism against Latinos and immigrants is a major problem (and 80 percent say it is at least somewhat of a problem). Meanwhile, as the chart below shows, a Pew Research Center survey conducted from July to September of 2018 found that nearly half of Hispanics say their situation has worsened over the past year, up from 32 percent soon after the 2016 election — a trend that began in the year or two before Trump was elected and has continued over his presidency.

The Terrorist Next Door -- WEEKS BEFORE Patrick Crusius, the white supremacist terrorist who carried out the massacre in El Paso, entered the Walmart that was to become his killing ground, authorities received a tiny clue of what was to come. In a call to the Allen, Texas, police department, Crusius’s mother said that she was concerned that her twenty-one-year-old son had an “AK” type firearm. Her call ended up being transferred to a public safety officer, who informed her that, per her description of the situation, her son was legally permitted to purchase the weapon. Crusius’s mother did not provide her son’s name, nor did the officer ask for it. The call ended.On the day of the attack, nineteen minutes before he walked into a Walmart and shot down twenty-two people, Crusius is believed to have posted a white supremacist manifesto on the message board 8chan. It laid out his worries having to do with a Hispanic “invasion,” which he felt is well underway, along with the “great replacement” of white people. He wrote of his opposition to “race mixing.” “If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can be more sustainable,” the manifesto asserted.Witness now to the rapacious cruelty of the carnage in El Paso, one cannot help but wonder how things would have turned out if Crusius’s mother had been listened to with a little more attention, or if some magic algorithm keyed to deter such violence had flagged the 8chan post and initiated law enforcement action in the twenty-or-so minutes before twenty-two people were killed. The legal truth of the matter is complicated. In either case, when Crusius’s mother called or when the manifesto (which explicitly mentions “this attack”) was posted, authorities were not likely to go into high alert about a terrorist threat, nor were they likely to see grounds for arresting him. This is not, as one would be wont to assume, because United States criminal law forbids preemptive law enforcement action prior to the commission of a criminal act. It is because domestic terrorism, under which white supremacist attacks like those portended by the Crusius manifesto fall, is not criminalized under of the biggest piece of anti-terror legislation in the United States.

Scores arrested in protests against ICE in New York City - On Saturday, nearly 100 protesters were arrested outside of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office at the Starrett Lehigh Building in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. The protesters formed a human chain across both lanes of the West Side Highway beside the office building to draw attention to the facility. The protest was called in response to the massive roundup of 680 immigrant workers at poultry plants in Mississippi earlier this week. The protest lasted almost an hour, attracting dozens of supporters from the adjacent streets and brought traffic to a halt. Protesters carried signs that read: “ICE lurks here,” “No Human Is Illegal,” and “Close the Camps.” Police arrested all those who blocked the highway. They were charged with disorderly conduct before being released. About 40 protesters were arrested the following day at a sit-in at the Amazon Bookstore on 34th Street in Midtown Manhattan. The protesters chanted and sang hymns in Hebrew, connecting the anniversary of Tisha B’av—a Jewish day of remembrance for the persecution of Jews throughout history, especially the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD—to the plight of immigrants and refugees today. Hundreds more gathered outside the store when there was no more room inside. Both protests were part of a series of actions led by Jewish organizations, mainly Never Again Action, which use the Twitter hashtags #Closethecamps and #NeverAgainAction. Never Again Action was founded several months ago in the spring of 2019 after images of Central American immigrant children being held in cages went viral on social media and reports that child separations were continuing. Around 50 demonstrations, attracting thousands of demonstrators, were held nationwide, including in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. The demonstrations were only the latest in a series of demonstrations by area Jewish organizations in defense of immigrants. In June, 36 Jewish youth were arrested outside of an ICE detention center in Elizabeth, New Jersey, about an hour from New York City, after blocking the entrance of the facility and demanding the immigrants be released.

Residents compare trauma of Mississippi ICE Raid to Hurricane Katrina - Children, families and communities in Mississippi continue to experience the devastating fallout from last week’s ICE raids on seven food processing plants. Nearly 700 primarily Latino mothers and fathers were seized by an army of 650 ICE agents in the largest mass roundup in over a decade.The suffering continues, with children afraid to attend school or leave their parents’ side. Families are hiding in their homes, hesitant to venture out for basic necessities. All of the 680 who were detained have lost their incomes and are uncertain how they will care for their families and pay rent. They are living in constant fear.Of those detained, nearly 300 were released, the majority of whom are mothers who have children to care for while their spouses remain in detention. Those who were released have been forced to wear ankle monitors as they await their immigration proceedings.Many of those who remain in detention, primarily men and fathers, have been sent to facilities, where they face ongoing abuse by prison guards, such as the ICE processing center in Pine Prairie, Louisiana. Buzzfeed reported that on August 3, “100 immigrants were tear-gassed, shot with rubber bullets, beaten and put in solitary confinement after they launched a hunger strike at the Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center.” The teargassing occurred a day after officers at another Louisiana immigration jail pepper-sprayed over 30 immigrants for engaging in a hunger strike, according to the advocacy group Freedom for Immigrants.

Guatemala elects hardline president who opposes Trump immigration deal - A conservative law and order hardliner promising to reinstate the death penalty and deploy soldiers on to the streets has been elected the new president of Guatemala. Alejandro Giammattei, 63, a former prisons chief backed by the country’s economic and military power brokers, trounced his opponent Sandra Torres, a former first lady, to win Sunday’s presidential race on his fourth attempt by securing 58% of the vote. Despite the landslide victory, the low turnout triggered immediate questions about Giammattei’s legitimacy: about 60% of eligible voters abstained after both candidates failed to inspire hope in the Central American country, where tens of thousands of people flee extreme poverty, famine, violence and corruption every month. Giammattei’s triumph comes amid growing tension with the US over migration and asylum. Shortly before his victory, Giammattei said he wanted to change a controversial migration deal signed with the US by his predecessor, Jimmy Morales. More than 250,000 Guatemalans, mainly unaccompanied children and families, have been apprehended at the US border since October 2018 – compared with 115,722 in the previous 12 months. Giammattei says he will stop the exodus by prioritising anti-corruption, employment and security.He has criticised the “safe third country” agreement signed by Donald Trump and Morales which, if enforced, would make migrants and refugees who have passed through Guatemala ineligible for protection in the US.

Statue of Liberty inscription welcoming migrants was meant for Europeans, US official says --A top US immigration official says the famous inscription on the Statue of Liberty, welcoming the world's "tired and poor" to American shores, was referring to "people coming from Europe". The comments came in a CNN interview with Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, who was referencing Emma Lazarus's poem emblazoned on the pedestal of New York's Statue of Liberty. Lazarus's poem, written in 1883 to raise money to construct the Statue of Liberty's pedestal and cast in bronze beneath the monument in 1903, served as a beacon to millions of immigrants who passed the statue by boat in New York harbour.  "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore," it reads. Mr Cuccinelli said the poem was referring to "people coming from Europe where they had class-based societies where people were considered wretched if they weren't in the right class", and added that the US was looking for migrants "who can stand on their own two feet".  He made similar statements in an interview with America's National Public Radio (NPR) earlier on Tuesday, when asked if the words "give me your tired, your poor" were part of the American ethos.Mr Cuccinelli responded: "They certainly are. Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge."  Mr Cuccinelli's comments came a day after the Trump administration announced it would seek to deny permanent residency to migrants deemed likely to seek Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers or other forms of public assistance.

Trump immigration official offers rewrite for Statue of Liberty poem - President Donald Trump's top immigration official on Tuesday offered a revised version of the poem long displayed inside the Statue of Liberty's pedestal that aligns more closely with the administration's latest rule aimed at curbing the number of people who enter the United States legally.Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, was asked by NPR whether the words of Emma Lazarus' “The New Colossus,” inscribed on a bronze tablet exhibited in the museum at the statue's base, remain "part of the American ethos.""They certainly are," Cuccinelli said. "Give me your tired and your poor — who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge."Cuccinelli's comments come after the administration announced Monday a "public charge" regulation allowing federal officials to deny green cards to legal immigrants who have received certain public benefits or who are deemed likely to do so in the future. Critics of the policy have argued it is at odds with Lazarus' work, which reads in part: “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Trump officials to deny green cards to those who use Medicaid or food stamps –  The Trump administration is moving forward with one of its most aggressive steps yet to restrict legal immigration, denying green cards to many migrants who use Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers or other forms of public assistance, officials said announced Monday. Federal law already requires those seeking to become permanent residents and gain legal status to prove they will not be a burden to the US – a “public charge,” in government speak – but the new rules detail a broader range of programs that could disqualify them.It’s part of a dramatic overhaul of the nation’s immigration system that the administration has been trying to put into place.While much of the attention has focused on Donald Trump’s efforts to crack down on illegal immigration, the new change targets people who entered the US legally and are seeking permanent status. Its part of an effort to move the US to a system that focuses on immigrants’ skills instead of emphasizing the reunification of families.US Citizenship and Immigration Services will now weigh public assistance along with other factors such as education, household income and health to determine whether to grant legal status.The rules will take effect in mid-October.The acting director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ken Cuccinelli, said the rule change fits with the Republican president’s message.“We want to see people coming to this country who are self-sufficient,” Cuccinelli said. “That’s a core principle of the American dream. It’s deeply embedded in our history, and particularly our history related to legal immigration.”Migrants make up a small percentage of those who get public benefits. In fact, many are ineligible for public benefits because of their immigration status. Immigrant rights groups strongly criticized the changes, warning the rules will scare immigrants into not asking for help. And they are concerned the rules give too much authority to decide whether someone is likely to need public assistance at any time, giving officials the ability to deny legal status to more people.

Universal Pictures pulls movie 'The Hunt' after backlash - U.S. President Donald Trump launched a scathing attack on "racist" Hollywood Friday, appearing to single out an upcoming film in which liberal elites hunt down "normal folk" for sport. "The Hunt," due to be released next month, has been billed as an ultra-violent satire about America's deep political divide. Its plot sees people who have been kidnapped from traditionally Republican bastions such as Wyoming, Mississippi and Orlando, Florida waking up in a field surrounded by "elite" hunters, who proceed to gun them down. The movie had already attracted controversy after adverts for the film were pulled in the wake of recent mass shootings in Texas, Ohio and California. "Liberal Hollywood is Racist at the highest level, and with great Anger and Hate!" tweeted Trump. "The movie coming out is made in order to inflame and cause chaos," he added, without referring to "The Hunt" by name. "They create their own violence, and then try to blame others. They are the true Racists, and are very bad for our Country!"

 VIDEO: Car Speeds Into Crowd Of ICE Protesters Outside Detention Facility -NPR  - A man drove a truck into a group of peaceful demonstrators protesting Immigration and Customs Enforcement policies outside a detention facility in Central Falls, R.I., on Wednesday evening. After a video of the incident went viral, the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility said that it has placed a correctional officer named Thomas Woodworth on administrative leave pending an independent investigation. A spokesperson for the facility would not confirm that Woodworth was the driver, saying that is "subject to the investigation."  The protest was organized by a group called Never Again Action, which says that several demonstrators sustained injuries there. The group is made up of Jewish community members "protesting the prison's contract with ICE and the inhumane treatment of these people by ICE," protest organizer Amy Anthony told NPR. It started with interfaith leaders giving speeches and demonstrators singing songs. Later in the evening, Anthony said, the protesters moved to block the entrances to the facility's staff parking lot. Video of the incident shows a group of several dozen people chanting. "The mood was very calm and there was no sort of warning or indication that anything violent was about to happen," Anthony said.Suddenly, a black pickup truck moves at high speed toward the group. It honks as some of the protesters scream and scramble to get out of the way. Protesters yell "Shame!" and "The whole world is watching!" The truck pauses."I saw that the truck was stopped, and then after some hesitation the driver stepped on the gas and revved up and started plowing forward, despite the fact that there were people standing right in front of the truck and people still sitting on the ground," she said. Watch the video here — and we should note that it is disturbing.

Ajit Pai loses another court case as judges overturn 5G deregulation - One of Ajit Pai's attempts to eliminate regulation of 5G deployment has been overturned by federal judges. The Federal Communications Commission last year approved an order that "exempted most small cell construction from two kinds of previously required review: historic-preservation review under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)," federal judges said in their decision partially overturning the order. The FCC claimed its deregulation of small cells was necessary to spur deployment of 5G wireless networks. But the commission was sued by the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma, the Blackfeet Tribe, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The FCC order was of particular interest to tribal groups because it affected construction on "sites of religious and cultural importance to federally recognized Indian Tribes," the judges noted. "The Order also effectively reduced Tribes' role in reviewing proposed construction of macrocell towers and other wireless facilities that remain subject to cultural and environmental review."The FCC's opponents argued that the elimination of historic-preservation and environmental review was arbitrary and capricious, that it violated both the NHPA and NEPA, and that the changes to tribes' role in reviewing construction was arbitrary and capricious. A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued its unanimous ruling today.Judges wrote that Pai's order "does not justify the Commission's determination that it was not in the public interest to require review of small cell deployments. In particular, the Commission failed to justify its confidence that small cell deployments pose little to no cognizable religious, cultural, or environmental risk, particularly given the vast number of proposed deployments and the reality that the Order will principally affect small cells that require new construction." The FCC also failed to "adequately address possible harms of deregulation and benefits of environmental and historic-preservation review," which means the commission's "deregulation of small cells is thus arbitrary and capricious," judges concluded.

Advertisers Blacklisting News, Other Stories with “Controversial” Words Like “Trump” - It’s no longer paranoid to say that “they” are out to kill news. First it was the Internet almost entirely displacing classified ads, which had accounted for roughly half of newspaper industry revenues in the US.  Then Facebook and Google sucked most online advertiser revenues to themselves. To add insult to injury, Google implemented algos hostile to smaller sites, first targeting those that did what Google deemed to be too much aggregation, like our daily Links feature.  Then Google downgraded sites it deemed not to be “authoritative,” whacking not only many left and right leaning sites but even The Intercept. Facebook’s parallel action was to change its search and newsfeed algos, supposedly to combat fake news, but also hurting left-leaning publishers. Now, as the Wall Street Journal reports, many major advertisers have created blacklists, nixing ad placements that appear next to or in stories with headlines using naughty words like “bomb” that amount to a partial or total ban on news content. It isn’t isn’t just fluffy feel good brands that want to steer clear of controversy. Startlingly, even some financial services companies like Fidelity want to stay away from hot words like “Trump” even though “Trump” appears regularly in business news headlines, such as ones discussing his China trade spat, his tax cuts, his deregulatory efforts, and today, his interest in buying Greenland.  It appears advertisers just want us to take our Soma and shop rather than know about anything in the world at large. One wonders if words like “climate” and “strike” are on some blacklists.From the JournalLike many advertisers, Fidelity Investments wants to avoid advertising online near controversial content. The Boston-based financial-services company has a lengthy blacklist of words it considers off-limits. If one of those words is in an article’s headline, Fidelity won’t place an ad there. Its list earlier this year, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, contained more than 400 words, including “bomb,” “immigration” and “racism.” Also off-limits: “Trump.”…. The company also avoids several other topics that it says don’t align with published content about business and finance… Integral Ad Science Inc., a firm that ensures ads run in content deemed safe for advertisers, said that of the 2,637 advertisers running campaigns with it in June, 1,085 brands blocked the word “shooting,” 314 blocked “ISIS” and 207 blocked “Russia.” Almost 560 advertisers blocked “Trump,” while 83 blocked “Obama.” The average number of keywords the company’s advertisers were blocking in the first quarter was 261. One advertiser blocked 1,553 words, it said.

Trump is reportedly planning an attempt to regulate Facebook and Twitter over alleged political bias  - President Donald Trump is planning an executive order that could have huge ramifications for how tech companies moderate online content.  According to a report from CNN on Friday, the White House is drafting an order that would give the Federal Communications Commission responsibility for overseeing how tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest keep their services clear of unwanted content.  It comes amid the American right-wing backlash against big tech, which has repeatedly been accused – without proof – of censoring conservative voices and being politically biased.  At the heart of the issue is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. In short, this law means tech companies can’t be blamed for content users post on their platforms. According to CNN, the White House is planning to narrow the immunity tech companies get “if they remove or suppress content without notifying the user who posted the material, or if the decision is proven to be evidence of anticompetitive, unfair or deceptive practices.”  Meanwhile, if the executive order ultimately goes ahead, the Federal Trade Commission will be tasked with opening a “public complaint docket” to receive allegations of anti-conservative bias from the public, and will “work with the FCC to develop a report investigating how tech companies curate their platforms and whether they do so in neutral ways,” CNN reported.   Section 230 is becoming an increasingly hot-button issue politically, with potentially huge ramifications for how tech companies moderate themselves.Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, a frequent tech critic, has introduced a bill that would end Section 230 protections for a company if its conduct wasn’t considered “neutral” politically – despite the fact that the original regulation was never intended as a way to ensure political neutrality.

Leaked Draft of Trump Executive Order to ‘Censor the Internet’ Denounced as Dangerous, Unconstitutional Edict - Civil liberties groups are warning of a major threat to online freedoms and First Amendment rights if a leaked draft of a Trump administration edict—dubbed by critics as a "Censor the Internet" executive order that would give powerful federal agencies far-reaching powers to pick and choose which kind of Internet material is and is not acceptable—is allowed to go into effect. According to CNN, which obtained a copy of the draft, the new rule "calls for the FCC to develop new regulations clarifying how and when the law protects social media websites when they decide to remove or suppress content on their platforms. Although still in its early stages and subject to change, the Trump administration's draft order also calls for the Federal Trade Commission to take those new policies into account when it investigates or files lawsuits against misbehaving companies."While Politico was the first to report how the draft was being circulated by the White House, CNN notes that if put into effect, "the order would reflect a significant escalation by President Trump in his frequent attacks against social media companies over an alleged but unproven systemic bias against conservatives by technology platforms. And it could lead to a significant reinterpretation of a law that, its authors have insisted, was meant to give tech companies broad freedom to handle content as they see fit." Following reporting on the leaked draft, free speech and online advocacy groups raised alarm about the troubling and far-reaching implications of the Trump plan if it was put into effect by executive decree.

Facebook Paid Contractors to Transcribe Users’ Audio Chats - Facebook Inc. has been paying hundreds of outside contractors to transcribe clips of audio from users of its services, according to people with knowledge of the work. The work has rattled the contract employees, who are not told where the audio was recorded or how it was obtained -- only to transcribe it, said the people, who requested anonymity for fear of losing their jobs. They’re hearing Facebook users’ conversations, sometimes with vulgar content, but do not know why Facebook needs them transcribed, the people said.  Facebook confirmed that it had been transcribing users’ audio and said it will no longer do so, following scrutiny into other companies. “Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago,” the company said Tuesday. The company said the users who were affected chose the option in Facebook’s Messenger app to have their voice chats transcribed. The contractors were checking whether Facebook’s artificial intelligence correctly interpreted the messages, which were anonymized.  Big tech companies including Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc. have come under fire for collecting audio snippets from consumer computing devices and subjecting those clips to human review, a practice that critics say invades privacy. Bloomberg first reported in April that Amazon had a team of thousands of workers around the world listening to Alexa audio requests with the goal of improving the software, and that similar human review was used for Apple’s Siri and Alphabet Inc.’s Google Assistant. Apple and Google have since said they no longer engage in the practice and Amazon said it will let users opt out of human review.

 Phishing Equilibria in Silicon Valley: Google Maps and Fraud - The Wall Street Journal gives the following overview: Google’s ubiquitous internet platform shapes what’s real and what isn’t for more than two billion monthly users…. Google handles more than 90% of the world’s online search queries, fueling $116 billion in advertising revenue last year. In recent years, it has extended that dominance to local search queries, emerging as the go-to source on everything from late-night food deliveries to best neighborhood plumbers[3]. [But Google Maps] is overrun with millions of false business addresses and fake names, according to advertisers, search experts and current and former Google employees. The ruse lures the unsuspecting to what appear to be Google-suggested local businesses, a costly and dangerous deception….Online advertising specialists identified by Google as deft fraud fighters estimated that Google Maps carries roughly 11 million falsely listed businesses on any given day, according to a Journal survey of these experts.  We think of maps as representing terrains, but with Google, the Maps service is itself a terrain: of battle. Over pushpins. Since Google annihilated the local advertising market — the Yellow Pages, classified ads — many local businesses have sought customers by registering with Google and getting their pushpin onto Google Maps. But the fraudsters can outweigh the legitimate businesses. The Journal ran a query for plumbers in Manhattan. Their results:  A search for plumbers in a swath of New York City found 13 false addresses out of the top 20 Google search results. Only two of the 20 are located where they say and accept customers at their listed addresses, requirements for pushpin listings on Google Maps. People don’t put fake listings on Google maps out of the goodness of their hearts. Fake listings enable consumer fraud: Carter had pulled into her Falls Church, Va., driveway and saw the garage door was stuck. The 67-year-old searched Google and found the listing of a local repair service she had used before. She phoned in a house call.A man arrived at Ms. Carter’s home in an unmarked van and said he was a company contractor. He wasn’t. The repairman had hijacked the name of a legitimate business on Google Maps and listed his own phone number. He returned to Ms. Carter’s home again and again, hounding her for payment on a repair so shoddy it had to be redone.

Google’s algorithm for detecting hate speech is racially biased - AI systems meant to spot abusive online content are far more likely to label tweets “offensive” if they were posted by people who identify as African-American.  Researchers built two AI systems and tested them on a pair of data sets of more than 100,000 tweets that had been annotated by humans with labels like “offensive,” “none,” or “hate speech.” One of the algorithms incorrectly flagged 46% of inoffensive tweets by African-American authors as offensive. Tests on bigger data sets, including one composed of 5.4 million tweets, found that posts by African-American authors were 1.5 times more likely to be labeled as offensive. When the researchers then tested Google’s Perspective, an AI tool that the company lets anyone use to moderate online discussions, they found similar racial biases. Mass shootings perpetrated by white supremacists in the US and New Zealand have led to growing calls from politicians for social-media platforms to do more to weed out hate speech. These studies underline just how complicated a task that is. Whether language is offensive can depend on who’s saying it, and who’s hearing it. For example, a black person using the “N word” is very different from a white person using it. But AI systems do not, and currently cannot, understand that nuance. : By rushing to use software to automatically weed out offensive language, we risk silencing minority voices. Moderating online content is a traumatizing, difficult job, so tech companies are keen to rely on AI systems instead of human beings (they’re also much cheaper). This study shows the huge risks inherent in that approach.

‘Something dark & nefarious’: Google insider leaks docs revealing search engine ‘blacklist’ RT - Google appears to have maintained a ‘blacklist’ for dozens of websites on one of its mobile apps, as well as a ‘fringe ranking’ system that scored sites for “quality,” according to documents leaked by a company insider.Published on Wednesday in a report by conservative transparency group Project Veritas, the documents appear to include hundreds of pages of technical details describing Google’s behind-the-scenes projects, as well as internal communications between employees.The insider, Zachary Vorhies, told Project Veritas he spent over a year collecting the documents – noting they were available for any full-time employee to see – and said he feared the American “election system was going to be compromised forever” by Google’s control of the flow of information online.“I saw something dark and nefarious going on with the company and I realized that they were going to not only tamper with the elections, but ... to essentially overthrow the United States,” Vorhies said.A document entitled “news black list site for google now” singles out nearly 500 websites to be hidden from users of Google Now, an Android application that was phased out in 2016 and replaced by the Google Feed; it is unclear whether the same blacklist is in effect for the app’s newer iteration. The document notes that some of the sites are censored due to “high user block rates,” and others for “peddling hoax stories.” The list of throttled sites includes rightwing outlets the Daily Caller, the Drudge Report and the Gateway Pundit, as well as scores of smaller conservative pages. Left-of-center media sites also made the list, including Media Matters and other avowedly liberal blogs.

The Facial Recognition System Amazon Sells to Cops Can Now Detect ‘Fear’ -- Amazon has faced public outrage for providing cloud services to the U.S. government, including law enforcement agencies that conduct mass-raids and separate families at the southern border. Now, Amazon Web Services (AWS) has rolled out more terrifying features for its cloud-based facial recognition system—including, it claims, the ability to detect fear. “Amazon Rekognition provides a comprehensive set of face detection, analysis, and recognition features for image and video analysis,” ablog post announcing the new features reads. “Face analysis generates metadata about detected faces in the form of gender, age range, emotions,” and other attributes such as whether the subject is smiling. Emotion recognition is a facial analysis technique that has beenmarketed by private companies like Affectiva, Kairos, and Amazon. It works by training a machine learning system to look for certain features on a detected face which indicate emotional content. For example, a raised brow could indicate concern or bewilderment, while a downturned mouth could show feelings of repulsion.  The AWS post says that Amazon has updated the range of detectable emotions for Rekognition’s face analysis to include “fear,” adding to a list of seven other emotional states: “Happy”, “Sad”, “Angry”, “Surprised”, “Disgusted”, “Calm”, and “Confused.”  Despite Amazon's bold claims, the efficacy of emotion recognition is in dispute. A recent study reviewing over 1,000 academic papers on emotion recognition found that the technique is deeply flawed—there just isn't a strong enough correlation between facial expressions and actual human emotions, and common methods for training algorithms to spot emotions present a host of other problems.  Nevertheless, activists say these technologies are especially harmful in the hands of government agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).  Last year, Amazon pitched its Rekognition system to ICE, triggering widespread backlash from human rights advocates and its own employees. In July, researchers discovered that ICE used a different facial recognition system to search through driver’s license databases in more than a dozen U.S. states.

What Your Voice Reveals About You - Wall Street Journal. The sound of your voice is becoming a new type of fingerprint.  Increasingly sophisticated technology that detects nuances in sound inaudible to humans is capturing clues about people’s likely locations, medical conditions and even physical features.   Audio data from customer-service calls is also combined with information on how consumers typically interact with mobile apps and devices, said Howard Edelstein, chairman of behavioral biometric company Biocatch. The company can detect the cadence and pressure of swipes and taps on a smartphone.  How a person holds a smartphone gives clues about their age, for example, allowing a financial firm to compare the age of the normal account user to the age of the caller.

Yet another brutal week for American journalism -- ON WEDNESDAY, without prior warning, Pacific Standard, an award-winning magazine that has done substantive journalism on environmental and social justice, announced its imminent closure. The Social Justice Foundation, a nonprofit backed by SAGE, an academic publisher, yanked its funding from Pacific Standard; the foundation will shutter, too.  Last year, the magazine scrapped its print edition, but in recent months, it had been staffing up. According to Nicholas Jackson, the editor in chief, the Social Justice Foundation’s board just approved an ambitious, 10-year expansion plan he put forward. Jackson was blindsided when he learned, on Monday, that his magazine would be dead within two weeks. The sudden decision, he told The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove, was “unethical” and possibly even illegal.  Pacific Standard’s situation is strange—and extremely abrupt—but it fits a clear, broader trend; as Grove writes, “In today’s Darwinian media environment, newspapers, magazines and online publications seem to be biting the dust every week—a depressing new normal.” Pacific Standard wasn’t even the only publication to announce its closure on Wednesday. The same day, Governing magazine, which focuses on state and local government, said it will cease operations in the fall. Despite recent investment, Governing proved “unsustainable as a business in today’s media environment,” management said.  It’s not just individual magazines that are struggling: giants are feeling the pinch, too. On Monday, both Gannett and GateHouse, the biggest publishers in the country by circulation,reported deep revenue losses; the same day, the two companies announced that they will merge in a deal financed by private equity (at eye-watering interest rates). Gannett and GateHouse executives are betting that massive scale—the combined entity will publish one in six of America’s local newspapers—can keep them in the black, at least for a few more years.  No matter what, job cuts seem certain.

American Taxpayers Forced to Pay For Don Jr.’s Sheep Hunting Vacation to Canada -- The Secret Service and U.S. taxpayers have paid tens of thousands of dollars to the Trump Organization’s Vancouver properties to protect Donald Trump, Jr., according to a new report byPolitico.The Secret Service spent $16,600 at the Trump International Hotel and Tower and other sites during the first son’s hunting trip to the Yukon in August 2017, even though the Secret Service stayed at other area hotels.The Secret Service also spent $20,000 at the same Vancouver hotel in February 2017 when Don Jr., Eric Trump, and Tiffany Trump attended the hotel grand opening. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) has called on other members of the House Oversight Committee to look into a clause in the Constitution that bars a president from receiving federal money outside of his salary.

 Republican Steve King: if not for incest and rape 'would there be any population left?' --Republican congressman Steve King has tried to defend a proposal for absolutist abortion restrictions on Wednesday by saying that without rape and incest the human race might long since have disappeared. “What if we went back through all the family trees and just pulled out anyone who was a product of rape or incest?” King told a breakfast meeting in Urbandale, Iowa. “Would there be any population of the world left if we did that? Considering all the wars and all the rapes and pillages that happened throughout all these different nations, I know that I can’t say that I was not a part of a product of that.”King, who has been praised by Donald Trump as possibly “the world’s most conservative human being”, has sponsored a bill to ban abortion including in cases of rape and incest. Republican leaders, who earlier this year stripped King of his committee assignments after the congressman defended white supremacists, have mothballed the bill. But Republicans in Iowa could send King back to Congress next year. Though he has lost his party’s support and is losing the fundraising race against a primary opponent, King, a nine-term congressman from Iowa’s fourth district, remains popular at home and is seen as tough to beat.

Prince Andrew named in unsealed Epstein documents: ‘Sex slave’, then 17, alleges she was intimate with royal at Ghislaine Maxwell’s London home while second young woman claims she was groped by prince at paedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s house -Two of Jeffrey Epstein's 'sex slaves' claim that they engaged in sexual acts with Prince Andrew - one of whom was underage at the time. Virginia Roberts, whose defamation case against Epstein's alleged madame Ghislaine Maxwell is the source of these unsealed documents, provides a photo of herself with Prince Andrew and Maxwell at the later's London home in one court filing.She was 17 at the time the photo was taken of the three. The documents were released Friday morning just moments after the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the decision to make public over 2,000 pages of court filings that had previously been under seal. Those documents reveal in great detail the three-year period in which Roberts claims she was Epstein and Maxwell's 'sex slave.'  Unsealed file: Jeffrey Epstein's former sex slave Virginia Roberts alleges that she was intimate with Prince Andrew at the London home of Ghislaine Maxwell in unsealed files (PHOTO: Roberts, then 17, with Prince Andrew and Maxwell at Maxwell's London townhouse in 2001) 'One of the individuals Ms. Giuffre was trafficked to was Prince Andrew – trafficking that took place in Defendant’s own townhouse in London,' states the filing, which was in response to a Motion to Dismiss from Maxwell's attorneys.  'There exist flight logs evidencing Ms. Giuffre flying to London alongside Defendant and Epstein on Epstein’s private plane, and a photo of Ms. Giuffre, Defendant, and the Prince, without Defendant ever offering a legal reasonable explanation for that photo being taken, or for traveling with a 17 year old girl overseas.' The other female, Johanna Sjoberg, alleged that Prince Andrew groped her and Roberts in 2001 while the group was at Epstein's townhouse, in a deposition that was released with the unsealed court documents.  Sjoberg, who was 21 at the time, claims there were multiple eyewitnesses to the incident.

Jeffrey Epstein Dies Of “Suicide” Caitlin Johnstone  - Disappointing everyone yet surprising no one, accused sex trafficker and alleged billionaire Jeffrey Epstein has “committed” “suicide”. Details are muddled and conflicting, with CNN reporting that Epstein “was taken from New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center at 3:30 a.m. Saturday in cardiac arrest and died at an area hospital” and the New York Times reporting that “Mr. Epstein hung himself and his body was found this morning at roughly 7:30.” Some reports claim that Epstein has been on suicide watch due to a prior alleged suicide attempt three weeks ago when he was found unconscious with bruising on his neck, others deny it. If he wasn’t it’s weird because he obviously should have been, and if he was it’s weird because it failed.   Stockton University criminal justice professor Christine Tartaro told CNN in an interview on the subject in 2017 that on suicide watch “there should be constant, one-on-one eyes on (suicidal) inmates.”   Epstein appears to have been involved in a complex Mossad-tied sexual blackmail operation and had close ties with many powerful people, including Donald Trump and the Clintons. The narrative that the Clintons have a penchant for “suiciding” their enemies was already a viral idea in right-wing conspiracy circles, and many of the early prognostications of Epstein’s fate came from that side of the political aisle. But those voicing skepticism about Epstein’s death today come from all across the political spectrum, from left to right and from fringe to mainstream. “People close to Epstein fear he was murdered… as Epstein told authorities someone tried to kill him in a previous incident weeks earlier. He was described as being in good spirits in recent days,”claims The Washington Post‘s Carol Leonnig. “Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, various billionaire wall st. goons, hollywood elites and royal family creeps breathe a sigh of relief. He happens to have dirt on every powerful scumbag alive, how mighty convenient!” tweeted Secular Talk‘s Kyle Kulinski.   “A guy who had information that would have destroyed rich and powerful men’s lives ends up dead in his jail cell. How predictably…Russian,” tweeted MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough to thousands of retweets and tens of thousands of likes.

He Did What… ! ? !  -  Kunstler -The only trouble with the conspiracy theory that hundreds of prominent and powerful people wanted Jeffrey Epstein dead is that Jeffrey Epstein might have wanted Jeffrey Epstein dead even more than they did. But that’s mere conjecture. His mind is beyond being read. Of course, the evidence of his alleged crimes didn’t die — the “meticulous” records he kept live on, along with the names of Mr. Epstein’s patrons, clients, marks, however you might classify the celebs drawn into the pulsating estrogenic bubble of his life, humming that old tune “Thank Heaven for Little Girls….”  I’m a little surprised that Attorney General William Barr didn’t have a heart attack upon learning the news. With Mr. Barr already fully engaged cleaning up the mighty mess in the Department of Justice, the FBI, and elsewhere — considerably aggravated by Robert Mueller’s bungled operations — another stink bomb leaves federal law enforcement beskunked, bothered, and bewildered. And now the FBI is being sent into investigate? That’s rich. America’s Deep State now looks like a re-make of that marvelous 2018 movie The Death of Stalin, a fabulous burlesque of people in high places acting like dishonorable idiots.  The Federal Bureau of Prisons has some ‘splainin’ to do, and they didn’t bother doing much of that on Sunday after the news came out. They failed entirely at every critical point of responsibility for keeping the DOJ’s number one criminal suspect alive: took him off suicide watch a week after he tried to off himself (if that‘s what it was); failed to keep him on observation; failed to provide a cell-mate who might have alerted the guards; and failed to deploy viable video cameras to record the doings in his cell. That’s a pretty sensational fail. You really can’t blame the public for feeling a little paranoid about the rot at the center of government. The death of Mr. Epstein may be a turning point in the public’s willingness to accept any more official bullshit. A great many Americans — those who don’t rely on Rachel Maddow and The New York Times to do their reality testing for them — already must be impatient with the (so far) utter lack of accountability among officials implicated in that other Keystone Kops episode, the RussiaGate fiasco.

Epstein death anger soars, conspiracy theories swirl -- Outrage and intrigue over the apparent suicide in prison of well-connected accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein soared Sunday as US lawmakers pushed for answers, including whether "criminal acts" played a role in his death. Epstein, a convicted pedophile who hobnobbed with countless politicians and celebrities over the years, was found dead in his cell Saturday while awaiting trial on federal charges he trafficked underage girls for sex. The discovery came a day after a court released documents in which one of Epstein's alleged victims claimed she was forced to have sex with well-known American political and business personalities. They have all denied the allegations. Epstein's death in a high-security New York jail, an apparent suicide that came just weeks after an earlier possible attempt on his own life, meant he should have been under close watch and has fueled anger and a conspiracy theory frenzy. "The Federal Bureau of Prisons must provide answers on what systemic failures of the MCC (Metropolitan Correctional Center) Manhattan -- or criminal acts -- allowed this coward to deny justice to his victims," said Florida Senator Rick Scott, a Republican. US Attorney General Bill Barr has instructed the Justice Department's inspector general to probe Epstein's death, saying it "raises serious questions that must be answered." The FBI is also investigating. The New York Times reported Sunday that guards were supposed to check Epstein every half hour but that procedure was not followed the night before he was found, citing an unnamed law enforcement official. The jail had also transferred his cellmate, leaving him alone, the Times said, citing two officials. Epstein, 66, had been charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors. Prosecutors said Epstein sexually exploited dozens of underage teens, some as young as 14, at his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, between 2002 and 2005. The young women were paid hundreds of dollars in cash to massage him, perform sexual acts and to recruit other girls, prosecutors alleged. Epstein denied the charges and faced up to 45 years in prison if convicted. 

Everyone’s A Conspiracy Theorist, Whether They Know It Or Not - Caitlin Johnstone - Plutocratic propaganda outlet MSNBC has just run a spin segment on the breaking news that the medical examiner’s determination of the cause of Jeffrey Epstein’s death is “pending further information”.“Our sources are still saying that it looks like suicide, and this is going to set conspiracy theorists abuzz I fear,” said NBC correspondent Ken Dilanian. “NBC News has been hearing all day long that there are no indications of foul play, and that this looks like a suicide and that he hung himself in his cell.”Dilanian, who stumbled over the phrase “conspiracy theorists” in his haste to get it in the first soundbyte, is a known asset of the Central Intelligence Agency. This is not a conspiracy theory, this is a well-documented fact. A 2014 article in The Intercept titled “The CIA’s Mop-Up Man” reveals email exchanges obtained via Freedom of Information Act request between Dilanian and CIA public affairs officers which “show that Dilanian enjoyed a closely collaborative relationship with the agency, explicitly promising positive news coverage and sometimes sending the press office entire story drafts for review prior to publication.” There is no reason to give Dilanian the benefit of the doubt that this cozy relationship has ended, so anything he puts forward can safely be dismissed as CIA public relations. When I mentioned Dilanian’s CIA ties on MSNBC’s Twitter video, MSNBC deleted their tweet and thenre-shared it without mentioning Dilanian’s name. Here is a screenshot of the first tweet followed by an embedded link to their current one (which I’ve archived just in case):

Jeffrey Epstein’s Death Was On 4Chan Before Officials Announced It — And Authorities Had To Look Into It - The New York City Fire Department looked into whether an employee posted about Jeffrey Epstein’s death on a notorious internet message board prior to officials announcing it to the public, BuzzFeed News has learned.After telling BuzzFeed News the post was "under review," an FDNY spokesperson said authorities "determined this alleged information did not come from the Fire Department.""An investigation is a formal act which brings about a process which includes interviewing witnesses, serving notice, determining credibility of witness statements — and that was not warranted nor did it take place here. This determination was made after a review of the incident. We looked at the information provided by [a BuzzFeed News] reporter and we looked at our own records and there was no match," said FDNY spokesperson Frank Dwyer, who added that the FDNY's Office of Healthcare Compliance conducted the review. "It doesn't match our medical records."Almost 40 minutes before ABC News first reported Epstein’s death on Twitter, someone posted still-unverified details on 4chan, the anonymous message board popular with far-right trolls and white nationalists. “[D]ont ask me how I know, but Epstein died an hour ago from hanging, cardiac arrest. Screencap this,” read the post, which was published at 8:16 a.m. alongside an image of Pepe, the green frog that has become a mascot for right-wing internet trolls.

Barr criticizes prison’s ‘serious irregularities’ after Epstein death - Attorney General William Barr said Monday that Justice Department officials will thoroughly investigate “serious irregularities” at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) where accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein was found dead of apparent suicide over the weekend.Barr also warned that any of Epstein’s alleged co-conspirators "should not rest easy," noting that federal prosecutors will continue to aggressively pursue the case to ensure anyone who worked alongside Epstein will be held accountable. “We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and demand a thorough investigation,” Barr said during remarks at a law enforcement conference in New Orleans. “The FBI and the Office of Inspector General are doing just that.”Barr said he was “appalled” and “angry” by the developments; he insisted that the Justice Department would “get to the bottom” of what happened and promised accountability. “Let me assure you this case will continue on against anyone who was complicit with Epstein,” Barr said. “Any co-conspirators should not rest easy. The victims deserve justice and they will get it.” Barr, who was delivering the keynote speech at Grand Lodge Fraternal Order of Police's 64th National Biennial Conference, used the outset of his remarks to address Epstein’s case.Epstein was found dead early Saturday of apparent suicide in his jail cell in New York federal prison, where he was awaiting trial on federal sex trafficking charges.Epstein had been placed on temporary suicide watch back in July after he was found in his jail cell with injuries that raised concerns he was at risk for suicide. The detention center has since drawn intense scrutiny, with some reports suggesting corrections officers didn’t follow protocol by regularly checking on Epstein and that the prison had been understaffed. On Monday, Barr described the case as important to himself personally, to the Justice Department prosecutors and FBI i nvestigators who worked to bring the charges against Epstein, and to the victims who wanted to confront Epstein in court.

FBI searches Jeffrey Epstein's home in Virgin Islands - Federal agents searched late financier and accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein’s private island, Little St. James, on Monday, according to CNBC, citing a bureau spokesperson. Epstein’s accusers have claimed the financier and his confederates used the island in the U.S. Virgin Islands as a discreet location to sexually assault underage girls. Residents of the nearby island of St. Thomas had reportedly noticed heavy construction and high security in recent months.The search comes as Attorney General William Barr has pledged a full investigation into Epstein’s death in federal custody this weekend at New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC).“I was appalled — indeed, the entire Department was — and frankly angry, to learn of the MCC’s failure to adequately secure this prisoner. We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and that demand a thorough investigation. The FBI and the Office of Inspector General are already doing just that,” Barr told a Fraternal Order of Police conference Monday. “We will get to the bottom of what happened at the MCC and we will hold people accountable for this failure,” he added. “Let me assure you that this case will continue on against anyone who was complicit with Epstein. Any co-conspirators should not rest easy. The victims deserve justice, and we will ensure they get it.”

 Clinton Treasury Secretary Larry Summers Rode On Epstein's 'Lolita Express' - Larry Summers has been telling any financial journalist who will listen that the bottom is about to fall out of the economy any minute now...but perhaps he has an ulterior motive for all of his economic doomsaying. The former Harvard President and Clinton-era Treasury Secretary has been cited four times on the flight logs of Jeffrey Epstein's 'Lolita Express'. During his first trip, he was still working in the Clinton administration. And during his most recent - in 2005 - he and his wife accompanied Epstein to Epstein's private island just days after their wedding  During his first trip on Sept. 19, 1998, (while he was Treasury Secretary) Summers flew from the airport in Aspen, Colo. to Dulles international. His second trip didn't take place until April 15, 2004, when Summers flew from JFK to Bedford, Mass., an airport not far from Harvard, where he was president of the university at the time.  On his third trip, Summers flew from Bedford to White Plains for reasons that are unclear.   And during his fourth trip, Larry and Lisa Summers flew from Bedford to Epstein’s Island, and were accompanied by Epstein’s close confidant and alleged Madam Ghislaine Maxwell. Summers is just one more member of the Clinton inner circle who was 'exposed' to Epstein thanks to these trips. And with more Epstein-related document dumps ahead, we may soon learn more about exactly what he was doing on those flights.

Complete List Of Clinton Associates Who Allegedly Died Mysteriously Or Committed Suicide Before Testimony - On Saturday multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein, the highest profile prisoner in US custody, was found dead in his prison cell in Manhattan. This occurred the day after two thousand previously sealed court documents involving the Jeffrey Epstein child sex abuse case were released to the public.The documents described how Bill Clinton held a private party on Jeffrey Epstein’s pedophile island.Clinton made at least 27 times trips on Jeffrey Epstein’s private plane. Most of those flights were with underage girls.Despite a previous attempt on his life just three weeks ago the prison guards skipped the 30 minute required checks on Epstein’s cell last night.Early yesterday morning they found him dead.Jeffrey Epstein is the latest in a long list of Clinton family associates and acquaintances who died mysteriously or committed suicide before their public testimony.In 2016 CBS Las Vegas posted a list of Bill and Hillary Clinton associates alleged to have died under mysterious circumstances. Here is that list.

 Epstein Said He'd Witnessed Prominent Tech Figures Taking Drugs And Arranging For Sex- NYT  -- NYT business columnist Jim Stewart, who, in addition to his role at the NYT, is a regular contributor of CNBC, was invited by Jeffrey Epstein to visit his Manhattan townhouse for an 'on background' interview. The meeting with Epstein happened a few months before the Miami Herald published its series of exposes that led to the latest round of charges against Epstein.       In a story published in the NYT on Tuesday, Stewart recounted the details of their meeting (it was supposed to be on background, but since Epstein is now deceased, Stewart believes he can now violate that agreement). Most surprisingly, Stewart described Epstein's affect as almost incredulously carefree. While Stewart wasn't able to glean much information about Musk or Tesla from Epstein (perhaps because, he discerned, Epstein actually knew far less than he was letting on), he listened as Epstein showed off photographs with famous friends (including MbS and...you guessed it...Bill Clinton) and held forth about a range of stunning a lascivious subjects. Here's a rundown of some of Epstein's most suspicious comments. Epstein openly professed his love of underage women, and even implied that sex between older men and teenage girls should be legal.  If he was reticent about Tesla, he was more at ease discussing his interest in young women. He said that criminalizing sex with teenage girls was a cultural aberration and that at times in history it was perfectly acceptable. He pointed out that homosexuality had long been considered a crime and was still punishable by death in some parts of the world. Many prominent Silicon Valley figures have a reputation for being workaholics, but they're actually "hedonistic" drug users who tasked Epstein with arranging sexual encounters (and we can infer what that means). Epstein showed off a photo of him with MBS. This was well before the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Before we left the room he took me to a wall covered with framed photographs. He pointed to a full-length shot of a man in traditional Arab dress. "That’s M.B.S.," he said, referring to Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. The crown prince had visited him many times, and they spoke often, Mr. Epstein said. During their conversation, Epstein frequently took breaks to attend to his 'currency trading' (we'd be curious to learn which discount brokerage he preferred). Epstein bragged about how his reputation didn't stop people from attending his parties. He even considered becoming a minister to help himself appear more trustworthy.

Epstein’s accusers call her his protector and procurer. Is Ghislaine Maxwell now prosecutors’ target?  - Ghislaine Maxwell was, according to her accusers, Jeffrey Epstein’s protector and procurer, his girlfriend and his madam. She was, by all accounts, a soul mate and a mirror image. He grew up in Brooklyn with no money to speak of and never finished college. She is Paris-born, Oxford-educated, a jet-setter who partied with princes and billionaires. Together, Epstein and Maxwell allegedly built what prosecutors, police and a growing number of women described as a sex-trafficking operation that crisscrossed the nation to provide Epstein with three young girls a day.The death of Epstein, the convicted sex offender who authorities said hanged himself in a federal detention center cell in New York on Saturday, leaves those who seek to hold someone responsible for the alleged abuse of dozens of girls with one prime target: Maxwell. The U.S. attorney in New York, Geoff Berman, assured the “brave young women who have already come forward and . . . the many others who have yet to do so” that “our investigation of the conduct charged in the indictment — which included a conspiracy count — remains ongoing.” According to many of the women who have spoken about what Epstein allegedly did to them, Maxwell was the financier’s chief co-conspirator. Maxwell, 57, has not been charged and has denied any wrongdoing. According to people familiar with the investigation, authorities have had trouble locating Maxwell, who is believed to be living abroad. Her five-story Manhattan townhouse was sold in 2016 for $15 million by a company that used the address of Epstein’s New York office. Her lawyers told a judge in 2017 that she was in London, but had no fixed address. Lawyers representing Epstein’s alleged victims said they wouldn’t expect Maxwell to return to the United States anytime soon for fear of being arrested.

 Epstein's Madam Found- Ghislaine Maxwell Living With Tech CEO In Multimillion Oceanfront Mansion - Jeffrey Epstein's former "best friend" and alleged procurer of underage girls, Ghislaine Maxwell, has been found after three years of speculation.  The 57-year-old British heiress was discovered laying low in a $3 million "secluded oceanfront property at the end of a long private road" in New England with her boyfriend, 43-year-old tech CEO Scott Borgerson, according to the Daily Mail. The socialite's New England hideaway is an imposing three-story colonial property with five-bedrooms, wraparound terraces and sweeping grounds which reach to the ocean. The property is owned by tech CEO and maritime academic Dr Scott Borgerson. Borgerson was seen by DailyMail.com in July running errands in the affluent commun ity of Manchester-by-the-Sea, a half-hour drive from Boston....The former Coast Guard officer, is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He was married and is believed to have two children. -Daily Mail

Jeffrey Epstein Spent Time Alone With Young Woman In Prison’s Attorney Room - The day after he was taken off suicide watch, disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein spent at least two hours locked up alone with a young woman, in a private room reserved for inmates and their attorneys, according to an attorney who was visiting the prison that day. "The optics were startling. Because she was young. And pretty,” said the visiting attorney, who asked that his name not be used because he didn’t want to create friction with the prison administration. He speculated the woman could be a lawyer—NBC News has reported that Epstein paid members of his team to sit with him in a room for eight hours a day for attorney-client meetings, allowing him to avoid his cell. The visiting attorney went to the Manhattan Correctional Center on July 30, a day after Epstein was reportedly taken off suicide watch and transferred into the Special Housing Unit (SHU). During the hours the visiting attorney was present, it wasn’t Epstein’s main lawyer, Reid Weingarten, or other named attorneys who visited him. “If I was him, I would have hired... an old bald guy,” said the lawyer, who said the young woman was in there with Epstein for at least two hours when he was there. He also pointed out that the room is locked when prisoners go in, after their handcuffs are removed, and unlocked only when prisoners leave and handcuffs are put back on.  

Jeffrey Epstein had broken neck bones — raising questions about his cause of death --Wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein had broken bones in his neck, an autopsy found, raising further questions about the accused child sex trafficker’s death last weekend while he was held in a Manhattan jail. Epstein’s demise on Saturday in the federal lockup was originally suspected of being the result of suicide by hanging. But it remains under investigation by the FBI and the Office of the Inspector General of the Justice Department. And the New York City medical examiner’s office has yet to rule on the cause and manner of the death of the former friend of Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton after performing his autopsy. The Washington Post on Thursday reported that Epstein’s hyoid bone was broken in his neck, according to two people familiar with the autopsy. NBC News confirmed that with a source later Thursday. NBC News medical expert Dr. John Torres said that a broken hyoid “can happen in both strangulation and hanging, but occurs in more often in strangulations.” Epstein’s death came less than two weeks after he was found semiconscious with marks on his neck in his cell in the special unit in the MCC that is used to house prisoners who are at risk of assault from other inmates.Epstein had been placed on suicide watch after that first incident, but was reportedly taken off of it less than a week later at the r

 Autopsy indicates death of Jeffrey Epstein likely due to strangulation - A report from an autopsy performed on multi-millionaire sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein has revealed that he suffered broken bones in his neck during his alleged suicide by hanging last week.The Washington Post and other media have reported that the hyoid bone, which lies behind the Adam’s apple, was found broken during the examination. The Post article quoted Jonathan L. Arden, who is president of the National Association of Medical Examiners, as stating that a broken hyoid bone is more commonly associated with death by homicidal strangulation than hanging. The article goes on to cite studies done in both Thailand and India over the past decade on the results of suicide by hanging. The Thai study found that in only one-fourth of the twenty cases examined was there damage to the hyoid bone. The Indian study examined 264 suicides by hanging and found hyoid damage in only 16 cases, or six percent of the total. The Indian study stated that rates of hyoid fractures in hangings depend on a variety of factors, including “age of the victim, the weight of the victim, type of suspension and height of suspension.” The Post article also cites an incident in 2008 where the cause of death of a prisoner found dead by hanging in a Washington, DC, jail cell was determined to be a homicide, due to the discovery of a broken hyoid bone.  A broken hyoid bone due to strangulation is common enough that the New York City police cited the lack of a broken hyoid to excuse the murder by asphyxiation of Eric Garner, who was killed in 2014 when multiple NYPD officers pinned him to the ground, compressing his neck and chest, which led to his death. The initial report from the autopsy explodes the efforts by the media, led by the New York Times, to dismiss all questioning of the official explanation of Epstein’s death as “conspiracy theories.” Whether Epstein died from suicide or murder, there is clearly enough evidence to warrant a full criminal investigation. The evidence of a conspiracy to have Epstein killed in one form or another is mounting. The Post article comes after other reports that screaming was heard from Epstein’s cell the morning of his death.

CEO compensation has grown 940% since 1978: Typical worker compensation has risen only 12% during that time - Economic Policy Institute -What this report finds: The increased focus on growing inequality has led to an increased focus on CEO pay. Corporate boards running America’s largest public firms are giving top executives outsize compensation packages. Average pay of CEOs at the top 350 firms in 2018 was $17.2 million—or $14.0 million using a more conservative measure. (Stock options make up a big part of CEO pay packages, and the conservative measure values the options when granted, versus when cashed in, or “realized.”) CEO compensation is very high relative to typical worker compensation (by a ratio of 278-to-1 or 221-to-1). In contrast, the CEO-to-typical-worker compensation ratio (options realized) was 20-to-1 in 1965 and 58-to-1 in 1989. CEOs are even making a lot more—about five times as much—as other earners in the top 0.1%. From 1978 to 2018, CEO compensation grew by 1,007.5% (940.3% under the options-realized measure), far outstripping S&P stock market growth (706.7%) and the wage growth of very high earners (339.2%). In contrast, wages for the typical worker grew by just 11.9%.  Exorbitant CEO pay is a major contributor to rising inequality that we could safely do away with. CEOs are getting more because of their power to set pay, not because they are increasing productivity or possess specific, high-demand skills. This escalation of CEO compensation, and of executive compensation more generally, has fueled the growth of top 1.0% and top 0.1% incomes, leaving less of the fruits of economic growth for ordinary workers and widening the gap between very high earners and the bottom 90%. The economy would suffer no harm if CEOs were paid less (or taxed more).

The World’s Wealthiest Family Gets $4 Million Richer Every Hour --The numbers are mind-boggling: $70,000 per minute, $4 million per hour, $100 million per day.  That’s how quickly the fortune of the Waltons, the clan behind Walmart Inc., has been growing since last year’s Bloomberg ranking of the world’s richest families. At that rate, their wealth would’ve expanded about $23,000 since you began reading this. A new Walmart associate in the U.S. would’ve made about 6 cents in that time, on the way to an $11 hourly minimum.  Even in this era of extreme wealth and brutal inequality, the contrast is jarring. The heirs of Sam Walton, Walmart’s notoriously frugal founder, are amassing wealth on a near-unprecedented scale — and they’re hardly alone.  The Walton fortune has swelled by $39 billion, to $191 billion, since topping the June 2018 ranking of the world’s richest families.  Other American dynasties are close behind in terms of the assets they’ve accrued. The Mars family, of candy fame, added $37 billion, bringing its fortune to $127 billion. The Kochs, the industrialists-cum-political-power-players, tacked on $26 billion, to $125 billion.  America’s richest 0.1% today control more wealth than at any time since 1929, but their counterparts in Asia and Europe are gaining too. Worldwide, the 25 richest families now control almost $1.4 trillion in wealth, up 24% from last year. To some critics, such figures are evidence that capitalism needs fixing. Inequality has become an explosive political issue, from Paris to Seattle to Hong Kong. But how to shrink the growing gap between the rich and the poor?   A notable addition this year: the Saudi royal family. The House of Saud is worth $100 billion, based on the cumulative payouts royal family members are estimated to have received over the past 50 years from the Royal Diwan, the executive office of the king. That’s a lowball figure. After all, oil giant Saudi Aramco, the linchpin of the Saudi economy, is the world’s most profitable company. The kingdom is hoping to take it public at a $2 trillion valuation.

GE falls the most in 11 years after Madoff whistleblower calls it a ‘bigger fraud than Enron’ - General Electric shares saw their biggest drop in more than a decade Thursday after Madoff whistleblower Harry Markopolos targeted the conglomerate in a new report, accusing it of issuing fraudulent financial statements to hide the extent of its problems. A website has been set up to disseminate the report, www.GEfraud.com, where Markopolos calls it “a bigger fraud than Enron.” The financial investigator, who was probing GE for an unidentified hedge fund, writes that after more than a year of research he has discovered “an Enronesque business approach that has left GE on the verge of insolvency.” “My team has spent the past 7 months analyzing GE’s accounting and we believe the $38 Billion in fraud we’ve come across is merely the tip of the iceberg,” Markopolos said in the 175-page report. Markopolos alleges that GE has a “long history” of accounting fraud, dating to as early as 1995, when it was run by Jack Welch. “It’s going to make this company probably file for bankruptcy,” Markopolos told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street. ” “WorldCom and Enron lasted about four months. ... We’ll see how GE does.” The stock closed 11% lower in its biggest drop since April 2008, ending the day at $8.01 per share. GE’s CEO issued a statement calling the allegations false, and driven by market manipulation.

GE CEO Larry Culp bought nearly $2 million worth of the company’s stock after fraud accusation -- General Electric CEO Larry Culp bought nearly $2 million worth of the company’s stock after Madoff whistleblower Harry Markopolos called the company “a bigger fraud than Enron.” A Thursday evening filing with the SEC revealed that Culp bought 252,200 shares for about $7.93 each. Culp, who took over the struggling industrial conglomerate last year, has roughly doubled his holding of GE shares this week, according to the filing. Shares of GE were up about 2.5% in after-hours trading.In a 175-page report, Markopolos targeted the company, accusing it of issuing fraudulent financial statements to hide the extent of its accounting problems. Following those allegations, GE shares plunged 11% during the normal session to $8.01 per share, their biggest drop since April 2008.Culp, who is former CEO of Danaher, said the accusations were false and driven by market manipulation.“GE will always take any allegation of financial misconduct seriously. But this is market manipulation – pure and simple,” he said in a statement. “Mr. Markopolos’s report contains false statements of fact and these claims could have been corrected if he had checked them with GE before publishing the report.”A U.S. hedge fund, that Markopolos wouldn’t name, paid Markopolos to conduct and publish his report, and Markopolos told CNBC that he was getting a “decent percentage” of profits that the hedge fund would make from betting against GE.Leslie Seidman, a GE board director and chair of its audit committee, also pushed back on the Markopolos report, which she said contained “numerous novel interpretations and downright mistakes about the actual accounting requirements.” “In his own words, he stands to personally financially benefit from today’s significant market reaction to his report, and he is selectively front-running widely reported regulatory processes and rigorous investigations without the benefit of any access to GE’s books and records,” Seidman said.

FTC misled consumers about Equifax settlement, Warren says — Sen. Elizabeth Warren has accused the Federal Trade Commission of “misleading public descriptions” of consumer benefits from Equifax's settlement with state and federal authorities over the credit bureau's 2017 data breach. Equifax agreed to pay up to $700 million in the settlement announced last month. But Warren is questioning a claim by the FTC, when the agency announced the deal, that consumers affected by the breach can sign up either for 10 years of free credit monitoring or to receive a cash payment $125 for monitoring they already use. The Massachusetts Democrat is calling on the FTC's watchdog to investigate the claim. “The FTC has the authority to investigate and protect the public from unfair or deceptive acts or practices, including deceptive advertising,” Warren wrote in a letter to the FTC’s inspector general Wednesday. “Unfortunately, it appears as though the agency itself may have misled the American public about the terms of the Equifax settlement and their ability to obtain the full reimbursement to which they are entitled.” The settlement required Equifax to allot funds to pay for consumers' credit monitoring as well as additional payments to compensate consumers for their losses. But Warren said the total amount Equifax is required to set aside is not sufficient to satisfy what the FTC promised would be available for consumers. She said the settlement provides only $31 million for "alternative reimbursement compensation" and that payments to consumers would be reduced on a pro rata basis if valid claims for compensation exceeded the amount allotted. She said the FTC “did not inform consumers that the cash payment was subject to — and in fact, was very likely to be — severely reduced.”

CFPB names student loan servicing exec as ombudsman - The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has named Robert G. Cameron, a former official at one of the nation's largest student loan servicers, to be the bureau’s private education loan ombudsman. The position, formerly called the student loan ombudsman, has been vacant for nearly a year. Cameron, a former colonel and advocate for the National Guard, had been deputy chief counsel and vice president of enterprise compliance at the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency. The PHEAA, headquartered in Harrisburg, is a nonprofit organization that administers state financial aid programs. It also operates one of the largest student loan servicing operations in the country, handling $425 billion in student loan debt. The agency services private student loans through its American Education Services unit and federal student loans through FedLoan Servicing. The CFPB said Cameron was responsible for litigation, compliance and risk mitigation efforts at the agency. He succeeds Seth Frotman, who is now the executive director of the Student Borrower Protection Center. Frotman made waves last year in a resignation letter to former acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney that said the CFPB had “abandoned the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting.” The CFPB said in a press release that the ombudsman is responsible for resolving complaints “from private student loan borrowers.” The CFPB has been in a dispute with the Education Department, which instructed student loan servicing contractors in December 2017 not to give any data or documents to other government agencies seeking information to support investigations or oversight of student loan servicers. Roughly 45 million borrowers owe more than $1.56 trillion in both private and federal student loan debt.

HUD plan to alter anti-discrimination rule called 'deeply cynical' --The Department of Housing and Urban Development has published a proposed a rule that would amend its “disparate impact” standard to effectively make it more difficult for consumers to allege discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.Under HUD’s proposal, released Friday, a consumer would have to follow a five-step framework to demonstrate discrimination, and would have to show that a policy or practice is “arbitrary, artificial and unnecessary,” to move forward with a claim. The proposed rule is part of a broader effort by the Trump administration to roll back regulations and reduce liability for businesses. It first circulated in late July when it was submitted for congressional review. HUD’s General Counsel Paul Compton said the proposal is designed to better reflect the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project Inc. That ruling upheld the use of a disparate impact theory if it disproportionately affects a protected class without a legally sufficient justification.“The broad policy rationale is to bring our rule in alignment with what the Supreme Court said the law is,” Compton said on a conference call with reporters. “The court noted that it is important to put guardrails up on where disparate impact is applied.”Consumer groups criticized the plan, saying regulators should be increasing, not relaxing, oversight because fintech firms are using algorithms and machine learning to target consumers for a wide range of lending products that could be unintentionally discriminatory.

 The Average US Farm Is $1.3 Million In Debt, And Now The Worst Farming Crisis In Modern History Is Upon Us - Leading up to this year, farm incomes had been trending lower for most of the past decade, and meanwhile farm debt levels have been absolutely exploding.  So U.S. farmers were desperate for a really good year, but instead 2019 has been a total disaster.  As I have been carefully documenting, due to endless rain and catastrophic flooding millions of acres of prime farmland didn’t get planted at all this year, and the yields on tens of millions of other acres are expected to be way, way below normal.  As a result, we are facing the worst farming crisis in modern American history, and this comes at a time when U.S. farms are drowning in more debt than ever before.  In fact, the latest numbers that we have show that the average U.S. farm is 1.3 million dollars in debtDebt-to-asset ratios are seeing the same squeeze, with more farms moving into a ratio exceeding 80%. Barrett notes each year since 2009 has seen an increase in the average amount of total debt among farmers, and 2017 was no exception. Average debt rose 10% to $1.3 million. The biggest increase was in long-term debt, such as land. Farming in the 21st century has become an extraordinarily risky business, and countless U.S. farmers were already on the verge of going under even before we got to 2019. Now that this year has been such a complete and utter disaster, many farms will not be able to operate once we get to 2020. If the horrific weather and endless flooding wasn’t enough, about a week ago the Chinese government announced that they would be ending all “purchases of U.S. agricultural products”, and that was a devastating blow for farmers all over the nation.

MBA: "Mortgage Delinquencies Rise in the Second Quarter of 2019" --From the MBA: Mortgage Delinquencies Rise in the Second Quarter of 2019 - The delinquency rate for mortgage loans on one-to-four-unit residential properties increased to a seasonally adjusted rate of 4.53 percent of all loans outstanding at the end of the second quarter of 2019, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association's (MBA) National Delinquency Survey. The foreclosure inventory rate, the percentage of loans in the foreclosure process, was 0.90 percent last quarter - the lowest since the fourth quarter of 1995.The delinquency rate was up 11 basis points from the first quarter of 2019 and 17 basis points from one year ago. The percentage of loans on which foreclosure actions were started in the second quarter rose by two basis points to 0.25 percent."The unemployment rate remains quite low, but the national mortgage delinquency rate in the second quarter rose from both the first quarter and one year ago. The economy is slowing, and this poses the risk of further increases in delinquency rates," said Marina Walsh, MBA's Vice President of Industry Analysis. "Across loan types, the FHA delinquency rate posted the largest variance, increasing 29 basis points from last quarter and 52 basis points from a year ago." Added Walsh, "Heavy rains and flooding, extreme heat, and tornadoes in certain states during the spring, may have also contributed to the increase in the delinquency rate, as some borrowers likely faced disruption or hardship."

 Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly Survey - Mortgage applications increased 21.7 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending August 9, 2019.  ... The Refinance Index increased 37 percent from the previous week to its highest level since July 2016, and was 196 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 2 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 1 percent compared with the previous week and was 12 percent higher than the same week one year ago.  ...  “The 2019 refinance wave continued, as homeowners last week responded to extraordinarily low mortgage rates. Fears of an escalating trade war, combined with economic and geopolitical concerns, once again pulled U.S. Treasury rates lower. The 30-year fixed mortgage rate decreased eight basis points to 3.93 percent – the lowest level since November 2016 – and has now dropped more than 80 basis points this year,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “In just the last two weeks, rates have decreased 15 basis points and the refinance index has increased more than 50 percent, reaching its highest level since July 2016. The government refinance index, driven by a 25 percent increase in VA refinance applications, is now at its highest level since May 2013.”  Added Kan, “Purchase applications also benefited from these lower rates, with activity increasing 1.9 percent last week and 12 percent from a year ago.”  ...  The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($484,350 or less) decreased to its lowest level since November 2016, 3.93 percent, from 4.01 percent, with points decreasing to 0.35 from 0.37 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

Here’s the real reason why U.S. home prices haven’t been smashed -- In a recent column, I focused on five key factors which indicate that housing markets may be topping out.  Yet one other important factor may be the main reason why housing prices have not already deflated. Investors have always played an important role in housing markets. I have written extensively about the crazy bubble years of 2004-06. Rampant speculation was one of the primary causes of the buying mania and subsequent collapse. A May 2005 Fortune magazine article described how speculators were descending on city after city in search of making a killing in real estate. The chart below, from a 2011 study put out by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, shows the percentage of homes purchased with a mortgage by investors in states where the bubble was most excessive. This chart breaks down investor mortgage borrowing by the number of first liens appearing on the credit report of these investors. Notice the substantial number of investors with three or more first liens:The chart shows that in the bubble states, more than 40% of all new mortgage originations for purchases went to investors/speculators during the wildest years of 2006 and 2007. Another chart in this same study showed that nationwide, roughly 30% of all originations were for investors.  If we include all-cash investor purchases, the percentage of homes purchased by speculators was even higher.When home prices leveled off in the second half of 2006, nervous speculators in the hottest major metros began to sell in large numbers. This precipitated the price collapse which soon followed. By 2009, the foreclosure debacle was in full swing.  For the next four years, investors focused on  buying inexpensive repossessed properties.  Most of these foreclosure sales were all-cash deals. Contrary to a widely-held assumption, many of these investor-purchased homes were not bought by flippers.  They were turned into rental units for a new type of renter — former homeowners whose house had been foreclosed.

Trump Called Baltimore “Vermin Infested” While the Federal Government Fails to Clean Up Rodents in Subsidized Housing ProPublica — President Donald Trump launched a multiday Twitter tirade last month directed at U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, sharing video footage of derelict Baltimore neighborhoods and asking why the Democratic congressman wasn’t doing more to address the “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” in his district.Though Trump didn’t say so, some of the responsibility for any such conditions rests with his own administration. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has ultimate oversight of nearly 35,000 public housing and federally subsidized rental units in the city, many of  which suffer from the squalor the president decried on social media. HUD has known for years of failing conditions in many of them but hasn’t taken steps to ramp up oversight as it has done in other regions, such as New York City.“I’m afraid,” said Rochell Barksdale, sitting in her living room at McCulloh Homes, a public housing property that failed an inspection in March. Barksdale has asthma and other health issues exacerbated by mold. She’s allergic to roaches, which she now has in her kitchen.   “This is trauma,” she said, “living in public housing.” HUD routinely inspects buildings like McCulloh Homes, where Barksdale has lived since 1999. The complex, owned and managed by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, failed four of its last five inspections. The poor conditions in Baltimore’s public housing complexes predate the Trump administration, but they remain among the worst in the nation, according to an analysis of federal data, alongside housing in Gary, Indiana, and East St. Louis, Illinois. (Check inspection scores for subsidized housing complexes near you using ProPublica’s HUD Inspect tool.)  Despite improving scores, nearly half of Baltimore public housing developments failed their last inspection. Several  Of the 10 largest public housing authorities nationwide, Baltimore has the worst failure rate.

Housing Starts decline to 1.191 Million Annual Rate in July - From the Census Bureau: Permits, Starts and Completions: Privately‐owned housing starts in July were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,191,000. This is 4.0 percent below the revised June estimate of 1,241,000, but is 0.6 percent above the July 2018 rate of 1,184,000. Single‐family housing starts in July were at a rate of 876,000; this is 1.3 percent above the revised June figure of 865,000. The July rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 303,000. Privately‐owned housing units authorized by building permits in July were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,336,000. This is 8.4 percent above the revised June rate of 1,232,000 and is 1.5 percent above the July 2018 rate of 1,316,000. Single‐family authorizations in July were at a rate of 838,000; this is 1.8 percent above the revised June figure of 823,000. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 453,000 in July. The first graph shows single and multi-family housing starts for the last several years. Multi-family starts (red, 2+ units) were down sharply in July compared to June. Multi-family starts were down 2.8% year-over-year in July. Multi-family is volatile month-to-month, and has been mostly moving sideways the last several years. Single-family starts (blue) increased in July, and were up 1.9% year-over-year. Total Housing Starts and Single Family Housing StartsThe second graph shows total and single unit starts since 1968. The second graph shows the huge collapse following the housing bubble, and then eventual recovery (but still historically low). Total housing starts in July were below expectations, and starts for May and June were revised down. The weakness was in the multi-family sector.

Positive July housing permits and starts - The housing starts and permits report this morning for July adds to the positive data looking forward to H2 2020 (or, possibly, less bad - but that’s another discussion). First, here are overall permits (red) and starts (blue): While the very volatile starts declined, the slightly more forward looking and less volatile permits rebounded off their low to a 6 month high. The less volatile single family permits (red) and starts (blue) were even more positive: Single family starts were at an 8 month high. The more forward looking and least volatile single family permits made a 9 month high. Lower interest rates are now clearly feeding into the housing construction market. This is a positive 12+ months out.There are two issues. The first is whether house prices advance so quickly that they eat up the savings purchasers would otherwise pocket. This is the “housing choke collar” theory I have recently advanced. The second is that this in no way negatives the potential for a recession this winter, much as the advance in housing in 2000-01 did not prevent the 2001 producer led recession.

Comments on July Housing Starts -- Earlier: Housing Starts decline to 1.191 Million Annual Rate in July Total housing starts in July were below expectations, and starts for May and June were revised down.  The weakness was in the volatile multi-family sector. The housing starts report showed starts were down 4.0% in July compared to June, and starts were up 0.6% year-over-year compared to July 2018.  Single family starts were up 1.9% year-over-year, and multi-family starts were down 4.7% YoY. This first graph shows the month to month comparison for total starts between 2018 (blue) and 2019 (red). Starts were up 0.6% in July compared to July 2018. Year-to-date, starts are down 3.1% compared to the same period in 2018. Last year, in 2018, starts were strong early in the year, and then fell off in the 2nd half - so the early comparisons this year were the most difficult. My guess was starts would be down slightly year-over-year in 2019 compared to 2018, but nothing like the YoY declines we saw in February and March. Now it is possible starts will be up slightly in 2019 compared to 2018. Below is an update to the graph comparing multi-family starts and completions. Since it usually takes over a year on average to complete a multi-family project, there is a lag between multi-family starts and completions. Completions are important because that is new supply added to the market, and starts are important because that is future new supply (units under construction is also important for employment). These graphs use a 12 month rolling total for NSA starts and completions. Multifamily Starts and completionsThe blue line is for multifamily starts and the red line is for multifamily completions. The rolling 12 month total for starts (blue line) increased steadily for several years following the great recession - but turned down, and has moved sideways recently. Completions (red line) had lagged behind - then completions caught up with starts. As I've been noting for a few years, the significant growth in multi-family starts is behind us - multi-family starts peaked in June 2015 (at 510 thousand SAAR). Single family Starts and completionsThe second graph shows single family starts and completions. It usually only takes about 6 months between starting a single family home and completion - so the lines are much closer. The blue line is for single family starts and the red line is for single family completions. Note the relatively low level of single family starts and completions. The "wide bottom" was what I was forecasting following the recession, and now I expect some further increases in single family starts and completions.

NAHB: "Builder Confidence Trending Higher as Interest Rates Move Lower" --The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported the housing market index (HMI) was at 66 in August, up from 65 in July. Any number above 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor.From NAHB: Builder Confidence Trending Higher as Interest Rates Move LowerBuilder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes rose one point to 66 in August, according to the latest National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) released today. Sentiment levels have held at a solid 64-to-66 level for the past four months. “Even as builders report a firm demand for single-family homes, they continue to struggle with rising construction costs stemming from excessive regulations, a chronic shortage of workers and a lack of buildable lots,” said NAHB Chairman Greg Ugalde, a home builder and developer from Torrington, Conn.“While 30-year mortgage rates have dropped from 4.1 percent down to 3.6 percent during the past four months, we have not seen an equivalent higher pace of building activity because the rate declines occurred due to economic uncertainty stemming largely from growing trade concerns,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “Although affordability headwinds remain a challenge, demand is good and growing at lower price points and for smaller homes.”…The HMI index gauging current sales conditions increased two points to 73 and the component measuring traffic of prospective buyers rose two points to 50. The measure charting sales expectations in the next six months fell one point to 70. Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the South moved one point higher to 69, the West was also up one point to 73 and the Midwest inched up a single point to 57. The Northeast fell three points to 57.

NY Fed Q2 Report: "Total Household Debt Climbs for 20th Straight Quarter as Mortgage Debt and Originations Rise" - From the NY Fed: Total Household Debt Climbs for 20th Straight Quarter as Mortgage Debt and Originations Rise: The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Center for Microeconomic Data today issued itsQuarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit, which shows that total household debt increased by $192 billion (1.4%) to $13.86 trillion in the second quarter of 2019. It was the 20th consecutive quarter with an increase, and the total is now $1.2 trillion higher, in nominal terms, than the previous peak of $12.68 trillion in the third quarter of 2008.Mortgage balances—the largest component of household debt—rose by $162 billion in the second quarter to $9.4 trillion, surpassing the high of $9.3 trillion in the third quarter of 2008. Mortgage originations, which include mortgage refinances, also increased by $130 billion to $474 billion, the highest volume seen since the third quarter of 2017.…“While nominal mortgage balances are now slightly above the previous peak seen in the third quarter of 2008, mortgage delinquencies and the average credit profile of mortgage borrowers have continued to improve,” “The data suggest a more nuanced picture for other forms of household debt, with credit card delinquency rates continuing to rise.” Here are two graphs from the report: The first graph shows aggregate consumer debt increased in Q2.  Household debt previously peaked in 2008, and bottomed in Q2 2013.From the NY Fed: Aggregate household debt balances increased by $192 billion in the second quarter of 2019, a 1.4% increase, and now stand at 13.86 trillion. Balances have been steadily rising for five years and in aggregate are now $1.2 trillion higher, in nominal terms, than the previous peak (2008Q3) peak of $12.68 trillion. Overall household debt is now 24.3% above the 2013Q2 trough. The second graph shows the percent of debt in delinquency. The overall delinquency rate decreased in Q2.  From the NY Fed: As of June 30, 4.4% of outstanding debt was in some stage of delinquency. Of the $604 billion of debt that is delinquent, $405 billion is seriously delinquent (at least 90 days late or “severely derogatory”, which includes some debts that have previously been charged off although the lenders are continuing collection attempts). The share of credit card balances transitioning into 90+ day delinquency has been rising since 2017, and continued to do so in Q2.

Household Debt And Credit Report: Up $192B in Q2  Household debt increased by $192B (1.4%) to $13.86 trillion in Q2. There were increases in auto loans, credit card, and mortgage balances. Here is an excerpt from the latest press release: The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Center for Microeconomic Data today issued its Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit, which shows that total household debt increased by $192 billion (1.4%) to $13.86 trillion in the second quarter of 2019. It was the 20th consecutive quarter with an increase, and the total is now $1.2 trillion higher, in nominal terms, than the previous peak of $12.68 trillion in the third quarter of 2008. The Report is based on data from the New York Fed’s Consumer Credit Panel, a nationally representative sample of individual- and household-level debt and credit records drawn from anonymized Equifax credit data. Read moreAs a result of the housing and mortgage crisis of the Great Recession, economists have been paying more attention to the liabilities portion of household balance sheets. Among the New York Federal Reserve Board's many economic reports is the Household Debt and Credit report, which is released quarterly with data going back to 2003. Data is collected through the NY Fed's Consumer Credit Panel which is constructed from a nationally representative random sample of Equifax credit report data resulting in a sample size of over 40 million individuals quarterly. Here is some background on the report from the NY Fed: The large increases in consumer debt and defaults—of mortgage debt in particular—during the Great Recession highlighted the importance of understanding the liabilities reflected on household balance sheets. To that end, one of the CMD’s large data collection projects is the New York Fed Consumer Credit Panel, which is constructed from a nationally representative random sample of Equifax credit report data. Analysis of this data set is regularly reported in the CMD’s Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit. The chart below shows total debt balance nation-wide by composition in trillions of dollars. The current total is $13.86T, well exceeding the 2008 peak.

Bankruptcy filings rising across the country and it could get worse - Bankruptcies are back — flashing warnings that more Americans are knee-deep in debt in big cities like New York.While total bankruptcy petitions nationwide by consumers and businesses are still well below Great Recession levels, analysts say there is an unmistakable trend upward. New York state’s bankruptcy filings, for instance, have risen steadily the past three years, hitting 34,711 in 2018, up from 30,112 in 2016, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI), based on data from Epiq Systems.More consumers nationwide are falling behind on their payments and filing for bankruptcy to resolve overwhelming debt loads. And low unemployment, an uptick in average wages and the latest Fed interest rate cut have not restrained the debt monster. Some cash-strapped consumers are even finding relief at food pantries.“In high-cost cities like New York, personal incomes are not often enough to pay the household bills,” Zac Hall, vice president of anti-poverty programs at the Food Bank of New York, told The Post. “We are seeing people using consumer debt as a way to make ends meet when they come here,” he added, citing the pressures his nonprofit faces to keep up the distribution of food and meals at no cost to some 1.5 million New Yorkers. And unmanageable debt is also forcing more companies to file for bankruptcy, triggering a wave of job cuts — with nearly 43,000 job losses announced in the first seven months of this year, according to a new report by Challenger, Gray & Christmas. It’s almost 20 percent more than all bankruptcy-linked job cuts in 2018. In the latest example, last week Barneys New York said it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

US Credit Card Interest Rates Hit Highest Level In 25 Years As Economy Slows, Fed Eases - The gap between what banks are being charged to borrow money, and what their charging consumers, is widening once again. According to the FT, US consumers are paying higher interest rates on credit-card balances than they have in 25 years. The average rate on interest-bearing card accounts topped 17 per cent in May, according to Fed data, the highest in the 25 years that the central bank has been making the calculation. Weekly data based on a Creditcards.com survey of 100 national card issuers found an average rate of 17.8 per cent at the end of July, another multi-decade high. Credit card rates started rising off their long-term lows as the Fed started raising the benchmark interest rate between late 2015 and the end of last year. But issuers soon outpaced the Fed, and rates continued to rise as the Fed embarked on its July rate cut. Now, the spread between the Fed funds rate and the rate that card issuers pay to hold deposits is, at just under 15%, the widest in recent memory. The spread has only been wider once: In the third quarter of 2009. Analysts blamed a couple of factors for the aggressive rise in credit-card rates: The first, is the CARD Act of 2009, a US law designed to protect consumers from being exploited by credit-card companies. The law limits a banks’ ability to raise interest rates on existing balances. So, since card issuers "can't reprice you once they sell you a card - so they have to price [more risks] in," according to John Hecht of Jeffries, a broker. Another factor? The perks. Card issuers need to bring in more capital to offset the generous perks that they've been awarding to loyal customers. (WSJ has chronicled the headaches that JPM has endured thanks to its extremely popular Sapphire Rewards Card). Still, there's reason for card holders to be optimistic. Two of the biggest credit-card lenders cut rates after the July rate cut.

Is it time to worry about mounting credit card debt? -- A decade after the last economic crash, the U.S. credit card market is again showing signs of overheating. More borrowers are failing to make their required monthly payments, even as card debt has soared, according to a report released Tuesday by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The report identified 486.5 million credit card accounts in the U.S. during the second quarter of 2019, an increase of more than 100 million since 2010. Outstanding balances on credit cards reached $868 billion, matching their highest level in more than a decade and topping the year-earlier mark by $39 billion. Credit available on plastic hit an all-time high of $2.91 trillion. Meanwhile, the percentage of card accounts at least 90 days past due, a status known as serious delinquency, is at its highest level in four years, according to the New York Fed’s report. During the second quarter, 8.32% of card balances were seriously delinquent, which was up from 7.88% a year earlier. The late-payment rate was still far below the double-digit levels hit during the last recession. The report found that credit trends in other consumer loan categories were more mixed. The percentage of mortgages and student loans that were seriously delinquent declined during the second quarter of 2018, while auto loan delinquencies increased. The credit card industry has historically been highly cyclical, and there are mixed signals about when industry officials expect the next downturn to arrive. 

Retail Sales increased 0.7% in July --On a monthly basis, retail sales increased 0.7 percent from June to July (seasonally adjusted), and sales were up 3.4 percent from July 2018.  From the Census Bureau report: Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for July 2019, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $523.5 billion,an increase of 0.7 percent from the previous month, and 3.4 percent above July 2018. … The May 2019 to June 2019 percent change was revised from up 0.4 percent to up 0.3 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 up 0.6% in July.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 3.7% on a YoY basis. The increase in July was above expectations. Sales in June were revised down, and sales in May revised up.  Overall a solid report.

Retail Sales Surge In July Thanks To Amazon's Prime Day -The last few months have seen extremely volatile swings in monthly retail sales but every rebound is heralded as evidence of "the strength of the consumer." So all eyes were on today's July data, expected to rise for the 5th month in a row, and it did - crushing expectations with a headline retail sales surge of 0.7% MoM (+0.3% exp) - the biggest gain in four months. More importantly, the Control Group - used for GDP calcs - surged 1.0% MoM, sending YoY gains dramatically higher...Only three categories saw sales declines (including auto sales)... Most notably, the non-store retailers (i.e. Amazon) saw a massive 2.8% MoM surge in sales thanks to Prime Day. This is not a picture of an economy that needs more rate cuts Mr. Powell.

US consumer sentiment for August comes in well below estimates -- U.S. consumer sentiment fell to 92.1 in August, the lowest indicator readout since the start of 2019, according to preliminary data. That’s below Wall Street’s expectations and down from the July figure. The University of Michigan released a preliminary August print on its consumer sentiment index Friday. Economists polled by Refinitiv expected the preliminary read on August consumer sentiment to reach 97, down from 98.4 in July. The report comes amid a wild week for the stock market, but after a handful of bullish reports in the consumer sector. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump announced the U.S. would delay proposed tariffs on certain Chinese imports, including clothing, electronics and footwear. The news sent retail stocks like Guess, Macy’s and Target surging. Trump said he delayed the tariffs in part over concerns about shopping during the holiday season. On Thursday Walmart topped Wall Street expectations for its second-quarter earnings report and got another boost in share price. The company also raised its full-year outlook. Shares gained more than 6% during the trading day. Also on Thursday, the Commerce Department released solid July retail sales figures. Spending at retail stores and restaurants rose 0.7% during the month, after a 0.3% gain in June.

USPS Reports First Drop In Package Volume In Nearly A Decade --The US Postal Service (USPS) is in a dangerous death spiral as it could run out of cash by the mid-2020s. The postmaster general warned in May that unless significant reforms are made to the quasigovernmental agency, it could soon collapse.A new report from The Wall Street Journal suggests that the downfall of the USPS could be more imminent than thought. Package delivery volume declined in 2Q19 for the first time since 2009. The cause of the drop is due to Amazon, United Parcel Service, and FedEx increasingly delivering online packages to homes.The USPS has experienced diminishing revenues for years even though they deliver packages to at least a million new addresses per year. The increased competition, largely from private shippers, has made the marketplace more competitive, leading to lower shipping rates that have financially stressed USPS.The Journal said USPS delivered 3.2% fewer packages for the quarter ended June 30. Postmaster General Megan Brennan said Friday that other delivery players are convincing shippers to switch to their networks, noting that they're "aggressively pricing their products and services in order to fill their networks and grow package density."Brennan added, "That said, we are constantly adapting our competitive posture to counter emerging developments."The USPS will likely notice higher package volume declines through 2020. FedEx plans on shifting 2 million of its daily packages that are diverted to USPS for "last-mile delivery" into its Ground network next year. Overall for 2Q, USPS posted a modest drop in revenue to $17.09 billion. It lost money on first-class mail, marketing mail, and periodicals.

Subprime Auto Loans Blow Up, Delinquencies at 2009 Level, Biggest 12-Month Surge Since 2010 -- But these are the good times. Automakers are not amused. The auto industry depends on subprime-rated customers that make up over 21% of total auto-loan originations. Without these customers, the wheels would come off the industry. And tightening up lending standards to reduce risks would cause serious damage to the undercarriage. Subprime lending is very profitable – until the loans blow up – because interest rates can be high. But those subprime auto loans are blowing up at rates not seen since the worst days of the Financial Crisis – and these are the good times!Serious auto-loan delinquencies – 90 days or more past due – in the second quarter, 2019, jumped 47 basis points year-over-year to 4.64% of all outstanding auto loans and leases, according to New York Fed data released today. This is about the same delinquency rate as in Q3 2009, just months after GM and Chrysler had filed for bankruptcy. The 47-basis-point jump in the delinquency rate was the largest year-over-year jump since Q1 2010: But this time there is no economic crisis. The unemployment rate and unemployment claims are hovering near multi-decade lows, and employers are griping about how hard it is to hire qualified workers without having to raise wages. So, unlike during the Financial Crisis, this surge in the delinquency rate has not been caused by millions of people having lost their jobs. It’s not the economy that did it. It’s the industry.

State-level average annual gasoline expenditures per capita ranged from $400 to $1,400 --Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) new Key Statistics and Indicators section of the State Energy Data System (SEDS) show that nominal per capita U.S. motor gasoline expenditures (the amount of money spent to consume motor gasoline in the United States) averaged $1,072 in 2017, an 11% increase from 2016 and the first annual increase since its peak of more than $1,500 in 2012. Wyoming had the largest average motor gasoline expenditures per capita of any state in 2017 at $1,441, while New York had the smallest of any state at $708. Average expenditures in the District of Columbia were lower than all states at $395. Total U.S. motor gasoline expenditures were $348 billion in 2017, an increase of 12% from the previous year. The increase was primarily caused by an increase in the U.S. average price of motor gasoline, which more than offset a 0.2% decrease in U.S. gasoline consumption from the previous year. The U.S. price of motor gasoline in 2017 averaged $2.44 per gallon (not including local taxes), a 12% increase from 2016.  Accounting for general inflation, U.S. motor gasoline expenditures per capita were relatively low in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s before increasing to a high of $1,650 in 2008. U.S. motor gasoline expenditures decreased each year from 2011 through 2016 before increasing slightly in 2017. States such as Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Delaware, and Montana have significantly higher motor gasoline expenditures per capita than the U.S. average. These states tend to have relatively small, less dense populations and less access to alternative forms of transportation that are common in urban areas. These states are also among the highest in vehicle miles traveled per capita. Individuals in Wyoming spent more for motor gasoline in every year since 1970, the earliest year EIA has recorded, except in 2014 when individuals in North Dakota spent more.

Brick & Mortar Meltdown’s Ugly Week in Record-Ugly Year – Wolf Richter - The phenomenon of the Brick-and-Mortar Meltdown is proceeding with relentless momentum, trailing in its wake store closings, job losses, bankruptcies, and liquidations. Just this week:A’Gaci, a young women’s fashion retailer based in Texas, filed for Chapter 11bankruptcy protection on Thursday, for the second time, after having filed for the first time in January 2018. This time, it will liquidate. All its remaining 54 stores in seven states and Puerto Rico will be closed – the “bulk” of them by the end of this month. Bankrupt retailers are notoriously difficult to restructure and turn into success stories.The company blamed the “challenging business environment,” particularly the “shift in consumer preferences away from shopping at brick and mortar stores to online retail channels.” And it blamed “hurricanes that impacted its most profitable stores” along with a botched “implementation of an inventory management system.”  On Wednesday, Walgreens Boots Alliance said in an SEC filing that it would close “approximately 200” stores in the US, accounting for about 3% of the company’s footprint. This move is part of its “Transformational Cost Management Program,” which indicates that there are more such moves coming in the future.  Also on Wednesday, this one in the “Dead Meat Walking” category: TransformCo, which Eddy Lampert had set up to buy certain Sears assets out of bankruptcy earlier this year, including 425 stores, announced that it would shutter 21 Sears stores and five Kmart stores, citing among other things a “generally weak retail environment.” And it said it “cannot rule out additional store closures in the near term.” So more store liquidations to come just in time before the holiday shopping season.   This phrase, “generally weak retail environment,” that TransformCo used is of course nonsense. Just about everything Lampert’s TransformCo says publicly can be considered nonsense. US retail sales are growing at a decent clip, up 3.3% in July compared to July last year, powered by the relentless boom in e-commerce, though brick-and-mortar department stores, clothing stores, and many other types of stores that populate malls are getting crushed. The weakness is in brick-and-mortar stores, not retail in general. And Sears, once the biggest mail-order house, totally and forever missed the train of e-commerce: The problem for Lampert’s stores is two-fold: One, Lampert, a hedge-fund guy, is clueless about retail; and that two, his #1 priority, as hedge fund guy, is to strip the stores clean one more time – which he has done for years before the bankruptcy, and which led to the bankruptcy, and for which he, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, and other “culpable insiders” got sued by the legal team that is picking through the remnants of Sears Holdings, alleging that these “culpable insiders” committed a series of massive “fraudulent transfers.”

BLS: CPI increased 0.3% in July, Core CPI increased 0.3% -- From the BLS:The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.3 percent in July on a seasonally adjusted basis after rising 0.1 percent in June, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 1.8 percent before seasonal adjustment....The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.3 in July, the same increase as in June. The July rise was broad-based, with increases in the indexes for shelter, medical care, airline fares, household furnishings and operations, apparel, and personal care all contributing to the increase.... The all items index increased 1.8 percent for the 12 months ending July, a larger increase than the 1.6-percent rise for the period ending June. The index for all items less food and energy rose 2.2 percent over the last 12 months, slightly more than the 2.1-percent increase for the period ending June.  Inflation was above expectations in July.

Consumer Price Index: July Headline at 1.81% -- The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the July Consumer Price Index data this morning. The year-over-year non-seasonally adjusted Headline CPI came in at 1.81%, up from 1.65% the previous month. Year-over-year Core CPI (ex Food and Energy) came in at 2.21%, up from the previous month's 2.13% 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 0.3 percent in July on a seasonally adjusted basis after rising 0.1 percent in June, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 1.8 percent before seasonal adjustment. Increases in the indexes for gasoline and shelter were the major factors in the seasonally adjusted all items monthly increase. The energy index rose in July as the gasoline and electricity indexes increased, though the natural gas index declined. The index for food was unchanged for the second month in a row, as a decline in the food at home index was offset by an increase in the food away from home index. The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.3 in July, the same increase as in June. The July rise was broad-based, with increases in the indexes for shelter, medical care, airline fares, household furnishings and operations, apparel, and personal care all contributing to the increase. The index for new vehicles was one of the few to decline in July. The all items index increased 1.8 percent for the 12 months ending July, a larger increase than the 1.6-percent rise for the period ending June. The index for all items less food and energy rose 2.2 percent over the last 12 months, slightly more than the 2.1-percent increase for the period ending June. The food index rose 1.8 percent over the last year while the energy index declined 2.0 percent. [More…] Investing.com was looking for 0.3% MoM change in seasonally adjusted Headline CPI and 0.2% in Core CPI. Year-over-year forecasts were 1.7% for Headline and 2.1% 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.  The next chart shows both series since 1957, the year the government first began tracking Core Inflation.

Consumer price inflation rises amid increases in gas and housing costs --Consumer prices rose more quickly than expected in July as gasoline reversed a two-month decline and the cost for rent continued to climb. The consumer price index for all items was up 0.3% for the month, against expectations for a 0.2% increase. Gasoline rose 2.5% while shelter costs increased 0.3%. Markets have been watching the inflation data closely for clues about what the Federal Reserve will do in the days ahead. The U.S. central bank is broadly expected to drop its benchmark overnight lending rate another 25 basis points in September after cutting for the first time in 11 years at the July meeting. Though the CPI numbers came in a bit hotter than expected, it likely won’t be enough to deter a rate cut that the markets have been clamoring for. Excluding food and energy costs, the index was still up 0.3%, which was in line with Wall Street estimates. On an annualized basis, the core inflation rate increased 2.2%, while the headline number was up 1.8%. The Fed targets inflation at 2% but has maintained a symmetrical approach, meaning it would be content if the level was a bit above or below that level over the short term. The Fed also prefers to use the personal consumption expenditures deflator as its inflation gauge, and that has been running closer to 1.5%. “Provided that the incoming activity data continue to deteriorate, however, the Fed still looks likely to cut interest rates again next month,” Andrew Hunter, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said in a note. Inflation generally has remained tame despite the accelerating tariff battle between the U.S. and China. President Donald Trump jolted markets last week when he announced he will institute tariffs against all Chinese imports starting in September. Those duties would impact mostly consumer goods, whereas the previous charges were against mostly intermediate products. 

Early Look at 2020 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 1.7 percent over the last 12 months to an index level of 250.236 (1982-84=100). For the month, the index rose 0.2 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 2018, the Q3 average of CPI-W was 246.352.  The 2018 Q3 average was the highest Q3 average, so we only 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 1.7% year-over-year in July, and although this is early - we need the data for July, August and September - my current guess is COLA will probably be under 2.0% this year, the smallest increase since 2016. 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 2018 yet, but wages probably increased again in 2018. If wages increased the same as in 2017, then the contribution base next year will increase to around $137,600 in 2020, from the current $132,900. Remember - this is an early look. What matters is average CPI-W for all three months in Q3 (July, August and September).

Inflation Data Shows Tariffs Are Not a Tax on Consumers but on Foreign & US Corporations - Inflation runs hot in housing, medical services, health insurance, other items that are not imported. The consumer price inflation data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which corroborates prior inflation data, says that, yes, prices are rising, but they’re rising sharply in services that are not impacted by imports and tariffs, such as rents and other housing costs, healthcare, education, and other services, and also in restaurants (where customers pay mostly for labor and rent). But inflation in durable goods, such as electronics, cars, and the like – where the tariffs would show up – was very low.Inflation as measure by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 0.3% in July from June and 1.8% over the 12-month period. This was largely held down by a decline in energy costs (-2.0% due to the ongoing oil bust) and by a very slow rise in the costs of durable goods.Food and energy prices are very volatile, dancing to the tune of oil busts, droughts, floods, diseases in animals, and other factors. Together, they weigh about 21% in the overall CPI. A less volatile measure is the CPI without food and energy, or “core CPI,” which rose 2.2% over the 12-month period, at the high end of the 10-year range:   Where does this inflation come from? Primarily Services: Services include the biggies that consumers spend most of their money on: housing costs, healthcare, financial services, telecommunications services, education, etc. Services without energy services (such as utilities) weigh about 60% in the overall CPI. These services have nothing to do with imports or tariffs, and over the 12-month period, their prices jumped 2.8%.   “Shelter,” the biggie, accounts for 33% of the overall CPI. “Shelter” is a group of services that includes housing costs, such as rents and “owner’s equivalent of rent” (what it would cost a homeowner to rent the home), plus hotels, and the like. Shelter has nothing to do with imports or tariffs, and it jumped 3.5% over the 12-month period, at the very top of the 10-year range: Medical care services, the second largest group in services, account for about 7% of total CPI. This does not include pharmaceutical products, but includes hospital services, dental services, and the like. And it includes health insurance, which – as we guessed with our grin-and-bear-it grimace – soared 15.9% over the 12-month period, driving prices of total medical services up by 3.3%: Where does this inflation not come from? Durable Goods – products like cars, furniture, appliances, TVs, smartphones, computers, tools, lawnmowers, etc. A lot of products in this category are imported, or even if the products are “made” in the US, their components are imported. This is where tariffs would hit the hardest.

Freight Shipments Suffer Steepest Drops since Financial Crisis, Overcapacity Balloons --Freight shipments within the US by all modes of transportation – truck, rail, air, and barge – fell 5.9% in July 2019, compared to July 2018, the eighth month in a row of year-over-year declines, according to the Cass Freight Index for Shipments, which tracks shipments of consumer and industrial goods but not of bulk commodities such as grains. This decline along with the 6.0% drop in May were the steepest year-over-year declines in freight shipments since the Financial Crisis: In terms of shipment volume, the year 2018 was a historic outlier boom, far above all prior years. Now the Cass Freight Index has fallen back to the levels of the prior boom year, 2014, but remains higher than it had been in July 2015, 2016, and 2017.In its report, Cass adds some items on its worry list that are not reflected in the Cass Freight Index, including “severe declines in international airfreight volumes (especially in Asia)” and “the ongoing swoon in railroad volumes, especially in auto and building materials.”In the chart below of the Cass Freight Index for Shipments, the red line indicates shipment volumes in 2019 through July. The green line denotes 2014. What this shows is that 2018 was an immense party before dropping off in November and December, and that 2019 is a nasty hangover and a painful return back into the sober range: Railroad freight traffic fell 5.5% in July, compared to July last year, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR), with carloads (commodities, motor vehicles, etc.) dropping 4.8% and intermodal (containers hauled by truck or ship and then transferred to rail, or semi-truck trailers that piggyback on special rail cars) dropping 6.1%.Only six of the 20 carload commodities categories showed gains compared to July last year, with the biggest, petroleum & petroleum products, surging 11.5% as a result of the US shale-oil production boom.The AAR blamed the 6.1% decline in intermodal on the trade issues since about 50% of the intermodal freight is a result of imports and exports, and “trade policy uncertainty continues to drag down this traffic segment.” For the first seven months of the year, intermodal fell 3.7%.The total amount shippers – industrial companies, retailers, wholesalers, etc. – spent on freight by all modes of transportation, is a function of shipment volume, freight rates, and fuels surcharges. And it ticked down 1.4% from July last year, according to the Cass Freight Index for Expenditures. This was only the second tiny year-over-year decline since December 2016, the end of the last Transportation Recession:

Cass Freight Index Contracts 8th Month: Cass Predicts Negative GDP by Q3 or Q4 – Mish - The Cass Freight Index® Report shows trucking shipments as negative for the 8th month. Key Points:

  • When the December 2018 Cass Shipments Index was negative for the first time in 24 months, we dismissed the decline as reflective of a tough comparison. In January and February 2019, we again made rationalizations. When March was also negative (-1.0%), we warned that we were preparing to “change tack” in our outlook; when April was down (-3.2%), we said, “we see material and growing downside risk to the economic outlook.”
  • With the -5.9% drop in July, following the -5.3% drop in June, and the -6.0% drop in May, we repeat our message from last two months: the shipments index has gone from “warning of a potential slowdown” to “signaling an economic contraction.”
  • We acknowledge that: all of these negative percentages are against extremely tough comparisons; and the Cass Shipments Index has gone negative before without being followed by a negative GDP. However,weakness in demand is now being seen across many modes of transportation, both domestically and internationally.
  • Although the initial Q2 ’19 GDP was positive, it was not as positive upon dissection, and we see a growing risk that GDP will go negative by year’s end.
  • The weakness in spot market pricing for many transportation services, especially trucking, is consistent with the negative Cass Shipments Index and, along with airfreight and railroad volume data, strengthens our concerns about the economy and the risk of ongoing trade policy disputes.Weakness in commodity prices, and the decline in interest rates, have joined the chorus of signals calling for an economic contraction.

Trade War Chaos Collapses Farm Equipment Sales Across Midwest - Reuters spoke with dozens of John Deere Stores across the Central and Midwest US to get a better understanding of what the trade war and adverse weather conditions have had on tractor sales this year. What they discovered was an ominous sign of an agriculture bust that has triggered massive tractor sales declines at dozens of John Deere Stores. About a half dozen stores across the Midwest told Reuters sales in 1H19 collapsed. One store, in Geneseo, Illinois, saw sales crash 50% in 1H19 YoY. A Salem, Wisconsin-based store said sales dropped 15% in 1H19, led by the rapid decline of large farm equipment. Already, sales orders for tractors next season are down 25%, an indication the farm bust will continue through 2020. We reported several months ago that JPMorgan told clients the American agriculture complex is on the verge of disaster, with farmers caught in the crossfire of an escalating trade war. "Overall, this is a perfect storm for US farmers," JPMorgan analyst Ann Duignan warned investors.With a farm crisis currently underway, Duignan downgraded John Deere's stock to underweight in May, citing fundamentals in the Midwest are "rapidly deteriorating."The rapid decay in fundamentals Duignan was speaking about is the collapse in tractor sales across the Midwest. Deere derives 60% of its sales from the US and Canada. The company is expected to announce a decline in its agriculture & turf segment when it reports next Friday. Dave Schmidt, president, Schmidt Implement Co. (a John Deere dealer in Salem, Wis.), warned: "We are not expecting demand for planting equipment to come back up this year." Meanwhile, China imported $9.1 billion of US farm products in 2018, down from $19.5 billion in 2017. Earlier this week, China said it would suspend its purchases of US agricultural products and wouldn't rule out increasing import tariffs on American farm imports purchased after Aug. 3.

 US import prices - July 2019- Import and export prices unexpectedly-- U.S. import prices unexpectedly rose in July, but the underlying trend remained weak, pointing to subdued imported inflation.The Labor Department said on Wednesday import prices increased 0.2% last month as a rebound in the cost of petroleum products offset declines in prices for capital goods and motor vehicles. Data for June was revised down to show import prices dropping 1.1% instead of falling 0.9% as previously reported.Economists polled by Reuters had forecast import prices would be unchanged in July. In the 12 months through July, import prices dropped 1.8% after decreasing 2.0% in June.That suggests inflation will likely remain moderate despite a broad increase in consumer prices in July, which could allow the Federal Reserve to cut interest rate further to limit the damage to the economy from trade tensions.The Trump administration on Tuesday delayed imposing a 10% import tariff on laptops, cell phones, video game consoles and a wide range of other products made in China.President Donald Trump said the postponement of the tariff until mid-December was to avoid hurting American shoppers heading into the Christmas holiday. Economists said the delay of the duties, which had been scheduled to kick off on Sept. 1, still left a cloud over the economy. Fears about the impact of the trade war on the U.S. economic expansion, the longest in history, prompted the Fed to cut its short-term lending rate by 25 basis points last month for the first time since 2008.

Industrial Production Decreased in July --From the Fed: Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization -- Industrial production declined 0.2 percent in July. Manufacturing output decreased 0.4 percent last month and has fallen more than 1-1/2 percent since December 2018. In July, mining output fell 1.8 percent, as Hurricane Barry caused a sharp but temporary decline in oil extraction in the Gulf of Mexico. The index for utilities rose 3.1 percent. At 109.2 percent of its 2012 average, total industrial production was 0.5 percent higher in July than it was a year earlier.Capacity utilization for the industrial sector decreased 0.3 percentage point in July to 77.5 percent, a rate that is 2.3 percentage points below its long-run (1972–2018) average.This graph shows Capacity Utilization. This series is up 10.8 percentage points from the record low set in June 2009 (the series starts in 1967). Capacity utilization at 77.5% is 2.3% 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 was unchanged in July at 109.2. This is 25% above the recession low, and 3.7% above the pre-recession peak.The change in industrial production and decrease in capacity utilization were below consensus.

Boeing deliveries fall 38% in the first seven months of 2019 (Reuters) - Boeing Co delivered 38% fewer planes in the first seven months of 2019 than the same period a year earlier, as the grounding and doubts around the future of its best-selling 737 MAX jets hurt operations. Deliveries totaled 258 aircraft in the seven months through July, compared to 417 last year, and trailing far behind the 458 aircraft handed over in the same period by European rival Airbus SE. The numbers put Boeing on course to lose the crown of world’s biggest planemaker, which it has held uninterrupted for seven years. The 737 MAX has been grounded worldwide following two fatal accidents that killed more than 300 people and both Boeing and airlines continue to extend the timelines for when it will return to service. Last month, the company posted its largest-ever quarterly loss due to the spiraling cost of resolving issues with the MAX, warning it may have to halt production of the grounded jet altogether if regulators around the world do not give clearance for it to fly again soon. 

Rotten Apple: Right to Repair Roundup - - Jerri-Lynn Scofield --Last week, iFixit reported on Apple’s latest salvo against the right to repair: By activating a dormant software lock on their newest iPhones, Apple is effectively announcing a drastic new policy: only Apple batteries can go in iPhones, and only they can install them.If you replace the battery in the newest iPhones, a message indicating you need to service your battery appears in Settings > Battery, next to Battery Health. The “Service” message is normally an indication that the battery is degraded and needs to be replaced. The message still shows up when you put in a brand new battery, however. Here’s the bigger problem: our lab tests confirmed that even when you swap in a genuine Apple battery, the phone will still display the “Service” message.It’s not a bug; it’s a feature Apple wants. Unless an Apple Genius or an Apple Authorized Service Provider authenticates a battery to the phone, that phone will never show its battery health and always report a vague, ominous problem.There are many concerns the Apple policy raises – some of which I have discussed before (seeDesign Genius Jony Ive Leaves Apple, Leaving Behind Crapified Products That Cannot Be Repaired).I want to focus on one practical problem here: the dearth of Apple stores to conduct these repairs. This is a problem outside major US cities, as I understand there are big chunks of the US that lack Apple stores. This means people who live in these areas must now either schlep to an Apple store – or ship their iPhone – when they need a simple battery change (unless they are prepared to ignore bogus error messages). Uh huh.

If You Lose Your iPhone, You Can’t Pay Your Apple Card Bill On The Web -  Apple Card is a new cash-rewards credit card that — Apple purports — is designed to be simple and transparent. But it’s also aimed at keeping you locked into your iPhone. There are no paper statements with the digital-first Apple Card. Unlike a traditional credit card, everything is accessed through the Wallet app on the iPhone, including transaction histories, total balances, previous statements, and payments. There’s no website to view the latest transactions made on the card or make a payment if you lose access to that Wallet app. So, how do you pay your Apple Card bill if your iPhone is misplaced or stolen? You could always wait until you buy a new phone, or recover your old one, but a late payment would result in interest charges which, obviously, would not be ideal. Because Apple’s support website doesn’t say, BuzzFeed News posed the question to a customer service representative through Apple’s phone and text message support system. According to Apple Support, your options are: 1. Use an iPad or other iOS device to access the Wallet app, or 2. Call Apple Support (not, presumably, with the phone you just lost) and a representative will connect you to an Apple Card specialist at Goldman Sachs, Apple’s bank partner. You’ll need your full name, date of birth, last four digits of your Social Security number, and the phone number associated with your account to make a payment over the phone.

Thanks To Technology, It Now Takes Only 10 Seconds To Steal New Cars - It looks as though new keyless entry vehicles are not only offering conveniences for their owners, but also for thieves, who can now steal these vehicles "in seconds", according to the BBC. In a test performed by "What Car?" magazine, seven car models with keyless entry and start systems were tested to see how quickly they could be stolen. The results? An Audi TT RS was stolen in 10 seconds and a Land Rover Discovery Sport was stolen in 30. Security experts performed the tests using the same type of technology that's commonly used by thieves. They measured the amount of time it took to get into the vehicle and drive it away. The BBC notes that car theft rates in places like England and Wales have reached eight year highs and that more than 106,000 vehicles were stolen in 2018 alone. Additionally, insurance claims for stolen vehicles hit their highest level in seven years at the beginning of 2019. Claims for January to March were higher than for any other quarter since 2012, according to the Association of British Insurers. Keyless car crime was part of the blame, the ABI said, but it did not have exact figures on what proportion of claims were for keyless vehicles. VW, the parent company of Audi, says that it continually collaborates with police and insurers as part of its work to improve its vehicle security measures. PSA group, the parent company of DS, says it has a team dedicated to treating security weaknesses and also has worked closely with police to analyze methods being used for theft. It also said that dealers could deactivate keyless entry systems if the owners requested it.

AAR: July Rail Carloads down 4.8% YoY, Intermodal Down 6.1% YoY - From the Association of American Railroads (AAR) Rail Time Indicators. Graphs and excerpts reprinted with permission. Continuing economic uncertainty, fueled in great measure by ongoing trade disputes and worrisome economic weakness around the globe — combined with low natural gas prices and the shift from coalfired electricity in the United States — to produce another month of disappointing rail traffic in Mexico and the United States, while Canada achieved moderate growth in its intermodal traffic. Carload and intermodal traffic fell by 4.8% and 6.1%, respectively, in the United States in July versus July 2018. This graph from the Rail Time Indicators report shows U.S. average weekly rail carloads (NSA). Rail carloads have been weak over the last decade due to the decline in coal shipments.Total carloads originated by U.S. railroads in July 2019 were 1.26 million, down 64,406 carloads (4.8%) from the previous July. Since January’s modest 1.7% increase, U.S. railroads have faced year over-year declines each month — producing a total shortfall of more than 280,000 carloads over the past six months.…  For the year to date, U.S. carloads were 7.82 million in 2019, down 259,574 carloads (3.2%), from the first seven months of 2018. Coal alone was down 158,573 carloads — while crushed stone, sand, and gravel was off by 65,262 carloads, and grain dropped 34,600 carloads (grain mill products fell too, by about 14,000 carloads). The second graph is for intermodal traffic (using intermodal or shipping containers):U.S. intermodal originations totaled 1.31 million containers and trailers in July 2019, down 84,878 units from July 2018. The 6.1% decline was the sixth straight monthly decline on a year-over-year basis. For the first seven months of 2019, intermodal was down 314,125 units (3.7%). Though the decline from 2018 is significant, U.S. intermodal volume through July of this year was higher than every year except 2018 — so the current pace is not as slow as it feels. Intermodal traffic was especially strong during the last five months of 2018, which will make for challenging comps for the remainder of 2019.

LA area Port Traffic Down Year-over-year in July -- Container traffic gives us an idea about the volume of goods being exported and imported - and usually some hints about the trade report since LA area ports handle about 40% of the nation's container port traffic.  The following graphs are for inbound and outbound traffic at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in TEUs (TEUs: 20-foot equivalent units or 20-foot-long cargo container). To remove the strong seasonal component for inbound traffic, the first graph shows the rolling 12 month average.On a rolling 12 month basis, inbound traffic was up slightly in July compared to the rolling 12 months ending in June.   Outbound traffic was down 0.4% compared to the rolling 12 months ending the previous month.The 2nd graph is the monthly data (with a strong seasonal pattern for imports).   Usually imports peak in the July to October period as retailers import goods for the Christmas holiday, and then decline sharply and bottom in February or March depending on the timing of the Chinese New Year (February 5th in 2019).  In general imports have been increasing, and exports have mostly moved sideways over the last 8 years.

Empire State Manufacturing Survey: Modest Increase in August - This morning we got the latest Empire State Manufacturing Survey. The diffusion index for General Business Conditions at 4.8 was an increase of 0.5 from the previous month's 4.3. The Investing.com forecast was for a reading of 3.0. The Empire State Manufacturing Index rates the relative level of general business conditions in New York state. A level above 0.0 indicates improving conditions, below indicates worsening conditions. The reading is compiled from a survey of about 200 manufacturers in New York state. Here is the opening paragraph from the report. Business activity increased modestly in New York State, according to firms responding to the August 2019 Empire State Manufacturing Survey. The headline general business conditions index was little changed at 4.8. New orders increased after declining for the prior two months, and shipments continued to expand. Unfilled orders fell, delivery times were steady, and inventories increased. The employment and average workweek indexes were both slightly below zero, pointing to sluggishness in labor market conditions. Input prices increased at a slightly slower pace than last month, and selling price increases were little changed. Indexes assessing the six-month outlook indicated that firms were somewhat less optimistic about future conditions than they were in July. [full report] Here is a chart of the current conditions and its 3-month moving average, which helps clarify the trend for this extremely volatile indicator:

Philly Fed Manufacturing Index: Continued Growth in August - The Philly Fed's Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey is a monthly report for the Third Federal Reserve District, covers eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and Delaware. While it focuses exclusively on business in this district, this regional survey gives a generally reliable clue as to the direction of the broader Chicago Fed's National Activity Index.The latest Manufacturing Index came in at 16.8, down 5.0 from last month's 21.8. The 3-month moving average came in at 13.0, up from 12.9 last month. Since this is a diffusion index, negative readings indicate contraction, positive ones indicate expansion. The Six-Month Outlook came in at 32.6, down 5.4 from the previous month's 38.0.Today's 16.8 headline number came in above the 10.0 forecast at Investing.com.Here is the introduction from the survey released today:Manufacturing activity in the region continued to grow, according to results from the August Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey. The survey's broad indicators remained positive, although their movements were mixed this month: The general activity, shipments, and employment indicators decreased from their readings last month, but the indicator for new orders increased. The survey’s future activity indexes remained positive, suggesting continued optimism about growth for the next six months. (Full Report) The first chart below gives us a look at this diffusion index since 2000, which shows us how it has behaved in proximity to the two 21st century recessions. The red dots show the indicator itself, which is quite noisy, and the 3-month moving average, which is more useful as an indicator of coincident economic activity. We can see periods of contraction in 2011, 2012 and 2015, and a shallower contraction in 2013. 2016 saw an improvement but has since lost its gains and has been detracting.

 Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims increased to 220,000 --The DOL reported:In the week ending August 10, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 220,000, an increase of 9,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 2,000 from 209,000 to 211,000. The 4-week moving average was 213,750, an increase of 1,000 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 500 from 212,250 to 212,750. The previous week was revised up. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

Census Bureau to Hire "about 40,000" Temp Workers Now --CR Note: This will impact the August employment report. See: How to Report the Monthly Employment Number excluding Temporary Census Hiring  From the Census Bureau: U.S. Census Bureau Announces the Start of First Major Field Operation for 2020 CensusToday, the U.S. Census Bureau briefed the media on the launch of address canvassing, the first major field operation of the 2020 Census. Address canvassing improves and refines the Census Bureau’s address list of households nationwide, which is necessary to deliver invitations to respond to the census. The address list plays a vital role in ensuring a complete and accurate count of everyone living in the United States.“The Census Bureau is dedicated to ensuring that we are on track, and ready to accomplish the mission of the 2020 Census,” said Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham. “We have made many improvements and innovations over the past decade, including better technologies for canvassing neighborhoods and developing complete and updated address listings and maps.”The Census Bureau created new software called the Block Assessment, Research and Classification Application (BARCA). It compares satellite images of the United States over time, allowing Census Bureau employees to spot new housing developments, changes in existing homes and other housing units that did not previously exist. Reviewers also use BARCA to compare the number of housing units in current imagery with the number of addresses on file for each block. “We were able to verify 65% of addresses using satellite imagery — a massive accomplishment for us,” said Census Bureau Geography Division Chief Deirdre Bishop during the briefing. “In 2010 we had to hire 150,000 people to verify 100% of the addresses in the field, this decade we will only have to hire about 40,000 employees around the nation to verify the remaining 35% of addresses.”

 Job fair after ICE raids: Here’s who showed up for Koch Foods plant jobs – On Monday morning, the parking lot at the WIN Job Center here was full. About 25 to 30 people showed up to apply for jobs at Koch Foods' nearby poultry processing plant. Of those, about an equal number were black, white or Latino. "This is what you'd normally see here," said Dianne Bell, communications director for the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, of the job fair held between 9 and 11 a.m. The company, one of four whose plants in small Mississippi towns were targeted by federal immigration officials on Wednesday, contacted the state employment agency the same day to request its help in hiring workers. The raids detained 680 mostly Latino workers in what marked the largest workplace sting in at least a decade. Of those, about 300 were given future court dates and released, but they can't return to work. "They reached out to us the very same day," Bell said about the need for a job fair. Bell said it's not unusual for Koch Foods to contact the department when it needs workers. MDES kept the media out of the jobs center, citing concern for job applicant anonymity. "A lot of these folks don't want to be in the spotlight, many of them don't like people knowing they're out of work, and others are nervous," Bell said

NYC’s $15 minimum wage hasn’t brought the restaurant apocalypse — it’s helped them thrive  -New York City restaurant workers saw their pay increase by 20% after a $15 minimum-wage hike, and a new report says business is booming despite warnings that the boost would devastate the city's restaurant industry. As New York raised the minimum wage to $15 this year from $7.25 in 2013, its restaurant industry outperformed the rest of the US in job growth and expansion, a new study found. The study, by researchers from the New School and the New York think tank National Employment Law Project, found no negative employment effects of the city increasing its minimum wage to $15. Restaurant workers in the city saw a pay increase of 20% to 28%, representing the largest hike "for a big group of low-wage workers since the 1960s," James Parrott, a director of economic and fiscal policies at the New School and an author of the study, told Gothamist. While the city's restaurant growth is likely a result of the city's overall strong economy, the report's findings might suggest that paying workers more won't immediately lead to job loss or other negative business consequences as previously thought.

 Study finds workplace injuries increase risk of death by suicide, drug overdose -  In the US, life expectancy has fallen for the total population for the past three years for which data is available, from 2015 through 2017. Death rates in the younger age groups in particular drove this decline, with increases in 2016 and 2017 for those aged 25–44. These figures point to an intensifying social crisis, with many of the younger age group dying from “deaths of despair,” including drug and alcohol abuse and suicide.A critical study conducted by the Boston University School of Public Health and the US Social Security Administration, published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in July, examines the complex interaction of several factors that affect an increasing number of workers in the US: depression, prescription drug use, early death and workplace injuries.The study linked New Mexico workers’ compensation data for 100,806 workers injured between 1994 and 2000 with Social Security Administration earnings and mortality data through 2013 and National Death Index cause of death data. The workers’ data came from all industries, including agriculture, fishing and forestry; construction; retail trade; services; mining and extracting; and others.The study found that workers who were injured at work were at significantly higher risk of death from suicide and/or drug overdose, as well as other serious health consequences, both mental and physical, as a result of losing work time and income from a work-related injury.The study made note of the alarming increase in drug overdose deaths and suicides in the US over the past two decades. Deaths in the US from opioid overdose in 2015 were recorded as 2.5 times higher than in 2000, with an astonishing 13 percent increase between 2015 and 2016. Even more concerning is the increasing suicide rate, which rose by 30 percent from 1999 to 2016. Suicide has remained the tenth most frequent cause of death in the US since 2008.The authors found that work-related or occupational injuries typically involve acute and chronic pain. In one study cited by the authors, 42 percent of workers with back injuries were prescribed opioids within one year of their injury. Sixteen percent continued the opioid use for one year, with the dose increasing substantially over time, resulting in a form of “medically managed” addiction.

Court Upholds North Dakota Law Stripping Voting Rights From Native Americans -The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals last week upheld a law that strips nearly 10 percent of all voting-age Native Americans living in North Dakota of their right to vote.The case is as much about local infrastructure and lack of regard for North Dakota’s indigenous population as it is about voter suppression and a state forcing voters to comply with a requirement that the state itself has made impossible to follow.Thousands of Native Americans who do not have residential addresses through no fault of their own have been affected by the law, HB 1369. What’s worse is that these Native voters may be disenfranchised permanently should HB 1369 remain in place—something the three-judge panel that ruled on the lawsuit challenging the law seems OK with. That should trouble us all. The Native American Rights Fund initially filed the lawsuit, Brakebill v. Jaeger, in 2016 on behalf of Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa tribe members. The lawsuit alleges the law discriminates against Native American voters in violation of the Equal Protection Clause and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The primary dispute is over a provision of North Dakota’s law called the current residential street address requirement, which requires voters to present qualifying identification to cast a ballot. An ID card isn’t valid unless it contains the voter’s legal name, current residential street address, and date of birth. If a voter’s ID lacks any of these three things, the voter may still cast a ballot if they can provide the missing information using one of several supplemental documents: a current utility bill, a current bank statement, a paycheck, or a check or other document issued by a federal, state, or local government. Notably, ID cards with mailing addresses aren’t sufficient, and documents issued by tribal leaders, such as tribal IDs, aren’t either.

Money-Making Schemes That Ensnare Prisoners and Their Families If you believe the advertisements mailed to federal prisoners across the country, getting out of prison early is as simple as paying thousands of dollars to the right person.Early release scams are rampant in prisons, experts say, as opportunists recognize the desperate and captive market they have in incarcerated people and their families. Word of each new company travels fast in the prison gossip mill, and those inside have few resources to adequately vet claims.  New schemes often pop up when there are changes to federal criminal law, prisoner advocates say. Several companies and individuals in the past year have peddled dubious strategies to win inmates’ release under the recently-passed First Step Act, for example. Shon Hopwood, a formerly incarcerated lawyer and professor at Georgetown Law School, remembers how the ads came like clockwork. “We used to get bombarded with mailings from lawyers because at the end of June, the Supreme Court’s term would end,” Hopwood said. “They used to say, ‘We can use these cases and get everyone out of prison!’ The law rarely works that way.” Lawyers say that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. They point to these common offers that prisoners and their families should be wary of.

 Welcome to the Greenbrier, the Governor-Owned Luxury Resort Filled With Conflicts of Interest - Standing at the base of the Capitol steps in Charleston, Jim Justice, the wealthiest man in West Virginia, took the oath of office as the state’s 36th governor and assured his fellow West Virginians that his vast business empire of coal mines, vacation resorts and agricultural companies — many of them regulated by the state agencies he would soon control — posed no conflicts with his new job.  “I want absolutely nothing. Nothing,” Justice said. “All I want is goodness for this incredible state and its incredible people.”    Hours later, the new governor held his inaugural ball, not at a Charleston hotel or the local civic center, as his predecessors long had, but at The Greenbrier, a palatial resort 120 miles from the Capitol.  The hotel’s owner: Jim Justice. All told, more than $1 million — half of the inaugural fund — went to Justice’s Greenbrier Hotel Corp., according to financial reports filed with the secretary of state’s office.  With his decision to hold the ball at The Greenbrier, Justice ushered in a new era of politics in West Virginia, one in which it’s hard to tell where the governor’s business interests end and state government begins.  The billionaire now faces a complicated ethical landscape with striking similarities to the entanglements surrounding his Republican political ally, President Donald Trump. A corporate executive whose most recent financial disclosure listed 130 separate business entities, Justice early in his term said he had turned over day-to-day control of his businesses to his adult children. But,like Trump, he stopped short of placing most of his assets in a blind trust that would have shielded him from at least the appearance of conflicts.  Today, Justice’s coal mines are inspected by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training, agencies whose top employees the governor appoints. And his casino is regulated by West Virginia’s Lottery Commission, another agency under the chief executive’s control.  The Greenbrier represents only a slice of Justice’s holdings, estimated by Forbes to be worth as much as $1.5 billion. But the iconic resort’s outsized role in West Virginia politics has made it an unparalleled ethical thicket for the governor.

School Kids Suffer With the SNAP of a Finger  - Thousands of needy California school kids may go hungry if Donald Trump is able to deny food stamps to 3.1 million Americans who are currently receiving SNAP benefits. That’s the estimated number of individuals who will be hit if tightened eligibility rules posted last month by the Department of Agriculture are adopted. The proposal would also stop states like California from extending benefits based on an individual’s net instead of gross income. Children who would no longer qualify for food stamps will also lose their automatic eligibility for free school meals, and by forcing parents to apply for reduced-price meals instead, the new rules would represent an administrative barrier that could result in a loss of benefits. The change will also reduce the number of schools that meet the 40 percent eligibility threshold that currently allows all students at qualifying schools to get free meals regardless of family income. And in California, managing policy advocate for California Food Policy Advocates Jared Call warned EdSource, high needs schools will stand to lose extra funding tied to free or reduced-price eligibility under the state’s Local Control Funding Formula. The average SNAP household received about $253 a month in fiscal year 2018 — or roughly a third of the price to attend the Mar-a-Lago New Year’s Eve party that year. Speaking of public ed inequities, researchers know that lower school funding equals fewer learning opportunities and worse student outcomes. Which is why many advocates see the stark funding disparities between a school in a rich neighborhood and one several miles away in a high-poverty zip code as a civil rights issue. But an analysis last week by the nonprofit news site Chalkbeat of recent studies underscores just how amplified those differences can get when the states that spend the least per student also serve more low-income students and students of color. Findings by the nonprofit EdBuild show a $23 billion disparity nationally between white-majority districts and those composed largely of students of color.

Students in Louisiana public schools to be greeted with 'In God We Trust' signs - Public school students in Louisiana will be welcomed with "In God We Trust" signs when they head back to school this month. The move is the result of a law signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) last year that requires the instruction and display of the motto "In God We Trust" in all public schools in the state starting this school year. “Not later than the 2019-2020 school year, the program of instruction on patriotic customs required by this Section shall include instruction on the national motto, ‘In God We Trust,’ and each public school governing authority shall display the national motto in each building it uses and in each school under its jurisdiction,” the law, also known as Senate Bill 224, states.“The nature of the display shall be determined by each governing authority with a minimum requirement of a paper sign,” the legislation also reads.The move comes as some state legislatures across the South — including Florida, Arkansas and South Carolina — have discussed similar measures that would require public schools to display the motto. Just recently, a new law in South Carolina went in effect requiring public schools to place "In God We Trust" signs on display.

California School District Agrees to Desegregate After State Investigation - A California school district outside of San Francisco agreed to desegregate its schools on Friday, after a two-year state investigation found that the district had “knowingly and intentionally maintained and exacerbated” racial segregation and even established an intentionally segregated school. Students in the district, Sausalito Marin City, are divided into two starkly different schools, according to the state Justice Department, which conducted the investigation: a thriving, racially and economically integrated charter school in the heavily white enclave of Sausalito, near the Golden Gate Bridge, and an overwhelmingly black, Hispanic and poor traditional public school about a mile away, in the more diverse community of Marin City.The arrangement was no accident, Xavier Becerra, the California attorney general, said on Friday, but a deliberate scheme by school district officials to set up a separate and unequal system that would keep low-income children of color out of a white enclave.As part of the new agreement, the district agreed to desegregate by the 2020-21 school year, and provide scholarships and counseling to students who had been hurt by the segregation.“Depriving a child of a fair chance to learn is wicked, it’s warped, it’s morally bankrupt, and it’s corrupt,” Mr. Becerra said. “Your skin color or ZIP code should not determine winners and losers.”State attorneys general typically defend school systems against desegregation claims, not pursue them. In the decades after the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, the vast majority of desegregation agreements resulted from federal, not state, action — but in recent years, federal courts have done little to integrate schools. In the Sausalito case, the state said the district had violated the equal protection clause of the California Constitution. The action is part of a wave of new educational equity court actions from the left that relies on state law.

Charter School Advocates Fume Over Final Reform Report - If some public schools advocates have been less than enthusiastic about Governor Gavin Newsom’s attempts to dilute charter school reform legislation, the governor shouldn’t expect any gratitude from California’s charter lobby. Despite receiving major concessions on Assembly Bill 1505, which had been written to restore robust local control to school boards over new charter school creation, the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) remains fiercely opposed to the bill. And on the pages of EdSource last week, CCSA members were still spitting mad at the man they hold ultimately responsible — state schools supe Tony Thurmond. That’s because as chair of the governor’s California Charter School Policy Task Force, Thurmond included in its final report far-reaching reforms that CCSA opposed and that found their way into AB 1505. “Both camps are unhappy with what’s going on,” observed Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation and University of Kentucky College of Education dean Julian Vasquez Heilig. “This isn’t an issue that lends itself to political compromise, because in the long term, more and more charters leads to the extinction of public schools and both sides know it.” AB 1505’s sponsor, the California Teachers Association, has maintained that the legislation significantly shifts the center of gravity over all decisions regarding new charter school creation away from Sacramento and back to the locally elected leaders best equipped for the job. The bill “limits the appeals at the state board level only if there was abuse of local discretion,” CTA spokesperson Claudia Briggs told Learning Curves last month. “AB 1505 allows school districts to consider fiscal impact on other schools in the district. It also allows authorizers to deny a charter school that would substantially undermine existing district school services.”  (Disclosure: CTA is a financial supporter of this website.) The fact that charter law reform has dominated this summer’s Sacramento legislative session can be chalked up to Reclaim Our Schools Los Angeles (ROSLA), the undersung coalition that laid the foundation for the wide-ranging political victories scored by United Teachers Los Angeles in January’s L.A. teachers strike. The charter task force itself came out of a concession won by UTLA’s strategy of bargaining for the “common good” that went far beyond the scope of a typical labor agreement.

Chicago school district and union officials prepare to sell austerity contract to teachers - On August 26, more than 20,000 Chicago public school teachers and paraprofessionals are scheduled to return to their school buildings, with classes set to begin about a week later on September 3. The previous labor agreement between the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the school district expired on June 30 and it is increasingly possible that the CTU will send educators back to work without a new contract covering their wages, benefits and working conditions. The Democratic Party establishment, now headed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, wants teachers to accept wage increases that barely rise above the rate of inflation and more cuts to critical school services, including libraries and nursing staff. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials want a five-year, instead of a three-year contract, with a 14 percent pay increase. This translates to less than 3 percent annually, or barely 1.4 percent in real wages when inflation is accounted for. In addition, the district is seeking to further shift the healthcare burden onto educators, with a 0.5 percent rise in cost each year for three years. Earlier this week, Mayor Lightfoot stated there was “no reason” CPS and CTU could not reach an agreement. She and CPS CEO Janice Jackson announced a $7.7 billion school budget for 2020, which includes some improvements to school infrastructure and programs. CPS budgets, however, are notoriously opaque and in practice are designed to give away enormous sums to private firms, including mega-corporations like Sodexo, and no-bid contracts to well-connected “education consultants.” Like Los Angeles and other Democratic-run urban districts around the country, CPS continues to divert public assets to charter schools and other privatization schemes. Despite the intransigence of city officials, the Chicago Teachers Union has not even bothered to take a strike authorization vote and is downplaying the suggestion of a strike. Asked Monday by reporters on WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight” whether the union was preparing to walk out, CTU President Jesse Sharkey emphasized that he was committed to getting an agreement from the mayor without a strike. “We’re way behind. We need a lot of work at the bargaining table to hammer out agreements… I would like to see the priorities the mayor campaigned on appear in proposals at the bargaining table.”

Teachers in the US are spending $500 of their own money on school supplies like crayons and chalk, and now they're turning to a viral hashtag to ask strangers for help - Teachers across the country are taking to social media to help pay for school supplies using GoFundMe, and stars like Khloé Kardashian, country singer Casey Donahew, and YouTuber Jeffree Star are joining the cause. Courtney Jones, an elementary-school teacher from Tyler, Texas, launched the trending #clearthelists campaign on Twitter in July. The movement started in closed Facebook groups for teachers helping each other pay for school supplies, but Jones encouraged them to broadcast their efforts publicly. "The movement started as a way for teachers to support each other in a meaningful way," Jones told Business Insider in an email. "I want to raise awareness for the dismal funding for not only teachers' salaries, but for our resources to support our students."  In the same way Americans are turning to sites like GoFundMe to pay for medical costs, decreased government investment in K-12 education is now leading public-school teachers to crowdsource the cash they need for school supplies. Many teachers' Amazon wish lists are full of classroom basics: chalk, dry-erase markers, snacks, crayons, books, and more. "Every year, teachers need help buying supplies, spending hundreds of their own dollars for the students,"  Jones created the Facebook group Support a Teacher on July 1, and it garnered 42,000 members within just a month. The group was meant for teachers to help each other pay for school supplies using GoFundMe pages or Amazon wish lists. Jones urged teachers to move their Amazon lists to Twitter using the hashtag #clearthelists for greater visibility. The movement really took off when it came to the attention of country star Casey Donahew, who sent a tweet about it on August 3 (Business Insider has reached out to Donahew for comment). Jeffree Star and Khloé Kardashian joined soon afterward.

Game over: Middle-class and poor kids are ditching youth sports -From Little League to the ubiquitous suburban soccer field, youth sports in the U.S. have long been considered an important part of growing up. But the rising cost of playing sports, coupled with rising economic inequality, is increasingly leading poor and even middle-class families to hang up their cleats.  That trend is being fueled by the growth in "pay-to-play" sports, which is making organized athletics prohibitively expensive for many households. Participation in sports among families earning less than $75,000 has dropped since 2011, according to The Aspen Institute's Project Play.  By contrast, children from better off families are participating in ever great numbers. About 7 of 10 children from families that earn more than $100,000 play sports, compared with 3 in 10 from families earning less than $25,000, the non-profit think tank found in a 2018 report.  The typical American family spends about $700 per year on their child's sports activities, but some parents shell out as much as $35,000 annually to pay for lessons, camps, school sports fees, equipment, travel and more, according to Project Play. Even public schools are increasingly charging for sports due to budget cuts, data from the Rand Corporationshows.  Families earning $50,000 or less -- or middle- and lower-income households -- cited cost as the top reason their kids don't participate in organized sports, the Rand study noted.

Feds Investigate Connecticut Athletics For Letting Boys Compete With Girls - The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference allows high school athletes to compete based on their subjective identification with the opposite sex, not just their biological sex.The result has been domination of girls’ track and field events by biological males, including by one male who couldn’t cut it in male track and then shattered 10 records in female track.Female athletes in Connecticut say it’s a violation of Title IX – and the Department of Education is willing to hear them out.The agency’s Office for Civil Rights in Boston agreed to open an investigation into the allegations by Selina Soule (above), two unnamed students and their parents, including that they faced retaliation from CIAC and the Glastonbury Board of Education for advocating against the “Transgender Participation Policy.”OCR has jurisdiction over the matter because the school district receives federal funding and because the district and other recipients “ceded to the CIAC controlling authority over athletic programs,” according to the Wednesday letter from Adrienne Mundy-Shephard, acting regional director.The feds have a model policy they can cite if they don’t want to completely ban biological males from competing in girls’ sports. The NCAA’s transgender p olicy requires males to take testosterone-suppressing hormones for at least a year before competing in a female sport.

 Supporters of the “Life of Washington” mural in San Francisco speak their minds -  At Tuesday’s meeting of the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education (SFUSD), numerous speakers eloquently addressed the issues involved in the censorship of Victor Arnautoff’s “Life of Washington” mural. Robert W. Cherny, professor emeritus of history at San Francisco State University, a leading figure in the campaign to defend Arnautoff’s work, pointed out that the proposal to cover the murals with panels instead of permanently destroying them was “not a compromise,” but a “pre-determined outcome to block the murals from being seen.” (Robert Cherny was recently interviewed about the murals in a video produced by the WSWS) George Wright, a retired Political Science Professor from California State University, Chico, explained that this episode “shows a couple of things—one, it has exposed the opportunism and ignorance of the Democratic Party operatives represented by the school board and, second, it has exposed the bankruptcy of identity politics, which is a poison that prevents us from understanding the reality of our society. We need to have a class analysis.”  Wright pointed out—importantly—that while “the school board is claiming to defend ‘people of color,’ at the same time, they are carrying out austerity. The next item on the agenda after the murals was in fact about bus drivers for the SFUSD begging the school board not to privatize the busing of students with a private company. The bus drivers are here trying to explain how there are federal standards of safety for the construction and operation of school busses.”  In another passionate defense of the murals, Carol Denney of Berkeley, California, told the meeting: “It is no compromise for this board to refrain from destroying a priceless New Deal work of art but continue to promote obscuring it from students or from the public at large. The school board is entitled to cling to its deliberate misinterpretation of Victor Arnautoff’s work, but a wider public knows how brave it is even to acknowledge the exploitation upon which our nation was and is based. “The school board and its supporters are entitled to have or to claim to have a traumatic reaction to anything they please, including the American flag, but to constantly describe our high school students as incapable of distinguishing between exploitation and the critical observation of exploitation as represented by the artwork, or unable to manage critical thought, or forever in need of protection from provocative ideas, is more obscene to me than anything you could put up on a wall.”

Students Sign Petition To Ban Offensive White Man In Crosswalk-Signs - With the rise of politically correct culture, students and universities have vehemently pushed for diversity and inclusivity movements, resulting in many things being labeling “offensive.”In the past, students have signed fake petitions to ban “offensive” holidays like Valentine’s Day and even Christmasto push diversity and inclusion.Amid these ongoing diversity and inclusivity movements, Campus Reform went to George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where students previously voted to ban their “offensive” Colonials mascot. GW students also previously told Campus Reform that President Barack Obama is the best president in U.S. history. Campus Correspondent Ethan Cai asked George Washington students if they supported changing “offensive” crosswalk lights because the “walk” sign only portrays an image of a white man.  How far will this movement of diversity and inclusion go? Where will the line be drawn for what is considered offensive? WATCH:  “As we students cross the street, we are told by the symbol of a white man when it is okay to cross,” the fake petition stated.  “Many students from diverse backgrounds, including individuals of color, gender fluid individuals, and LGBTQA+ individuals, feel oppressed by this.”  By signing the petition, students “vehemently urge[d] the University to consider changing the crosswalk signs." Many students signed Campus Reform’s fake petition. Even one university faculty member expressed support, as well.   “There’s definitely a lack of representation,” one student said about the crosswalks. Another said that she thought the change would be “one step” to a more welcoming campus environment. “That’s so cute! Oh my god yeah,” a student said with excitement about the idea. “I can see like, I guess, why some students have a problem with it… I’ll totally sign that.” What did other students say? Watch the full video above to find out.

Where Do College Graduates Go For Jobs? -Thinking about college? You may want to consider where you will likely locate to land your first job after you graduate and in what industry.A good way to do this? Check out the U.S. Census Bureau’s Post-Secondary Employment Outcomes (PSEO), which shows where college graduates get jobs and in what industries.On top of that, it does it by institution and type of degree. The data address a major gap in education statistics by providing a much clearer picture of how graduates transition from school to employment.The PSEO project tabulates employment flows and earnings outcomes by institution, degree level, and degree field, and provides counts of employment by employer industry sector and Census Division. PSEO does this by linking university transcript data to the Census Bureau’s Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) records. Those records list job histories covered by unemployment insurance by employer, which is then linked to industry and location information on the employers. Currently, the PSEO statistics include data from the University of Texas System, Colorado Department of Higher Education, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and University of Wisconsin-Madison.  The figures below show where graduates with bachelor’s degrees from four flagship institutions work by Census Division.

 Life, Deferred: Student Debt Postpones Key Milestones for Millions of Americans --  The student debt crisis is not the burden of a single generation. It impacts Baby Boomers in their 60s and 70s; Gen Xers in their 40s and 50s; Millennials in their 20s and 30s – as well as Gen Z high school students still planning for college. Thus it’s a grave mistake to frame student loan debt as exclusively or even primarily a “Millennial problem.” At the same time, Millennials have borne the brunt of the astounding rise in college costs. They are the first generation to experience a life shaped by the near-certainty of student debt. Weighted for inflation, college costs (including tuition and fees) rose 81% between 2001 and 2009 – the decade when well over half of Millennials graduated high school. Traditionally, when the price of a commodity rises rapidly, demand for that commodity drops. Necessities like food and shelter are usually exempt from that general rule. However, college has become one of those essentials, with the perceived cost of not attending growing at least as fast as the actual costs themselves. As a result, student loans make the essential, attainable. Not everyone saddled with a tremendous debt burden ends up with a degree. Whether a borrower receives a degree or not, few are in a position to rapidly repay their student loans. While a college degree may or may not expand opportunities; as we’re finding, student loan debt absolutely shuts doors that might have otherwise remained open.  If homeownership is fundamental to the ‘American dream’, then student loan debt puts that dream out of reach for millions of Americans. After years of growth, homeownership rates noticeably declined in 2017.   In a January 2019 study, the Federal Reserve revealed the connection between lower homeownership rates and the Millennial generation most burdened by student debt: “our estimates suggest that increases in student loan debt are an important factor in explaining (young people’s) lowered homeownership rates.” The study went on to conclude that “a little over 20 percent of the overall decline in homeownership among the young can be attributed to the rise in student loan debt. This represents over 400,000 young individuals who would have owned a home in 2014 had it not been for the rise in debt.”  In 1990, 26% of adults under 65 were never married – by 2018, that number rose to 36%. Today, only one in five adults are married before the age of 30 – and the average age of first marriage has risen by more than six years since 1960.  Student loan debt delays marriage in several ways. One way is through a sheer misunderstanding of the law regarding debt. Several borrowers told us they were reluctant to marry and “make my spouse responsible for my debt.” Though the laws concerning spousal responsibility vary by state, the fears of saddling a partner with one’s debts are not unfounded. Similarly, if a spouse with pre-existing debt returns to school after marriage, both the debt incurred before and during marriage gets lumped together as a shared liability.

Study Blames Rise In Teens Who Need Glasses On Excessive Screen Time Study FindsSo many people, especially young people and teenagers, spend a significant period of time each day staring at a screen of some kind, whether that be a computer, smartphone, tablet, or the regular old TV. Now, a new study is warning parents that all that screen time may be behind a stunning rise in children who need prescription glasses.According to the report released by United Kingdom-based eye care company Scrivens Opticians, the percentage of 13-16 year olds in the U.K. who need glasses has nearly doubled over the past seven years — from 20% in 2012 to 35% in 2018. Two-thirds of those teens were diagnosed as being myopic, or short-sighted.Researchers theorize that this significant increase in eye problems among young people is likely linked to excessive time spent staring at screens, which can lead to eye strain, shortsightedness, and blurred vision. In fact, the study also found that the average 13-16 year old spends around 26 hours per week staring at a smartphone, playing video games, or watching TV.Overall, optometrists from Scrivens say that much more research is needed to determine what all this screen time is really doing to teens’ eyes, especially in the long-term.“Children’s eyes continue to grow until early adulthood, and their vision is changing too,” comments Sheena Mangat, an optometrist with Scrivens, in a statement. “Because conditions such as short or long sightedness can happen gradually over time, neither children nor parents can ‘see the signs’, which is why regular eye checks are so important.” Additionally, the study found that it is no easy task for parents to pry their kids away from their screens; 73% of surveyed parents said it is a “challenge” to get their children to stop staring at some type of screen for a few hours.

Class-Action Lawsuit Seeks To Let Medicare Patients Appeal Gap in Nursing Home Coverage -- Medicare paid for Betty Gordon’s knee replacement surgery in March, but the 72-year-old former high school teacher needed a nursing home stay and care at home to recover. Yet Medicare wouldn’t pay for that. So Gordon is stuck with a $7,000 bill she can’t afford — and, as if that were not bad enough, she can’t appeal. The reasons Medicare won’t pay have frustrated the Rhode Island woman and many others trapped in the maze of regulations surrounding something called “observation care.” Patients, like Gordon, receive observation care in the hospital when their doctors think they are too sick to go home but not sick enough to be admitted. They stay overnight or longer, usually in regular hospital rooms, getting some of the same services and treatment (often for the same problems) as an admitted patient — intravenous fluids, medications and other treatment, diagnostic tests and round-the-clock care they can get only in a hospital. But observation care is considered an outpatient service under Medicare rules, like a doctor’s appointment or a lab test. Observation patients may have to pay a larger share of the hospital bill than if they were officially admitted to the hospital. Plus, they have to pick up the tab for any nursing home care. Medicare’s nursing home benefit is available only to those admitted to the hospital for three consecutive days. Gordon spent three days in the hospital after her surgery, but because she was getting observation care, that time didn’t count. There’s another twist: Patients might want to file an appeal, as they can with many other Medicare decisions. But that is not allowed if the dispute involves observation care.

Drug shortages forcing hospitals to ration treatments - A shortage of a versatile medicine used to treat immune disorders and other diseases has forced U.S. hospitals and infusion clinics to suspend treatment for many patients. The medicine, immune globulin, contains antibodies harvested from plasma, a component of blood. The injected product helps people with compromised immune systems fight off infections, and treats certain muscle and nerve disorders. The drug’s shortage increases the risk of infection for patients and the amount of pain they are suffering, doctors say. Recently, many hospitals and infusion clinics have received less immune globulin, or IG, than they need. Some have started to ration it, prioritizing it for patients who need it to stay alive and canceling infusions for patients deemed to have non-life-threatening conditions. The shortage has gotten to an acute status, said Michelle Vogel, vice president of patient advocacy and provider relations at CSI Pharmacy, a specialty pharmacy.  IG manufacturers, including Takeda Pharmaceuticals Co. and CSL Ltd., say there has been increased demand for IG. They cite higher rates of diagnosis of conditions that IG has long treated, plus new uses for the drug. The global market for these drugs was $11 billion in 2018, projected to rise to $17 billion in 2023, according to a recent Takeda presentation to investors.

Ralph Nader: Big Pharma Must Be Stopped --Congress can overturn the abuses of Big Pharma and its “pay or die,” subsidized business model for its drugs.Big Pharma’s trail of greed, power, and cruelty gets worse every year. Its products and practices take hundreds of thousands of lives in the U.S. from over-prescriptions, lethal combinations of prescriptions, ineffective or contaminated drugs, and dangerous side-effects.The biggest drug dealers in the U.S. operate legally. Their names are emblazoned in ads and promotions everywhere. Who hasn’t heard of Eli Lilly, Merck, Pfizer, and Novartis? Big Pharma revenues and profits have skyrocketed. In 2017, the U.S. consumers spent $333.4 billion on prescription drugs.  There are no price controls on drugs in the U.S. as there are in most countries in the world. Senator Bernie Sanders just took a bus tour to a Canadian pharmacy where insulin cost patients one tenth of what it costs them in the U.S. Yet, remarkably, drug companies, charted and operating in the U.S., charge Americans the highest prices in the world. This is despite the freebies our business-indentured government lavishes on Big Pharma. The FDA weakly regulates drugs, which are supposed to be both safe and effective, before they can be sold. Who funds this FDA effort? The drug industry itself— required by a law it has learned to love. The Big Pharma lobby doesn’t always get what it craves. In the nineteen seventies, Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, produced two paperbacks for a wide television audience (e.g. he appeared on the Phil Donahue Show). They were titled, Pills That Don’t Work and Over-the-Counter Pills that Don’t Work. Because of Dr. Wolfe’s tireless efforts, hundreds of different pills were removed from the market, saving consumers billions of dollars and sparing them the side-effects. Big Pharma’s greatest strength is its hold over Congress. That is where it gets its huge bundle of subsidies and monopolistic privileges. During the first term of George W. Bush, the drug companies got the Republicans and some spineless Democrats to forbid Medicare from negotiating volume discounts with the drug companies, as the Pentagon and VA have done for years. Big Pharma had over 1,200 lobbyists swarming over Capitol Hill to get these handcuffs on Uncle Sam. Lobbyists combined with campaign cash donated by Pharma industry players sealed the deal.

 A flight attendant has died after contracting measles on a flight out of New York City, according to reports - An El Al Airlines flight attendant who contracted measles after a person with the disease boarded a flight to Israel has died, according to Israel National News. Israel's Ministry of Health confirmed that a person infected with measles was onboard El Al Airlines flight 002 from New York City's John F. Kennedy Airport to Tel Aviv on March 26. On April 4, INSIDER reported that a 43-year-old female flight attendant was hospitalized with measles. A few weeks later, she reportedly fell into a coma. Israel National News reported that she was then transferred to the quarantine section of Meir Medical Center's intensive care wing in Kfar Saba, Israel, and pronounced dead on Tuesday.

Childhood cancer steals 7 million years of life in developing countries (including India)- Developing countries bear more than four-fifths of the global burden of childhood cancer – the equivalent of 7 million years of healthy life lost – because of a lack of early detection and limited treatment, a study has found. The study, published on August 5 in The Lancet Oncology, showed that children with cancer in low- and lower-middle-income countries have much lower survival rates, with less than 40% still alive five years after diagnosis. In wealthy countries, around 80% of children survive five years after their cancer is identified. To calculate the burden of disease, researchers estimated the number of years of healthy life that children and adolescents with cancer have lost due to illness, disability and premature death – known as disability-adjusted life years. Researchers found that developing countries faced a disproportionately high child cancer burden, relative to the incidence of disease, with low- and middle-income countries accounting for 82% of the global total. This was attributed to poor diagnosis and access to healthcare, while younger populations were also cited as a factor. In 2017, countries with a low or lower-middle socio-demographic index accounted for 38% of children newly diagnosed with cancer – 159,600 cases. However, they represented 60% of disability-adjusted life years. The study, which combined information on childhood cancers from 195 countries, estimated that about 7 million years of healthy life was lost in these poorer countries.Globally, childhood cancers killed 142,300 children in 2017 and caused a loss of more than 11.5 million disability-adjusted life years. This compares to around 37 million disability-adjusted life years lost every year to malaria and 7.6 million lost due to tuberculosis.Among the 50 most populous countries, India, China, Nigeria, Pakistan and Indonesia carried a particularly high childhood cancer burden. Sub-Saharan Africa was identified as the region with the highest burden across different cancer types, ranking highest for six out of the ten cancer types studied. Developing countries face a multitude of barriers when it comes to childhood cancer care, including inadequate staff training and the high cost of diagnostic tools. “There are also barriers within the population regarding seeking care for particular symptoms, [as well as] a lack of financial means to seek healthcare,”

Toxic Chemicals at School? 8 Important Questions to Ask There are many ways schools can reduce children's cumulative exposure to chemicals and contaminants, and many are relatively simple. Here are eight important questions to ask:

  • 1. Do the kids wash their hands before they eat? Requiring hand washing with soap and water, especially after kids have been outside and before they eat, is arguably the easiest change schools can make to reduce kids' exposure to chemical pollutants from dust and other sources.
  • 2. What cleaning products does the school use? We recommend schools use cleaning products that are third-party green certified, which means their ingredients are safer for everyone, especially children, or products with an A, or green, rating in our Guide to Healthy Cleaning. For institutional cleaning supplies, schools should choose Green Seal, EcoLogo or EPA's Safer Choice-certified products only.
  • 3. Has the school had its drinking water tested for lead? There's no safe level of lead exposure, but most states don't require schools and child care centers to test their drinking water for lead. If the water hasn't been tested at your kids' school, urge administrators to contact the local health department to start the process. Since lead levels in a single building can vary, all faucets and drinking fountains should be tested. In California, one in five schools has found at least one faucet on their campus with water containing lead.
  • 4. What landscaping chemicals are used? Chances are good your school uses chemical fertilizers, weedkillers and other pesticides for playground and grounds maintenance. Many of them, especially pesticides, are toxic and linked to childhood cancer andautism. Talk to your school about safer landscaping alternatives, with EWG's guide and collection of resources as a starting point.
  • 5. Does the school serve organic foods? A good first step is to focus on foods where switching from conventional to organic will make the biggest impact: milk and meat, fruits, and veggies with the most pesticides; foods grown with particularly toxic pesticides; and snacks with the worst food additives.
  • 6. Are the nap mats made without flame retardants? A study conducted by the Washington state-based nonprofit Toxic-Free Future found that when child care providers replaced nap mats with chemical-free versions, the levels of flame retardants polluting children's bodies decreased by 40 to 90 percent.
  • 7. What kind of laundry detergent does the facility use?  To avoid fragrances, allergens and other ingredients that can irritate children's skin, we recommend child care providers choose detergent with a green A rating in our Guide to Healthy Cleaning.
  • 8. What kind of sunscreen do care providers use?  Sunscreen is especially important for kids, who are more susceptible to the ill effects of the sun. We recommend care providers avoid chemical sunscreens and instead choose a broad spectrum mineral sunscreen with active ingredients zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Use EWG's Guide to Sunscreens to find products that offer adequate protection from both UVA and UVB rays without the addition of hazardous chemicals.

Hepatitis A is breaking out across the country in wake of opioid crisis - — Just before the Fourth of July, Trenton Burrell began feeling run-down and achy. Soon he could barely muster the energy to walk from one room to another. A friend shared an alarming observation: “You’re turning yellow.”  Within days, the 40-year-old landed in the hospital, diagnosed with the highly contagious liver virus hepatitis A, which has infected more than 3,220 people in Ohio and killed at least 15. Since 2016, the virus has spawned outbreaks in at least 29 states, starting with Michigan and California. It’s sickened more than 23,600 people, sent the majority to the hospital and killed more than 230. All but California’s and Utah’s outbreaks are ongoing, and experts expect to eventually see the virus seep into every state. Like a shadow, it follows the opioid epidemic, spreading mostly among drug users and the homeless. But anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated can get hepatitis A — as Akron health officials are now finding out. “It’s getting into the general public,” said Tracy Rodriguez, communicable disease supervisor for Summit County Public Health. “It’s scary.” Hepatitis A thrives in unsanitary conditions and spreads as easily as a stomach virus: People ingest minuscule amounts of an infected person’s stool from food, drinks, drug equipment or objects as commonplace as doorknobs. Burrell, who used to live in a tent but now stays at a friend’s house, believes he contracted the virus cleaning up trash left by fellow drug users without wearing gloves. More than two weeks after his hospital stay, he described still feeling weak and “worn out” visiting friends near the spot in Akron where he once pitched his tent. The virus has stricken more people in Ohio than any other state but Kentucky, where it infected more than 4,800 people and killed at least 60. Kathleen Winter,  a University of Kentucky epidemiologist, said more populous Ohio is on pace to surpass it as her state’s outbreak wanes. Relentlessly, the virus continues its march across the nation. Pennsylvania declared an outbreak as recently as May. In early August, Florida and Philadelphia declared public health emergencies, which, among other things, signal to health care providers the need to vaccinate the vulnerable. Case counts now exceed 1,000 in six states.

Superbug is evolving to thrive in hospitals and guts of people with sugary diets, scientists warn - The sugar-rich Western diet is fueling a superbug which has evolved to thrive in hospitals, scientists have warned. The gut-infecting bacterium Clostridium difficile (C.diff) is evolving into two separate species, with one group increasingly adapting to live in the guts of people with poor diets, while growing ever better at avoiding the harsh disinfectants used to clean wards. More than 13,000 NHS patients each year are infected with C.diff, which can cause debilitating diarrhoea and leave sick people dangerously dehydrated.  Bacteria are also becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics, and if not treated quickly enough an infection can be fatal. Nearly 2,000 people die from the bacterium each year in Britain. Researchers at the Wellcome Sanger Institute and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine looked at the genetic differences of 906 strains of C-diff taken from humans and animals and the environment across 33 countries. They found that a dangerous new species is rapidly emerging which can evade common hospital disinfectants and spread easily. And poor diets are making the problem worse.Dr Trevor Lawley, the senior author from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said: “Our study provides genome and laboratory based evidence that human lifestyles can drive bacteria to form new species so they can spread more effectively.  “We show that strains of C. diff bacteria have continued to evolve in response to modern diets and healthcare systems and reveal that focusing on diet and looking for new disinfectants could help in the fight against this bacteria.”

 C. Diff Is Evolving Into Superbug in Response to Western Sugary Diets - One of the most widespread bacteria known to cause serious gut infections is evolving to take advantage of high-sugar diets in the West and resist disinfecting methods used in healthcare settings. The diarrhea and colitis-causing bacteria Clostridioides difficile, or C. Diff, is common throughout our environment and results in nearly 500,000 infections in the U.S. each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, which can be fatal for elderly and very sick people who have been hospitalized or given antibiotics. According to Mayo Clinic, C. Diff spores are often spread orally by contact with feces, which makes its way to food and other surfaces when an infected person fails to wash their hands thoroughly. The spores damage the lining of your intestine, potentially leading to severely dehydrating diarrhea, inflammation of the intestines, toxic megacolon and sepsis. C. Diff is so common in our surroundings that even some healthy adults will carry it in their system but are protected from severe symptoms by their healthy gut bacteria, The Atlantic reported. But antibiotics used to treat other infections can unintentionally eliminate the healthy bacteria, allowing C. Diff to thrive, cause an infection and spread to the environment when passed in diarrhea, NBC News reported. Recent research has shown that C. Diff can spread to and exist for months on disposable hospital gowns, stainless steel and vinyl surfaces often found in health facilities, even after being hit with concentrated chlorine disinfectant. A new study by the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine might have revealed why. The study found that C. Diff has been evolving into two species over thousands of years, one of which is adapting into a superbug primed to spread in hospitals. The researchers found that one of the emerging species, C. Difficile clade A, was found in 70 percent of samples taken from hospital patients. A common trait of the new species was a mutation developed over thousands of years to improve sugar metabolism.  The New York Post reported that common hospital foods, such as pudding cups and mashed potatoes, could become hotspots for this new C. Diff. species.  The new species also had genetic mutations that changed how it formed spores, making it  more resistant to disinfectants used in hospitals.

Shades of Flint in N.J. as Water Filters Fail to Trap Lead - Newark, the New Jersey city at the forefront of an economic revival, is making bottled drinking water available to almost 15,000 homes after tap tests for lead showed that city-supplied filters may be ineffective.Shawn LaTourette, chief of staff for the state environmental protection department, said 14,730 residences are potentially affected by contamination. The city earlier had said the water would go to 1,400 homes.The state’s most-populous city has taken steps to limit lead exposure since January 2017, when it disclosed the presence of the element, which can cause organ damage. On Aug. 9 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencysaid water from two homes had exceeded federal and state lead standards.Flint, Michigan, a city where lead was detected in 2014, also tried filters. But in 2016, tests found the devices couldn’t capture lead in high quantities, according to Michigan environmental officials. Federal regulators say Flint’s water is safe after system upgrades, but Mayor Karen Weaver has said she’s not confident until more studies are conducted.Newark, with a population of more than 280,000, weathered 1967 race riots that preceded decades of blight. In recent years, though, it’s stoked a rebirth on its New York proximity, drawing startups including Audible.com, the audiobook service later acquired by Amazon Inc., andAeroFarms, the vertical-farming company whose backers include Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Newark’s former mayor, U.S. Senator Cory Booker, is running for president. Free bottled water distribution started today.

Newark's Lead Crisis Escalates - New Jersey's largest city began handing out lead filters to primarily low-income residents with lead service lines eight months ago, but recent tests show that filtered water samples tested over the federal and state standards for lead in drinking water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's New York regional administrator ordered the city to begin handing out bottled water "as soon as possible" in a letter sent Friday.The Natural Resources Defense Council sued Newark last year for failing to adequately monitor the lead levels in its water supply for years. "In the senior building it's bad," Emmett Coleman, a senior citizen who waited two hours for cases of water Monday, told the AP. "All of us are sick or have problems, and we can't drink the water. And the filters aren't working." As reported by The Washington Post:Public health experts agree that lead exposure is dangerous even at low levels. Lead can cause lasting damage to the developing brains and nervous systems of young children. The result can be long-term behavioral, cognitive and physical problems.---Mona Hanna-Attisha, the Michigan pediatrician who helped bring to light the severity of Flint's water crisis in 2015 and who recently visited with residents in Newark, said the city needs to act quickly and aggressively to protect its residents — and work to hold on to whatever trust remains in its public officials. "For far too long, Newark has tiptoed around a comprehensive response to their lead-in-water crisis," she said. "Newark is what keeps me up at night now." The concern is that while we are not taking much action, children are being damaged on a generational level. We are supposed to provide them with a safe environment, not poison them.#RedforEd#GetTheLeadOut https://t.co/t1LfLDdCRq — Get the Lead Out of Our Schools (@SafeH2o4Schools) March 21, 2019  For more: AP, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CBS, ABC, Business Insider

Newark, New Jersey suspends distribution of bottled water over expiration concerns - On Tuesday, city officials in Newark, New Jersey were forced to halt handouts of bottled water over concerns over expiration labels. The emergency distribution had just begun on Monday in response to reports last week of high lead contamination in the city’s drinking water even after the use of home tap filters. The carelessness of the city government’s approach to the crisis was revealed after thousands of cases of bottled water which were being handed out were past their labeled expiration date. The slapdash character of the response was further exposed as many residents were turned away from water distribution centers or had to wait in long lines. While bottled water has no expiration and those being handed out were safe to drink—the expiration label itself is a peculiarity of New Jersey legislation—the response by city officials further exposed not only the criminal indifferences of the state in the face of a public health danger which has been known about for nearly a decade, but a deep fear by the ruling layers of the city that the water crisis could set off a social explosion. After reports of high lead content in home drinking water surfaced last year, Newark city officials had promised residents that the water filters supplied to them would remove over 99 percent of the neurotoxin. This was exposed as a lie after approximately two thirds of the water samples tested by the city last month and submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection showed lead levels in excess of the 15 parts per billion action level set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Three of the 32 samples taken exceeded 50 parts per billion, more than three times the legal limit.

Paris’s Notre Dame fire: Two children test positive for lead poisoning - Four months after the April 15 fire at the Notre Dame cathedral, during which up to 440 tons of lead roofing was dispersed by smoke into the surrounding areas of Paris, at least two children have tested positive for dangerous levels of lead in their blood. The revelations are an indictment of the local Parisian government of Socialist Party Mayor Anne Hidalgo and the national government of Emmanuel Macron, which have worked to cover up the lead poisoning scandal since the fire occurred and insisted that there is no danger to the population. The government’s actions, including its refusal to close local schools, have meant that hundreds of children have been kept at creches and on school grounds contaminated by lead for months. They are now in danger of permanent damage. The Parisian Regional Health Authority (Agence Regionale de Santé–ARS) announced the results of the tests of 175 children on August 6. Sixteen were measured to have lead blood levels requiring continued monitoring (between 20 and 49 micrograms of lead per litre of blood), and two with levels above the 50 micrograms indicating a risk of lead poisoning. While the French government’s categorization assumes levels below 50 micrograms of lead per litre of blood do not pose an immediate risk of blood poisoning, the World Health Organization states that even levels as low as 5 micrograms per litre can pose a significant danger to children. Given the small number of tests conducted so far, it is likely that many more people are now threatened with lead poisoning.

Lead Decontamination Closes Streets Around Notre Dame Cathedral -Paris officials sealed off the area around the Notre Dame Cathedral to remove lead particles that have settled after a devastating fire destroyed the iconic cathedral's roof and spire in April. After the April 15 blaze, tons of lead melted and dispersed to the surrounding area, landing on homes, shops, schools and the streets. On Tuesday morning, police closed off an area around the cathedral to vehicles and pedestrians while workers put up a barrier fence for the 10-day cleanup to begin. The nearby train station was also closed and buses were rerouted to avoid the cleanup site. It is a priority to make sure schools and day care centers are decontaminated before a new school term starts in September, according to The Guardian. "After the melting of at least 300 tons of lead in the gables of the spire and in the roof, Notre-Dame de Paris is now a polluted site," French environmental group Robin des Bois said in a statement, as CNN reported. "The cathedral has now become filled with toxic waste." The cleanup crews will use two decontamination techniques for the surrounding neighborhood on Ile de la Cité, according to the cultural ministry. One method will use high-pressure water hoses with chemical agents to remove lead debris. The other involves slathering an adhesive gel on benches, streetlights, mailboxes and other fixtures to absorb the lead. After the gel dries for several dies, experts then vacuum it up with the hope that it will remove all the lead. The project should take nearly three weeks to complete, as the AP reported. The painstaking work of decontaminating and cleaning the cathedral was suspended on July 25 after concerns were raised about the safety of the workers. Activists and nearby residents accused Paris officials of underestimating the threat of lead poisoning, according to the AP.

Breathing Polluted Air is Like Smoking a Pack a Day - It turns out you don't need to smoke for a lifetime to get emphysema. Just breathing polluted air can give it to you, according to a new study that is the largest and the longest of its kind. The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA, found that long-term exposure to ground level ozone, the main component of smog, is like smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, as CNN reported. Just a slightly elevated level of air pollution can lead to lung damage, even for people who have never smoked.   "We found that an increase of about three parts per billion [of ground-level ozone] outside your home was equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for 29 years," said Joel Kaufman, a physician and epidemiologist at the University of Washington who contributed to the study, as NPR reported.  The study tracked 7,071 adults aged 45 to 84 living in six U.S. cities: Chicago; Los Angeles; Baltimore; St. Paul, Minnesota; New York City and Winston-Salem, North Carolina for up to 18 years.  The researchers created an exposure assessment method that looked at air pollution levels outside participants' homes and carried out CT scans and breathing tests, according to U.S. News and World Report. They assessed environments for levels of fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxide, black carbon and ozone. All major air pollutants were linked to an increase of emphysema, a debilitating, chronic and irreversible lung disease that causes shortness of breath and shrinks the amount of oxygen that reaches the bloodstream. It's almost always associated with smoking or long-term exposure to second hand smoke.  However, exposure to ground level ozone pollution showed the strongest link to an increased prevalence of emphysema. It was also the only pollutant to show an additional decrease in lung function, as CNN reported.

It's raining plastic: microscopic fibers fall from the sky in Rocky Mountains - Plastic was the furthest thing from Gregory Wetherbee’s mind when he began analyzing rainwater samples collected from the Rocky Mountains. “I guess I expected to see mostly soil and mineral particles,” said the US Geological Survey researcher. Instead, he found multicolored microscopic plastic fibers.The discovery, published in a recent study (pdf) titled “It is raining plastic”, raises new questions about the amount of plastic waste permeating the air, water, and soil virtually everywhere on Earth.“I think the most important result that we can share with the American public is that there’s more plastic out there than meets the eye,” said Wetherbee. “It’s in the rain, it’s in the snow. It’s a part of our environment now.”Rainwater samples collected across Colorado and analyzed under a microscope contained a rainbow of plastic fibers, as well as beads and shards. The findings shocked Wetherbee, who had been collecting the samples in order to study nitrogen pollution. “My results are purely accidental,” he said, though they are consistent with another recent study that found microplastics in the Pyrenees, suggesting plastic particles could travel with the wind for hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometers. Other studies have turned up microplastics in the deepest reaches of the ocean, inUK lakes and rivers and in US groundwater.A major contributor is trash, said Sherri Mason, a microplastics researcher and sustainability coordinator at Penn State Behrend. More than 90% of plastic waste is not recycled, and as it slowly degrades it breaks into smaller and smaller pieces. “Plastic fibers also break off your clothes every time you wash them,” Mason said, and plastic particles are byproducts of a variety of industrial processes. It’s impossible to trace the tiny pieces back to their sources, Mason said, but almost anything that’s made of plastic could be shedding particles into the atmosphere. “And then those particles get incorporated into water droplets when it rains,” she added, then wash into rivers, lakes, bays and oceans and filter into groundwater sources.

Plastic particles falling out of sky with snow in Arctic - Even in the Arctic, microscopic particles of plastic are falling out of the sky with snow, a study has found. The scientists said they were shocked by the sheer number of particles they found: more than 10,000 of them per litre in the Arctic. It means that even there, people are likely to be breathing in microplastics from the air - though the health implications remain unclear. The region is often seen as one of the world's last pristine environments. A German-Swiss team of researchers has published the work in the journal Science Advances. The scientists also found rubber particles and fibres in the snow. Researchers collected snow samples from the Svalbard islands using a low-tech method - a dessert spoon and a flask. In the laboratory at Germany's Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven they discovered far more contaminating particles than they'd expected. Many were so small that it was hard to ascertain where they had come from. The majority appeared to be composed of natural materials like plant cellulose and animal fur. But there were also particles of plastic, along with fragments of rubber tyres, varnish, paint and possibly synthetic fibres.

West Nile virus found in NC mosquito, officials say. - A mosquito in North Carolina tested positive for West Nile virus, and health officials say it’s important to protect yourself from bites.Multiple mosquitoes in a trap on Greenville Loop Road in Wilmington were tested, and one sample came back positive for the virus, New Hanover County said on Monday.The health department is increasing “surveillance and control activities” and will spray the area on Tuesday, the county said. The public shouldn’t be alarmed but should do things to prevent bites, the county said. “While human incidence of West Nile virus is rare, it is a dangerous disease with no cure or vaccine for people, so residents should protect themselves by preventing mosquito bites,” Public Health Director Phillip Tarte said, according to WWAY. “Use EPA approved insect repellent, wear long sleeves and pants and limit outdoor activity at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are known to be most active.” West Nile virus is the “leading cause of mosquito-borne disease” in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but only one in five infected will actually have a fever and other symptoms, and only one in 150 people infected will become seriously ill. The virus is spread through mosquito bites, and symptoms include fever, headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or a rash, the CDC says. Although there is no treatment available, over-the-counter pain medications can be used to relieve symptoms, the CDC says. As of August 6, 36 states have reported cases of West Nile virus in people, birds or mosquitoes this year, according to the CDC

40% of US honeybee colonies disappeared last year. This is what the world would look like without any bees at all. -- Bees are getting so scarce and so valuable that people are stealing hives from almond farms in California and selling them at steep prices. That’s because the populations of both domestic honeybees and wild bees have been in decline for the last few decades. Extinction rates for pollinators have jumped to 100 to 1,000 times the normal rates, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO). About 40% of invertebrate pollinators, especially bees and butterflies, are facing extinction worldwide. Today, the US has only 2.5 million honeybee colonies, less than half of the bee settlements it boasted in the 1940s. Bees perform a crucial role in fruit, vegetable, and nut production – without the pollination work they do, humans would have to say goodbye to (or pay very steep prices for) some of our most nutritious foods, including berries, apples, almonds, cucumbers, peppers, and seeds. This is what the world would look like without bees.  An annual survey of 4,700 beekeepers found that since 2010, they have lost an average of 37.8% of US bee colonies each year. Last year was worse.  Some of your favourite foods would become rare and more expensive — or perhaps disappear altogether. Berries, chocolate, apples, pears, pumpkin, avocado, onions, cucumber, and cabbage all rely heavily on bee pollination.Almonds depend entirely on bees for pollination.Without bees, you’d also have to say goodbye to your morning brew, or at least pay a lot more for it. More than half of the fat consumed around the world could be in trouble without bees, since all of the world’s oilseed crops at least partially rely on bee pollination.Bee pollination also improves the quality of crops. A study in Burkina Faso found that cotton and sesame plants pollinated by bees had an average of 62% higher quality and quantity than those that self-pollinated.

'Fall Armyworm' Invades China; Wreaks Havoc On Agriculture Lands - China's agriculture ministry warned in June that it found fall armyworms in 21 provinces, across 333,000 hectares of crops. Fall armyworms (Spodoptera frugiperda) are a destructive garden pest that can destroy a variety of crops as well as grasses.Chinese officials are worried about prevention and control measures of the pest might be failing, which could lead to crop losses this year. Beijing warned fall armyworms could damage hundreds, if not thousands of hectares of crops, leading to possible food security issues for the country.To counter the pest, China has requested farmers in the 21 provinces to use government-approved pesticides. The "heart-devouring worm" - as locals call it - has spread almost 1,900 miles north since migrating from neighboring Myanmar earlier this year, now threatens 21 provinces and regions in China and could heavily impact the country's grain output.In Yunnan, a province in southwestern China, the pest has already destroyed 86,000 hectares of corn, sugarcane, sorghum, and ginger crops. Fall armyworm started to spread through Africa and Asia in 2016, these pests, which are moths, fly 60 miles per night, is very challenging for farmers and governments to exterminate.  The pests have strained small farmers, who produce at least 90% of the country's crop. In hard-hit Yunnan, the local government has installed 3,500 monitoring sites at farms to observe the pests and agriculture conditions, the provincial agriculture bureau wrote to Reuters via email. Sugarcane farmer Yan in Mengkang village said the only answer to the fall armyworm disaster is to spray crops with pesticide. "You have to keep spraying chemicals. If you don't kill the worm, you will end up penniless," he said.

According To The Feds, 19 Million Acres Of Farmland Went Un-Planted With Crops This Year  Over the past few months, I have written article after articleabout the unprecedented crisis that U.S. farmers are facing this year.  In those articles, I have always said that “millions” of acres of farmland did not get planted this year, because I knew that we did not have a final number yet.  Well, now we do, and it is extremely troubling.  Of course there are some people out there that do not even believe that we are facing a crisis, and a few have even accused me of overstating the severity of the problems that U.S. farmers are currently dealing with.  Sadly, things are not as bad as I thought – the truth is that they are even worse.  According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, crops were not planted on 19.4 million acres of U.S. farmland this year.  The following comes directly from the official website of the USDAAgricultural producers reported they were not able to plant crops on more than 19.4 million acres in 2019, according to a new report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This marks the most prevented plant acres reported since USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) began releasing the report in 2007 and 17.49 million acres more than reported at this time last year. So this is the largest number that the USDA has ever reported for a single year, and it is nearly 17.5 million acres greater than last year’s final tally of less than 2 million acres. Of those prevented plant acres, more than 73 percent were in 12 Midwestern states, where heavy rainfall and flooding this year has prevented many producers from planting mostly corn, soybeans and wheat. Most farmers were able to get seeds in the ground despite the challenging conditions, but in much of the country the crops are not in good shape. In fact, according to the latest crop progress report only 57 percent of the corn is considered to be in “good” or “excellent” shape.Unfortunately, the nation’s soybean crop is in even worse shape.  At this point, only 54 percent of the soybeans are in “good” or “excellent” shape.In addition, only 8 percent of the U.S. spring wheat crop has been harvested so far.  That is “sharply below the 30% five-year average”.

Oregon passes law requiring eggs sold there to come from cage-free hens - Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) signed legislation into law on Monday that requires farms in the state to house egg-laying hens in a cage-free housing system.Under Senate Bill 1019, commercial farm owners or operators that yield an annual egg product ion with flocks larger than 3,000 egg-laying hens are required give their birds unrestricted room to roam.The farms are also required to provide the hens with “enrichments” that allow them to exhibit what the bill referred to as “natural behavior,” which includes, at a minimum, “scratch areas, perches, nest boxes and dust bathing areas.”The law mandates that all state facilities in which eggs are produced or sold to be cage-free by 2024, The Oregonian reports.The bill’s passage was celebrated by the Humane Society of the United States on Monday as a “monumental win for hens confined in tiny cages in the egg industry.” Voters in California approved a similar measure last year requiring all facilities that sell eggs in the state to be cage-free by 2022, The Associated Press reported at the time.

Colombia confirms that dreaded fungus has hit its banana plantations - Colombia has declared a national state of emergency following confirmation that a dread fungus has appeared in the country’s banana plantations. The 8 August declaration marks the first time that Fusarium wilt tropical race 4 (TR4), which has devastated crops in Asia, has been confirmed in Latin America, the world’s largest exporter of bananas. Signs of the fungus were first spotted in June in northern Colombia, putting the region on high alert. The Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA) in Bogotá has now announced plans to expand biosecurity efforts, after eradicating plants on nearly 170 hectares of quarantined farmland. ICA plans to increase sanitary control measures at all ports, airports, and border points, although the disease has so far been reported only in the La Guajira region of the country. Government officials are considering providing funding to small and medium-size banana exporters to help them implement better biosecurity measures, such as disinfecting machinery, shipping containers, and footwear in quarantined areas. The government will continue to monitor the situation through a combination of surveillance flights and on-the-ground inspections. And on 5 August, agricultural ministers from across Latin America met in Quito to discuss plans to prevent further outbreaks. TR4, for which there is no treatment, kills plants by disrupting their vascular systems, and it can persist in soil for decades. Experts at Wageningen University and the biotech company KeyGene, both in the Netherlands, used genome sequencing and molecular diagnostics to confirm the TR4 diagnosis in infected plant samples from Colombia. The fungus strikes both bananas and closely related plantains.

Pesticide Cheerleader - EPA Rebukes California With Ban On Warning Labels For Bayer's Roundup  --President Donald Trump's Environmental Protection Agency was accused of being a pesticide "cheerleader" last week after the agency said it would not approval labels that say that glyphosate — the active ingredient in Roundup and other weedkillers — is known to cause cancer. In a statement released Thursday announcing the move, the EPA dug in on its assertion that glyphosate does not cause cancer, though critics have said that is "an industry-friendly conclusion that's simply not based on the best available science." The new guidance takes aim at California's 2017 move, in adherence with its Proposition 65, to add glyphosate to its list of chemicals known to cause cancer and require warning labels. The state cited the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer 2015 assessment that glyphosate is "probably carcinogenic to humans." The EPA, however, said those labels provided consumers with false information. "We will not allow California's flawed program to dictate federal policy," said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in the statement. The EPA also sent a letter to manufactures on Aug. 7 saying that "pesticide products bearing the Proposition 65 warning statement due to the presence of glyphosate are misbranded" under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity, suggested the EPA wasn't living up to its own name."It's a little bit sad the EPA is the biggest cheerleader and defender of glyphosate," Hartl told The Associated Press."It's the Environmental Protection Agency, not the pesticide protection agency."

Bayer mediator dismisses report of $8 billion Roundup settlement (Reuters) - Bayer AG has not offered to pay billions of dollars to settle claims in the United States related to the Roundup herbicide, mediator Ken Feinberg said, dismissing a report to that effect which drove its shares as much as 11% higher. “Bayer has not proposed paying $8 billion to settle all the U.S. Roundup cancer claims. Such a statement is pure fiction,” Feinberg said in an email on Friday. “Compensation has not even been discussed in the global mediation discussions.” Bayer shares, which had shed some of their gains before Feinberg’s statement, retreated further and closed up 1.7% at 64.63 euros. Bayer, which acquired Roundup and other glyphosate-based weedkillers as part of its $63 billion takeover of Monsanto last year, declined comment on the initial Bloomberg news report and on Feinberg’s response. Bayer Chief Executive Werner Baumann last week said the company would consider settling with U.S. plaintiffs only on reasonable terms, and if it “achieves finality of the overall litigation”. He added at the time the group was “constructively engaging” in a court-ordered process with mediator Feinberg on the cases heard in federal court. Most of the pending cases, however, have been filed with U.S. state courts.

Revealed: how Monsanto’s ‘intelligence center’ targeted journalists and activists  - Monsanto operated a “fusion center” to monitor and discredit journalists and activists, and targeted a reporter who wrote a critical book on the company, documents reveal. The agrochemical corporation also investigated the singer Neil Young and wrote an internal memo on his social media activity and music.The records reviewed by the Guardian show Monsanto adopted a multi-pronged strategy to target Carey Gillam, a Reuters journalist who investigated the company’s weedkiller and its links to cancer. Monsanto, now owned by the German pharmaceutical corporation Bayer, also monitored a not-for-profit food research organization through its “intelligence fusion center”, a term that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies use for operations focused onsurveillance and terrorism. The documents, mostly from 2015 to 2017, were disclosed as part of an ongoing court battle on the health hazards of the company’s Roundup weedkiller. They show:

  • Monsanto planned a series of “actions” to attack a book authored by Gillam prior to its release, including writing “talking points” for “third parties” to criticize the book and directing “industry and farmer customers” on how to post negative reviews.
  • Monsanto paid Google to promote search results for “Monsanto Glyphosate Carey Gillam” that criticized her work. Monsanto PR staff also internally discussed placing sustained pressure on Reuters, saying they “continue to push back on [Gillam’s] editors very strongly every chance we get”, and that they were hoping “she gets reassigned”.
  • Monsanto “fusion center” officials wrote a lengthy report about singer Neil Young’s anti-Monsanto advocacy, monitoring his impact on social media, and at one point considering “legal action”. The fusion center also monitored US Right to Know (USRTK), a not-for-profit, producing weekly reports on the organization’s online activity.
  • Monsanto officials were repeatedly worried about the release of documents on their financial relationships with scientists that could support the allegations they were “covering up unflattering research”.

Report: Monsanto Paid Google to Bury Unfavorable News  --Monsanto, the agrochemical company that’s attained notoriety for its agricultural pesticides and genetically modified organisms, reportedly worked overtime to discredit investigative journalists criticizing the company — and even paid the search giant Google to suppress the findings.Carey Gillam, a journalist with Reuters, was reporting on the health effects of Monsanto’s products a few years back. As part of a massive damage-control campaign, the company worked to discredit her work as much as possible, according to an investigation by The Guardian. Perhaps most troubling: the company reportedly paid Google to promote search results that questioned Gillam’s findings — a disturbing look into how readily the flow of online information can be manipulated.  As Gillam prepared to publish her 2017 book, “Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science,” Monsanto went into overdrive, The Guardian reports. The company assembled a spreadsheet of 23 specific steps it would take to downplay Gillam’s key finding while promoting content claiming its chemicals were actually safe.The spreadsheet shows how Monsanto planned to launch a new website full of their talking points and pay to make sure it popped up when people googled Gillam’s name.“I’ve always known that Monsanto didn’t like my work… and worked to pressure editors and silence me,” Gillam told the Guardian. “But I never imagined a multi-billion dollar company would actually spend so much time and energy and personnel on me. It’s astonishing.”

Survey of U.S. forests ties tree-killing insects to climate change - NBC - Human activities such as deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels are by far the biggest contributors to climate change. But by killing trees that suck heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the air, certain bugs deserve a bit of blame — and a new study shows thatinvasive insects and diseases kill enough trees in the United States each year to release 6 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere.That’s roughly equivalent to the tailpipe emissions of 4.4 million cars.“They are like fire,” study co-author Songlin Fei, a forestry professor at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, said of the tree-killing species that have been introduced into the U.S. in recent decades. “They consume everything in their path.”The study, published Aug. 12 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, grew out of an observation Fei made in his own backyard. An ash tree there was dying — a victim of the emerald ash borer, a bright-green beetle originally from Asia whose bark-munching larvae have killed hundreds of millions of trees in the U.S. since the species was discovered stateside in 2002. Fei and his collaborators decided to take a look at data collected by the U.S. Forest Service in 93,000 woodland parcels across the nation, focusing on damage done by the emerald ash borer and 14 other invasive species considered to be especially harmful to ash, elm, chestnut and other forest trees. The researchers calculated tree mortality rates in pest-free areas, and then compared them to the rates in infested areas to determine the toll taken by the pests. On average, just more than 1 percent of trees in the U.S. die each year. The study showed that close to 3.5 percent died in ash borer-infested areas. For areas infested with other pests, like the laurel wilt fungus that infects laurel trees, more than 11 percent of trees died over the course of a year. If the pests are allowed to continue unchecked, the scientists calculated, they could eventually kill or weaken a staggering 41 percent of the trees in the lower 48 states. The consequences of such widespread devastation would extend far beyond the loss of valuable woodland habitat, according to Fei. “We think about forests as one of the major solutions for climate change,” he said. “When these trees are being damaged by these insects, they become dead materials. When they become dead materials, they not only stop working for you, they release CO2 back into the atmosphere.”

 New Research Finds Plants Will Feast on Increased CO2, But Only Until 2100 - Scientists studying plants ability to gobble up carbon from the atmosphere have found that plants will offer protection from greenhouse gasses for another 80 years. Beyond 2100, they are not sure if carbon levels will become so high that that plants will reach a breaking point where they can no longer remove carbon from the air, as Newsweek reported.The researchers note that the vital role trees play in absorbing carbon means preserving forests should be a global priority. The study by a Stanford-led team of scientists and published in the journal Nature Climate Change sought to predict whether or not trees will be able to absorb greenhouse gasses in the future at their current rate. Right now, plants act a lot like the title character in Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree. Trees are endlessly generous as they filter our air and slow the climate crisis by absorbing about a quarter of the greenhouse gasses emitted due to human activity. They purify our water, nurture our soil and cool us down. Yet, like the character in the children's book, there ability to give is limited. And, as we start to overfeed them with carbon dioxide and deprive them of a balanced diet with nitrogen and phosphorous in the soil, their ability to help us will decline, as the study authors wrote in Scientific American.The researchers analyzed 138 existing studies on grassland, land used for crops, shrubland and forests with levels of elevated carbon dioxide. They covered a broad range of experiments from growing plants in special chambers to fumigating forests with carbon dioxide. The scientists also weighed the symbiotic relationship between plants and fungi, and data on soil nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, which trees rely on to turn carbon dioxide into food, as Newsweek reported.Increased atmospheric CO2 levels should increase the biomass of plants by 12 percent in the next 80 years. That is to say, they will fatten up. Yet, if nitrogen and phosphorous levels do not rise at a commensurate level, plants will be overwhelmed and sick from too much carbon — much like a person eating too much sugar instead of a balanced diet. The uncertainty around how much additional CO2 trees will be able to take up in the future makes it difficult for the scientists to predict future global warming patterns, as Earth.com reported.

 Tests confirm increasing levels of algae blooms in Austin - The city of Austin says additional testing has found more harmful algae at Auditorium Shores, Red Bud Isle & Barton Creek near Lady Bird Lake and are urging residents to keep pets out of water and minimize human contact. Additional testing has revealed increasing levels of neurotoxins in algae at a greater number of locations. Samples were taken on Monday, August 12, 2019, at Auditorium Shores, at Red Bud Isle and at Barton Creek. Samples at Barton Creek were taken just below the pedestrian bridge over Barton Creek on the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail. All the samples contained greater amounts of neurotoxins than found the previous week. Red Bud Isle remains closed. The public should not allow their dogs to swim anywhere in Lady Bird Lake. In addition, they should keep their dogs out of Barton Creek where algae is present. In addition to swimming, dogs should not be allowed to drink the water in these locations. People should avoid handling the algae and minimize their exposure to the water. Boating and paddle-boarding is still allowed at your own risk. Pets and people who come into contact with the water should rinse off. If symptoms develop, they should seek immediate medical attention. The algae will naturally die off when cooler weather returns in the fall. At this time, the City of Austin has not identified a safe and effective way to treat or remove the algae, and it is likely that Red Bud Isle will remain closed for the next several weeks. 

Dogs Are Dying From Poisonous Lakes and Ponds - Pet owners around the country are seeing their beloved canines perish after letting them cool off in waters harboring toxic algae. Dogs in North Carolina, Georgia and Texas have all died recently after swimming in waters covered in a harmful algae bloom, which is difficult to detect. "Your typical lay person will not be able to tell one algae from another, or a good from a bad," said Dr. Mark Aubel to Atlanta's 11 Alive. "It just kind of behooves anybody that sees algae in a lake, in a pond, that they'd probably want to be cautious and just not expose themselves to it or to their pets." Last Thursday, a couple in Wilmington, NC tried to give their three dogs some relief from the heat by letting the dogs splash around in a nearby pond. Within 15 minutes of leaving the water, one of their West Highland terriers started to suffer from seizures. When they arrived at the veterinarian's office, the other Westie started to decline, followed shortly by the couple's "doodle" mix therapy dog. By midnight, all three dogs were dead, as CNN reported.   All three died from ingesting harmful blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, in the water.  In Austin, TX, three dogs have died after exposure to the toxic algae at Lady Bird Lake in Red Bud Isle. While people are not allowed to swim in the water, the popular spot for an off-leash dog walk had no signs warning dog walkers to keep their dogs away from the lake.   Now, after three dogs have died, the city closed Red Bud Isle to the public after discovering that 40 percent of Lady Bird Lake's surface is covered in a harmful algae bloom. This weekend, a similar story happened in Georgia, when a couple took their border collie to Lake Allatoona. Shortly after splashing around, the dog began to vomit and by the time the owners reached the vet, the dog was brain dead, according to the owner's Facebook post.  This summer has seen an unusually intense wave of algae blooms that have shut down lakes in the Pacific Northwest, New Jersey and every beach on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Scientists say the climate crisis is probably a factor in the increase of cyanobacteria, which can grow in dense clusters and produce toxic substances. An increase in the frequency and intensity of rainstorms has pushed fertilizer runoff into waterways. Furthermore, hot, sunny days and the conditions are set for a harmful algae bloom, which are appearing more frequently and earlier in the season, according to The New York Times. Dogs are particularly vulnerable to cyanobacteria because they swallow so much water when they swim, asHeavy.com reported.

Keeping Kids Safe From Toxic Algae –- Outbreaks of potentially toxic algae are fouling lakes, rivers and other bodies of water across the U.S. Nationally, news reports of algae outbreaks have been on the rise since 2010.  What's worse, some algae blooms produce dangerous toxins called microcystins. The Environmental Working Group just released a report showing that microcystins have been found in lakes across the U.S. – even when there's no visible toxic algae outbreak. These smelly blooms aren't actually algae at all, but photosynthetic microorganisms called cyanobacteria. Runoff from farm fields is often polluted with phosphorous and other chemicals in manure and commercial fertilizers. When this polluted runoff gets into lakes, it feeds the growth of cyanobacteria, especially in warm weather. Increasingly heavy rains and flooding, exacerbated by the climate crisis, make the problem worse. Many algae blooms are gross, forming a foul-smelling slime on a lake's surface, ­but not hazardous. But for reasons no one yet understands, some produce poisonous chemicals called cyanotoxins, including the group known as microcystins.  Microcystin-producing cyanobacteria are a hazard to anyone, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says children are especially vulnerable, since they're most likely to ingest water while swimming. Exposure can cause coughing, nausea, weakness, cramping and headaches, as well as long-term health effects such as liver failure.  Contact with skin, drinking contaminated tap water or eating contaminated fish can also cause health problems. Even breathing in microcystins can be harmful, and recent studies have shown that the toxins can become airborne, drifting a mile or more from the site of the outbreak.

World's Forest Animal Population Drops 53% Since 1970: WWF Report - The global population of forest-dwelling vertebrates has plummeted in the period between 1970 and 2014, according to a study published Tuesday by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Berlin.The study, titled Below The Canopy tracked the development of 268 vertebrate species and 455 populations in forests around the world. It found that the numbers of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles have dropped by an average of 53 percent since 1970. In light of these figures, the WWF called on the international community to declare a global forest emergency and to begin taking steps to reverse the trend by adopting sustainable forestry policies and beginning the process of restoring lost forest habitats.Deforestation and degradation of forests are thought to be responsible for more than 60 percent of the decline in populations, according to the study. WWF researchers emphasized that a rich variety of animal species is vital to forest ecosystems. According to the study, a decline in forest vertebrates has "serious consequences for forest integrity and climate change, because of the role that particular vertebrate species play in forest regeneration and carbon storage. Other essential functions for forest ecosystems performed by animals include pollination and seed dispersal.  "Forests are our greatest natural ally in the fight against global warming," said Susanne Winter, program director at WWF Germany. "If we want to reverse the worldwide decline in biodiversity and prevent the climate crisis, we need to protect the forests and the species living there." Winter pointed out that animals and forests live in symbiosis, and if certain species dwindle, flora will begin to suffer. "Forests depend on an intact animal world to perform functions essential to life," she said. "Without animals, it is harder for forests to absorb carbon, as tree species important for protecting the climate could be lost without animals."

Trump rolls back endangered species protections - The Trump administration on Monday announced it has finalized a controversial rollback of protections for endangered species, including allowing economic factors to be weighed before adding an animal to the list. The Interior Department regulations would dramatically scale back America’s landmark conservation law, limiting protections for threatened species, how factors like climate change can be considered in listing decisions and the review process used before projects are approved on their habitat. “It means that in all likelihood that the federal government itself and individuals will be damaging the habitat and likely increase the timetable and likelihood of a species going extinct,” David Hayes, executive director of the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center and a former deputy of Interior, said in a previous interview with The Hill. Going forward, the Endangered Species Act will no longer offer the same protections for threatened species — those at risk of becoming extinct in the foreseeable future — as those that are already endangered. “These changes crash a bulldozer through the Endangered Species Act’s lifesaving protections for America’s most vulnerable wildlife,” Noah Greenwald, the Center for Biological Diversity’s endangered species director, said in a statement. Monday’s rule finalizes an earlier proposal from the Interior Department and prompted threats of lawsuits from many environmental groups who say the changes will gut the law. The Endangered Species Act, first passed in 1973, is considered a success globally, surpassing protections for flora and fauna in many other countries. Environmentalists see it as one of America’s premier environmental laws. But in the U.S it has been a target of industry, heavily criticized by some developers and lawmakers for working almost too well, making it difficult to encroach on habitat even once a species rebounds. Many would like species to be more easily removed from the list. Interior described the new regulation as a modernization of the act “designed to increase transparency and effectiveness and bring the administration of the Act into the 21st century,” the agency said in a press release.

Trump Admin Guts Endangered Species Act in the Midst of Climate Crisis and Biodiversity Loss -- The Trump administration announced sweeping changes to the Endangered Species Act Monday in a move that could make it harder to protect plants and animals from the climate crisis, The New York Times reported.   The changes would make it easier to remove species from the list, end the blanket rule giving threatened species the same protections as endangered ones, allow regulators to assess the economic impacts of protecting a species and give the government major leeway in how it interprets the phrase "foreseeable future." This last change is relevant to species threatened by the climate crisis, since many of its effects may be decades away.   Interior Secretary and former energy lobbyist David Bernhardt claimed the changes would increase transparency. "The act's effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation," he said in a statement reported by The New York Times.   “Today, I unveiled improvements to the implementing regulations of the Endangered Species Act. In its more than 45-year history, the ESA has catalyzed countless conservation partnerships that have helped recover some of America’s most treasured animals and plants.pic.twitter.com/soY9AEBH3P”  — Secretary David Bernhardt (@SecBernhardt) August 12, 2019    But conservation groups disagreed. They pointed to a major biodiversity study released this spring warning that one million species could go extinct due to human activity.  "We're facing an extinction crisis, and the administration is placing industry needs above the needs of our natural heritage," Natural Resources Defense Council Nature Program legal director Rebecca Riley said in a statement.The Endangered Species Act has saved 99 percent of listed species from extinction, according to HuffPost. Notable successes include the bald eagle, Yellowstone grizzly bear and humpback whale, but scientists warn that the new rules could prevent the act from performing similar rescues in the future.

 Trump Pushed for Mining Project That Could Destroy Alaska Salmon Ecosystems, Despite EPA Opposition - "Gold over life, literally." That was the succinct and critical reaction of Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein to reporting on Friday that President Donald Trump had personally intervened — after a meeting with Alaska's Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy on Air Force One in June — to withdraw the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) opposition to a gold mining project in the state that the federal government's own scientists have acknowledged would destroy native fisheries and undermine the state's fragile ecosystems.  So Trump meets Alaska's governor in his airplane and agrees to push through a goldmine that had been stopped b/c it will devastate salmon habitat. This at a time that orcas are already starving death. Salmon carry entire ecosystems on their backs. Gold over life, literally.https://t.co/QcT2UosP0g  — Naomi Klein (@NaomiAKlein) August 9, 2019   Based on reporting by CNN that only emerged Friday evening, the key developments happened weeks ago after Trump's one-on-one meeting with Dunleavy — who has supported the copper and gold Pebble Mine project in Bristol Bay despite the opposition of conservationists, Indigenous groups, salmon fisheries experts, and others.  The EPA told staff scientists that it was no longer opposing a controversial Alaska mining project that could devastate one of the world's most valuable wild salmon fisheries, just one day after President Trump met with Alaska's governor, CNN has learned https://t.co/vJmjAYfSw4pic.twitter.com/TFGjPxSeAR — CNN (@CNN) August 9, 2019  CNN reports: In 2014, the project was halted because an EPA study found that it would cause "complete loss of fish habitat due to elimination, dewatering, and fragmentation of streams, wetlands, and other aquatic resources" in some areas of Bristol Bay. The agency invoked a rarely used provision of the Clean Water Act that works like a veto, effectively banning mining on the site. "If that mine gets put in, it would ... completely devastate our region," Gayla Hoseth, second chief of the Curyung Tribal Council and a Bristol Bay Native Association director, told CNN. "It would not only kill our resources, but it would kill us culturally."

The water is so hot in Alaska it's killing large numbers of salmon -- Alaska has been in the throes of an unprecedented heat wave this summer, and the heat stress is killing salmon in large numbers. Scientists have observed die-offs of several varieties of Alaskan salmon, including sockeye, chum and pink salmon. Stephanie Quinn-Davidson, director of the Yukon Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, told CNN she took a group of scientists on an expedition along Alaska's Koyokuk River at the end of July, after locals alerted her to salmon die-offs on the stream. She and the other scientists counted 850 dead unspawned salmon on that expedition, although they estimated the total was likely four to 10 times larger. They looked for signs of lesions, parasites and infections, but came up empty. Nearly all the salmon they found had "beautiful eggs still inside them," she said. Because the die-off coincided with the heat wave, they concluded that heat stress was the cause of the mass deaths. Quinn-Davidson said she'd been working as a scientist for eight years and had "never heard of anything to this extent before."

 Washington Wheat Farmers Could Be Toast If Dams Are Removed To Help Hungry Orcas - The southern resident killer whales that live off the coast of Washington state are hungry, because there are fewer and fewer of the salmon they depend on. To help them, the state is looking at removing a series of dams.Dam removal would help salmon travel up the river to spawn and down the river to the ocean, where the orcas can eat them.But the dams are also important to another population: wheat farmers. Washington's wheat crop brings $700 million into the state's economy, more than any crop except apples. The vast majority of that wheat gets exported, most of it to Asia."It'll go into steamed noodles, pastries, cookies, cakes," says Chris Shaffer, a fifth-generation wheat farmer with a 5,000-acre farm near Walla Walla, in the heart of wheat country. The trick is getting all this wheat to Seattle and to Portland, Ore., so it can be shipped across the ocean.Some of it goes by rail. But more than half of it goes by barge, floating down the Snake River and then the Columbia River to Portland.Shaffer points out the dams make that possible. Without them, the Snake River would be too shallow and too fast-moving for barges."If you take the dams out, the wheat industry in the state of Washington is going to change dramatically," Shaffer says, "because you're not going to move by road economically to Portland or Seattle." But those same dams make it harder for salmon to move up and down the river.

Climate change could trigger an international food crisis, UN panel warns -- A report from the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change warns that it will be impossible to keep worldwide temperatures at safe levels unless humans change the way they produce food and use land. Simply cutting carbon emissions from automobiles and factories alone won’t be enough to avert a worldwide food crisis. The report, released Thursday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, describes how global warming is already exacerbating food insecurity by destroying crop yields, decreasing livestock productivity and increasing pests and diseases on farmland. The panel said that warming starting at 2 degrees Celsius could trigger an international food crisis in coming years. This July was the hottest month ever recorded, with global temperatures up 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. If greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, in roughly 20 years the atmosphere will warm up by 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. “This is not the distant future. People should be nervous,” said Tim Searchinger, a senior fellow at the World Resources Report. In fact, the temperature over land is warming at twice the speed of the global average and has already reached over the 1.5 Celsius mark, according to the report.

Ethiopians tackle the climate crisis with 350 million new trees (in photos) -  Thousands of Ethiopians took part in planting a record-breaking number of trees in the span of 12 hours on Monday. At the urging of the country's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopians of all ages joined in the national Green Legacy campaign to reforest the country and combat climate change. Ethiopia's citizens shot far past their initial goal of 200 million trees, planting a staggering 353,633,660 tree seedlings in the 12-hour period.Twenty-five-year-old Feben Tamrat says she joined in Monday's planting after watching ads about the campaign from the prime minister. "I was very sure that I don't want to miss out, and I want to put my legacy as well on the ground," Tamrattold NPR.The record-breaking tree planting is just a small part of the nation's Green Legacy initiative. CNN reports the campaign aims to plant a total of four billion trees between May and October of this year. Ethiopia is among more than two dozen African countries that have pledged to bring 100 million hectares of land in Africa into restoration by 2030 through the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative.Just over a century ago, roughly one-third of Ethiopia's land was forest. But agriculture, drought, and soil erosion in the last hundred years have shrunk forested area down to less than 4 percent of the country's total land.There's some evidence that Ethiopia's national reforestation effort could help combat climate change. Earlier this month, a study estimated that restoring lost forests across the globe could remove two-thirds of all the greenhouse gas emissions that have been pumped into the atmosphere by human activities. Critics of the massive tree planting plan have pointed out, however, that, in the past, similar efforts have introduceddamaging non-native plant species and further degraded landscapes. At the very least, Ethiopia's tree planting engaged citizens in the fight against climate change in a record-breaking show of unity and optimism. "This showed us how much we can be strong when we come together and when we put our heads together to do something," Tamrat told NPR.

Amazon Deforestation Increase Prompts Germany to Cut $39.5M in Funding to Brazil - Germany said Saturday it would suspend aid to Brazil aimed at helping protect the Amazon forest in light of the stark increase in rainforest clearings since President Jair Bolsonaro took office. "The policy of the Brazilian government in the Amazon raises doubts as to whether a consistent reduction of deforestation rates is still being pursued," German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze told Saturday's edition of the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel.  Initially the amount that will be stopped is around €35 million ($39.5 million), the newspaper reported. Brazil is home to more than 60 percent of the Amazon forest, which is being cleared at an increasing rate to create more cropland.Concern about the forest has grown even more since Bolsonaro took office in January. The Brazilian leader doesn't want to designate any further protected areas, pledging instead to allow more clearances and make more economic use of the Amazon region. The former military officer also scorns any advice from abroad. Since 2008 until this year, Berlin has paid about €95 million ($106 million) in support of various environmental protection programs in Brazil. The German government also contributes to the Amazon Fund, a forest preservation initiative created in 2008.The fund has a total volume of just under €800 million ($891 million), and is funded by Norway and to a small extent also by Germany. It is not affected by the German Environment Ministry's action.The money is to be used to stop the deforestation of the rainforest, to finance reforestation projects and to support the indigenous population.But Bolsonaro's plans to also use the funds for the compensation of farmers have raised hackles. Norway, which has contributed the most to the fund, has threatened to withdraw, and said last year that payments to Brazil would be cut in half and might be eliminated altogether.

Indonesia Forest-Clearing Ban Criticized as 'Government Propaganda’ --Indonesia's president has made permanent a temporary moratorium on forest-clearing permits for plantations and logging. It's a policy the government says has proven effective in curtailing deforestation, but whose apparent gains have been criticized by environmental activists as mere "propaganda."  Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said President Joko Widodo had signed the permanent extension of the moratorium on Aug. 5. The moratorium prohibits the conversion of primary natural forests and peatlands for oil palm, pulpwood and logging concessions, and was introduced in 2011 by then-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as part of wider efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation.   But the moratorium hasn't helped slow the loss of primary forests, say activists. If anything, they say, the deforestation rate has actually increased within areas that qualify for the moratorium. The rate of deforestation in areas covered by the licensing ban between 2011 and 2018, the period during which the moratorium has been in force, is down 38 percent from the seven years prior, according to data from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. But analysis of satellite imagery by Greenpeace shows that deforestation rates increased in those areas after 2011. The NGO recorded 12,000 square kilometers (4,630 square miles) of forest loss within the moratorium areas in the seven years after the ban was implemented. This corresponds to an average annual rate of deforestation of 1,370 square kilometers (530 square miles) — higher than the average 970 square kilometers (375 square miles) per year in the seven years before 2011. Greenpeace said the government's data were neither consistent nor available in a format that can be processed using geographic information system (GIS) software. Instead, it relied on data from the University of Maryland, which has been tracking tropical deforestation rates around the world since 2001. "The Indonesia forests moratorium is a good example of government propaganda on forest conservation," said Kiki Taufik, the head of Greenpeace's Southeast Asia forests campaign. "It sounds impressive but doesn't deliver real change on the ground."

Death toll from Indian floods reaches 147, thousands evacuated  - The death toll from floods in the Indian states of Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra has risen to at least 147, according to authorities, as rescue teams raced to evacuate people and waters submerged parts of a world heritage site. Heavy rain and landslides forced hundreds of thousands of people to take shelter in relief camps, while train services were cancelled in several flood-hit areas.In the southern state of Kerala, at least 57 people were killed in rain-related incidents while more than 165,000 were in relief camps in the state, local authorities said on Sunday."Several houses are still covered under 10-12 feet deep mud. This is hampering rescue work," state chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said.Authorities worried that rescue operations would be hit by thunderstorms and rainfall predicted in some parts of Kerala."People are facing a lot of problems. Water has come from all directions, water has entered all the houses," a rescued local, Ajeet Pattankudi, told Reuters News Agency. Last year, more than 2 00 people were killed in Kerala and over five million were affected in one of the state's worst floods in 100 years.

Asia flooding: Dozens killed in China, Pakistan and India (video)-  Dozens of people have been killed in severe flooding and storms across Asia.  In China, Typhoon Lekima has killed at least 36 people.Meanwhile, monsoon rains in Pakistan and India have killed 160 and displaced about 165,000 people. Al Jazeera's Rory Challands reports.

How climate change affects where millennials get mortgages - The majority of young adults and consumers in coastal housing markets claim climate change will affect their homes or communities, which could influence where they consider buying a house, according to Zillow. This comes after a joint study by Zillow and Climate Central flagged 800,000 homes worth $450 billion for being at risk of 10-year flood inundation by 2050, and follows another Zillow report claiming nearly half a million California homes are in danger of wildfires. With a 62% share, millennials are most likely to expect to be affected by climate change and also comprise the largest cohort of homebuyers, giving them the potential to dictate purchase demand shifts to and from certain cities. Residents across all age groups in Miami, San Jose, Calif., and Los Angeles are among those most likely to anticipate being personally affected by climate change, while consumers in St. Louis, Detroit and Philadelphia are among the least likely, according to Zillow. Comparatively, about 51% of people between 35 and 54 shared similar sentiments on climate change personally affecting them, as well as 39% of those 55 and older. "This survey confirms that millions of Americans are sensitive to the risks associated with climate change and believe they will face them in their lifetimes. Young adults are much more likely to recognize the reality of climate-change-related risks to their homes and communities," Skylar Olsen, director of economic research at Zillow, said in a press release. "Every month new evidence is brought to light about the risks ranging from rising temperatures to more frequent floods to wildfires, and people are hearing the message. Even across age groups and political lines, there is at least a consensus that when you are in a hole the first step is to stop digging, in this case by not continuing to build new homes in high-risk areas," Olsen said.

Heatwave caused nearly 400 more deaths in Netherlands - stats agency(Reuters) - Almost 400 people more died in the Netherlands during Europe's recent record-breaking heatwave than in a regular summer week, Dutch national statistics agency CBS said on Friday. In total, 2964 people died in the Netherlands during the week that started on July 22, the CBS said, which was around 15% more than during an average week in the summertime. Temperature records tumbled across Europe during late July's heatwave, and for the first time since records began topped 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in the Netherlands on July 25. The death toll in the Netherlands during that week was comparable to the rate during two heatwaves in 2006, which were among the longest ever in the country, the researchers said. About 300 of the additional fatalities were among people aged 80 years and older. Most of the deaths occurred in the east of the Netherlands, where temperatures were higher and the heatwave lasted longer than in other parts of the country. The Netherlands has a total population of around 17 million. The heatwave was the second to hit Europe in a month, and climate specialists warn such bursts of heat may become more common as the planet warms up due to greenhouse gas emissions.

 July 2019 Was the Hottest Month Ever Recorded, NOAA Confirms - Humanity faced its hottest month in at least 140 years in July, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said on Thursday. The finding confirms similar analysis provided by its EU counterparts."Much of the planet sweltered in unprecedented heat," NOAA said on its website. "The record warmth also shrank Arctic and Antarctic sea ice to historic lows."For example, Alaska saw its warmest July since statewide records began in 1925. At the same time, despite powerful heat waves in Europe, the continent marked only the 15th-hottest July on record.The agency tracks global temperatures on land and in the oceans. According to its   experts, the period between January and July was the hottest to date in parts of North and South America, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the southern half of Africa.Globally, the current year seems set to tie with 2017 as second-hottest on record. While very warm, 2019 is unlikely to surpass the all-time heat record set by 2016.Last month, however, narrowly beat the record set in July 2016, which was cooler by 0.03 degrees Celsius. The average global temperature in July 2019 was 0.95 degrees Celsius (1.71 Fahrenheit) higher than the 20th century average for this month.It follows record-breaking heat in June, which was also the warmest June ever recorded.  The agency notes that nine out of the 10 hottest Julys ever recorded all happened since 2005. The last five years have all ranked in the top five. July 2019 was also the 415th consecutive month with above-average temperatures. The Arctic Sea ice coverage shrank by 19.8% compared with average values, beating a previo

Here’s how the hottest month in recorded history unfolded around the world  -During the hottest month that humans have recorded, a local television station in the Netherlands aired nonstop images of wintry landscapes to help viewers momentarily forget the heat wave outside.Officials in Switzerland and elsewhere painted stretches of rail tracks white, hoping to keep them from buckling in the extreme heat.At the port of Antwerp, Belgium, two alleged drug dealers called police for help after they got stuck inside a sweltering shipping container filled with cocaine.On Monday, scientists officially pronounced July 2019 the warmest month the world has experienced since record-keeping began more than a century ago.How hot was it?Wildfires raged across millions of acres in the Arctic. A massive ice melt in Greenland sent 197 billion tons of water pouring into the Atlantic Ocean, raising sea levels. And temperature records evaporated, one after another: 101.7 degrees Fahrenheit in Cambridge, England, and 108.7 in Paris. The same in Lingen, Germany.  “We have always lived through hot summers. But this is not the summer of our youth. This is not your grandfather’s summer,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres told reporters as July gave way to August.  Scientists found that the planet is headed for one of its hottest years, and the period from 2015 to 2019 is likely to go down as the warmest five-year period on record.“July has rewritten climate history, with dozens of new temperature records at [the] local, national and global level,” Petteri Taalas, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization, said in announcing the month’s historic implications. “This is not science fiction. It is the reality of climate change. It is happening now, and it will worsen in the future without urgent climate action."

August 2019 El Niño Update: Stick a fork in it - The El Niño of 2019 is officially done. Near-average conditions in the tropical Pacific indicate that we have returned to ENSO-neutral conditions (neither El Niño or La Niña is present). Forecasterscontinue to favor ENSO-neutral (50-55% chance) through the Northern Hemisphere winter.  The July Niño3.4 index, our primary index for monitoring ENSO, was 0.4°C above the long-term average, falling below the El Niño threshold of 0.5°C for the first time since last September. In addition, tropical atmospheric conditions have trended toward neutral, as the cloudiness and rainfall over the Pacific were near average over the past month. The trade winds also have been near average lately, indicating that Walker circulation, which weakens during El Niño, has shown signs of rebounding.  .  Based on these latest indicators from the tropical ocean and atmosphere, NOAA forecasters have declared that El Niño has ended and neutral conditions have returned. Does a return to neutral mean that average weather conditions are expected to prevail around the globe? As Michelle pointed out a couple years ago, the answer is an emphatic NO.  A return to neutral means that we will not get that predictable influence from El Niño or La Niña, but the atmosphere is certainly capable of wild swings without a push from either influence.  Basically, ENSO-neutral means that the job of seasonal forecasters gets a bit tougher because we do not have that ENSO influence that we potentially can predict several months in advance (in a probabilistic form).            A change to neutral could also impact the Atlantic hurricane season, which typically ramps up this time of year and peaks in early-to-mid September.  El Niño tends to produce hostile conditions for Atlantic hurricanes, as explained more thoroughly in Dr. Phil Klotzbach’s guest post, so a return to neutral means  that we will not get a decisive push from El Niño to the Atlantic.  The updated NOAA Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook is now available, so be sure to check how these changing ENSO conditions and other drivers are impacting the Atlantic hurricane season.   

 Above-normal hurricane season now more likely with El Niño’s end, NOAA says - There’s an increased likelihood that this year’s Atlantic hurricane season will be above-normal now that the irregular weather pattern known as El Niño has faded, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday. Scientists now predict 10 to 17 named storms throughout the season, which runs June through November. Five to nine of them could become hurricanes, including two to four major hurricanes Category 3 or higher with winds of 111 mph or greater. Two named storms already have formed this season. One became Hurricane Barry, a Category 1 hurricane that hit Louisiana in July. Historically, 95 percent of all Atlantic hurricanes form from August through October. In May, forecasters predicted a 40 percent chance of a near-normal season. They expected El Niño, a hurricane suppressant that creates wind shear over the tropical Atlantic Ocean, to cancel out conditions that have led to stronger hurricane activity since 1995.

Alaska's hottest month portends transformation into 'unfrozen state' (Reuters) - July 2019 now stands as Alaska's hottest month on record, the latest benchmark in a long-term warming trend with ominous repercussions ranging from rapidly vanishing summer sea ice and melting glaciers to raging wildfires and deadly chaos for marine life. July's statewide average temperature rose to 58.1 degrees Fahrenheit (14.5 degrees Celsius), a level that for denizens of the Lower 48 states might seem cool enough but is actually 5.4 degrees above normal and nearly a full degree higher than Alaska's previous record-hot month. The new high was officially declared by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in its monthly climate report, released on Wednesday. More significantly, July was the 12th consecutive month in which average temperatures were above normal nearly every day, said Brian Brettschneider, a scientist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy (ACCAP) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Of Alaska's 10 warmest months on record, seven have now occurred since 2004. "You can always have a random kind of warm month, season or even year," Brettschneider said. "But when it happens year after year after year after year after year, then statistically it fails the test of randomness and it then becomes a trend." Alaska, like other parts of the far north, is warming at least twice as fast as the planet as a whole, research shows. And over the past 12 months, Brettschneder said, that warming has crossed a threshold – shifting Alaska from an environment with average temperatures below freezing to above freezing. It used to be that Alaska was generally a frozen state, he said, adding, "Now we're an unfrozen state."

Heat-trapping gases broke records in 2018, climate crisis report finds - The gases heating the planet in 2018 were higher than humans have ever recorded, according to an authoritative new report from the American Meteorological Society and the US government. Greenhouse gas levels topped 60 years of modern measurements and 800,000 years of ice core data, the study found. The data used in the 325-page report is collected from more than 470 scientists in 60 countries. The global annual average for carbon dioxide – which is elevated because of human activities like driving cars and burning fuel – was 407.4 parts per million, 2.4 ppm higher than in 2017. The report finds 2018 was the fourth-warmest on record since the mid-to-late- 1800s. Temperatures were .3C to .4C higher than the average between 1981 and 2010. Sea levels were the highest on record, as global heating melted land-based ice and expanded the oceans. Sea surface temperatures were also near a record high. As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration put it, the report “found that the major indicators of climate change continued to reflect trends consistent with a warming planet”. Arctic and Antarctic sea ice extent was near a record low, and glaciers continued to melt and lose mass for the 30th year in a row.

Greenhouse Gases Reach Unprecedented Level - A bleak new federal report found that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose to levels the world has not seen in at least 800,000 years, highlighting the irreversible and mounting deleterious effects of human activity on the planet, as ABC News reported. Global carbon dioxide concentrations reached a record of 407.4 parts per million during 2018, the study found. That is 2.4 ppm greater than 2017 and "the highest in the modern instrumental record and in ice core records dating back 800,000 years," the report said, according to CNN. It wasn't just the amount of carbon dioxide that set record levels. Other greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide also continued a rapid rise into the atmosphere. Together, the global warming power of greenhouse gases was 43 percent stronger than in 1990, according to the State of the Climate report released Monday by the American Meteorological Society, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information. Greenhouse gases are not the only thing rising. Global sea levels also reached their highest levels on record for the seventh consecutive year, as ABC News reported. The report says that ocean levels are rising about an inch per decade, but that number may need to be revised if ice melt at the poles accelerates. For global temperatures, 2018 ranked fourth, behind 2016, 2015 and 2017 for the warmest on record. That top four finish for 2018 is despite a La Niña system over the Pacific that cooled ocean waters for part of the year. So far, 2019 is on track to be the warmest year in recorded history, according to NOAA.

Fracking causing rise in methane emissions, study finds - The boom in the US shale gas and oil may have ignited a significant global spike in methane emissions blamed for accelerating the pace of the climate crisis, according to research. Scientists at Cornell University have found the “chemical fingerprints” of the rising global methane levels point to shale oil and shale gas as the probable source. Methane, levels of which have been increasing sharply since 2008, is a potent greenhouse gas that heats the atmosphere quicker than carbon dioxide. Researchers at Cornell said the carbon composition of atmospheric methane, or the “weight” of carbon within each methane molecule, was changing too. Robert Howarth, the author of the paper published in the journal Biogeosciences, said the proportion of methane with a “carbon signature” linked to traditional fossil fuels was falling relative to the rise of methane with a slightly different carbon make-up.Researchers had previously assumed the “non-traditional” methane was frombiological sources such as cows and wetlands, but the latest research suggests unconventional oil and gas from fracking may be playing a significant part.The theory would support a correlation in the rise of methane in the atmosphere and the boom in fracking across the US over the last decade. “This recent increase in methane is massive,” Howarth said. “It’s globally significant. It’s contributed to some of the increase in global warming we’ve seen and shale gas is a major player.”

 Shareholders Sue Exxon for Misrepresenting Climate Risks --A group of Exxon investors has filed suit in federal court against several of the company’s officials, directors and board members for failing to protect their investments as well as the company from the risks of climate change.Saratoga Advantage Trust Energy and Basic Materials Portfolio, a mutual fund of Saratoga Advantage Trust, filed a derivative lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Trenton, N.J., on Tuesday against several current and former Exxon officials, including current chief executive officer and chairman of the board Darren Woods; former chief executive Rex Tillerson; principal financial officer and senior vice president Andrew Swiger; and several members of the company’s auditing committee.A derivative suit is a lawsuit brought by shareholders against a corporation’s directors and management for failing to exercise their authority for the benefit of the company and all of its shareholders. This type of suit often arises when fraud, mismanagement or dishonesty is ignored by officers and the board of directors of a corporation and it allows the shareholders to sue on behalf of themselves and on behalf of the corporation. Saratoga alleges that the officials “knew, were reckless, or were grossly negligent in not knowing” that Exxon was misleading its investors regarding the risks of climate change to its business. It also alleges that the officials received “excessive compensation and benefits” while the company failed to accurately value its reserves, usedtwo sets of numbers to calculate climate risk and filed misleading paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  Saratoga said the value of its investments dropped as a result.  The defendants “did not adequately evaluate the potential impact of climate change-related risks on the value of Exxon’s assets and its long-term business prospects,” Saratoga alleged in the suit.

 Climate Deniers Launch Personal Attacks on Teen Activist - Greta Thunberg, at age 16, has quickly become one of the most visible climate activists in the world. Her detractors increasingly rely on ad hominem attacks to blunt her influence. Thunberg gained prominence after she began skipping some days of school to protest climate inaction outside Swedish parliament. She spearheaded the school walkouts that saw more than a million children across the globe leaving their classrooms to demand action on global warming. She has addressed world and U.N. leaders and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Later this month, she'll sail across the Atlantic Ocean in a 60-foot yacht powered by solar panels and underwater turbines on her way to participate in the U.N. climate talks in New York (see related story). But the success of Thunberg — who describes herself on Twitter as a "16 year old climate activist with Asperger" — remains a sore point for those who reject mainstream climate science and some who have helped shape or encourage the Trump's administration rollback of climate policy. They frequently point to Thunberg's autism, claim she is used by her parents and compare her call to young people on climate change to "Hitler Youth." They have pointed to her "monotone voice" and framed her as a "millenarian weirdo" with the "look of apocalyptic dread in her eyes." A recent opinion piece in The New York Times prompted an outcry among climate hawks and Thunberg's allies, who said the newspaper was validating these types of personal attacks on the teenage activist. Experts say relying on ad hominem attacks has significant collateral damage in that they dissuade people with intellectual and developmental disabilities from speaking publicly. While the language of describing someone as a "puppet" or abused by adults may appear coded, it's clearly a dog whistle that signals her words should be discounted because her mind works differently

 Climate Could Be an Electoral Time Bomb, Republican Strategists Fear -- When election time comes next year, Will Galloway, a student and Republican youth leader at Clemson University, will look for candidates who are strong on the mainstream conservative causes he cares about most, including gun rights and opposing abortion.But there is another issue high on his list of urgent concerns that is not on his party’s agenda: climate change.“Climate change isn’t going to discriminate between red states and blue states, so red-state actors have to start engaging on these issues,” said Mr. Galloway, 19, who is heading into his sophomore year and is chairman of the South Carolina Federation of College Republicans. “But we haven’t been. We’ve completely ceded them to the left.” While Donald Trump has led the Republican Party far down the road of denying the scientific consensus of human-caused climate change, Mr. Galloway represents a concern among younger Republicans that has caught the attention of Republican strategists.In conversations with 10 G.O.P. analysts, consultants and activists, all said they were acutely aware of the rising influence of young voters like Mr. Galloway, who in their lifetimes haven’t seen a single month of colder-than-average temperatures globally, and who call climate change a top priority. Those strategists said lawmakers were aware, too, but few were taking action. “We’re definitely sending a message to younger voters that we don’t care about things that are very important to them,” said Douglas Heye, a former communications director at the Republican National Committee. “This spells certain doom in the long term if there isn’t a plan to admit reality and have legislative prescriptions for it.”President Trump has set the tone for Republicans by deriding climate change, using White House resources to undermine scienceand avoiding even uttering the phrase. Outside of a handful of states such as Florida, where addressing climate change has become more bipartisan, analysts said Republican politicians were unlikely to buck Mr. Trump or even to talk about climate change on the campaign trail at all, except perhaps to criticize Democrats for supporting the Green New Deal. That, several strategists warned, means the party stands to lose voters to Democrats in 2020 and beyond — a prospect they said was particularly worrisome in swing districts that Republicans must win to recapture a majority in the House of Representatives.

What is geoengineering—and why should you care?  - It’s becoming clear that we won’t cut carbon emissions soon enough to prevent catastrophic climate change. But there may be ways to cool the planet more quickly and buy us a little more time to shift away from fossil fuels. They’re known collectively as geoengineering, and though it was once a scientific taboo, a growing number of researchers are running computer simulations and proposing small-scale outdoor experiments. Even some legislators have begun discussing what role these technologies could play (see “The growing case for geoengineering”). Traditionally, geoengineering has encompassed two very different things:sucking carbon dioxide out of the sky so the atmosphere will trap less heat, and reflecting more sunlight away from the planet so less heat is absorbed in the first place.The first of these, known as “carbon removal” or “negative emissions technologies,” is something that scholars now largely agree we’ll need to do in order to avoid dangerous levels of warming (see “One man’s two-decade quest to suck greenhouse gas out of the sky”). Most no longer call it “geoengineering”—to avoid associating it with the second, more contentious branch, known as solar geoengineering.It’s not a particularly new idea. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson’s Science Advisory Committee warned it might be necessary to increase the reflectivity of the Earth to offset rising greenhouse-gas emissions. The committee went so far as to suggest sprinkling reflective particles across the oceans.  But the best-known form of solar geoengineering involves spraying particles into the stratosphere, sometimes known as “stratospheric injection” or “stratospheric aerosol scattering.” (Sorry, we don’t come up with the names.) That’s in part because nature has already demonstrated it’s possible. Most famously, the massive eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the summer of 1991 spewed some 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the sky. By reflecting sunlight back into space, the particles in the stratosphere helped push global temperatures down about 0.5 °C over the next two years. And while we don’t have precise data, huge volcanic eruptions in the distant past had similar effects. The explosion of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815 was famously followed by the “Year Without a Summer” in 1816,  . Soviet climatologist Mikhail Budyko is generally credited as the first to suggest we could counteract climate change by mimicking this volcanic phenomenon. He raised the possibility of burning sulfur in the stratosphere in a 1974 book.

 Who Will Pay for the Huge Costs of Holding Back Rising Seas? -  For cities in the United States, the price of infrastructure projects to combat rising seas and intensifying storms is coming into focus — and so is the sticker shock.In Boston, where many neighborhoods have been built and recently expanded in low-lying areas, an estimated $2.4 billion will be needed over the next several decades to protect the city from flooding, one study says. That report came as the city abandoned plans to build a harbor barrier that would have cost between $6 billion and $12 billion, which researchers concluded was economically unfeasible.In Charleston, South Carolina, the mayor said last year that the city, which floods regularly during high tides, had an estimated $2 billion in needed drainage projects.In Norfolk, Virginia, the Army Corps of Engineers has recommended a $1.4 billion series of seawalls and other infrastructure to protect part of the shoreline. As with many cities, that’s just the start.In Harris County, home to Houston, planners say $30 billion is needed to provide protection against a 100-year flood. Hurricane Harvey, which in 2017 caused 68 deaths and $125 billion in damages in the state, was the city’s third 500-year-flood in three years.And in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has proposed a storm surge barrier and floodgates to shield parts of the city and New Jersey from rising waters. The estimated cost: $10 billion. While the threats to these cities are growing as climate change intensifies, what is not clear is how to pay for projects needed to protect tens of millions of people and trillions of dollars of property. Conservative estimates of the capital investments needed to combat rising seas and worsening storms run into the hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming decades. “The failure to face these costs is the next phase of climate denial,” says Richard Wiles, executive director of the Center for Climate Integrity, an environmental advocacy group that champions forcing polluters to pay for climate crisis costs. “We’ve got to look at this squarely and figure out how to pay for it.”  The center recently issued a study concluding that by 2040, building sea walls for storm surge protection for U.S. coastal cities with more than 25,000 residents will require at least $42 billion. Expand that to include communities under 25,000 people and the cost skyrockets to $400 billion. That’s nearly the price of building the 47,000 miles of the interstate highway system, which took four decades and cost more than $500 billion in today’s dollars.

 Defunct power plant in Minnesota thunders to ground in explosive demolition — The country’s first power plant fueled by turkey manure and wood chips was demolished Wednesday morning, Aug. 14. Built in 2007 as an alternative to land-spreading turkey litter — and as a new type of renewable energy that helped Xcel Energy meet a legislative mandate for purchasing green energy in exchange for storing radioactive waste — the massive power plant that had been praised in the past and toured by politicians was loaded with explosives and left in a heap.There were a few loud booms and seconds later the 15-story boiler house crumpled over on its side and the 30-story smokestack fell like a tree and crashed to the ground. A 10-story dryer building at the Benson Power plant, which was originally built and operated at Fibrominn, was brought down with explosives Saturday morning.

6 Offshore Wind Farms the Size of Nuclear Power Plants  - Everything about offshore wind just keeps getting bigger. Last month alone, New York awarded America’s single-largest renewables procurement to offshore wind, and General Electric unveiled the world’s largest-ever turbine nacelle, also for offshore wind. Offshore wind projects, meanwhile, are already exceeding the capacity (if not the capacity factor) of small nuclear reactors. There are now half a dozen offshore wind farms larger than 400 megawatts in operation or under construction around the world, according to the Global Wind Energy Council. And the list doesn't include projects like the 659-megawatt Walney Extension in the U.K., since it was built in phases and GWEC counts each phase of an offshore wind plant as a separate project.Here are the biggest offshore wind farms on the planet right now, as ranked by GWEC.

Renewable energy: getting to 100% requires cheap energy storage. But how cheap? –  One of the most heated and interesting debates in the energy world today has to do with how far the US can get on carbon-free renewable energy alone. At the heart of the debate is the simple fact that the two biggest sources of renewable energy — wind and solar power — are “variable.” They come and go with the weather and time of day. They are not “dispatchable,” which means they cannot be turned on and off, or up and down, according to the grid’s needs. They don’t adjust to the grid; the grid adjusts to them.That means a grid with lots of renewables needs lots of flexibility, lots of different ways of smoothing and balancing out the fluctuations in wind and solar. When people predict that renewables will fall short of 100 percent, what they are predicting is that we won’t be able to find enough flexibility to accommodate them (at least not fast enough). They will require “firming” by dispatchable, nonrenewable sources.There are many sources of grid flexibility, but the one that seems to have the most potential and is laden with the highest hopes is energy storage. To a first approximation, the question of whether renewables will be able to get to 100 percent reduces to the question of whether storage will get cheap enough. With cheap-enough storage, we can add a ton of it to the grid and absorb just about any fluctuations.But how cheap is cheap enough?That question is the subject of a fascinating new bit of research out of an MIT lab run by researcher Jessika Trancik (I’ve written about Trancik’s work before), just released in the journal Joule.To spoil the ending: The answer is $20 per kilowatt hour in energy capacity costs. That’s how cheap storage would have to get for renewables to get to 100 percent. That’s around a 90 percent drop from today’s costs. While that is entirely within the realm of the possible, there is wide disagreement over when it might happen; few expect it by 2030. However, there are twists and turns to this tale, and a happier ending than that summary might indicate. Let’s take a closer look.

Trump's Rollback of Fuel Economy Standards Could Cost Americans $460 Billion: Consumer Reports -- A new analysis from the nonprofit advocacy group Consumer Reports warns that American drivers could lose about $460 billion dollars in fuel savings if the Trump administration implements its proposal to gut federal fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards for passenger cars and light-duty trucks.Last week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency formally announced the administration's plan to amend Obama-era vehicle standards for model years 2021 through 2026.Described by critics as "a disastrous wreck for consumers and the planet," the so-called Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule would freeze federal fuel efficiency standards for automakers at 2020 levels. As Common Dreams reported last week, "the Trump administration's new proposal would also revoke the power of states — most prominently California — to establish their own more stringent fuel efficiency rules."The Consumer Reports study out Wednesday, Bloomberg noted, "undermines the administration's chief talking points in favor of the move.""The facts don't back this rule's Orwellian name," David Friedman, vice president of advocacy at Consumer Reports, said in a statement. "The evidence shows that lowering fuel economy and emissions standards won't do anything to improve traffic safety, but it will leave Americans stuck with the bill.""Instead of making a data-driven decision, the agencies instead seem to have been given a predetermined outcome and tried to make the numbers back it," said Friedman. "They don't." The Consumer Reports study — titled The Un-SAFE Rule: How a Fuel Economy Rollback Costs Americans Billions in Fuel Savings and Does Not Improve Safety — concludes that the administration's rollback would have sweeping negative consequences.

Trump's EPA grants 31 small refinery waivers from biofuel laws, angering corn lobby - (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has granted 31 small refinery biofuel waivers for 2018 on Friday, infuriating the ethanol and corn producers who blamed the Trump administration for bailing out the oil industry when U.S. farmers were suffering due to trade tariffs and low prices. The waivers from the country’s biofuel laws were fewer than previous year’s and marked an increase in the number of petitions rejected, but the EPA’s decision was still unlikely to satisfy the powerful U.S. corn lobby which wants a broad retrenchment of the biofuel waiver program it blames for undercutting ethanol demand. “At a time when ethanol plants in the Heartland are being mothballed and jobs are being lost, it is unfathomable and utterly reprehensible that the Trump administration would dole out more unwarranted waivers to prosperous petroleum refiners,” said RFA President and Chief Executive Geoff Cooper said in a statement. Small Refinery Exemptions are available to small U.S. refineries that can prove they are in financial strife, and the waivers free them from their obligation under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) to blend biofuels like ethanol into their gasoline or purchase credits from others that do. Since Trump took office, the EPA has more than quadrupled the number of waivers it has granted to refiners, saving the oil industry hundreds of millions of dollars, corn growers, who claim the move threatens ethanol demand. Refiners dismiss the argument. The agency rejected six of the applications, while three were declared withdrawn, according to the EPA website. The RFS was enacted more than a decade ago to help farmers and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. The waiver program, however, has emerged as a battlefield between the rivaling oil and corn industries.

Corn Industry Battered By Shocking Ethanol Decision - The Trump administration has tried to thread the needle between the corn ethanol and oil refining industries, as the two battle it out over federal policy. The EPA may have thought it came up with a balanced approach when it issued a series of recent decisions, but judging by market reactions, the agency seems to have decidedly come down on the side of oil over ethanol. Federal policy requires a certain volume of biofuels to be blended into the nation’s fuel mix. Each year, the EPA decides on the exact levels, and it is a bit of a zero-sum game between ethanol producers and oil refiners. The ethanol industry wants higher blending levels because that expands sales, while refiners want less in order to defray costs. While perennially at odds, the two industries were at a bit of standstill for much of the Obama administration because while both sides surely had their gripes, there at least was some predictability about government policy. That all changed under the Trump administration, and specifically, under the stewardship of Scott Pruitt, former administrator at EPA. Under his tenure, EPA ramped up the number of waivers that it granted to the refining industry, absolving some smaller refiners of the requirement to buy ethanol who claim the obligation would inflict economic hardship.   The move upset a fragile balance between the two industries, infuriating farmers and ethanol producers. The market for renewable identification numbers (RINs), which are the credits refiners can buy to offset their blending obligations, went haywire after the increase of waivers from EPA. Trump tried to stay above the fray, fearing angering one side over the other, and told his lieutenants to hash out a compromise. Trump even proposed allowing the year-round sale of E15 – a higher concentration of ethanol that was off limits during summer months over air pollution concerns – as a way of making amends with corn and ethanol producers. But the administration just issued a shocking decision to the corn and ethanol industries. On August 9, the EPA announced its decision on 2018 waiver requests, approving 31 of them while denying six. The decision appears to be an attempt to offer something to both sides, but the biofuels industry was incensed. “The Trump Administration’s approval of 31 refinery exemptions from the Renewable Fuel Standard is just devasting news for our industry,” said Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) Executive Director Monte Shaw in a press release. “With this action, President Trump has destroyed over a billion gallons of biofuel demand and broken his promise to Iowa voters to protect the [Renewable Fuels Standard].”

Georgia's forests are a shrinking line of defense against global warming.  - In an attempt to cut back on their own fossil fuel emissions, countries in the European Union have become increasingly fond of getting energy from burning wood pellets, the product of wood that’s been harvested, ground up, and compressed. Because Europe has relatively stringent forest protections, the pellets are largely imported from the American Southeast. If the good news is that wood isn’t a fossil fuel, the bad news is that, by certain measures, it’s worse: Burning wood releases more carbon per unit of energy than burning coal or oil. And downed trees, of course, are no longer able to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Because trees grow back and return to capturing carbon on a much faster cycle than coal or oil, proponents of this type of fuel—called biomass energy—argue it should be considered a renewable source. But that regeneration happens on an order of decades. Last year, the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change produced a jarring estimate of how long the world has to forestall the worst effects of climate change: just 12 years, it said, to dramatically restructure the world economy and cut carbon emissions by nearly half, on the way to a later goal of net zero emissions by 2050. In 2017, a group of scientists—including a number of IPCC lead authors—published a letter naming a “critical flaw” in the EU’s goal to double the continent’s renewable energy by 2030. Counting wood biomass as a renewable energy source, they wrote, “amounts to selling the world’s limited time to combat climate change under mistaken claims of improvement.” The American Southeast is the world’s top exporter of wood biomass, with the bulk produced in Georgia. Initially, biomass producers made pellets out of timber residue or sawmill shavings, but increasing demand has led them to harvest whole trees. (In addition to forest cutting and carbon emissions, conservationists and community groups object to the particulate matter emitted by wood pellet–producing U.S. factories, which tend to be located in low-income, nonwhite communities.) Naturally regenerating forests in the Southeast are expected to decline between 25 and 58 percent by 2060, while the amount of forestland taken up by pine plantations could rise to as much as 34 percent. Georgia, which has been called the “Amazon of the South” for its once highly biodiverse forest ecosystems, has also been called the “Saudi Arabia of pine trees” for the potential of its wood energy.

Simultaneous wind farm and gas-fired power station failures are blamed for one of Britain’s worst power cuts in years as millions are hit by blackouts – with homes, airports, trains and even traffic lights going down - One of the worst power cuts to hit Britain in years caused transport chaos across the country last night and hit the energy supplies of almost a million people.Traffic lights stopped working, trains were cancelled, and stations were evacuated after a technical fault at two power generators run by National Grid triggered a 'major incident'. On Friday evening, there were reports that the problems may have been caused by issues at a gas-fired power station – and at a wind farm off the coast of Yorkshire. 'What happened is a major offshore wind generation site and a gas turbine failed at the same time,' Devrim Celal, of Upside Energy in London, a contractor with National Grid, was reported saying. 'There was a significant shortage of generation, and that sudden drop created ripple effects across the country.'   'The first generator to disconnect was a gas fired plant at Little Barford at 16:58. Two minutes later Hornsea Offshore wind farm seems to have disconnected. This might be linked to disturbance caused by first generator failing; might not. We will need to wait for National Grid's full technical investigation to get to bottom of that.' Commuters described 'apocalyptic' scenes as they tried to make their way home during the evening rush-hour. And nearly a million customers were left without electricity following the outage at around 5pm. Blackouts were reported in London and the South East, as well as the Midlands, South West, North East and the North West. The National Grid Electricity Operator took around two hours to resolve the issue. The events immediately sparked speculation over the cause. Last night, the National Cyber Security Centre said there was, as yet, no evidence of hackers assaulting the power network. Embarrassingly, Chancellor Sajid Javid visited National Grid bosses and trainees at its Eakring Training Centre, just hours before the power cut. The mayhem last night was at its worst on the transport network. Commuters travelling on the London underground and at Clapham Junction were plunged into darkness.

Texas Power Grid Operator Declares Level 1 Emergency Amid Extreme Heat - Power demand in Texas hit a record high on Monday as consumers turned up their air conditioners to escape a heatwave that is boiling much of the southern Plains over the next 7-10 days. "A large ridge of high pressure has anchored itself across the southern Plains over the last 7-10 days, promoting significant heat across Texas. As of Tuesday morning, Dallas has reached 100°F each of the last 4 days, while Houston's Intercontinental Airport has hit 101°F each of the past 5 days. Generally speaking, warmer than normal temperatures will continue for the foreseeable future across Texas," said Meteorologist and owner of Empire Weather LLC., Ed Vallee. According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), who operates the electric grid and supplies energy to more than 25 million customers, representing 90% of the state's electrical load, reported that demand surged to 74,531 megawatts (MW) at 5 p.m. CDT on Monday and could reach 75,000 MW on Tuesday. Reuters notes that the all-time high was 73,473 MW on July 19, 2018. ERCOT has 78,000 MW of generating capacity.    "This is blowing up, David Hoy, a trader at Dynasty Power, told Bloomberg, "That should be the highest price of the year so far." Meteorologist Vallee said air temperature and humidity across the region could make temperatures feel closer to 110 through the week. In comparison to other grid operators across the country, ERCOT Houston is experiencing the most significant spikes in energy costs this week. The jump in energy costs shows just how unpredictable the Texas power market has become as coal-fired generators are retired for cheaper natural gas and renewable energy sources. ERCOT said its reserve margin, which is the spread between total generation available and forecast peak demand, with the difference shown as a percentage of peak demand, is at an all-time low of 7.4% because several coal-fired power plants have been retired as of recent. Monday's price spike also shows how renewable energy, which makes up about 25% of Texas' energy generation, had difficulty generating enough power to handle the demand surge.  Update (1325ET): Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) calls for energy conservation while declaring first-level energy emergency. Bloomberg reports that the Level 1 emergency triggered when operating reserves fall below 2,300 MW, aren’t expected to recover within 30 minutes. This emergency allows the grid operator can call on all available power supplies, including power from other grids. Additionally, Texas power prices briefly topped $9,000/MwH forcing ERCOT to call for energy conservation amid extreme heat in the region. “Extreme heat across the Ercot region will continue to result in high loads,” ERCOT said in a statement. “We may set another new record today.”

Texas heat wave spikes prices to $9,000 per megawatt-hour -- Wednesday, August 14, 2019 -- Texas' electric grid continued to struggle under a heat wave yesterday after several days of electricity usage records, sending power prices to the legal maximum.

Climate Change Will Drive Up Energy Use in Texas and Beyond - On Monday, as temperatures soared past 100 degrees across the state, the grid reached a new record demand: 74,531 megawatts of electricity in one hour. That beat last year’s record—which was set during the state’s fifth hottest summer on record—by 1,000 megawatts, the equivalent of powering 200,000 homes for the day.This strain on the system prompted the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s grid operator, to issue an emergency alert urging customers to reduce their electricity consumption during the hottest part of the day. The state’s grid has the lowest reserve margins, or extra supply, out of any grid system in the United States this summer. If customers had needed more electricity than predicted, there wouldn’t be much room for error, and ERCOT might have needed to initiate rolling blackouts to prevent a larger, more dangerous power outage. Given these tight margins, a recent study published in Nature Communications about the effects of climate change on global energy demand seems especially troubling. Researchers estimate that climate change could drive up global energy demand by as much as 58 percent in the next 30 years.“These changes are pretty substantial,” Ian Sue Wing, one of the paper’s authors, told the Observer. “They’re going to happen within the lifetime of young people now.” In fact, those changes are already happening here and now. On 2019’s hottest day, Texans used nearly 10,000 more megawatts of electricity than a decade ago. Summer peak demand has grown at a rate of about 1.6 percent per year. The city of Dallas experienced 97 hot days per summer (defined as a day over 90 degrees) in the year 2000; today, that number has risen to 106. TheClimate Impact Lab estimates that by 2050, it’ll be 124 days—the equivalent of four months. In San Antonio, that number could top out at 150 days by midcentury. That’s longer than the official length of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. It isn’t just hotter summers driving up energy demand in Texas: By 2050, the state’s current population is expected to double to nearly 50 million. More people means more homes and apartments that need to be cooled off. Nearly half of Texas’ peak summer demand comes from residential use; Joshua Rhodes, a research associate at UT Austin’s Energy Institute, has found that the majority of energy demand in Texas is due to air-conditioning.

Electricity prices spike to $9K again as emergency declared - Texas' main grid operator declared a power emergency for the second time this week, as the state's generation fleet suffered a series of unusual breakdowns.

Hot weather pushes TVA power peak to highest August in seven years - The hottest day of the summer Tuesday pushed electricity use in the Tennessee Valley to the highest peak in August in more than seven years. TVA said Tuesday's peak demand for power reached 29,568 megawatts at 4 p.m., when the heat index across much of the seven-state TVA region topped 100 degrees, although the average temperature across the Tennessee Valley reached only 94 degrees due to scattered storms Tuesday afternoon and evening. In Chattanooga, the high reached 100 degrees, with the heat index topping 109, according to WRCB-TV Channel 3. TVA's power demand Tuesday was the highest August peak for the agency since Aug. 1, 2012. But TVA spokeswoman Malinda Hunter said Wednesday the utility met the peak without any request or implementation of conservation measures other than TVA's own internal suspension of most maintenance work on its power plants from 8 p.m. Monday to 8 p.m. Tuesday to limit the chances of any outages.  TVA has all seven of its nuclear reactors at full power and is relying on other output from its natural gas, coal, hydro and solar generators, along with its contracts for purchased gas, wind and solar power.  TVA's peak power demand Tuesday was still far below the utility's record power peak reached in the summer of 2007 when temperatures across the valley averaged 102 degrees and the peak demand jumped to 33,482 megawatts from heavy electricity consumption for air conditioners.

 India expects coal-fired power capacity to grow 22% in 3 years An increase in coal-fired power generation capacity would be bad news for India's cities, 14 of which feature in the World Health Organization's 20 most polluted in the world (Reuters) - India's coal-fired power generation capacity is expected to rise by 22.4% in three years, the federal power ministry's chief engineer said on Wednesday, potentially neutralising its efforts to cut emissions by boosting adoption of renewable energy. India, the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, saw its annual coal demand rise 9.1% to nearly 1 billion tonnes in the year ended March 2019. Coal demand from utilities accounted for over three-quarters of total consumption. "Capacity by 2022 is likely to be 238 gigawatts (GW) in terms of coal-based generation," Ghanshyam Prasad, chief engineer at India's ministry of power said at the India Coal Conference on Wednesday. The International Energy Agency expects India to become the second largest coal consumer behind China early next decade. Electricity demand in the country rose 36% in the seven years to April 2019 while coal-fired generation capacity during the period grew by 74% to 194.44 GW, according to the Central Electricity Authority (CEA). An increase in coal-fired power generation capacity would be bad news for India's cities, 14 of which feature in the World Health Organization's 20 most polluted in the world. Thermal power companies account for 80% of all industrial emissions of particulate matter, sulfur and nitrous oxides in India. Prasad said the growth rate in thermal capacity had outpaced electricity consumption over the last few years, resulting in stranded utility assets across the country. "But this doesn't mean we will not require (more) coal-fired plants in the future. With the kind of growth we are expecting, the requirement for these power stations will be there" he said.

Environmentalists object to Georgia Power coal ash plans(AP) — Environmental groups urged Georgia officials to reject plans by Georgia Power to keep coal waste in ponds at several power plants. The utility plans to leave coal ash in unlined retaining ponds that will continue leaching toxic metals after they are closed, the Southern Environmental Law Center said in a letter to Georgia environmental officials on Aug. 5. The storage pits would be submerged in groundwater, according to the environmental group. “Although Georgia Power will add no more ash to the waste ponds, nearly fifty million tons of coal ash will remain, continuing to degrade and occupy the aquifer, and continuing to leak coal ash and its pollutant-laden leachate into the environment and surrounding public waters,” said the letter signed by Christopher Bowers, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. It was addressed to two state officials in the environmental protection division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and also written on behalf of three other environmental groups. A Georgia Power spokeswoman said in a statement that the letter contained “incorrect assumptions and several critical inaccuracies that mislead the public of our ash pond closure process.” Coal ash is the waste product left behind when coal is burned. It contains contaminants such as mercury and arsenic that can pollute ground water if not properly managed, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Southern Environmental Law Center cited decisions by other states requiring utilities to excavate ash and put it in lined disposal structures. In her statement, Georgia Power spokeswoman Holly Crawford said the utility’s plans “have always been, and continue to be, in compliance with all federal and state laws and regulations.”The utility plans to keep nine ash ponds in place at plants in Macon, Newnan, Smyrna, Rome, and south of Carrollton, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Excessive heavy-metal contamination found in groundwater at Duke plant -- Duke Energy and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection are determining how to best limit or remove contamination from coal ash stored at Duke's Citrus County plant after high levels of heavy metals were found in groundwater samples taken at the site. In a report from June obtained last week, Geosyntec Consultants documented excessive amounts of arsenic, lithium, molybdenum and other contaminants in several samples taken in May 2018, October 2018 and March 2019 from monitoring wells surrounding the coal plants on Duke's Crystal River Energy Complex. Reports like Geosyntec’s are required by federal law and propose remedies once a significant quantity of harmful substances is detected in groundwater from the storage of coal ash. Coal ash is the waste left behind after coal is burned to produce power. Geosyntec told Duke in its report the company must, “as soon as feasible,” select a solution to curb the inflow of contaminants, and must hold a public meeting at least 30 days prior to choosing a plan. The report does not endorse a specific means of remediating the pollution, instead highlighting options available to the company to either control the contamination at its source and/or remove it from the groundwater. Source-control measures suggested include: installation of a final cover system for the ash; excavation of the ash for reuse; or excavation and disposal of ash off-site. For controlling the contamination in groundwater, the consultants suggested: in-situ chemical immobilization; preventing the migration of affected groundwater; withdrawing affected groundwater for treatment; permeable reactive barriers; phytoremediation, or the usage of plants to remove contamination; or monitored natural attenuation — keeping an eye on the problem and seeing whether it gets better with time.

TVA plans to expand coal ash dry storage landfill for Kingston Fossil Plant - The Tennessee Valley Authority is moving forward with plans to expand the boundaries of an onsite dry storage landfill for coal combustion residuals at Kingston Fossil Plant near Harriman, Tennessee. TVA currently operates a permitted state-of-the-art dry landfill on TVA property at Kingston for coal ash and gypsum, which is produced by the air emissions controls at the plant. The landfill is designed for two phases, the first of which has been in operation since 2015. TVA is proposing to expand the boundary of the construction support area for the onsite gypsum landfill by an additional 21 acres to prepare for the next phase of the landfill. This additional land would be used as a staging area for equipment and as a source of clay borrow material, which will be used in the construction of a new phase of the landfill. The Kingston Fossil Plant itself has been in operation since 1955. Its nine coal-fired units have a total capacity of about 1,400 MW, according to the TVA. In 2008, a dike at the Kingston coal ash pond collapsed and is considered by some to have caused the worst coal ash disaster in U.S. history. Some 1.1 million gallons of coal ash slurry spilled out into the Emory River and onto surrounding land, damaging structures. The TVA spent more than $1 billion on its Kingston coal ash cleanup. The TVA has completed an amended supplemental Environmental Assessment that explains the expansion of the support area, and considered the potential impacts. The final document and associated materials are available for review at www.tva.com/nepa. TVA already has a construction permit for the next phase of the landfill. However, TVA has applied for other required permits through the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, which includes a public hearing and comment period.

The danger of coal ash, the toxic dust the fossil fuel leaves behind --Coal ash is an especially bad and dangerous byproduct of our dependence on coal and fossil fuels. Now over the years, a number of communities have dealt with coal ash spills that have turned into emergencies with real public health concerns over what's seeped into the water. In some places, utilities have been pushed to adopt tougher standards. But as Miles O'Brien reports, some residents and activists say the power companies are fighting changes that could help protect public health. It's part of our regular segment on the "Leading Edge" of science and technology.

  • Miles O’Brien: At the kitchen table in her home of 41 years near Charlotte, Laura Tench showed me the official notice that rocked her world in 2015.
  • The North Carolina Division of Public Health recommends that your well water not be used for drinking and cooking. What's it like when you got a notice like that?
  • Laura Tench: Scary. You don't want to turn on the spigot.
  • Miles O’Brien:Her well water was more like a witches' brew– among the frightening ingredients: cancer causers, hexavalent chromium, ten times the state safety threshold, and vanadium, almost 30 times the standard.She and her family had no choice, forced to rely solely on bottled water for nearly three years.
  • Laura Tench: I would not allow my children to take a tub bath. They had to take a quick shower, no luxury.
  • Miles O’Brien: They didn't have to look far to find the suspected source of the contamination: the 62-year-old Allen Steam Station coal fired power plant. It sits right next to the neighborhood, and right in the middle of a raging national debate over what to do about the toxic remnants left behind after the coal is burned.

Fidelity battles IRS in court over coal tax credits - (Reuters) - Fidelity Investments’ courtroom battle with the IRS over disallowed tax credits drew to a close on Tuesday when lawyers clashed over whether the mutual fund giant was a bonafide partner in the production of chemically treated coal. U.S. Tax Court Judge David Gustafson said he may deliver his decision in the case as early as Wednesday. The outcome of the trial is being closely watched by Wall Street firms and other U.S. corporations because the production of chemically treated, or refined coal, generates more than $1 billion a year in tax credits. Beneficiaries of the tax credit program include Goldman Sachs Group Inc, JPMorgan Chase & Co and pharmaceutical company Mylan NV, to name a few. Boston-based Fidelity invested in the production of refined coal at three South Carolina power plants to qualify for tax credits that could total up to $330 million over 10 years. The coal is treated with chemicals to cut mercury and smog pollution.

Fidelity Investments wins court battle with IRS over coal tax credits - (Reuters) - Fidelity Investments on Wednesday won its court battle with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service over tax credits for the production of chemically treated coal. U.S. Tax Court Judge David Gustafson ruled at a court hearing that a partnership led by Boston-based Fidelity was bonafide in its pursuit of generating tax credits from the production of treated coal. The case has been closely watched by Wall Street firms and other corporations because the production of chemically treated, or refined, coal generates more than $1 billion a year in tax credits.[nL2N259128] At the hearing Gustafson said he disagreed with IRS arguments that Fidelity and its partners faced insignificant downside risk on their investment in refined coal facilities. The judge said the partnership endured prolonged facility shutdowns due to permitting problems and environmental contamination, for example. Fidelity had invested in the production of refined coal at three South Carolina power plants to qualify for tax credits that could total up to $330 million over 10 years. The coal is treated with chemicals to cut mercury and smog pollution. Fidelity’s partners included insurance broker Arthur J. Gallagher & Co and Schneider Electric SE. The IRS had disallowed millions of dollars in tax credits and claimed losses reported by a Fidelity-led partnership in 2011 and 2012. The IRS said the partnership was only created to “facilitate the prohibited transaction of monetizing refined coal tax credits.”

Blocking Coal Train Railroad Tracks Over Wage Complaints, a Protest by Kentucky Miners Is Now Entering Its Third Week Coal miners in Kentucky continue to protest their former employer by blocking a railroad track that carries coal trains, demanding back pay after being laid off last month. The protest, which started on July 29 in Cumberland, Kentucky, is in response to workers who were laid off by their former employer, Blackjewel LLC, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on July 1. As well as “operational issues” in its mines, the company cited “a combination of declining commodity prices, reduced domestic demand for thermal and metallurgical coal, and increased oversight and costs associated with regulatory compliance” as factors leading to it going bankrupt in court filings. “The entire U.S. mining complex has been impacted by these events. A growing number of peers have filed for bankruptcy over the course of the past 5+ years. The entire industry either has gone through, or is currently going through, a period of financial distress and reorganization,” the document continued. The protest started with around 20 miners, posted on the track for nearly 50 hours straight — often by themselves, Jeff Willig, one of the workers who started the protest, tells TIME. Now it’s grown with the miners working in shifts of around 8-12 hours to ensure continuous coverage on the track. Members of the local community have shown their support, setting up an outdoor kitchen, providing first aid kits and bringing water and ice for the protesters. State Rep. Adam Bowling, whose district includes parts of Harlan County, has also joined the protests, the Associated Press reportsIn a world deluged by plastics, a giant factory rises to manufacture more

Sierra Club, others oppose Mason coal-to-liquids plant - WV MetroNews — Some environmental interests are hoping the state Department of Environmental Protection will put the brakes on a proposed Mason County coal-to-liquids plant project.The Sierra Club, in particular, wants the DEP to withdraw its draft air quality permit and send the developer, Domestic Synthetic Fuels, back to the drawing board to produce what it believes would be more accurate emissions data.Jim Kotcon, Sierra Club West Virginia Chapter conservation chair, broadly outlined the club’s objections at a recent public hearing DEP held on the permit in Mason County.There are a large number of areas where DSF is underestimating emissions in its permit application, Kotcon said. And DEP offered an uncritical review of the data.Sierra Club detailed its concerns in a 34-page letter submitted to DEP as part of the public comment period.Asked about the objections, DEP said in an email exchange, “Mr. Kotcon attended the public meeting we held … and his comments and concerns were given on the record. All comments submitted to the WVDEP’s Division of Air Quality regarding DSF’s proposed facility are currently being reviewed and will be taken into consideration before a final determination is made. The comments received will be addressed in our response to comments document, which will be available to the public upon completion.”

21 states sue Trump administration over new coal rules (AP) — A coalition of 21 Democratic-led states sued the Trump administration Tuesday over its decision to ease restrictions on coal-fired power plants, with California’s governor saying the president is trying to rescue an outdated industry. In June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency eliminated the agency’s Clean Power Plan and replaced it with a new rule that gives states more leeway in deciding upgrades for coal-fired power plants. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, says the new rule violates the federal Clean Air Act because it does not meaningfully replace power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions. “They’re rolling things back to an age that no longer exists, trying to prop up the coal industry,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a news conference. He said the lawsuit was not just about Trump but “our kids and grandkids” who would continue to be harmed by coal pollutants. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, whose state produced the second most coal behind Wyoming in 2017, predicted the lawsuit will ultimately fail at the U.S. Supreme Court, which stayed an earlier Obama administration attempt in 2016 at the request of a competing 27-state coalition. He called the lawsuit a “big government ‘power grab’” and argued that the Democratic attorneys general “are dead wrong” in their interpretation of the Clean Air Act. The U.S. EPA and White House issued similar statements saying they expect the new version to survive the court challenge, unlike the Obama-era rules.

29 States and Cities Sue to Block Trump’s ‘Dirty Power’ Rule -- Twenty-nine states and cities sued the Trump administration Tuesday to stop it from weakening the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which was the first regulation to set nation-wide ceilings on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, The New York Times reported. The administration's replacement, the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, would allow states to decide whether or not to limit emissions. It would ultimately reduce climate-warming emissions by less than half of what is needed to keep global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to figures cited by HuffPost.  "Without significant course correction, we are careening towards a climate disaster," New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement reported by HuffPost. "Rather than staying the course with policies aimed at fixing the problem and protecting people's health, safety, and the environment, the Trump Administration repealed the Clean Power Plan and replaced it with this 'Dirty Power' rule."  At stake in the lawsuit is how much authority the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has to limit carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. The 22 states and six cities (plus Washington, DC) behind the suit argue that the replacement plan, finalized in June, does not use the "best system of emissions reduction," as the act requires. While the Clean Power Plan encouraged utilities to switch to cleaner energy sources, put a price on carbon or use carbon capture technologies, the Trump plan only focuses on improving efficiency at individual plants, The New York Times explained. "The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to utilize the best system of emissions reduction that it can find. This rule does the opposite," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told The New York Times.

Iowa governor stops state from challenging Trump coal rule - (AP) — Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, a supporter of clean energy policies reducing greenhouse gases as a way to battle global climate change, said Wednesday he was blocked by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds from joining 21 other states in suing the Trump administration over a policy that relaxes restrictions on coal-fired power plants.Miller, a Democrat, said he asked Reynolds in July if he could join attorneys general in the other states and officials from the cities of Boulder, Colorado; Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia and South Miami, Florida, in the lawsuit.Reynolds refused to consent, he said.Her spokesman said Wednesday she supports Trump’s policy. “She does not believe it’s in the best interest of Iowans for the state to join in this lawsuit,” said Pat Garrett in a statement. Miller reached an agreement with Reynolds in May requiring him to get the governor’s consent before joining such lawsuits. In exchange, Reynolds vetoed a bill lawmakers passed that would have weakened the attorney general’s powers to file out-of-state lawsuits. If signed into law, Iowa would have been the only state with such limits on the attorney general’s powers.

Virginia, North Carolina among states suing Trump administration over climate rule | WTKR.com The Trump administration is under fire as Virginia and North Carolina have joined more than 20 states in suing the Environmental Protection Agency. This comes as the agency fights to rollback restrictions on coal burning power plants. This latest pushback is coming mostly from Democratic-led states. They say that the administration's policies are endangering the environment. For example, the lawsuit claims the change undercuts efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and allows the EPA to abandon its legal responsibility to crack down on pollution. The suit claims the rule change ended an aggressive effort to reduce the carbon footprint of power plants, which could lead to global warming and rising sea levels. News 3 reporter Erin Miller spoke with Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring about this Tuesday. He says we're already seeing the impact in Hampton Roads. Herring blames the constant flooding that we deal with and sea level rise on climate change. Related: 'It's more than just about the road' Flooding issues threatening local cities and Naval bases "Virginia is especially susceptible to the devastating impacts of climate change, especially Hampton Roads. It's already facing billions of dollars in resilience costs and infrastructure costs in the coming decades," Herring said. President Trump stands firm on his campaign promises to revive the coal industry. The EPA isn't commenting on the lawsuit but defended the new rule, saying it will be held up in court, unlike the previous administration's power plan.

'Coal is over': the miners rooting for the Green New Deal --The coal industry in Appalachia is dying – something that people there know better than anyone. Some in this region are pinning their hopes on alternative solutions, including rising Democratic star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal.“Coal is over. Forget coal,” said Jimmy Simpkins, who worked as a coalminer in the area for 29 years. “It can never be back to what it was in our heyday. It can’t happen. That coal is not there to mine.” A coal production forecast conducted in 2018 by the University of West Virginia estimates coal production will continue to decline over the next two decades.Over 34,000 coal mining jobs in the US have disappeared over the past decade, leaving around 52,000 jobs remaining in the industry, despite several promisesmade by Donald Trump throughout his 2016 election campaign that he would bring those jobs back. “A lot of guys thought they were going to bring back coal jobs, and Trump stuck it to them,” said 69-year-old Bennie Massey, who worked for 30 years as a coalminer in Lynch, Kentucky. The town was at the center of the American labor movement in the early 20th century. At the peak of the coal industry in the 1920’s, about 500,000 miners were union members. As the coal industry declined, so did union membership, and now the town’s local miners’ union, United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) Local 1440, consists entirely of retired miners. Carl Shoupe, a retired coalminer in Harlan county, Kentucky, who worked as a union organizer for 14 years, said people in Appalachia need to start moving away from relying solely on the coal industry as an economic resource for the region. “What we’ve been doing is trying to transition into the 21st century and get on past coal,” he said. Those transition efforts are still being impeded by the coal industry, as Shoupe says the majority of property in the area is still owned by coal companies and they have denied his efforts to develop solar panel fields. The Green New Deal, a resolution proposed by Ocasio-Cortez, calls on the federal government to transform the United States’ energy infrastructure and economy to deal with the climate crisis. The resolution includes a call to create millions of high-wage union jobs through a federal jobs guarantee and a just transition for vulnerable communities. Republicans – and Fox News – have slammed the proposal. “It’ll kill millions of jobs. It’ll crush the dreams of the poorest Americans and disproportionately harm minority communities,” the US president said last month. Shoupe doesn’t think so. “They have bushwhacked this Green New Deal, told all kinds of lies. For different people in different parts of the country, it means different things,” he said. Stanley Sturgill, a coalminer for 41 years in Harlan county, Kentucky, explained the Green New Deal would open the door for elected officials to use the plan to render solutions needed in their own communities. “If it was called the Red New Deal, it would be approved by now,” said Sturgill. “What you’re doing with the Green New Deal is you’re opening the door to infringe on the Republicans’ money and that’s what they’re afraid of. Republicans laugh and say you can’t pay for it. But if you tax everybody what they should be taxed, and I’m talking about the wealthy, there wouldn’t be a problem.”

 EIA uses the heat content of fossil fuels to compare and aggregate energy sources - The four end-use sectors in the United States—residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation—consume a mix of fossil fuels (petroleum, natural gas, and coal), as well as renewable energy sources and electricity, to meet their energy needs. To compare and aggregate data from these different energy sources, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) measures consumption in a common energy unit, British thermal units (Btu), which describes the heat content of the fuels. EIA uses thermal conversion factors to convert the physical units that are generally measured and reported (such as barrels of petroleum or cubic feet of natural gas) into heat content values. For fossil fuels, the thermal conversion factors are based on the thermal energy released by burning or processing the fuels, also called their heat content. A decrease in heat content means that more physical units of a fuel would need to be consumed for the same useful heat output, increasing the total physical units but not the heat units. The aggregate heat contents of petroleum, natural gas, and coal vary based on the mix of component products being consumed. In reporting these fuels on an energy basis, EIA assumes that the heat contents of individual petroleum products and other liquid fuels are constant. The aggregate heat content for total petroleum consumption reflects the relative consumption of each of those fuels, and it has been declining in recent decades as U.S. consumers use less residual fuel oil, which has relatively high heat content. At the same time, U.S. consumption of fuels with a lower heat content has increased, including motor gasoline, distillate fuel oil, and hydrocarbon gas liquids. EIA uses data from many EIA surveys and other government sources to calculate the approximate heat content of petroleum consumption. EIA bases its estimates of the heat content of U.S. natural gas on data reported in the EIA-176 and EIA-923 surveys, and these estimates have been relatively stable since 1990. Methane, the primary component of natural gas, has a heat content of 1,010 Btu per cubic foot. Other gases such as ethane and other compounds, which may be left in the natural gas stream that is delivered to customers, have higher heat content values. Highly consistent specifications for natural gas accepted by pipelines into an integrated U.S. pipeline system have kept heat content consistent.

Why some VC Summer refund checks are ‘not worth the postage’ -- As it turns out, $60 million spread among 1.1 million people isn’t that much money for most customers.That was the lesson learned this week when electric customers of Dominion Energy South Carolina received the first round of checks that will refund a tiny percentage of what those customers were charged for a nuclear power plant that was never completed.In many cases, those refund checks — which stem from a class-action lawsuit by South Carolina ratepayers — were comically low, according to customers posting screenshots of settlement checks as meager as 4 cents on Facebook and Twitter over the past week, prompting other current and former ratepayers to share the pittance they got back. “It’s not worth the postage,” Scott Elliott, a Columbia attorney who represents large energy users, said of his own 8-cent check. “It’s 8 cents that we didn’t have before, but it is going to be a stretch to justify the time to make the deposit.”Some 41,000 customers — a mix of households and large energy users, such as businesses — got more than $100. But many others got $80, $30, $10 or just pennies.For many of the utility’s 728,000 electric customers, the frustration of receiving such low refund checks has been compounded by an apples-to-oranges comparison of these checks to the $1,000 refunds that were promised last year when Virginia-based Dominion Energy was drumming up public support for its offer to purchase SCANA.

Greenpeace warns Korea of Japan’s radioactive water discharge  --An international environment organization has said that Japan plans to discharge radioactive waste into the Pacific Ocean in the near future and Korea will fall particularly vulnerable. Greenpeace Korea, the global NGO's branch in Seoul, reposted on Facebook, Wednesday, a column by its nuclear specialist Shaun Burnie published in The Economist, saying Japan is planning to discharge more than 1 billion liters of contaminated water stored at the Fukushima nuclear plant since the massive earthquake and nuclear disaster of 2011.  Burnie wrote in his article that the Japanese government has decided recently to take the "cheapest and fastest" way to dispose wastewater, which is to discharge it into the Pacific Ocean. The scientist added neighboring countries will be exposed to radiation as a result and Korea, in particular, will suffer the most from it. He claimed that if 1 million tons of radioactive water is discharged into the ocean, it will take 17 years and 770 million tons of water to dilute it, adding it is impossible not to discharge it without contaminating the ocean, and countries in the Pacific region will be exposed to radiation.  Burnie continued that Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings has tried to find ways to handle the contaminated water for the last eight years but failed. He pointed out that the Shinzo Abe administration never speaks about the risks of radioactive pollutant, and ignores unfavorable reports when they are released.

Chernobyl-Style Cover Up- Run On Iodine Pills After Isotope Powered Rocket Explosion In Russia - Is Russia in the process of covering up a nuclear accident after a confirmed spike in radiation levels in the aftermath of a reported rocket engine explosion at a northern testing facility Thursday? Authorities confirmed the accident involved an “isotope power source for a liquid-fuelled rocket engine”.Russia's state nuclear agency has said five of its staff members were killed at a military testing site in northern Russia, reportedly when the liquid propellant rocket engine exploded during tests on a sea platform. Some reports say it may have involved a top secret weapon that was part of Moscow's hypersonic arsenal. Russia is pursuing hypersonic missiles as a nuclear deterrent, as Putin himself has recently verbalized. Other staff were being treated for serious burns after the accident; however, as Reuters reported, there's a run on iodine (used to reduce the effects of radiation exposure) in the northern port cities of Arkhangelsk and Severodvinsk, near where the mystery accident occurred.  “Everyone has been calling asking about iodine all day,” one pharmacy was quoted as saying by a local media outlet in Arkhangelsk area, Reuters reported.Thursday's mystery incident came two days after 16,500 people fled their homes when a separate immensely powerful series of blasts rocked an arms depot in Siberia, which had been caught in dramatic footage. And in a follow-up report to Thursday's mystery incident, Reuters pointed out initial emergency alert statements about a rise in radiation levels have been scrubbed from public record: ...authorities in the nearby city of Severodvinsk reported what they described as a brief spike in radiation. No official explanation has been given for why such an accident would cause radiation to spike.

Russia Admits Mysterious Missile Engine Explosion Involved A Nuclear ‘Isotope Power Source’ --  Russia's state-run nuclear corporation Rosatom says that a team of its employees had been working on an experimental "isotope power source" when it exploded, killing five people and injuring three more in a still very mysterious accident yesterday. The company offered no specifics about the project, but this new information, coupled with other details, suggests that this power source may be associated with a nuclear-powered cruise missile called Burevestnik that the Kremlin first announced publicly last year. The accident occurred near the village of Nyonoksa, also written Nenoksa, in the northwestern Russian region of Arkhangelsk on Aug. 8, 2019. This is a known test site for both cruise and ballistic missiles. There have been no previous reports that Russia has previously tested Burevestnik, also known to NATO as SSC-X-9 Skyfall, which Russian President Vladimir Putin first revealedthe existence of in a speech in March 2018, at this particular location. Previous reports, citing anonymous U.S. officials, indicate that the Russians had been testing this missile, details about which are extremely limited, since at least 2017, from Novaya Zemlya, a remote archipelago in Russia’s far north that has also served as a nuclear weapon testing ground.  "The tragedy happened while working with the engineering and technical support of the isotope power source in a liquid propulsion system," Rosatom's statement reads. "Five employees ... were killed while testing a liquid propulsion system. Three of our colleagues received injuries and burns of varying severity."

 Russia Admits Radiation Releasing 'Mystery Blast' Involved Mini Nuclear Reactor --Russia has belatedly admitted that the mystery explosion which released radiation into the air last Thursday, triggering warning alerts across towns near the northern port cities of Arkhangelsk and Severodvinsk, involved a small-scale nuclear reactor”. Radiation levels had spiked to 20 times their normal levels after the incident at a military testing ground in Russia’s Arkhangelsk region, prompting an emergency response team to deploy in full nuclear radiation protective gear, as photos which came out in the aftermath appeared to show. Consistent with early speculation, western defense officials and analysts now believe it was a failed test of a Russian nuclear powered cruise missile.  Putin had first unveiled the experimental technology during a 2018 speech showcasing Russian defense technology developments. The chief stunning claim behind the hypersonic missile is that it can traverse the globe indefinitely at "faster than Mach 5" based on its nuclear powered core.   Though within two days following last Thursday's accident - believed to have happened on a sea platform, which resulted in an area of a White Sea port being shut down - Russia's nuclear agency Rosatom, admitted it had been testing an “isotope power source in a liquid propulsion system,” there's now greater confirmation it involved a cutting edge hypersonic cruise missile.   One US defense analysts has pointed to "an experimental nuclear-powered cruise missile known in Russia as the 9M730 Burevestnik and by Nato as the SSC-X-9 Skyfall" precisely the type of nuclear-powered weapon Putin had previously touted among Russia's developing hypersonic arsenal.

Russia Initiates Civilian Evacuation Near Site Of Mini Nuclear Accident - Russia is evacuating civilians in the area of Nyonoksa village in the far northern region where a nuclear-powered experimental rocket exploded during tests last Thursday, which had killed seven, Interfax reports. So far it appears a "recommendation" and not an ordered evacuation, which officials advise should be accomplished by Wednesday, after radiation levels in the vicinity of  Severodvinsk spiked to 20 times normal last week in the blast's aftermath. The local governor is insisting its not an "ordered" evacuation but is merely highly recommended. Russian media reports say authorities are offering for a train to take Nyonoksa residents to safety, which might be due either to further clean-up and decontamination of the site or possibly to conduct some kind of new test. Work is still reportedly being carried out on the rocket engine that exploded.Russia belatedly admitted on Monday that the mystery explosion which released radiation into the air last Thursday, triggering warning alerts across towns near the northern port cities of Arkhangelsk and Severodvinsk, involved a “small-scale nuclear reactor”.Also on Monday President Trump tweeted concern over the radiation leakage, saying, "The United States is learning much from the failed missile explosion in Russia." He added concern over the "air around the facility" which area residents have been exposed to and could possibly impact neighboring areas. Local footage last week showed emergency personnel responding to the accident in full chemical/radiation protective suits.

 Peace Activists Face 25-Year Sentence for Disarmament Action at Nuclear Submarine Base - Advocates for seven faith-based peace activists are calling on the public to support the group as they fight federal charges and a potential 25-year prison sentence for disarming a nuclear submarine base.The Kings Bay Plowshares Seven (KBP7) nonviolently and symbolically disarmed the Trident nuclear submarine base in Kings Bay, Georgia on April 4, 2018. Last week in federal court, District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood heard the peace advocates' pre-trial arguments asking her to dismiss the felony and misdemeanor charges against them.Lawyers for Mark Colville, Father Steve Kelly, Elizabeth McAlister, Martha Hennessy, Clare Grady, Patrick Michael O'Neill and Carmen Trotta say the federal government violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) when it charged the KBP7 with conspiracy, trespassing, and destruction and depredation of property.The activists say they were acting in the name of their Catholic faith when they cut through fencing and wire at the submarine base and allegedly vandalized a building and static missiles."All of my actions and those of my co-defendants have been measured and guided by the principles of nonviolence expressed in Sacred Scripture. I would argue our communal criminal history has been all about upholding the basic tenets of love and providing for the common good," said O'Neill in his oral argument. "My actions are an extension of my beliefs. This connection between sincerely held religious beliefs and sacramental practice (action) are one and the same."Under the RFRA, their lawyers argued, the government is required to take each of the defendants' beliefs into consideration and to levy the least restrictive charge against the group possible."A prosecution on three felonies and a misdemeanor was not close to that standard," argued attorney Stephanie McDonald, according to The Brunswick News in Brunswick, Georgia. Colville said in his argument that the group doubts the government ever considered a punishment less restrictive than the felony and misdemeanor charges and the potential 25-year prison sentence the group now faces.

Attorney general shuts down proposed referendum to overturn Ohio’s new nuclear bailout law - cleveland.com—A group seeking a statewide referendum to overturn Ohio’s new nuclear-power bailout law will have to restart their efforts, as Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost on Monday rejected their proposed ballot summary.Yost, a Columbus-area Republican, wrote in a rejection letter to the group Ohioans Against Corporate Bailout that he found 21 errors with the group’s proposed summary language – a succinct explanation of the proposal provided to voters asked to sign a petition supporting the measure. The errors he cited range from inaccurate definitions of terms such as “electric distribution utility” and “operation risks” to misstating the size of energy projects that are eligible for a property tax exemption. (The proposed summary states that projects generating less than 20 megawatts are eligible, while the new law states the tax exemption is for projects greater than 20 megawatts.) The proposed summary, Yost asserted, also misstates the powers given by the new law to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and the newly created Ohio Air Quality Development Authority, the latter of which will oversee the distribution of $150 million per year (raised from a new $1 surcharge on every Ohio ratepayer’s bill) to Ohio’s Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants, both of which are owned by FirstEnergy Solutions, a subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp. that is in bankruptcy proceedings as part of an attempt to become a separate company. Yost’s rejection means Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts has to revise their summary language, collect another 1,000 signatures from registered voters, and resubmit their proposal to the attorney general’s office. The group has until Oct. 21 to submit language that’s acceptable to the attorney general, according to Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts spokesman Gene Pierce.

Pipeline study finds no significant impact on forest: Columbia Gas would replace lines in Wayne National Forest -- An objection period has opened for a proposed pipeline replacement through Wayne National Forest. Called Buckeye Xpress Project, it would Columbia Gas’s 20-inch natural gas lines in southeast Ohio with 36-inch gas lines. The project includes approximately 12.6 miles of pipeline construction and approximately 10.2 miles of pipeline decommissioning in the Wayne National Forest Ironton Ranger District.On Monday, the USDA Forest Service’s Eastern Region Acting Regional Forester Robert Lueckel has released a draft decision notice that the pipeline would have no signiØcant impact on the forest, based on an environmental assessment done by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. “The intended decision is for lands subject to issuance of a special use permit (SUP) and authorizes Columbia to occupy NFS lands for 4.1 miles (about 88 acres) of the R-801 which cross the WNF’s Ironton Ranger District in Gallia and Lawrence Counties, Ohio. The R-801would also affect 8.5 miles (about 157 acres) of easement lands,” Lueckel said. Columbia Gas’s proposed project is to construct 66.1 miles of new 36-inch diameter natural gas pipeline, replacing and expanding existing pipelines and related facilities in parts of Lawrence, Vinton, Gallia, and Jackson counties. Columbia Gas holds private easement rights for most of the route through the Wayne National Forest. Objections may be submitted by electronically through an on-line submission form (https://cara.ecosvstemmanagement.org/Public//Commentlnput?project=54536 (https://cara.ecosvstem-management.org/Public//Commentlnput?project=54536)).  Objections can be mailed to USDA Forest Service, ATTN: Objection Reviewing OfØcer, 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Mailstop 1104, Washington, DC 20250. Objects must be sent by sent by Sept. 24.

Poll: Broad support for Wolf’s plan to tax gas drillers to pay for infrastructure upgrades -  A new poll from Franklin and Marshall College finds widespread support among Pennsylvania voters for Governor Tom Wolf’s plan to pay for infrastructure upgrades by taxing natural gas drilling companies.The poll shows more than two-thirds of respondents either “strongly” or “somewhat” favor Wolf’s Restore PA plan.The proposal calls for $4.5 billion in infrastructure initiatives over four years, funded by a severance tax on natural gas — a tax paid based on how much gas is produced from wells. It would target things like mitigating flooding, addressing blight and expanding broadband access.Berwood Yost directs the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin and Marshall, and says the support goes across different demographic and ideological groups.“I’m not really surprised,” he said. “Given that we’re marrying two topics together things we generally know people support—infrastructure improvements and natural gas taxes.”  Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott said the poll is a validation of the broad support behind the governor’s plan.

 A Giant Factory Rises to Make a Product Filling Up the World: Plastic - — The 386-acre property looks like a giant Lego set rising from the banks of the Ohio River. It is one of the largest active construction projects in the United States, employing more than 5,000 people. When completed, the facility will be fed by pipelines stretching hundreds of miles across Appalachia. It will have its own rail system with 3,300 freight cars. And it will produce more than a million tons each year of something that many people argue the world needs less of: plastic. As concern grows about plastic debris in the oceans and recycling continues to falter in the United States, the production of new plastic is booming. The plant that Royal Dutch Shell is building about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh will create tiny pellets that can be turned into items like phone cases, auto parts and food packaging, all of which will be around long after they have served their purpose.  The plant is one of more than a dozen that are being built or have been proposed around the world by petrochemical companies like Exxon Mobil and Dow, including several in nearby Ohio and West Virginia and on the Gulf Coast. And after decades of seeing American industrial jobs head overseas, the rise of the petrochemical sector is creating excitement. On Tuesday, President Trump is scheduled to tour the Shell plant. “Where we are coming from is that plastic, in most of its forms, is good and it serves to be good for humanity,” said Hilary Mercer, who is overseeing the construction project for Shell. The boom is driven partly by plastic’s popularity as a versatile and inexpensive material that keeps potato chips fresh and makes cars lighter. But in parts of the Appalachian region, the increase is also being fueled by an overabundance of natural gas.  This is a place where, right now, plastic makes sense to many people. To the labor union gaining new members. To the world’s third-largest company struggling with low oil prices. And to the former government officials who, in seeking to create jobs, offered Shell one of the largest tax breaks in state history.But any short-term good could have long-term costs.Shell says much of the plastic from the plant can be used to create fuel-efficient cars and medical devices. But the industry acknowledges that some of the world’s waste management systems are unable to keep up with other forms of plastic like water bottles, grocery bags and food containers being discarded by consumers on the move.Studies have detected plastic fibers everywhere — in the stomachs of sperm whales, in tap water and in table salt. A researcher in Britain says plastic may help define the most recent layer of the earth’s crust because it takes so long to break down and there is so much of it.“Plastic really doesn’t go away,” said Roland Geyer, a professor of industrial ecology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “It just accumulates and ends up in the wrong places. And we just don’t know the long-term implications of having all this plastic everywhere in the natural environment. It is like this giant global experiment and we can’t just pull the plug if it goes wrong.”

Mountains of plastic, rivers of radioactive waste and billions of Chinese dollars: Inside Trump's plan to save Appalachia - — One thing you learn traveling through the Upper Midwest is that the various components of the oil and gas industries — the pipelines, the storage wells — often have gorgeously evocative names: Mountain Valley, Falcon, Plains, Atlantic Sunrise. These names are a kind of beautification project, like trees planted to obscure a municipal dump. A plant in Pennsboro, W.Va., called Clearwater treats fracking wastewater, which can remain radioactive even after treatment.  Skyhawk is the soaring name given to a smoothed-over patch of gravel at 67657 Clark Road in St. Clairsville, Ohio. On an overcast day last spring, it was nothing but an empty enclosure surrounded by heavy plastic fencing the height of a two-story building. Soon, the emptiness would be filled by wells that shoot high-pressure water and chemicals into the ground, forcing up reservoirs of natural gas and other valuable compounds. Skyhawk is a fracking pad.  The effects of hydraulic fracturing — as fracking is formally known — on human health are not yet fully known, but what is known so far is not terribly encouraging. The process seems especially damaging to expectant mothers, as well as to young children, with a 2017 study linking pollution from fracking wells to poor brain development. Asthma is another possible problem. So is cancer.  Only a few feet from Skyhawk’s edge stood another building, a low structure, with an outdoor area enclosed by chicken-wire fencing. Inside the fencing some plastic toys were visible. The building is home to Creative Learning Daycare and Preschool.  “That wall isn’t going to stop s***,” says Bev Reed, activist from the Concerned Ohio River Residents.  Fracking and its associated industries — some of which are potentially more hazardous to human health than fracking itself — have taken over Appalachia. A facility to handle fracking waste stands next to a school in Belmont, Ohio. A few miles away, on a ridge above town, a fracking well looms over an Amish homestead. Children play in its long, ominous shadow.  To be an environmental activist in Appalachia has never been easy. Perhaps it has never been harder than in the age of Trump. “We’re surrounded,” concluded Reed, a taciturn woman in her 20s.  On the hillside above Reed’s store, coal mine runoff trickling down the street was a disconcertingly bright orange, with streaks of equally disconcerting white.

Trump promotes Shell plant that will turn Marcellus gas into plastics  — President Donald Trump showcased growing efforts to capitalize on western Pennsylvania's natural gas deposits by turning gas into plastics, as he sought Tuesday to reinvigorate supporters in the manufacturing towns that helped him win the White House in 2016.  Trump arrived in Monaca, about 40 minutes north of Pittsburgh, on Tuesday to tour Shell's soon-to-be completed Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex. The facility, which critics claim will become the largest air polluter in western Pennsylvania, is being built in an area hungry for investment. “This would have never happened without me and us,” Trump said, speaking to a crowd of thousands of workers building the site, dressed in fluorescent orange and yellow shirts and vests. In fact, Shell announced its plans to build the complex in 2012, when President Barack Obama was in office. Trump's appeals to blue-collar workers helped him win Beaver County, where the plant is located, by more than 18 percentage points in 2016, only to have voters turn to Democrats in 2018's midterm elections. Today, Beaver County is still struggling to recover from the shuttering of steel plants in the 1980s that surged the unemployment rate to nearly 30%. Former mill towns like Aliquippa have seen their populations shrink, while Pittsburgh has lured major tech companies like Google and Uber, fueling an economic renaissance in a city that reliably votes Democratic. The region's natural gas deposits had been seen, for a time, as its new road to prosperity, with drilling in the Marcellus Shale reservoir transforming Pennsylvania into the nation's No. 2 natural gas state. But drops in the price of oil and gas caused the initial jobs boom from fracking to fizzle, leading companies like Shell to turn instead to plastics and so-called cracker plants — named after the process in which molecules are broken down at high heat, turning fracked ethane gas into one of the precursors for plastic.

Trump claims credit for Shell plant announced under Obama - (AP) — President Donald Trump sought to take credit Tuesday for a major manufacturing complex in western Pennsylvania in his latest effort to reinvigorate the Rust Belt support that sent him to the White House. He was cheered on by fluorescent-vest-clad workers who were paid to attend by Shell, their employer, which is building the facility.Despite Trump's claims, Shell announced its plans to build the complex in 2012, midway through President Barack Obama's term in the White House.  The event was billed as an official White House event, but Trump turned much of it into a campaign-style rally, boasting of achievements he claims as president and assailing his would-be Democratic rivals for the 2020 election."I don't think they give a damn about Western Pennsylvania, do you?" he prodded the crowd. Trump was visiting Shell's soon-to-be completed Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex, which will turn the area's vast natural gas deposits into plastics. The facility is being built in an area hungry for investment and employment, though critics claim it will become the largest air polluter in western Pennsylvania. Trump contends that America's coal, oil and manufacturing are reviving and he deserves the credit. He's been focusing on his administration's efforts to increase the nation's dependence on fossil fuels in defiance of increasingly urgent warnings about climate change. And he's embracing plastic at a time when the world is sounding alarms over its impact. "We don't need it from the Middle East anymore," Trump said of oil and natural gas, proclaiming the employees "the backbone of this country." As for the new complex, he declared, "This would have never happened without me and us."

Trump Promises More Big Energy Projects at Pennsylvania Plant - President Donald Trump told workers on Tuesday at a $6 billion petrochemicals plant being built in western Pennsylvania that more big U.S. energy projects were coming as his administration rolls back environmental regulations. “This is just the beginning,” Trump told workers wearing hard hats at Shell’s ethylene cracker plant in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. “My administration is clearing the way for other massive, multibillion-dollar investments.” He praised the Shell plant as part of “the revolution in American energy that’s helping make our economy the envy of the world” and said the project would have never happened without him, although its final permits were issued before he was elected in 2016.   Last week, its Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, unveiled a proposal that would limit the power of states to block pipelines and other energy projects, months after Trump ordered the agency to change a section of the U.S. Clean Water Act that states including New York and Washington have used to delay the building of pipelines and terminals. At the Shell plant, Trump apparently tried to take credit for a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant, called Cameron LNG, he visited in May. Full approvals for that plant were made before Trump was elected. “We just did one in Louisiana, it’s a $10 billion plant,” Trump said. U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who accompanied Trump to the Shell plant, has embraced an up-to $10 billion Appalachian Storage and Trading Hub project to hold liquids from natural gas production. The project could help support the building of more petrochemical plants in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania, where a natural gas boom is at risk from falling prices. Regional officials hope to secure a $1.9 billion federal loan guarantee being considered by the Energy Department for the hub. But critics say that U.S. taxpayers would be on the hook if the project fails.

Trump's visit to petrochemical plant shows a Democratic 'blind spot' on fossil fuels - President Trump is touring a petrochemical plant in western Pennsylvania Tuesday afternoon to tout booming U.S. energy production and its ties to the economy of a swing state whose Democratic leadership is more embracing of fossil fuels than the national party.While no one can guess how Trump will focus his visit, his allies say he has the opportunity to make the case for the growing demand for oil and gas for petrochemicals used in plastics, fertilizers, clothing, digital devices, and other everyday products, and how that contrasts with pledges from Democratic presidential candidates to phase out fossil fuels. “There is such a contrast for the president going out to celebrate the fact that petrochemicals are the building blocks of modern day life, versus the Democrats who want to shut that industry down,” said Mandy Gunasekara, a former senior EPA official in the Trump administration who now runs the Energy 45 Fund, a nonprofit organization supporting the president’s energy agenda.“It’s within the strategy of the Democrats to go after these plants because of their demand for fossil-based energy to do what they do,” Gunasekara told me in an interview.Demand for petrochemicals is booming: Petrochemicals derived from oil and gas are becoming the largest drivers of global oil demand, the International Energy Agency said in areport last year, outpacing demand from cars, planes and trucks. IEA projects that petrochemicals will account for more than a third of oil demand growth over the next decade, and nearly half of growth through 2050. Petrochemicals could consume an additional 56 billion cubic meters of natural gas by 2030, and 83 bcm by 2050, IEA said.The U.S. is poised to be a major part of serving that demand growth. It has become a low-cost location for chemicals production thanks to the shale gas revolution and is now home to around 40% of the global ethane-based petrochemical production capacity. Production of ethane, a byproduct of natural gas that can be made into polyethylene, a form of plastic, is projected to increase more than 20 times by the year 2025, according to the Department of Energy.

Explosion Sparks Calls for More Pipeline Scrutiny - – Environmental groups say an explosion earlier this week at a pump station along the Mariner East 2 gas pipeline highlights regulatory flaws and lack of oversight of the project. The explosion Monday last week at the Boot Road Pump Station shook homes and rattled windows half a mile away. Sunoco, owner of the pipeline, said it was a “backfire,” similar to a car backfiring, that there was no release of liquid and no danger to the public. But Joseph Minot, executive director and chief counsel at the Clean Air Council, calls Mariner East 2 the “poster child” for what’s wrong with the way the Commonwealth deals with pipelines. “The building out of natural gas infrastructure in Pennsylvania is not being monitored properly, it’s not being permitted properly, it’s not being regulated properly,” he states. Sunoco says the pipeline meets or exceeds both state and federal pipeline safety regulations. Minot points out that the cause and consequences of the explosion are still being investigated. Meanwhile, he contends regulators are telling residents that the gas infrastructure is good for the state, while leaving several important questions unanswered. “Does the pipeline benefit Pennsylvania?” Minot wonders. “Is the pipeline being done in a safe way? Does the pipeline protect communities and residents? None of that is being done in Pennsylvania.” Minot adds that pipeline construction has been halted several times by state authorities and drilling has resulted in mud spills and numerous citations for environmental violations. Less than a week earlier, a gas pipeline explosion in Kentucky killed one person and injured at least five others. Minot insists state agencies and the fossil fuel industry need to stop telling people that pipelines are a safe way to transport a highly explosive product.

PUC ordered Sunoco to produce its calculations on Mariner East blast zones -- Pennsylvania's Public Utility Commission demanded information from Sunoco Pipeline last year about what would happen if its Mariner East natural gas liquids pipelines failed, according to a newly discovered letter. The PUC wrote to Sunoco in February 2018 with a list of questions that included the company's calculations on the immediate and delayed impacts of a pipeline failure, the number of people who would have to be evacuated, and the number of schools, hospitals and senior living facilities there.The regulator, which is jointly responsible for pipeline safety, also directed Sunoco to supply its emergency response plan for any such incident. "Include in the modeling the width and length of the evacuation zone and the estimated evacuation time frame," said the letter, addressed to Albert Kravatz, a compliance specialist with Energy Transfer, Sunoco's parent company. The letter was among thousands of documents produced by Sunoco for its defense of a case by the so-called Safety Seven, a group of Delaware and Chester County residents who are challenging the construction and operation of the pipelines before the PUC. The PUC did not say whether it had received the requested information, and did not respond in any way when asked to comment on the letter. The agency has been criticized by pipeline opponents for not doing its own assessment of the public-safety risks of running the highly volatile liquids pipelines through densely populated areas such as the two suburban Philadelphia counties. Critics of the project contend there could be mass casualties if there's a leak or explosion of the colorless and odorless hydrocarbons that have been carried by the line since December 2018. Citizens' groups like Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety have ridiculed Sunoco's instructions to residents to simply walk away from any leak, and to avoid using possible ignition sources like cars or cell phones, saying residents can't know there's a leak if they can't see or smell the gas and can't use their phones. Delaware County Council voted to do its own risk assessment of the pipeline two days before this letter was sent to Sunoco. In a statement, Del-Chesco says the PUC letter shows how the agency has dragged its feet on assessing risk to the public. "This suggests two things: until then, the Commissioners had failed to fully recognize the risks associated with Mariner East," read the statement. "The PUC depended on Sunoco to provide the technical expertise it lacks internally. These are both indications of serious deficiencies at the PUC."

PennEast: Environmentalists step up opposition to natural gas pipeline– PennEast has officially resubmitted its application to the state Department of Environmental Protection for a permit to build its natural gas pipeline through Hunterdon County. The news of PennEast's application sparked environmentalists opposed to the project to renew their calls for the state to deny the application. “There is compelling evidence that the PennEast pipeline is not needed, would irreparably harm protected waterways and wildlife, and be inconsistent with New Jersey’s clean energy goals," Tom Gilbert, campaign director for New Jersey Conservation Foundation and ReThink Energy NJ, said in a statement. “NJDEP has all the evidence it needs to determine that this damaging project can't meet the state's stringent environmental regulations." PennEast spokesperson Patricia Kornick said the Freshwater Wetlands Permit application is the result of "at least 246 professional engineers, environmental scientists and certified experts with more than 4,000 years of combined experience compiling the approximately 24,000-page technical application through on-the ground-analyses." Kornick added that the application "reflects PennEast's commitment to listening to suggestions, incorporating feedback and minimizing environmental impacts based on 31 meetings, 30 conference calls and 65 pieces of correspondence with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection over the last five years." That, she said, has resulted in "a route in New Jersey that largely aligns with decades-old power lines and roadways to dramatically lower overall impacts. As a result, wetland impacts are reduced by nearly half, with a total project footprint reduced by more than 20%." But environmentalists aren’t accepting those arguments. “We need DEP to reject the PennEast pipeline that would cut and ugly scar through the most scenic parts of the Delaware Valley and through an incredible amount of environmentally sensitive areas, critical drinking water, and historic properties," Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said in a statement. "We also need to update the rules in place that make it easier to build pipelines. More importantly, we need Governor Murphy to put a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects.” "The law is on our side," Gilbert said. "The facts are on our side. And the science is on our side. This project is not in the public interest.”

Lawmakers, advocates urge DEP to reject permits for PennEast pipeline - The battle is still brewing over the controversial PennEast Pipeline. Lawmakers and environmental advocates Tuesday called on the state Department of Environmental Protection to reject the permits needed to move forward with building the natural gas pipeline. The company submitted a new application to the DEP for environmental permits last week. Opponents say PennEast is seizing land from private homeowners and properties preserved by the state. The proposed pipeline would cut through parts of Hunterdon and Mercer counties. Members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation pushed back against the project, which they say won’t bring any benefit to the region. “The PennEast project has been determined unnecessary by every expert that has looked at it. It is not energy that New Jersey should be investing in and seeking,” said Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman. “The natural beauty of this part of New Jersey is not something we can place a monetary value on,” said Congressman Tom Malinowski, “why would we spoil that for something that we do not need, that is only driven by the desire of one group of companies to make a profit?”

PennEast proposes measures to reduce disturbance at historic Native American sites — PennEast Pipeline has announced plans to minimize the impact of construction through three areas along the pipeline's route in Pennsylvania found to contain evidence of early Native American habitation, with one site holding artifacts estimated to be about 7,000 years old. An internal memorandum filed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Thursday cites a filing the pipeline company made with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. In the filing, PennEast said it would conduct a data recovery and analysis program, approved by the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office, within the 50-foot-wide permanent pipeline easement at three Pennsylvania sites, in Northampton, Carbon, and Luzerne counties. The three sites included areas of potential historical effects encompassing about 1,588 acres. In Luzerne County, on a site measuring about five acres, preliminary studies found deeply buried evidence of Native American habitation dating back to between about 5500 and 5000 B.C. Wood charcoal found at the Carbon County site produced a radiocarbon date calibrated between 2133 and 1921 B.C., while the Northampton County site produced artifacts such as chipped stone tools and fire-cracked rock, evidence of habitation in the area. The developers of the about 116-mile pipeline, with about 78 miles of pipe in Pennsylvania and 38 miles in New Jersey, did not find any areas of historic concern along the New Jersey stretch of line. Potential types of disturbance from pipeline construction on the sites "will include 'open-cut' excavation of soils for pipeline construction and placement, the removal of topsoil in a 50-foot-wide permanent easement, as well as potential soil disturbance and compaction related to the movement of construction vehicles on the sites."

New lawsuit filed over Mountain Valley Pipeline (AP) — Conservation groups have launched a new lawsuit aimed at the Mountain Valley Pipeline over its impacts on threatened and endangered species. The petition for review filed Monday with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond challenges an approval for the natural gas pipeline that was issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The lawsuit asks that the agency’s decision be vacated. The groups say the agency should have to re-evaluate the pipeline’s effects on wildlife, and they argue work should stop while that happens. The 4th Circuit recently tossed the same Fish and Wildlife sign-off for another large natural gas project, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. A Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman says the agency doesn’t comment on active litigation. A pipeline spokeswoman couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Mountain Valley suspends work on pipeline -Developers of the Mountain Valley Pipeline have voluntarily suspended work on parts of the embattled project, three days after a lawsuit raised questions about its impact on endangered species. In a letter Thursday to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Mountain Valley said the suspension covers “new activities” that could pose a threat to the lives of endangered bats and fish, or potentially destroy their habitat. Less clear was how much of the 303-mile natural gas pipeline will be affected. “MVP’s voluntary suspension is not a matter of miles, it is a matter of doing the right thing,” spokeswoman Natalie Cox said in an email. “The voluntary suspension pertains to areas along the route that may potentially have an impact related to the Endangered Species Act; however, MVP expects to continue with construction, where permitted, in other areas along the route,” she said. The move will have no “material impact” on the number of workers employed, she said, nor does it push back an expected completion date of mid-2020. Mountain Valley has already laid about 238 miles of pipe, it said in its letter to FERC. Still, significant stretches of the pipeline — where potential impacts to the Roanoke logperch, the candy darter, the Indiana bat and the northern long-eared bat have been identified — are affected by the shutdown. Most work will be halted on a 75-mile stretch, along watersheds in the counties of Giles, Craig, Montgomery, Roanoke, Franklin, and Pittsylvania. Another 20 miles, including some streams and rivers in West Virginia, are also included. Mountain Valley also said it would cease tree-felling in areas populated by endangered bats. But with the exception of a wooded slope in Montgomery County — where two tree-sitters have been blocking work on the pipeline since last September — nearly all of the trees the company had planned to cut are already gone. “It’s a little disingenuous for them to say they’re taking these precautions,” said Jared Margolis, a senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the environmental groups that filed Monday’s legal challenge. “Because, guess what, they’ve already cut down all the trees that had Indiana bats in them.”

Feds warn of unsafe construction on Atlantic Coast project -- Federal regulators have found unsafe construction practices at work sites on the Atlantic Coast pipeline, spelling more trouble for a project that's already facing setbacks in court.

Can the Appalachian Trail Block a Natural Gas Pipeline? - We’re at the Three Ridges Overlook, taking in the view of the Rockfish River Valley undulating to the east. Piney Mountain, blanketed in a green canopy of oaks and poplars, stares back at us from across the divide. This tranquil section of the iconic trail is the subject of a four-year legal battle that landed in June at the Supreme Court. It’s the spot where Dominion Energy wants to route the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), a $7.5 billion, 600-mile, 42-inch-diameter pipe that will carry fracked natural gas from the depths of the Marcellus Shale in West Virginia. The pipeline would run up and over several mountain ranges to the Virginia coast and to eastern North Carolina.The stakes are high. The lawsuit over this section of the Appalachian Trail could determine the fate of some of the largest natural gas deposits in North America. In a landmark decision last December, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond axed the project—for now. That court found that the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine is part of the National Park System, blocking federal agencies from authorizing a pipeline crossing. The astonishing decision upended the U.S. natural gas industry and also jeopardizes other pipeline projects with proposed routes across the trail. Whether the pipeline construction ever goes forward ultimately hinges on the question of who has authority over the Appalachian Trail. If the Supreme Court declines to hear Cowpasture River Preservation Association v. U.S. Forest Service (an announcement is expected this fall), then the Fourth Circuit decision will stand, and the ACP will likely be doomed unless it gets a congressional exemption or Dominion chooses a costly new route. Both Dominion and the Trump administration petitioned the high court to hear the case, with Dominion charging that the Fourth Circuit turned the trail into “an impregnable barrier” that locks up abundant natural gas in the Midwest. (Full disclosure: I’m on the board of an environmental group, Virginia Conservation Network, that has opposed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, but VCN is not a party to any of the pipeline litigation.)

Enbridge needs U.S. approval to restart natgas pipe after Kentucky blast - Reuters- Canadian energy company Enbridge Inc (ENB.TO) said it is working to meet the terms of an order from federal regulators so it can restart the part of its Texas Eastern pipeline in Kentucky that was damaged in a blast on Aug. 1 that killed one person. The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a corrective action order last week requiring the company to perform several tasks before the regulator will allow any flows through the blast site, near Danville, Kentucky. Enbridge said in a release on Friday it was “working diligently to comply with the requirements identified by the PHMSA, and to return to service two adjacent natural gas pipelines near the incident site that were taken out of service as a precautionary safety measure.” Texas Eastern has three lines between its Danville and Tompkinsville compressors in Kentucky that make up its 30-inch (76-centimeter) system. They are Lines 10, 15 and 25. The blast occurred on Line 15, which PHMSA said was constructed beginning in 1942. PHMSA said Enbridge could not restart Lines 10 and 25 without further investigation because the blast might have also damaged the lines. Enbridge did not estimate when it will restart Lines 10 and 25, but there will be no gas flows through the blast site through at least Aug. 16. Before restarting gas flows through the blast site, PHMSA said, Enbridge must uncover and inspect parts of the lines and perform mechanical and metallurgical testing, among other things. In addition to killing one person, the explosion injured at least six other people, destroyed multiple structures and caused a fire that damaged about 30 acres. PHMSA said the blast also released about 66 million cubic feet of gas, ejected a 30-foot (9.1 meter) section of Line 15 that landed about 460 feet from the failure site and resulted in a 50-foot long, 13-foot deep crater.

Trump administration moves to limit state powers to block pipelines, terminals (Reuters) - The Trump administration on Friday unveiled a proposal that would curb state powers to block pipelines and other energy projects, drawing praise from the oil industry but criticism from progressive states and Democratic lawmakers who said it would jeopardize water quality. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency move comes four months after President Donald Trump ordered the EPA to change a section of the U.S. Clean Water Act that states like New York and Washington have used to delay pipelines and terminals. “When implemented, this proposal will streamline the process for constructing new energy infrastructure projects that are good for American families, American workers, and the American economy,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a news release announcing the move. The EPA’s proposal is centered on changes to Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, which allows states and tribes to block energy projects on environmental grounds, it said https://www.epa.gov/cwa-401.  In its 163-page proposal, the EPA said a state or authorized tribe must act on a Section 401 certification request “within a reasonable period of time, which shall not exceed one year” and “must be limited to considerations of water quality.” Trump and EPA chief Andrew Wheeler have accused some states imposing lengthy delays for permits and of denying permits for reasons that go beyond water protection - such as climate change impacts. The administration has specifically criticized New York for its decision to delay and block an interstate gas pipeline, Williams Cos Inc’s Constitution line from Pennsylvania, saying it has created bottlenecks and supply disruptions. The American Petroleum Institute, which represents the oil and gas industry, said it was “pleased” by the proposal, calling it a “a well-defined timeline and review process.” But New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called the EPA’s proposal “hostile.” It is “a gross overreach of federal authority that undermines New York’s ability to protect our water quality and our environment,” he said in a statement.

New York issues redo of gas pipeline denial, but FERC order may void impact - — New York has again denied a water quality certification for the Northern Access 2016 gas pipeline project. But the action may be undercut by the fact that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in August 2018 already found New York's review of the project waived because the state exceeded a Clean Water Act timeframe in which to act. Co-sponsored by National Fuel Gas Supply and Empire Pipeline, the 99-mile, 490 MMcfd pipeline could help boost production in western Pennsylvania and likely drive down net Canadian imports by increasing Northeast exports to eastern Canada by up to 350 MMcf/d, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. Amid Northern Access delays, National Fuel has advanced several other expansion projects, including the under-construction Empire North expansion and the recently proposed FM100 Project, both also aimed at adding northeastern Pennsylvania takeaway capacity. National Fuel on Friday said it believed FERC's prior orders finding the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation waived its authority to act take precedence and render the state's new denial "ineffective and void." "Once [NYSDEC's] deadline to act passed, its subsequent actions (such as this new denial) are of no consequence," said company spokeswoman Karen Merkel in an email. In a recent earnings call, David Bauer, CEO of parent National Fuel Gas, said that with positive court rulings, National Fuel "is in a position where we could apply for a notice to proceed in the near future," but added, "we're thinking this is really a longer-term project, likely in the 2022, 2023 timeframe." In light of the new denial, Merkel said National Fuel is considering legal options and continues to work to "finalize the remaining federal authorizations to move this project forward."

Charlton seeks more time to weigh in on LNG plant proposal - – Town officials, who have missed the deadline to file objections to the proposed $100 million project to site a liquid natural gas plant on Route 169, heard Monday they may not get a second chance. Liberty Energy Trust, operating under Northeast Energy Center LLC, seeks to construct a natural gas liquefaction plant on 12 acres at 304 Southbridge Road (Route 169), near Millennium Power. The company has applied for state Energy Facilities Siting Board approval to produce about 250,000 gallons of liquefied natural gas per day, store it in a 2 million-gallon tank, and load it into trucks. The company is also asking the state Department of Public Utilities to grant exemptions from Charlton zoning bylaws. The Charlton Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and Board of Health have registered with the state as interveners. As such, they were required to hire legal representation and file their testimony by Aug. 5. Seemingly unaware of what was required, they collectively missed the deadline. Selectmen last week appointed members of the three boards and other town officials to an LNG Advisory Committee and appropriated $30,000 to hire legal counsel and consultants to intervene in the hearing. Selectmen increased that amount to $50,000 on Monday at a joint meeting with the LNG committee, and finance committee, and hired special legal counsel Miyares and Harrington LLP.

Hotter Weather Trends Push This August's Projected Demand Total Above August 2018's - Weather forecasts shifted in the hotter direction over the weekend, with more heat seen beyond this week in the eastern half of the nation. This pushed the forecast, which was already calling for well above normal demand, even farther above normal by a few Gas-Weighted Degree Days (our measure of national demand levels). In looking at the daily GWDD profile, virtually every day is above normal. It is now hot enough so that August 2019, based on our current projections, will wind up hotter in terms of total GWDDs than August 2018, which was a top 10 hot August in our historical dataset. Our clients were alerted to the hotter weekend risks back in our Friday afternoon "Pre-Close" Update, where we took a slightly bullish stance at least when looking exclusively at the weather factor. The weather cooperated, but that was not enough to lift natural gas prices higher. The September contract closed just about a penny and a half lower on the day.

New Week, Same Volatility In The World Of Natural Gas -  In each of the last two mornings, we have seen natural gas prices make a move that seemed rather exaggerated, yesterday to the downside, and today to the upside. Neither move held, and we continue to see prices chop around in a tight range, with today's close just a few ticks under yesterday's. Rather unsurprisingly, the overall backdrop remains the same as it has been for nearly two weeks now, as we are stuck with above normal demand thanks to the hotter weather pattern, but faced with new highs in production, and lower LNG intake. On the weather side, one cannot deny the strength of the heat, keeping forecast Gas-Weighted Degree Days (GWDDs) well above normal. There are regional shifts as far as where the heat is focused, but as our forecast maps show, coverage of above normal temperature anomalies is plentiful in key areas. Weighing against the higher demand, we have seen new all-time highs in natural gas production in recent days. LNG intake remains depressed as well, for now. The end result has been an environment that has produced volatility as these bullish and bearish forces battle, but in the end, prices have struggled to really go anywhere for nearly two weeks now.

NYMEX September natural gas settles 8.9 cents higher on bullish storage report — The NYMEX September natural gas contract rose in Thursday trading on the back of a bullish storage report posted by the Energy Information Administration. The front-month contract settled at $2.232/MMBtu, 8.9 cents up from Wednesday's settlement. The contract wandered in a range of $2.138-$2.267/MMBtu. "More people are thinking this is a really nice level to buy, if not for this month, then the next month," "People are establishing a longer position in the latter months." Click here for full-size graphic The EIA reported an estimated 49 Bcf injection into national gas stock for the week ended August 9, significantly below the 57 Bcf predicted by a consensus of analysts surveyed by S&P Global Platts. However, the injection was still 16 Bcf above the 33 Bcf at this time last year and 1 Bcf over the five-year average of 48 Bcf over the same period. The Midwest saw the largest increase in gas stock with 28 Bcf, according to the EIA. Working gas in storage sits at 2.74 Tcf, 15% above year-ago levels but at a 3.9% deficit to the five-year average, EIA data shows. Looking ahead, the most recent eight- to 14-day weather outlook from the National Weather Service predicts warmer-than-average temperatures for the Northeast and Midwest, which could support prices. The Northeast is forecast to experience a hot spell, with temperatures averaging 78.6 F over the upcoming week, 2.7 degrees higher than the 75.9 averaged over the same period last year, Platts Analytics data shows. US dry production is forecast to rise from Thursday's 89.3 Bcf to an average of 89.7 Bcf/d over the next eight to 14 days, according to Platts Analytics.

Is Today's Bullish EIA Report A Sign That The Game Has Changed In The Natural Gas Market? -- The tendency for the weekly EIA reports to throw surprises at the natural gas market is duly noted, and today's report did not disappoint in that regard, revealing that we injected only 49 bcf last week, well under our internal estimate as well as the market consensus. As a result, natural gas prices surged higher, testing the 2.25-2.27 resistance zone in the September contract before closing a little off those highs, but still up nearly 9 cents on the day. When comparing this number to the last 10 weeks, the tighter supply / demand balances reflected are quite noticeable. Looking at only this gas week in previous years, it does not look as tight, at first glance. Two things must be pointed out, however. One, the balances reflected are about on par with the same week last year. Two, and this is more important, this all occurred despite much lower LNG intake recently, including for the week reported. Obviously, one can infer an even stronger number had we been at "normal" LNG intake levels. So, what happened? Does this finally represent the paradigm shift in the natural gas market that bulls have been hoping and waiting for? First off, the week was a hotter one compared to normal in some key areas. This was the start of the strongest run of heat seen in Texas all summer long, which is one of the most important regions when it comes to natural gas usage. It is possible that the stronger heat there took more of a toll than standard supply / demand models indicated. Wind generation was also low for much of the week, promoting more use of natural gas in power generation. In our view, it is difficult to explain the miss solely with these weather factors, however. We did have the pipe explosion a couple of weeks ago in Kentucky, forcing the re-routing of gas through the region, which may have played a role in things as well. There are also rumors that there may have been some "line packing" into the Gulf Coast Express pipeline, expected to begin service over the next several weeks. All in all, this is an encouraging first sign of life for natural gas bulls, especially with LNG anticipated to return higher soon, but we must be cautious before declaring it a game changer. If this was simply related to pipeline issues, then nothing material has actually changed yet.

Michigan government officials comment on Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline - After erosion created a large gap between one of two Line 5 pipelines in the channel linking Lakes Huron and Michigan, Enbridge says it wants to install more than 50 screw anchors. "There is a reason that this is so problematic, and that's because the currents are so incredibly strong in the Straights." Though the gap is 6 feet wider than allowed under a state easement, the company says the pipe's integrity isn't threatened. Attorney General Nessel disagrees. "It really goes to corroborate and solidify all my reasons that I had in the first place for wanting to ensure that Line 5 is eventually decommissioned." "The attorney general is under some delusion,” said State Representative Beau Lafave, “Line 5 is where the Upper Peninsula gets 65% of its propane." Line 5 carries 23 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas liquids daily. However if something does happen to the pipeline, the line could rupture, creating an oil spill. "Were talking about 40 million people losing their drinking water, hundreds and hundreds of miles of shoreline in Michigan that would be saturated with oil. It will be devastating to our state and we will absolutely never recover from it,” warns Attorney General Nessel. Lafave was quick to disagree saying, "We need the jobs we need the energy, we need the infrastructure. If Canada is willing to pay for it, I say let them do it." "I have an obligation to this state and I have an obligation to protect the great lakes and I intend to do that. But in the meantime I'm going to make certain that the residents in the U-P are taken care of,” continued Attorney General Nessel. Nessel announced Thursday she filed a civil lawsuit with the Ingham County Circuit Court asking the court to find that Enbridge's continued operation of the Straits Pipelines under the easement granted by the State in 1953 violates the public trust doctrine, is a common law public nuisance, and violates the Michigan Environmental Protection Act. 

Michigan lawmakers ask to join legal fight between Enbridge, Nessel — The Michigan Legislature wants to enter the Line 5 legal fray between Attorney General Dana Nessel and Canadian oil company Enbridge Energy. House and Senate leaders asked a judge Thursday to let them to file a brief in support of the law they approved at the end of 2018 that allowed Enbridge to enter an agreement with the state to pay for and construct a $500 million tunnel to house its pipeline beneath the Straits of Mackinac. In March, Nessel opined the law was unconstitutional because its initial title did not match the eventual content of the bill. In June, Enbridge initiated legal action, asking the state Court of Claims to rule the agreement is valid and enforceable. In its proposed brief Thursday, the Michigan Legislature defended the law, noting it proceeded from “years of public discussion” about the pipeline, committee meetings on the bill, extensive media coverage of the bill’s evolution through the legislative process and eventual bipartisan support for the measure. “That the legislation changed in response to the comments received to incorporate suggestions on better ways to accomplish the same ends is undisputed, and an example of good democracy at work,” lawmakers said in their filing. Nessel’s “absurd assertion” that lawmakers didn’t understand the law they passed is an effort to obtain a “retroactive veto” and “would place a stranglehold on the Legislature’s ability to pass laws,” the brief said. 

Hi-Crush to halt production in Whitehall; 35 to 40 people expected to lose their jobs -  Hi-Crush announced plans Monday to halt production at its frac-sand operation in Whitehall, idling 35 to 40 workers at least through the end of the year. The company cites decreasing profitability for shipping sand. “The layoff is necessitated by unforeseeable business circumstances associated with decreased profitability in shipping sand from the company’s CN plants and the company’s responsibilities to its shareholders to operate cost effectively,” Hi-Crush announced in a statement to state and local officials. “Accordingly, the company has no choice but to halt production at its Whitehall plant. We are hopeful that the layoff is temporary but the duration is presently unknown. The company does not anticipate a change in conditions in the foreseeable future and expects the layoff to last through at least the end of 2019.”

Pacific Drilling Rig Lands US Gulf Work - Pacific Drilling on Tuesday released its updated fleet status report, which includes a bit of work in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico (GOM). Total S.A. has subcontracted Pacific Drilling’s ultra deepwater (UDW) drillship, the Pacific Khamsin, from Equinor for one well in the Gulf of Mexico. Drilling of the well is expected to begin March 2020 and run through July 2020, according to the fleet report, and will be at a dayrate of $252,000, which includes a base of $185,000 plus $67,000 for managed pressure drilling (MPD) and other integrated services. Equinor ASA has extended its contract with the Pacific Khamsin for two remaining option wells at escalating dayrates. The dayrate for the first well is $227,000 (base $175,000 plus $52,000 for MPD and other integrated servcies). The contract begins November 2019 and the first well is expcted to be concluded in Feb. 2020. Chevron Corporation’s contract for the ultra deepwater (UDW) drillship, Pacific Sharav, in the GOM has been extended to January 2020 for one additional firm well set to start in September 2019. It also includes three additional option wells with dayrates escalating above the first well's rate of $175,000.

Coast Guard responds to oil spill in Cox Bay in Breton Sound— The Coast Guard is responding to a report of an oil spill in Cox Bay, Louisiana, Thursday. Watchstanders from Coast Guard Sector New Orleans received a report from the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator's Office at 8:52 a.m. of an oil discharge in Cox Bay in Breton Sound, Louisiana. The owner of the flow line, Time Energy, reports that the source of the leak has been secured. An Incident Management Division Team from Coast Guard Sector New Orleans visited the site Friday to begin coordinating the response. OMI Environmental Solutions, the contracted oil spill response organization, has put out approximately 300 feet of boom around the impacted area. A MN-65 Dolphin Helicopter aircrew from Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans conducted an overflight and observed a 200-yard by 30-foot unrecoverable oil sheen emanating from the marsh surrounding the discharge source. An estimated 200-foot by 600-foot area of marshland has been impacted. Time Energy is working with the Coast Guard and state agencies to mitigate environmental damage. The cause of the incident is under investigation.

Another Death in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley Brings Environmental Activists Together to Honor One of Their Own -  On August 7, after Geraldine Mayho’s funeral, her body was laid to rest in the St. James Catholic Cemetery in southern Louisiana, across the street from a cluster of oil storage tanks. The tanks are like those that surround the Burton Lane neighborhood in St. James where she had lived, and are emblematic of the type of polluting industry she spent her last years rallying against. I met Mayho in 2017. She showed me suitcases and boxes she kept packed and waiting in her living room, in case she could find a way to afford to move. She was aware that the nearby oil storage tanks often leak the carcinogen benzene as well as other air pollutants, and with more petrochemical plants being built nearby, she desperately wanted out of the neighborhood.   At that point, Mayho’s health was already compromised by her sensitivity to chemicals, a medical issue one of her doctors outlined in a letter two decades earlier. Today, less than three miles away from her home, the Chinese chemical giant Yuhuang Chemical is developing a $1.85 billion methanol facility, and other petrochemical plants are seeking permits to join the area, where the oil and gas industry has long had a presence. With these new developments looming over her, Mayho had constant anxiety about the toxic environment in which she lived her final years. She never was able to move out. Mayho died on July 28 at age 76 from pneumonia following a stroke. A retired custodial worker from the St. James School District, she became an outspoken environmental activist in the years preceding her death.

Report: Supply glut could force some petrochemical projects to close by mid-2020s A glut of new supply could put several ethylene projects at risk of closing in the next decade, an updated analysis from the energy research firm Wood Mackenzie finds.Dozens of new ethylene related projects are planned in the Gulf Coast and internationally in Asia, Europe and Middle East totally about 68 million metric tons of new capacity over the next five years. Global demand for ethylene and petrochemicals is expected to grow in the coming decades, but analysts are warning that there could be too much ethylene capacity flooding the markets at once in the mid-2020s.That could collapse ethylene margins and put older, less-advantaged projects at risk of closure. Wood Mackenzie estimates that 80 percent of new capacity additions will open in around the same two year time period between 2022 to 2024. That is "expected to push the ethylene industry into bottom-of-the-cycle conditions by the mid-2020s. This follows a recent period of peak operations and profitability," notes Patrick Kirby, Wood Mackenzie Principal Analyst, in a new market analysis.Kirby said that the supply-demand imbalance  "highlights the need for some capacity closures across the various regions as the industry grapples with the extended and pronounced margin pressure the downturn will bring – aggravated by rising crude and liquid feed costs." Ethylene and polyethylene form the building blocks for plastics and are key drivers for the petrochemical boom in the Gulf Coast, where manufacturers can access relatively cheap supplies of natural gas liquids used to produce ethylene. Other chemical markets that could be at risk include  propylene and butadiene, which "are similarly expected to enter their respective downcycles due to the increased investment landscape," Kirby said. That could mean propylene and butadiene related units also face similar downward pressures on margins and likely won't produce above-average economics during the same mid-2020s time frame.

Exclusive: EPIC Midstream ships first crude on new Permian pipeline to Gulf Coast - (Reuters) - EPIC Midstream Holdings Inc on Thursday began shipping crude oil on its 400,000 barrel per day (bpd) pipeline from the Permian Basin to the U.S. Gulf Coast, pushing Midland crude prices higher, traders said. Terminal operator Moda Midstream LLC confirmed it would be accepting the Permian crude from the EPIC line at its facility in Ingleside, Texas, by Friday. Oil prices in Midland, the heart of the Permian shale field, rallied to 50 cents per barrel over U.S. crude futures. San Antonio-based EPIC is the second pipeline operator this year to open a major line from the top U.S. oil field to the Corpus Christi, Texas, area. It followed the start of initial operations on Plains All American Pipeline LP’s 670,000 bpd Cactus II this week. The new pipeline will help alleviate a crude oil bottleneck that has weighed on prices in the Permian of West Texas and New Mexico for more than a year. Crude inventories in West Texas rose last week to almost 20.5 million barrels, utilizing more than 60% of the region’s storage capacity monitored by market intelligence firm Genscape. Midland crude prices firmed this week to as much as 50 cents per barrel above U.S. crude on Thursday, as shippers bid up barrels to fill the new pipelines. A year ago, it had traded around an $18.25 per barrel discount.

Second oil terminal proposed for Harbor Island — Another company wants to build a crude oil terminal on Harbor Island in Port Aransas. This project is being proposed by Houston-based Axis Midstream. According to a public notice from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the company wants to build a series of facilities and pipelines to store, transport and load crude oil into vessels. The project would impact several Coastal Bend towns and waterways including Taft, Gregory, Ingleside, Aransas Pass and Port Aransas. The terminal on Harbor Island would be built on land about a half-mile south of the ferry landing. Two ship berths are also planned at that location. There are also two proposed pipeline bundles of fiber optic cables, gas and crude oil. One of them would connect the staging facility in Aransas Pass to the Harbor Island loading terminal. Port Aransas mayor Charles Bujan says that route would go directly across Redfish Bay, which is a popular area for fishing. That's just one of the city's concerns. Bujan says the Port Aranasas city attorney, along with Dr. Greg Stunz from the Harte Research Institute at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, are preparing formal comments to oppose the Axis Midstream project. He adds that everyone involved with both proposed projects for Harbor Island are being reminded that they have to obtain a city permit for any building on land inside Port A's city limits. If they don't comply, Bujan says the city will issue cease and desist orders that will be informed by Port Aransas police.

The race to build offshore oil export terminals - A glut of oil is headed to the Gulf Coast in the months and years ahead, triggering a race among a growing number of entrants to build deepwater crude export terminals in the Gulf of Mexico to ship most of that oil to foreign markets. Companies have proposed at least eight offshore oil-export terminals — many requiring billions of dollars in investment — that would stretch from off the coast of Brownsville to southeastern Louisiana and take advantage of a new flood of crude from the booming Permian Basin as several pipelines connecting West Texas and the Gulf Cast near completion. Two key factors are driving the rush to build offshore terminals: All that oil has to go somewhere, and increasingly crowded ports in Houston and Corpus Christi can’t efficiently load the biggest supertankers. “The congestion is shifting from the Permian Basin to the Gulf Coast,” said Sandy Fielden, director of oil and products research at the investment research firm Morningstar. “There’s lots of traffic that these offshore terminals can sort of bypass.” Energy analysts expect only two or three of the eight proposals to get built, but the long list of potential projects is a response to the limitations of Gulf Coast ports, which aren’t deep enough to completely fill the world’s largest crude tankers. The constraints are particularly exasperating for Corpus Christi, which has pipelines from the Permian coming online now through early next year, carrying up to 2.5 million barrels of additional crude per day. The Port of Corpus Christi has worked for years to acquire federal funding to deepen its channel while proposing an export terminal near Port Aransas. In the meantime, other parties have proposed deepwater terminals farther off the coast. But these projects, which would require miles of underwater pipelines, are at least three years away from completion, slowed by environmental reviews and other issues, including the need to move cautiously since a pipeline or tanker accident could trigger a major Gulf oil spill. That translates into a short-term glut of Gulf Coast oil and distressed prices starting this year and worsening in 2020, Fielden said. All of this proposed growth is the result of the shale oil boom in the Permian Basin. The Permian is producing close to 4.4 million barrels of oil per day — more than one-third of the nation’s record production — making it the most prolific oilfield in the world. At the beginning of this decade, the Permian wasn’t even producing 1 million barrels daily.

Sanchez Energy Files for Ch. 11 Bankruptcy -Houston-based Sanchez Energy Corporation has filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas, the company announced Sunday. The decision comes after Sanchez enlisted advice from a restricting firm in Dec. 2018 to explore strategic alternatives. Sanchez Energy said it has received commitments from senior leaders for $175 million in new financing, of which $25 million will be used to repay borrowings and replacement of a letter of credit which is currently outstanding.Last month, New York-based private equity firm Apollo Global Management LLC was reportedly considering buying some of Sanchez’s debt.“Sanchez Energy has assembled a high-quality asset base and has substantial liquidity to continue operating safely and efficiently, while we maintain productive relationships with our business partners and midstream counterparties,” Sanchez CEO Tony Sanchez, III, said in a company statement. “Over the last year, we have taken proactive steps to address the challenging oil and natural gas price environment, including stabilizing our production profile, improving our capital efficiency and reducing our overall cost structure. Undergoing a financial restructuring through a voluntary process represents the next phase for Sanchez Energy, as we work with our creditors on a plan to right-size our balance sheet, further invest in our assets and generate long-term value for our stakeholders.”Sanchez also expressed that he was confident in the company’s future. Sanchez has long-term debt of $2.4 billion, according to its first quarter 2019 earnings report.

Energy's Dumb Money May Be Wising Up - When the market doesn’t go your way, there’s a certain deflective comfort to be found in blaming the market. The slump in energy stocks has spurred some talk of getting out of public markets altogether – even as one company, Saudi Aramco, is apparently considering finally taking a giant plunge into them. Conflicting signals, yes, but united in one important aspect. Harold Hamm, CEO of fracker Continental Resources Inc., was asked on the latest earnings call what value there was in the company remaining public. The stock has fallen by more than half since last October to about $30, while the consensus target is about $51, according to figures compiled by Bloomberg. Hamm responded he didn’t see a lot of value in it “in today’s market,” and the analyst commiserated on the herd’s apparent short-sightedness, saying “there’s clearly something broken there.” Over in the power sector, Vistra Energy Corp.’s CEO, Curtis Morgan, fielded a similar question for similar reasons. While professing “faith” in public markets, he added that going private must be considered if the stock’s perceived discount doesn’t ultimately close. There are specific reasons why this question was asked of these two companies. Hamm owns almost 77% of Continental anyway, so the free float is currently valued at just $2.8 billion. Vistra, meanwhile, has private equity deep in its DNA, being one piece resulting from the 2007 buyout of TXU Corp. and run by an alumnus of Energy Capital Partners LLC. Public markets aren’t paragons of rationality, with the wisdom of the crowd repeatedly giving way to the mania of the mob. But it’s tough to argue the market is “broken” here. After all, if it’s irrational now, then wasn’t that also the case five years ago, when Continental traded at about $80 just as oil prices began to slip? Recall the company sold its hedging book around that time, ditching its insurance against an oil crash, with Hamm in November 2014 telling, coincidentally, the same analyst: … We feel like we're at the bottom rung here on the [oil] prices and we'll see them recover pretty drastically, pretty quick. Clearly, there isn’t a public-market monopoly on getting stuff wrong. Continental and Vistra have sold off for similar and quite rational reasons. Oil and gas prices are in the tank, and forecasts for Continental’s earnings take their cue from that. Similarly, as expectations of a hot and profitable summer in the Texas power market have cooled off, so Vistra’s stock has dropped with power futures.

Houston energy employees are about to miss out - Texas’ energy sector is slowing down. Energy companies’ profits profits plunged last quarter, prices for crude are stuck in the $50-$60 per barrel range, petrochemical prices have been falling since 2018 and the Permian rig count keeps declining.As concerns about slowing global demand for oil keep crude prices suppressed, and Wall Street demands more efficient spending by producers, Texas’ energy slowdown is beginning to show up in hiring numbers.That’s a problem for Houston energy employees, who have still yet to fully recover from the last oil bust, which ended in 2016 and cost the region tens of thousands of jobs. Houston’s oil and gas extraction sector used to employ around 56,000 people in 2014. Now it employs around 38,800 — a decline of about 30 percent.Of course, to some extent, oil and gas employment is unlikely to ever return to the level it maintained at the height of the last boom in 2014, when oil prices topped $100 a barrel. But, even with the latest fracking boom, Houston workers keep getting left out.Wages and salaries in Houston are rising at just half the national rate while significantly lagging the increases in other metropolitan areas, and economists say the culprit is the local energy sector. Too many people were laid off in 2016, and not enough firms in Houston are hiring, which means employers don’t have to pay much to find workers. The health of Houston’s energy sector trickles out to the rest of Houston, and well, wages and salaries increased just 1.5 percent in the region over the past year, compared to 3 percent nationally, according to the Labor Department. It appears that the burst of hiring and increases in pay brought to West Texas by the fracking boom never quite made its way to the Houston headquarters. Companies added staff throughout the Permian Basin instead, Midland now enjoys the lowest unemployment rate in the U.S. and workers are paid the highest average wage of any metro area in the state. After all this employment growth, the boom is now beginning to subside, and employment throughout most of Texas’ mining sector, dominated by oil and gas, has recently declined.

Battle Emerges Over Nuclear Waste in America’s Oil Patch – WSJ A plan to build two big nuclear-waste storage facilities in the heart of the most important U.S. oil field is igniting a fight between frackers and the atomic-energy industry. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering proposals to put up to 210,000 tons of nuclear waste—including the most dangerous high-level waste—at two sites in the Permian Basin, the booming oil-and-gas producing region along the Texas-New Mexico border.

Mexican energy policy reform is affecting the Texas oil and gas industry - Gov. Greg Abbott asked Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez-Obrador to end a political stalemate that has left at least $3 billion of payments and contracts for several natural gas pipelines in limbo. "Mexico in 2013 basically opened up its energy sector to private participation," said Guillermo Garcia Sanchez, professor of law and energy expert at Texas A&M University School of Law. "Suddenly, contractors in the U.S. could come do business in Mexico."And they did. However, under the recent change in the Mexican administration, renegotiations are occurring, leading to this problem of payment to many Texas businesses. Garcia Sanchez explains how this process is affecting the oil and gas industry across the U.S. and especially in Texas. See the video player above for the full conversation.

Texas, Oklahoma Want More Say in Handling Fracking Wastewater - Texas and Oklahoma are seeking federal permission to regulate fracking wastewater under their own programs, raising concern among environmentalists who fear that oil and gas companies will eventually be allowed to discharge toxic chemicals into streams and rivers. The states, both big oil and gas producers, are asking the Environmental Protection Agency to delegate authority to them to administer programs governing the discharge of wastewater from drilling. The states say they can remove toxic chemicals and reuse or recycle the water, but environmental groups warn that the reuse and recycling technology touted by the states hasn’t been proven. The states are looking to take advantage of an ongoing EPA evaluation of wastewater management practices, which includes the circumstances under which fracking waste may be discharged into rivers. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, uses high pressure to inject a liquid mix into rock to drill for oil or gas. Companies dispose of fracking waste by injecting it underground. That technique has caused problems in earthquake-prone Oklahoma, which has seen a decline in seismic activity since placing limits on wastewater disposal, according to the Petroleum Alliance of Oklahoma.Officials from both states said they’re moving along with their plans.

3.4-magnitude earthquake rattles part of northern Oklahoma - (AP) — No injuries were reported after a 3.4-magnitude earthquake shook a sparsely populated area of northern Oklahoma.The U.S. Geological Survey says the quake was recorded about 2:40 p.m. Tuesday about 8 miles (13 kilometers) south-southeast of Medford, about 93 miles (150 kilometers) north of Oklahoma City. It was recorded at a depth of about 4 miles (7 kilometers).  No damage was immediately reported. Geologists say damage is unlikely in temblors below magnitude 4.0. Thousands of earthquakes in Oklahoma have been linked to underground injection of wastewater from oil and gas production. The USGS reports the number of magnitude 3.0 or greater earthquakes is on pace to decline for the fourth straight year after state regulators began directing producers to close some wells and reduce volumes in others.

Fracking has less impact on groundwater than traditional oil and gas production   - Conventional oil and gas production methods can affect groundwater much more than fracking, according to hydrogeologists Jennifer McIntosh from the University of Arizona and Grant Ferguson from the University of Saskatchewan. "If we want to look at the environmental impacts of oil and gas production, we should look at the impacts of all oil and gas production activities, not just hydraulic fracturing," said McIntosh, a University of Arizona professor of hydrology and atmospheric sciences. "The amount of water injected and produced for conventional oil and gas production exceeds that associated with fracking and unconventional oil and gas production by well over a factor of 10," she said. McIntosh and Ferguson looked at how much water was and is being injected underground by petroleum industry activities, how those activities change pressures and water movement underground, and how those practices could contaminate groundwater supplies. While groundwater use varies by region, about 30% of Canadians and more than 45% of Americans depend on the resource for their municipal, domestic and agricultural needs.  McIntosh and Ferguson found there is likely more water now in the petroleum-bearing formations than initially because of traditional production activities. To push the oil and gas toward extraction wells, the conventional method, known as enhanced oil recovery, injects water into petroleum-bearing rock formations. Saline water is produced as a by-product and is then re-injected, along with additional freshwater, to extract more oil and gas. However, at the end of the cycle, the excess salt water is disposed of by injecting it into depleted oil fields or deep into geological formations that don't contain oil and gas. That injection of waste water has changed the behavior of liquids underground and increases the likelihood of contaminated water reaching freshwater aquifers. "There's a critical need for long-term -- years to decades -- monitoring for potential contamination of drinking water resources not only from fracking, but also from conventional oil and gas production," McIntosh said.

Former oil, natural gas executive to lead EPA region — A former secretary of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department has been appointed to lead Region 6 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The selection of Ken McQueen was announced in a Aug. 5 press release from the EPA. The former oil and natural gas industry executive will oversee the agency's work in Region 6, which includes Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and 66 tribal nations. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in the release that McQueen's experience in public service and knowledge of natural resource issues make him "an excellent choice" to head the regional office. "I look forward to working with Ken to advance the agency's mission and protect human health and the environment for our south central residents," Wheeler said. Camilla Feibelman, director of Sierra Club's Rio Grande Chapter, denounced McQueen's appointment in a press release from the environmental group. "Putting an oil and gas executive like Ken McQueen in charge of our drinking water and the air our children breathe is a dangerous mistake. McQueen has repeatedly proven he will put the interests of oil and gas companies before our health and the bountiful resources that make New Mexico and Southwest unique," Feibelman said.

Oil and gas emissions 'not acceptable,' says Colorado air quality regulator - Colorado air quality regulators are ramping up efforts to slash planet-warming and ozone-forming emissions from oil and gas operations. On Monday, the state Air Pollution Control Division laid out a broad plan for how it wants to incrementally cut the release of methane, a greenhouse gas, and volatile organic compounds, which contribute to ground-level ozone, from oil and gas wells, storage tanks and transmission pipelines. The potential rules could require oil and gas companies to check and repair methane leaks more frequently, obtain permits during the first 90 days of drilling, monitor methane emissions continually and report emissions directly to the state, among other potential requirements.  Emissions from oil and gas wells account for about 12 percent of the state’s total release of greenhouse gases, according to the state’s best estimate, which it has acknowledged is flawed. But the industry is the top producer of volatile organic compounds along the Front Range, a region that has failed to comply with federal air quality standards for more than a decade. When volatile organic compounds mix with nitrogen oxides and sunlight, it can produce ozone. Several counties across the Front Range score an “F” by the American Lung Association for unhealthy ozone levels, which can exacerbate respiratory health issues like asthma.

Weld County launches first-of-its-kind oil and gas department - As cities and counties around Colorado continue revamping their regulations for energy extraction — with more than half a dozen communities already having suspended drilling while they do so — Weld County is making it loud and clear that it plans to put no impediments in the way of industry.On Monday, this county northeast of metro Denver will open a first-in-Colorado local oil and gas department to process drilling permit applications and regulate well pads throughout the mineral-rich region.The Weld County Oil and Gas Energy Department will boast 12 employees, including a director, an oil and gas planner and permitting and enforcement officers.“It’s a one-stop shop,” Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer said of the new department. “It’s so operators know exactly where they need to go so we can expedite oil and gas development in the county.” Weld County accounts for nearly nine of every 10 barrels of oil produced in the state — Colorado pumped 167 million barrels of oil from its shale formations in 2018 — and nearly 60 percent of the county’s assessed property value comes from the energy sector.  Kirkmeyer expects the new department to handle around 2,000 applications for well permits a year.  Lynn Granger, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, applauded the new department.“The opening of their county energy department is a positive step forward, suggesting a desire to ensure a streamlined and orderly process for developing oil and gas resources,” she said in a statement

Interior rolls back endangered species protections, in boon for oil companies - - The Trump administration rolled back longstanding federal protections for wildlife under threat of extinction Monday, in a move that could expand oil and gas drilling and other development across America's wilderness. More than 40 years after Congress passed the Endangered Species Act, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the changes were necessary to make more efficient and transparent a bureaucratic process that oil companies, ranchers and other industries have long complained about. "The revisions finalized with this rule-making fit squarely within the President's mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public, without sacrificing our species' protection and recovery goals," Ross said in a statement. Among the changes made was a reduction in the frequency with which federal officials must consult with state and environmental groups in allowing development on habitat housing endangered wildlife. Also, the requirements for land to be designated "critical habitat" for an endangered species will be more rigorous, and species listed as threatened will no longer enjoy the same protections as endangered species. Attorneys General in California and Massachusetts, along with conservation groups, said they plan to file lawsuits challenging the legality of such moves when the Trump administration files the final rule in the federal register in the weeks ahead. "These changes crash a bulldozer through the Endangered Species Act's lifesaving protections for America's most vulnerable wildlife," Noah Greenwald, the Center for Biological Diversity's endangered species director, said in a statement. "For animals like wolverines and monarch butterflies, this could be the beginning of the end." The Interior Department will also begin publishing the economic impact of listing endangered species - though officials said their own decision making would remain limited to the scientific record.  In May the United Nations published a report warning that close to 1 million species of plants and animals are at risk of going extinct within decades due to factors including marine pollution, climate change and deforestation. The listing of species as endangered has long been a contentious process in the American West, where oil and gas drillers have been forced to scale back or abandon projects all together over possible damage to wildlife. Tensions came to a head in 2016 when the Obama administration proposed a plan to protect 67 million acres for the greater sage grouse.

EPA Plans to Rewrite Clean Water Act Rules to Fast-Track Pipelines --  The Trump administration is proposing changes to federal regulations that could fast-track the approval of natural gas pipelines and other energy infrastructure. Environmental advocates say the move will weaken the ability of states and tribes to protect their waters.The proposed changes to Clean Water Act permitting rules, announced Friday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, would limit the amount of time states and tribes can take to review new project proposals to a "reasonable period" of no more than one year, with the definition of "reasonable period" left to federal agencies to determine and the clock starting from the inital request for a permit, with no pauses or restarts.It also would limit states to considering only water quality and allow the federal government to override states' decisions to deny permits for projects in some situations."This proposed rule change would hobble the most important tool that states have to protect significant waters, from prized trout streams to essential drinking water sources," said Bradley Campbell, president of the Conservation Law Foundation. States need time and access to information to properly analyze the potential water quality impacts of proposed infrastructure projects, particularly pipelines. "Putting limitations on that and the types of information they can consider is a problem," said Matthew Gravatt, deputy legislative director for the Sierra Club. Gravatt said the changes also would limit states' authority to protect their waterways from effects such as erosion and sedimentation by restricting their permit decisions to only considering the potential for discharges into the water from a point source. When Washington state rejected a water quality permit for a coal terminal in 2017, it cited several environmental repercussions of the project, including air pollution and the findings in an environmental impact statement that included climate change. The proposed rule changes follow an executive order President Donald Trump issued in April directing his administration to accelerate and promote the construction of pipelines and other energy infrastructure. Specifically, Trump directed the EPA to propose revisions to the rules for permits issued under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, which gives states and some tribes the authority to assess the potential impact infrastructure projects might have on rivers and other navigable waters within their borders.

Judge bars Trump from taking energy panel's advice(AP) — A judge barred the Trump administration on Tuesday from acting on the recommendations of an energy advisory panel that was created to make it easier to extract fossil fuels from public lands and waters.U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy sided with a Montana-based conservation group that alleged the Royalty Policy Committee had been established in violation of public transparency laws.The committee was disbanded without explanation in April when its two-year charter expired. Created in 2017 by then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the Royalty Policy Committee attracted sharp criticism from conservationists and others who said its membership was stacked in favor the energy industry.In a 28-page ruling, Molloy said a lawsuit from the Western Organization of Resource Councils that challenged the creation of the panel “identified a gaping hole in government accountability.”The 20-member panel was supposed to find ways to remove barriers to drilling and mining while making sure taxpayers aren’t shortchanged by energy companies. It included industry executives; officials from energy states such as Texas, Wyoming and North Dakota; academics and at least one industry consultant.Molloy noted that none of the members was from an environmental organization.“While the agency can point to a group of members with diverse interests, it does not explain why certain groups were omitted or included,” he said. Critics said that resulted in one-sided recommendations that favored industry and weakened environmental protections. Those included calls to speed up oil and gas lease sales in the Arctic, hasten approvals for new drilling and allow coal companies to largely self-determine the value of fuel they sell on the export market.

 Montana judge to take up Keystone pipeline flap in fall (AP) — A Montana judge won’t take up the latest dispute between the Trump administration and environmental groups over the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline until this fall. U.S. District Judge Brian Morris scheduled a hearing for Oct. 9 on the groups’ request to block President Donald Trump’s new permit allowing the pipeline to be built across the U.S.-Canada border. Justice Department attorneys also will present their argument at the hearing to dismiss the lawsuit challenging Trump’s issuing of the permit in March. Trump signed the new permit after Morris blocked construction of the 1,184-mile (1,900-kilometer) pipeline from Canada to Nebraska in a ruling that said officials had not fully considered oil spills and other impacts. The plaintiffs accuse Trump of signing the new permit to get around Morris’ previous order.

Landowner asks US Supreme Court to review pipeline dispute (AP) — A North Dakota landowner is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up his challenge of an energy company taking some of his land for a proposed natural gas pipeline near Minot. Montana-Dakota Utilities seeks to build a 3,000-foot-long (915 meters) pipeline to service a BNSF Railway facility. MDU needed eminent domain to cross private land, but a North Central district judge ruled in 2018 that harm to private landowner Lavern Behm outweighed any public benefits from the pipeline. The North Dakota Supreme Court reversed that this spring, ruling that the lower court misapplied state law when it decided that a taking was not necessary for a public use. The U.S. Supreme Court takes up only a tiny fraction of the petitions it receives each term.

Volume of natural gas flaring hits record in North Dakota - (AP) — Regulators say the volume of natural gas flared in June reached an unprecedented level due to shutdowns of several natural gas processing facilities and pipelines The Bismarck Tribune reports that the amount of natural gas burned off as a byproduct of oil production during June jumped 155 million cubic feet per day, to 687 million cubic feet per day. Statewide, companies flared 24% of all gas produced, or double the 12% target. North Dakota set an oil production record in June at 1.42 million barrels per day. Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms says July flaring numbers could still be high, but they could improve in August and later in the year as more pipelines and processing plants come online. ‘

Brine spill contained on well site near Williston  (AP) — The North Dakota Oil and Gas Division says a recent brine spill was contained on a well site near Williston.The release happened Friday about 9 miles (14 kilometers) west of Williston.  Equinor Energy LP reported Monday that 14,070 gallons of brine were released because of a piping connection leak. All of the brine has been recovered.  A state inspector has been to the site and will monitor any additional cleanup.

Oil spill in Snake River linked to turbine at dam - — As much as 300 gallons of oil may have leaked into the Snake River from a power-generating turbine at Lower Monumental Dam. The Army Corps of Engineers reported the suspected spill this week, but it’s unclear when it happened. The Army Corps disclosed the incident to regulators and the environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper under the terms of a 2014 settlement agreement. Columbia Riverkeeper had sued to stop oil releases from the eight dams on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers. The group issued a statement calling the most recent disclosure the latest in a series of spills that highlight the threat posed by the four aging Snake River dams. The Corps reported that 200 to 300 gallons of unspecified “turbine oil” may have leaked from a turbine shaft at Lower Monumental, about 40 miles northeast of the Tri-Cities. The Washington Department of Ecology confirmed it was also notified of the potential spill, which will be confirmed once the Army Corps takes an inventory of oil in the turbine.

Emails Show FBI and Police Are Monitoring Oregon Anti-Pipeline Activists - The FBI and several other law enforcement agencies have been keeping tabs on pipeline opponents in southwest Oregon, according to documents obtained by the Guardian. Opponents of the natural gas pipeline project have been monitored for years and information about the activists has been shared between law enforcement agencies and even with non-government firms, includingOff The Record Strategies — an anti-environmental public relations agency that helped craft a message against the Standing Rock activists opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline two years ago, according to theGuardian.     The Jordan Cove energy project in question is owned by Canadian energy company Pembina and includes a 232-mile pipeline that would carry hydraulic fractured, or fracked, natural gas from Canada and the Rockies to the port of Coos Bay in Oregon, as the Guardian reported.  The opponents of the $10 billion project are various grassroots organizations; including property rights advocates, Native American tribes and climate crisis activists, as Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) reported. The activists say they are troubled that they are being tracked while exercising their first amendment right to assemble and petition peacefully. Despite their concerns, the Trump administration has insisted that the Jordan Cove pipeline is one of its top infrastructure priorities. OPB reported that the Coos County Sheriff's Office monitored activists and gave its findings to the South Western Oregon Joint Task Force, a group formed by the sheriff's office to facilitate sharing information between several agencies. The Guardian uncovered an email distribution list for the taskforce that included addressees in the FBI, the Bureau of Land Management, the Department of Justice, the National Forest Service, Oregon state police, and various Oregon municipal police and sheriffs departments. However, there are some recipients who do not have a government position, such as Mark Pfeifle, the CEO of the political consultancy Off The Record Strategies. The emails circulated by the task force include activists' social media posts, emails and rally announcements, according to the Guardian.

Shale Bloodbath Continues: Continental Loses Half Its Market Value In 10 Months - Continental Resources has lost around US$15 billion of its market capitalization since October 2018—more than half of its market value that now stands at around US$12 billion, in the latest sign that investors and the market are not favoring U.S. shale producers, which have been setting production records by outspending their cash flows.At the beginning of October last year, Continental Resources had a market capitalization of around US$26-27 billion. As of August 6, 2019, the market value of the oil producer founded by shale pioneer Harold Hamm had fallen to US$12.67 billion.The oil price slump in the fourth quarter of 2018 and the investors’ now finite patience with shale producers not turning in cash flows have combined to punish the stocks of many big and small U.S. oil drillers in recent months, including the shares of Continental Resources.Since early October last year, the S&P index of independent explorers has also performed very poorly, losing 51 percent, according to Bloomberg estimates.  The poor stock performance prompted a question at Hamm on Continental’s Q2 conference call on Tuesday, with Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst Doug Leggate asking the management: “what is the value of Continental being a public company?”   Continental’s Chairman and CEO Hamm took the question and answered this:“Let’s talk about the value of being public. In today’s market, we don’t see a lot of value in it.” “We think as long as the value is not reflected in the stock, we ought to be buying it back. And that's what we're doing. And that's what we'll continue to do,” Hamm added.  As early as at the beginning of this year, it was Hamm who made a “wild guess” that U.S. shale production growth could slow by as much as 50 percent year on year in 2019. While U.S. shale production is booming and the Permian continues to set new production records, the pace of growth is slowing as many companies have recently scaled back production growth targets while investors and bankers continue to be skeptical about the shale industry’s returns. 

 Fracking Boom in U.S. and Canada Largely to Blame for Global Methane Spike, Study Finds - New research by a scientist at Cornell University warns that the fracking boom in the U.S. and Canada over the past decade is largely to blame for a large rise in methane in the earth's atmosphere — and that reducing emissions of the extremely potent greenhouse gas is crucial to help stem the international climate crisis.  Professor Robert Howarth examined hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, over the past several decades, noting the fracking boom that has taken place since the first years of the 21st century. Between 2005 and 2015, fracking went from producing 31 billion cubic meters of shale gas per year to producing 435 billion cubic meters.Nearly 90 percent of that fracking took place in the U.S., while about 10 percent was done in Canada.The fracking method was first used by oil and gas companies in 1949, but Howarth concluded that fracking done in the past decade has particularly contributed to the amount of methane in the atmosphere. As Kashmira Gander wrote in Newsweek: While methane released in the late 20th century was enriched with the carbon isotope 13C, Howarth highlights methane released in recent years features lower levels. That's because the methane in shale gas has depleted levels of the isotope when compared with conventional natural gas or fossil fuels such as coal, he explained. "The methane in shale gas is somewhat depleted in 13C relative to conventional natural gas," Howarth wrote in the study, published Wednesday in the journal Biogeosciences. "Correcting earlier analyses for this difference, we conclude that shale-gas production in North America over the past decade may have contributed more than half of all of the increased emissions from fossil fuels globally and approximately one-third of the total increased emissions from all sources globally over the past decade."  "The commercialization of shale gas and oil in the 21st century has dramatically increased global methane emissions," he added. Other scientists praised Howarth's study on social media. […] In addition to being the second-biggest contributor to the climate crisis after carbon dioxide, methane has been known to cause and exacerbate health issues for people who live in areas where large amounts of the gas is present in the environment. Chest pains, bronchitis, emphysema and asthma can all be caused or worsened by high levels of methane. The process of fracking has also been linked to pollution in drinking water. The Trump administration has no plans to reduce the amount of fracking that is taking place in the U.S. — rather, President Donald Trump has moved to open up public lands to gas and oil companies looking to purchase leases for fracking.

EPA may roll back methane rules. Will states fill the gap? -- A Trump administration plan to replace Obama-era methane standards for the oil and gas industry could leave behind a patchwork of state regulations and voluntary goals to rein in emissions from one of the most potent greenhouses gases. But analysts say the hodgepodge of existing efforts likely will fall far short in cutting methane emissions to levels needed to meet climate goals. EPA is expected to release its draft rule replacement on the Obama-era curbs on methane in the coming months, and some say it may not target the greenhouse gas directly (Greenwire, Aug. 12). That could put the spotlight on the half-dozen energy-producing states with methane regulations on the books, if EPA dials back its focus on natural gas in updates to the 2016 New Source Performance Standards. Several major oil and gas companies have also announced voluntary plans to cut their emissions and pressed the Trump administration to regulate methane. But two of the biggest oil- and gas-producing states, Texas and North Dakota, don't have rules on methane emissions. About half of U.S. oil comes from those two states, and Texas alone produces a fourth of the nation's gas. And the oil companies haven't always lived up to their promises. Sarah Smith, who leads a team at the Clean Air Task Force that focuses on minimizing emissions of pollutants like methane, said that if federal rules around methane go away, oil and gas equipment would largely go unregulated."That would be truly disastrous for communities and for the climate," Smith said. The regulatory outcome is significant because methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, traps far more heat than carbon dioxide when it's released in the atmosphere, and it's responsible for as much as a fourth of human-caused global warming. Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that methane might have to be reduced 35% below 2010 levels by midcentury to hold temperature rise at 1.5 degrees Celsius. "If companies aren't being held accountable through a regulatory structure that's comprehensive and evenly applied, then we don't have the guarantees of the reductions that we need to make a difference for the climate,"

Trump Aims to End Methane Curbs Oil Companies Want -- The Trump administration is readying a plan to end direct federal regulation of methane leaks from oil and gas facilities, even as some energy companies insist they don’t want the relief. A draft proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency would prevent the federal government from directly targeting that potent greenhouse gas as it restricts emissions from oil wells and infrastructure, despite fears that time is running out to avert catastrophic consequences of climate change. The White House is finishing its review of the EPA plan, which was described by people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named ahead of a formal announcement that is expected within weeks. The proposal threatens to undermine the oil industry’s sales pitch that natural gas is a climate-friendly source of electricity -- a cleaner-burning alternative to coal that can help power an energy-hungry world for decades to come. Dozens of oil companies have made voluntary pledges to keep methane in check, and some have warned the Trump administration that federal regulation specifically targeting it is essential for natural gas to maintain that reputation. “Stakeholder confidence in natural gas is hanging by the thread, and the EPA is pulling out the scissors with this methane rollback,” said Ben Ratner, a senior director with the Environmental Defense Fund’s energy innovation arm. More than 60 oil and gas companies have made voluntary commitments to pare emissions of methane, the chief ingredient of natural gas, though some of them insist federal regulation is still essential for the highly fragmented industry. For instance, BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell Plc executives said in March that they favor federal regulation of the oil industry’s methane emissions, with BP asserting in an opinion piece that voluntary actions by a handful of companies “are not enough to solve the problem.” “Industry gets it,” said David Hayes, a former Interior Department official who leads the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at New York University School of Law. “They recognize that this is a tremendous liability.”

Bleak Financial Outlook for US Fracking Industry - In early 2018 when major financial publications like the Wall Street Journal were predicting a bright and profitable future for the fracking industry, DeSmog began a series detailing the failing business model of fracking shale deposits for oil and gas in America.Over a year later, the fracking industry is having to reckon with many of the issues DeSmog highlighted, in addition to one new issue — investors are finally giving up on the industry. Billionaire oil CEO Harold Hamm — who has been touted as a “Shale King” — made comments this week reflecting how weak investment interest is in oil and gas fracking, going so far as to say that it wasn’t worth being a publicly traded company. “In today’s market, we don’t see a lot of value in it,” he said on his company’s earnings call.A similar sentiment has appeared in The Financial Post, which this week reported how “unloved” by investors the Canadian tar sands industry — which DeSmog also has highlighted as a financial disaster — currently is.“General investors are saying, ‘To heck with energy,’” After years of patience as the fracking and tar sands industries continued to pile up losses, investors are understandably tired of losing money. 2019 was supposed to be the year that shale oil and gas producers finally reined in spending, with the goal of funding all new development from free cash flow. And just like every other year, it didn’t take long for those plans to unravel.An analysis of 40 U.S. shale oil companies by Rystad Energy, an independent research organization in Norway, revealed how badly things had gone in the first quarter of 2019: “The gap between capex [capital expenditures] and CFO [cash flow from operating activities] has reached a staggering $4.7 billion. This implies tremendous overspend, the likes of which have not been seen since the third quarter of 2017.” In other words, the capital expenditures, or money spent drilling oil, outpaced the cash flow from operating activities, or the money made by selling oil, by nearly $5 billion, in the first quarter of 2019 alone. And the announcement of second quarter results brought no better news, with many shale companies suffering major drops in value.

The wheels come off shale oil -- A flurry of coverage about the gloom and outright calamity in the shale oil business appeared last week. Low prices continue to dog the industry. But so does lack of investor interest in financing loss-making operations for yet another season. Plunging stock prices portend more bankruptcies if circumstances don't change. I received considerable pushback last January when I asked whether U.S. shale oil had entered a death spiral. The almost constant refrain of the cheerleaders for the shale oil industry has been that increasing production demonstrates there is something wrong with my analysis and that of others who have been skeptical of the industry's claims. We skeptics have certainly been wrong about how long the boom could go on. We could not fathom why investors kept funneling capital into businesses that were consistently consuming it with no hope of ever providing a long-term return.  So far this summer season we have heard two unthinkable utterances come from shale oil industry executives. The first linked above was that the industry has destroyed 80 percent of the capital entrusted to it since 2008. This came from a CEO no longer in the industry.  The second, however, came from one of the largest players in the Permian Basin, the hotbed of shale oil activity. Pioneer Natural Resources CEO Scott Sheffield said that the industry is running out of so-called Tier-1 acreage. That's oil-speak for "sweet spots." Those are the circumscribed areas in shale deposits within which extraction costs are low enough to justify drilling.  Outside the sweet spots there is oil, but it is much more costly to extract. The industry at one time likened shale oil production to a manufacturing operation, claiming the one could drill practically anywhere in a shale deposit and get oil out profitably.  Now, just two years ago the same Scott Sheffield mentioned above compared the Permian Basin to Saudi Arabia. To be fair to Mr. Sheffield, his job is to attract investors so he can drill more wells. So, I fault mostly the investors for not looking carefully at the economics of shale oil which have been free cash flow negative for the industry as a whole for almost a decade.   In the case of shale oil, the financials were published quarterly by the publicly traded companies for all to see. And, the wealth extracted by company managements could be calculated practically to the penny. So, why didn't investors understand what they were looking at? One possible explanation comes from an oil company executive who explained to me way back in 2009 that oil and gas companies often promote themselves as so-called "asset plays" to investors. They drill a lot of very marginal prospects to get reserves on their books and then tout the growth in their reserves. But much of those reserves will never be exploited at a profit. They are essentially a mirage.

Oil and Gas Sector's Total Contract Value Surges - The global oil and gas industry’s total contract value increased by 79 percent from the first to the second quarter of 2019, according to data and analytics company GlobalData. This value reached $42 billion in 2Q, compared to $23.4 billion in 1Q, despite a slight decline in the number of contracts from 1,453 in 1Q to 1,283 in 2Q, GlobalData highlighted. The increase in contract value was largely driven by engineering, procurement and construction contracts in the midstream sector, according to GlobalData, which drew attention to deals such as Bechtel’s $9.57 billion agreement with NextDecade and Saipem, McDermott International and Chiyoda - CCS JV’s $8 billion contract with Anadarko Petroleum. The upstream sector saw 71 percent, or 858, of the total contracts awarded in 2Q and the midstream and downstream/petrochemical sector recorded 245 and 100 contracts during the period, respectively, the data and analytics company noted. Operation and Maintenance (O&M) represented 60 percent of the total contracts in 2Q, followed by contracts with multiple scopes - such as construction, design and engineering, installation, O&M, and procurement - which accounted for 12 percent, GlobalData revealed. Europe was said to have seen 37 percent, or 471, of the total contracts in 2Q, followed by North America, which was said to have accounted for 33 percent, or 421. GlobalData describes itself as the “gold standard” data provider to the world’s largest industries. The company was formed in 2016 following the consolidation of several data and analytics providers.

Another Setback in Landmark Fracking Case as Lawyers Pull Out --Jessica Ernst has spent 12 years and $400,000 pursuing a lawsuit against the Alberta fracking industry and its regulator.  Now her Ontario lawyer has let go most of his staff and given up the case.“I was shocked and felt terribly betrayed,” said Ernst. “The legal system doesn’t want ordinary people in it. They don’t want citizens who will not gag and settle out of court for money so corporations and government can continue their abuse.” In 2007, Ernst, then an oil patch consultant with her own thriving business, sued the Alberta government, Alberta’s energy regulator and Encana. She alleged her well water had been contaminated by Encana’s fracking and government agencies had failed to investigate the problems. For more than a decade the case has been bogged down by legal wrangling, legal posturing and constant delays. Three different judges have been involved. The process included a two-year detour to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled that Ernst could not sue the regulator because it is given immunity by provincial legislation. The lawsuits against the provincial government and Encana remain before the courts. And still no evidence has been heard on the actual merits of the case. Ernst was represented by high-profile lawyer Murray Klippenstein. He told The Tyee in an email that “major changes in the political climate of the legal profession in Ontario” made it “no longer feasible for me to continue my law firm.” Klippenstein is fighting against a recently adopted Law Society of Ontariostatement of principles that obliges law firms to “promote equality, diversity and inclusion” and perform annual “inclusion self-assessments.” Lawyers “will increasingly be judged more on the basis of ideology, skin colour and sex chromosomes than by their competence, skills, effort and professional contributions” under the rule, he argued.

BC Government Frets Over Climate Change While Heavily Subsidizing Fracking Companies - We’re in a climate crisis. So why did the B.C. government give oil and gas companies $663 million in subsidies last year so they would produce more fracked natural gas? The NDP government hasn’t declared a climate emergency. But it commissioned a report that warns of more severe wildfire seasons, water shortages, heat waves, landslides and more.Despite that, the government handed almost two-thirds of a billion dollars to fossil fuel companies — $130 per person in the province — so they’ll extract more methane, more quickly. (The numbers are all from the always-interesting Public Accounts released last month by the province’s auditor general.)Which is perverse in a time when we’re warned of climate disaster. British Columbians own the oil and gas under the ground. Companies pay royalties to the government for the right to extract and sell it. Since 2003, the B.C. government has been putting natural gas on sale. It has cut royalties to subsidize the industry’s road construction and reward any operators who drilled in the summer. And most significantly, it started offering the gas at a deep discount for companies that drilled “deep wells.” The industry argument was that they were riskier and more expensive; the government had to sell the gas more cheaply to encourage companies to drill. It increased the discounts in 2009 and 2014, giving even bigger breaks to the fossil fuel companies.  The discounts — subsidies from taxpayers who have to pay more to make up for the lost revenue — have enriched fossil fuel companies for more than a decade. The theory was that the subsidies were needed to increase drilling. But around 2005, the fracking boom took off in North America and natural gas production exploded. By 2016, 98 per cent of wells being drilled in B.C. were fracked. Deep wells weren’t risky; they were the norm. But 16 years after the credits were introduced — and deep into a climate crisis — the B.C. government is still subsidizing the producers, and not offering any answers on why it’s necessary, how the taxpayer subsidy is justified or the conflict between claiming to want to reduce emissions while making it cheaper to produce polluting natural gas.

Production resumes at Hibernia after oil spill - Production is resuming at the Hibernia platform after an oil spill last month, the Hibernia Management Development Company announced Thursday.The company says a thorough inspection was conducted to ensure the safety and security of the platform. HMDC has had extensive engagement with the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) to complete the plan for return to production. HMDC will take the time necessary to reach full production in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.“We are following a deliberate, staged return to production operations, and carrying out surveillance of the facility throughout the process,” said Scott Sandlin, president of HMDC. “We have the safety of our people and protection of the environment foremost on our minds as we gradually bring production back on line.”On July 17, production at the platform was shut in, following a discharge of oil and water from a storage cell in the gravity base. HMDC has determined that the oil and water interface layer (oil and water emulsion mixture) in the storage cell was the issue. To resolve this issue, HMDC has removed the current interface layer from the storage cell and is revising its procedures to protect against future possible re-occurrence. These revised procedures include revisions to minimum water heights in the cells and only producing into cells without residual interface.

ExxonMobil Looks To Exit UK North Sea Oil & Gas --ExxonMobil has recently discussed with operators selling part or all of its assets in the UK North Sea in a move that could raise up to US$2 billion for Exxon and mark another major U.S. exit from the area, Reuters reported this week, quoting three industry sources familiar with the matter. Exxon has been a major investor in the UK North Sea since 1964, when the first exploration drilling in the area began. The U.S. major holds interests in 40 producing oil and gas fields and produces around five percent of UK oil and gas production, with an average 80,000 barrels of oil and 441 million cubic feet of gas a day. Exxon’s investment in the North Sea is managed through a 50/50 joint operation with Shell. If Exxon sells some or part of its assets in the UK North Sea, it will be yet another major U.S. oil and gas firm to divest interests in this mature area to focus on their current key growth areas, which for Exxon right now are the Permian in Texas and conventional oil production offshore Guyana. While European supermajors Shell, BP, and Total continue to view the North Sea as one of their core assets, U.S. majors have been selling North Sea stakes as many of them are now focused on U.S. shale. Marathon Oil said in February that it would be exiting the UK North Sea as it continues to focus on high-return U.S. shale oil operations. In April, ConocoPhillips sold its UK oil and gas business to Chrysaor Holdings for US$2.675 billion in a deal which Wood Mackenzie described as “another story of the changing corporate landscape in the North Sea – for the first time, a non major is the number one producer in the UK.”  Chevron also sold in May its North Sea assets—except for a non-operated stake in the Clair field—for US$2 billion to Ithaca Energy. A sale of assets in the UK would add to Exxon’s plan to sell its assets offshore Norway in what could be a major withdrawal from European offshore production.

Probe after apparent oil spill near North Queensferry - AN APPARENT oil spill is currently being investigated near North Queensferry. Few details have been confirmed however Fife Council's Service Manager Bill Liddle said they are looking into the issue. "We're currently working with partners to investigate an apparent oil spill affecting the coastline around the Forth Road Bridge and the Queensferry Crossing," he said. "The exact extent of the pollution is being determined." The apparent leak follows an oil spill near Limekilns Beaches in February which saw Limekilns and Charlestown beaches closed off for weeks while a £700,00 clean up took place. The area was closed off to the public and the coastal path route was diverted while oil was cleaned up and investigations into where it came from got underway. The source of the pollutant was not found. 

Clean up begins on North Queensferry oil spill - A CLEAN up operation has begun after an oil spill near North Queensferry yesterday (Monday). A probe into the source of the pollution has already started. Fife Council Service Manager Bill Liddle said the area affected is confined to the coastline between the Forth Road Bridge and the Queensferry Crossing. "Our oil spill response team, Briggs Marine, are starting clean-up operations today," he said. "At this stage we don’t know how long the clean-up will take.  “We’re working with partner organisations – SEPA and Forth Ports – to investigate possible sources of the oil spill at North Queensferry.”

The Nord Stream 2 Pipeline And The Dangers Of Moving Too Rashly Toward Renewable Energy - Few Americans likely noticed last week that Denmark refused to grant a permit for finishing construction of the Russian natural gas pipeline Nord Stream 2, but its international significance is enormous.  Denmark’s refusal is the latest chapter in a story of how good intentions in fighting climate change go bad.  It is a cautionary tale of how a country – in this case, Germany – while seeking to make itself and its energy use cleaner, more efficient and more self-sufficient, can produce the opposite of all three.  As climate change becomes more of an issue in America heading into the 2020 election season, Nord Stream 2 provides a case study of the potential peril we face when our desire to switch as rapidly as possible to cleaner energy overwhelms current scientific, technological, political and economic realities. Had it been available, a more attractive and environmentally beneficial choice for Germany would have been imports of abundant, readily available, and above all relatively clean natural gas from the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia – at least on an interim basis until renewable energy transition could catch up to the political and economic realities.  While there is more than enough gas in Appalachia and Northeastern Pennsylvania to export overseas to places like Germany and not delete supplies for domestic usage, American energy politics have prevented the needed pipeline and export infrastructure from being built.  Simply put, without approved pipelines, the gas has no way to get from the point of production to ports where it can be shipped overseas.  The Philadelphia area, which could be a center for the energy industry and for breaking Russia's gas energy monopoly on Europe, remains woefully oblivious even of its possibilities.

Sanctions-hit Rosneft requests payment in euros in naphtha tender (Reuters) - Russian state oil company Rosneft has for the first time asked buyers to use the euro as the default currency in a spot tender to sell naphtha, an official Rosneft document shows. The tender, for naphtha loading from ports in Russia’s Far East, is the first time Rosneft has requested euros in an oil product tender and reflects the company’s attempts to offset any potential negative impact of U.S. sanctions on Russia, three traders said. “The default payment currency should be euro,” the tender document published on Rosneft’s website showed. For years, Rosneft used U.S. dollars as a default currency in contracts. Rosneft said in the document it may consider accepting payment in U.S. dollars or Russian roubles as well, but such a payment should be made ‘only upon mutual agreement between the parties’. Rosneft was included in a list of some U.S. sanctions imposed on Russian companies in 2014, although those sanctions do not limit U.S. dollar usage in Rosneft tenders.

Australia is on track to become world’s largest LNG exporter - Australia is on track to surpass Qatar as the world’s largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter, according to Australia’s Department of Industry, Innovation, and Science (DIIS). Australia already surpasses Qatar in LNG export capacity and exported more LNG than Qatar in November 2018 and April 2019. Within the next year, as Australia’s newly commissioned projects ramp up and operate at full capacity, EIA expects Australia to consistently export more LNG than Qatar. Australia’s LNG export capacity increased from 2.6 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2011 to more than 11.4 Bcf/d in 2019. Australia’s DIIS forecasts that Australian LNG exports will grow to 10.8 Bcf/d by 2020–21 once the recently commissioned Wheatstone, Ichthys, and Prelude floating LNG (FLNG) projects ramp up to full production. Prelude FLNG, a barge located offshore in northwestern Australia, was the last of the eight new LNG export projects that came online in Australia in 2012 through 2018 as part of a major LNG capacity buildout.  Starting in 2012, five LNG export projects were developed in northwestern Australia: onshore projects Pluto,Gorgon, Wheatstone, and Ichthys, and the offshore Prelude FLNG. The total LNG export capacity in northwestern Australia is now 8.1 Bcf/d. In eastern Australia, three LNG export projects were completed in 2015 and 2016 on Curtis Island in Queensland—Queensland Curtis, Gladstone, and Australia Pacific—with a combined nameplate capacity of 3.4 Bcf/d. All three projects in eastern Australia use natural gas from coalbed methane as a feedstock to produce LNG. Most of Australia’s LNG is exported under long-term contracts to three countries: Japan, China, and South Korea. An increasing share of Australia’s LNG exports in recent years has been sent to China to serve its growing natural gas demand. The remaining volumes were almost entirely exported to other countries in Asia, with occasional small volumes exported to destinations outside of Asia.

Fracking, ports and oil pipeline project worth $77b proposed for west Kimberley - A network of oil wells that involve fracking in the Great Sandy Desert, connected by pipelines to new and existing ports, may become Australia's biggest oil-producing project. Documents on the website of privately owned Theia Energy, some of which have since been removed, say they have found as much as 57 billion barrels of oil in the desert location 150 kilometres south-east of Broome.The oil find is described as "unconventional", meaning it is locked in dense rock that will need hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to allow the oil to flow to the surface.Theia Energy, a small Perth-based company, was created in 2018 when Finder Exploration split into Finder Energy for its offshore projects and Theia Energy for its onshore Great Sandy Desert project.Theia Energy is in negotiations with the Karajarri traditional owners of the area to gain permission to confirm commercial flow rates of oil by fracking rock over a kilometre underground.Leading the negotiations on behalf of traditional owners is Karajarri Traditional Lands Association chairman Thomas King."It will probably end up being the biggest oil project in Australia," Mr King said. "I envisage there will be a huge benefit in such a huge project like this, but whether Karajarri people feel that is something they want to entertain still remains to be decided."A project factsheet produced by Theia Energy and dated 2018 suggested that of the tens of billions of barrels of oil estimated to be locked in the shale rock, six billion barrels were recoverable.This could be worth $250 billion in tax revenue and $55 billion in royalties to government and would require a $77 billion capital investment, the document said.

South Africa: What Appeal Court's Fracking Judgment Means - Anti-fracking activists won their appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) last month. The legal victory of Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG) and others means that environmental regulation of mining activities has been taken out of the hands of the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR).   For years, civil society organisations like the Centre for Environmental Rights, have pointed to the problems created by mining companies, unlike other industries, not being required to comply with national environmental legislation. Instead of environmental authorities having oversight over mines, it was handled by the DMR, the authority mandated to promote mining.  In response a number of Karoo farmers, the TKAG and AfriForum launched reviews of the regulations in different high courts, arguing that the Minister of Mineral Resources did not have the authority to make regulations. While the Eastern Cape High Court agreed that the regulations were unlawful, the Pretoria High Court found for the DMR. The two matters were consolidated before the SCA. The SCA noted that fracking has the potential to cause significant environmental impacts. It involves deep vertical drilling into the shale rock layer and horizontal drilling deep underground to maximise contact with the pores in the rock layer where the shale is found. Then, a mixture of water and chemicals is pumped into the drilled wells at high pressure, "fracturing" the rock layer. "Once the pressure is reduced," the court noted, "the water, mixed with heavy or radioactive metals from the rock formation, reflows to the surface, together with the shale gas". The biggest potential negative impact of fracking on the environment, the parties before the SCA agreed, is the emission of pollution and the contamination of both surface and groundwater. Given the water scarcity of the Karoo, the contamination of the groundwater "may, in particular, be disastrous" says the judgment. Remarkably, both the Ministers of Mineral Resources and of Environmental Affairs sought to convince the SCA that the Minister of Mineral Resources did have a mandate to make these regulations. The SCA rejected their arguments. While the implementation of the One Environmental System may be limping along, the SCA judgment has made it clear that the ministers implicated cannot wish it away.

For Guimaras, sea tragedy worse than 2006 oil spill -- More than a decade after experiencing the country’s worst oil spill disaster, there is again suffering in the island province of Guimaras after the August 3 sea tragedy that killed 31 people. “This is worse than the August 2006 oil spill. The oil spill was an environmental disaster that did not take away a human life. This is a human tragedy,” said Guimaras Gov. Samuel Gumarin, referring to the capsizing of three pumpboats in waters between Iloilo City and Guimaras. Gumarin told Manila Bulletin the people of Guimaras never thought that the province’s two major disasters can both happen in August. Sunday marked the 13th year after the oil tanker M/T Solar 1 sank off Nueva Valencia town in southern Guimaras. The spillage of half a million liters of the 2 million liters the oil tanker was carrying is still considered the biggest oil spill disaster in the country. The remaining 1.5 million liters was later siphoned from the sunken oil tanker. But aside from the loss of lives, the August 3 disaster “is now hurting our economy and our everyday lives,” Gumarin said. The Philippine Coast Guard has indefinitely suspended the 15-minute boat trips between the island province and Iloilo City. Only ferries and roll-on, roll-off (RoRo) ships are allowed to sail and carry passengers and goods. The fare, however, is more expensive and trips are limited. Guimaras is highly dependent on Iloilo City for its food supply, employment and health care. “We are slowly being isolated. We source out 80 percent of ours needs from Iloilo and our people work in Iloilo,” Gumarin said. Guimaras is also anticipating a backlash on its tourism industry, which is one of the economic drivers of the island province with only five towns. It has pristine beaches that have been pushed as alternative to the popular Boracay Island as a beach destination, especially among travelers coming to Iloilo. There are also inland resorts while its long winding roads have attracted bikers during the weekend. 

Coast Guard warns of oil spill from stranded vessel --The Indian Coast Guard has warned of a possible oil spill from a Malaysian cargo vessel that ran aground at Khirisahi coast off Chilika last week. Deputy Inspector General, Coast Guard, IJ Singh in a letter to Malaysian firm GIMHWAK Enterprises, that owns the vessel Jin Hwa 32, has asked the latter to take necessary measures immediately to prevent any leakage of oil from the vessel. The firm has been asked to carry out the salvage operation through a local agent or a professional salvor. “Non compliance of the same will entail this headquarters to take action as per the provisions of Indian Merchant Shipping Act 1958,” the letter from the Coast Guard DIG read. Chief Secretary in Odisha Government and State Pollution Control Board and the Director General of Shipping in Mumbai have also been informed.Jin Hwa 32 with eight crew members, ran aground at Khirisahi coast off Puri, near to Chilika, after its engine developed technical glitch on August 7. The vessel has around 30,000 litres of diesel, 1,000 litres lube oil and 200 litre hydraulic oil. The Coast Guard DIG has stated that it poses serious risk to the eco-sensitive coastal zone of Chilika. He also stated that threat of oil spill from the stranded vessel has increased due to ongoing south west monsoon. 

Global motor manufacturing slump hits oil demand- Kemp - (Reuters) - Global vehicle production is falling at the fastest rate since the financial crisis - depressing manufacturing output, freight and the consumption of oil and other commodities. Global motor vehicle output declined last year by 1%, the first annual decrease since 2009 and only the third fall in 20 years, according to data from the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers (OICA). But output is on course to drop much faster in 2019, with production up so far in Japan, but down slightly in the United States and plunging in other major auto manufacturing centres, including China, India and Germany. Motor manufacturing is one largest and most networked of all global value chains, making it central to the global economy (https://tmsnrt.rs/2YKSEYj).  Motor manufacturers are among the world’s largest consumers of energy and raw materials, intermediate products such as plastic, steel and aluminium, and services such as marketing and advertising. The industry is a crucial source of demand for durable capital goods, a generator of high-value exports, and a provider of high-wage middle-class employment in most countries. And its dispersed supply and marketing chains are a major driver of domestic and international freight demand, and by extension transportation fuels, especially diesel. Growth in the worldwide vehicle fleet is the most important driver of consumption of refined fuels, and consequently crude oil. Motor manufacturing therefore lies at the heart of the global energy system. Right now, the industry’s problems, with output falling for two years in a row, help explain the severe slowdown in oil consumption growth since the middle of 2018.

Saudi Arabia is dramatically changing its oil exports to China and the US - Saudi Arabia has seriously ramped up its oil exports to China in recent months. How dramatic is the change? Take a look at this graph, which uses data from oil tanker tracking firm TankerTrackers.com. The Saudi Kingdom’s crude shipments to China have doubled in the span of a year. During the same period, its oil exports to the U.S. have dropped by nearly two-thirds. According to TankerTrackers.com, which tracks oil tankers and shipments based on satellite imagery and ships’ automatic identification systems, Saudi Arabia exported a whopping 1,802,788 barrels per day (bpd) to China in July, compared to 921,811 bpd in August of 2018. By contrast, exports to the U.S. in July were 262,053 bpd, nearly 62% down from 687,946 bpd in August of last year. U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil have helped the shift. Major Asian energy importers like China have been forced to shift business away from the Islamic Republic — OPEC’s third-largest producer — and start buying more Saudi barrels to make up for that shortfall. The U.S. is now more self-reliant than ever, thanks to its own shale oil revolution, which helped it become the world’s largest oil producer by the end of last year. But the numbers also signal a mix of short-term tactics and long-term strategy for the Saudis, industry experts told CNBC. Saudis ‘slam on the brakes’ to the U.S. “Saudi Arabia learned from the last OPEC production cut in 2017 that they got the biggest bang for their buck by cutting flows to the largest, most transparent and most timely market — the U.S.,” said Matt Smith, director of commodity research at commodities analytics firm ClipperData, referring to the coordinated production cut that OPEC and its allies orchestrated to put a floor under falling oil prices. “Choking back on flows to the U.S. was the best way to draw down inventories and turn around bearish sentiment, and they are employing the same tactic once again.”

China Prepares Its “Nuclear Option” In Trade War Oil …As the trade war with the U.S. continues to escalate, China has re-engaged with Iran on three key projects and is weighing the use of what both Washington and Beijing term the ‘nuclear option’, a senior oil and gas industry source who works closely with Iran’s Petroleum Ministry told OilPrice.com last week. For the first of these projects - Phase 11 of the supergiant South Pars non-associated gas field (SP11) - last week saw a statement from the chief executive officer of the Pars Oil and Gas Company (POGC) that talks had resumed with Chinese developers to advance the project. Originally the subject of an extensive contract signed by France’s Total before it pulled out due to re-imposed U.S. sanctions on Iran, talks had been well-advanced with the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) to take up the slack on development. As per the original contract, CNPC had been assigned Total’s 50.1 percent stake in the field when the French firm withdrew, giving it a total of 80.1 percent in the site, with Iran’s own Petropars Company holding the remainder. At the same time, Iran was desperate to increase the pace of development of the fields in its oil-rich West Karoun area, including North Azadegan, South Azadegan, North Yaran, South Yaran, and Yadavaran, in order to optimise oil flows ahead of further clampdowns on exports by the U.S.  China agreed a trade-off with the U.S. that in exchange for it halting active development of SP11 it would be allowed to continue its activities in North Azadegan and would be able to go ahead with its development of Yadavaran – the second of China’s major Iran projects. China told the U.S. that its continued involvement in North Azadegan could easily be justified to anyone else who might be interested – such as the mainstream media – on the basis that it had already spent billions of dollars developing the second phase of the 460 square kilometre field. Similarly, China said at the time, its ongoing activities on Yadavaran could be justified by dint of the fact that the original contract had been signed in good faith in 2007, way before the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal in May 2018 and thus, legally speaking, it had every right to go ahead. The third of China’s major as yet unfinished projects in Iran was the build-out of the Jask oil export terminal, which – crucially, particularly in the current security situation – does not lie within the Strait of Hormuz or even in the Persian Gulf, but rather in the Gulf Of Oman. Even before the new U.S. sanctions, the Kharg export terminal was not ideal for use by tankers as the narrowness of the Strait of Hormuz means that they have to go very slowly through it. With the new sanctions in place and tit-for-tat tanker seizures regularly occurring, China would have little choice but to put at least a couple of its own warships into the Gulf to safeguard their passage or stop buying Iranian oil entirely, neither of which Beijing particularly wants to do.

Oil Sector Going from Gloomy to Gloomier - The oil market is going from “gloomy” to “gloomier”, according to Rystad Energy. In a statement sent to Rigzone on Friday, the energy research company said recent developments in the sector had sent “cold shivers” through its oil market team and called into question the organization’s temporary bullish view for the first part of 2020. “Economic recession risk and further escalation of the U.S.-China trade war are key concerns in the near term. How long OPEC+ is willing to continue to manage production adds uncertainty,” Bjornar Tonhaugen, head of oil market analysis at Rystad Energy, said in the statement. “Continued worsening of U.S.-China trade relations could lower demand growth by 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 1 million bpd in 2020,” he added. In the statement, Tonhaugen said the company sees a clear downside risk to 2020 prices due to excessive supply growth. “We still believe the market does not recognize the positive effect on crude demand that IMO 2020 will bring. However, if the IMO effect on crude demand is less than expected, OPEC intervention may be needed as early as the first quarter of 2020 to avoid imbalances in the oil market,” he added. Last week, the International Energy Agency (IEA) lowered its oil demand growth estimates to 1.1 million barrels per day (MMbpd) in 2019 and 1.3MMbpd in 2020.“The outlook is fragile with a greater likelihood of a downward revision than an upward one,” the IEA said in an organization statement on Friday. In June, the IEA cut its 2019 oil demand growth forecast from 1.3MMbpd to 1.2MMbpd. That was the IEA’s second consecutive oil demand growth forecast cut, following a decrease from 1.4MMbpd to 1.3MMbpd in May.

Column- Hedge funds polarised on oil by economy and supply threats (Reuters) - Hedge fund managers remain deeply divided about what matters more for the future direction of oil – intensifying fears about a global recession or Saudi Arabia’s production cuts and other supply disruptions. Hedge funds and other money managers sold futures and options equivalent to 25 million barrels in the six most important contracts linked to petroleum prices in the week to Aug. 6. But the fund sales essentially reversed purchases of 20 million barrels the previous week and there has been little change in the net position since the middle of June (https://tmsnrt.rs/2MVVbI9). The most recent week saw portfolio managers sell Brent (-13 million barrels), U.S. gasoline (-8 million), U.S. heating oil (-1 million) and European gasoil (-13 million) while buying NYMEX and ICE WTI (+9 million). In most cases the net position is more or less the same as it was seven weeks ago; the one exception is U.S. heating oil, where a small net short position has been transformed into a small net long one. Position changes have probably been dampened by the seasonal absence of senior trading staff during the summer holidays across North America and Europe. More generally, the hedge fund community is unsure about what matters more – the slowdown in consumption growth resulting from the U.S.-China trade war or the slowdown in production growth resulting from OPEC+ cuts. Funds hold bullish long positions equivalent to 833 million barrels, down from a recent high of more than 1 billion barrels in April, but up from less than 700 million barrels at the start of the year. But portfolio managers also hold 256 million barrels of bearish short positions, the largest number of bets on a further fall in prices since January. From a positioning perspective, the balance of risks is roughly equal, with the potential for a liquidation-driven fall in prices more or less matched by the risk of a short-covering rally. If structural long and short positions in petroleum futures and options are excluded from the analysis, hedge fund managers hold a roughly zero active position overall (https://tmsnrt.rs/2YIs3LM).  Views are likely to remain bifurcated until either the extent of the trade war economic risk or the impact of U.S. sanctions on some supplier countries becomes clearer.

Oil Prices Fall As Trump Says He is “Not Ready to Make a Deal” With China - Oil prices fell on Monday in Asia after U.S. President Donald Trump said that he is “not ready to make a deal” with China, stoking fears of weakening oil demand. U.S. Crude Oil WTI Futures dropped 0.3% to $54.34 by 12:54 AM. International Brent Oil Futures fell 0.2% to $58.41.“China wants to do something, but I’m not doing anything yet,” Trump said on Friday. “Twenty-five years of abuse. I’m not ready so fast.”The president added that it would be “fine” if U.S.-China negotiations planned for next month were called off.“Oil continues to be sensitive to trade war rhetoric,’’ Alfonso Esparza, a senior market analyst at Oanda Corp., said in a note cited by Bloomberg.“Saudi Arabia is willing to do more to prevent a free fall, but hard to imagine what that would look like. The prolonged trade war has been a negative factor for global growth estimates.’’On Friday, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned Chinese economic growth will slow further if the trade war with the U.S. drags on.The IMF also trimmed its forecasts for oil demand growth in 2019 and 2020 to 1.1 million and 1.3 million barrels per day respectively. In a note released over the weekend, Goldman Sachs also warned that fears of the trade war leading to a recession were increasing.

Oil rises despite fears of a global economic downturn - Oil prices rose on Monday despite worries about a global economic slowdown and the ongoing U.S.-China trade war, which has reduced demand for commodities such as crude. International benchmark Brent crude futures were at $58.65 a barrel, up 10 cents from their previous settlement. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures were at $54.74 per barrel, up 22 cents from their last close. Both benchmarks had fallen earlier in the day, with Brent hitting a session low of $57.88 and WTI a session low of $53.54. “What we have noticed recently is a different perception of risk in different geographies,” said Emily Ashford, executive director of energy research at Standard Chartered. “Often the price reactions during Asia or London trading are reversed during U.S. trading. Prices seem to be following that pattern today.”The third quarter is fundamentally the strongest season for oil demand as drivers take to the roads for summer holidays, but the trade dispute between the United States and China has weakened demand and pressured oil prices. U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he was not ready to make a deal with China and even called a September round of trade talks into question. Germany’s Ifo economic institute said its quarterly survey of nearly 1,200 experts in more than 110 countries showed that its measures for current conditions and economic expectations have worsened in the third quarter. However, Kuwait’s Oil Minister Khaled al-Fadhel said fears of a global economic downturn were “exaggerated” and global crude demand should pick up in the second half, helping to gradually reduce oil inventories.

Oil steadies as Saudi, Kuwait signals offset demand fears (Reuters) - Oil prices were little changed on Monday as expectations that major producers would continue to reduce global supplies ran into worries about sluggish growth in crude demand due to the U.S.-China trade war. International benchmark Brent crude settled at $58.57 a barrel, up 4 cents. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures settled at $54.93, up 43 cents. Investors were torn between forecasts of slowing global oil demand growth and chatter about renewed efforts by major producers to curtail output and support prices, analysts said. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, known as OPEC+, have agreed to cut 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) since Jan. 1. Kuwait was "fully committed" to the OPEC+ agreement, Oil Minister Khaled al-Fadhel said, adding that Kuwait has cut its own output by more than required by the accord. He said fears of a global economic downturn were "exaggerated," and said global demand for crude should pick up in the second half, helping reduce the surplus in oil inventories gradually. Analysts said in a sign that de-facto OPEC leader Saudi Arabia intends to support prices, state-run Saudi Aramco is ready to launch what could be the world's largest initial public offering. The Saudi government will decide when the IPO will take place based on its perception of "what would be the optimum market condition," senior Aramco executive Khalid al-Dabbagh said in an analyst call. The official said Saudi Aramco has signed a letter of intent with India's Reliance to potentially buy a stake in its refining and petrochemicals business. "The Saudis will need a higher price for oil for its IPO, and this confirms they'll do whatever it takes to get oil prices up,"   Analysts said more reductions were needed to support prices as forecasters and government agencies issue gloomy predictions for the global economy and oil demand growth. The economic outlook has deteriorated worldwide as the trade dispute between the United States and China escalates, Germany's Ifo economic institute said in its quarterly survey of nearly 1,200 experts in more than 110 countries. "It's going to take the market far longer to come back into balance, which has forced OPEC and non-OPEC producers to continue with their production cuts,"

Oil Soars As The U.S. Delays Trade War Tariffs -  Oil shot up more than 4 percent on Tuesday after the U.S. said it would delay the 10 percent tariff on some Chinese products, including laptops and cell phones. The move eased fears over the fallout from the trade war. . Saudi Aramco held its first earnings call with investors on Monday, and also reported profits of $46.9 billion for the first six months of 2019. That was down 12 percent from the same period a year earlier, the result of lower oil prices. However, that figure still makes Aramco the world’s most profitable company. Still, as investors gauge the company, one of the biggest uncertainties is how Aramco pays dividends to the Saudi government. “We still don’t really have clarity on the dividend policy,” Willem Visser, a credit strategist at T. Rowe Price, told Bloomberg. Going forward “it will probably be in line with other oil companies at about 50% of net income.” Meanwhile, Aramco said it would invest $15 billion in India’s Reliance Industries. India’s vehicle sales in July plunged at the steepest rate in nearly two decades, part of a worldwide slowdown in auto sales. India’s GDP growth rate may be decelerating to a five-year low, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, China’s car sales continued to show weakness, with sales down 3.9 percent in July from a year earlier. That was the 13th consecutive monthly decline.   China is expected to slash its imports of oil from the U.S. as the trade war escalates. “I think it is a virtual shoo-in that volumes will slow to a trickle and may even grind to a complete halt,” Stephen Brennock, oil analyst at PVM Oil Associates, told CNBC via email. Exxon is considering a full exit from the North Sea, where it has been operating for more than 50 years. Exxon is hoping to raise $2 billion by selling off its assets in the British North Sea, as the oil major hopes to shift its focus to U.S. shale and other projects.  The Houston Chronicle reported on the unusual transformation that a struggling oil and gas company made. Facing bankruptcy, Black Ridge exited oil and gas altogether and made itself into a video game company.   China has promised tens of billions of dollars of investment in oil, gas and petrochemical projects in the U.S., particularly in Alaska, the Gulf Coast and Appalachia. But the trade war may prevent those investments from being realized, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Oil Prices Back on the Upswing - West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and Brent crude oil futures showed strong gains Tuesday, buoyed by a new twist in the ongoing trade saga between the United States and China. The September WTI added $2.17, ending the day at $57.10 per barrel. The benchmark traded within a range from $54.21 to $57.47. Also posting a healthy increase Tuesday was the October Brent contract, which gained $2.73 to settle at $61.30 per barrel. “Oil prices are experiencing some of their greatest volatility ever as the trade war yanks crude around like a yo-yo,” said Barani Krishnan, senior commodities analyst at Investing.com. “Tuesday’s rally on the Trump administration’s decision to delay tariffs on some Chinese imports is a classic.” In the latest development in U.S./China trade tensions, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) announced Tuesday that the administration would delay by 3.5 months the imposition of a 10-percent tariff on certain Chinese imports. Moreover, citing “health, safety, national security and other factors,” USTR stated that other Chinese products will not be subject to additional duties. “On any other day, oil prices would have slammed through the floor on fears that the trade war was worsening, not mending,” continued Krishnan. “This proves that, fundamentally, oil barely makes a difference on its own as a tradable commodity, without the additional trade and geopolitical baggage.” Krishnan also predicted that OPEC’s ability to influence the oil market will diminish. “Notwithstanding weekly (U.S.) Energy Information Administration inventory data, OPEC cuts will have limited impact on the market going forth as the Saudis overuse the theme of supply squeezes while U.S. production continues ramping,” he said. Reformulated gasoline (RBOB) moved in the same direction as crude oil Tuesday. September RBOB futures settled at $1.74 per gallon, reflecting a seven-cent increase. Henry Hub natural gas for September delivery finished the day higher as well, adding four cents to close at $2.15 

WTI Slides After 2nd Surprise Crude Build In A Row  - Oil prices spiked most in seven months today following the China tariff delay headlines on optimism of a deal (or easing in tensions).  “Some of the pessimism about oil demand and the trade war is being washed out of the market by these announcements,” said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research in Winchester, Massachusetts.  API

  • Crude +3.7mm (-2.5mm exp)
  • Cushing -2.5mm - biggest draw since June 2018
  • Gasoline
  • Distillates -1.3mm

The surprise build in crude stocks last week broke a 7-week streak of draws, and analysts expected a return to draws in the latest week. However, API reported a surprise build of 3.7mm barrels. Notably, Cushing saw a 2.5mm draw - the largest since June 2018.WTI hovered around $57 the figure, but started sliding notably ahead of the data and tumbled further on the 2nd surprise build in a row (Of course, WTI is still up on the day)...

Oil soars near 5% as US delays tariffs on some Chinese goods - (Reuters) - Oil prices on Tuesday jumped by the most so far this year after the United States said it would delay imposing a 10% tariff on certain Chinese products, easing concerns over a global trade war that has pummeled the market in recent months. The Chinese products include laptops and cellphones. The tariffs had been scheduled to start next month. “The U.S.-China trade war has caused energy demand growth to take a big hit. Any glimmer of hope revives the prospects for a more positive demand landscape,” s Brent futures rose $2.73, or 4.7%, to settle at $61.30 a barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude gained $2.17, or 4.0%, to settle at $57.10. That was the biggest daily percentage gain for Brent since December when the contract gained 7.9%. Oil prices pared some of their gains in post-settlement trade after data from industry group the American Petroleum Institute (API) showed U.S. crude stocks unexpectedly rose last week. Crude inventories climbed 3.7 million barrels to 443 million, compared with analysts’ expectations for a decrease of 2.8 million barrels, the API said. U.S. government data on crude stocks is due on Wednesday morning. Since falling to their lowest levels since January on Aug. 7, Brent has gained 9% and WTI 12%. That bigger gain in WTI over the past four days briefly cut Brent’s premium over WTI to its lowest since March 2018.

WTI Erases Tariff-Delay Gains, Crude Inventories Show Surprise Build - Oil prices have plunged overnight, erasing the spike gains from yesterday's trade-tariff-delay headlines thanks to API reporting a surprise crude (and gasoline) build as well as ugly German GDP data.“Yesterday was an eye opener on how much global growth fear hides in oil prices,” “The trade conflict has escalated and the latest batch of tariffs will bear economic costs.” DOE:

  • Crude (-2.5mm exp)
  • Cushing
  • Gasoline (-1.5mm exp)
  • Distillates

Analysts expected a crude draw this week (despite last week's surprise build and API) but like API, DOE reporteed a surprise crude build (the 2nd week in a row) of 1.58mm barrels. Cushing saw stocks decline as did Gasoline and Distillates. “Trade tariffs are slowing global consumption, so perhaps foreign refiners are less in need of U.S. crude right now,” said Kyle Cooper,director of research at IAF Advisors. “Exports have been down for a few weeks, so I will be looking at whether they have rebounded back” Production was flat on the week as rig counts continue to decline...WTI has roundtripped into the DOE data as API triggered the start of a reversal that erased all of the tariff delay gains. WTI hovered at $55 ahead of the DOE data... and rallied modestly on the print (presumably on a smaller than API build and draws in gasoline)

Oil Prices Slide On Surprise Crude Build - The Energy Information Administration reported a 2.4-million-barrel build in crude oil inventories for the week to August 2, shattering expectations of another sizeable draw. Analysts had expected a draw of 3.13 million barrels after last week the authority reported a hefty 8.5-million-barrel decline in inventories that sent West Texas Intermediate soaring. The American Petroleum Institute reported yesterday another weekly decline in oil inventories, of 3.4 million barrels, but this time the figure failed to impress. With EIA rejecting it, chances are the slide in oil prices will now accelerate. The EIA’s figures are also unlikely to reverse the drop in oil prices, which started this week with the spike in now chronic trade tensions between the United States and China, with Washington accusing Beijing of manipulating its currency to its advantage, after the yuan dropped on Monday to the lowest against the greenback in more than 10 years. The EIA also reported an increase in gasoline inventories, which will not help prices, either. After a 1.8-million-barrel decline for the week to July 26, last week these added 4.4 million barrels. Gasoline production averaged 10.4 million bpd, a modest increase from last week’s average daily production rate. In distillate fuels, the EIA reported an inventory build of 1.5 million barrels, which compared with a decline of 900,000 barrels for the previous week. Distillate fuel production averaged 5.3 million bpd, compared with 5.2 million bpd a week earlier.  At the time of writing, Brent crude traded at US$57.39 a barrel and West Texas Intermediate changed hands for US$52.00 a barrel, both benchmarks down from yesterday’s close by over 2 percent.

WTI Erases Tariff-Delay Gains, Crude Inventories Show Surprise Build - Oil prices have plunged overnight, erasing the spike gains from yesterday's trade-tariff-delay headlines thanks to API reporting a surprise crude (and gasoline) build as well as ugly German GDP data.“Yesterday was an eye opener on how much global growth fear hides in oil prices,” “The trade conflict has escalated and the latest batch of tariffs will bear economic costs.” DOE:

  • Crude (-2.5mm exp)
  • Cushing
  • Gasoline (-1.5mm exp)
  • Distillates

Analysts expected a crude draw this week (despite last week's surprise build and API) but like API, DOE reporteed a surprise crude build (the 2nd week in a row) of 1.58mm barrels. Cushing saw stocks decline as did Gasoline and Distillates. “Trade tariffs are slowing global consumption, so perhaps foreign refiners are less in need of U.S. crude right now,” said Kyle Cooper,director of research at IAF Advisors. “Exports have been down for a few weeks, so I will be looking at whether they have rebounded back” Production was flat on the week as rig counts continue to decline...WTI has roundtripped into the DOE data as API triggered the start of a reversal that erased all of the tariff delay gains. WTI hovered at $55 ahead of the DOE data... and rallied modestly on the print (presumably on a smaller than API build and draws in gasoline)

Oil prices drop as data shows surprise climb in US inventories - Oil prices fell on Wednesday after industry data showed U.S. crude inventories unexpectedly rose last week, erasing some gains from the last session that were stoked after Washington said it would delay tariffs on some Chinese goods. The move by U.S. President Donald Trump sent commodities, stocks and other assets higher because of optimism the effects of the trade war, already being felt in economies across the world, will be blunted. Oil prices surged by as much as nearly 5 percent. Brent crude was down 35 cents, or 0.6%, at $60.95 a barrel at 0116 GMT, after rising 4.7% on Tuesday, the biggest percentage gain since December. U.S. oil was down 46 cents, or 0.8%, at $56.64 a barrel, having risen 4% the previous session, the most in just over a month. Markets had been pummeled in recent weeks amid tough talk from Trump on trade and they remain on tenterhooks due to the unpredictably of the U.S. president. It is “becoming more difficult by the day to figure out what President Trump will do other than to say he will favor his own interests and then at times seem to work against them,” China’s commerce ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that U.S. and Chinese trade officials spoke on the phone and agreed to talk again within two weeks. Data from industry group the American Petroleum Institute (API) showed U.S. crude stocks unexpectedly rose last week. Crude inventories increased by 3.7 million barrels to 443 million, compared with analyst expectations for a decrease of 2.8 million barrels, the API said. Apart from signs that the U.S.-China trade tensions may be easing, analysts said prices were propped up by a belief that Saudi Arabia would stick with production cuts. Saudi Arabia, the biggest producer among the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), said last week it aims to keep its crude exports below 7 million barrels per day (bpd) in August and September to help siphon off global oil stocks. OPEC and its allies, known as OPEC+, agreed to cut 1.2 million bpd of production from the beginning of this year.

Oil Prices Erase Gains - Much of the $2-plus in value that West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and Brent crude oil futures each gained Tuesday disappeared during Wednesday’s trading. Equity and commodity markets – including the petroleum sector – took a dramatic turn downward Wednesday when the 10-year U.S. Treasury Note yield fell below the two-year Treasury Note yield for the first time in 12 years. “This action is viewed as a potential indicator for the risk of recession,” explained Steve Blair, senior account executive with the RCG Division of Marex Spectron. “Oil markets are also under pressure as economic data out of China and Germany missed expectations, giving further credence to thoughts of softening demand for oil.” The September WTI contract price lost $1.87 during the midweek session, settling at $55.23 per barrel. The light crude marker peaked at $56.85 and bottomed out at $53.97. “September WTI had rallied from a low of $51.94 last Thursday to a high of $57.47 yesterday after the President deferred the new trade tariffs that were scheduled to be implemented on September 1,” said Blair. “This put prices right near the major resistance at these levels.” Daily and daily continuation charts provided by Blair’s firm put the WTI price levels into context. “The realization this morning that 10-year Treasury yields had fallen below the two-year Treasury yields, and the subsequent realization that this could be a sign of recession, put intense pressure on the petroleum complex along with the other market signs of softer global demand for crude,” continued Blair. “Major support seen around the $53.59 level with further at $52.62 and then at $50.90. Major resistance seen at the recent $57.47 higher and then around $59.80.” Brent crude for October delivery settled at $59.48 per barrel, reflecting a $1.82 loss. 

Oil prices fall on weak economic data from Europe and China - (Reuters) - Oil prices shed 3% on Wednesday after fresh Chinese and European economic revived global demand fears and U.S. crude inventories rose unexpectedly for the second week in a row. Brent crude LCOc1 settled at $59.48 a barrel, shedding $1.82, or 3%, losing some of the previous session’s sharp gains after the United States moved to delay tariffs on some Chinese products. The global benchmark rose 4.7% on Tuesday, its biggest daily percentage gain since December. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures CLc1 settled at $55.23 a barrel, falling $1.87, or 3.3%, after having risen 4% the previous session, the most in just over a month. China reported disappointing data for July, including a surprise drop in industrial output growth to a more than 17-year low, underlining widening economic cracks as the trade war with the United States intensifies. The global economic slowdown, amplified by tariff conflicts and uncertainty over Brexit, is also hitting European economies. A slump in exports sent Germany’s economy into reverse in the second quarter, data showed. The euro zone’s GDP barely grew in the second quarter of 2019. “The data out of China, the potential recession brewing in Germany, all of that is playing into global demand worries,” said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. “Today, we’re back in fear mode.” The U.S. Treasury bond yield curve inverted for the first time since 2007, in a sign of investor concern that the world’s biggest economy could be heading for recession

Oil slides 1.4% on recession fears, China’s trade threats -- Oil prices fell more than 1% on Thursday, extending the previous session’s 3% drop, pressured by mounting recession concerns and a surprise boost in U.S. crude inventories. In a sign of investor concern that the world’s biggest economy could be heading for recession, weighing on oil demand, the U.S. Treasury bond yield curve inverted on Wednesday for the first time since 2007. China’s threat to impose counter-measures in retaliation for the latest U.S. tariffs on $300 billion of Chinese goods also weighed on oil prices. Brent crude fell as much as 3%, to $57.67 a barrel. The international benchmark was 2.4% lower at $58.05 and West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI) was down 1.4%, to $54.47. “Oil is getting whacked again as risk-aversion again kicks in and fears of a trade war inflicted slowdown grip traders,” said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at OANDA.“WTI had enjoyed a decent rebound over the last week but failed at the first hurdle, running into resistance around the mid-July lows before plunging once again.”The price of Brent is still up 10% this year thanks to supply cuts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies such as Russia, a group known as OPEC+.In July, OPEC+ agreed to extend oil output cuts until March 2020 to prop up prices. A Saudi official on Aug. 8 indicated more steps may be coming, saying “Saudi Arabia is committed to do whatever it takes to keep the market balanced next year.”

Oil rises more than 1% as recession fears recede - Crude oil prices rose more than 1% on Friday following two days of declines, buoyed after data showing an increase in retail sales in the United States helped dampen concerns about a recession in the world’s biggest economy. Brent crude was up 68 cents, or 1.2%, at $58.91 a barrel at 0650 GMT, after falling 2.1% on Thursday and 3% the previous day. U.S. crude was up 63 cents, or 1.2%, at $55.10 a barrel, having dropped 1.4% the previous session and 3.3% on Wednesday. U.S. retail sales rose 0.7% in July as consumers bought a range of goods even as they cut back on motor vehicle purchases, according to data that came a day after a key part of the U.S. Treasury yield curve inverted for the first time since June 2007, prompting a sell-off in stocks and crude oil. An inverted Treasury yield curve is historically a reliable predictor of looming recessions.. “Overall, U.S. data continues to be a bright spot in a dark economic universe.” Gains are likely to be capped after a week of data releases including a surprise drop in industrial output growth in China to a more than 17-year low, along with a fall in exports that sent Germany’s economy into reverse in the second quarter. “The broader story around global economic growth has been a weak one, or a weakening one and expectations (are for) further weakening,” The price of Brent is still up nearly 10% this year thanks to supply cuts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies such as Russia, a group known as OPEC+. In July, OPEC+ agreed to extend oil output cuts until March 2020 to prop up prices. “At what point will further output cuts be needed at the back end of this year from OPEC and Russia to keep things going the way they are?” Zeibell said, pointing to the broader economic outlook. A Saudi official on Aug. 8 indicated more steps may be coming, saying: “Saudi Arabia is committed to do whatever it takes to keep the market balanced next year.” But the efforts of OPEC+ have been outweighed by worries about the global economy amid the U.S.-China trade dispute and uncertainty over Brexit, as well as rising U.S. stockpiles of crude and higher output of U.S. shale oil.

 U.S. oil futures tally gains for the session and week - Oil futures finished higher Friday, helping to contribute to a weekly gain for the commodity, as traders weighed weakening demand against supply uncertainties linked to the Middle East and OPEC production.  “Today’s rise reflected some reluctance to go home short over the weekend given the uncertainties in the Persian Gulf…,” said Marshall Steeves, energy markets analyst at IHS Markit. “Overall, the market is range bound with these supply uncertainties offset by weakening demand. So while there was a rise today and for the week, there remains a longer-term downtrend.”West Texas Intermediate crude for September delivery rose 40 cents, or 0.7%, to settle at $54.87 a barrel after trading as high as $55.67 during the session on the New York Mercantile Exchange. October Brent crude  added 41 cents, or 0.7%, to $58.64 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe.Front-month WTI futures scored a 0.7% weekly rise, while Brent edged up by 0.2% from the week-ago finish, according to Dow Jones Market Data.“Brent prices whipsawed this week on tariff news and recessionary concerns, and we expect that demand risks will dominate crude market sentiment in the near term,” said Jason Gammel, analyst at Jefferies, in a note.  In its monthly report released Friday, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries slightly lowered its forecast for world oil-demand growth in 2019 by 40,000 barrels a day to 1.1 million barrels. It left its 2020 forecast unchanged at 1.14 million barrels a day. OPEC also cut its outlook for non-OPEC supply growth in 2019 and 2020. “The wider picture is revealing that the economy will still struggle into 2020 and the confidence is weakening amongst many,” said Mihir Kapadia, chief executive officer of Sun Global Investments, in emailed comments. Production “curbing policies by OPEC will be needed to help balance the oil markets but with other factors such as the trade dispute still continuing, it will be a very difficult period for oil.”

OPEC sees bearish oil outlook for rest of 2019, points to 2020 surplus (Reuters) - OPEC delivered a downbeat oil market outlook for the rest of 2019 on Friday as economic growth slows and highlighted challenges in 2020 as rivals pump more, building a case to keep up an OPEC-led pact to curb supply. In a monthly report, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries cut its forecast for global oil demand growth in 2019 by 40,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 1.10 million bpd and indicated the market will be in slight surplus in 2020. The bearish outlook due to slowing economies amid the U.S.-China trade dispute and Brexit could press the case for OPEC and allies including Russia to maintain a policy of cutting output to support prices. Already, a Saudi official has hinted at further steps to support the market. “While the outlook for market fundamentals seems somewhat bearish for the rest of the year, given softening economic growth, ongoing global trade issues and slowing oil demand growth, it remains critical to closely monitor the supply/demand balance and assist market stability in the months ahead,” OPEC said in the report. It is rare for OPEC to give a bearish forward view on the market outlook and oil LCOc1 pared an earlier gain after it was released to trade below $59 a barrel. Despite the OPEC-led cut, oil has tumbled from April’s 2019 peak above $75 pressured by trade concerns and an economic slowdown. OPEC, Russia and other producers have since Jan. 1 implemented a deal to cut output by 1.2 million bpd. The alliance, known as OPEC+, in July renewed the pact until March 2020 to avoid a build-up of inventories that could hit prices. OPEC left its forecast for 2020 oil demand growth at 1.14 million bpd, up slightly from this year. But OPEC added that its forecast for 2020 economic growth faced downside risk.

Opec needs another 1 million bpd cut to boost oil prices - In the current gloomy market sentiment, OPEC would need to deepen the production cuts by 1 million barrels per day (bpd) if the cartel wants to move up the price of oil, Emma Richards, senior industry analyst at Fitch Solutions, told CNBC on Thursday.The oil market has recently become “incredibly sensitive to any kind of bearish indicator,” Richards said, adding that it doesn’t take a lot to see a big downward movement and it’s really difficult to get oil prices to move upwards.Oil prices plunged on Wednesday as new worrying signals about the global and U.S. economy flashed. Early on Thursday, both benchmarks continued the downward move, with WTI Crude down 1.21 percent at $54.56 at 10:15 a.m. EDT, and Brent Crude down 2.07 percent at $58.25.At the start of last week, the U.S.-China trade war and a looming currency war rattled oil markets, while two days later Saudi Arabia rushed to contain the price slide by saying that despite what it sees as healthy demand in all regions, it continues to keep its exports below the 7-million-bpd mark and will do so at least through September.Also last week, reports emerged that Saudi Arabia had approached other members of OPEC to discuss possible steps they can take to arrest a slide in oil prices that have brought them to the lowest in seven months. Asked whether the Saudis would really push for some kind of action, Richards told CNBC that it’s possible, and that at the moment, OPEC’s de facto leader is just trying to talk up the market.

Saudi Arabia And Russia Unlikely To Agree On New Oil Cuts --Arguably the collaboration between the world's two largest exporters of oil, Russia and Saudi Arabia, is a significant development caused by and comparable to the shale revolution in the U.S.  A decade ago, a partnership between Moscow and Riyadh would have seemed impossible due to contradicting interests. Recent developments have somewhat aligned the countries into what has been dubbed OPEC+.  However, this doesn't mean that Russian and Saudi exporters aren't competitors anymore. In fact, the oil behemoths are contending more than ever for market share in Asian markets such as China. Also, Moscow and Riyadh take into consideration the relative position of their competitor and partner during further talks on production cuts to bolster prices. One of the measures, which is indicative of the bargaining position of the participating country, is the size of the respective Central Bank’s wealth in terms of money, gold, and other securities. Russia's relative wealth has been increasing in recent years, while Saudi Arabia's has been decreasing. This development says two things: first, the state of the economy, and second, the respective country's choice of strategy and consequential bargaining position. The diverging wealth gap between Saudi Arabia and Russia is a consequence of internal and external developments leading to a build-up or spending of oil wealth. In Moscow's case, the Western sanctions of 2015 and the lower revenue from oil sales have caused severe economic damage. Russia was able to maintain relative economic stability due to its savings (see the above figure for the drop in relative wealth after 2015).   Although Russia is battered after several years of sanctions with a strong dependence on its energy sector, the Eurasian giant is still home to a sizeable diversified economy. Saudi Arabia's, in contrast, has a higher degree of dependence on oil production. Therefore, decreasing income from energy exports needs to be compensated by spending the country’s savings.Also, Saudi Arabia is engaged in a costly quagmire in Yemen where its forces are not able to defeat the Houthi rebels, which are supported by arch-enemy Iran. Furthermore, Saudi Crown Prince MBS has set the country on a path of diversification, which is partly funded with national resources.

Saudi Plans for Biggest-Ever IPO Are Back On – WSJ -- Saudi Arabia’s oil company is reviving plans for an initial public offering with the aim of accomplishing what would be the world’s biggest listing as soon as early next year, according to people familiar with the discussions.The IPO process for Saudi Arabian Oil Co., known as Saudi Aramco, is being accelerated as government officials hope to capitalize on the positive market reaction to the state-owned company’s debut bond sale in April, which raised $12 billion, people close to the talks said.Saudi officials also believe international outrage over the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul is easing, according to people familiar with the matter.The Saudi government needs the proceeds from the IPO to finance social and military spending, and to direct toward Neom, a futuristic city it is building at a cost of $500 billion. Higher public spending will boost Saudi Arabia’s budget deficit to 7% of gross domestic product in 2019, well above the government’s forecast of 4.2%, the International Monetary Fund said in May.In an unprecedented move, Aramco plans to host an earnings call to showcase its first-half results to the financial community. The business has been largely a closed book since Saudi Arabia nationalized the once-American-run company more than three decades ago. The call scheduled for Monday is seen as a staging for the company’s listing, which had been previously put offbut has been recently gaining support from government officials and the royal family.The financial results are expected to show that Aramco remains the world’s most profitable business, outstripping the likes of Apple Inc. and Exxon Mobil Corp. Still, the company may not be keeping pace with last year because of lower oil prices and reduced output, Aramco executives familiar with the matter said. Other oil giants have seen their earnings hit by falling energy prices.Before an Aramco IPO was all but shelved last year, it was meant to be the centerpiece of a Saudi plan—championed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman—to open up the economy and give investors access to the kingdom’s flagship company. Prince Mohammed had announced plans to list 5% of Aramco in 2018 at a valuation of roughly $2 trillion for the entire company. Even that small portion would constitute the world’s largest IPO at around $100 billion.

 Saudi Aramco tells investors it's ready to go public - Saudi Aramco’s CFO, in the company’s first-ever conference call, on Monday told investors that the company is ready to go public, but that the timing will be up to its owner, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. “Basically, the company is ready for the IPO. Now the timing of the IPO itself, this is a shareholder’s issue, and they will announce it depending on their perception of what would be the optimum market condition,” said Khalid al-Dabbagh, chief financial officer, reiterating the company’s previous stance. Sources have said that the Saudi government, encouraged by the success of Aramco’s $12 billion debt offering, would like to move its plans for the IPO forward, and issue stock in 2020. The offering is expected to be the largest new issue ever, and represent just a small portion of the company’s equity. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would like to see Aramco valued at $2 trillion, about $500 billion more than bankers are currently estimating, according to sources. The company faces tough markets, where oil prices are volatile and near the 2019 low. Brent crude futures were trading below $60 a barrel Monday, and are down 18% over the past year. At the same time, energy stocks have underperformed, with the S&P energy sector up just 1.7% year to date, making it the worst-performing sector and well behind the S&P 500′s 2019 gain of about 16%. “We, in Saudi Aramco, have delivered strong and unmatched financial results, despite lower oil prices and volatile market conditions. This is really a testament to our resilience,” said al-Dabbagh, noting the talks are in the early stages. Saudi Aramco earlier reported first-half net profit of $46.9 billion, down from $53 billion last year due to the impact of lower oil prices. Free cash flow rose 6.7% to $38 billion, and it is that cash flow that some sources believe could help Aramco propel its valuation to $2 trillion.

Saudi Aramco's first-half net income falls 12% on lower oil prices -- Saudi Aramco, the world’s top oil producer, reported first-half net income of $46.9 billion on Monday, down from $53.02 billion a year earlier. By comparison, Apple Inc, the world’s most profitable listed company, made $31.5 billion in the first six months of its financial year. Aramco said total revenues including other income related to sales were at $163.88 billion in the first half of this year, down from $167.68 billion a year earlier, on lower oil prices and reduced production. In its earnings report, Aramco partly attributed the decline in net income to a 4% fall in the average realized price of crude oil compared to the same period in 2018, from $69 to $66 per barrel. Aramco President and CEO Amin Nasser said the company had continued to deliver on its “downstream growth strategy” through acquisitions both domestically and in international markets. “These acquisitions are expected to enhance dedicated crude placement, increase refining and chemicals capacity, capture value from integration and diversify our operations,” Nasser said. India’s Reliance Industries announced Monday that it will sell a 20% stake in its oil and chemicals business to Saudi Aramco, in one of the largest ever foreign investments into India. Reliance Chairman Mukesh Ambani said the deal values the business at $75 billion including debt. The Aramco report also showed earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) came in at $92.5 billion for the period, compared to $101.3 billion for the first half of 2018. The company increased its dividend payments from $32 billion at the halfway point of last year to $46.4 billion, bolstered by a $20 billion special dividend paid earlier this year as a result of its “exceptionally strong financial performance” in 2018, the report highlighted.

Reliance to sell 20% stake in oil-to-chemicals arm to Saudi Aramco -(Reuters) - India’s Reliance Industries (RELI.NS) is set to sell a 20% stake in its oil to chemicals business to Saudi Aramco, helping the Indian conglomerate to cut debt and giving Aramco better access to a fast growing market. While terms of the deal are yet to be finalised, Reliance will get roughly $15 billion, including some debt adjustments for the 20% stake, P.M.S. Prasad, Executive Director of Reliance Industries said on Monday, adding the two companies aim to close the deal by March 2020.The deal will see Reliance buy up to 500,000 barrels a day of crude oil from Aramco, Prasad told media after the company’s annual general meeting (AGM), noting this would more than double the volumes that Reliance currently purchases from Aramco.The deal ties in with Aramco’s push to expand its refining and marketing footprint globally by signing new deals and boosting the capacity of its plants to secure new markets for its crude oil.Aramco is boosting its refining and petrochemicals business, particularly in Asia, and sees growth in chemicals as central to its downstream expansion strategy to reduce risk as oil demand slows.

Yemen Separatists Have Taken Effective Control of the Port City of Aden -- Separatists in southern Yemen have seized all government military camps and the presidential palace in the port city of Aden, according to security sources and witnesses, amid heavy fighting that has killed and wounded scores of people. A spokesman for the Security Belt, a militia aligned with the United Arab Emirates-backed Southern Transitional Council, told AFP news agency on Saturday that fighters from the group met no resistance when they seized the all-but empty presidential palace from forces loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi's government. The announcement came hours after a government official and local sources said the separatists had also wrested control of all government military camps in Aden, the city temporarily hosting Hadi's government, after clashes that killed dozens. "We took the Maashiq palace from presidential [guard] forces without a fight," a spokesman from the separatist-dominated Security Belt force told AFP. Witnesses confirmed the move to AFP and Reuters. The moves put the separatists in effective control of Aden, and Hadi's government accused the STC of staging a coup. "What is happening in the temporary [government] capital of Aden by the Southern Transitional Council is a coup against institutions of the internationally recognised government," the foreign ministry said in a Twitter post. As Aden clashes continue, Yemen's war becomes more complicated (2:32) Hadi, who was swept from power in 2014 when Houthi rebels overran Yemen's capital, Sanaa, is currently based in Saudi Arabia's capital, Riyadh. The combatants in Aden are nominal allies in the Saudi-led coalition that has been battling the Houthis in northern and western Yemen since March 2015, but they have rival agendas for the country's future.

Saudi-led coalition calls for immediate Aden ceasefire: Reports - The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen has called for an immediate ceasefire in Aden after southern separatists seized the presidential palace and other key sites in the city. "The coalition calls for an immediate ceasefire in the Yemeni temporary capital Aden starting from 1am on Sunday (22:00 GMT on Saturday), and asserts that it will use military force against anyone who violates it," Saudi Arabia's state news agency SPA quoted a spokesman as saying.The coalition also called on all military groups to immediately return to their positions and retreat from areas that have been seized over the past few days.Residents said there had been no clashes overnight after four consecutive days of fighting that the United Nations said has killed some 40 people and injured 260 others, including civilians. However, the coalition on Sunday said that it had targeted a "direct threat" to the Yemeni government.  "The coalition targeted an area that poses a direct threat to one of the important sites of the legitimate government," a coalition statement said, reiterating calls for fighters to withdraw from positions seized in Aden or face further attacks.

Yemen rebel drone attack targets remote Saudi oil field -- Drones launched by Yemen's Houthi rebels attacked a massive oil Opens a New Window. and gas field deep inside Saudi Arabia's sprawling desert on Saturday, causing what the kingdom described as a "limited fire" in the second such recent attack on its crucial energy Opens a New Window. industry. The attack on the Shaybah oil field, which produces some 1 million barrels of crude oil a day near the kingdom's border with the United Arab Emirates, again shows the reach of the Houthis' drone program. Shaybah sits some 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) from Houthi-controlled territory, underscoring the rebels' ability to now strike at both nations, which are mired in Yemen's yearslong war. The drone assault also comes amid heightened tensions in the wider Mideast between the U.S. and Iran, whose supreme leader hosted a top Houthi official days earlier in Tehran. State media in Saudi Arabia quoted Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih as saying production was not affected at the oil field and no one was wounded in the attack Saturday. The state-run Saudi Arabian Oil Co., known widely as Saudi Aramco, issued a terse statement acknowledging a "limited fire" at a liquid natural gas facility at Shaybah. ...

Is the Saudi-Led Coalition in Yemen Collapsing? – The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen intervened on Sunday in the port of Aden, where southern separatists had seized military bases and surrounded the vacant presidential palace. The coalition officially backs the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who resides in Saudi Arabia.The separatists have been part of the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthis but are also at odds with Hadi’s government. While a ceasefire has been called, the separatist forces—who have benefited from thesupport of the United Arab Emirates—have not retreated from the military camps they seized on Saturday. At least 40 people were killed during the fighting, which coincided with the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.A fractured coalition? The seizure of Aden has exposed cracks within the Saudi-led coalition, which has been battling the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen since 2015. The conflict between the UAE-backed southern separatists and government forces has been simmering for months. Moreover, the UAE began todraw down its troops in Yemen last month in an effort to aid talks with the Houthis. “It is becoming increasingly obvious that the UAE and Saudi Arabia do not share the same end goals in Yemen, even though they share the same overarching goal of pushing back the perceived influence of Iran,” the Yemen scholar Elisabeth Kendall told the Washington Post.  Saudi Arabia has called an emergency meeting on the developing situation in Aden, where the ceasefire remains fragile. Meanwhile, peace talks with the Houthis in the port city of Hodeidah are stalled. After the events in Aden, the Houthis’ deputy foreign minister said on Saturday that the seizure of Aden was further proof that Hadi’s government is not fit to lead.

Zarif: US arms sales make Gulf into 'tinderbox ready to blow up' - Iran's Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif has warned against an arms race in the Middle East, saying recent US weapons sales have turned the Gulf region into a "tinderbox ready to blow up". In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera on Monday, Zarif said more warships in the Gulf would only lead to more insecurity. "The US [sold] $50bn worth of weapons to the region last year. Some of the countries in the region with less than a third of our population spend $87bn on military procurement," Zarif told Al Jazeera in Qatar's capital, Doha. "Let's make a comparison; Iran spent last year $16bn on all its military with almost one million people in the army. The UAE with a total population of one million spent $22bn, Saudi Arabia spent $87bn," he continued. "If you are talking about threats coming from the region, the threats are coming from the US and its allies who are pouring weapons in the region, making it a tinderbox ready to blow up." Zarif's comments come after the United States announced it is working to form a military coalition to protect commercial shipping in the Gulf following suspected attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz. Tensions have soared in recent months around the strategic waterway, where about 20 percent of the world's oil passes through. The friction is rooted in US President Donald Trump's decision in May 2018 to unilaterally withdraw Washington from a landmark nuclear deal signed in 2015 between world powers and Iran. Since then, the US has reinstated sweeping sanctions against Tehran as part of a "maximum pressure" campaign and has also increased its military presence in the region. Tensions between the two nations escalated again in May, when Washington accused Iran of sabotaging tankers in the shipping route, allegations denied by Iran.

U.S. Sanctions Turn Iran’s Oil Industry Into Spy vs. Spy - NYT - They change offices every few months and store documents only in hard copy. They scan their businesses for covert listening devices and divert all office calls to their cellphones. They know they are under surveillance, and assume their electronics are hacked.  They are not spies or jewel thieves but Iran’s oil traders, and they are suddenly in the cross hairs of international intrigue and espionage.  “Sometimes I feel like I am an actor playing in a thriller spy movie,” said Meysam Sharafi, a veteran oil trader in Tehran.  Since President Trump imposed sanctions on Iranian oil sales last year, information on those sales has become a prized geopolitical weapon — coveted by Western intelligence agencies and top secret for Iran. And the business of selling Iranian oil, once a safe and lucrative enterprise for the well connected, has been transformed into a high-stakes global game of espionage and counterespionage.Last month, Iran said it had dismantled a spy ring and arrested 17 Iranians it said were working for the C.I.A. The Iranian government was vague on the target of the espionage, for which some of the suspects were sentenced to death, but it now appears that it involved clandestine efforts to gather intelligence on oil sales. President Trump denied that the suspects worked for the C.I.A., a highly unusual statement from a government that almost never confirms or denies such accusations. A spokesman for the C.I.A. declined to comment. But American officials acknowledged that Iran’s oil sector is of intense interest to the United States and its intelligence agencies. Whoever is doing the spying, there is little doubt that cloak-and-dagger tactics have buffeted the shrinking Iranian oil trade. Traders say they have been offered all kinds of enticements in exchange for information.

Iran says Britain might release oil tanker soon, Gibraltar says not yet -(Reuters) - The British territory of Gibraltar will not yet release an Iranian oil tanker seized by Royal Marines in the Mediterranean despite an Iranian report that it could do so on Tuesday, an official Gibraltar source said. The commandeering of the Grace 1 on July 4 exacerbated frictions between Tehran and the West and led to retaliatory moves in Gulf waterways used to ship oil. Britain accused the vessel of violating European sanctions by taking oil to Syria, a charge Tehran denies.

Gibraltar releases captured Iranian oil tanker, US makes immediate request to seize vessel - An Iranian oil tanker held in Gibraltar since early July has been officially released by local authorities, although it may not sail if a U.S. application to seize the vessel proves successful.On July 4, Gibraltar authorities with the help of the British Royal Marines, seized the Grace 1 oil tanker following suspicions it was delivering oil to the Syrian regime — a violation of European Union sanctions. Tehran claimed the tanker was not headed to Syria and that the seizure was unlawful.Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said in a statement Thursday that he had received written assurance from the Republic of Iran that, if released, Grace 1 would not sail to Syria.Picardo added that there was no longer any “reasonable grounds” to hold the ship as Iran had made “an important material change in the destination of the vessel and the beneficiary of its cargo.”  Earlier Thursday, the Gibraltar Chronicle reported that a judge had previously been due to lift the detention on the ship but an application by the U.S. Department of Justice to the Supreme Court of Gibraltar had delayed the release. In the statement, Picardo confirmed that the DOJ had asked for a new legal procedure to immediately detain the ship again. It is therefore not clear if the tanker will sail.

Iran tanker released in Gibraltar despite US bid to seize it - The decision announced by a judge in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar Thursday to release an Iranian oil tanker Grace 1, seized by the British Royal Marines on July 4, was taken despite a last-minute intervention by the US Justice Department. The US authorities used an email sent at 1:30 in the morning to communicate their demand that the ship be held so that Washington could file its own pseudo-legal case for taking control of it. Chief Justice Anthony Dudley of Gibraltar’s supreme court ruled Thursday afternoon that there were no legal grounds for continuing to hold the tanker, which had been seized on the pretext of enforcing unilateral sanctions imposed by the European Union—which Britain is deserting—against the shipment of oil to Syrian facilities controlled by the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The judge likewise dismissed the US demand, saying that no legal papers had been filed with the court. The Iranian government, following negotiations with British officials in London, issued a formal letter to the authorities in Gibraltar pledging that the Grace 1 would not deliver its load of 2.1 million barrels of crude oil, valued at $140 million, to any “entity” proscribed by the EU sanctions. Tehran indicated that the ship would sail to an unspecified destination in the Mediterranean. The EU anti-Syrian sanctions were merely a pretext for what amounted to an act of piracy by the British military. Spain’s Foreign Ministry and other diplomatic sources have revealed that the action was carried out at the behest of Washington as a means of ratcheting up tensions under conditions in which US provocations have placed a war in the Persian Gulf on a hair trigger.

How Tehran fits into Russia-China strategy - - Pepe Escobar -Complex doesn’t even begin to describe the positioning of Iran-Russia in the geopolitical chessboard. What’s clear in our current, volatile moment is that they’re partners, as I previously reported. Although not strategic partners, as in the Russia-China tie-up, Russia-China-Iran remain the crucial triad in the ongoing, multi-layered, long-term Eurasia integration process.A few days after our Asia Times report, an article – based on “senior sources close to the Iranian regime” and crammed with fear-mongering, baseless accusations of corruption and outright ignorance about key military issues – claimed that Russia would turn the Iranian ports of Bandar Abbas and Chabahar into forward military bases complete with submarines, Spetsnaz special forces and Su-57 fighter jets, thus applying a “stranglehold” to the Persian Gulf.For starters, “senior sources close to the Iranian regime” would never reveal such sensitive national-security details, much less to Anglo-American foreign media. In my own case, even though I have made several visits to Iran while consistently reporting on Iran for Asia Times, and even though authorities at myriad levels know where I’m coming from, I have not managed to get answers from Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps generals to 16 detailed questions I sent nearly a month ago. According to my interlocutors, these are deemed “too sensitive” and, yes, a matter of national security.Predictably, the report was fully debunked. One of my top Tehran sources, asked about its veracity, was blunt: “Absolutely not.” After all, Iran’s constitution decisively forbids foreign troops stationed on national soil. The Majlis – Iranian parliament – would never approve such a move barring an extreme case, as in the follow-up to a US military attack.As for Russia-Iran military cooperation, the upcoming joint military exercises in the “northern part of the Indian Ocean,” including the Strait of Hormuz, are a first-ever such occasion, made possible only by a special agreement.Analyst Gennady Nechaev is closer to reality when he notes that in the event of growing Russia-Iran cooperation, the possibility would be open for “permanent basing of the Russian Navy in one of the Iranian ports with the provision of an airfield nearby – the same type of arrangement as Tartus and Hmeimim on the Mediterranean coast of Syria.”  To get there, though, would be a long and winding road.

German government and Greens promote military mission in Persian Gulf - Following the official rejection of a US-led military mission in the Persian Gulf, the German government is actively pursuing its campaign for a European war mission in the region. “We want a European mission,” stressed Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) on Monday during a visit to Slubice in Poland. However, it would “take time to convince the EU of this.” Deputy government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer made similar remarks at a press conference. “In principle, the German government continues to consider the proposal of a maritime protection mission by European states as worthy of consideration, and we are also in exchange with our European partners,” she explained. There will be “further talks this week between … Germany and France” and there will also be “further talks on the subject in Brussels.” Demmer didn’t rule out a possible German participation in “a US-led mission” at some point in the future. “The chancellor [Angela Merkel] and the federal government do not see any participation in a US-led mission in the current situation or at the present time,” she explained. But things that are “directed far into the future” could not “be confirmed here” and she did not want to “speculate here on what else could be possible.” The statements by Demmer and Maas underline that Germany’s rejection of Washington’s request has nothing whatsoever to do with military restraint or even pacifism. Rather, against the background of growing transatlantic conflicts, German imperialism is preparing to assert its economic and geostrategic interests more militarily independent of Washington. The Greens play a particularly aggressive role here. “Germany must take responsibility and ensure that Europe acts as one and with its own voice in this tense situation,” demanded Robert Habeck, chairman of the Green Party, in an interview with the Passauer Neue Presse this weekend. He could imagine “Germany participating in a European mission if this would help to de-escalate. ... But in no case under American leadership.”

Iraq says Israeli role in Gulf flotilla unacceptable - Iraq has rejected any Israeli participation in a naval force to protect shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, at the heart of tensions with Iran. Iraq "rejects any participation of forces of the Zionist entity in any military force to secure passage of ships in the Arabian Gulf", Foreign Minister Mohammed Ali al-Hakim wrote on social media on Monday."Together, the Gulf states can secure the passage of ships," he said.He added that "Iraq will work to lower tensions in our region through calm negotiations", while "the presence of Western forces in the region would raise tensions".Tensions have escalated in past months, with drones downed and tankers mysteriously attacked in Gulf and nearby waters, where about 20 percent of the world's oil trade passes through. Washington and its Arab allies in the Gulf have accused Iran of carrying out the tanker attacks, allegations that Tehran denies.The United States has since sought to assemble an international coalition to guarantee freedom of navigation in the Gulf.Israel has made no official announcement on the operation, although Israeli media have reported a possible role for it.Tehran and Washington have been at loggerheads since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from a nuclear accord between Iran and world powers in May 2018, reimposing biting sanctions.If the coalition is formed, each country would provide a military escort for its commercial ships through the Gulf with the s upport of the US military, which would carry out aerial surveillance and command operations.

Iraq Accuses Pentagon Of Extremely Exaggerating Numbers Of ISIS Fighters -- The US Department of Defense Inspector General released a formal report last week which claimed ISIS retains between 14,000 and 18,000 members in Iraq and Syria, which Pentagon officials used to argue for a continuing US troops presence in Syria. They touted the report as "verification" that a US draw down in Syria had enabled a a resurgent ISIS.The Iraqi military, however, which partners with US forces, has rejected the report, calling it "extremely exaggerated".   “The figure announced by the Pentagon is extremely exaggerated,” the spokesman for the Joint Operations Command, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, said in a press statement, as quoted by Iraqi news agency Malouma and regional outlet Kurdistan24. The general added that Iraqi national forces are in their third and final phase of an operation meant to clean out final pockets of Islamic State sleeper cells.  Last Tuesday's Pentagon report presented to Congress asserted that ISIS terrorists are “growing again in power” in Syria and Iraq, and painted a general picture that to the extent American troops leave the region, the Islamic State will correspondingly reestablish itself.  It should be remembered that it's precisely the same argument Syria hawks have repeatedly used to stymie previous plans voiced by President Trump to "bring the troops home". Baghdad officials themselves have also increasingly seen little need for the unpopular US troops presence on Iraqi soil.  Like Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda in the post-9/11 years, the constantly inflated "ISIS threat" is the new bogeyman that keeps on giving: neocons and hawks will cling to it so long as in enables expanding American presence in the Middle East.

Iraq's burning problem: the strange fires destroying crops and livelihoods - Fires in Nineveh province have broken out on a scale that farmers here describe as unprecedented, turning tens of thousands of acres of wheat and barley fields into barren patches of black. Strong rains and a return to relative stability following Islamic State’s territorial defeat had promised to yield a bumper harvest, even raising hopes that Iraqcould wean itself off its dependence on crop imports.  Iraq’s prime minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, said that, despite the fires, Iraq had so far produced a record quantity of wheat, adding that only a negligible amount of crops had been destroyed. But testimonies from the ground and data obtained from local officials suggest that the impact of the fires is greater than the government admits. Duraid Hikmat, Nineveh’s director of agriculture, says his province alone had recorded 30,350 hectares (75,000 acres) of scorched crops as of 25 June, four times the figure given by the prime minister for the entire country.  While the impact of the fires is plain to see, the causes remain shrouded in mystery. The prime minister attributed the fires largely to accidents, such as sparks from harvesting machines. “Most of the fires were for natural reasons,” Abdul-Mahdi told reporters at a press conference in Baghdad on 16 July. “The percentage of fires [caused] by criminal activities or terrorism is around 30%.” This narrative is hard to accept for farmers, who say they have never before seen fires on such a scale.  The fires have particularly affected Sunni and Yazidi communities that have struggled to recover from years of war and displacement. Near Hawija, one of the last towns to be freed from Isis – and a place where militants retain a presence – farmers braved the threat of guerrilla-style attacks, only to see their harvest go up in flames. In Sinjar, the fires have torched the livelihoods of Yazidis who had begun to return after Isis drove them from their ancestral land in 2014.“There’s economic warfare between countries so as to force Iraq to import,” says Hikmat. Unverified, shaky videos purportedly showing Iranian-backed armed groups setting fields ablaze have circulated on social media, fuelling conspiracy theories among Sunnis that Shia Iran wants to hamper Iraq’s progress towards self-sufficiency.

Turkey to annex northern Syria with US blessing - The United States military, desperate to avoid an open confrontation between its NATO ally and Kurdish clients, has capitulated in a game of chicken with Ankara, agreeing to an occupation zone across northern Syria.  The announced agreement comes just weeks after US lawmakers threatened Turkey with sanctions over its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system. By threatening an imminent attack on the Kurdish YPG militia – America’s ally against ISIS – Ankara appears to have obtained a green light for a US-shepherded seizure of Syrian territory.  The so-called “peace corridor” is expected to span the entire region east of the Euphrates River, stretching 460 kilometers, according to Turkey’s state news agency Anadolu. It will also go 32 kilometers deep into Syrian territory, putting Kurdish-held towns like Kobane – seized from ISIS in 2015 – under Turkish authority. A statement by the US Embassy in Turkey said the agreement included the establishment of a “joint operations center in Turkey” in order to set up the zone, though it did not offer details on the size of the area or how the Pentagon plans to deal with its Kurdish allies of the past six years. “The safe zone shall become a peace corridor, and every effort shall be made so that displaced Syrians can return to their country,” the embassy said.The statement suggests that the area will become a dumping ground for Syrian refugees, who are currently facing an unprecedented crackdown in Turkey, including forced deportations. The Syrian Foreign Ministry called the US-Turkish accord “blatant aggression against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic and a flagrant violation of the principles of international law and the UN Charter.” There was no indication, however, that Damascus was prepared to send troops into the fray.

Israel bans entry to two Muslim US congresswomen over their criticism -Israel's government decided to bar two Democratic congresswomen from entering the country on Thursday, in an unprecedented move that is likely to reverberate through the halls of the US Congress.Rashida Tlaib, who is of Palestinian origin and has family in the West Bank, and Ilhan Omar were expected to arrive at the weekend for a visit to Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories. The left-leaning Muslim congresswomen are outspoken critics of Israel's policy toward the Palestinians and support the so-called BDS movement, which advocates boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel. They are also sharp critics of US President Donald Trump, a close ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu."As a vibrant and free democracy, Israel is open to any critic and criticism, with one exception," Netanyahu said in a statement. "Israel's law prohibits the entry of people who call and act to boycott Israel, as is the case with other democracies that prevent the entry of people whom they see as harming the country."

Distorting the Definition of Antisemitism to Shield Israel from All Criticism - There is a growing tendency among both Jews and non-Jews to label those with whom they have profound political differences, especially on the subject of Israel-Palestine, as antisemitic. The accusation is a severe one: in most countries in the West, antisemitism is considered a taboo, and the identification of a person or organization with antisemitism often renders them illegitimate in the public arena.Two major techniques facilitate such allegations. The first relates one’s claim very illusively to some antisemitic imagery. The fact that 2,000 years of hostility and hatred toward Jews have created a storehouse of anti-Jewish imagery so rich – and at times contradictory – means that nearly any claim can be linked to at least one of those images.Through manipulation of these images, along with a little imagination, one could identify any form of criticism as antisemitic. This kind of logic is deployed by supporters of Israel’s occupation and nationalistic government in order to delegitimize anyone who dares criticize Israeli policies. The second technique draws on the definition of antisemitism formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Founded in 1998 (under a different name), the IHRA is a political body with considerable political power, uniting government representatives and Holocaust scholars from 33 countries, nearly all of them in the West. The IHRA agreed on a definition of antisemitism in 2016, along with a list of examples, based on previous definitions. It has since become a kind of “soft law” that is binding in many institutions and even states across the world. The problem is that the IHRA definition deals obsessively — more than with any other topic — with the degree of antisemitism in criticism of Israel, making it far more difficult to identify real instances of antisemitism, while casting a cloud of suspicion over nearly all criticism of Israel. Meanwhile, the burden of proof lies with critics of Israel, who are constantly asked to prove that they are not anti-Semites.

China Car Market Resumes Historic Slump With No Respite in Sight ---Chinese auto sales returned to a downward trajectory last month after a brief uptick, showing the market’s historic rut is far from over. Retail sales of sedans, sport utility vehicles, minivans and multipurpose vehicles in July fell 5.3% from a year earlier to 1.51 million units, according to the China Passenger Car Association. That’s the 13th decline in the past 14 months. The figures show that the increase seen in June was just a blip caused by dealers offering heavy discounts to clear inventory. Rising trade tensions, a slowing economy and stricter emission rules have left carmakers and dealerships mired in the market’s most prolonged slump in a generation. Researcher LMC Automotive is estimating a second straight annual drop for the world’s biggest car market. The unprecedented slide has hit local companies particularly hard, with Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. and BYD Co. among those reporting sales declines. However, European luxury manufacturers BMW AG and Daimler AG as well as Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. have continued to boost sales this year. Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co.’s premium brands have been bright spots. For decades, carmakers have relied on China for growth, pouring billions of dollars in the country for new plants and dealership networks. Now the slump risks weighing on some future investment decision of both Chinese and global carmakers. BMW’s joint venture to make electric Minis in China is facing some uncertainties, according to Chinese partner Great Wall Motor Co., potentially clouding the luxury-car maker’s plans. Dongfeng Motor Corp. is exploring options for its $2.5 billion stake in Peugeot owner PSA Group including a potential divestment, people with knowledge of the matter have said. Suzuki Motor Corp. pulled out of China last year. Still, the industry sales numbers may begin to show improvement as year-earlier comparisons become easier. In August, the PCA expects the market to be little changed, helped by new models, Secretary General Cui Dongshu told reporters in Beijing.

China's economy worsens in July, industrial growth at 17-year low as trade war escalates (Reuters) - China’s economy stumbled more sharply than expected in July, with industrial output growth cooling to a more than 17-year low, as the intensifying U.S. trade war took a heavier toll on businesses and consumers. Activity in China has continued to cool despite a flurry of growth steps over the past year, raising questions over whether more rapid and forceful stimulus may be needed, even if it risks racking up more debt. After a flicker of improvement in June, analysts said the latest data was evidence that demand faltered across the board last month, from industrial output and investment to retail sales. That followed weaker-than-expected bank lending and gloomy factory surveys in recent days, along with the return of producer price deflation, reinforcing expectations more policy support is needed soon. “China’s economy needs more stimulus because the headwinds are pretty strong and today’s data is much weaker than consensus,” said Larry Hu, head of Greater China economics at Macquarie Group in Hong Kong. “The economy is going to continue to slow down. At a certain point, policymakers will have to step up stimulus to support infrastructure and property. I think it could happen by the end of this year.” Industrial output growth slowed markedly to 4.8% in July from a year earlier, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed, lower than the most bearish forecast in a Reuters poll and the weakest pace since February 2002.

China Factory Output Weakest In 17 Years, Everything Missed -  With currency turmoil and social unrest, China's economic assault tonight was supposed be the great equalizer - confirming that a few trillion here or there and everything looks awesome and happy, and not a tiny bit angry (and that the Americans are not to blame for everything).  Ahead of today's data, broadly speaking, macro data globally has been weak, but in China, recent credit growth numbers slumped and steel production slowed, suggesting graver concerns. And so here it is...

  • China Industrial Production BIG MISS +4.8% (+6.0% exp, +6.3% prior)
  • China Retail Sales BIG MISS +7.6% (+8.6% exp, +9.8% prior)
  • China Fixed Asset Investment MISS +5.7% (+5.8% exp, +5.8% prior)
  • China Property Investment MISS +10.6% (+10.9% prior)
  • China Surveyed Jobless Rate MISS +5.3% (+6.0% exp, +6.3% prior)

Now all that is left is to figure out if bad news is good news, or not.. It might seem that President Trump is 'winning' this race for now.  Some notables include:

  • Car sales weighed on retail
  • Jobless rise is significant
  • And Factory Output slowed to its weakest since 2002.

Hong Kong Cancels All Remaining Monday Flights as Protesters Swarm Airport - Hong Kong airport authorities canceled remaining flights on Monday after protesters swarmed the main terminal building for a fourth day, the biggest disruption yet to the city’s economy since demonstrations began in early June.Thousands of black-clad protesters on Monday packed the arrival area, where they had gathered for a three-day sit-in that was originally planned to end last night. The protests, initially sparked by opposition to a bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China, have become increasingly violent in recent weeks, with demonstrators targeting public transportation in a bid to pressure the government.It was unclear how many flights were impacted, according to Doris Lai, a spokesperson for the Hong Kong Airport Authority. The airport said in an earlier statement that it was aiming to restore operations as soon as possible after canceling all flights for the rest of the day, except those already in the air. Shares of Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., Hong Kong’s main airline, tumbled to a 10-year low after the news. The government planned a press briefing for 5:15 p.m. local time. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index came off its session high and contracts for all three main U.S. equity indexes erased earlier gains. China stepped up its rhetoric on Monday, saying protesters have committed serious crimes and showed signs of “terrorism.” Hong Kong has come to a “critical juncture” and all people who care about its future should say no to violence, Yang Guang, a spokesman for its Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, told reporters on Monday as protesters gathered at the airport.“All those who care about Hong Kong’s future should come out and stand against all criminal acts and perpetrators of violence,” Yang told reporters.

New phase as protesters and police clash across Hong Kong in guerilla-style battles - Months of social unrest in Hong Kong moved into a new phase on Saturday, with both anti-government protesters and police using fresh strategies. Police again used tear gas, and petrol bombs were thrown by demonstrators, who once more had gathered illegally across the city in defiance of protest bans by the authorities. But the scale and intensity of the clashes appeared to have lessened, and there was also a change in how the two sides engaged. It came after a week when Beijing and the Hong Kong government stepped up support for the city’s embattled police force while officers clamped down on those deemed sympathetic to protesters. Hong Kong’s biggest carrier, Cathay Pacific Airways, on Saturday fired two airport employees for leaking police officers’ passenger information to protesters and removed a pilot from flying duties after he was charged with rioting.The airline took the action in response to unprecedented measures imposed by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) that barred aircrew who joined or supported illegal protests from operating flights going through Chinese airspace. Meanwhile, former deputy police commissioner Alan Lau Yip-shing, a battle-hardened veteran who oversaw operations during the 2014 Occupy protests and the 2016 Mong Kok riot, was brought back to tackle the escalating protest violence. On the other side, the protest movement – widely described as leaderless and decentralised – has become more fragmented and unscripted, with the numbers dwindling at battlegrounds mostly scattered across the city’s north. Their demands – stemming from protests against Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s now-shelved extradition bill that would allow criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China – have also evolved. The “five demands” in relation to the bill and the wave of protests it triggered are now seldom heard. Instead, from Tai Po to Tsim Sha Tsui, the rallying cry was “Liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our times”.

Hong Kong protests cripple airport for second day - Hong Kong International Airport saw chaotic scenes on a second consecutive day of massive anti-government protests that have paralysed one of Asia's key transport hubs.Squads of riot police arrived shortly before midnight after thousands of demonstrators again flooded the terminal buildings during the day.Flight departures were brought to a standstill amid scuffles.At least three men were mobbed inside the airport by protesters.They were said to be holding identity cards showing they were police officers from mainland China.Hong Kong police have admitted deploying officers disguised as anti-government protesters during the unrest in the city.But the editor of China's Global Times newspaper said one of those attacked was one of his reporters who was merely doing his job. The airport, one of the world's busiest, has been the site of daily protests since Friday. It has become the latest focus of mass political unrest in Hong Kong that began 10 weeks ago and shows no signs of abating.The wider anti-government protests started in June in response to a proposed extradition bill, which has now been suspended, but have evolved into a more demanding pro-democracy movement. They are being fuelled by fears that the freedoms Hong Kong enjoys as a special administrative region of China are being eroded. The city's leader, Carrie Lam, earlier issued a fresh warning to protesters. Ms Lam said Hong Kong had "reached [a] dangerous situation" and that violence during protests would push it "down a path of no return". Meanwhile, Chinese state media have published images of convoys of military police gathering in the border city of Shenzhen, says the BBC's Stephen McDonell, who is in Hong Kong. The official Xinhua news agency said "mobsters" had created "an atmosphere of terror" on Hong Kong's streets.

Hong Kong protests have reached a point of no return - It was a scene none of us who have called Hong Kong home could have ever imagined:thousands of pro-democracy protesters occupying the arrivals level of Hong Kong International Airport, causing a shutdown of the facility Monday afternoon for all incoming and outgoing flights. The airport blockade capped one of the bloodiest weekends in modern Hong Kong history which saw police indiscriminately firing tear gas and rubber bullets in the confined spaces of the city's mass-transit railway stations. It's becoming a very ugly scene in one of the world's premier business and financial centers, with Beijing edging closer to intervening. According to reports, at least nine civilians were injured in the protests. Disgusted by the uptick in police violence, thousands of Hong Kong residents traveled to the island airport to make their voices heard. On Tuesday, the conflict escalated as riot police deployed to the airport clashed with the demonstrators. Protesters tried to block police vehicles and paramedics struggled to gain access to the scene. Officers, including the special tactical squad, remain stationed outside the airport and the EU has urged restraint from "all sides." Livestream video from the airport showed protesters detaining and questioning a man suspected of being an undercover police officer -- a scene which will certainly rattle officials. The situation in Hong Kong is quickly spiraling out of control and the local administration appears increasingly unable to manage a crisis that is entirely of its own making. It started several months ago when Chief Executive Carrie Lam introduced a controversial extradition bill, which has since been suspended but not entirely withdrawn. The bill could see Hong Kong residents sent to China's notoriously politicized judicial system. Rather than defuse the situation with an offer of widespread public consultations on the bill and conciliatory language, Lam and her cronies have adopted a bunker mentality, communicating byintermittent press conferences and leaving the police to deal with the protesters and daily public messaging. A chaotic press conference on Tuesday, with Lam appearing frail but still resolute, failed in what could have been a last-ditch effort to convince protesters to go home.

Global Times Shows Dramatic Video Of Chinese Army Preparing For Hong Kong Invasion --The Hong Kong/China feud is going from bad to worse on Monday, when as reported earlier, the Hong Kong airport authority advised all passengers to leave the terminal buildings as soon as possible in an unprecedented disruption after thousands of anti-government protesters occupied the airport terminal building.The scene at Hong Kong’s airport, where thousands of protesters have flooded the terminal. The airport took the rare step of canceling all flights and shutting down. pic.twitter.com/BV559oF5NU— Javier C. Hernández (@HernandezJavier) August 12, 2019 However, what confirmed that as Beijing has been warning for the past week, Hong Kong's insubordination will no longer be tolerated by Beijing, was a video - complete with dramatic World War III style music - published by the state-owned tabloid Global Times, which showed "The People's Armed Police have been assembling in Shenzhen, a city bordering Hong Kong, in advance of apparent large-scale exercises." Global Times' prolific - and trolling - Editor in Chief, Hu Xijin naturally chimed in on twitter, pointing out that Hong Kong Airport canceled all remaining flights Mon afternoon due to illegal assembly and noting that while the "Central government still exercises restraints, and respects HK's high-degree of autonomy under one country, two systems. But I have an intuition riots won't be allowed to keep on like this."

Satellite photos show Chinese armoured vehicles on border of Hong Kong - Satellite photos show what appear to be armoured personnel carriers and other vehicles belonging to the China’s paramilitary People’s Armed police parked in a sports stadium in the city of Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, which some have interpreted as Beijing threatening increased force against pro-democracy protesters. The pictures collected on Monday by Maxar’s WorldView show more than 100 vehicles sitting on and around the soccer stadium at the Shenzhen Bay sports centre just across the harbour from the Asian financial hub that has been rocked by more than two months of near-daily street demonstrations. A US state department spokesperson said on Wednesday: “The United States is deeply concerned by reports of Chinese paramilitary movement along the Hong Kong border. The United States strongly urges Beijing to adhere to its commitments … to allow Hong Kong to exercise a high degree of autonomy.” Flights at Hong Kong’s airport, one of the world’s busiest, were disrupted on Monday and Tuesday by a mass demonstration and occasional violence inside its terminal. Chinese state media have said only that the Shenzhen exercises had been planned beforehand and were not directly related to the unrest in Hong Kong, although they came shortly after the central government in Beijing said the protests were beginning to show “sprouts of terrorism”. The US president, Donald Trump, tweeted that US intelligence believed that the Chinese government has moved troops to its border with Hong Kong, and that: “Everyone should be calm and safe!”

Chinese intervention in Hong Kong would be a ‘catastrophe’, Patten says (Reuters) - Hong Kong’s last British governor Chris Patten on Tuesday cautioned that if China intervened in Hong Kong it would be a catastrophe and that Chinese President Xi Jinping should see the wisdom of trying to bring people together. Patten said it was counter productive of the Chinese to warn of “other methods” if the protests did not stop. “That would be a catastrophe for China and of course for Hong Kong,” Patten told BBC radio. “Since President Xi has been in office, there’s been a crackdown on dissent and dissidents everywhere, the party has been in control of everything.” Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with a guarantee that under a ‘one country, two systems’ mode of governance, the city would retain a high degree of autonomy, an independent judiciary and freedoms not allowed in mainland China. Demonstrations have plunged the Chinese-ruled territory into its most serious crisis in decades, presenting Chinese leader Xi with one of his biggest challenges since he came to power in 2012.

 North Korea snubs peace talks with South Korea over war drills - North Korea has rejected any further talks with South Korea, calling its decision "completely the fault of South Korea's actions". It issued a statement in response to a speech by South Korea President Moon Jae-in on Thursday.Meanwhile, early on Friday North Korea test-fired two missiles into the sea off its eastern coast, the South Korean military said. It is the sixth such test in less than a month. The two "unidentified projectiles" were fired about 08:00 (23:00 GMT Thursday) and travelled 230km (140 miles) reaching an altitude of 30km (18 miles), South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said. Six days ago, North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan/East Sea. ? The series of tests comes after US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed during a meeting in June to restart denuclearisation negotiations.North Korea has faced international sanctions for its development of nuclear weapons.

Bond yields are tumbling throughout Asia Pacific - Yields for 10-year government bonds in major Asian markets have been dropping sharply as recession fears send investors pouring into the assets. Bond prices move opposite yields, and as investors rush to buy them, prices surge and yields fall in tandem. Here’s a look at how each market’s 10-year government bond yield has fallen by Thursday morning, versus a week ago and the beginning of the month. In Japan, the 10-year yield dropped below the Bank of Japan’s preferred range for the first time last week — falling past -0.2%. Previously, the central bank has fixed the yield on the 10-year bond at around zero, which it pegged at a range of between 0.2% and -0.2%. Recession fears have roiled markets. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note broke below the 2-year rate early Wednesday. That so-called yield curve is a bond market phenomenon that’s been a reliable, albeit early, indicator for economic recessions. The yield on the U.S. 30-year bond also fell to a new low. While lower-yielding markets, such as Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore, and mid-yielding markets such as Malaysia and China, have seen rates drifting lower, one analyst told CNBC that investors are staying away from riskier markets — the high-yielding Asia bond markets such as India and Indonesia. That’s causing the yields of those bonds to go up, said Julio Callegari, a fixed income portfolio manager at J.P. Morgan Asset Management. “The main reason is that these bond markets are more sensitive to risk aversion — that usually causes depreciation in their currencies and pressure on the yield curve,” he said in an email. “Overall we expect this trend to continue for a while, since broadly speaking economic growth is still slowing in the region and central banks are likely to keep easing monetary policy.”

 Congress Fails to Shake off the Gandhis, Appoints Sonia as New Interim President  - After a day long deliberation, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) threw in a surprise and announced Sonia Gandhi as the interim president of the party. Just a few minutes before this decision was announced, Rahul Gandhi said late on Saturday that the process of choosing the new party chief was interrupted by “disturbing reports of violence coming in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh”. Sonia Gandhi’s selection also comes as a surprise because Rahul Gandhi has previously maintained that the new president will not be from his family.Sonia Gandhi’s selection puts to rest speculations that were flying around over the past few days. There appeared to be a tussle between the party’s senior leaders and young Turks regarding who would be the next president. Announcing the decision, Ghulam Nabi Azad said that the CWC has finalised Sonia Gandhi’s name as the interim president. Gandhi’s selection means that in the face of internal differences, the CWC had to quell the dissonance by eventually relying on a leader from the Gandhi family.Even in the past, the Congress has invariably relied on someone from the Gandhi family to quell dissent within the party ranks. An ailing Sonia Gandhi, who had more or less pulled out from the day-to-day affairs of the party, has come to the party’s rescue again.That she will be the interim president means that the party will have to select or elect a full time president in the days to come. Senior leaders like Selja Kumari, a Dalit leader from Haryana who was also said to be in the presidential race, said that the party will follow its constitution in the days to come.Sonia Gandhi led the party to two successive wins during her tenure as the party president. The CWC hopes that Sonia Gandhi will reignite the party as much as it has relied on her to quell the internal turmoil.Under Sonia Gandhi’s leadership, the Congress made important political alliances and encouraged new state-level leaderships, aspects which were absent during Rahul Gandhi’s tenure.

India's passenger vehicle sales drop at steepest pace in nearly two decades (Reuters) - India’s domestic passenger vehicle sales in July dived at the steepest pace in nearly two decades, an auto industry body said on Tuesday, as a financing crunch deepened a crisis in the country’s autos sector and triggered large-scale job losses. Sales of passenger vehicles to car dealers plunged 30.9% to 200,790 in July, the ninth straight month of declines, data released by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) showed. The drop in sales is the worst since December 2000, when the industry sold a fifth of the vehicles it sells currently. The crisis in the autos sector presents a major problem for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, just as he begins his second term in office, as the sector accounts for nearly half of India’s manufacturing output. The auto industry employs over 35 million people directly and indirectly. “If this industry goes down, then everything gets hurt. Manufacturing, jobs and revenue to the government,” Vishnu Mathur, director general, SIAM, told reporters on Tuesday, adding that car and motorcycle manufacturers have already slashed about 15,000 jobs. The pace of decline has accelerated in recent months, as a liquidity crunch in India’s shadow banking sector has dried up lines of credit to both auto dealers and potential car buyers. Reuters reported last week that companies in the sector - which includes manufacturers, auto parts makers and dealerships - have so far cut as many as 350,000 jobs. The Indian unit of German auto parts maker Bosch Ltd told Indian exchanges on Tuesday it would restructure its operations and adjust workforce in the light of a sector slowdown.

Zomato hits another controversy: Hindu, Muslim delivery boys to strike against delivering beef, pork -Within days of Zomato trending on social platforms for standing by food as a religion, a fresh controversy has hit the food delivery app and this time within the company itself.Zomato delivery boys will go on a strike from Monday protesting that the food being delivered by them is hurting their religious sentiments.Delivery boys have refused to deliver beef or pork during the festive celebrations of Bakrid or Eid al-Adha to be celebrated this week on Monday.Two of their demands are that the Zomato should revise the pay order and the company also must stop playing with the religious sentiment of their employees.Hence, both Hindu and Muslim food delivery boys have decided to go on strike from Monday and refused to deliver the food that is beyond their religious acceptable guidelines.The employees have, allegedly, informed their higher authorities but there is no response from them as of now.

Why Revoking Special Status Is the Final Betrayal of Kashmir  --India is split over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to abolish Article 370 by a presidential order. The saffron fold is rejoicing: This government – their government – has had the guts to do what the Congress and its secularists could not. The Kashmir problem is over. There will be a period of unrest, but when it is over, this canker, this anomaly from the past, will have been removed. The building of the modern Indian nation will be complete. They could not be more wrong. Modi made a huge blunder in November 2016 when he demonetised nine-tenths of the country’s currency in circulation at one stroke, paralysing the Indian economy for months. This did lasting damage to farmers and the rural poor, from which they have not recovered. But he got away with it. It may be the sense of absolute invulnerability that the recent election has given him that has led him into an even greater blunder now. But this time, he may not get away with it because his action is almost certain to set off repercussions, some of them outside the country, that he will not be able to control.  The first is the reaction of the already deeply alienated Kashmiri youth. Modi correctly anticipated that abolishing Article 370 would make them erupt in even greater paroxysms of anger, than did the death of Burhan Wani in 2016. To preempt this, he moved 75,000 additional troops of the Central armed police into the valley, abruptly cut off the Amarnath yatra, closed all schools and colleges, shut down the internet, blocked mobile telephony and landlines. It was not just ‘separatist’ leaders who were put under house arrest but also, for the first time in Kashmir’s history, leaders of mainstream parties who have never questioned Kashmir’s accession to India. But what he and home minister Amit Shah seem not to care about is the monstrous sense of betrayal that has swept the rest of the Kashmiri people – that 80-90% of the population who have never wanted a complete separation from India, and to whom azadi has always meant full political autonomy but without the severance of Kashmir’s connection with the rest of India. This is the vast majority that the government has betrayed. It has done so because of blind adherence to an ideology that, like all others that the world has had to endure, shows no respect for history, and steamrolls facts that do not serve its purpose into the ground. This is the ideology of ‘Hindutva’.

Curbs eased in Srinagar, people throng streets to buy essentials - Authorities in the Kashmir Valley, where a lockdown entered its sixth day on Saturday, said they had eased curbs on the movement of residents in Srinagar.“Restrictions have been eased in most parts of #Srinagar,” Srinagar district magistrate Shahid Choudhary posted on Twitter. “More than 250 ATMs have been made functional in #Srinagar. Bank branches also open. Advance salary on Eid eve being credited today,” he tweeted.With the administration relaxing the restrictions, hundreds of men and women were seen thronging the streets to buy meat and other essential items for the festival. The markets, however, remained shut.But for the police personnel of Jammu and Kashmir, who have been at the forefront of the lockdown in the Valley, there was little respite as they continued to face angry and cold stares from residents.With communication lines down and the Internet blocked, any kind of news, information or rumour was being passed around by word of mouth. For the past week, the Valley was abuzz with murmurs that arms had been taken away from J&K police personnel and that the Central forces had taken over police stations.

India’s Sudden Kashmir Move Could Backfire Badly  --India has made a series of drastic, and in some cases unprecedented, moves in the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir, which is administered by New Delhi but claimed by Pakistan.  On Aug. 2, the state government of Jammu and Kashmir issued an extraordinary order. Citing terrorist threats, it ordered tourists and pilgrims to evacuate, and it shuttered schools. This came several days after New Delhi deployed thousands of new troops to the region. Then, on Aug. 4, officials in Kashmir cut off internet access and placed several prominent leaders under house arrest. That was wildly disproportionate to any given threat of attack, especially in a region that’s faced terrorism before. Clearly, something bigger was at play. New Delhi was taking steps to head off potential unrest in a region with sizable levels of support for independence. Polls have found that as many as two thirds of the residents of the Kashmir valley want regional independence, though surveys find that support for independence tends to be weaker in Jammu. The last time the government took such dramatic measures was in 2016, when Indian security forces killed Burhan Wani, a charismatic young militant revered by Kashmiris as a freedom fighter, and implemented a regionwide crackdown. Sure enough, on Aug. 5, India announced that it plans to revoke Article 370, a constitutional clause dating back to 1949 that gives Jammu and Kashmir its special autonomous status. The scale of this move cannot be overstated. Abrogating Article 370 represents a major tipping point for an already fraught dispute—and it could easily backfire on India.  Article 370 enables Kashmir to craft and implement policies independently, with the exception of key spheres such as foreign affairs and defense.  For many Kashmiris, Article 370 had more symbolic than practical meaning, given that the long-standing and repressive presence of Indian security forces had undercut the notion of autonomy. Many Kashmiris face daily restrictions on their freedom of expression and movement, along with the constant risk of rough treatment from security personnel. Still, for many Kashmiri Muslims, the dominant group in Jammu and Kashmir and the victims of what they regard as an Indian occupation, the revocation of Article 370 is a nightmare scenario, because it brings them closer to an Indian state that they despise. Most of them want to be free of Indian rule. Instead, they will be formally living under it—and confronted with the repression left in place, which could well be amplified in reaction to the unrest that will eventually follow. There is also the risk of further social turmoil once those outside Kashmir, following the repeal of Article 370, are allowed to acquire land. For many Kashmiri Muslims, the fear is that this influx of Indians will eventually change the demographics of the Muslim-majority region and exacerbate communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims.

Narendra Modi’s new-model India  - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi likes to practice what American generals call “shock and awe.” The last time Modi stunned the country – and was initially applauded for his decisiveness and bold vision – was when he announced, on a few hours’ notice, the demonetization of 96% (in value) of India’s currency. The Indian economy is still dealing with the consequences.On August 5, Modi shocked India with another announcement that may turn out to be the political equivalent of the demonetization debacle. After seven decades in which both the people of Jammu and Kashmir – India’s only Muslim-majority state – and the international community had been assured that the state would maintain its special status under the Indian constitution, the government unilaterally divided it.Modi’s administration has carved out a union territory in the high plateaux and hills of Ladakh in the eastern half of the state, and reduced the status of the remainder – still named Jammu and Kashmir – from that of a state to a union territory. (A union territory is directly administered by the federal government, though it may have an elected legislature and cabinet, with limited powers.) Many in India worry that, as with demonetization, the short- and medium-term damage caused by Modi’s decision will greatly outweigh the theoretical long-term benefits. First and foremost is the breathtaking betrayal of Indian democracy: The government has changed the constitutional relationship of the people of J&K to the Republic of India without consulting them or their elected representatives.

Pakistan PM Imran Khan compares RSS to Nazis, claims genocide is likely in Kashmir  - Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday lashed out at the Narendra Modi-led government and compared the ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to that of the Nazis.  “I am afraid this RSS ideology of Hindu Supremacy, like the Nazi Aryan Supremacy, will not stop in IOK [Indian-occupied Kashmir]; instead it will lead to suppression of Muslims in India & eventually lead to targeting of Pakistan,” he tweeted. “The Hindu Supremacists version of Hitler’s Lebensraum.” “The curfew, crackdown & impending genocide of Kashmiris in IOK is unfolding exactly acc to RSS ideology inspired by Nazi ideology,” Khan added. “Attempt is to change demography of Kashmir through ethnic cleansing. Question is: Will the world watch & appease as they did Hitler at Munich?” Khan’s outburst came nearly a week after the Indian government scrapped the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution of India. The state, which has since been converted into a Union Territory, has been under lockdown since August 4. Pakistan said on Sunday that it will move a motion at the United Nations Security Council with China’s support to condemn India for revoking Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy and bifurcating it. “I shared with China that we intend on taking this matter to the UNSC,” Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told reporters in Islamabad, a day after his quick visit to Beijing to meet his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. “I want to tell the nation that they [Chinese leadership] have assured us of their complete support. Not only that, they have also issued instructions to their New York representative to remain in contact with our representative and to keep their consultations ongoing.” Pakistan had responded to India’s actions by downgrading diplomatic ties, suspending bilateral trade, and halting the Samjhauta Express and Thar Express train services between the two countries.

Ground Report: Angry Kashmir Empty on Eid as Restrictions Return to Srinagar -With the unprecedented government clampdown and information blockade in Kashmir entering its second week, banks and ATMs are falling short of cash, local and wholesale markets and chemist shops are running out of supplies, and bakeries, grocery shops and markets for sacrificial sheep are seeing very few buyers on Sunday.After initially relaxing the strict ‘curfew’ in the run-up to Eid, which falls on Monday, the Jammu and Kashmir police made announcements from inside police vans on Sunday afternoon asking people to stay indoors and not open shops in some parts of Srinagar, as restrictions have been re-imposed.On Monday, the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governmentscrapped the special status guaranteed to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian constitution, and vertically broke the state into two union territories, bringing the region under its direct control.On the same day, just before dawn, the government imposed a de facto ‘curfew’ and detained most of the top pro-India leaders. Almost all separatist leaders are already behind bars. By the end of the week, the detention orders – many of them informal – have been extended to cover about 500 mid-level leaders and workers of mainstream parties across Kashmir. All major roads, bridges and alleys in the Valley are being manned by the army, paramilitary forces and the Jammu and Kashmir police. Concertina wire and barricades have been erected at all strategic squares leading into and out of Srinagar’s Downtown. The usually bustling markets look deserted on the day of Arafat – a day ahead of Eid-ul-Zuha.

Modi's Kashmir Blunder: Wider Implications For India, Pakistan and the World -- Riaz Haq - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's reckless decision to unilaterally abrogate Article 370 of the Indian constitution has sent shockwaves across South Asia and the rest of the world. The immediate effect of this action is on Indian Occupied Kashmir which has lost its status as a state and stands divided into union territories directly ruled from New Delhi. It has wider implications for India's federal, secular and democratic constitutional structure. It has sent alarm bells ringing in Indian states of Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Nagaland and Mizoram. It also threatens to escalate tensions between nuclear armed rivals India and Pakistan when the Kashmiri resistance turns violent and Modi falsely blames it on "cross-border terrorism". Nuclear confrontation in South Asia could result in deaths of billions of people across Asia, Africa, Europe and America.  Regardless of Article 370, the region of of Jammu and Kashmir remains a disputed territory whose status must be resolved according to the United Nations Security Council Resolutions 47 (1948) and 80 (1950). India can not unilaterally alter its status without agreement with Pakistan and the people of Jammu and Kashmir who are are parties to it.  Any unilateral action by either India or Pakistan on Kashmir also violates the Simla Agreement which requires bilateral resolution of the disputed region.  Mr. Modi's actions are not only an affront to the people of Jammu and Kashmir but also in clear violation of India's international and bilateral obligations under United Nations charter and the Simla Accord.  Strongest reactions to Mr. Modi's decision to annul article 370 have come from top leaders in Indian Punjab, Tamil Nadu. It has inspired fear that the central government in Delhi could take control of any state, strip it of its statehood and imposed direct rule without the consent of its people. Most of Kashmir has been under an unprecedented and extended lock-down. People are imprisoned in their home for several days in a row. There is no Internet, telephone or television. Eventually when the restrictions are eased, there will be large street protests which the Indian security forces will try to quell by force. When such protests turn violent,  Mr. Modi will cry "terrorism" and falsely accuse Pakistan of being behind it. There will be a familiar replay of the events of the past with Mr. Modi escalating conflict with Pakistan across the Line of Control in Kashmir.  Such escalations pose the danger of spiraling out of control and leading to a nuclear confrontation.  The West, particularly the United States and Canada, are geographically far removed from South Asia. This distance makes many think that any nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan would not have a significant impact on life in America and Europe. Dr. Owen Brian Toon and Professor Alan Robock dispute this thinking. They believe the nuclear winter following an India-Pakistan nuclear exchange will kill crops as far as the United States and cause a global famine.

Kashmir Lockdown So Total That Many Still Don't Know Autonomy Was Revoked - Local reports are describing a total communications blackout in Indian states Jammu and Kashmir that's so bad many don't even know New Delhi revoked the region's political autonomy early this week. The region has essentially been cut off from the rest of the country and the outside world, with a security blockade and checkpoints also set up by the military. Preceding Monday's unprecedented revocation of the over 50-year old constitutional Article 370 which gave Indian-administered Kashmir special autonomous status, a massive Indian troop surge had been observed entering the country's most restive and politically sensitive Muslim-majority region. Monday is also when a broad government-imposed internet, cellphone, and landline services shutdown went into effect, which has lasted all week. Various reports have described an Indian troop surge into the tens of thousands ostensibly to root out Islamic militants, with estimates putting it close to 40,000 additional soldiers deployed.  At least 300 local politicians and pro-independence activists have been detained, many under house arrest, by security services, Reuters reported. Any public assemblies or events have also been outlawed, essentially tantamount to martial law in Indian-administered Kashmir, with schools and local government buildings shuttered.Local news services have ceased functioning, and there's growing concern that medical access is increasingly unavailable, with people unable to call for ambulances or contact doctors during emergencies. According to a Time report, this has left "some 7 million people stranded without any way to contact family and friends."The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata leadership in New Delhi, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, revoked J&K's status quo ability and rights to maintain their own local governance, which also included laws preventing non-Kashmiris from buying property. Astoundingly, Time reported that the information blackout is so all encompassing many Kashmiris still don't know about it nearly a week later:  Pakistan's Prime Minister Khan, meanwhile, suggested in an address to parliament this week that there's a "risk of genocide" as India's army initiates its clamp down. Pakistan has also declared itself ready to support Kashmiris with "all possible options" at a moment which the two nuclear armed rivals and neighbors along the volatile 'Line of Control' could be again hurtling toward direct conflict. "Kashmir has been turned invisible even inside Kashmir," Muzamil Jaleel, an Indian Express editor summarized of the dire situation this week.

Armed forces in Kashmir are detaining children and molesting women and girls amid a state-wide blackout, report claims -- Security forces in Kashmir have abducted hundreds of boys in midnight raids and molested women and girls amid the state's 11-day blackout, a group of Indian economists and activists said in a new report.  Regional police, army, and paramilitary forces have raided hundred of homes around the region and arbitrarily snatched "very young schoolboys and teenagers" from their beds from as early as August 5, the investigation — titled "Kashmir Caged" and published Wednesday— said.  Those officers also molested women and girls during these nighttime raids, the researchers said, without specifying exactly what their actions were. The report doesn't explicitly say whether those officers were employed by the Kashmiri regional government or the Indian government. However, most police, paramilitary, and army officers in Jammu and Kashmir work under the Indian government.  Though the researchers spoke with hundreds of ordinary people — from students to shopkeepers to local journalists — around the state from August 9 and 13 for their report, nobody was willing to speak on camera for fear of persecution from the Indian government, the economists said.Parents were afraid to tell them about their sons' abductions as they didn't want to arrested for disrupting state security. Some worried that their boys would be "disappeared" — killed in custody — because their family had spoken out, the report said.  One 11-year-old boy in Pampore, a town in western Kashmir, told the researchers he was beaten up during his detention from August 5 to 11, and that there were boys even younger than him in custody.

Pakistan Mobilizing Forces At Kashmir Base Near Line Of Control- Report - India's Business Standard is reporting a major mobilization of Pakistani military forces underway along the border with India, citing government sources which talked to Asia's ANI news agency.  The contested Kashmir region is on edge following India last week taking the unprecedented step of revoking Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir's (J&K) autonomous status amid a military crackdown involving deployment of tens of thousands of Indian troops to the region.   "Three C-130 transport aircraft of the Pakistan Air Force were used on Saturday to ferry equipment to their Skardu air base opposite the Union Territory of Ladakh. The Indian agencies concerned are keeping a close eye on the movement of Pakistanis along the border areas," sources told ANI.   The report describes that the significant uptick in military logistical activity along the border is likely in support of fighter aircraft operations involving Islamabad moving its China-made advanced JF-17 fighter jets to the Skardu air field.   Though the report was neither confirmed nor denied by Pakistan's military, it could indicate preparations for a military exercise along the border involving the Air Force and Army designed as a show of strength amid PM Imran Khan condemning Indian troop build-up across the border and removal of J&K's special status.  The day after on Monday a week ago India revoked Article 370, which is legally and historically what assured a high degree autonomy for the Indian administered Muslim-majority state, Pakistan's army vowed to "go to any extent" to support Kashmiris amid an Indian military crackdown. "Pakistan Army firmly stands by the Kashmiris in their just struggle to the very end," said General Qamar Javed Bajwa after an initial meeting of Pakistan's leadership in response to the crisis.

Kashmir cross-border fire 'kills 3 Pakistani, 5 Indian soldiers - Pakistan's army has said at least three Pakistani and five Indian soldiers have been killed after a cross-border exchange of fire in the disputed region of Kashmir. Major General Asif Ghafoor, the chief spokesman of the Pakistan armed forces, said in a Twitter post on Thursday that Indian forces had increased firing along the contested border, known as the Line of Control (LoC). "Intermittent exchange of fire continues," Ghafoor tweeted. Later on Thursday, Indian news agency ANI wrote on Twitter that India's army had denied the Pakistani army's statement that five Indian soldiers were killed in "ceasefire violations" along the heavily-militarised LoC dividing Pakistan- and Indian-administered Kashmir. Local police in Pakistan-administered Kashmir told Al Jazeera two civilians were also killed on Thursday. The developments come during a period of increasing tensions between India and Pakistan after New Delhi's Hindu nationalist government last week revoked special status for Indian-administered Kashmir, a Muslim-majority state. The nuclear-armed neighbours have fought two of their three wars over the disputed territory of Kashmir. 

What’s Happening in Kashmir Looks a Lot Like Israel’s Rule Over Palestine - The last few weeks have seen a sharp escalation in tensions in the Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked the territory’s long-standing autonomy, putting it on lockdown and plunging the region into chaos.India has ordered all tourists and religious pilgrims to evacuate the territory, while sending in tens of thousands of armed soldiers and shutting down virtually all telecommunication networks. These soldiers join an occupying force estimated to number within the hundreds of thousands in what is already considered the most militarized place on earth.India’s oppression of Kashmiris, however, cannot be seen in a vacuum. Over the past decades, the country’s growing ties with Israel have created a situation in which the the oppression of Kashmir is linked to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.The Indian occupation of Kashmir and the establishment of Israel in 1948, which resulted in the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, began only months apart from one another. In July 1949, two years after India and Pakistan declared independence from British rule, the two countries signed an agreement to establish a ceasefire line, dividing the Kashmir region between them. Indian rule in the territory has led to decades of unrest.Although the Indian presence in Kashmir never amounted to settler colonialism like in the Palestinian case, where a large proportion of the existing population of the region was expelled and replaced by a settler population, India has maintained a heavy military presence in the area and has acted as a police state vis-à-vis Kashmiri civilians and politicians. Kashmiri solidarity with the Palestinians can be traced as far back as the 1950s and 60s, when the Kashmir liberation movement sought to align itself with other anti-imperialist struggles abroad. It was also during this period when India first established relations with Israel. Although then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru publicly championed the Palestinian cause, he permitted the opening of an Israeli consulate in Mumbai in 1953. The consulate gathered information on India’s Evacuee Property Laws, which served as a model for Israel’s Absentee Property Law, a legal instrument that allowed the state to expropriate land belonging to Palestinian refugees.

India, China voice differences over Kashmir but decide to rebuild bridges -- India and China on Monday voiced their differences over the recent developments in Kashmir, with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar calling upon Beijing not to deviate from the gains of the Wuhan informal summit and Astana consensus, while his counterpart Wang Yi prompted New Delhi to make special efforts to build regional peace.“When it comes to the regional tensions between India and Pakistan and possible ramifications, we follow these developments very closely. We hope that India would also play a constructive role for regional peace and stability.” Mr. Wang’s remarks follow his meeting in Beijing on Thursday with his Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who dashed to the Chinese capital after India revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5. During that meeting, Mr. Wang opened the door for United Nations intervention, apart from proposing that a “bilateral agreement” — a veiled reference to the 1972 Shimla accord — as the templates for resolving the Kashmir issue. Mr. Wang, who is also China’s state councillor — a higher ranking position than Foreign Minister — stressed that the Kashmir issue “should be properly and peacefully resolved based on the UN charter, relevant UN Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreement,” according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry readout.

No mediation offer on Kashmir, Trump has clarified: Top Indian diplomat – US President Donald Trump has made it clear that his offer of mediation on Kashmir is not on the table anymore, a top Indian diplomat said on Monday.India's Ambassador to the US, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, said that America's decades-old policy on Kashmir has been no mediation but to encourage India and Pakistan to resolve their differences bilaterally."President Trump has made it very clear that his offer to mediate on Jammu and Kashmir is dependent on both India and Pakistan accepting it. Since India has not accepted the offer of mediation, he has made it clear that this is not on the table anymore," Shringla told Fox News, the favourite news channel of the US president. On July 22, during his joint media appearance with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House, President Trump stunned India by saying that Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought his mediation/arbitration on the Kashmir issue. India asserted that no such request was made by Prime Minister Modi to the US president and all issues will have to be resolved with Islamabad bilaterally.

 Kashmir: Moscow for resolving issue in accordance with Shimla, Lahore pacts -- Russia has called upon both India and Pakistan to save the situation in Kashmir from spiralling out of control and carry out the changes in the region within the constitutional parameters of India.  "We hope that the parties involved will not allow a new aggravation of the situation in the region as a result of the decisions," said the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement on Friday, referring to India's latest legislative steps on the territory. Moscow has underlined that it seeks normalisation of ties between India and Pakistan and bilateral dialogue. "We hope that the differences between them will be resolved by political and diplomatic means on a bilateral basis in accordance with the provisions of the Simla Agreement of 1972 and the Lahore Declaration of 1999," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. This is the first comment from Moscow on the Kashmir issue which has drawn several international statements since India ended special status of the area and turned it into a new Union Territory.

The Biggest Migration Since The Barbarian Invasions Of Rome (Is Not Where You Think) -- Africa, or at least migration in and out of Africa, is going to be the epicenter of what’s happening in the world for the rest of this century.Africa has gone from being just an empty space on the map in the 19thcentury, to a bunch of backwater colonies in the 20th century, to a bunch of chaotic failed states that most people are only vaguely aware of today. Soon, however, it will be continuing front-page news. This is because Chinese are moving to Africa in record numbers while Africans are leaving as fast as they can.What we’re looking at is actually the biggest migration since the barbarian invasions of the Roman Empire. There will be tens of millions—scores of millions—of Africans trying to get into Europe. I don’t know how the Europeans will keep them out. I used to say Europe was going to be a petting zoo for the Chinese, but it may be more of a squatter’s camp for the Africans. Africa is the only part of the world where the population is still growing and growing rapidly. Africa south of the Sahara was about 6% of the world’s population in the ’50s, now it’s about 16%. But by the turn of the century, it’s going to be 45%. Assuming there isn’t some kind of catastrophe. It’s not clear that the Africans can grow enough food for billions more people. In fact, if the West stops supporting the continent with capital and technology, it could be in for very tough times. Few people realize how fast the population is growing, and things are changing in Africa. I ask knowledgeable people what they think the biggest cities in the world will be at the turn of the next century. They all guess cities in China or India. But that’s not true. Eighty years from now, Lagos, Nigeria, will be the largest city in the world. It’s on track to have a population of more than 90 million. The world’s second biggest city will be Kinshasa in the Congo with about 80 million people. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, will be the world’s third biggest city with a population of roughly 75 million people. Now all those people have cell phones, and they’re well aware of the fact that the standard of living is vastly higher in Europe and every other part of the world than in Africa. And they’re well aware of the fact that there are welfare benefits of all types if they can get to Europe.

A Mexican gang hung 9 dead bodies from a bridge in a gruesome battle linked to control of the avocado trade - Nineteen dead bodies have been found displayed in a Mexican city in what appears to be a scare tactic by a local cartel.  Officials found nine bodies hanging from a bridge in Uruapan, in the western Michoacán state, around 5:30 a.m. Thursday local time, Mexico News Daily reported, citing Michoacán Attorney General Adrián López Solís.While this kind of cartel-linked violence in Mexico has historically been related to the drugs trade, some experts have pointed to the trend of criminal gangs increasingly fighting for control of the avocado trade as well.The corpses of six men and one woman were found underneath a pedestrian overpass nearby, Mexico News Daily reported.Three more bodies were found further down the road in the residentia Ampliación Revolución neighborhood, The Associated Press (AP) reported, also citing López. Many of those bodies had been dismembered, Mexico News Daily reported. All 19 victims had been shot to death.

 Over 50,000 join opposition protests in Moscow - An estimated 50,000-60,000 people joined an officially sanctioned rally by the liberal opposition on Saturday in the city center of Moscow. The rally was held under the slogan “Let’s take back our right to vote.” Its main demands were the inclusion of liberal opposition candidates on the ballot for the Moscow City Council elections on September 8 and the release of politicians who have been arrested in the previous week as part of a massive police crackdown on the opposition. Smaller protests took place in St. Petersburg and several other cities.The call for the protest was supported by all the major figures of the liberal opposition in Russia, including Alexei Navalny, who is still in jail, and Liubov Sobol, who was arrested again just before the beginning of the rally. Several prominent entertainers, TV moderators and musicians also supported the protest, among them the popular YouTube moderator Yuri Dud. The rapper Face and electronic music group IC3PEAK, which count among the most popular musicians in Russia among youth, joined the rally with performances.According to reports, a substantial portion of those attending were young people, many of whom had never joined an opposition protest before. A significant factor that contributed to the large turnout, beyond the participation of popular music groups, was the violent crackdown on the opposition in recent weeks. At two unsanctioned rallies, on July 27 and August 3, the police and paramilitary organization OMON, which forms part of the National Guard, arrested over 1,000 people, transforming the center of the Russian capital into a virtual state of siege. Hundreds of thousands of people have watched footage of the violent crackdown on social media.Following the mass arrests, members of Alexei Navalny’s s taff have continued to be subject to raids and criminal persecution.

Russia demands Google delete anti-government protest videos from YouTube  - Russia's media regulator on Sunday asked Google to stop sending push notifications for livestream videos of anti-government protests and arrests.Roskomnadzor said it complained to Google about unspecified "structures" allegedly using tools, such as push notifications, to spread information about illegal mass protests, "including those aimed at disrupting elections." The Russian watchdog said that if Google failed to respond to its request, it would consider it "interference in its sovereign affairs" and "hostile influence [over] and obstruction of democratic elections in Russia."Moscow would then reserve the right to react "appropriately," it said, without elaborating.   Protests erupted after several opposition candidates were controversially rejected from a ballot for an upcoming Moscow council vote. Tens of thousands of Russians protested in Moscow on Saturday in favor of free and fair elections and against police violence, in the fourth demonstration in as many weeks. Police have detained over 1,300 protesters taking part in the protests.

Revamped trade indicator suggests further weakening of goods trade into third quarter WTO - The growth of world merchandise trade volumes is likely to remain weak in the third quarter of 2019 according to the WTO’s Goods Trade Barometer, released on 15 August. The latest reading of 95.7 from the barometer, formerly the World Trade Outlook Indicator (WTOI), is lower than the previous release and signals that stronger trade growth is not yet in sight.The latest reading continues to fall well below the baseline value of 100 for the index of the renamed barometer, which features a design revamp ahead of the launch of a new S ervices Trade Barometer in September. The loss of momentum in goods trade has already been confirmed in previous quarters where official data are available. The barometer suggests that below-trend expansion in merchandise trade will persist in the coming months.Sustained weakness in the barometer index was driven by below trend values in all component indices. The international air freight (91.4) and electronic components (90.7) indices showed the strongest deviations from trend, with readings well below previous releases. Indices for export orders (97.5), automobile production and sales (93.5) and agricultural raw materials (97.1) all remained below trend although they show some signs of having bottomed out. Only the index for container shipping (99.0) was close to the baseline value of 100. The Goods Trade Barometer provides, as the WTOI did, "real time" information on the trajectory of world trade relative to recent trends. It aims to identify turning points and gauge momentum in global trade growth. As such, it complements trade statistics and forecasts from the WTO and other organizations. Readings of 100 indicate growth in line with medium-term trends; readings greater than 100 suggest above-trend growth, while those below 100 indicate below-trend growth.  The full Goods Trade Barometer is available here.

Germany Stalls And Europe Craters -- The influential economic commentator on Europe, Ambrose Pritchard Evans, writes:“German industry is in the deepest slump since the global financial crisis, and threatens to push Europe’s powerhouse economy into full-blown recession. The darkening outlook is forcing the European Central Bank to contemplate ever more perilous measures.“The influential Ifo Institute in Munich said its business climate indicator for manufacturing went into “free fall” in July, as the delayed damage from global trade conflict takes its toll and confidence wilts. It goes far beyond the woes of the car industry. More than 80pc of Germany’s factories are in outright contraction.”  Why? What is going on here? It seems that, though other European member-states used to be Germany’s largest market, Germany’s first and third largest export destinations are now the US and China, respectively. Together, they account for more than 15% of all outbound German trade activity. More than 18% of Germany’s export goods ended up somewhere in Asia. Therefore, Germany’s industrial struggles in 2019 point the finger in the direction of its external focus, which means the US, China, and Asia – i.e. its largest marginal trade partners. And the principal assailants in today’s trade and tech wars. Clemens Fuest, the Ifo president, says: “All the problems are coming together: It’s China, it’s increasing protectionism across the board, it’s disruption to global supply chains”. But if Germany’s manufacturing woes were not sufficient in and of themselves, then combined with the threat of trade war with Trump, the prospect indeed is bleak for Europe: And the likelihood is that any of that ECB stimulus – promised for this autumn, as Mario Draghi warns that the European picture is getting “worse and worse” – will be very likely to meet with an angry response from Trump – castigated as blatant currency manipulation by the EU and its ECB. EU Relations with Washington seem set to sour (in more ways than one). But there is more: Speaking in the German parliament, Alice Weidel, the AfD leader, tore into Chancellor Merkel for her, and Brussel’s, botched handling of Brexit (for which “she, Merkel bears some responsibility”). Weidel pointed out that “the UK is the second biggest economy in Europe – as big as the 19 smallest EU members combined”. “From an economic perspective, the EU is shrinking from 27 member-states to 9. In the face of such an enormous event, the EU reaction verges on a pathological denial of reality …

Shrinking German economy 'on edge of recession' as exports stutter (Reuters) - Slumping exports sent Germany’s economy into reverse in the second quarter, with prospects of an early recovery slim as its manufacturers struggle at the sharp end of a global slowdown amplified by tariff conflicts and fallout from Brexit. Overall output fell 0.1% quarter-on-quarter, data showed on Wednesday. With pressure growing on a thus far reluctant government to provide more fiscal stimulus, the economy minister said action was needed to prevent a second consecutive quarter of contraction that would tip the country into recession. The global slowdown, reinforced by Chinese industrial output expanding at its lowest rates in 17 years in July, has broadly impacted the euro zone, where corresponding data showed second quarter growth halved to 0.2%. But Germany’s traditionally export-reliant economy - Europe’s largest - has been particularly vulnerable, amid signs that the boost it has received from a sustained period of surging domestic demand is waning. “Today’s GDP report definitely marks the end of a golden decade for the German economy,” said ING analyst Carsten Brzeski. “Trade conflicts, global uncertainty and the struggling automotive sector have finally brought (it)... down on its knee.” On a calendar-adjusted basis, annual growth slowed to 0.4% from 0.9% in the first quarter, the Federal Statistics Office data showed, and for 2019 overall Berlin expects growth to drop to just 0.5% from last year’s 1.5%. (GRAPHIC - German, euro zone growth slowdown: tmsnrt.rs/2N3setK)

Germany On Brink Of Recession As Economy Shrinks In Q2 - In the latest sign that the economic powerhouse of Europe is teetering on the edge of recession thanks to the trade war between the US and China, Germany's export-heavy economy shrank by 0.1% in the three months through June, according to official data published Wednesday by Destatis, the country's federal statistics office. The disappointing economic data - the second contraction in four quarters - comes one day after the ZEW Survey of financial market experts showed that German economic sentiment in August dropped to its lowest reading since 2011, which is stoking concerns that the German economy could slide into recession during Q3. The industrial sector tipped the economy into contraction in 2Q, said BBG economic Jamie Rush, and there's risk of further weakness in the second half of the year. "If there’s any good news to take from this release, it’s that services must have continued to expand, indicating patches of resilience persist." Economy Minister Peter Altmaier tried to put a positive spin on the numbers, telling Bild that Germany can avoid a recession if the government responds with the right policies. However, the Q2 data are a "a wake-up call and a warning sign," Altmaier said. "We are in a phase of weak growth but not yet a recession," he said. "The simmering trade conflicts are taking their toll and Germany’s export-orientated manufacturing sector is particularly affected" Germany needs "intelligent policies for growth," including easing the burden on small and mid-sized companies, cutting corporate tax and a "clear plan" for the complete withdrawal of the so-called "Solidarity Tax." As the US-China trade war rages, Europe is finding that it's particularly exposed.

US threatens to withdraw troops from Germany - The United States is considering withdrawing some of the US troops stationed in Germany, with Poland mooted as a possible new deployment, the US ambassador to Germany has said.The threat of withdrawal comes amid ongoing differences between Berlin and Washington over Germany's contribution to NATO and a current spat caused by the German refusal to take part in a US-led naval mission in the Persian Gulf."It is actually offensive to assume that the US taxpayer must continue to pay to have 50,000-plus Americans in Germany, but the Germans get to spend their surplus on domestic programs," US Ambassador Richard Grenell told the DPA news agency, in comments carried widely by German media on Friday.His remarks come after the US ambassador to Poland, Georgette Mosbacher, tweeted that her country would be happy for the American troops in Germany to move there instead.US President Donald Trump had also mentioned the possibility of moving some American troops from Germany to Poland in talks with Polish President Andrzej Duda in Washington in June, something that was also mentioned by Grenell."President Trump is right and Georgette Mosbacher is right, " he said, saying that requests by "numerous presidents" for Germany to "pay for its own defense" had been ignored. Now was the time for Americans and the US president had to react, he said. Germany is the European country where most US troops are posted, with 35,000 soldiers deployed there along with 17,000 American civilians employed by the US military. Some 12,000 German civilians also work in jobs connected with the deployment.Rumors that the US might be considering a partial pullout of troops from Germany have long been rife, with the US administration under Donald Trump often voicing anger that Berlin is not contributing enough to NATO. Germany intends to spend 1.36% of GDP on defense this coming year, an amount that, while marking a strong increase, is still well under NATO's 2% goal for member states. Although the government says it wants to increase the current figure to 1.5% by 2024, the financial planning for 2023 envisages spending only 1.24% of GDP on the military.

 Italy: Salvini seeks coalition with fascist Fratelli d’Italia - The leader of the far-right Lega, vice-premier and interior minister Matteo Salvini, is looking to end the governing coalition with the Five Star Movement (M5S). Under conditions in which no political party represents the interests of the working class,the Lega is mobilising its far right base and appealing to the Italian bourgeoisie and political establishment to install Salvini as the head of a fascistic government.. On Thursday, Salvini visited the head of government, Giuseppe Conte. He called on him and President Sergio Mattarella to put an immediate end to the government coalition and to initiate new elections. In the European elections at the end of May, the Lega had doubled its votes to 34 percent. It is currently polling around 37 percent. Now it wants to get rid of its weakened coalition partner, M5S, with the aim of forming a joint government with the Italian fascists Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy). This party, whose roots—through various branches—go back to the National Fascist Party of Benito Mussolini, is currently polling around 7 percent. A coalition with Forza Italia, led by former head of government Silvio Berlusconi, is also under discussion. It also stands at 7 percent. Speaking to followers on the beach of Pescara, Salvini said on Thursday evening: “I ask the Italians to give me full power so that things can be done the way they have to be done.” In order to end the government by a vote of no confidence, he continued in a deliberately coarse tone, the elected deputies would have to be willing to get off their asses and return from vacation to parliament. Salvini is seeking to take advantage of the present situation to prepare fascist forms of rule in a surprise coup. This goal was already strengthened by the adoption of the new, stricter security law in the Italian Senate on August 5. The Decreto Sicurezza bis has once again significantly amplified the features of the previous Salvini Decree, which has already driven tens of thousands into illegality.

Denmark's 3rd Largest Bank Is Now Paying People To Take Out A Mortgage - Back in 2016, when the first negative interest rate bonds first emerged, we offered readers a glimpse of the NIRP future:  No downpayment needed.  100% financing. No payments needed.  This is the reverse of the negative amortization loans during the subprime era.  In other words, it is a negative negative amortization, or neg-neg-am loan.  The loan balance will decrease instead of increase.No need for mortgage insurance since, with no payments, there can be no defaults.No qualifying needed, hence removing the entire cumbersome loan application process. Your interest cost will be -$1,000 per year.  In other words, your loan balance will be $99,000, if you make no payments at all. Using a commonly accepted 30 year term, the loan balance at the end of 30 years would be around $50,000, all without the borrower having to pay a dime in mortgage expense.  Well for Denmark, the future is now, because three years later and with over $15 trillion in negative-yielding debt around the world, Denmark's third largest bank is now offering borrowers mortgages at a negative interest rate, effectively paying its customers to borrow money for a house purchase.Jyske Bank said this week that customers would now be able to take out a 10-year fixed-rate mortgage with an interest rate of -0.5%, meaning customers will pay back less than the amount they borrowed, or precisely what we said would happen in our 2016 preview of the dystopian future. What this means is that if you buy a house for $1 million and pay off your mortgage in full in 10 years, you would pay the bank back only $995,000. No mortgage payments would be due between the purchase and payoff date, so effectively a borrower only has to repay principal... with a small discount, guaranteeing that the bank loses money on the loan.

Greenland tells Trump it is open for business but not for sale -(Reuters) - Greenland on Friday dismissed the notion that it might be up for sale after reports that U.S. President Donald Trump had privately discussed with his advisers the idea of buying the world’s biggest island. “We are open for business, but we’re not for sale,” Greenland’s foreign minister Ane Lone Bagger told Reuters. Trump is due to visit Copenhagen in September and the Arctic will be on the agenda during meetings with the prime ministers of Denmark and Greenland, an autonomous Danish territory. Talk of a Greenland purchase was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. Two sources familiar with the situation told Reuters that the notion had been laughed off by some advisers as a joke but was taken more seriously by others in the White House. Danish politicians on Friday poured scorn on the idea. “It has to be an April Fool’s joke. Totally out of season,” former prime minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said on Twitter. “If he is truly contemplating this, then this is final proof, that he has gone mad,” foreign affairs spokesman for the Danish People’s Party, Soren Espersen, told broadcaster DR. “The thought of Denmark selling 50,000 citizens to the United States is completely ridiculous,” he said. Greenland, a self-ruling part of Denmark located between the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans, is dependant on Danish economic support. It handles its own domestic affairs while Copenhagen looks after defense and foreign policy.

Project Fear Panic- Predicted Hard-Brexit Job Losses Across Europe - As a no-deal, hard Brexit becomes ever more likely, the fearmongering of the establishment has been turned up to '11' as it appears they have little to no control over the process - no matter what they think - now that Johnson (and his cabinet) are in charge.   And on the heels of a surprise contraction in GDP in The UK, Statista's Niall McCarthy notes the latest projections for just how end of the world, a hard Brexit will be... A study by Leuven University in Belgium has predicted that 1.2 million jobs will be lost across Europe in the case of a hard-Brexit.  Unsurprisingly, the study finds that the United Kingdom is expected to be the country that will suffer the most with over 500,000 jobs set to be lost. Germany would also be significantly impacted with just under 292,000 redundancies while France and Italy would lose 141,320 and 139,140 jobs respectively.

NOT AMUSED Queen believes Britain’s politicians have an ‘inability to govern’ as monarch launches extraordinary rant against MPs while Remainers plot to drag her into Brexit - THE Queen believes Britain’s politicians have an "inability to govern", according to royal insiders.  Her Majesty famously stays out of politics, but her frustration has been revealed as MPs plot to drag her into Brexit.  The Queen made the comments at a private event shortly after David Cameron’s resignation following the referendum, reported The Times. A royal source has since said the Queen's frustration had since grown.  The source said: "I think she’s really dismayed. I’ve heard her talking about her disappointment in the current political class and its inability to govern correctly." So far, the royal family has remained impartial throughout the Brexit saga, however the recent remark shines a new light on the monarch's opinionated outlook.  A senior royal source, who witnessed the exchange, told The Sunday Times: “She expressed her exasperation and frustration about the quality of our political leadership, and that frustration will only have grown.”  Her Majesty's comment comes as Tory rebels and Labour MPs plot to call on the Queen to intervene if Boris Johnson refuses to quit in the wake of a no confidence vote.  Last week, Labour chief John McDonnell threatened to “drag” the Queen into Brexit and send leader Jeremy Corbyn to Buckingham palace “in a cab” if Boris refused to step down.  He also threatened to jail Tory MPs over benefits cuts if the party ever comes to power.  McDonnell said: “I don’t want to drag the Queen into this but I would be sending Jeremy Corbyn in a cab to Buckingham Palace to say we’re taking over.” 

Brexit Breakup --Yves Smith -The Institute for Government has confirmed our reading, that if this Government wants a no-deal Brexit, it will be well nigh impossible to prevent it. Astonishingly, Labour and Remainer Tories let their best option, that of a general election before October 31, slip from their grasp by failing to keep Parliament in session and stuck to their traditional summer recess.After Johnson won the premiership, his intentions for Brexit should have been seen as clear as soon as he announced his Cabinet picks. It was a Who’s Who of true believers. It was also noteworthy that he gave prominent positions to leaders of Campaign Leave, which some pundits took as a sign that Johnson was preparing for a general election, even though ever time he’s been challenged, Johnson has denied that he would call a snap election. Not that anyone thinks Johnson would be bound by his words, mind you, but Johnson’s actions sure look like he’s lashed himself to a No Deal mast.And Johnson has taken steps since then to pre-empt measures that could block Brexit. For instance, Parliament could pass legislation to order Johnson to seek an extension. While the Government could easily thwart a stand-alone measure, it’s hard to prevent amendments from being attached to “must have” bills. However, this Government has nixed scheduling six bills that May’s Government saw as necessary to a smooth transition. The Johnson Government’s position is that the areas they cover can be handled by statutory instruments. If Johnson refuses to table other legislation in the few working days remaining before Brexit, which seems entirely possible, there aren’t other routes to intervene save a General Election, and the time to get one done before Brexit has arguably passed. From the Institute for Government’s summary (the report is embedded at the end of the post):MPs looking to make their voices heard will have far fewer opportunities to do so this time around than they had in the run-up to the end of March this year, when the former prime minister was trying to pass her withdrawal agreement. Given the limited time available, this paper reaches the following conclusions about what is likely to happen over the next few months:

  • • It is very unlikely the UK will be able to leave the EU with a deal on 31 October…
  • • MPs can express opposition to no deal but that alone will not prevent it….
  • • Backbenchers have very few opportunities to legislate to stop no deal: MPs may want to repeat the process that led to the ‘Cooper Act’ in March, which forced the government to seek an extension (although it had already requested an extension before the Act came into law). But as the government controls most of the time in the Commons there are limited opportunities for MPs to initiate this process, even if the Speaker helps facilitate such a move.
  • • A vote of no confidence would not necessarily stop no deal: the process governing no confidence motions under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 has not been tested. If passed, it would trigger a 14-day period during which time MPs could try to form a ‘government of national unity’. Failing this, there will be a general election – but it is unclear what would happen if Johnson refused to follow constitutional convention to resign if an alternative majority was possible. This could risk dragging the Queen into politics.
  • • There is little time to hold a general election before 31 October….
  • • A second referendum can only happen with government support

Austerity Has Made People Less Prepared for a No Deal Brexit --The government is keen to reassure us that it is preparing the UK to withstand an — increasingly likely — no-deal Brexit scenario. Fridges are being bought to stockpile medicines, and arrangements made for troops to camp outside Kent’s prisons in case prison officers are prevented from getting to work by traffic gridlock.But the government isn’t preparing ordinary working families for the “short-term disruption” that even the most ardent Brexiters say we’ll experience before the “countervailing opportunities” arrive.A sudden and substantial change to the prices and practicalities of international trade will inevitably cause some companies to lose contracts. (Non-UK businesses who want to avoid sudden rises in costs and logistical disruptions will already be looking for alternatives to their UK-based suppliers). Workers will lose jobs or working hours, the self-employed will lose clients. Some of those affected won’t have known they were part of the relevant supply-chain and therefore won’t have anticipated the consequences.The government has, in fact, spent almost a decade making us lessprepared for sudden income shocks. If you lose your job tomorrow you’ll now have to wait five weeks until any Universal Credit payments arrive. As a result of (baseless) propaganda about ‘benefit scroungers’, the payments will be very low. If you have a third child born after 6 April 2017, you’ll receive no Universal Credit payments to cover their costs (which will, apparently, be your own fault for failing to anticipate a no-deal Brexit in family-planning decisions you made before the Brexit referendum ever happened).This wouldn’t be too much of a problem if we all had sufficient savings to tide us over the ‘short term disruption’ until the ‘countervailing opportunities’ arrive, but we don’t. As a Resolution Foundation reportfound this month, “the sluggish recovery in incomes endured over the last decade has likely left low-to-middle income households more exposed to the effects of recession today than they were heading into the 2008 downturn… nearly 60 per cent of those on low-to-middle incomes report having no savings at all, up from just over 40 per cent just ahead of the financial crisis in 2007. There also appears to be less opportunity than there was previously for lower-income households to respond to an income shock by cutting back on spending… [because] the proportion of consumption allocated by that lower-income group to ‘essentials’ was 8 percentage points higher than prior to the financial crisis by 2017”. A financial shock is about to hit a country with worn-out shock absorbers.

Majority of Britons support ‘Brexit by any means’ – poll (Reuters) - More Britons would support Prime Minister Boris Johnson using any means necessary to take Britain out of the European Union than would oppose him, an opinion poll conducted for the Daily Telegraph said on Monday.Johnson has promised to lead Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31 regardless of whether he manages to secure an exit deal with Brussels, despite many in parliament being opposed to leaving without a deal.Johnson is seeking a deal with the EU but has not ruled out suspending parliament to prevent lawmakers’ attempts to block a no-deal exit. A ComRes opinion poll showed 54% of respondents with an opinion on the matter said they agreed with the statement: “Boris (Johnson) needs to deliver Brexit by any means, including suspending parliament if necessary, in order to prevent MPs (Members of Parliament) from stopping it.”The poll showed 46% disagreed with the statement. The result was based on the answers of 1,645 respondents, after those who said they did not know their preference had been excluded. If the undecided are included, the figures are 44 percent ‘agree’, 37 percent ‘disagree’ and 19 percent ‘don’t know’.

Bolton: US would 'enthusiastically' support no-deal Brexit for UK --National security adviser John Bolton on Monday said the U.S. would support a no-deal Brexit if that is what the British government decides,Reuters reports. “If that is the decision of the British government we would support it enthusiastically,” Bolton told reporters Monday. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is an ardent Brexit supporter. He vowed to negotiate a deal to leave the European Union by Oct. 31.But the negotiating parties are facing an impasse as the EU will not alter a part of the deal Johnson said needs to be changed, leaving Britain without any formal transition period or legal agreement, Reuters reports.  Bolton also told reporters the U.S. could agree to trade deals on a sector-by-sector basis and leave more difficult areas in the trading relationship for later.

 Of course the US supports a no deal – it makes a minnow out of Britain If you thought it was bad enough when Donald Trump held a reluctant Theresa May’s hand, then look away now. For things are about to get sweatier. The president’s clammy embrace of the British right continued this week with the arrival of his national security adviser John Bolton in London, to declare the most isolationist US regime in living memory would “enthusiastically” support a no-deal Brexit. A weakened country, desperate for a trade deal and in no position to refuse Donald Trump’s demands not just to lower our stringent standards or hamstring our car industry but on foreign policy too? Step right this way, sir! No wonder Bolton talks of us being at the front of the queue for trade talks, a line every bit as clearly crafted to help Downing Street as President Obama’s suggestion during the 2016 referendum that Brexit would push us to the back of it. And if these presidents can’t both be right, then arguably neither can the two very different British Conservative administrations responsible for ghostwriting their respective lines. We risk exchanging what leavers are fond of calling diktats from Brussels for diktats from Washington or Beijing To some leave voters, all this will sound like sour grapes from people who can’t bear to admit that there might be life after Brexit. Many will actively share the Trump administration’s rejection of open borders and its distaste for rules-based international organisations, from the United Nations to Nato to the World Trade Organisation, which require sovereign nations sometimes to compromise or subjugate their own interests to the greater global good. But as the former foreign secretary Jack Straw pointed out on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, those organisations exist to check the potentially overwhelming clout of the biggest superpowers, in the interests of medium-sized and small countries who would otherwise be vulnerable. Brexit is rooted in a refusal to accept that Britain is now in the latter category not the former, and that we consequently risk exchanging what leavers are fond of calling diktats from Brussels for diktats from Washington or Beijing. Only this time we may not get a veto.

Brexit: Hammond says PM's demands 'wreck' chance of new deal - Former Chancellor Philip Hammond has accused the PM of trying to wreck the chance of a new Brexit deal, by making demands the EU could never accept. In a Times article, Mr Hammond said a no-deal Brexit would be "a betrayal" of the 2016 referendum result. He told the BBC he was "confident" that Parliament "has the means" to express its opposition to a no-deal exit. A No 10 source said the UK would leave on 31 October despite Mr Hammond's "best efforts to the contrary". The source added that Mr Hammond, as chancellor, "did everything he could" to block preparations for leaving and had "undermined negotiations". The former chancellor rejected this suggestion in a tweet, saying he wanted to deliver Brexit "and voted to do so three times".   Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he wants to leave the EU with a deal, but the UK must leave "do or die" by the latest Brexit deadline of 31 October.  He wants the EU to ditch the Irish border backstop plan from the deal negotiated by former PM Theresa May, which was rejected three times by Parliament.

Brexit: According to Script -  Yves Smith -  Aside from Boris-Johnson-generated noise, like his People’s PQMs, Brexit is evolving, or devolving, on the trajectory predicted by our insightful readers. Specifically, vlade and others anticipated that the only viable route for Parliament to obstruct Johnson’s crash-out plan was to win a vote of no confidence, then use the 14 day period in which Parliament could vote confidence in a government, including one different than the one it had shot down, to create what amounted to a caretaker government of national unity which would exist solely to ask for an extension and a general election. However, the commentariat was quite convinced that this would not happen because the parties to the government of national unity would fight like cats in a bag. The immediate impediment was that Corbyn would insist on being Prime Minister and the other opposition parties wouldn’t swallow that. This was vlade’s take: IMO, NU is the only practical way how to attempt to stop no-deal. And even that would be just an attempt, as it would have to lead to a GE (not referendum, that takes way too much time), and if Johnson + BP won that, it would be just delayed no-deal. But, as the article Yves mentions says, chances on NU are about nil, as Labour still clings to the “it has to be us”. I could, barely, see LD doing that with gritted teeth, but it’s a very very low chance.Personally, I don’t get Labour’s stance, as it would be a very short care-taker government (about a month), which could not do anything, and wasn’t even allowed to use government resources in the campaign. It looks to me like pretty much a point of pride. And, given that Corbyn is almost as wooden in front of media as May was, I’m not sure whether even claiming “see Corbyn can be a PM” would be a good thing.Mind you, LD stance is even slightly less understandable, as if there’s no NU government pronto, their single-issue approach will come out. That said, they may still be able to capitalise on GE immediately post-Brexit, if more Labour remain voters blame Labour, some Tory voters blame Johnson, and not enough leavers comes to the polls seeing it as “mission accomplished”.Anyways, the main point is that even if there was a GE before October 31, there’s a good chance it will be a hung parliament, so the UK may still crash out as there would not be any government before Oct 31.

MPs must save the UK from Johnson’s no-deal Brexit folly - Financial Times. Editorial. -- Boris Johnson insisted during his Conservative leadership campaign that the UK’s chances of crashing out of the EU without an agreement were a “million to one”. Now he is prime minister, the mask has been tossed aside. A no-deal Brexit is the default option. The government is preparing for it, and making the civil service do the same. Indeed, its unrealistic attitude towards reworking Britain’s withdrawal deal with Brussels makes the dash for no-deal appear less like a negotiating tactic and more like Downing Street’s preferred plan. The UK is careering towards the precipice, with dire implications for its economy, security, and the union of nations it comprises. It is now parliament’s duty to prevent the British government from visiting a calamity on its own country on October 31. Britain’s MPs must avoid succumbing to the boredom and resignation seeping into the business and financial community and broader population: that it is time to get Brexit done, whatever the consequences. Such fatalism is tempting, but misguided. Leaving the EU with no agreement will do serious damage on all fronts. More importantly, the idea that making a “clean break” puts an end to the Brexit wrangling is a delusion. To speak of the economic harm of a no-deal Brexit is not to reprise what the Leave campaign in 2016 falsely decried as “Project Fear”. Nearly all reputable forecasters agree Brexit will damage Britain’s economy; only their assessments of the magnitude and timescale differ. Sectors from car making to farming would be hit hard. The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates even a relatively benign no-deal scenario would increase public borrowing by £30bn a year, soon wiping out a decade of austerity. The blow to Britain’s standing in the world, to its reputation for trust and fair play, would be less quantifiable, but no less real. Its ability to combat cross-border crime and terrorism would be severely undermined by even a temporary break in co-operation with EU partners.

Britain’s Elite-School Problem - Der Spiegel - At the very front of the Eton Museum, there is a wall of fame set up on a mint-green background. Princes William and Harry are there, as is James Bond author Ian Fleming, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the actor Damian Lewis and Hugh "Dr. House" Laurie. There are also decorated soldiers, Olympics athletes, journalists and adventurers.  David Cameron is there, as is Jacob Rees-Mogg and, on the top-right, a young, blonde man grinning broadly into the camera: Boris Johnson, who is described there as the former mayor of London and ex-foreign minister. Eton College, it seems, hasn't completely caught up with the times. The school is extremely proud of its "Old Etonians." The exhibit proudly notes that graduates of the school "can be found involved in almost every national movement, in every event and on every side."That, some would say, is the problem. In the United Kingdom, a lot of people are once again talking and writing about Eton.  Eton College, the empire's almost mythical elite academy, the place where the wealthy classes send their children, one of the most famous and oldest boarding schools in the world. It is also the place that has "produced," as Eton itself says, 20 prime ministers. The most recent Old Etonian to take the helm is Boris Johnson. He inherited his most important -- perhaps only -- task from another Old Etonian, David Cameron, who unnecessarily paved the way for the Brexit referendum in 2016. If you include former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was educated in an elite Scottish school called Fettes College, the UK's fate for over the past 20 years has largely been determined by the graduates of elite boarding schools.   Is that merely a coincidence? Once one begins reporting on private schools and starts speaking to their former students, one quickly comes into contact with an exclusive world of archaic rules and unconscionable wealth. This world only exists in Britain. There, only success counts, no matter how it is attained. The system has brought forth an astounding number of statesmen, military heroes, Nobel laureates, gold-medal winners and Oscar recipients. But it has also helped promote, deepen and cement inequality. It is a system that "underpins almost all that is wrong with British society," as Boris Johnson's own sister, Rachel, has said. She is among the many who believe that the private school system should be broken up.