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

Friday, April 16, 2021

week ending Apr 17

(preview)

Fed Chair Jerome Powell Goes on 60 Minutes to Present a False Narrative on Mega Banks He Supervises Loaning Out their Balance Sheets to Hedge Funds -  Pam Martens -- The CBS “investigative” program, 60 Minutes, gave Wall Street a pass again last night.This time around 60 Minutes’ host Scott Pelley interviewed Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell. The Fed, and by extension, Powell, are in charge of supervising the holding companies of the mega banks on Wall Street, including those involved just two weeks ago in loaning out their balance sheets to the tune of tens of billions of dollars to a hedge fund run by a manpreviously charged with insider trading and stock price manipulations. The man is Sung Kook (Bill) Hwang and the hedge fund is Archegos Capital Management. (Fed-supervised mega banks loaning out their balance sheets to hedge funds for nefarious purposes was previously exposed in 2014 in an in-depth report and hearing by the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. The practice has clearly metastasized since that time.)The 60 Minutes interview comes just two weeks after Archegos blew itself up, along with generating billions of dollars in losses at the mega banks that allowed it to take on obscene levels of leverage in a replay of the financial crisis of 2008 – something that the Fed has continuously assured Americans could not happen again under its oversight.Rather than dig deep into the insidious rot of the Fed as a lapdog regulator, Pelley devoted just a brief and shallow part of the interview to the topic of what happened at Archegos. The exchange went as follows:

  • Pelley: “A private hedge fund called Archegos collapsed last month after borrowing billions from banks to make risky bets on stocks. Now the banks are out billions of dollars. How concerned are you that the financial system is blundering into the same kind of opaque, risky bets that led to the Great Recession in 2008?
  • Powell: “This is an event that we’re monitoring very carefully and working with regulators here and around the world to understand carefully. And I would say a couple things. First, this incident doesn’t really raise questions about the stability of the financial system or of those institutions, which are mostly foreign banks.

Let’s first focus on the preposterous statement by Powell, which goes unchallenged by Pelley, that “…this incident doesn’t really raise questions about the stability of the financial system or of those institutions, which are mostly foreign banks.”In reality, this incident goes to the very heart of the stability of the financial system in the U.S. It was the blowup of two of Bear Stearns’ overleveraged hedge funds that took down the whole firm in March of 2008 and signaled the bigger rot in the U.S. financial system that would implode much of Wall Street by September of that same year, taking the U.S. economy with it and requiring a $29 trillion bailout by the Fed to resuscitate the casino banks.Secondly, the recent Archegos blowup is decidedly not about “mostly foreign banks.” That Powell would attempt to misinform the American people on this point strongly suggests this interview was a propaganda effort on the part of the Fed. Two of the banks intimately involved in the Archegos blowup are Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Both of these firms are U.S. firms and are supervised by the Fed; both of these firms are allowed to own federally-insured banks while also engaging in trillions of dollars of high-risk derivatives.And, the hedge fund that was involved was created here in the United States and the leverage was provided here in the United States, in complete violation of the Fed’s own Regulation T, which limits initial margin loans to 50 percent of the value of the stock being purchased – not the six to one leverage (or more) that the banks provided to Archegos.

The WSJ April Survey: Accelerating Growth Prospects - Menzie Chinn -The survey results are out, and once again, the outlook improves.  Figure 1: GDP actual (bold black), WSJ April survey mean (blue), February (red), December (green), October (light blue), CBO estimate of potential GDP (gray), all in billions Ch.2012$, on log scale. Forecasted levels calculated by cumulating growth rates to latest GDP level reported. Source: BEA (2020Q4 3rd release), WSJ surveys (various), CBO (February 2021), and author’s calculations. The implied output gap by 2022Q2 is 1.9%, compared to 1.3% from last month’s survey (discussed here). Despite the improvement in the central tendency of forecasts, there remains wide disagreement.  Figure 2: GDP actual (bold black), WSJ April survey mean (blue), Cummins/Nat West Markets (red), Fienup, Hamilton/California Lutheran University (green), CBO estimate of potential GDP (gray), all in billions Ch.2012$, on log scale. Foreacasted levels calculated by cumulating growth rates to latest GDP level reported. Source: BEA (2020Q4 3rd release), WSJ surveys (various), CBO (February 2021), and author’s calculations. The low forecast implies that an output gap of -1.3% remains by 2022Q2 (the high is 5.1%). In other words, some economists view as plausible the existence of slack in mid-2022 (and it’s possible that even with the high estimates of growth, slack will exist given a high estimate of potential – see this post). Unsurprisingly, the inflation forecasts have been marked up as well. However, even with 12 month inflation in December 2021 being marked up to 2.58% from 2.48%, the price level will still be below 2016-19 trend.  Figure 3: CPI-all (bold black), CPI implied by WSJ April survey (teal squares), and 2016-19 trend (red), all at end of quarter, on log scale. Source: BLS via FRED, WSJ April survey, and author’s calculations.

Seven High Frequency Indicators for the Economy -- These indicators are mostly for travel and entertainment.  The TSA is providing daily travel numbers. This data shows the seven day average of daily total traveler throughput from the TSA for 2019 (Light Blue), 2020 (Blue) and 2021 (Red). This data is as of April 11th. The seven day average is down 38.7% from the same day in 2019 (61.3% of last year).   The second graph shows the 7 day average of the year-over-year change in diners as tabulated by OpenTable for the US and several selected cities. This data is updated through April 9, 2021.   Dining picked up during the holidays, then slumped with the huge winter surge in cases.  Dining is picking up again - and is above 2019 in Texas and Florida.   This data shows domestic box office for each week and the median for the years 2016 through 2019 (dashed light blue).  Blue is 2020 and Red is 2021.  The data is from BoxOfficeMojo through Apr 8th.   Movie ticket sales were at $49 million last week,  down about 71% from the median for the week. This graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average.   Occupancy has increased to 2009 levels - and 2009 was horrible for hotels. This data is through April 3rd. Hotel occupancy is currently down 16% compared to same week in 2019). Note: Occupancy was up year-over-year, since occupancy declined sharply at the onset of the pandemic. However, occupancy is still down significantly from normal levels. This graph, based on weekly data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), shows gasoline supplied compared to the same week of 2019. Blue is for 2020.  Red is for 2021. As of April 2nd, gasoline supplied was off about 10.5% (about 89.5% of the same week in 2019).  This graph is from Apple mobility. From Apple: "This data is generated by counting the number of requests made to Apple Maps for directions in select countries/regions, sub-regions, and cities." This is just a general guide - people that regularly commute probably don't ask for directions.  There is also some great data on mobility from the Dallas Fed Mobility and Engagement Index. However the index is set "relative to its weekday-specific average over January–February", and is not seasonally adjusted, so we can't tell if an increase in mobility is due to recovery or just the normal increase in the Spring and Summer.  This data is through April 10th for the United States and several selected cities.  The graph is the running 7 day average to remove the impact of weekends.  According to the Apple data directions requests, public transit in the 7 day average for the US is at 67% of the January 2020 level. It is at 59% in Chicago, and 62% in Houston (the Houston dip was a weather related decline) - and moving up recently.  Here is some interesting data on New York subway usage. This graph is from Todd W Schneider. This is weekly data since 2015.   Most weeks are between 30 and 35 million entries, and currently there close to 10 million subway turnstile entries per week. This data is through Friday, April 9th.

CPI Surprise - Menzie Chinn - The CPI came in slightly above Bloomberg consensus (2.6% vs 2.5%), and above the WSJ April survey consensus (shown below). Figure 1: CPI All urban (blue), Bloomberg consensus as of 4/12 (pink inverted triangle), WSJ April survey mean implied by forecasted inflation rate (teal square), and 2016-19 trend line (red), all on log scale. Source: BLS via FRED, Bloomberg, WSJ April survey, and author’s calculations.In other words, the March release is above the path implied by the WSJ survey that had only been taken a week or so earlier. That being said, there is barely a blip in markets showing an increase in inflation expectations. nFigure 2. Five year inflation breakeven calculated as five year Treasury yield minus five year TIPS yield (blue), five year breakeven adjusted by term premium and liquidity premium per DKW, all in %. Red dashed line at 4/13, CPI release date. Source: FRB via FRED, KWW following D’amico, Kim and Wei (DKW), and author’s calculations.Torsten Slok (Apollo Global Management) writes today:Inflation for March came in at 2.6%, and the most likely scenario is that inflation in the second half of this year will move below 2% again. That is also what the consensus expects.But there is a 25% probability that we will see a substantial overshoot where inflation will be above 2.2% for the rest of 2021.One particularly troubling aspect of the inflation outlook is the fact that a very high number of companies are saying that they are planning to raise prices of the products they are selling

Today’s inflation data show zero sign of sustained economic overheating - EPI Blog - Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the overall consumer price index (CPI) in March 2021 was 2.6% higher than in March 2020, while the “core” measure of the CPI (which excludes volatile food and energy prices) was 1.6% higher than a year ago. Given that these are noticeable (if modest) increases over recent months’ year-over-year inflation rates, some might be tempted to argue that this data should make policymakers worry about economic “overheating” stemming from “too much” fiscal support provided in recent recovery legislation. This is clearly wrong, for a number of reasons:

  • The data released today do not show that prices have risen rapidly since recovery legislation passed—instead they just show that prices plummeted during the near-total shutdown of large swaths of the economy a year ago in response to the COVID-19 shock.
    • Measured on an annualized basis from February 2020—before the COVID-19 economic shock—inflation in March 2021 was running at just 1.5%.
    • Measured since October—shortly before the $2.8 trillion in additional relief spending provided by legislation in December 2020 and the American Rescue Plan (ARP) in March—inflation is running at an annualized rate of 1.3%.
  • Non-price measures continue to show enormous degrees of economic slack, so there is no conceivable way that the U.S. economy was overheating in March 2021.
    • Employment remains 8.4 million jobs below what prevailed in February 2020. If we add in growth in the working-age population, the jobs gap remains over 10 million—larger than it was during the worst parts of the Great Recession of 2008-09.
    • Nominal wage growth (adjusting for composition) remains very tame. True “overheating” has to come from the labor market and this isn’t happening.
    • Nominal consumption spending in the U.S. economy is slightly lower than it was a year ago, before the COVID-19 shock.
  • Even in coming years, and even if growth in economy-wide spending outstrips growth in the economy’s productive capacity for a long stretch of time, damaging inflation that would require policymakers’ response is highly unlikely to appear.
    • Even several years of inflation above 2% would still not make up for years of too-slow price growth over the past 12 years, and making up for these years of too-slow price growth would go a long way to reestablishing the credibility of the Federal Reserve inflation target. This is an opportunity, not a threat.
    • Counterbalancing recent expansionary fiscal actions like the ARP is the steady and significant drag on spending growth imposed by the enormous rise in inequality in recent decades. As inequality has redistributed income from households that spend most of their income to households that save much more, this puts a steady anchor keeping demand growth depressed. Until this structural headwind to growth is addressed, persistent overheating is highly unlikely to happen.
    • Long-lasting upward spirals of wages and price inflation that may call for action from policymakers require relatively balanced bargaining positions of workers and employers to sustain. This does not describe today’s U.S. economy and so such spirals will not happen in coming years.

Today’s data are mostly about what happened in March 2020, not March 2021

 Business Cycle Indicators as of Mid-April -- Menzie Chinn - today, showing a rebound in March. In the context of key macro indicators followed by the NBER Business Cycle Dating Committee: Figure 1: Nonfarm payroll employment from March release (dark blue), Bloomberg consensus as of 4/1 for March nonfarm payroll employment (light blue +), industrial production (red), personal income excluding transfers in Ch.2012$ (green), manufacturing and trade sales in Ch.2012$ (black), consumption in Ch.2012$ (light blue), and monthly GDP in Ch.2012$ (pink), all log normalized to 2020M02=0. Source: BLS, Federal Reserve, BEA, via FRED, IHS Markit (nee Macroeconomic Advisers) (4/1/2021 release), NBER, and author’s calculations.  Industrial production was whipsawed by weather in February, so it makes sense to look at manufacturing production as well. Seasonally adjusted industrial production rose 1.4% vs. 2.8% for manufacturing production (18.7% vs. 39.1% annualized). Industrial production is 3.4% below levels at NBER peak (2020M02), while manufacturing is 1.7% below. Incidentally, neither has re-attained the local maxima in January 2021. Atlanta Fed GDPNow (4/15) is for 8.3% in Q1; IHS Markit nowcast (4/15) is 6.0% (both figures SAAR).

Against mounting odds, Biden seeks GOP support for infrastructure plan - President Biden on Monday intensified his effort to win broad congressional support for his massive infrastructure plan, huddling with eight lawmakers from both chambers in search of that rarest of things in today's hyperpolarized Washington: bipartisanship. The gathering marked the first time the president has met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers on infrastructure since he introduced his American Jobs Plan on March 31 in Pittsburgh. He previously hosted a small cadre of Republican and Democratic senators in the Oval Office in February. But the two parties remained far apart after the nearly two-hour meeting. Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, called it a “good discussion,” one in which Biden did most of the talking. But Wicker said pieces of Biden’s proposal would be “non-starters” for Republicans, particularly his idea to pay for the package through big corporate tax increases. Wicker said it “would be an almost impossible sell for the president to come to a bipartisan agreement that included the undoing” of the GOP’s 2017 tax cuts law. "I did tell him that," Wicker told reporters after the meeting. “Whether we'll be able to come to a bipartisan agreement that gets as expansive and as massive as he would like to, I don't know.” "I certainly appreciated the words in the room, but obviously the follow-up actions are … most important,” Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told The Hill after the meeting. The comments highlight the barriers facing the new administration as Biden seeks to honor a central campaign vow — working across the aisle in search of bipartisan solutions to the nation’s gravest problems — without alienating the liberal base that put him in office. The infrastructure package, among Biden’s top year-one priorities, is an enormous $2.25 trillion wish list that combines hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending for traditional public works projects like roads, bridges and public transit, with funding to fight climate change and additional provisions to prop up America’s families, including new child care and health care benefits.Democrats are leaning toward a plan to separate the package into two smaller proposals: one featuring the more conventional infrastructure projects, which party leaders believe have a better chance of winning Republican support; and the other focused on the family care provisions, which face stronger headwinds from the right. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said she wants to pass both before Congress’s August recess, but there are plenty of hurdles standing in the way. Internally, Democrats are at odds over the size of the package, with liberals urging Biden to go bigger while moderates are more wary of deficit spending — and the political blowback that might accompany it. Across the aisle, the president is also facing heavy resistance from conservatives who say the package is too large, leans heavily on tax increases and covers too many issues outside the realm of traditional infrastructure. "You can't just make up words and add 'infrastructure’ at the end,” Graves said in the phone interview, panning what Democrats are calling "social infrastructure."

 Rep. Katie Porter calls Biden's move to split up his infrastructure package 'a big mistake' -Democratic Rep. Katie Porter of California called President Joe Biden's decision to split up his infrastructure plan into separate jobs and family components a major error. "This idea that there are two separate buckets, a bucket of American Jobs Plan ... and this idea he has a second plan coming soon that he's called the American Families Plan. I told the White House, 'I think this is a big mistake,'" she said in an Axios interview published Friday.She continued: "I think it's mislabeling what you know as president to be true, which is that all of this is about our economy and economic recovery.""Strong family policy is strong jobs policy," she said. Porter previously expressed a fear that women could be left behind in the Biden plan, CNBC reported.Biden recently unveiled a $2.3 trillion public-works plan, the first of two plans aimed at upgrading the nation's infrastructure. The plancontains new funds to repair deteriorating roads and bridges, eliminate lead pipes from water systems, and widen the reach of broadband networks.The second part will be known as the American Family Plan, a package expected to contain a multi-trillion investment into childcare and education. Republicans are strongly critical of the Democratic infrastructure push, arguing that its tax hikes would slam into the economy.Last month, Biden noted that 2 millions women had left the workforce since the pandemic started."A lot of that is because so much extra weight of caregiving and responsibility is falling on their shoulders," he said at a White House event. "It causes women to miss work, cut hours, and leave their jobs and care for their children and aging loved ones." "How many men are staying home and doing it, and the woman's staying in the workforce?" he asked.

INFRASTRUCTURE: Oval Office meeting fails to bridge partisan divide -- Tuesday, April 13, 2021 -- President Biden's meeting yesterday with lawmakers from both parties failed to produce a breakthrough over partisan tensions about his sweeping infrastructure plan, even as lawmakers expressed tepid optimism about the dialogue.

Washington Post reporter explains how taxes in Biden infrastructure plan would affect multinational corporations – video - Washington Post economics reporter Jeff Stein on Monday delved into how taxes in President Biden's infrastructure proposal could dramatically change how multinational corporations operate.While appearing on Hill.TV's "Rising," Stein noted that former President Trump's 2017 tax law, whether inadvertently or not, encouraged corporations to move their operations overseas.  "So there's going to be a lot of measures in the Democratic plans ... dramatically increasing what corporations pay on their overseas operations," Stein said.Stein also said that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is working with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to stop the global corporate tax rate from dropping, as it has for decades in Europe, the U.S. and Asia."Instead of trying to just compete with these other countries, what Yellen is trying to do is coordinate an international effort in which the globe agrees to stop this race to the bottom," Stein said. "And the idea there is that even if the U.S. increases its corporate taxes, once that floor is enacted across the world, there will be less of an incentive for, you know, corporations... to go abroad."According to Stein, this plan is an "interesting inversion" of what Democrats have typically espoused, that higher taxes don't actually cause companies to move abroad. "Yellen is kind of implicitly acknowledging that Republicans might have a point here," Stein said.

Only Multilateral Cooperation Can Stop Harmful Tax Competition - US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has urged all governments to support a global minimum corporate tax rate of at least 21%. The US is working with other G20 nations to get other countries to end the “thirty-year race to the bottom on corporate tax rates”. For Yellen, “governments [should] have stable tax systems that raise sufficient revenue to invest in essential public goods and respond to crises, and that all citizens fairly share the burden of financing government”.The Biden administration has unveiled a plan to reverse Trump’s tax cuts and raise US corporate tax rates from 21% to 28%. Crucially, it wants to increase tax rates on US firms’ overseas profits – global intangible low-tax income (GILTI) – from 10.5% to at least 21%. This should be calculated on a country-by-country basis including all tax havens, i.e., low- or no-tax locations, to minimise evasion.The US Treasury is also keen to reach international agreement over a digital tax for online giants such as Amazon and Facebook. This sharply contrasts with Trump’s threat of retaliation against countries attempting to tax US-based tech giants.The Economist estimates that in the past decade, the ‘big five’ – Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Google – paid only 16% of their profits in tax. The Bretton Woods institutions (BWIs) – the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank – promoted Reaganite ‘supply side economics’ from the 1980s, claiming excessive tax rates discourage labour supply and entrepreneurship.However, contrary to proponents’ claims, most tax cuts have resulted in net revenue losses, with Trump’s cuts resulting in a shortfall of US$275 billion, or 7.6% of previously expected revenue.As countries raced to the bottom, offering increasingly generous tax incentives to attract investments by transnational corporations (TNCs), the average worldwide statutory corporate tax rate fell from 40% in 1980 to 24% in 2020.Countries also lose revenue as TNCs use legal loopholes to minimise tax payments, e.g., by abusing differences between national tax rules and bilateral double taxation agreements. They strive for ‘double non-taxation’ to avoid paying tax in all jurisdictions. Thus, US$500–600bn, or around 10–15% of annual global corporate tax revenue, is lost yearly to TNCs shifting profits to tax havens, using base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) book-keeping. Corporate income taxation is much more important for developing countries, e.g., comprising 18.6% of tax revenue in Africa, 15.5% in Latin America and Caribbean, and 9.3% in OECD countries in 2017. Clearly, tax competition and TNC tax avoidance hurt developing countries more. As share of GDP, Sub‐Saharan Africa has lost most, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean, and South Asia.

West Virginia's infrastructure received a D grade in state-by-state breakdowns --The Biden White House pushed for its $2.3 trillion infrastructure package with the release of state-by-state breakdowns. West Virginia's infrastructure received a D grade, including analysis of roads, bridges, the power grid and housing affordability. Here is the administration’s analysis specific to the Mountain State: The Need for Action in West Virginia For decades, infrastructure in West Virginia has suffered from a systemic lack of investment. The need for action is clear: West Virginia’s infrastructure received a D grade on its Infrastructure Report Card. The American Jobs Plan will make a historic investment in our nation’s infrastructure.

  • ROADS AND BRIDGES: In West Virginia there are 1,545 bridges and over 3,200 miles of highway in poor condition. Since 2011, commute times have increased by 6.4 percent in West Virginia and on average, each driver pays $726 per year in costs due to driving on roads in need of repair. The American Jobs Plan will devote more than $600 billion to transform our nations' transportation infrastructure and make it more resilient, including $115 billion repairing roads and bridges.
  • PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: West Virginians who take public transportation spend an extra 76.7 percent of their time commuting and non-White households are 4.9 times more likely to commute via public transportation. 32% of trains and other transit vehicles in the state are past useful life. The American Jobs Plan will modernize public transit with an $85 billion investment.
  • RESILIENT INFRASTRUCTURE: From 2010 to 2020, West Virginia has experienced 11 extreme weather events, costing the state up to $2 billion in damages. The President is calling for $50 billion to improve the resiliency of our infrastructure and support communities’ recovery from disaster.
  • DRINKING WATER: Over the next 20 years, West Virginia’s drinking water infrastructure will require $1.4 billion in additional funding. The American Jobs Plan includes a $111 billion investment to ensure clean, safe drinking water is a right in all communities.
  • HOUSING: In part due to a lack of available and affordable housing, 83,000 renters in West Virginia are rent burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent. The President proposes investing over $200 billion to increase housing supply and address the affordable housing crisis.
  • BROADBAND: 24 percent of West Virginians live in areas where, by one definition, there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. And 66.8 percent of West Virginians live in areas where there is only one such internet provider. Even where infrastructure is available, broadband may be too expensive to be within reach. Nineteen percent of West Virginia households do not have an internet subscription. The American Jobs Plan will invest $100 billion to bring universal, reliable, high-speed, and affordable coverage to every family in America.

 Pennsylvania’s Infrastructure Gets C-Minus From White House Report – The figures in the state summaries paint a decidedly bleak outlook for the world’s largest economy after years of repairs being deferred and delayed. They suggest that too much infrastructure is unsafe for vehicles at any speed, while highlighting the costs of extreme weather events that have become more frequent with climate change as well as dead spots for broadband and a dearth of child care options.Drawn from an array of private and public data, the state reports show there are 7,300 miles (11,748 kilometers) of highway in Michigan alone that are in poor condition. Damaged streets in North Carolina impose an average yearly cost of $500 on motorists. Iowa has 4,571 bridges in need of repair. There is a roughly 4-in-10 chance that a public transit vehicle in Indiana might be ready for the scrap yard. Pennsylvania’s schools are short $1.4 billion for maintenance and upgrades.Most states received a letter grade on their infrastructure. West Virginia earned a D. So did Biden’s home state of Delaware. Of the states rated, the highest grade went to Georgia and Utah, which each notched a C-plus. The lowest grade, D-minus, went to the territory of Puerto Rico.Pennsylvania received a C-minus. The report says there are 3,353 bridges and over 7,540 miles of highway in poor condition. It says 22% of trains and other transit vehicles are “past useful life.” It also says extreme weather events have cost the state up to $10 billion in damages.The administration is banking that the data will confirm the everyday experiences of Americans as they bump over potholes, get trapped in traffic jams and wait for buses that almost never correspond to published schedules. There is already a receptive audience to the sales pitch, and the strategy is that public support can overcome any congressional misgivings.

Another Minimum Wage Proposal - Menzie Chinn  -There’s a rumored plan by Senators Romney and Sinema to raise the minimum wage to $11. Assuming the phase is four years (as in the proposed Cotton plan to raise to $10) starting in June 2021, the trajectory of the real minimum wage looks like: Figure 1: Federal minimum wage in 2020$ (black), under Romney-Sinema proposal, assuming 4 year phase in (red), and Sanders proposal (teal). NBER defined recession dates and NBER peak shaded gray. Quarterly CBO CPI projections interpolated by quadratic match. Source: BLS, CBO (February 2021), NBER, author’s calculations.If the minimum wage is raised to $11 in June 2024, then the real wage will match that last seen in February 1980.CBO has just revised their interactive tool for evaluating minimum wage proposals.

Seven takeaways from Biden's budget proposal: defense, immigration, climate | Reuters - Here are seven takeaways from U.S. President Joe Biden’s proposed federal budget, released on Friday:

  1. HEADLINE NUMBERS. Federal discretionary spending is up by 8.4% compared to 2021 levels, excluding emergency funding, to $1.52 trillion, with a focus on health, education and climate. About two-thirds of the massive budget is “mandatory” spending for benefits like Social Security and Medicare.
  2. MILITARY AND DEFENSE SPENDING. Making up about half of the U.S. discretionary budget, this would increase by 1.7% to $753 billion. The increase will likely upset progressives, who pushed for cuts to the never-audited Defense Department to fuel other policy priorities. Because it is lower than former President Donald Trump’s 2022 projections, it may also anger Republican defense hawks pushing for more spending.
  3. HEALTH AND MEDICAL RESEARCH. The budget includes $8.7 billion in funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, representing what the White House says is the largest increase in two decades. The CDC has suffered from a decade of declining funding, and the agency's muddled response to the coronavirus pandemic may have contributed to the spread of the disease, Reuters reported here. The budget also allocates $6.5 billion for a new research agency to direct federal funding to diabetes, Alzheimer's and cancer research, and $10.7 billion to research and prevent opioid addiction, representing a nearly $4 billion increase from last year.
  4. IMMIGRATION. The budget includes $52 billion for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, with about $1.2 billion going to investments in modern border security technology. It lays out spending to rebuild the refugee program, which was slashed dramatically under Trump, and boosts funding to reduce backlogs in the immigration court system and in the processing of asylum and citizenship cases.
  5. CLIMATE. The proposal includes budget boosts of about 20% for the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Science Foundation over last year’s enacted levels. A total $14 billion boost on climate spending is expected to go a long way toward reversing Trump’s slashing of regulations on fossil fuel producers such as rules on methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and provides $1.2 billion for the international Green Climate Fund as part of Biden’s re-entry into the Paris Agreement on climate change.
  6. IMPOVERISHED SCHOOLS. Biden’s budget would distribute a record $36.5 billion to America’s neediest school districts through the Title I federal aid program, up $20 billion from the 2021 enacted level. This comes on the heels of the American Rescue Plan Act, which invested more than $122 billion in K-12 public schools and allocated funds based on poverty concentration. The budget includes $1 billion for school nurses and mental health programs to address effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  7. TRANSIT. The administration is proposing $600 million to buy electric vehicles for government agencies and charging stations, including for the U.S. Postal Service and $8 billion for the Energy Department to invest in clean energy technologies, up 27% over the prior year’s funding. It would also boost U.S. passenger railroad Amtrak funding by 35%.

Lawmakers want Biden to pressure Saudi Arabia to end Yemen blockade - Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the House are calling for the Biden administration to tell Saudi Arabia to lift its sea blockade of Yemen, saying the embargo on key ports of entry is a direct cause of the humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country. In a letter sent Tuesday to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, lawmakers said Riyadh’s embargo on ports controlled by Houthi separatists in the north of Yemen is doing little to block delivery of Iranian weapons but is having a catastrophic impact on civilians. “Since 2015, the restrictions imposed by the coalition have critically exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in Yemen,” the lawmakers wrote, referring to the Saudi-led coalition that supports the internationally-recognized government of Yemen in the country’s south. “The interference, delay, and outright blocking of commercial goods and humanitarian assistance shipped to Yemen’s ports is a principal cause of price inflation, food insecurity, economic collapse, and the failure of public services in Yemen. These measures do not interrupt the supply of Iranian and other weapons to the Houthis, especially given the establishment of the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM) in 2016.” In particular, the lawmakers call for the blockade to be lifted from the Hodeidah port in the north of Yemen. Saudi Arabia allowed at least four commercial fuel ships to enter Hodeidah last month, a move welcomed at the time by the State Department, which called it “a step in the right direction.” Lawmakers said this showed the administration’s diplomatic efforts are “bearing fruit” and said that such allowances be extended to commercial and humanitarian imports. “We understand that the conflict in Yemen is complex and affects broader political and security interests, but we nonetheless ask that you stress the need to remove import restrictions immediately on humanitarian grounds.” The letter was sent by Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), chair of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East, Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and the ranking Republican member of the subcommittee, Joe Wilson (S.C.). It was supported by the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), and eight Democratic members of the panel. The letter comes as President Biden’s special envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, is heading to the Gulf on April 14 for his fifth visit to the region since February, in an effort to push forward negotiations on a political solution to Yemen’s six-year civil war.

Biden to move ahead with $23 billion UAE weapons sale approved by Trump -- The Biden administration is moving ahead with a $23 billion arms sale to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that was approved under the Trump administration. “We can confirm that that the Administration intends to move forward with these proposed defense sales to the UAE, even as we continue reviewing details and consulting with Emirati officials to ensure we have developed mutual understandings with respect to Emirati obligations before, during, and after delivery,” a State Department spokesperson told The Hill. HuffPost first reported the plan. Former President Trump first announced the sale last year after the UAE agreed to form diplomatic relations with Israel. The package includes 50 F-35 Lightning II aircraft, as many as 18 MQ-9B unmanned aerial systems, and air-to-air and air-to-ground projectiles. The State Department said in January it was pausing the sale so the Biden administration could review the package. The sale had drawn ire from Democrats who have been critical of Saudi Arabia's and the UAE’s roles in Yemen’s civil war against the Houthi rebels, which has killed thousands of civilians and led to a dire humanitarian crisis. The State Department spokesperson maintained that the Biden administration would communicate with the UAE that the weapons must be used appropriately and that they would not be delivered until 2025 at the earliest. “The estimated delivery dates on these sales, if implemented, are scheduled for after 2025 or later. Thus, we anticipate a robust and sustained dialogue with the UAE to any defense transfers meet our mutual strategic objectives to build a stronger, interoperable, and more capable security partnership,” the spokesperson said. “We will also continue to reinforce with the UAE and all recipients of U.S. defense articles and services that U.S.-origin defense equipment must be adequately secured and used in a manner that respects human rights and fully complies with the laws of armed conflict,” the spokesperson added. Besides the UAE’s role in Yemen, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed concern about the sale’s potential to erode Israel’s military advantage in the region. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz said they would not oppose selling Abu Dhabi “certain weapons systems” after the U.S. vowed to provide unspecified upgrades for Israel’s armed forces.

 Slaughter Central: The United States as a Mass-Killing Machine -- By the time you read this piece, it will already be out of date. The reason’s simple enough. No matter what mayhem I describe, with so much all-American weaponry in this world of ours, there’s no way to keep up. Often, despite the headlines that go with mass killings here, there’s almost no way even to know.On this planet of ours, America is the emperor of weaponry, even if in ways we normally tend not to put together. There’s really no question about it. The all-American powers-that-be and the arms makers that go with them dream up, produce, and sell weaponry, domestically and internationally, in an unmatched fashion. You’ll undoubtedly be shocked, shocked to learn that thetop five arms makers on the planet — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Dynamics — are all located in the United States.Put another way, we’re a killer nation, a mass-murder machine, slaughter central. And as we’ve known since the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, there could be far worse to come. After all, in the overheated dreams of both those weapons makers and Pentagon planners, slaughter-to-be has long been imagined on a planetary scale, right down to the latest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) being created by Northrop Grumman at the cost of at least $100 billion. Each of those future arms of ultimate destruction is slated to be “the length of a bowling lane” and the nuclear charge that it carries will be at least 20 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. That missile will someday be capable of traveling 6,000 miles and killing hundreds of thousands of people each. (And the Air Force is planning to order 600 of them.)By the end of this decade, that new ICBM is slated to join an unequaled American nuclear arsenal of — at this moment — 3,800 warheads. And with that in mind, let’s just start right here at home. After all, we live in a country whose citizens are armed to their all-too-labile fingertips with more guns of every advanced sort than might once have been imaginable. The figures are stunning. Even before the pandemic hit and gun purchases soared to record levels — about 23 million of them (a 64% increase over 2019 sales) — American civilians were reported to possess almost 400 million firearms. That adds up to about 40% of all such weaponry in the hands of civilians globally, or more than the next 25 countries combined. And if that doesn’t stagger you, note that the versions of those weapons in public hands are becoming ever more militarized and powerful, ever more AR-15 semi-automatic rifles, not .22s. And keep in mind as well that, over the years, the death toll from those weapons in this country has grown staggeringly large. As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote recently, “More Americans have died from guns just since 1975, including suicides, murders and accidents (more than 1.5 million), than in all the wars in United States history, dating back to the Revolutionary War (about 1.4 million).”

 US announces deal with Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras to use military against migrants - The Biden administration announced agreements this week with the governments of Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras to deploy thousands of troops and police against refugees escaping a growing humanitarian crisis in the region. White House press secretary Jen Psaki reported that Mexico agreed to keep 10,000 troops deployed across its southern border, Guatemala will deploy 1,500 soldiers and police to block migration routes, and Honduras will field 7,000 military and police personnel to stop migrants from leaving the country. “The objective is to make it more difficult to make the journey and make crossing the borders more, more difficult,” explained Psaki.Currently, there are 3,600 US active-duty soldiers deployed on the US southern border in support of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which requested in February that this continue for “the next three to five years, possibly more.”The Mexican foreign ministry confirmed the deal shortly after the US announcement in a statement that pledged: “Mexico will maintain its existing deployment of federal forces along its border region…” Fearful of a domestic backlash, the Honduran and Guatemalan governments denied any official agreements. Vice President Kamala Harris announced Wednesday that she is planning a trip to Mexico and Guatemala to discuss addressing the “root causes” of migration, including investments promised by Biden. While the militarized crackdown is already taking place, including against two caravans this year, promises to alleviate social ills ring hollow. Economic desperation is a core component not only for maintaining Mexico and Central America as platforms for cheap labor but for coercing workers into going into infected workplaces during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ruling elites have already demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice countless lives for profits. Even as the militarization agreement was being announced, 30 Mexican Marines were detained for participating in the disappearance of dozens of people ostensibly as part of the “war on drugs” that has left over 250,000 people dead and 85,000 missing since 2006. So far this year, Mexican security forces are known to have murdered two migrants. Beyond this notorious case, the Honduran regime has regularly massacred protesters and striking workers since being installed in a 2009 military coup backed by the Obama administration. Current President Juan Orlando Hernández has been named by US prosecutors as a major partner of Mexican and Honduran drug cartels. More than 172,000 migrants were arrested by the US Border Patrol in March, up 71 percent from February. More than 20,000 unaccompanied minors remain under US custody in overcrowded and jail-like detention centers, where they are forced to remain far beyond the legal limit of 72 hours. Over 60 percent of the migrants detained last month were immediately returned to Mexico under Title 42, the same law employed by the Trump administration, using the pandemic as a pretext to abrogate the right to apply for asylum enshrined in US and international law.

  Biden administration admitting record low number of refugees into US - The Biden administration has only allowed 2,050 refugees to resettle in the US at the midpoint through the fiscal year, which began October 1, according to a report by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a non-profit humanitarian aid organization. The IRC report projects that the Biden administration will admit just 4,510 refugees by the end of the fiscal year, less than half the number that Trump admitted in his final year in office and a record low. President Joe Biden has made several promises that he would roll back Trump era restrictions on refugee admittance. Upon entering office, Biden signed several executive orders aimed at reversing some Trump policies. In February he announced that he would raise the annual ceiling on refugee admissions to 125,000, up from Trump’s historic low of just 15,000, and that he would raise the goal for 2021 to 62,500. However, this has not yet occurred. In order to raise the cap on refugee admissions the president needs to sign a “presidential determination”—a form of executive decree similar to an executive order— legally establishing the new threshold. This could be done at any time with the stroke of a pen, yet Biden has so far not done so, keeping the cap on refugees at 15,000 and leaving many of Trump’s restrictive policies still in place. “I don’t know the specific reason why [Biden] hasn’t signed, and it’s really unusual that he hasn’t signed,” Nazanin Ash, the IRC’s vice president for global policy and advocacy said in a statement to the Washington Post. “It is typically a standard, automatic last step in the process.” Roberta Jacobson, the White House border coordinator told CNN in March that the administration would dismantle Trump’s policies “in a deliberate way” and that “we have to make sure that we’re doing it in a way that is well considered and that responds to where the need is.” Jacobson’s excuse did not satisfy the IRC, which referred to the administration’s delay on reform as “unexplained” and “unjustified.” In addition to severely limiting refugee resettlement, the Biden administration has also refused to rescind many of Trump’s restrictions on majority Muslim countries. While Biden reversed Trump’s prohibitions on refugees from many Muslim-majority countries, he has not reversed restrictions that target Muslim refugees, including policies like “extreme vetting.” Because of this, only 42 Syrian refugees have been resettled in the United States this fiscal year, while millions remain displaced by a decade of conflict fueled by American imperialism.

Ethics panel upholds metal detector fines totaling $15K against Rep. Clyde -- The House Ethics Committee said Monday that it is upholding two fines worth a total of up to $15,000 against Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) for failing to comply with security screenings to enter the House chamber. Clyde was issued his first fine on Feb. 4 and a second four days later. Under the rules House Democrats adopted just two days before Clyde received his first fine, lawmakers face a fine of $5,000 for the first offense and $10,000 for the second. In his appeal to the House Ethics Committee, Clyde did not deny that he had evaded the metal detectors stationed outside the House chamber as a security measure established in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection. Instead, he maintained that the fines are unconstitutional — arguing in part that it violates the 27th Amendment that prohibits any law that changes lawmakers' salaries before their next terms in office — and have been selectively enforced. Clyde further said Monday that he plans to challenge the fines in federal court. "This now provides the legal standing which I needed to challenge this unconstitutional resolution," Clyde said in a statement. "I will take my case to federal court where I am confident justice will be served." To date, the House Ethics Committee has upheld fines issued against lawmakers for bypassing the security screenings. Late last month, the Ethics Committee upheld a $5,000 fine against Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas). To date, Gohmert and Clyde are the only lawmakers known to have been issued metal detector fines.

Whither AOC? - One of the defining marks of the current divide among Democratic Party supporters is what to expect from Party elected officials. The “practicalists” (I’ll explain that term in a moment) celebrate the transition from Trump and Republican destruction, see optimistic promise in Biden’s tentative populism, and experience an almost existential relief at their deliverance. This group is dancing in the streets.Don’t take the latter effect lightly: A great many people felt traumatized to their bones by Trump and his era, and whether or not that feeling was shared by you and your own friends, it’s nonetheless real for others and it informs their reaction to everything that has followed. I suspect the practicalists — those starved for delivery from Republican rule — form the majority of the Party electorate.The “idealists” (so called by the so-called practicalists) feel relief at release from the Trumpian grip, but not so much that they can calm their fear of the next neoliberal president, however kinder and gentler (even than the last one) he may prove to be.The “practicalists,” of course, are of a first-thing-first frame of mind, or so they see themselves. “First, we get rid of Republicans,” they say. “Then we secure the gate from renewed assault.” And only after that do they look at the rubble of the world and start to rebuild in earnest. […] Which brings us to the growing battle over the direction being taken by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). Not the news that corporate Democrats are refusing or returning the campaign cash she gave them — the news about her giving her money to corporate Democrats in the first place.The three Democrats named in the Politico piece linked above, those whose campaigns AOC tried to support, are Conor Lamb, a man who thinks the $15 minimum wage is too high, New Dem caucus member Carolyn Bourdeaux, and Elissa Slotkin, an ex-CIA security hawk who “rejects Medicare For All” in favor of improving the ACA and the never-going-to appear (and easily gamed if it does) “public option.” As Howie Klein put it, all are part of “the Republican wing of the Democratic Party” and all are members of the notoriously pro-corporate “Problem Solvers Caucus.”Why on earth is Alexandria Occasio-Cortez, a genuine hero of the people, supporting — with money given personally to her — the pro-corporate Democrats her supporters roundly despise? The answer from her defenders, well-meaning but sometimes tetchy, is “So we can make sure that Democrats keep control of government…stupid! Because, you know, job one is Republicans.”Thus the divide. On a scale of one to the-next-eight-years or so, how important is it that Democrats keep control of government? On that scale, very, of course.But on a scale of one to your-surviving-g randchildren-living-like-feral-rats, how important is it that Conor Lamb keep his seat so he can vote with Republicans to his heart’s content? I’ll let you decide for yourself.

McConnell sidesteps Trump calling him 'dumb son of a b----'  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday sidestepped blistering criticism from former President Trump, who called the GOP leader a “dumb son of a bitch” in remarks over the weekend. McConnell, known for being tight-lipped with reporters in the Capitol hallways, declined to respond to questions about the former president’s comments. Asked broadly about Trump’s comments or if he had anything he would “like to say,” McConnell didn’t comment. He's likely to face questions again on Tuesday when he holds his weekly news conference. During a Saturday speech to members of the Republican National Committee (RNC) at the former president's private Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Trump unloaded on McConnell because the minority leader did not support overturning the 2020 presidential election results in Congress. “If that were Schumer instead of this dumb son of a bitch Mitch McConnell, they would never allow it to happen. They would have fought it,” Trump told the assembled RNC members, according to The Washington Post, referring to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). Trump, according to the Post, also called McConnell a "stone cold loser." Trump and McConnell were close allies throughout most of his presidency despite their 180-degree stylistic differences, with Trump known for being brash and unwieldy and McConnell publicly reserved and strategic. Trump has publicly praised McConnell, particularly for his work on confirming judicial nominees, and McConnell sidestepped weighing in on some of the former president's biggest controversies. But a massive fissure opened up between the two after Trump falsely claimed the 2020 election was "rigged" and "stolen" from him.

Trump digs in on attacks against Republican leaders  Former President Trump is showing no signs of wanting to unify the GOP even as party leaders scramble to smooth out divisions that they fear will be damaging in the 2022 midterm elections. In a Saturday night speech to attendees at a donor retreat in Florida, Trump railed against his perceived enemies in both parties and offered little, if any, reassurance that he would try to rally together a GOP riddled with internal divisions and desperate to regain governing power in Washington. The former president’s remarks served as a reminder of just how difficult it will be for Republicans to move past the controversies and infighting that have plagued them since Trump’s loss in last year’s presidential election. “It was just Trump being Trump,” one person familiar with the former president’s remarks said. “That’s not surprising, but I don’t see how that moves the conversation forward.” For many of the party’s top fundraisers and dignitaries, the Republican National Committee’s spring donor retreat in Palm Beach represented a chance to regroup after a series of devastating losses in recent months that cost the GOP the White House and its Senate majority. What attendees got instead was an airing of old grievances by Trump, who nearly three months after leaving Washington remains fixated on relitigating his loss in the 2020 presidential election and advancing his feuds with Republicans whom he sees as insufficiently loyal. Among his most notable targets was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), according to one source with knowledge of Trump’s speech to donors. The former president railed against McConnell, calling the Senate’s most powerful Republican a “dumb son of a bitch” and bashing him for acknowledging President Biden’s victory. He also attacked Brian Kemp, the Republican governor of Georgia who made an enemy of Trump last year when he rejected the former president’s pleas to reverse the outcome of the presidential election in the Peach State. Trump has vowed to back a primary challenge to Kemp ahead of his reelection bid next year. Trump also said that he remains disappointed with former Vice President Pence for not doing more to prevent the certification of the 2020 election results by Congress in January, according to a Politico report. The former president has repeatedly insisted that the presidential contest was rigged against him, claiming that widespread voter fraud and systemic irregularities were responsible for his loss despite the courts dismissing multiple lawsuits brought by Republicans challenging the results. Trump remains the most influential Republican in the country and commands the continued support of a loyal voter base that appreciates his willingness to attack his political enemies, including those in his own party.

New York Times defends itself against Project Veritas defamation suit --The New York Times filed its defense Monday against a Project Veritas defamation suit that claims the Times’s coverage of a Veritas video was incorrect, defamatory and driven by resentment on the part of the newspaper’s reporters.Project Veritas, a right-wing group known for publishing undercover sting videos, filed the suit in the Supreme Court of the State of New York in Westchester County last November after asking the Times to retract two stories, one by Maggie Astor and another by Tiffany Hsu, about a Project Veritas video accusing Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) of voter fraud.The two Times stories claimed, in part, that the Project Veritas video was deceptive and probably part of a “coordinated disinformation campaign.”In its response to the suit, the Times denied most of Project Veritas’s claims and allegations, though it did acknowledge some were accurate, including that neither Hsu nor Astor contacted Veritas for their stories.A spokesperson for the Times did not comment on the lawsuit, its defense against it or questions Project Veritas raised in the suit.However, in its legal response the Times did list 14 separate causes for defense against the suit.They included many of the traditional legal defenses used by media outlets, including that Project Veritas can’t sue for defamation because some of the “statements at issue” weren’t presented as facts but as “opinion, or statements of opinion based on disclosed facts.”In its retraction demands, the suit, and in other public statements, Project Veritas criticized the Times’s “opinion” defense.“Unable to rely on facts, the New York Times’ answer, filed [Monday], doubles down on the sad argument that the so-called 'news' it printed, was in fact just 'opinion' passed off as news,” said Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe.

The scandal that wasn’t: Republicans deflated as nation shrugs at Hunter Biden revelations - Where’s Hunter?  The rhetorical question about Joe Biden’s troubled son was posed time and again by Donald Trump during last year’s US presidential election but never caught fire in the way “Lock her up!” did against Hillary Clinton. Still, when it emerged that Hunter would publish a memoir about his struggle with alcoholism and drug abuse, and give TV interviews to promote it, some foresaw a ticking time bomb under the first 100 days of the Biden administration. It has not turned out that way.  Yet Hunter’s book has been praised for its searing honesty and literary style and for challenging the stigma of addiction. As Republicans flail to find a line of attack against Biden that will stick, Hunter’s self-revelations have been met by a shrug in a nation seemingly inured to scandal by Trump himself. “It is amazing how many of their hopes and dreams did centre on Hunter Biden’s addiction, Hunter Biden’s sex life, Hunter Biden’s laptop, and interesting for a political party that has based so much on ‘nothing matters’ to discover to their disappointment that nothing matters,” said Charlie Sykes,author of How the Right Lost Its Mind. “Haven’t they sort of established a small universe where nothing matters? You can pay off a porn star and it doesn’t make a difference. Did they really think that somehow Hunter Biden was going to make a difference?” In the memoir, Beautiful Things, Hunter, 51, details a lifelong struggle with drink and drugs. He writes that his “deep descent” into substance addiction followed the 2015 death of his older brother, Beau, who succumbed to brain cancer aged 46.  Hunter admits that “in the last five years alone, my two-decades-long marriage has dissolved, guns have been put in my face, and at one point I dropped clean off the grid, living in $59-a-night Super 8 motels off I-95 while scaring my family even more than myself”. In an interview about the book on CBS, the president’s son recalled going 13 days without sleep as he smoked crack and drank vodka. “I spent more time on my hands and knees picking through rugs – smoking anything that even remotely resembled crack cocaine. I probably smoked more Parmesan cheese than anyone that you know.” Hunter also uses the book to deny wrongdoing in joining the board of Burisma, a gas company in Ukraine, where he earned more than $50,000 a month from 2014 to 2019. Republicans allege that he benefited from his family name when his father was vice-president. Hunter’s tax affairs are currently under investigation by the justice department.

 Trump lawyers argue NY tax return law no longer applies to him  --Former President Trump's personal lawyers on Monday urged a federal judge to find that a New York state law on congressional tax return requests no longer pertains to the former president because he's out of office. "While the TRUST Act is not the clearest statute, the best reading is that it does not apply to former Presidents," Trump's lawyers wrote in a court filing. New York in 2019 enacted a law, called the TRUST Act, that allows the chairs of Congress's tax committees to request public officials' state tax returns. Trump then filed a lawsuit in an effort to prevent the House Ways and Means Committee from obtaining his state tax returns. Judge Carl Nichols, a federal district court judge in Washington, D.C., appointed by Trump, has ordered the Ways and Means Committee to give the court and Trump's lawyers contemporaneous notice if it requests Trump's state tax returns. He also ordered the committee to not receive any requested state tax returns until 14 days after it makes a request. Trump's lawyers argued that if Nichols does not determine that the TRUST Act no longer applies to Trump, Nichols should keep this order in place. Trump's lawyers said that the Ways and Means Committee won't agree to the proposition that the New York law doesn't pertain to Trump anymore. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) has not requested Trump's state tax returns and has been more focused on obtaining his federal tax returns from the Treasury Department and IRS. Neal's effort to obtain Trump's federal tax returns is the subject of a separate lawsuit. The committee's lawyers said in Monday's court filing that they think Nichols's order doesn't properly respect the Constitution's separation of powers principle. They also noted that Trump didn't pursue any claims challenging the TRUST Act in a New York court once Nichols dismissed New York officials from the lawsuit for lack of jurisdiction. "That non-action by him should now serve as a clear signal to this Court that he did not and does not have any claim worth pursuing about the New York state statute," the committee's lawyers wrote. "This Court should therefore now immediately dismiss this case, leaving plaintiff Trump with whatever remedies he might wish to pursue in an appropriate court against an appropriate defendant."

Expose at Pennsylvania’s Biggest Public Pension Fund Reveals Lavish Private Equity Travel, But Misses How It Serves as a Bribe - Yves Smith - Given the resentment in many quarters of the US towards government employees, particularly those with decent pensions, you’d think cities and states would recognize that having them enjoy lavish, private-equity-paid travel was not only terrible optics but also smacks of corruption. But instead, the prevailing attitude seems to be that as long as the travel bills aren’t being paid directly by the government, the unseemly plushness of these junkets conveniently falls outside official travel policies. A recent expose by the Philadelphia Inquirer does a fine job of documenting the extent and cost of private equity related travel by the investment team at the Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System, or PSERS. The article makes clear that PSERS employees did not book these trips, nor did the pension system pay for them directly. These charges were made to the various private equity funds in which PSERS invests. While PSERS bore only a small fraction of the cost of this travel, it was also paying for other investors’ travel costs. However, the significance isn’t just the lack of propriety of having state employees travel in a style well beyond normal state travel allowances, as well as what these workers would be able to pay personally. The trips to a large degree are unnecessary, save to advance the interests of the general partner, to the detriment of investors like PSERS. These jaunts keep the private equity staff regularly in personal contact with the private equity firms, when as limited partners, they have zero say over investments (we’ll turn later to the role of the toothless-by-design “advisory committees”). These trips serve as marketing and relationship-building for the general partner coming out of the investors’ hides. They also keep public pension employees busy doing fake oversight at the expense of real oversight, which they can do better at their desks, reading the limited partnership agreements and the various documents from the fund managers to understand if they are complying or not. PSERS disclosed its travel expenses…but its accounts would include only trips that paid for by PSERS. For private equity, the charges are nearly all ones later reimbursed by various private equity funds. However, they do not include travel booked and paid for by the private equity funds. So taxpayers have only a partial view. Fron the Inquirer:  The staffers in PSERS’ investment shop are paid somewhat like their counterparts in private high finance. James Grossman, the chief investment officer who has worked for PSERS for nearly 25 years, is the highest-paid employee in state government, making $485,000 yearly. His deputy is paid $399,000. The average salary in the unit is about $190,000. Grossman and most of his staff are often on the road. Their most frequent destination has been New York, followed by London, then Boston. Philadelphia was the fourth most listed destination. Itineraries have included Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon, Macau, Madrid, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Seoul, and Stockholm. They have gone to meetings in such American hot spots as Beverly Hills, Orlando, and Park City, Utah, along with dozens of other U.S. cities.

Two charged in suspect $1 billion transfer using N.Y. credit union - Two people were charged with using a New York state employees credit union to process more than $1 billion in suspect financial transactions while failing to file suspicious activity reports or maintain adequate anti-money-laundering controls. Gyanendra Asre, 53, and Hanan Ofer, 67, persuaded the New York State Employees Federal Credit Union to let them process the transactions, saying they had expertise in anti-money-laundering measures, according to federal prosecutors. Both were 25% equity owners of the credit union at the time and had a history of working in compliance at U.S. financial institutions, according to the indictment. The credit union wasn’t charged. The defendants “devised a scheme to bring lucrative and high-risk, international financial business lines to small, unsophisticated financial institutions,” according to the indictment. They “then caused the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars from high-risk foreign jurisdictions” through the credit union without putting proper anti-money-laundering protections in place, the U.S. alleges. The indictment, which cites Mexico as a key jurisdiction for the transactions, stops short of accusing the two of knowingly laundering money. But it alleges the transactions they processed—which included accepting hundreds of millions of dollars in bulk U.S. dollar deposits from a Mexican bank and then wiring the funds to that bank’s U.S. accounts—had red flags that should have prompted them to report the transactions to U.S. authorities and demand more information about them. A lawyer for Ofer, of New York City, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. A lawyer for Asre, of Greenwich, Connecticut, declined to comment. The case is a joint prosecution of the U.S. Justice Department’s anti-money-laundering unit in Washington and prosecutors with the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn, New York.

One Day Before the Senate Vote on Gary Gensler to Chair the SEC, Senator Toomey, Funded by Wall Street, Berates Him -  Pam Martens - Today is the 85th Day of the Joe Biden Presidency and his nominee to Chair the Securities and Exchange Commission, Gary Gensler, has yet to be confirmed by the full Senate. Apparently, the moneyed interests that control the corporate wing of the Republican party have put Senator Pat Toomey in charge of attempting to derail the nomination.A full Senate vote will take place on Gensler at 11:45 a.m. today, but that vote will be limited to Gensler serving out the balance of the term of Trump’s former SEC Chair Jay Clayton, which expires in – wait for it – 52 days. The Senate Banking Committee had cleared Gensler to not only fill Clayton’s remaining term but had also cleared his reappointment for a five-year term ending on June 5, 2026. That five-year term will not be voted on by the Senate today according to yesterday’s Senate proceedings, likely because Toomey and his ilk are hoping Republicans will take back the Senate in 2022 and return to their Trump-era deregulatory agenda on Wall Street.Under current rules, Gensler would be able to serve in his post for an additional 18 months after this term expires if Biden does not nominate a successor.During his long-winded remarks against the Gensler nomination on the Senate floor yesterday, Toomey showed his dismissal of calls to rein in the gamification of markets by trading platforms like Robinhood that use various behavioral prompts to encourage more active trading among novice investors. Until recently, Robinhood’s trading app had showered  confetti after a trade was made. After criticism in Senate and House hearings, Robinhood announced it would scrap the confetti.The seductive nature of Robinhood’s app was part of recent Congressional hearings on the wild trading in shares of GameStop and other meme stocks, which revealed a deeply conflicted, payment-for-order-flow trading structure benefiting billionaire hedge fund titans on Wall Street. (See here, here, and here.)Toomey had this to say yesterday on the Senate floor: “Some have suggested that we have to take a paternalistic approach to grown adults and maybe limit their ability to make investments because they don’t know well enough what is good for them. And maybe there are apps that make it too user friendly to buy stocks, so maybe that leads to imprudent decisions. “I find it shocking that we would actually contemplate limiting grown adults’ ability to make their own decisions. I wasn’t sure where Mr. Gensler came out on this, and in some respects, I think, he indicated that there may be some sympathy to this paternalistic view that I think would be a very, very big mistake.” It should be noted that for most of its 87-year history, the Securities and Exchange Commission has made protecting the retail investor from the sharks on Wall Street a top priority. This is a realistic view given Wall Street’s rap sheets, not a paternalistic view.You can read Toomey’s full, anti-regulatory remarks beginning on page S1886 of the Congressional Record here. Toomey’s largest donor to either his Campaign Committee and/or Leadership PAC has been the Club for Growth, which has provided more than $1.26 million to Toomey’s coffers. That’s more than 7 times the amount of Toomey’s second and third largest donors.

Banks fear AML relief may be slow to materialize — As the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network seeks public comment on developing a registry to crack down on anonymous shell companies, banks are anxiously awaiting relief from anti-money-laundering reporting burdens. Fincen has begun the process of implementing a law enacted in January requiring companies at incorporation to report their beneficial owners to the agency, which will put the information into a new database. Banks applauded the bill since it will relieve them of current requirements to report their business customers' true owners to Fincen. But the key question for the industry — following the release of the agency's advance notice of proposed rulemaking — is how quickly and to what extent will Fincen ease the customer due diligence rule now imposed on banks. Until that happens, account holders could be reporting their true owners both to the government and to a financial institution. “You don't want Fincen just duplicating the work that banks have to do," said Paul Merski, executive vice president for congressional relations and strategy at the Independent Community Bankers of America. "You want to be able to reduce the reporting requirements for banks.” Fincen published the rulemaking notice in the Federal Register on April 5. It asked stakeholders over 100 questions about the process to implement the Corporate Transparency Act, seeking input on how the agency should collect beneficial ownership information as well as how banks should be able to utilize the information as they combat money laundering. The notice comes as the Biden administration is requesting a $64 million increase in Fincen’s funding for the 2022 fiscal year, pushing the law enforcement agency’s budget to $191 million as it creates the country’s first national corporate beneficial ownership database. Most analysts agree that there is real potential in Fincen’s beneficial ownership database to overhaul the way in which banks and law enforcement root out criminal activity within the financial sector. “The beneficial owner database program really has the potential to be a game changer for the AML effort because it is going to give both law enforcement and banks potentially access to information that is more reliable and more valuable than what they’ve had before,” said Tim Treanor, co-head of the white-collar criminal defense and investigations practice group at Sidley. But the particulars of the database, as well as how the agency squares the new law with existing regulation, will ultimately decide just how helpful the Corporate Transparency Act will be for financial institutions. “The million-dollar questions are, first, is this is going to be something that will be used by financial institutions?” said Dan Stipano, a partner at Davis Polk. “And second, does it mitigate or add to their compliance burdens?” Industry representatives, while optimistic, remain leery of any reform that doesn’t significantly lighten the requirements for banks under the nation’s AML regime. Merski said once Fincen constructs the database, bankers hope that their beneficial owner requirements in the CDD rule will be quickly revoked. “The Corporate Transparency Act that we passed and worked on for many years was really to relieve the burden off of the banks for any of that reporting,” said Merski. “We want to ensure that the work is done between the small business and Fincen.”

 Fed official backs using capital buffer to reduce impact of future crises— The Federal Reserve should consider raising a required capital buffer when the economy is in good shape rather than easing capital rules to limit the impact of a downturn, according to the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. The countercyclical capital buffer — often called the CCyB — is a tool that allows the Fed to require banks with more than $250 billion of assets or $10 billion of nonbank liabilities to hold additional capital while economic conditions are strong to counteract the elevated potential for riskier lending. But the Basel III-related rule has never actually been used in the United States, with Fed governors consistently voting over the years to maintain the buffer level at zero percent. Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren proposed Monday that going forward, regulators should reconsider actually turning the buffer on while the economy is strong. Although Rosengren is not a member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, which votes yearly on whether to turn on the CCyB, his views could influence others on the board. “Rather than disrupt bank capital planning and rely on temporary relief from capital regulations, the CCyB provides a ‘shock absorber’ that, if appropriately implemented, would allow borrower financing to continue without these temporary extraordinary and less predictable measures,” he said during remarks at an event hosted by the Newton-Needham Chamber of Commerce. The Fed took a number of steps at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic to ensure that banks had sufficient capital to continue lending throughout the crisis. Those included restricting dividend payments and easing the supplementary leverage ratio, which requires banks with more than $250 billion of assets to maintain an extra cushion of high-quality capital against their total assets. “While these measures were needed at the time, and thus appropriate, in my view they reflect a capital regime that is not sufficiently flexible during economic downturns,” said Rosengren. “Investors in banks, and bank management teams, would prefer to avoid the attendant uncertainty around capital planning, and bank regulators would prefer to not suspend bank regulations in economic downturns.” His views on the CCyB differ from those of Fed Vice Chairman for Supervision Randal Quarles, who has long said that the CCyB is effectively turned on in the U.S. because bank capital levels are already so high.

 FDIC chief cites legacy systems as 'No. 1' concern for banks — The head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said on Wednesday that banks’ reliance on outdated legacy systems was her “No. 1” longstanding concern for the sector. Asked what she would change about the banking system if handed “a magic wand" during a virtual conference hosted by the Consumer Bankers Association, FDIC Chair Jelena McWilliams zeroed in on the potential for cumbersome software and outdated internal processes to impede bank business and even threaten the sector’s resilience. “There are several things I would like to see done differently within the banking system, but I will say No. 1 is something that concerns me on a longstanding basis, which is the legacy systems,” McWilliams said. The FDIC chair invoked her experience as a bank lawyer, when she served as chief legal officer at Fifth Third Bancorp between 2017 and 2018. “I think a lot of these banks — and I've learned this firsthand when I worked at a bank — a lot of these banks have legacy systems that frankly are impeding their ability to move forward,” McWilliams said. As part of the agency’s FDiTech initiative, the FDIC announced over the summer that it was seeking feedback on a potential program that would allow technology firms to receive “voluntary certification” as reliable bank partners and streamline the due diligence process typically performed by banks. “It becomes very complicated when you're bogged down by legacy systems and an ongoing contract that you have, whether it's with your core processor or other entities, or simply the legacy computer systems you have within your organization — it becomes really difficult to manage all that in a safe and sound manner and not have any issues,” McWilliams said at the CBA event Wednesday. “I would say that if we could scratch everything and start anew, that would be wonderful,” the FDIC chair added. “We can't, but anything we can do to improve resilience in our system would be good, and I think technology is something that we need to be open to there.”

 FDIC has tough task persuading unbanked to deposit stimulus checks — As the government urges the unbanked to open accounts to deposit pandemic relief funds, some experts highlight a somewhat obvious challenge for the effort. If someone was unwilling to become a bank customer before, why would they change their mind now? The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Internal Revenue Service have been encouraging more consumers to open low-cost checking accounts following enactment of the Biden administration's American Rescue Plan. The FDIC announced a public awareness campaign April 6 with television, radio and digital ads in Atlanta and Houston touting the benefits of federally insured deposit accounts. To pull it off, however, the FDIC will have to convince some in lower-income and minority communities, who have historically been reluctant about joining a traditional financial institution, that they should trust a bank. “It's a challenge to try and really reestablish, or establish, trust with any institution,” Leonard Chanin, a deputy to FDIC Chair Jelena McWilliams, said at an event this past week to kick off the #GetBanked campaign. He said a lack of trust was one of the “fundamental” reasons why many individuals in poor communities choose not to open bank accounts. “It’s not clear there’s any simple path to achieve that.”But observers say the FDIC campaign offers hope by giving unbanked consumers concrete steps to identify and open safe and affordable accounts. The agency's last unbanked survey in 2019 reported that just over 7 million households lack access to a bank.The agency’s television ad urges consumers to visit FDIC.gov/getbanked, where customers will have the option to use the FDIC’s BankFind tool to find insured bank accounts near them. The same page also links users to a similar page from Bank On, a nonprofit-led effort to certify certain affordable accounts that are endorsed by the American Bankers Association.“If you don't have a message that includes some sort of a way for people to act upon something — if you can't give them an easy way to do what you want them to do — then you're not likely to have an effective message,” said Wendy Melillo, an associate professor of journalism at American University who has studied public awareness campaigns.

 First Republic reports earnings spike from stimulus programs - Loan growth and wealth management revenue fueled by stimulus cash and a recovering economy pushed quarterly profit higher at First Republic Bank in San Francisco. The $155.8 billion-asset bank’s first-quarter earnings rose 53% from a year earlier to $316 million. The results included $14.6 million in reserves the company released during the quarter. New loan originations increased by 52% to $15.7 billion, largely because of mortgages and a surge in Paycheck Protection Program loans. And revenue in the bank’s wealth management business rose by nearly 19% to $157 million. Deposits were up 37%, though executives said they expect some money to leave the bank when the extended tax deadline in May arrives. While First Republic said it expects loan growth in the “mid-teens” this year, analysts expressed concerns that a housing supply crunch could stymie new mortgage originations. Mortgages represented about 44% of the bank’s new loans. First Republic CEO and Chairman Jim Herbert said during a Tuesday conference call that the housing shortage “won’t be much of a factor,” expressing optimism that more homes will go on the market as more COVID-19 vaccines are distributed and the economy continues to bounce back. “As soon as COVID fades into the background we'll pick up volume,” Herbert said. “It's already beginning to do so.” There was less than a two-month supply of homes for sale in the U.S. in January, the lowest amount since the National Association of Realtors began releasing data in 1982. The supply inched up in February, to roughly 1.03 million houses. While that’s still down nearly 30% from a year earlier, Herbert said there are signs that things are returning to normal. In New York, volumes “have picked up considerably in the early part of the year,” he said.

CFPB sets stage for more enforcement. But what's the script? - The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's decision last month to rescind Trump-era guidance outlining what constitutes an "abusive" practice was not unexpected given that the bureau's acting director has repeatedly called for holding companies liable for harming consumers. Acting CFPB Director Dave Uejio’s statement last month rescinding the guidance was expected, as is Uejio's consistent criticism of the deregulatory approach of his predecessor, Kathy Kraninger. Rescinding the guidance — which promised restraint in using the "abusive" label in enforcement actions and limiting penalties for many violations — could signal that the bureau will be more willing to pursue enforcement actions against companies that it thinks are abusing consumers. But given the ambitious agenda of Rohit Chopra, a commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission who is likely to be confirmed soon as the CFPB's permanent director, many experts said rescinding Kraninger’s policy guidance was a foregone conclusion. “There was no way for Chopra to lead the CFPB and fire on all cylinders with this policy statement still floating around,” said Kelly Lipinski, an attorney at McGlinchey Stafford. “I don’t think the Chopra-led agency could really jump out the gate if this policy statement was still there, so it was a necessary and expected change.” The Dodd-Frank Act gave the CFPB broad latitude to punish firms for violating longstanding federal prohibitions on "unfair" or "deceptive" acts or practices against consumer by financial companies. But Dodd-Frank also added the "abusive" standard, forming the bureau's core enforcement power against Unfair, Deceptive and Abusive Acts Practices, known as UDAAP. With the change, financial firms are bracing for increased enforcement and a return to stiffer penalties and fines. Enforcement actions plummeted to a low of just 10 in 2018 under then-acting Director Mick Mulvaney, but began ratcheting up again under Kraninger, hitting 48 enforcement actions last year, second only to the high of 57 actions taken in 2015 under then-Director Richard Cordray. The big difference can be seen in penalties. Kraninger’s actions brought in $1.5 billion in total consumer relief in 2019 and 2020 combined, while Cordray's took in $9.5 billion in a two-year period from 2014 to 2015. Since the CFPB opened for business a decade ago, banks and financial firms have sought to narrow the scope of what counts as "abusive" — just as they had decades ago for the definitions of "unfair" and "deceptive." The Kraninger guidance codified that narrow scope, promising restraint in alleging that a company engaged in abusive conduct and declining to impose civil money penalties when companies made a good-faith effort to comply with the law. But that guidance was not always followed. Some industry lawyers note that the CFPB continued to cite abusive conduct in lawsuits, settlements and during exams even after the previous guidance went public.

CFPB fines debt-settlement firm SettleIt for abusive practices - A debt-settlement firm owned by the founder of nonbank lender CashCall agreed to pay a $750,000 fine to address claims it steered consumers into high-cost loans from affiliated lenders and failed disclose relationships with affiliated lenders. SettleIt, an online company, also agreed to reimburse consumers $646,000 in fees under a proposed settlement the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The CFPB had alleged that SettleIt abused thousands of consumers by claiming to be independent while negotiating to settle their debts with other lenders. The company marketed and refinanced consumers into loans from nonbank lenders CashCall and LoanMe without disclosing they were affiliated companies, the bureau claimed. SettleIt's owner, J. Paul Reddam, also owns CashCall, and has loaned money to another affiliate, LoanMe and its unit, Redo Lending, which are owned by CashCall’s former treasurer, Jonathan Williams, the complaint said. “SettleIt’s strategy of steering consumers into sweetheart deals with its confederates was illegal,” Acting CFPB Director David Uejio said in a Tuesday press release. “The CFPB will not tolerate companies that purport to represent consumers, but instead abuse their trust in a self-dealing scheme. This case provides a clear example of what Congress intended to prohibit when it created the CFPB and gave it authority to prevent abusive practices.” SettleIt sold its debt-settlement services to 17,500 customers between 2016 and 2019, operating from the same building in Orange, Calif., as CashCall, LoanMe and RedoLending, the CFPB's complaint said. Steve Klopstock, SettleIt's president and CEO, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Klopstock is also vice president of loan servicing at CashCall, according to his LinkedIn profile. The CFPB alleged that SettleIt treated consumers with debts to CashCall and LoanMe differently. The company allegedly marketed loans from CashCall and LoanMe and refinanced debt-laden consumers into new loans from both companies that included undisclosed fees. SettleIt also required consumers to authorize the company to resolve their debts without a consumer's express consent, the bureau claimed. Moreover, the agency alleged that SettleIt favored repayment of debts to CashCall and LoanMe over other, unaffiliated lenders, and its employees gave contact information for consumers who were behind on their payments to the two companies. The CFPB cited SettleIt for engaging in abusive conduct in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act and for failing to clearly disclose costs and fees in violation of the Telemarketing Sales Rule.

 Biden administration to reinstate fair housing rules vacated by Trump - — The Biden administration is moving to reinstate two key fair housing rules that were rolled back under President Trump, according to notices published this week by the Office of Management and Budget. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is looking to restore a 2013 rule outlining its use of the “disparate impact” legal standard in fair-lending cases and the 2015 “affirmatively furthering fair housing” rule meant to guide local jurisdictions on compliance with the Fair Housing Act. Former President Donald Trump rescinded the “affirmatively furthering fair housing rule” last year via executive order, calling the rule “complicated, costly, and ineffective" in a blow to community groups and housing advocates who said the rule helped to combat housing discrimination. Trump’s rhetoric around the Obama-era rule also stunned advocates. At one point he tweeted that the rule was having “a devastating impact on these once thriving Suburban areas.” Although the rule was part of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, it was difficult to interpret or enforce until the Obama administration created the 2015 regulation. Also last year, then-HUD Secretary Ben Carson finalized controversial steps to replace the Obama-era disparate impact rule with a weaker standard. Disparate impact is a legal doctrine that opens up lenders to fair-lending enforcement even if their lending policies were unintentionally discriminatory. It has long been unpopular with financial institutions. However, big banks urged the Trump administration to shelve its plan last year following the police killing of George Floyd that sparked a national dialogue on racial equity. Current HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge’s efforts to undo the Trump administration’s revamp of the two rules follow an executive order from President Biden in January meant to address discriminatory housing policies. “We need to make the dream of homeownership — and the security and wealth creation that comes with it — a reality for more Americans,” Fudge said at a January Senate Banking Committee hearing to examine her nomination. “That will require us to end discriminatory practices in the housing market, and ensure that our fair housing rules are doing what they are supposed to do.”

MBA Survey: "Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Decreases to 4.66%" -- Note: This is as of April 4th.  From the MBA: Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Decreases to 4.66%: The Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) latest Forbearance and Call Volume Survey revealed that the total number of loans now in forbearance decreased by 24 basis points from 4.90% of servicers’ portfolio volume in the prior week to 4.66% as of April 4, 2021. According to MBA’s estimate, 2.3 million homeowners are in forbearance plans...“The share of loans in forbearance decreased for the sixth straight week, dropping by 24 basis points – one of the largest decreases in the history of the series. The forbearance share also decreased significantly for all three investor categories, with the rate for Ginnie Mae loans down an impressive 45 basis points. Overall, forbearance exits increased to their fastest pace since early November,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “Almost 32 percent of borrowers in forbearance extensions have now exceeded the 12-month mark. In terms of performance, more than 88% of homeowners who have exited into deferral plans, modifications, or repayment plans were current on their loans at the end of March, compared to 92% of all homeowners.”Fratantoni added, “The accelerating economic recovery in March helped more homeowners recover and become current on their mortgages, in addition to helping other homeowners with more stable financial situations exit forbearance. Homeowners who are still facing hardships and need to extend their forbearance term should contact their servicers.”This graph shows the percent of portfolio in forbearance by investor type over time.  Most of the increase was in late March and early April, and has trended down since then. The MBA notes: "Total weekly forbearance requests as a percent of servicing portfolio volume (#) increased relative to the prior week: from 0.04% to 0.05%."

Mortgage forbearances hit lowest level in a year  - Economic stabilization drove one of the biggest mortgage recoveries on record, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. The number of mortgages in coronavirus-related forbearance fell for the sixth week in a row, dropping 24 basis points between March 29 and April 4. Home loans in forbearance plans represent 4.66% — about 2.3 million homeowners — of all outstanding mortgages, down from 4.9% the week prior. It’s the lowest forbearance rate since exactly one year earlier when the share rose to 3.74% on April 5, 2020, the largest fall since July and one of the largest in the history of the series, according to MBA’s SVP and chief economist Mike Fratantoni. The percentage of forborne loans at independent mortgage bank servicers dropped to 4.89% from 5.18% and depositories declined to 4.8% from 5.03%. “Overall, forbearance exits increased to their fastest pace since early November,” Fratantoni said in a press release. “The accelerating economic recovery in March helped more homeowners recover and become current on their mortgages, in addition to helping other homeowners with more stable financial situations exit forbearance.” Each investor category saw major declines in forborne mortgage share. Ginnie Mae loans — which are Federal Housing Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs and U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Housing Service products — plummeted 45 basis points to 6.33% from 6.78%. Conforming mortgages — those purchased by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — continue to lead in the recovery, going to 2.52% from 2.72%. Meanwhile, private-label securities and portfolio loans — products not addressed by the coronavirus relief act — dropped to 8.65% from 8.8%. A 13.2% share of all forborne mortgages sits in the initial forbearance stage, while 82% shifted to extended plans and the remaining 4.8% re-entered forbearance after exiting previously. Forbearance requests as a percentage of servicing portfolio volume edged up slightly to 0.05% from 0.04% the week earlier. Call center volume as a percentage of portfolio volume increased to 8.5% from 8.1%. The MBA's sample for this week's survey includes a total of 48 servicers with 25 independent mortgage bankers and 21 depositories. The sample also included two subservicers. By unit count, the respondents represented about 74%, or 36.9 million, of outstanding first-lien mortgages.

 MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest Weekly Survey --From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey: Mortgage applications decreased 3.7 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending April 9, 2021.... The Refinance Index decreased 5 percent from the previous week and was 31 percent lower than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 1 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 1 percent compared with the previous week and was 51 percent higher than the same week one year ago. Purchase and refinance applications declined, with most of the pullback coming earlier in the week when rates were higher. Treasury yields started last week high – close to the prior week’s level at over 1.7 percent – before decreasing 6 basis points,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Refinance activity has now decreased for nine of the past 10 weeks, as rates have gone from 2.92 percent to 3.27 percent over the same period. Last week’s index level was the lowest in over a year, as mortgage rates continue to trend higher. Many borrowers have either already refinanced at lower rates or are unwilling – or unable – to refinance at current rates.” Added Kan, “The third straight week of declining purchase activity is a sign that rising home prices and tight supply is constraining home sales – especially in the lower price tiers. Purchase applications were still above last year’s pandemic-impacted low point, but fell behind the level of activity seen the same week in 2019.” The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($548,250 or less) decreased to 3.27 percent from 3.36 percent, with points decreasing to 0.33 from 0.43 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The first graph shows the refinance index since 1990.  With low rates, the index remains elevated, but falling since rates are above the lows.The second graph shows the MBA mortgage purchase index.  According to the MBA, purchase activity is up 51% year-over-year unadjusted.

NMHC: Rent Payment Tracker Shows Households Paying Rent Increased 1.9% YoY in Early April - From the NMHC: NMHC Rent Payment Tracker Finds 79.8 Percent of Apartment Households Paid Rent as of April 6 - The National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC)’s Rent Payment Tracker found 79.8 percent of apartment households made a full or partial rent payment by April 6 in its survey of 11.6 million units of professionally managed apartment units across the country. This marks one year of tracking rent payment data following the onset of the pandemic. This is a 1.9 percentage point increase from the share who paid rent through April 6, 2020 and compares to 82.9 percent that had been paid by April 6, 2019. This data encompasses a wide variety of market-rate rental properties across the United States, which can vary by size, type and average rental price. “This month’s data is more evidence of a recovering economy and the resilience of the multifamily industry,” said Doug Bibby, NMHC President. “While we are not out of the woods yet, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The recently passed American Rescue Plan included $26 billion in rental assistance as well as billions more of housing resources that will prove critical to keeping families safely and securely housed and the nation’s rental housing sector stable. This graph from the NMHC Rent Payment Tracker shows the percent of household making full or partial rent payments by the 6th of the month compared to 2019 and to the first COVID year.   Although payments are down from 2019, rent payments are up from last year. This is mostly for large, professionally managed properties.   The second graph shows full month payments through March compared to the same month the prior year. This shows a decline in rent payments year-over-year.  There are some timing issues month to month, but full month rent payments have declined year-over-year through March.

Housing Starts increased to 1.739 Million Annual Rate in March - From the Census Bureau: Permits, Starts and Completions: Privately-owned housing starts in March were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,739,000. This is 19.4 percent above the revised February estimate of 1,457,000 and is 37.0 percent above the March 2020 rate of 1,269,000. Single-family housing starts in March were at a rate of 1,238,000; this is 15.3 percen above the revised February figure of 1,074,000. The March rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 477,000. Privately-owned housing units authorized by building permits in March were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,766,000. This is 2.7 percent above the revised February rate of 1,720,000 and is 30.2 percent above the March 2020 rate of 1,356,000. Single-family authorizations in March were at a rate of 1,199,000; this is 4.6 percent (±1.9 percent) above the revised February figure of 1,146,000. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 508,000 in March. The first graph shows single and multi-family housing starts for the last several years. Multi-family starts (red, 2+ units) increased in March compared to February. Multi-family starts were up 29% year-over-year in March. Single-family starts (blue) increased in March, and were up 41% year-over-year (starts slumped at the beginning of the pandemic). The second graph shows total and single unit starts since 1968. The second graph shows the huge collapse following the housing bubble, and then the eventual recovery (but still not historically high). Total housing starts in March were well above expectations, and starts in January and February were revised up.

NAHB: Builder Confidence Increased to 83 in April -- The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported the housing market index (HMI) was at 83, up from 82 in March. Any number above 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor.From the NAHB: Builder Confidence Edges Up as Strong Demand Offsets Supply-Side Challenges: Strong buyer demand pushed builder confidence up in April even as builders continued to grapple with rising lumber prices and supply chain issues and consumers faced higher home prices due to a lack inventory. The latest NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) released today shows that builder confidence in the market for newly built single-family homes rose one point to 83 in April.  “The supply chain for residential construction is tight, particularly regarding the cost and availability of lumber, appliances, and other building materials. Though builders are seeking to keep home prices affordable in a market in need of more inventory, policymakers must find ways to increase the supply of building materials as the economy runs hot in 2021.”“While mortgage interest rates have trended higher since February and home prices continue to outstrip inflation, housing demand appears to be unwavering for now as buyer traffic reached its highest level since November,” The HMI index gauging current sales conditions increased one point to 88 and the gauge charting traffic of prospective buyers posted a three-point gain to 75. The component measuring sales expectations in the next six months fell two points to 81.Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the Northeast rose six points 86 and the South moved up one point to 83. The West held steady at 90 and the Midwest fell two points to 78. This graph show the NAHB index since Jan 1985.This was at the consensus forecast, and a very strong reading.Housing and homebuilding have been one of the best performing sectors during the pandemic.

Hotels: Occupancy Rate Down 15% Compared to Same Week in 2019 --Note: The year-over-year occupancy comparisons are easy, since occupancy declined sharply at the onset of the pandemic. However, occupancy is still down significantly from normal levels. The occupancy rate is down 15% compared to the same week in 2019.From CoStar: STR: US Hotels Achieve Highest Weekly Demand Level Since Start of COVID-19: The U.S. hotel industry posted its highest demand and occupancy levels since the beginning of the pandemic, according to STR‘s latest weekly data through April 10.
April 4-10, 2021:
• Occupancy: 59.7%
• Average daily rate (ADR): US$112.22
• Revenue per available room (RevPAR): US$66.99
Reflecting the country’s almost 2-point improvement in occupancy from the previous week, more than 50% of properties posted a weekly occupancy above 60%. For more, see STR's U.S. Market Recovery MonitorThe following graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average.The red line is for 2021, black is 2020, blue is the median, and dashed light blue is for 2009 (the worst year since the Great Depression for hotels prior to 2020).  Occupancy is now above the horrible 2009 levels.

 Retail Sales Increased 9.8% in March - On a monthly basis, retail sales increased 9.8 percent from February to March (seasonally adjusted), and sales were up 27.7 percent from March 2020. From the Census Bureau report: Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for March 2021, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $619.1 billion,an increase of 9.8 percent from the previous month, and 27.7 percent above March 2020.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 9.7% in March. The stimulus checks boosted retail sales significantly in March.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 27.4% on a YoY basis. Sales in March were slightly above expectations, and sales in January and February were revised up.

After a vicious year of bankruptcies, some retailers are still at risk. 13 companies, including Rite Aid, Belk, and Neiman Marcus, could be the next to default. -Apparel and department stores are the most at risk for defaulting on their loans in 2021, analysts with Moody's Investors Service said in an April 7 report.  After a brutal year in 2020, in which dozens of retailers filed for bankruptcy, more filings could be coming, but not as many as last year, the analysts said. Apparel stores accounted for about half of defaults in 2020, and the sector is still "in the eye of the storm," as it confronts long-term pressures, like declining mall traffic, the analysts said. Although the 2021 forecast "marks a vast improvement over the prior year, it is still historically high relative to prior recoveries, pointing to significant ongoing risk for an industry not yet out of the woods," the report said.The analysts identified 13 stores at the highest risk of defaulting, and most of them are apparel stores. Rite Aid, the US pharmacy chain with 2,500 stores in 19 states, cut its full-year forecast for 2021, and it has $1.5 billion in outstanding debt rated high risk. Moody's said its competitive disadvantage and near-term maturities are putting it in danger of default.  "Debt-strapped" Party City eased its heavy burden last year when it announced a bond restructuring, Moody's said. While the party retailer is still at risk of default because of ongoing challenges from low demand, the risk isn't "immediate," the analysts said.  Women's clothing store Talbots is among apparel retailers at risk.  Talbots doesn't have much cash on hand, and it's debt is coming due soon, analysts said.  Belk, a private apparel retailer with locations in 16 states, already marked the first bankruptcy of 2021. Plus, it has a lot of debt and not a lot of cash on hand.  Men's Wearhouse was among the long-struggling companies that defaulted in 2020, along with retailers like J.C. Penney and J. Crew. . Moody's said the company's outlook is currently stable, though it's still at risk amid continued sector challenges.  Neiman Marcus was also among retailers that filed for bankruptcy in 2020, as it was under "inexorable" pressure from the pandemic. The department store chain was "one of the highest-profile companies to succumb to bankruptcy" in 2020, analysts said, but it "emerged from Chapter 11 in September after shedding more than $4 billion of debt." The company's debt rating remains below investment-grade, however, keeping it at risk of default. J. Jill, owned by Jill Acquisition, restructured its debt in 2020, giving the company "additional time to recover from coronavirus-driven disruption in the apparel retail industry," Moody's said at the time. Though the women's apparel retailer still has risky debt on hand with weak liquidity,  Shoes for Crews, owned by SHO Holding, extended the deadline for its debt maturity last year during the pandemic. Still, the maker of slip-resistant, safety footwear for workers is at risk of default, as it faces the continued challenges of the apparel industry and is strapped with debt. Outerstuff, the maker of major league sports apparel for youth, is one of the several retailers facing challenges as an apparel store. The private company is at risk of default as it has an "unsustainable capital structure at current levels of performance, small revenue scale, narrow product concentration primarily in licensed children's sports apparel in North America with a small, but growing, adult and international presence, and reliance on licensing arrangements from several sports leagues for a significant majority of revenue,"Moody's said

BLS: CPI increased 0.6% in March, Core CPI increased 0.3% --From the BLS: The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.6 percent in March on a seasonally adjusted basis after rising 0.4 percent in February, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The March 1-month increase was the largest rise since a 0.6-percent increase in August 2012. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 2.6 percent before seasonal adjustment.The gasoline index continued to increase, rising 9.1 percent in March and accounting for nearly half of the seasonally adjusted increase in the all items index. The natural gas index also rose, contributing to a 5.0-percent increase in the energy index over the month. The food index rose 0.1 percent in March, with the food at home index and the food away from home index both also rising 0.1 percent. .The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.3 percent in March. The shelter index increased in March as did the motor vehicle insurance index, the recreation index, and the household furnishings and operations index. Indexes which decreased over the month include apparel and education..The all items index rose 2.6 percent for the 12 months ending March, a much larger increase than the 1.7-percent reported for the period ending in February. The index for all items less food and energy rose 1.6 percent over the last 12 months, after increasing 1.3 percent over the 12 month period ending in February. The food index rose 3.5 percent over the last 12 months, while the energy index increased 13.2 percent over that period. CPI and core CPI were slightly above expectations. I'll post a graph later today after the Cleveland Fed releases the median and trimmed-mean CPI.

Consumer Price Index: March Headline at 2.62% -- The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the March Consumer Price Index data this morning. The year-over-year non-seasonally adjusted Headline CPI came in at 2.62%, up from 1.68% the previous month. Year-over-year Core CPI (ex Food and Energy) came in at 1.65%, up from 1.28% the previous month and below 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 0.6 percent in March on a seasonally adjusted basis after rising 0.4 percent in February, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The March 1-month increase was the largest rise since a 0.6-percent increase in August 2012. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 2.6 percent before seasonal adjustment.The gasoline index continued to increase, rising 9.1 percent in March and accounting for nearly half of the seasonally adjusted increase in the all items index. The natural gas index also rose, contributing to a 5.0-percent increase in the energy index over the month. The food index rose 0.1 percent in March, with the food at home index and the food away from home index both also rising 0.1 percent.The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.3 percent in March. The shelter index increased in March as did the motor vehicle insurance index, the recreation index, and the household furnishings and operations index. Indexes which decreased over the month include apparel and education.The all items index rose 2.6 percent for the 12 months ending March, a much larger increase than the 1.7-percent reported for the period ending in February. The index for all items less food and energy rose 1.6 percent over the last 12 months, after increasing 1.3 percent over the 12 month period ending in February. The food index rose 3.5 percent over the last 12 months, while the energy index increased 13.2 percent over that period. Read more 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.

Monthly consumer inflation rate increases by most in 10 years; real wages decline, but real aggregate wages increase -Seasonally adjusted consumer prices rose 0.6% in March. This was the biggest single month gain since June 2009, coming out of the Great Recession: Leaving aside the pandemic, since the 1980s recessions have only happened when CPI less energy costs (red) had risen to close to or over 3%/year, usually driven by increases in the price of oil by more than 40% YoY. Even with this month’s spike, YoY inflation ex-energy is only up 1.9%: Because in the first few months of the pandemic during the lockdowns there was a spurt of deflation as shown above in the first graph, in the below graph I’ve normed the values to 100 as of May of last year. In the 9 months since, total inflation has been up 3.5% (for a 4.7% annual rate), while inflation ex-energy has risen 2.0%, (for a 2.7% annual rate): This is still not enough to be of concern on a transient basis. Now let’s take a look at how inflation has affected real wages. Because wages are “stickier” than prices, typically as recessions beat down prices (or at least price increases), in real terms wages rise, either during or just after a recession. That was the case for the coronavirus recession as well. As prices increase with renewed demand, and employers are able to add workers from the larger pool of the unemployed and underemployed, real wages decelerate and even decline. That was the case for March. Real wages declined -0.5%, and are -3.1% off their all-time high set last April: They are still 0.9% above their previous 1973 peak. As more low-wage employees in service industries like dining and entertainment are called back to work, the YoY% change in real wages has decreased from over 7% last April to 1.9% in March: A further decline in real wages is quite likely. As a result, YoY real wage increases have declined from over 5% last I suspect we will see an actual YoY decline in real wages by the end of this year. A bright spot is that real *aggregate* payrolls for nonsupervisory workers did increase: These are now only -2.1% below their pre-pandemic peak, and equivalent to where they were in July 2019. If vaccinations succeed in controlling the pandemic, it is quite likely that these make a new all-time high by the end of the year as well.

Cleveland Fed: Key Measures Show Small Uptick in Inflation in March -- 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 0.2% March. The 16% trimmed-mean Consumer Price Index also rose 0.2% in March. "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".  Note: The Cleveland Fed released the median CPI details for March here. Motor fuel was up 185% annualized in March.  This graph shows the year-over-year change for these four key measures of inflation. On a year-over-year basis, the median CPI rose 2.0%, the trimmed-mean CPI rose 2.1%, and the CPI less food and energy rose 1.6%. Core PCE is for February and increased 1.4% year-over-year. Note: We saw negative Month-to-month (MoM) core CPI and CPI readings in March, April and May 2020.  We also saw negative MoM PCE and core PCE reading in March and April 2020.  Ignore a jump in YoY inflation in March, April and May!

US farmers celebrate as corn exports near records. -  Reuters reports US corn exports "have blown past nearly every benchmark" as China, the world's largest food and ag importer, appears to be ramping up purchases of US farm goods. What's mildly funny is how China has begun to purchase large amounts of farm goods from the US under the Biden administration.  According to official US export data Wednesday, February's corn exports recorded 6.3 million tons. The amount topped "2008's record for the month by 17% and is the largest monthly volume since July 2018," said Reuters. A few months back, December's corn exports exploded to 13-year highs. The first-quarter outlook already suggests record volumes.  Reuters' projections indicate weekly export data for March could reach an all-time high, possibly topping north of 9 million tons. The largest-ever export volume for a given month was 7.75 tons in May 2018. China has primarily driven strong US corn exports. By Mar. 25, Beijing booked around 23.2 million tons of US corn for the 2020/21 year. The previous high for US corn exports to China was 5.15 million in 2011/12.In January, we first noted that China customs data showed that grain imports soared to record highs in 2020 after tight domestic corn supplies pushed prices to multi-year peaks, driving demand for cheaper imports.The USDA forecasted 2020/2021 corn exports at a record 66 million tons, and there's a chance in the upcoming growing season, the number could be much higher due to China's increasing demand. This is happening as corn prices have nearly doubled since August.

LA Area Port Traffic: Strong Imports in March -- Note: Import traffic was heavy in February and March - ships were backed up waiting to unload in LA. "some vessels are spending almost as much time at anchor as it takes to traverse the Pacific Ocean." They are still backed up in April!  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 4.8% in March compared to the rolling 12 months ending in February.   Outbound traffic was down 0.1% 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. 2021 has started off incredibly strong for imports.  Imports were up 98% YoY in March (collapsed early last year due to pandemic), and exports were down 1.5% YoY.

Industrial Production Increased 1.4 Percent in March  -From the Fed: Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization -In March, total industrial production increased 1.4 percent. The gain in March followed a drop of 2.6 percent in February, which largely resulted from widespread outages related to severe winter weather in the south central region of the country. For the first quarter as a whole, total industrial production rose 2.5 percent at an annual rate. In March, manufacturing production and mining output increased 2.7 percent and 5.7 percent, respectively. The output of utilities dropped 11.4 percent, as the demand for heating fell because of a swing in temperatures from an unseasonably cold February to an unseasonably warm March.At 105.6 percent of its 2012 average, total industrial production in March was 1.0 percent higher than its year-earlier level, but it was 3.4 percent below its pre-pandemic (February 2020) level. Capacity utilization for the industrial sector increased 1.0 percentage point in March to 74.4 percent, a rate that is 5.2 percentage points below its long-run (1972–2020) average. This graph shows Capacity Utilization. This series is up from the record low set in April, but still below the level in February 2020.Capacity utilization at 74.4% is 5.2% below the average from 1972 to 2020.The second graph shows industrial production since 1967.Industrial production increased in March to  105.6. This is 3.4% below the February 2020 level.The change in industrial production was below consensus expectations.

Empire State Mfg Survey: Strong Growth in April -This morning we got the latest Empire State Manufacturing Survey. The diffusion index for General Business Conditions at 26.3 was an increase of 8.9 from the previous month's 17.4. The Investing.com forecast was for a reading of 19.5.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 grew strongly in New York State, according to firms responding to the April 2021 Empire State Manufacturing Survey. The headline general business conditions index climbed nine points to 26.3, a multi-year high. New orders and shipments grew at a solid clip, and unfilled orders increased. Delivery times were the longest on record, and inventories were notably higher. Employment levels and the average workweek both expanded modestly. Input prices rose at the fastest pace since 2008, and selling prices climbed at a record-setting pace. Looking ahead, firms remained optimistic that conditions would improve over the next six months, expecting significant increases in employment and prices. [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 Mfg Index: Strongest in Almost 50 Years -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 50.2, up 7.5 from last month's 44.5. The 3-month moving average came in at 41.1, up from 38.4 last month. Since this is a diffusion index, negative readings indicate contraction, positive ones indicate expansion. The Six-Month Outlook came in at 66.6, up 7.5 from the previous month's 59.1. The 50.2 headline number came in above the 42 forecast at Investing.com. Here is the introduction from the survey: Manufacturing conditions in the region strengthened further this month, according to firms responding to the March Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey. The indicators for general activity and new orders rose sharply, and the shipments and employment indexes also increased. Price pressures also rose, according to the surveyed firms. All of the survey’s indexes for future conditions increased, as the firms indicated more widespread optimism about growth over 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. The contraction due to COVID-19 is clear in 2020.

Multiple Jobholders are 4.6% of All Employed -- What are the long-term trends for multiple jobholders in the US? The Bureau of Labor Statistics has two decades of historical data to enlighten us on that topic, courtesy of Table A-16 in the monthly Current Population Survey of households. At present, multiple jobholders account for just 4.6 percent of civilian employment. The survey captures data for four subcategories (in pie chart at right) of the multi-job workforce, the current relative sizes of which are illustrated in a pie chart. The distinction between "primary" and "secondary" jobs is a subjective one determined by the survey participants.Note: Not included in the statistics are the approximately 0.26% of the employed who work part-time on what they consider their primary job and full time on their secondary job(s).Let's review the complete series to help us get a sense of the long-term trends. Here is a look at all the multiple jobholders as a percent of the civilian employed. The dots are the non-seasonally adjusted monthly data points, which are quite volatile, and a 12-month moving average to highlight the trend. The moving average peaked in the summer of 1997 and then began trending downward. It is now at 4.4%, and the latest monthly data point is 4.6%. The next chart focuses on all four subcategories referenced in the pie chart. The trend outlier is the series illustrated with the red line: Multiple Part-Time Jobholders. Its trough was in 2002 and trended higher in early 2007, long before Obamacare. At about the same time we also see a steepening decline in the trend for the employed whose hours vary between full- and part-time for either their primary or secondary job. Here is a closer look at the two cohorts that have changed the most since the mid-2000s. We've rescaled the vertical axis to give us a clearer view of the trends. The Great Recession noticeably increased the percentage of multiple part-time jobholders. This metric leveled out in 2010 and 2011, but it has subsequently resumed a slow upward trend. It seems likely that the downward trend for the cohort whose hours vary for their primary or secondary job (the green line) has to some extent contributed to the rise of exclusively part-timers (the red line).

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decreased sharply to 576,000 - The DOL reported: In the week ending April 10, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 576,000, a decrease of 193,000 from the previous week's revised level. This is the lowest level for initial claims since March 14, 2020 when it was 256,000. The previous week's level was revised up by 25,000 from 744,000 to 769,000. The 4-week moving average was 683,000, a decrease of 47,250 from the previous week's revised average. This is the lowest level for this average since March 14, 2020 when it was 225,500. The previous week's average was revised up by 6,500 from 723,750 to 730,250. This does not include the 131,975 initial claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) that was down from 152,419 the previous week. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971. The dashed line on the graph is the current 4-week average. The four-week average of weekly unemployment claims decreased to 683,000.The previous week was revised up.Regular state continued claims increased to 3,731,000 (SA) from 3,727,000 (SA) the previous week.Note: There are an additional 7,053,575 receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) that decreased from 7,554,290 the previous week (there are questions about these numbers). This is a special program for business owners, self-employed, independent contractors or gig workers not receiving other unemployment insurance.  And an additional 5,160,267 receiving Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) down from 5,634,967. Weekly claims were much lower than the consensus forecast.

Uber reports rides are skyrocketing as people get vaccinated - Uber said Monday that it recorded its highest monthly gross bookings in company history in March from Uber and Uber Eats as more Americans got vaccinated. The company’s ride hailing business had its best month since March 2020 with an annualized run rate of $30 billion, up 9 percent from the month prior. At the same time, Uber’s food delivery business reached an annual run rate of $52 billion in March. Combined, it created the most bookings in company history. “As vaccination rates increase in the United States, we are observing that consumer demand for Mobility is recovering faster than driver availability, and consumer demand for Delivery continues to exceed courier availability,” Uber said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company announced last week that it will spend $250 million trying to entice drivers to get back on the road to meet the spike in demand. Uber claimed in Monday’s filing that it is on track to reach profitability in quarterly adjusted earnings by the end of this year. The company lost nearly $6.8 billion lost year.

Why Work at Home Is Not Likely to Thrive After the Covid Era - Yves Smith - Many white collar workers seem to be enthusiastic about the work from home trend, now freed of time-eating commutes, office politics, and hovering bosses. It’s hardly a secret that Covid-induced fear of commuter trains, busses and elevators has led CEOs to revamp operations and allow employees who can to work remotely. It has already radically reshaped the residential real estate market, with professionals who have extra cash hoovering up houses in exurbs or other states with lower costs of living but reasonable amenities. But is this shift a lasting development? Remote work is hardly a new concept, as outsourcing and offshoring of lots of tasks, such as coding, call centers, and legal research attests. Despite the press and broker enthusiasm for this shift, it’s likely to wind up being rolled back significantly post-Covid. Some of the reasons why: CEOs overwhelmingly dislike work from home. A Wall Street Journal survey late last year found that by more than a 2:1 margin, CEOs thought the costs and risks of working from home outweighed the benefit. And the minority camp consisted of CEOs who said they’d made it work, or were willing to have work at home continue post-Covid on a limited basis. Illustrative quotes:

    • “There’s sort of an emerging sense behind the scenes of executives saying, ‘This is not going to be sustainable.’” —Laszlo Bock, chief executive of human-resources startup Humu and former HR chief at Google
    • “I don’t see any positives. Not being able to get together in person, particularly internationally, is a pure negative.” —Reed Hastings, co-chief executive of Netflix Inc., on working from home
    • “We tried it…It’s just not the same. You just cannot get the same quality of work.” –Rajat Bhageria, CEO of robotics startup Chef Robotics, on what the company learned in attempting to work remotely

The overwhelming majority of academic studies on work from home have found those employees are less productive. The only exception was one in the US from the employees themselves, who have incentives to score themselves well if they enjoy their new freedom.1 But their perception isn’t the one that counts. It’s that of the higher ups.“Productive” isn’t just the worker’s perception that he is executing his tasks more efficiently at home; his bosses and co-workers may incur frictions in defining his tasks, coordinating them, and reviewing his output that can considerably or more than offset any perceived increase of his efficiency in isolation. A survey of small and medium-sized US firms found that working from home reduced productivity by 20% on average; a Japanese study found a decline of 30% to 40%. Some of the reasons why:

Hawaii to roll out 'vaccine passport' program by summer - Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) on Friday approved a "vaccine passport" program for inter-island travel that could begin as early as May and expand to out-of-state travel by the summer, Forbes reports. The outlet reports Hawaii is working with the developers of multiple apps including Clear, CommonPass and FirstVitals to help with their pre-flight vaccination verification program. This requirement can be avoided if an individual provides a negative COVID-19 test with 72 hours of departure. The vaccine passport program is seen by tourism officials as a way to speed up the state's recovery, Forbes notes. “Businesses have lost a lot of money during this whole period here so there’s a lot to recoup,” president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism and Lodging Association, Mufi Hannemann, told local media. The idea of vaccine passports has become a hot-button issue for many politicians, with critics calling them discriminatory or privacy violations. Multiple GOP-led states such as Florida, Texas and Idaho have banned the use of vaccine passports, either only by the state or by private businesses as well. The Biden administration has so far said it will not enact a federal vaccine mandate nor will it maintain a federal database on vaccine status. However, Forbes notes that many private businesses such as cruise lines and concert venues have created vaccine verification systems of their own in an effort to reopen. New York became the first U.S. state to launch a vaccine passport program when it launched the Excelsior Pass in late March. The pass can be used at entertainment venues and will allow for larger crowd sizes at concerts and weddings.

 Meatpacking plants increased COVID-19 cases in US counties - An estimated 334,000 COVID-19 cases are attributable to meatpacking plants, resulting in $11.2 billion in economic damage, according to a new study led by a researcher at the University of California, Davis. The study was published in the journal Food Policy. It found that beef- and pork-processing plants more than doubled per capita infection rates in counties that had them. Chicken-processing plants increased transmission rates by 20 percent. The study looked specifically at large meatpacking plants generating more than 10 million pounds per month. Researchers said both the economic impact and infection rate estimate is conservative. The study looked at infection rates within a county and did not account for cases that might have been contracted at a meatpacking plant but spread to other counties. "Similarly, our study likely understates true economic losses," The study looked at lost wages and mortality and did not include long-term health care costs, or costs for measures put in place to protect worker safety. "While we did see an initial ramp up in cases attributable to meatpacking facilities, over time infection rates were the same per capita as counties without them, partly because meatpacking plants implemented a lot of protocols to protect employees," said Saitone. A variety of factors can drive county-level COVID-19 transmission rates. Saitone said the research controlled for those potential drivers, such as the number of nursing homes or correctional facilities in a county. It also considered stay-at-home orders and other regulations, population density, demographics, economic factors and health characteristics. The study looked at infections within 150 days after the first documented COVID-19 case in each county. Increased COVID-19 transmission rates have prompted some critics to call for a smaller, more geographically dispersed industry to make it less susceptible to a pandemic and massive disruptions in the food supply chain. Researchers caution that such a move would come at a price, adding costs to a system designed to eliminate them and ultimately increasing food prices. Economists instead suggest research and investigation into the automation and technological innovations that made the poultry segment of the industry more resilient to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Experts baffled by spike in Utah livestock shootings during pandemic -- Utah has recorded a spike in livestock shootings during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report by The Salt Lake Tribune. Utah rancher Eric Lyman told the outlet that he lost two cows and three calves to shootings in the summer of 2020. He never learned who was behind the shootings. “The frustrating part is that somebody would take a gun and shoot something that’s just standing there looking at them,” Lyman told The Salt Lake Tribune. “For no rhyme or reason.” Leann Hunting, director of animal industry at the Utah Department of Agriculture, told the paper that there were nearly 50 such killings in the state in 2020. In a normal year, she said, Utah would only see one or two. It's unclear why the killings are happening, though Hunting wondered that if the pandemic-driven meat shortage could be a cause for some of the shootings. “To graph it, it is just an enormous spike,” Hunting said. Livestock shootings are a big loss financially for ranchers. “They act like it’s just one cow, but that one cow has potential of probably raising 15 calves if she was a young cow," Tracy Hatch, president of the Utah Cattlemen's Association, told the Tribune. "So you start doing the math on that: $800 a head times 15, you’re looking at $12,000 just because of one animal.”

Study finds Americans eat food of mostly poor nutritional quality - except at school -- Whether eating out or buying food from the grocery store, Americans of all ages are, for the most part, eating poorly everywhere--except at school. The information comes from a new dietary trends study, which also reveals persistent or worsening disparities in meal quality from restaurants, grocery stores, and other sources--but not school--by race, ethnicity, and income.Published today in JAMA Network Open and led by researchers at the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, the study analyzed all meals (including snacks and beverages) consumed by Americans over 16 years.By 2018, the most recent year for which national data is available, meals with the lowest nutritional quality came from restaurants, where 65% of adult meals and 80% of children's meals were of poor quality. Entertainment venues and food trucks were next, with 44% of adult meals and 52% of children's meals being of poor nutritional quality. At work sites, 51% of adult meals eaten were of poor dietary quality.Grocery stores were better sources of food, with 33% of adult meals eaten and 45% of children's meals being of poor quality. Schools were best, where only 24% of meals consumed by children were of poor nutritional quality.  "Schools are now the single healthiest place Americans are eating. This finding is particularly timely given widespread school closures over the last year from COVID-19, and current efforts to safely and fully reopen schools. Our results suggest substantial nutritional harms for millions of kids who have not been consistently receiving meals at school and must rely on other sources. These harms also disproportionately affect low-income, Black and Latinx children,"

Boy, 12, dies after doing TikTok blackout challenge  --A 12-year-old boy in Aurora, Colorado has died after taking part in the "blackout challenge" on TikTok that calls for people to choke themselves until they become unconscious.Joshua Haileyesus was admitted to hospital on 22 March and spent 19 days on life support. His twin brother found him passed out on the bathroom floor. According to his family, he dreamt of joining the army and becoming a first responder, The Denver Post reported.The paper added that the Aurora Police Department’s Crimes Against Children Unit is investigating what happened.A GoFundMe page started for medical and funeral expenses has raised over $181,000.Fundraising organisers wrote on the page that the “blackout challenge” has “been around for years and is sometimes known as the 'Passout Challenge', 'The Game of Choking', 'Speed Dreaming' or 'The Fainting Game', but it's currently gaining traction on TikTok”.  T hey added that Joshua was found “breathless on the bathroom floor by his twin brother who tried to resuscitate him until neighbours and the ambulance arrived. Unbeknownst to his parents, Joshua had been playing this dangerous game completely unaware of the risks involved”.On the page, he was described as “incredibly intelligent, funny, caring, and gifted”, with organisers writing that he “would learn and master new hobbies out of pure curiosity and drive”. When doctors told him that his son was probably not going to survive, Mr Zeryihun said he was "begging them, on the floor, pleading to see if they can give me some time, not to give up on him, not to give up on him”. He added: “I would never imagine my son would do such a thing. I’m paying the price right now, I’m living the life, and I hate for other parents to go through this.”

 Pricey Learning Pods Are Now Helping Vulnerable Students. Will the Trend Survive the Pandemic? - Like many New York City charter schools, Brooklyn’s Ascend network started off the year fully remote. But just a few months in, it became clear: Remote learning wasn’t working for certain students. Attendance dipped, and teachers struggled to reach students at the network’s K-12 schools. Many of the children come from some of the poorest neighborhoods in Central Brooklyn, and some live in vulnerable housing situations. They needed a safe, supervised place for effective virtual schooling. “We have students in transitional home situations, and we have students who really needed an optimal learning space,” School leaders heard the feedback from teachers like Etienne, and by November decided to change tracks.They transformed some of their Brownsville classrooms into learning pods — making space on campus for small groups of students to attend virtual school with the help of a learning proctor or “pod leader” who supported them throughout the school day. Some teachers volunteered to be pod leaders. Others were led by furloughed school food service workers, as well as paraprofessionals, who were hired and trained by an outside agency. Roughly 380 of the network’s 5,000 students had enrolled in 15 learning pods across its Brooklyn campuses, as of March. From the start, learning pods raised questions around equity. Small private pods, many gathering in homes, began popping up across the country, with some as pricey as$13,000 per semester. These kinds of pods often excluded lower-income families, and didn’t always feel inclusive to families of children with disabilities who might need special support. Many education observers worried that these self-created groups would widen already existing educational disparities in a year defined by disrupted, and often, less instructional time for most children.A handful of groups like are looking for ways to make pods more equitable, such as the Center on Reinventing Public Education, which is tracking and researching pods run by schools or community organizations across the country.The Seattle-based group, which has received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, says it sees “public education as a goal, not as a set of fixed institutions.” (The Bill & Melinda Gate Foundation is also a Chalkbeat funder.)According to a database assembled by the organization,there are at least 330 district and community-supported learning pods, based on national media searches and referrals. The database has identified 14 pods in New York State, six of which are in New York City — including the citywide Learning Bridges child care program, run by the Department of Education. Though the data is limited by publicly available information, it offers a snapshot of how learning pods are becoming more popular among school districts and in nonschool spaces such as churches, recreation centers and non-profit organizations across the country.

As pandemic surges in Michigan, Governor Whitmer refuses to close schools -  COVID-19 has spiraled out of control in the state of Michigan, which is leading the United States into yet another surge of the pandemic. Immediate action is required to save thousands of lives over the coming weeks, and workers around the world must also study the situation here and learn the political lessons in order to avert similar catastrophes everywhere. Michigan’s seven-day moving average of daily new cases has now even surpassed the peak of the fall/winter surge, reaching its highest level ever, 7,602 new cases reported per day, on Friday, April 9. The state’s test positivity rate is now 16 percent, the highest in the US mainland, and its daily case rate of 70.2 per 100,000 people is far higher than the second highest rate, 43.0, in New Jersey. The new surge in Michigan is being fueled by the B.1.1.7 variant, which is 50 to 75 percent more contagious than the original strain and disproportionately affects young people. B.1.1.7 is now the dominant variant circulating in the United States. In Michigan, it accounts for an estimated 70 percent of new cases, which some doctors have characterized as a “new pandemic.” Michigan’s rate has increased by a factor of seven since bottoming out at around 1,100 new cases per day in mid-February. Throughout this period, the number one vector for transmission by far was K-12 school buildings, which are open for face-to-face learning on a district-by-district basis across the state. This is according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ own figures. In fact, the rise in school-related outbreaks preceded the rise in cases statewide, showing that schools are actually driving the pandemic and not simply reflecting it. After the virus spread rapidly through school buildings, the infected teachers, students and workers brought it home to their families and into their communities. Hundreds more outbreaks also took place at school sporting events. Together, schools, sports and day cares have been the source of 40 percent of the state’s total recorded outbreaks during the new surge. The next most likely places to catch COVID-19 were factories and construction sites, followed by nursing homes, retail businesses and office settings. Hospitals are again filling up, as they did last spring and fall, but this time the largest rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations took place among those aged 19 and under. By last Wednesday, hospitals across the state had already started canceling surgeries and implementing “surge protocols” to make room for rising numbers of COVID-19 patients. Over the weekend, non-COVID-19 patients of all kinds waited for hours as Detroit’s emergency rooms were overwhelmed by the surge. Under these conditions, Governor Gretchen Whitmer and her medical adviser held an astonishing press conference on Friday morning in which they reviewed this catastrophic situation in great detail, presented the numbers using charts and graphs, and then proceeded to announce that there would be no change in policy in Michigan—no new restrictions or lockdowns of any kind.

Ontario shuts down in-person classes as COVID-19 cases surge --The government of the Canadian province of Ontario on Monday announced that all schools will pivot to remote learning after spring break, following record highs of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations."We are seeing a rapidly deteriorating situation with a record number of COVID cases and hospital admissions threatening to overwhelm our health care system," Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in a statement. "As I have always said we will do whatever it takes to ensure everyone stays safe. By keeping kids home longer after spring break we will limit community transmission, take pressure off our hospitals and allow more time to rollout our COVID-19 vaccine plan," he continued. The statement said that the move is in response to the rise in COVID-19 cases, the increasing risk posed by coronavirus variants and the “massive spike” in hospital admissions. Officials said that while schools have been “safe places for learning” throughout the pandemic and have “demonstrated low rates of in-school transmission” with proper measures in place, the move is necessary because “increasing rates of community spread pose a threat to the health and safety of school communities.” All publicly funded and private elementary and secondary schools in the province will transition to teacher-led remote learning when students return from break on April 19. Officials ordered private schools holding instruction this week to pivot to remote learning by Thursday. According to the statement, the number of coronavirus hospitalizations in the province has increased by 22.1 percent between April 4 and Saturday. In that same period, the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care has also increased from 494 to 605. "This was not a decision we made lightly, as we know how critical schools are to Ontario students. Our priority has always been to keep schools open, however sharply rising community transmission can put our schools and Ontario families at risk," Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce said in a statement.

Later school start times let students get adequate sleep - A new study in SLEEP, published by Oxford University Press, demonstrates the significant benefits of later school start times for middle and high school students' sleep schedules.Sleep is essential to a student's overall health, social development, and academic achievement, yet lack of sleep is common among children and adolescents. Biological changes to sleep cycles during puberty make falling asleep early difficult for adolescents. This, coupled with early school start times, means that students often end up with insufficient sleep.Approximately 28,000 elementary, middle, and high school students and parents completed surveys annually, before changes to school start times and for two years afterward. Participating elementary schools started 60 minutes earlier, middle, 40-60 minutes later, and high school started 70 minutes later. Student and parent surveys separately asked about students' typical bedtime and wake time on both weekdays and weekends. The surveys also asked respondents to report on students' quality of sleep and their experience of daytime sleepiness. Researchers found that the greatest improvements in these measures occurred for high school students, who obtained an extra 3.8 hours of sleep per week after the later start time was implemented. More than one in ten high school students reported improved sleep quality and one in five reported less daytime sleepiness. The average "weekend oversleep," or additional sleep on weekends, amongst high schoolers dropped from just over two hours to 1.2 hours, suggesting that with enough weekday sleep, students are no longer clinically sleep deprived and no longer feel compelled to "catch up" on weekends. Likewise, middle school students obtained 2.4 additional hours of sleep per week with a later school start time. Researchers saw a 12% decrease in middle schoolers reporting daytime sleepiness. The percent of elementary school students reporting sufficient sleep duration, poor sleep quality, or daytime sleepiness did not change over the course of the study.

Colorado high school lays off all teachers, tells them to reapply for their own jobs - Dozens of teachers at Mitchell High School in Colorado Springs, CO, a city of just over 460,000 on the eastern foot of the Rocky Mountains, were informed in January by the District 11 Board of Education that they will be laid off at the end of the school year and forced to re-apply for their jobs. In response, the union which claims to represent educators, the Colorado Springs Education Association (CSEA), has simply told its membership to look for new jobs in nearby districts, as no timeline has been given for the reposting of the Mitchell High School positions. School officials maintain that they have the right to carry out the mass firing because they must “implement comprehensive changes” that will address the fact that students have been performing poorly on standardized tests for four years and the school has been placed on “performance watch.” An additional pretext for the firings stems from alleged concerns over low participation among Mitchell High School students for the SAT, an unmandated, non-state exam for college admissions that institutions of higher education are increasingly waiving as an entrance requirement. Because state-required standardized exams have been suspended across Colorado due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the city’s school board is seizing upon the SAT participation rate to carry out its attack. While many districts and states use tests like the SAT as a supplement to other methods of evaluating students, it is widely known that results are highly linked to students’ socioeconomic background because the exam can only be mastered through expensive private tutoring programs or academic coaches. Mitchell High School serves a low-income, highly transient population. A third of its students come from Spanish-speaking homes, and one in every five is enrolled in English-language-learning classes. Many students are either undocumented or moving in and out of the district as their parents follow seasonal and itinerant work opportunities. Both in terms of participation and performance, this student body is destined to “fail” compared to those from wealthier and more stable backgrounds. The effect of the mass teacher layoffs—which will cause many highly-skilled veteran educators to find work elsewhere—will be to intensify the feeling of vulnerability and crisis already plaguing young people as a result of the pandemic, which has infected more than 480,000 and killed 6,210 in the surrounding county. The teacher turnover rate—already high because of the difficult conditions at Mitchell High School—will rise further, deepening the educational crisis facing these students.

 Forgiving $50K in school loans would free 36 million student borrowers from debt: data - More than 36 million people would be freed from debt if the Biden administration cancels $50,000 in student debt per borrower, according to data put out Tuesday from the Education Department. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a vocal proponent of the cancellation proposal being pushed by progressives, released the data after requesting answers from the Education Department earlier this month. The 36 million borrowers who would have their debt completely forgiven account for 45 million federal student loan borrowers overall. The data also shows that 9.8 million federal student loan borrowers who were in default or more than three months behind on their debt at the end of 2019 would have their debt forgiven. That’s almost all of the 10.3 million federal student loan borrowers who were in that position. Warren’s release of the data marks the latest salvo in progressives’ push to convince President Biden to take unilateral action to scrap $50,000 in student debt per borrower. Biden has set his sights lower, saying he might target $10,000 in debt while still questioning his legal authority to cancel the debt by executive action. Should the president forgive that amount of loans, 15 million borrowers would completely have their debt forgiven, including 4.6 million people who were in default or delinquent at the end of 2019. “I do think in this moment of economic pain and strain that we should be eliminating interest on the debts that are accumulated, No. 1. And No. 2, I'm prepared to write off the $10,000 debt,” Biden said in February. White House chief of staff Ron Klain said earlier this month that Biden had requested information from Education Secretary Miguel Cardona regarding his legal authority to cancel student loan debt. “He hasn’t made a decision on that either way. In fact, he hasn’t yet gotten the memos that he needs to start to focus on that decision,” Klain said.

How Common Is ‘Long Covid’? New Studies Suggest More Than Previously Thought - Once upon a time, it seemed that once you recovered from Covid-19, you were home free—that experiencing the disease might be terrible, but surviving it meant you were done with it. Now we know that’s not the case, as it’s become clear that a growing number of Covid-19 survivors are experiencing long-term effects—known as “long Covid” (formally Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 or PASC)—even after the virus is ostensibly out of their bodies. What’s more, these “long haulers” are not a small group: studies are showing that, given the vast number of people who have survived Covid-19 globally, it could actually be in the millions.   A survey earlier this month from the Office for National Statistics in Britain polled more than 20,000 participants who’d tested positive for Covid-19 in the last year and found that one in five survivors reported having symptoms after five weeks—and at 12 weeks, the number was still 13.7% (almost one in seven people). The most common symptoms experienced at five weeks were fatigue (11.8%), cough (11%), headache (10%), and muscle pain (7.7%). (Loss of taste and smell followed, each affecting about 6.3% of participants.) At 12 weeks, the prevalence of symptoms was slightly lower, but still distributed similarly and much higher than a control group who hadn’t had Covid-19. In terms of the big picture, when the authors extrapolated the numbers to the whole of the UK, they suggest that more than a million residents may have experienced long Covid by the beginning of March 2021.Studies have also shown the striking array of acute effects the coronavirus can have on the body and its organ systems, from cardiovascular to pulmonary to neurological-psychological to kidney and more. That Covid-19 is now considered a multi-organ disease may translate to a wider spectrum of long Covid symptoms than previously understood.In fact, a new study from researchers at hospitals around the country found that long Covid symptoms included fatigue, shortness of breath, brain fog, loss of sense of smell or taste, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, headache/migraine, and non-restorative sleep. The authors offer guidelines on how to treat patients with long Covid, and urge a multidisciplinary approach to support both the physical and the mental health of those living with long Covid.While it seems that people with more severe Covid-19, especially those who were hospitalized, are at higher risk for long Covid (a study from Wuhan found that after six months, three-quarters of these patients still had at least one symptom), this doesn’t mean that people with mild illness are off the hook. A study out last week from the Karolinska Institute reported that among a group of healthcare workers who’d had mild Covid-19, 10% still had at least one symptom severe enough to impact their work, home, or social lives eight months later (the most common symptoms were loss of smell and taste, fatigue, and respiratory problems). While the study was quite small and the results should be interpreted with some caution, other studies have also suggested that even mild initial illness can lead to long-term effects.It’s not totally clear what causes long Covid, or any post-viral syndrome, for that matter, including chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis. It may be that remnants of the virus are left in the body or that symptoms are due to damage from the body’s own immune response—and/or the fact that it may just take a long time to repair the various levels of injury caused by the acute phase of the illness. There’s some early suggestion that the Covid-19 vaccine reduces symptoms in long haulers, most in the form of anecdotal evidence and surveys, not yet in peer-reviewed studies. One in-the-works study found that after vaccination, long Covid symptoms resolved in over 20% of participants, and some suggest it may be even higher.

Long COVID sufferer describes her experience: “I do not recognize my body. I feel like a prisoner in it” - Katie is 33 years old and has been suffering from Long COVID since her initial infection in March 2020. Prior to contracting COVID-19, Katie worked a demanding job as a corporate recruiter in New York City. She lost her job a year ago due to the pandemic. “I have had a very independent and adventurous spirit my entire adult life, and COVID has taken all of that away from me,” she said. “Long COVID has changed everything about my life. I don’t even recognize the person I see in the mirror. I’ve gone from independent to dependent, and it goes against everything I have ever worked for. My immediate family has been so helpful and gone out of their way to care for me, but my extended family I’ve had to block. They told me I look fine, why am I spreading lies, spreading fear? ‘COVID is not real.’ I have had some friends do the same. I’ve lost so many friends this year, but the ones that matter are still around.” More than one year into the coronavirus pandemic and many are still suffering chronic symptoms from their initial infection. This post-viral syndrome is sometimes called Long COVID and sufferers are referred to as “long haulers.” Some long haulers have been suffering with Long COVID for more than a year with no idea how long their symptoms will persist. Similar to data and reports from other Long COVID sufferers, Katie describes a varied set of symptoms, which rotate or occur all at the same time. Symptoms vary, but they commonly include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, fatigue, headaches, brain fog, depression, anxiety and short-term memory loss. Many long haulers are middle-aged, have few to zero medical comorbidities and were never hospitalized for their initial COVID-19 infection. She described a laundry list of ailments: “I get dizzy, I pass out. I am 33 years old, and I walk with a walker. I am on a very, very strict diet. I have a histamine intolerance, which I didn’t have before, and it really limits what I can eat, but I also don’t have any appetite. My weight is a yo-yo. I initially lost a lot of weight, and then I got the ‘COVID bloat’ and gained 30 pounds in weeks, but had initially lost 60. My menstrual cycles are nightmares. I am in so much pain I cannot do anything the week before, the week during and the week after. I had never had any problems with that. “I did have anxiety before, but it was high functioning, and I could accomplish anything I put my mind to. I was very successful in school and work. Now I refer to it as my ‘nonfunctioning anxiety.’ I can’t even go to a store now. I cannot be around other people. Noises and sounds affect me.” When asked how her symptoms have changed over time, Katie said, “Now is the worst of it, a year later, and it’s the worst it has ever been. Right around March is when my neurological issues got worse. I stutter, some days are worse than others. I pass out, the dizziness is worse.” While little is still understood about the phenomenon of Long COVID, numerous studies have indicated that approximately one in three people infected with COVID-19 will develop Long COVID. For some this could mean six months with no sense of smell and mild fatigue, while for others, like Katie, it could mean an entire life put on pause from debilitating symptoms. A more detailed analysis of recent research on the subject of Long COVID can be found here..

Staggering 10 to 15 percent of infected children suffer from Long COVID -- Recently published data from the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that among children who have survived COVID-19, 13 percent of those 11 years or younger and about 15 percent of those aged 12 to 16 are suffering the effects of Post-acute COVID-19 (“Long COVID”) and report at least one symptom five weeks after a confirmed COVID-19 infection.Long COVID is a multisystem disease in which growing numbers of adults and children are suffering from lingering symptoms for months or even a year now after contracting COVID-19. These include sleep disorders such as insomnia, heart palpitations, gastrointestinal issues, breathing difficulties, muscle and joint pain plus exhaustion, headaches and cognitive impairment (“brain fog”) and overall lack of concentration. Those who suffer from persistent symptoms sometimes refer to themselves as “long haulers.”An Italian study published in January 2021 showed that of the 129 children diagnosed with COVID-19 between March and November, 2020, “More than a half reported at least one persisting symptom even after 120 days since COVID-19, with 42.6% being impaired by these symptoms during daily activities. Symptoms like fatigue, muscle and joint pain, headache, insomnia, respiratory problems and palpitations were particularly frequent, as also described in adults.” The revelations are particularly concerning for infants, toddlers and children who are at the crucial stage of development. There is nothing yet known about how long it will affect and potentially ruin their long-term development and lives.“The first thing is don’t let your child get COVID. You can’t develop Long COVID or have post COVID complications if you never get COVID,” said Dr. Daniel Griffin in a March 17, 2021 interview with Medcram.com. Griffin is an MD/PhD board certified in infectious disease and an instructor in Clinical Medicine and an associate research scientist in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at Columbia University.Dr. Griffin cited data from the UK and explained the troubling cases he is seeing in the New York Tri-State area (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut) that some ten percent of children with COVID are suffering from Long COVID. “The one thing I want to bring up which parents are getting very upset about now is that children, like adults, may get covid and not be better in a week or two. Long COVID in adults is twenty percent, in children it may be as high as ten percent, that is what we are seeing in the UK where they have good surveillance.”

How common is stroke in people critically ill with COVID-19? - - A large, year-long study has found that among people with COVID-19 who were hospitalized in an intensive care unit (ICU), 2% experienced a stroke after they were admitted to the ICU. The preliminary study released today, April 15, 2021, will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 73rd Annual Meeting being held virtually April 17 to 22, 2021. The study also found that hemorrhagic stroke, a bleeding stroke, was associated with a higher risk of death among people in the ICU, but ischemic stroke, a stroke caused by a blood clot blocking an artery, was not. "Stroke has been a known serious complication of COVID-19 with some studies reporting a higher-than-expected occurrence, especially in young people," said study author Jonathon Fanning, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. "However, among the sickest of patients, those admitted to an ICU, our research found that stroke was not a common complication and that a stroke from a blood clot did not increase the risk of death." Researchers evaluated the patient data at 370 hospital ICUs and found 59 people, or 2.2%, experienced a stroke during their stay in the ICU. Of those, 19 people, or 32%, had a stroke from a clot, 27 people, or 46%, had a bleeding stroke, and 13 people, or 22%, had an unspecified stroke. Researchers determined that people who had a bleeding stroke had up to five times greater risk of death than people without stroke. However, people who had a stroke from a clot had no increased risk of death. Of the people with bleeding stroke, 72% died, but of those, only 15% died of stroke. Instead, multiorgan failure was the leading cause of death.

The ongoing evolution of variants of concern and interest of SARS-CoV-2 in Brazil revealed by convergent indels in the amino (N)-terminal domain of the Spike protein -Virological - Abstract: Mutations at both the receptor-binding domain (RBD) and the amino (N)-terminal domain (NTD) of the SARS-CoV-2 Spike (S) glycoprotein can alter its antigenicity and promote immune escape. We identified that SARS-CoV-2 lineages circulating in Brazil with mutations of concern in the RBD independently acquired convergent deletions and insertions in the NTD of the S protein, which altered the NTD antigenic-supersite and other predicted epitopes at this region. These findings support that the ongoing widespread transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in Brazil is generating new viral lineages that might be more resistant to neutralization than parental variants of concern.

 As Variants Have Spread, Progress Against the Virus in U.S. Has Stalled - United States coronavirus cases have increased again after hitting a low point late last month, and some of the states driving the upward trend have also been hit hardest by variants, according to an analysis of data from Helix, a lab testing company. The country’s vaccine rollout has sped up since the first doses were administered in December, recently reaching a rolling average of more than three million doses per day. And new U.S. cases trended steeply downward in the first quarter of the year, falling by almost 80 percent from mid-January through the end of March. But during that period, states also rolled back virus control measures, and now mobility data shows a rise in people socializing and traveling. Amid all this, more-contagious variants have been gaining a foothold, and new cases are almost 20 percent higher than they were at the lowest point in March. “It is a pretty complex situation, because behavior is changing, but you’ve also got this change in the virus itself at the same time,” said Emily Martin, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Cases are up in states with strong variant presence. Michigan has seen the sharpest rise in cases in the last few weeks.B.1.1.7 — the more transmissible and more deadly variant of the coronavirus that was first discovered in the United Kingdom — may now make up around 70 percent of all of the state’s new cases, according to the Helix data. The vaccines authorized in the United States are very effective against the B.1.1.7 variant and will significantly slow virus spread once a large share of the population is vaccinated. Some experts estimate 70 to 90 percent of the population would need to acquire resistance before transmission would substantially slow. As of April 5, less than 20 percent of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated against the virus. Regional variants have also fueled spikes. Several states in the Northeast also have among the country’s worst outbreaks now. Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, among others, are all experiencing marked rises in case counts, and labs have identified both the B.1.1.7 variant and large shares ofanother variant, B.1.526. The B.1.526 variant, which first appeared in New York City in samples from November, appears in two forms: one with a mutation that may help the virus evade antibodies and another that may help it bind more tightly to human cells.The rapid spread of the B.1.526 variant, which made up more than 40 percent of sequenced cases in New York City as of mid-March, has prompted officials to say they believe it also could be a more infectious strain, though they say it is too early to tell whether it results in a more severe illness. There is not enough genomic sequencing, the resource-intensive process required to discover that a case has been caused by a variant, to be certain how exactly much B.1.526 is spreading in the Northeast, but the available data indicates it is likely widespread.

Study: UK variant not linked to more severe disease or death - The highly contagious variant of the coronavirus believed to have originated in the United Kingdom that has contributed to this year's surge of infections is not linked to higher instances of severe illness or death, a study published Monday found. The study published in the Lancet medical journal by roughly two dozen researchers examining nearly 500 patients found no link between the U.K. variant and more severe cases of COVID-19, though the variant is still thought to have a higher transmission rate. "We found no evidence of a difference in our main outcome of severe disease or death by SARS-CoV-2 lineage," the researchers wrote. "Patients with [the U.K. variant] were younger and had fewer comorbidities than those with [non-U.K. variants], possibly representing the widespread and potential increased transmission of this variant in the community or differences in probability of hospital admission, which we were not able to explore in this hospital-based cohort," the study's conclusion read. The study contradicts statements that top officials including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have made in the past several months regarding the U.K. variant of COVID-19, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now says is the most common strain in the U.S. In January, Johnson said that "some evidence" pointed to the British variant being possibly "associated with a higher degree of mortality." "I want to stress that there's a lot of uncertainty around these numbers and we need more work to get a precise handle on it, but it obviously is a concern that this has an increase in mortality as well as an increase in transmissibility," added the U.K.'s top scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, at the time.

Tweaked COVID Vaccines in Testing Aim to Fend Off Variants - - Dozens of Americans are rolling up their sleeves for a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine -- this time, shots tweaked to guard against a worrisome mutated version of the virus. Make no mistake: The vaccines currently being rolled out across the U.S. offer strong protection. But new studies of experimental updates to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines mark a critical first step toward an alternative if the virus eventually outsmarts today’s shots. “We need to be ahead of the virus,” said Dr. Nadine Rouphael of Emory University, who is helping to lead a study of Moderna's tweaked candidate. “We know what it's like when we're behind.” It's not clear if or when protection would wane enough to require an update but, "realistically we want to turn COVID into a sniffle,” she added. Viruses constantly evolve, and the world is in a race to vaccinate millions and tamp down the coronavirus before even more mutants emerge. More than 119 million Americans have had at least one vaccine dose, and 22% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Much of the rest of the world is far behind that pace. Already an easier-to-spread version found in Britain just months ago has become the most common variant now circulating in the United States, one that’s fortunately vaccine-preventable. But globally, there's concern that first-generation vaccines may offer less protection against a different variant that first emerged in South Africa. All the major vaccine makers are tweaking their recipes in case an update against that so-called B.1.351 virus is needed. Now experimental doses from Moderna and Pfizer are being put to the test. In suburban Atlanta, Emory asked people who received Moderna's original vaccine a year ago in a first-stage study to also help test the updated shot.

COVID-19 Vaccine: 40% of Marines have declined the coronavirus vaccine -- Approximately 40% of US Marines are declining COVID-19 vaccinations, according to data provided to CNN by the service, the first branch to disclose service-wide numbers on acceptance and declination. About 48,000 Marines have chosen not to receive vaccines, for a declination rate of 38.9%. The declination rate at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, was far higher, at 57%, according to another set of data provided to CNN. Of 26,400 Marines who have been offered vaccinations at Camp Lejeune, 15,100 have chosen not to receive them.Conversations with military medical officials and service members, as well as data from several bases and units around the country, suggest the current rejection rate among the U.S. Military may be closer to 50%, CNN says. “I think the true opt-in rate right now would probably be around 50-ish percent," said a military healthcare source about numbers on a military base of some 40,000 active duty troops.

US health officials call for pause on Johnson & Johnson vaccine over rare blood clots  Top U.S. health officials on Tuesday called for a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine while they review cases of rare blood clots in people receiving the shots. The officials said they are reviewing six cases of a "rare and severe type of blood clot" out of more than 6.8 million people in the U.S. who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. All six cases were in women between ages 18 and 48. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet on Wednesday to review the cases, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will look into them as well. "Until that process is complete, we are recommending a pause in the use of this vaccine out of an abundance of caution," said Peter Marks, a top FDA official, and Anne Schuchat, a top CDC official, in a joint statement. "This is important, in part, to ensure that the health care provider community is aware of the potential for these adverse events and can plan for proper recognition and management due to the unique treatment required with this type of blood clot." The type of blood clot in question, called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, requires different treatment than blood clots usually do. The agencies said they want health providers to be able to plan for them. Marks and Schuchat stressed that "these adverse events appear to be extremely rare." "COVID-19 vaccine safety is a top priority for the federal government, and we take all reports of health problems following COVID-19 vaccination very seriously," the officials added. "People who have received the J&J vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider." The move is sure to send shockwaves through the U.S. vaccination effort and could worsen vaccine hesitancy, which was already a problem as some people refused to be inoculated. Still, two other vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna, have made up the bulk of U.S. supply so far, and no serious safety issues have been raised with them. About 7 million Johnson & Johnson shots have been administered in the U.S. so far, compared to much higher numbers for Pfizer and Moderna, about 98 million and 85 million, respectively. Johnson & Johnson had also been struggling with its manufacturing, as problems at a Baltimore plant delayed the distribution of more doses. But there are about 9 million more Johnson & Johnson shots that have been distributed, according to CDC data, that are now subject to a pause.

Vaccine rollout hits a snag -- A pause in administration of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is dealing a blow to U.S. vaccination efforts that have largely been speeding along. The announcement from federal health officials on Tuesday morning, prompted by extremely rare cases of blood clots in people receiving the vaccine, was an unexpected setback for the U.S. vaccine rollout. J&J is only a small part of the U.S. supply, so the White House offered reassurances that there are still more than enough doses from Pfizer and Moderna to keep up or even exceed the current 3 million shot-per-day pace. But there is also the broader question of whether the news will lower public confidence in the vaccines, given that vaccine hesitancy was already a problem in some quarters. That concern left some health researchers questioning the wisdom of the pause. “I don’t think it was the right decision,” Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said of the pause, saying the move will fuel hesitancy and it will be hard to convince people to take the J&J shot again after it was paused. “We’re in the midst of a pandemic that’s killing people every day,” he said. “We’re talking about less than 1 in a million cases … good luck restarting this now after what they’ve done.” However, the bulk of experts backed halting doses, saying the pause could potentially reassure the public by showing how seriously officials take even a rare safety issue. Health officials stressed that there have been no reports of serious side effects with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, and even with J&J, there are only six cases of blood clots reported so far out of about seven million shots given in the U.S. “I know lots of folks think this will cause more vaccine hesitancy — and more harm than good,” tweeted Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown School of Public Health. “I’m honestly not so sure. My sense is confidence comes from people believing that we have a vigorous system that takes adverse events seriously. We do. This is how it works.” 

 Fauci fatigue sets in as top doc sows doubt in vaccine effectiveness - Years from now when we look back at the coronavirus pandemic, one of the first people we'll think of is Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. And why not?   Fauci enjoyed headlines like these: "Anthony Fauci - the Most Trusted Man in America"   But things seem to have turned in recent weeks as the ubiquitous Fauci continues to hold interview after interview with the same message about the way Americans should conduct themselves after being vaccinated. Last weekend, for example, MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan asked Fauci the following question: “What is the message to vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans as to what they should and should not be doing right now? For example, eating and drinking indoors in restaurants and bars ... is that OK now?” "No, it's still not OK," Fauci replied, citing new cases still above 50,000 per day before adding: "If you are vaccinated, please remember that you still have to be careful and not get involved in crowded situations, particularly indoors where people are not wearing masks." So, what does that tell us? If you're vaccinated, you still can't meet other vaccinated friends for dinner? Or was Fauci only referring to vaccinated people meeting up with unvaccinated people? If it’s the former, Fauci would be contradicting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), whose official recommendation on what vaccinated people can and cannot do says this: "Fully vaccinated people can visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing." Of course, it would be nice if someone, anyone, would bring up the CDC guidance when interviewing the good doctor about going out for a meal sometime. But challenging Fauci is considered a big no-no by most of the media, whose job is supposed to be to hold the powerful accountable without fear and favor. And then there's the situation in Texas and Mississippi, two states whose Republican governors dropped mask mandates on March 2. Fauci called the decision "really quite risky" while adding that it is "a dangerous sign because when that has happened in the past, when you pull back on measures of public health, invariably you’ve seen a surge back up." So, how's that surge coming 40 days later? On March 2, the seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 deaths in Texas was 232. On April 11, there were 24 deaths in the state, with the seven-day rolling average falling to 73 and trending downward, representing a 69 percent drop. Cases also have dropped from above 7,000 in early March to fewer than 4,000 now, according to the CDC. When asked about that drop by MSNBC's Willie Geist, Fauci couldn't explain it.

Penn study suggests those who had COVID-19 may only need one vaccine dose -- -People who have recovered from COVID-19 had a robust antibody response after the first mRNA vaccine dose, but little immune benefit after the second dose, according to new research from the Penn Institute of Immunology. The findings, published today in Science Immunology, suggest only a single vaccine dose may be needed to produce a sufficient antibody response. The team found that those who did not have COVID-19--called COVID naïve--did not have a full immune response until after receiving their second vaccine dose, reinforcing the importance of completing the two recommended doses for achieving strong levels of immunity. The study provides more insight on the underlying immunobiology of mRNA vaccines, which could help shape future vaccine strategies. "These results are encouraging for both short- and long-term vaccine efficacy, and this adds to our understanding of the mRNA vaccine immune response through the analysis of memory B cells," said senior author E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of the department of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute of Immunology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The human immune response to vaccines and infections result in two major outcomes--the production of antibodies that provide rapid immunity and the creation of memory B cells, which assist in long-term immunity. This study represents one of the first to uncover how memory B cell responses differ after vaccination in people who previously experienced infection, compared to those who have not have COVID-19. "Previous COVID-19 mRNA vaccine studies on vaccinated individuals have focused on antibodies more than memory B cells. Memory B cells are a strong predictor of future antibody responses, which is why it's vital to measure B cell responses to these vaccines," Wherry said. "This effort to examine memory B cells is important for understanding long-term protection and the ability to respond to variants."

CDC director calls on Michigan to 'close things down' amid surge in cases - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky called on Michigan to “close things down” as the state deals with a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The CDC director addressed the growing spread of COVID-19 in the Wolverine State by saying sending more vaccines to the state won’t solve the problem, as immunizations take two to six weeks to affect coronavirus statistics. Michigan has seen cases skyrocket at a higher rate than in other states, rising sevenfold since its lowest point in February with a current seven-day average of 7,377 new cases per day, according to The New York Times. Hospitalizations have reached a seven-day average of 3,570. "When you have an acute situation, an extraordinary number of cases like we have in Michigan, the answer is not necessarily to give vaccines — in fact we know the vaccine will have a delayed response," she said. "The answer to that is to really close things down, to go back to our basics, to go back to where we were last spring, last summer ... to flatten the curve, decrease contact with one another, to test to the extent we have available, to contact trace,” she said during a White House COVID-19 response team briefing. "If we tried to vaccinate our way out of what is happening in Michigan, we'd be disappointed that it took so long for the vaccine to work, to actually have the impact," she added. Jeff Zients, the White House coordinator for the COVID-19 response, also noted that federal officials do not know where the next outbreak will be, so sending more vaccines to Michigan now could take them away from locations that experience surges in the coming weeks. The health officials’ comments come as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) reissued her and other state officials’ request for the federal government to send more vaccines to her state amid the rise in cases and hospitalizations. Whitmer had called for more shots to go to the Wolverine State last week, saying that the federal strategy should be “squelching where the hot spots are.” “I made the case for a surge strategy,” Whitmer said at a briefing on Friday. “At this point, that's not being deployed, but I am not giving up.” But Zients responded to the requests during Friday’s COVID-19 response team briefing saying the administration will stick with a population-based distribution plan. "The fair and equitable way to distribute the vaccine is based on the adult population by state, tribe and territory," he said. "That's how it's been done, and we will continue to do so.”

 April 14th COVID-19 Vaccinations, New Cases, Hospitalizations -According to the CDC, 194.8 million doses have been administered. 29.6% of the population over 18 is fully vaccinated, and 47.6% of the population over 18 has had at least one dose (123.0 million people have had at least one dose). And check out COVID Act Now to see how each state is doing.   Over 8,500 US deaths were reported so far in April due to COVID. This graph shows the daily (columns) 7 day average (line) of positive tests reported. Note: The ups and downs during the Winter surge were related to reporting delays due to the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. This data is from the CDC.  The 7-day average is 69,953, up from 67,813 yesterday, and above the summer surge peak of 67,337 on July 23, 2020. The second graph shows the number of people hospitalized. This data is also from the CDC. The CDC cautions that due to reporting delays, the area in grey will probably increase. The current 7-day average is 36,941, up from 36,257 reported yesterday, and well above the post-summer surge low of 23,000.

 Hospitals overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases as Michigan Governor Whitmer resists calls for statewide restrictions -- On Wednesday, the Michigan State University pediatrician, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who was instrumental in exposing the Flint water crisis, took to Twitter demanding Michigan “Shut down” in the face of the growing COVID-19 crisis for which Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer has abandoned all responsibility. “From a nurse friend just now: ‘I’m exhausted. It’s crazy here. I’m overwhelmed. There are 125 people in the emergency room. No room, so, they are in tents,’” Dr. Hanna-Attisha added. The continually rising seven-day average has surpassed 7,870 daily COVID-19 cases in Michigan. The figure is above the previous winter peak, which had topped off at 7,546. The percentage of tests confirming an infection is now 18 percent in the state. In Detroit it is running at 21 percent. Many in the medical community are confronting the harsh reality that Michigan will not be able to vaccinate itself out of this predicament. The surge comes despite over one in three residents of the state having received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccines and one quarter fully vaccinated. With the Johnson and Johnson single-dose COVID-19 vaccine indefinitely on pause, the vaccination campaign has hit a considerable roadblock. Yet, the political establishment has taken an intransigent stand on any basic public health measures, including the closure of schools and non-essential businesses, which will slow the spread of the deadly virus. Michigan reported 10,277 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, the highest daily total in the state since the pandemic began sweeping across the United States early last year. The seven-day average of deaths has also turned sharply upwards, having tripled since a post-winter surge low on March 17 of 16 deaths per day to 46 deaths per day. On Wednesday, 81 Michigan residents succumbed to their infection. Dr. Nick Gilpin, Beaumont Health’s medical director of infection prevention and epidemiology, told the Detroit Free Press the situation is “like a runaway train.” All eight hospitals in the state’s largest health care system are full of more than 800 COVID-19 patients, according to the Free Press. One of the cornerstones of the public health tenets for pandemic control is to ensure that health systems do not reach capacity and become inundated. Even this last measure of warning has been cast aside. Though Dr. Gilpin reported that the present situation is “taxing [the] staff and resources,” Tents are already up at Beaumont’s Gross Pointe hospital to make room for overwhelmed emergency rooms. Additional triage tents will be raised at their Dearborn and Farmington Hills hospitals. Non-urgent surgeries are being postponed and all surgeries requiring overnight stays are being canceled.

 

 Health care calamity looms as COVID-19 cases surge across Canada --Health experts and even government officials now admit that the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada is at its most dangerous stage to date, with the pandemic’s third wave threatening to be the most lethal yet. As a direct result of the criminal policies of all levels of government, which have prioritized corporate profits over human lives, COVID-19 has already killed more than 23,400 Canadians and infected 1.08 million. With more contagious and deadly variants of COVID-19 becoming prevalent in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and the Prairie provinces, the numbers of infections and hospitalizations are soaring. Last Friday, for the first time since the pandemic’s earliest days, Canada’s per capita rate of daily new infections surpassed that of the United States, long the epicentre of the global pandemic. So virulent are the new variants, some experts are characterizing the country’s third wave of COVID-19 infections as a “new pandemic.” In Ontario, where the second wave took more than three months to reach the 2,500 daily case threshold, that mark was reached in just 30 days during the ongoing third wave. The province has averaged more than 3,500 cases per day for the past week, with a record 4,456 cases on Sunday. Currently, a record 605 COVID-19 patients are being treated in the province’s intensive care wards, an increase of over 40 percent in just two weeks. Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table predicts that by the end of this month that number could surpass 800. As the second wave reached its peak at the beginning of the year, Ontario authorities warned that if the number of intensive care patients rose above 350 it would be impossible for the province’s hospitals to continue to provide regular care to all patients. The situation is not much better elsewhere in the country. In neighboring Quebec, the acceleration of infections is also notable. In the greater Quebec City area, the average number of daily cases has risen from 100 to 400 in just two weeks, with a peak of 630 new infections in a single day. Across the country, there is an exponential increase in new infections, with multiple records being broken in the Western provinces. British Columbia reported 1,293 new infections on Wednesday, April 7, while neighboring Alberta reported 876 new variant cases last Saturday, also a record. Considering that Alberta’s test positivity rate was 9.9 percent last Friday, the severity of the situation in the province and the country as a whole is undoubtedly underreported.

How Bill Gates Impeded Global Access to Covid Vaccines - On February 11, 2020, public health and infectious disease experts gathered by the hundreds at the World Health Organization’s Geneva mothership. The resulting document summarized the state of coronavirus research and proposed ways to accelerate the development of diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines. The underlying premise was that the world would unite against the virus. The global research community would maintain broad and open channels of communication, since collaboration and information-sharing minimize duplication and accelerate discovery.  One issue not mentioned in the paper: intellectual property. If the worst came to pass, the experts and researchers assumed cooperation would define the global response, with the WHO playing a central role. That pharmaceutical companies and their allied governments would allow intellectual property concerns to slow things down—from research and development to manufacturing scale-up—does not seem to have occurred to them. They were wrong, but they weren’t alone. Battle-scarred veterans of the medicines-access and open-science movements hoped the immensity of the pandemic would override a global drug system based on proprietary science and market monopolies. By March, strange but welcome melodies could be heard from unexpected quarters. Anxious governments spoke of shared interests and global public goods; drug companies pledged “precompetitive” and “no-profit” approaches to development and pricing. The early days featured tantalizing glimpses of an open-science, cooperative pandemic response. In January and February 2020, a consortium led by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases collaborated to produce atomic-level maps of the key viral proteins in record time. “Work that would normally have taken months—or possibly even years—has been completed in weeks,” noted the editors ofNature.   When the Financial Times editorialized on March 27 that “the world has an overwhelming interest in ensuring [Covid-19 drugs and vaccines] will be universally and cheaply available,” the paper expressed what felt like a hardening conventional wisdom.  By then, however, the optimism and sense of possibility that defined the early days were long gone. Advocates for pooling and open science, who seemed ascendant and even unstoppable that winter, confronted the possibility they’d been outmatched and outmaneuvered by the most powerful man in global public health. In April, Bill Gates launched a bold bid to manage the world’s scientific response to the pandemic. Gates’s Covid-19 ACT-Accelerator expressed a status quo vision for organizing the research, development, manufacture, and distribution of treatments and vaccines. Like other Gates-funded institutions in the public health arena, the Accelerator was a public-private partnership based on charity and industry enticements. Crucially, and in contrast to the C-TAP, the Accelerator enshrined Gates’s long-standing commitment to respecting exclusive intellectual property claims. Its implicit arguments—that intellectual property rights won’t present problems for meeting global demand or ensuring equitable access, and that they must be protected, even during a pandemic—carried the enormous weight of Gates’s reputation as a wise, beneficent, and prophetic leader. How he’s developed and wielded this influence over two decades is one of the more consequential and underappreciated shapers of the failed global response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Entering year two, this response has been defined by a zero-sum vaccination battle that has left much of the world on the losing side.

In “third wave,” coronavirus cases surging in France --While the Macron government in France has implemented extremely limited and belated lockdown measures, a catastrophe is unfolding across the country and Europe. Using the distribution of vaccines to a small portion of the population as a justification, Macron is seeking to reopen the economy as quickly as possible. The short lockdown period of two weeks will not allow for a significant reduction in contaminations. In an interview with world news agency AFP, epidemiologist Dominique Costagliola referred sceptically to the government’s announced lockdown timetable. “For the moment, it’s early to assess the impact,” he said. “In May we won’t have reached the levels [of vaccination] permitting us to relax the lockdown measures significantly. If it means we have a fourth wave, I don’t think it would be a good idea.” A study published Tuesday by the Pasteur Institute also warned that because of the so-called UK variant, which is more contagious than the previously dominant strain, 90 percent of the adult population would have to be vaccinated before they could return to normal life without the risk of an epidemic resurgence. Currently, 10 million people, or about 18.7 percent of the country’s total population, have received one dose, and roughly a third of those require a second dose. Due to delays and the poor organisation of the vaccination campaign, many elderly people are still not vaccinated. As a result of the delayed lockdown policy, the milestone of 30,000 COVID-19 patients hospitalised in France has been passed. As of yesterday, there were 30,671 hospitalisations, close to the peak of the first wave (32,292) and the second wave (33,466 cases). More than 5,700 people are in intensive care, well above the second wave peak of 4,903 on November 16. In the first wave, the peak was 7,000 people, in April 2020. According to the daily Le Monde, on April 1, 7,900 beds were available in intensive care units, 90 percent of which were occupied by both COVID-19 (5,100 people at that point) and non-COVID patients. According to Macron, the number of ICU beds will be increased to 10,000 to cope with the third wave.

Turkey reports over 50,000 COVID-19 cases | Daily Sabah -- Turkey’s daily COVID-19 cases remained above 50,000 over the past 24 hours, according to the Health Ministry. A total of 50,678 cases, including 2,548 symptomatic patients, were confirmed across the country, the data showed. Turkey’s overall case tally stands at over 3.8 million, while the nationwide death toll has reached 33,939, with 237 fatalities over the past day. As many as 30,194 more patients in the country won the battle against the virus, bringing the total number of recoveries to over 3.3 million. More than 41.5 million coronavirus tests have been conducted in Turkey to date, with 294,274 done since Saturday. The latest figures show that the number of COVID-19 patients in critical condition has risen to 2,824. Since its vaccination campaign began on Jan. 14, Turkey has administered over 18.5 million coronavirus vaccine jabs nationwide, according to official figures. Over 10.9 million people to date have gotten their first doses of the vaccine against coronavirus, while second vaccine doses were given to nearly 7.58 million. To fight a new wave of the virus, Turkey recently announced the return of weekend curfews in high-risk areas, as well as other restrictions, in addition to special measures for the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Since December 2019, the pandemic has claimed over 2.9 million lives in 191 countries and regions. Over 135.5 million cases have been reported worldwide, with recoveries at more than 77 million, according to figures compiled by the U.S.’ Johns Hopkins University. 

Delhi hits new record high of over 11,000 Covid-19 cases  - Delhi reported an all-time high of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases in a day after more than 11,000 infections and 72 deaths were recorded on Monday, according to the health bulletin issued on Monday. There were 11,491 new cases recorded in the last 24 hours, which have pushed the cumulative tally to 736,688. The fatalities also rose sharply on Monday by 72, taking the death toll in Delhi to 11,355. The positivity rate—the proportion of samples that test positive—in the national capital also spiked and was logged at 12.44%, a sharp rise from 9.43% a day earlier. Authorities also ramped up the testing and conducted 92,397 tests in the last 24 hours. Out of the tests conducted, 65,564 were RT-PCR tests and 26,833 were Rapid antigen. Recording a steep rise, active cases in Delhi inched closer to 40,000-mark as 38,095 cases were registered in the same period, health bulletin said. The national capital has 6175 containment zones, it added. Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Sunday termed the Covid-19 situation in Delhi is "worrisome" and issued a stark warning asking people to step out of their homes only if it is urgent. Last month, the CM confirmed that the city-state is witnessing the fourth wave of infections, even as the rest of the country is reeling from the second wave. Kejriwal also said that a lockdown to curb the spread of the disease was not an option but warned of stricter restrictions. In order to ramp up the city’s medical infrastructure, the Delhi government on Monday declared 14 private hospitals in the city as "full Covid-19" hospitals and directed them not to admit any non-COVID patients till further orders. Nineteen private hospitals have been directed to reserve at least 80 per cent of their ICU beds for coronavirus disease-related treatment. Eighty-two private hospitals have been asked to set aside at least 60 per cent of their ICU beds for COVID-19 patients, according to the order issued by the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).

India's daily virus infections are world's highest but crowds gather for festival (Reuters) -Hundreds of thousands of Hindu devotees flocked on Monday to take a holy bath in India’s Ganges river, even as the nation racked up the world’s highest tally of new daily coronavirus infections. With 168,912 new cases, India accounts for one in six of all new infections globally, although the figure is still well below the U.S. peak of nearly 300,000 new cases on Jan. 8. In the northern city of Haridwar, nearly a million devotees thronged the banks of the Ganges, a river many Hindus consider holy, to participate in the months-long ‘Kumbh Mela’ or pitcher festival. “The crowd here is surging...the police are continuously appealing to people to maintain social distancing,” police official Sanjay Gunjyal told Reuters at the site. By mid-morning a million people had taken a dip in the river, believed to wash away one’s sins. As India’s second wave of infections builds, with fewer than 4% estimated to have been vaccinated among a population of 1.4 billion, experts say the situation could have a long way to go before it starts getting better. “After cases declined in January-February, we were very comfortable,” said a panel of high court judges in the western state of Gujarat, calling on authorities to take urgent steps to rein in the outbreak. “Almost everyone forgot that there was ever corona,” added the panel, headed by Chief Justice Vikram Nath. A full opening of the economy from last year’s crippling lockdown, coupled with the mass religious festivals and political rallies in states heading to elections have fuelled the crisis. Monday’s new infections carried India past Brazil for a tally of 13.53 million, data compiled by Reuters shows, ranking it the second-most infected country after the United States, with 31.2 million. India’s tally is on course to double in two months, according to estimates based on data from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering. Yet authorities appeared unwilling or unable to stop events that could lead to a calamitous spread of the disease. Thousands of people are attending political rallies in four big states set for elections this month, including two events on Monday in the eastern state of West Bengal, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi is due to speak. “With 1.2 million active cases, and the daily number reaching 200,000, it’s bizarre to have poll rallies and a full Kumbh Mela,” political commentator Shekhar Gupta said on Twitter. Officials and experts said authorities had underestimated the resilience of the virus, believing they had beaten it after daily cases fell below 10,000 in early February. Officials in the worst-hit state of Maharashtra, home to the financial capital of

Coronavirus: India becomes second-worst hit country as Covid cases surge - India overtook Brazil as the second worst-infected country behind the United States after data showed that Covid-19 cases continued to surge. The South Asian nation reported more than 168,000 new cases over a 24-hour period on Monday, according to health ministry data. Around 83% of the new infections were reported in 10 states, including the western state of Maharashtra, which is home to India's financial capital Mumbai.Since the beginning of April, India has reported more than 1.37 million cases, bringing the country's total number of infections since last January to over 13.5 million; cases began rising since February after reaching a peak in September.Though Maharashtra has been the hardest-hit state in the second wave, cases in other areas — including the populous state of Uttar Pradesh — are going up.Daily reported death rate is also climbing as hospitals face pressure over supplies, including the number of beds available. Still, compared to other countries including the U.S., India's Covid-related deaths are relatively low.Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has reportedly blamed the second wave of infections on people's lack of commitment toward wearing masks and practicing social distancing.But in recent weeks, politicians, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party, as well as other political parties held election rallies in states like West Bengal where large crowds gathered — most of them without wearing masks. There were also a string of religious gatherings that took place in various parts of the country. India's health ministry says that more than 100 million doses of vaccines have been administered since the government began an ambitious inoculation program in January. Since April 1, anyone over 45 years old is eligible for their shots. Media reports say that some states, including Maharashtra, are facing a severe vaccine shortage. The Indian government, in response, accused those states of diverting attention away from their failure to control the virus.  For its part, the Serum Institute of India — the world's largest vaccine manufacturer which is producing AstraZeneca's Covid-19 shot in the country — has said its production capacity is "very stressed." Last month, Reuters reported that India placed a temporary hold on all major exports of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 shot made by the Serum Institute to meet domestic demand.On Sunday, India also banned the export of the anti-viral drug Remdesivir, which saw a sudden spike in domestic demand to treat Covid patients. The ban will stay in place until the outbreak situation improves, the health ministry said.The World Health Organization last year said the drug has "little or no effect" in reducing coronavirus deaths.

 Indian hospitals overwhelmed amid over 100,000 COVID-19 cases daily -India has had over 100,000 COVID-19 cases every day since April 5, endangering the lives of millions of people and pushing the country’s grossly underfunded public health care system to breaking point. The disaster is a direct result of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which has allowed industries to keep operating with unsafe conditions, placing the profits of big business over human life. Indian state governments also share responsibility for the worsening situation. On Monday, India recorded 168,912 new COVID-19 cases, replacing Brazil as the second-most affected country in the world hit by the highly-infectious disease. According to under-counted figures provided by India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the country’s overall tally is now 13.7 million cases with the death toll surpassing 171,000. In the past seven days—from April 5 to 11—India recorded over 937,000 cases, a 70 percent jump from the previous seven days, while the death toll hit 5,057—a 70 percent rise on the previous seven days. Reuters has reported that India’s death toll is on course to double in two months, according to estimates based on data from Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering. India, the current epicentre of Asia’s COVID-19 pandemic, now has more than 1.5 million active cases that are overwhelming hospitals and their intensive care units and oxygen-equipped beds. Health experts have reported a number of new COVID-19 variants, including a new “double mutant variant” and the highly-infectious UK variant, which are undoubtedly a major factor in the rapid increase in corona cases and deaths. The western state of Maharashtra, home to India’s financial capital Mumbai, accounts for more than half of India’s new infections. On Monday, Maharashtra reported over 63,000 new coronavirus cases and 349 deaths. The next day, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray declared a “Janata curfew” (but stopped short of calling it a lockdown) on the movement of people beginning at 8 p.m. on April 14 until May 1. The state government also imposed prohibitory orders under Section 144, which ban gatherings of more than five people for the same period. Construction work and industrial production, however, will continue as usual, ensuring employers maintain their exploitation of workers and profits. The state government claimed there would be limited relief for those affected but small businessmen and traders are complaining that they have not received any subsidy to compensate for having to close their shops for the 15 days. Despite the massive increase in deaths and infections, the Modi government has ruled-out a national lockdown. This was made clear in an April 8 video conference with chief ministers from various regional states. Modi declared that COVID-19 infection figures were “very alarming in some states” and that “work on a war footing” should be resumed to prevent spread of the disease corona.” His so-called war footing, however, does not involve a national lockdown but a “corona curfew” from 9 p.m., until 5 or 6 a.m., and only in “small containment zones.”

WHO warns global COVID-19 pandemic 'growing exponentially' -Top World Health Organization (WHO) officials on Monday warned against “complacency” in fighting COVID-19 amid a troubling spike in cases worldwide. There were 4.4 million new cases recorded in the last week, said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19, the seventh week in a row of increasing cases. That’s compared to about 500,000 cases per week a year ago. Deaths have been rising for four weeks. “It is growing exponentially,” Van Kerkhove said of cases on a global basis. “This is not the situation we want to be in 16 months into a pandemic where we have proven control measures,” she added. “It is time right now where everyone has to take stock and have a reality check about what we need to be doing.” While vaccinations are rolling out and offer hope for gaining control of the pandemic, many countries, especially lower-income ones, have vaccinated only a small fraction of their population, amid a scramble for limited doses on a global scale. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on countries and individuals to maintain other precautions. “Physical distancing works,” he said. “Masks work. Hand hygiene works. Ventilation works. Surveillance, testing, contact tracing, isolation, supportive quarantine and compassionate care — they all work to stop infections and save lives.” “But confusion, complacency and inconsistency in public health measures and their application are driving transmission and costing lives,” he added. India and Brazil are receiving particular concern, given a rise in cases in India and a stark number of deaths in Brazil, with an outbreak fueled by a more contagious variant known as P.1. Even amid more vaccinations than most other countries, the U.S. has seen a plateau of cases at a very high level, of more than 60,000 per day, and troubling spikes in some places, most of all Michigan. “Vaccines and vaccinations are coming online, but they're not here yet in every part of the world where they need to be,” Van Kerkhove said. The U.S. is under pressure from some experts to do more to provide vaccines to lower-income countries, given that if the virus is circulating anywhere in high numbers, it provides opportunities for new variants of the virus to develop. The U.S. could, for example, donate more doses in its stockpile of AstraZeneca vaccines, which have not been approved yet in the U.S. but have been in other countries, and may never be needed in the U.S. Tedros said he also met with African countries to try to increase vaccine production there. “WHO does not want endless lockdowns,” Tedros stressed. “The countries that have done best have taken a tailored, measured, agile and evidence-based combination of measures.”

 Rio de Janeiro recorded more deaths than births for the 6th month in a row, as Brazil fails to contain its COVID-19 outbreak -- The Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro has recorded more deaths than births for the sixth consecutive month as the country struggles to contain its coronavirus outbreak.City authorities reported 36,437 deaths and 32,060 births in March, according to government data.That same month, at least 10 other Brazilian cities with populations exceeding 500,000 registered more deaths than births, according to CNN.The proportion of those deaths that were a result of a COVID-19 infection was not immediately clear, but the figures come with Brazil having recorded the world's second-highest coronavirus death toll after the US.As of Tuesday, more than 358,000 deaths in Brazil were reported as a result of COVID-19, according to a tracker from The New York Times.President Jair Bolsonaro has largely shrugged off the impact of the virus, and his government has sought to conceal information about the true extent of the disaster.On April 6, Brazil recorded more than 4,000 COVID-19 deaths within a 24-hour period for the first time.Intensive-care units are above 90% capacity across most Brazilian states, The Associated Press reported Sunday, citing local data. Seven in 10 hospitals are close to running out of oxygen and anesthetic, the AP said.Bolsonaro has long refused to enforce a nationwide lockdown and previously said that the virus was a "little flu" about which people should "stop whining."Bolsonaro has defended his approach, and last week he dismissed being called "genocidal" in his coronavirus response. "They called me homophobic, racist, fascist, a torturer and now ... what is it now? Now I am ... someone who kills a lot of people? Genocidal. Now, I'm genocidal," he said.

 WHO reports 1 million coronavirus deaths in Europe as cases surge - The World Health Organization (WHO) announced yesterday that the official number of coronavirus deaths in Europe surpassed 1 million last week. Even as the appalling death toll was announced, the virus continues to surge rapidly across the continent, fuelled by the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant, and threatening to overwhelm already strained hospital systems. WHO European regional director Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge announced the 1 million total in a press conference yesterday. “The situation in our region is serious,” he stated. “1.6 million new cases are reported every week. That’s 9,500 every hour, 160 people every minute.” The official toll is, itself, a significant underestimation of the actual number of people who have died from the virus. “It is only among the oldest, that we are seeing declining incidence,” said Kluge. “Over the past two months, the trend among people more than 80 years of age, has diverged from the trend seen in every other age group, possibly thanks to high vaccination uptake in this high-risk group. Since February, the proportion of COVID-19 deaths in Europe, among those older than 80, has gradually fallen to close to 30 percent, the lowest level since the beginning of the pandemic. Hospitalization, nonetheless, remains at high levels, with continued reports of intensive care capacity having been exceeded.” In a number of Eastern European countries, deaths are accelerating rapidly. In Poland, more than 90 percent of all new cases are now the B.1.1.7 variant, commonly referred to as the UK variant, which is more contagious and more deadly than the original strain. It has fuelled a surge in cases that has pushed the hospital system to the brink. On April 1 infections reached their highest level since the beginning of the pandemic. More than 803 people were reported dead in Poland yesterday. The day before, another 645 people died. The seven-day daily average of deaths is now over 600, equivalent to approximately 5,300 daily deaths in a country with the population of the United States. The hospital system is already overwhelmed. Michal Drozdz, a Warsaw paramedic, told the Financial Times that he is routinely forced to spend hours queuing up outside hospitals, because there is no more available place to take patients. “This has been happening all the time for three weeks. Every shift there’s a real threat you’ll have to spend it waiting in front of a hospital,” he said. “Sometimes it’s two hours, sometimes six. … During that time you can’t help anyone, which is what this job should be about.” In November last year, 5,000 people had died from the coronavirus in Poland. This has since risen more than 12-fold to almost 60,000. In February, even as the more contagious variant was circulating, the right-wing government of Mateusz Morawiecki announced a further relaxation of lockdown measures, including the reopening of schools for younger primary-aged students, along with museums, cinemas and swimming pools. The second-highest death rate on the continent is in Italy. The seven-day daily average of deaths is now 455, according to Worldometer. The country’s vaccination campaign has been a failure. With the health care system undermined by decades of savage austerity cuts, the organization of vaccine distribution was left to regional governments. By February 20, according to the Financial Times, just 20 percent of the vaccines distributed thus far had been given to people over the age of 70. Only 6 percent of people aged over 80 had received a single dose, compared to more than 20 percent in Germany and France, where the vaccine campaign has been disorganized and slow from the beginning.

 

60 Million Americans Don’t Drink Their Tap Water – Here’s Why That’s a Public Health Problem - Imagine seeing a news report about lead contamination in drinking water in a community that looks like yours. It might make you think twice about whether to drink your tap water or serve it to your kids – especially if you also have experienced tap water problems in the past.In a new study, my colleagues Anisha Patel, Francesca Weaks and I estimate that approximately 61.4 million people in the U.S. did not drink their tap water as of 2017-2018. Our research, which was released in preprint format on April 8, 2021, and has not yet been peer reviewed, found that this number has grown sharply in the past several years.Other research has shown that about 2 million Americans don't have access to clean water. Taking that into account, our findings suggest that about 59 million people have tap water access from either their municipality or private wells or cisterns, but don't drink it. While some may have contaminated water, others may be avoiding water that's actually safe. Water insecurity is an underrecognized but growing problem in the U.S. Tap water distrust is part of the problem. And it's critical to understand what drives it, because people who don't trust their tap water shift to more expensive and often less healthy options, like bottled water or sugary drinks. According to our research, there's a growing epidemic of tap water distrust and disuse in the U.S. In a 2020 study, anthropologist Sera Young and I found that tap water avoidance was declining before the Flint water crisis that began in 2014. In 2015-2016, however, it started to increase again for children.Our new study found that in 2017-2018, the number of Americans who didn't drink tap water increased at an alarmingly high rate, particularly for Black and Hispanic adults and children.   We calculated that Black and Hispanic children and adults are two to three times more likely to report not drinking their tap water than members of white households. In 2017-2018, roughly 3 out of 10 Black adults and children and nearly 4 of 10 Hispanic adults and children didn't drink their tap water. Approximately 2 of 10 Asian Americans didn't drink from their tap, while only 1 of 10 white Americans didn't drink their tap water.  When children don't drink any water on a given day, research shows that they consume twice as many calories from sugary drinks as children who drink water. Higher sugary drink consumption increases risk ofcavities, obesity and cardiometabolic diseases. Drinking tap water provides fluoride, which lowers the risk of cavities. Relying on water alternatives is also much more expensive than drinking tap water.

FDA warns not to drink this bottled water after reports of liver damage --Federal health officials are warning people not to drink Real Water brand alkaline water as the product may be linked to liver illness in five children in the Las Vegas-area.The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it was notified of five cases of acute nonviral hepatitis resulting in acute liver failure in infants and young children that occurred in November 2020 in the Southern Nevada Health District. The patients from four different households were all hospitalized, but they have since recovered.  Health authorities say they all consumed the brand of alkaline water, the only common link identified between all five cases to date. “We are advising consumers, restaurants and retailers to not consume, cook with, sell or serve 'Real Water' alkaline water until more information is known about the cause of the illnesses,” Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food policy and response at the FDA, said in a statement. “We are working to determine how the alkaline water may be related to the illnesses. Although the investigation is ongoing, epidemiologic information currently indicates that this alkaline water product may be the cause of the illnesses,” Yiannas said. Additional people in the patient’s households also reported experiencing less severe symptoms such as fever, vomiting, nausea, fatigue and loss of appetite. Nonviral hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that can cause cirrhosis, liver cancer, liver failure and death.  The Las Vegas-based bottled water brand on Wednesday said it was proactively taking steps to stop selling and distributing the product throughout the U.S. until the issue is resolved.

Scientists identify severe asthma species, show air pollutant as likely contributor - For the first time, an analysis identifies non-atopic childhood asthma as more than a set of symptoms, but a distinct disease, driven by early exposure to Benzo[a]pyrene from fossil fuel combustion. Asthma afflicts more than 300 million people worldwide. The most severe manifestation, known as non-Th2, or non-atopic childhood asthma, represents the majority of the cases, greater than 85%, particularly in low-income countries, according to Hyunok Choi (https://health.lehigh.edu/faculty/choi-hyunok), an associate professor at the Lehigh University College of Health (https://health.lehigh.edu/). Yet, whether non-Th2 is a distinct disease (or endotype) or simply a unique set of symptoms (or phenotype) remains unknown. "Non-Th2 asthma is associated with very poor prognosis in children and great, life-long suffering due to the absence of effective therapies," says Choi. "There is an urgent need to better understand its mechanistic origin to enable early diagnosis and to stop the progression of the disease before it becomes severe." Studies show that nearly 50% of the children whose asthma is poorly controlled are expected to emerge as severe adult cases. Yet, a one-size-fits-all treatment approach, currently the norm for asthma, is ineffective and, says Choi, and partially responsible for asthma's growing economic burden. "The primary reason for lack of therapeutic and preventive measures is that no etiologic, or causal, driver has ever been identified for the non-Th2 asthma," says Choi.  Now, for the first time, an epidemiological study, led by Choi, has shown that not only is non-Th2 a distinct disease, its likely inducer is early childhood exposure to airborne Benzo[a]pyrene, a byproduct of fossil fuel combustion. Choi and her colleagues are the first to demonstrate air pollution as a driver of the most challenging type of asthma, the severe subtype which is non-responsive to current therapies.  Not only was elevated exposure to Benzo[a]pyrene associated with correspondingly elevated odds of non-Th2 asthma, it was also associated with depressed systemic oxidant levels. "Contrary to the current body of evidence supporting adult onset of non-atopic asthma, our data suggest for the first time that the lung function deficit and suppressed oxidative stress levels during early childhood are critical sentinel events preceding non-atopic asthma," says Choi.

Life expectancy lower near superfund sites -- Living near a hazardous waste or Superfund site could cut your life short by about a year, reports Hanadi S. Rifai, John and Rebecca Moores Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Houston. The study, published in Nature Communications and based on evaluation of 65,226 census tracts from the 2018 Census, is the first nationwide review of all hazardous waste sites and not just the 1,300 sites on the national priority list managed by the federal government. The analysis shows a decrease of more than two months in life expectancy for those living near a Superfund site. When coupled with high disadvantage of sociodemographic factors like age, sex, marital status and income, the decrease could be nearly 15 months, according to the analysis. Prior studies confirmed that those living near hazardous waste sites generally have greater sociodemographic disadvantage and, as a result, poorer health. The average life expectancy in the U.S. is 78.7 years, and millions of children have been raised within less than a one-mile radius from a federally designated Superfund site. "We have ample evidence that contaminant releases from anthropogenic sources (e.g., petrochemicals or hazardous waste sites) could increase the mortality rate in fence-line communities," reports Rifai. "Results showed a significant difference in life expectancy among census tracts with at least one Superfund site and their neighboring tracts with no sites." Nationally there are thousands of so-called Superfund, or contaminated, sites that pose a risk to human health and the environment. These sites include manufacturing facilities, processing plants, landfills and mining sites where hazardous waste was dumped, left out in the open or poorly managed. Life expectancy is one of the most basic indicators of public health. Analysis revealed that out of 12,717 census tracts with at least one Superfund site, the adverse effect of this presence was more severe on the ones with higher sociodemographic disadvantage. For instance, the presence of a Superfund site in a census tract with smaller than median income ($52,580) could reduce life expectancy by as much as seven months.

Living Near a Toxic Waste Site Could Lower Life Expectancy by a Year, Study Finds - Thousands of Superfund sites exist around the U.S., with toxic substances left open, mismanaged and dumped. Despite the high levels of toxicity at these sites, nearly 21 million people live within a mile of one of them, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).Currently, more than 1,300 Superfund sites pose a serious health risk to nearby communities. Based on a new study, residents living close to these sites could also have a shorter life expectancy.Published in Nature Communications, the study, led by Hanadi S. Rifai, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Houston, and a team of researchers, found that living in nearby zip codes to Superfund sites resulted in a decreased life expectancy of more than two months, the University of Houston reported."We have ample evidence that contaminant releases from anthropogenic sources (e.g., petrochemicals or hazardous waste sites) could increase the mortality rate in fence-line communities," Rifai told the University of Houston. "Results showed a significant difference in life expectancy among census tracts with at least one Superfund site and their neighboring tracts with no sites."The study pulled data from 65,000 census tracts – defined geographical regions – within the contiguous U.S.,The Guardian reported. With this data, researchers found that for communities that are socioeconomically challenged, this life expectancy could decrease by up to a year. "It was a bit surprising and concerning," Rifai told The Guardian. "We weren't sure [when we started] if the fact that you are socioeconomically challenged would make [the Superfund's effects] worse." The research team, for example, found that the presence of a Superfund site in a census tract with a median income of less than $52,580 could reduce life expectancy by seven months, the University of Houston reported. Many of these toxic sites were once used as manufacturing sites during the Second World War. Common toxic substances that are released from the sites into the air and surface water include lead, trichlorethylene, chromium, benzene and arsenic – all of which can lead to health impacts, such as neurological damage among children, The Union of Concerned Scientists wrote in a blog. "The EPA has claimed substantial recent progress in Superfund site cleanups, but, contrary to EPA leadership's grandiose declarations, the backlog of unfunded Superfund cleanups is the largest it has been in the last 15 years," the Union wrote. "When you add in flooding, there will be ancillary or secondary impacts that can potentially be exacerbated by a changing future climate,". "The long-term effect of the flooding and repetitive exposure has an effect that can transcend generations."

DDT exposure in grandmothers linked to obesity, earlier periods in granddaughters - In the first study to report on the health effects of exposure to a toxic environmental chemical over three human generations, a new study has found that granddaughters whose grandmothers were exposed to the pesticide DDT have higher rates of obesity and earlier first menstrual periods. This may increase the granddaughters' risk for breast cancer as well as high blood pressure, diabetes and other cardiometabolic diseases. The research by the Public Health Institute's Child Health and Development Studies (CHDS) and the University of California at Davis was published today in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research. It suggests that effects from the pesticide DDT -- despite being banned in the U.S. nearly 50 years ago -- may contribute to the falling age of first periods and increases in obesity rates among young women today.The study found that the risk of obesity in young adult granddaughters was 2 to 3 times greater when their grandmothers (who were not overweight) had higher levels of o,p'-DDT (a contaminant of commercial DDT) in their blood during or just after pregnancy. Granddaughters were twice as likely to have earlier first menstrual periods when their grandmothers had higher o,p'-DDT blood levels. DDT and its related chemicals, including o,p'-DDT, are known to be endocrine disrupting chemicals, compounds that can alter and interfere with natural hormones that are essential for development."We already know that it's nearly impossible to avoid exposures to many common environmental chemicals that are endocrine disruptors. Now our study shows for the first time in people that environmental chemicals like DDT may also pose health threats to our grandchildren," said Barbara Cohn, director of CHDS and senior author of the study. "In combination with our on-going studies of DDT effects in the grandmother's and mother's generations, our work suggests we should take precautionary action on the use of other endocrine disrupting chemicals, given their potential to affect generations to come in ways we cannot anticipate today."The Child Health and Development Studies is a unique project that has followed 20,000 pregnant women and their families for more than 60 years.  "These data suggest that the disruption of endocrine systems by DDT initiates in immature human eggs, decades before the eggs are fertilized,"

The first swarm of genetically modified mosquitos is about to hit the US --This spring, the biotechnology company Oxitec plans to release genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes in the Florida Keys. Oxitec says its technology will combat dengue fever, a potentially life-threatening disease, and other mosquito-borne viruses—such as Zika—mainly transmitted by the Aedes aegyptimosquito. While there have been more than 7,300 dengue cases reported in the US between 2010 and 2020, a majority are contracted in Asia and the Caribbean, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Florida, however, there were 41 travel-related cases in 2020, compared with 71 cases that were transmitted locally.Native mosquitoes in Florida are increasingly resistant to the most common form of control—insecticide—and scientists say they need new and better techniques to control the insects and the diseases they carry. “There aren’t any other tools that we have. Mosquito nets don’t work. Vaccines are under development but need to be fully efficacious,” says Michael Bonsall, a mathematical biologist at the University of Oxford, who is not affiliated with Oxitec but has collaborated with the company in the past, and who worked with the World Health Organization to produce a GM mosquito-testing framework. Bonsall and other scientists think a combination of approaches is essential to reducing the burden of diseases—and that, maybe, newer ideas like GM mosquitoes should be added to the mix. Oxitec’s mosquitoes, for instance, are genetically altered to pass what the company calls “self-limiting” genes to their offspring; when released GM males breed with wild female mosquitoes, the resulting generation does not survive into adulthood, reducing the overall population.

Florida is full of invasive species. They’re coming for the rest of us. -- Rest easy: You are safe from the Burmese python. The invasive constrictors show little interest in moving beyond the Florida Everglades, where they are eating their way through the food web. It’s no surprise that they get more attention than other invasive species — a snake that grows up to 20 feet long and can theoretically ingest a small human makes for good headlines. But the pythons are mostly limited to that South Florida sawgrass. Unless you live next door, you will not cross paths with one anytime soon. The same can’t necessarily be said, though, for some other scourges currently using Florida as a staging ground. Creatures like the tegu, a dog-size toothed lizard that is gaining a foothold in the woods of central Florida. Or the lionfish, an aquarium escapee with long, venomous spines. Or the Cuban tree frog, which has a nasty habit of eating native frog species. Or, herbaceously, the Brazilian peppertree, with its toxic and prolific berries. They’re all here, and thriving. And thanks to globalization effects and a changing climate, they’re all on the move. Call it Floridafication: A number of the state’s nastiest living attributes are rapidly migrating outward. The state’s unusual history and climate have made it a cushy incubator for all manner of ecological threats. But many of the phenomena that make Florida disturbingly unique, from reptiles to trees to whole landscape types, may not be unique to it for long. As the climate continues to shift, it will get harder and harder to think of the Sunshine State as a place apart, an ecological Other sealed off from the rest of the country by an imaginary wall of palm trees. So mock the place at your peril. Florida’s strange present may be coming for your state’s future.  Florida is a good case study for the effects of globalization, in particular. Trade winds have been blowing across the peninsula for nearly half a millennium, starting with the founding of the Spanish city of St. Augustine and continuing with Miami’s present-day role as a hub for intercontinental trade. All that cargo coming and going has inevitably brought nonnative species: stowaways slithering in the holds of ships or sloshing around in the bilge water. Others have been brought here on purpose. Florida has long been home to a thriving captive wildlife industry (think of how Netflix’s “Tiger King” kept returning to the Sunshine State). This has contributed to its status as the place with the highest number of introduced animals in the United States. It’s a predictable problem: Smugglers bring exotic creatures here in cages, and hurricanes spring them free. Or else economic storms do the trick, as people acquire their prized animals during boom times and turn them loose after the bust. This is believed to be how the tegu was introduced to the wild in the mid-2000s: During a dip in the market, some down-on-their-luck wildlife importer drove to the woods outside Tampa and released a few of the big lizards.  If that was where the story ended, it would be troubling enough. But as the Georgia Department of Natural Resources can attest, it wasn’t. The agency has had an all-points bulletin out for the tegu since 2018, fearing its ability to devour the eggs of tortoises, alligators and ground-nesting birds. Then, in August, South Carolina found its first tegu. With warmer weather on deck for these states, the tegu could permanently expand its fiefdom northward.

600 manatee deaths in Florida raise concerns over sustainable habitat  - Environmentalists are increasingly concerned about the sustainability of Florida’s waterways after the deaths of more than 600 manatees so far this year, three times the average rate. Biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) Commission first started getting concerned in December when manatees began dying in the Indian River Lagoon Area, one of the most biodiverse estuaries in the Northern Hemisphere and home to nearly one-third of the nation’s manatee population. The following month, the agency noticed something else strange — a large portion of the manatees rescued from the Indian River Lagoon all the way down to the waters of Miami were found swimming sideways. According to Behavioral Ecologist and Senior Research Scientist Monica Ross, that usually indicates a manatee has made contact with a boat or other human-made object. But the manatees encountered by scientists were not injured, they were emaciated. “The number of deaths continued to rise and the number of rescues continued to rise,” said Ross. “Once it started to warm up the FWC started getting a lot more calls of animals that were orphaned calves. It's presumed that some of these recovered carcasses are the moms, and now the calves are still sitting at these warm water sites, waiting for mom to show back up, and they're starting to become skinny and emaciated. So they will be rescued.” As manatee deaths and rescues continued to spike, wildlife managers dug into the reasoning behind the unusual mortalities, and a federal investigation was triggered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at the end of March, with more money and resources being directed to state agencies and environmental groups involved in rescues. As of April 2, a total of 613 manatees had died since the beginning of the year, nearly eclipsing the 637 manatees that died in all of 2020. If the current death rate continues, the state could surpass the record of 830 manatee deaths set in 2013. What biologists and wildlife managers have deduced is that the widespread manatee deaths have less to do with boating accidents and more to do with the worsening effects of climate change — specifically the higher frequency of algal blooms. Ross described algal blooms as a shade covering the sun, creating a barrier between the seagrasses that manatees need to feed on and the source of light the marine plants need to grow. “Any kind of submerged vegetation needs sunlight to survive — just like grass, or any kind of tree. When you have an algal bloom there are very tiny particles that, when there's high concentration of them, basically act like a cloud. They're shadowing what is underneath them so they aren’t able to get any light, so when you have the entire water column full of these tiny particles, then what is underneath just dies.” The decline in seagrass habitat is what’s causing manatees to starve, and biologists say that has led the animals to gather in larger numbers around artificial warm-water sites, like power plants, without enough food for all of them to survive.

Airborne plastic pollution ‘spiraling around the globe’, study finds  - Microplastic pollution is now “spiralling around the globe”, according to a study of airborne plastic particles.The researchers said human pollution has led to a global plastic cycle, akin to natural processes such as the carbon cycle, with plastic moving through the atmosphere, oceans and land. The result is the “plastification” of the planet, said one scientist.The analysis calls plastic pollution one of the most pressing environmental issues of the 21st century. It indicates that the billions of tonnes of plastic discarded into the oceans and land and being broken down into tiny pieces are being thrown back into the air by road traffic and winds over seas and farmland.People are already known to breathe, drink and eat microplastics and the other research suggests levels of pollution will continue to rise rapidly. The scientists said this “raises questions on the impact of accumulating plastics in the atmosphere on human health. The inhalation of particles can be irritating to lung tissue and lead to serious diseases.”Prof Natalie Mahowald, at Cornell University in the US and part of the research team, said: “What we’re seeing right now is the accumulation of mismanaged plastics just going up. Some people think it’s going to increase by tenfold [per decade].“But maybe we could solve this before it becomes a huge problem, if we manage our plastics better, before they accumulate in the environment and swirl around everywhere.” Microplastic particles in atmospheric dust – the result of traffic and wind whipping up particles already in the environment. Photograph: Janice Brahney/Proceedings of the National Academy of SciencesShe said clearing up ocean plastic could help reduce the amount that gets thrown back up into the atmosphere, and that more biodegradable plastics could be part of the solution. The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined airborne microplastics, which have been far less studied than plastic in oceans and rivers. The team had more than 300 samples of airborne microplastics from 11 sites across the western US, the best dataset available globally. These were the basis for atmospheric modelling that estimated the contribution from different sources, the first such study to do so. Virtually none of the airborne microplastics came directly from plastic being discarded in cities and towns, the scientists found, but were the result of road traffic and winds across oceans and farmland whipping up plastic particles already in the environment. They found that roads were the dominant factor in the western US, linked to about 85% of the microplastics in the air. These are likely to include particles from tyres and brake pads on vehicles, and plastics from litter that had been ground down. The oceans were estimated to be the source of about 10% of the airborne plastics in western US, and soils 5%.

New Research Reveals How Airborne Microplastics Travel Around the World - Scientists consider plastic pollution one of the "most pressing environmental and social issues of the 21st century," but so far, microplastic research has mostly focused on the impact on rivers and oceans. However, a new study from researchers at Cornell and Utah State University highlights the increasing threat of airborne microplastics "spiraling around the globe," The Guardian reported. Plastic waste breaks down into smaller pieces until it becomes microscopic and gets swept up into the atmosphere, where it rides the jet stream and travels across continents, the Cornell Chronicle reported. Researchers discovered this has led to a global plastic cycle as microplastics permeate the environment, according to The Guardian. "We found a lot of legacy plastic pollution everywhere we looked; it travels in the atmosphere and it deposits all over the world," Janice Brahney, lead author of the study and Utah State University assistant professor of natural resources, told the Cornell Chronicle. "This plastic is not new from this year. It's from what we've already dumped into the environment over several decades." In the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers tested the most likely sources of more than 300 samples of airborne microplastics from 11 sites across the western U.S. To their surprise, the researchers found that almost none of the atmospheric microplastics came fromplastic waste in cities and towns. "It just didn't work out that way," Professor Natalie Mahowald from Cornell University, who was part of the research team, told The Guardian. It turns out that 84 percent of atmospheric microplastics came from roads, 11 percent from oceans and five percent from agricultural soil dust, the scientists wrote. "We did the modeling to find out the sources, not knowing what the sources might be," Mahowald told the Cornell Chronicle. "It's amazing that this much plastic is in the atmosphere at that level, and unfortunately accumulating in the oceans and on land and just recirculating and moving everywhere, including remote places." The scientists say the level of plastic pollution is expected to increase, raising "questions on the impact of accumulating plastics in the atmosphere on human health. The inhalation of particles can be irritating to lung tissue and lead to serious diseases," The Guardian reported. The study coincides with other recent reports by researchers, who confirmed the existence of microplastics in New Zealand and Moscow, where airborne plastics are turning up in remote parts of snowy Siberia. As plastic production increases every year, the scientists stressed that there remains "large uncertainties in the transport, deposition, and source attribution of microplastics," and wrote that further research should be prioritized.

 Historic freeze wreaks havoc on the majority of this year's fruit harvest in France - Fruit growers and winemakers in France have reported that the majority of their harvest this year has been lost to the significant cold snap that spread through parts of Europe from Wednesday, April 7 to Friday, April 9, 2021. Many industry experts believe that the frost damage might be the worst since the 1990s.French farmers started counting the cost on Friday, April 9, after a deep cyclonic vortex from North Atlantic went down on northern Europe. Frosty conditions covered much of France, where many areas recorded their lowest April temperature on record. "No region has been spared-- beets, rape, barley, vines fruit trees [have been lost]. All the different kinds of support must be activated urgently," said the National Federation of Unions for Farmers (FNSEA). "Exceptional situations call for exceptional measures." Farmers across the country had attempted to save their harvest by lighting fires and candles amid the frost. However, extreme cold conditions still ravaged about 90 percent of this year's harvest, local winemakers and fruit growers reported to the FNSEA. "The winegrowers are devastated, downcast," said Philippe Pellaton, president of the Inter-Rhone Association of winegrowers, adding that this year should see the smallest harvest of the Côtes du Rhône in the past 40 years. Around 80 to 90 percent of the nearly 68 000 ha (168 000) acres) making up the terroir have been ravaged to the frost. Many other industry experts said the frost damage may be the worst since the 1990s. "It’s a national phenomenon," said Jerome Despey, a winemaker from the Herault region and the secretary-general of the FNSEA. "You can go back in history, there have been (freezing) episodes in 1991, 1997, 2003 but in my opinion, it’s beyond all of them." Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie assured that the government is "fully mobilized to provide the necessary support to affected farmers. Around 70 million euros from the country's 100 billion euro COVID-19 recovery plan would go to the farmers so they can invest in protective equipment for their crops.

 Frozen Alaska sees records plummet as Arctic grip aims for Northwest --Low temperature records fell throughout parts of Alaska this past week, and the same intense cold has began to infiltrate the Pacific Northwest of the United States.The historic cold blast settling into Alaska at the end of the week sent temperatures plummeting far below zero, so cold, in fact, as to topple several long-standing records.Fairbanks dropped to a staggering 27 degrees below zero on Friday, smashing the century-old record of 16 below zero from 1911.Cities like McGrath and King Salmon also dropped below zero, and set new records.Even in cities like Anchorage, where the temperature didn't drop below zero, the mercury in thermometers did fall just enough to still break the daily record from 1986.In many locations, AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperature were similar to the actual air temperature on Friday, but not everywhere. In Fairbanks, AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperature plummeted to 32 F below zero on Friday morning, and then down to 39 F below zero again early on Saturday morning. These brief, but frigid, drops in the AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperature were mainly due to a light breeze developing in the area.Prior to the cold outbreak, AccuWeather Meteorologist Renee Duff explained that April is usually the time where conditions improve across Alaska. "April is typically the time of year when Alaska is steadily climbing out of the Arctic’s icy grip, with average high temperatures rising 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit from the beginning of the month to the end in places such as Utqiaġvik (formerly Barrow), Fairbanks and Anchorage," Duff said.High temperatures in Anchorage, Alaska, usually start April in the upper 30s, before reaching the lower 50s by the end of the month. Fairbanks rivals this spring warmup average by rising from the mid-30s in early April and ending up near the mid-50s by the last day of the month.The abnormal chill held over the region through Saturday night, but conditions began to climb back to average levels on Sunday.Milder conditions are on the way for Alaska this week, as the jet stream adjusts northward. After a high of just 20 degrees on Friday in Anchorage, and just 3 degrees in Fairbanks, afternoon high temperatures are forecast to soar back near 40 degrees on Monday, right around normal for mid-April.

 'Gorilla' hail pounds north-central Texas, leaving properties damaged, U.S. - Parts of north-central Texas were pounded by what is described as a "gorilla" hail due to its remarkable size, with some as large as a grapefruit, on Monday, April 12, 2021. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), hail reportedly accumulated up to 76 cm (3 inches) on the ground. The storm caused havoc on properties, leaving many windows smashed and vehicles damaged.The National Weather Service received dozens of reports of large hail from a severe thunderstorm over parts of north-central Texas. The storm left smashed windshields and dented vehicles in its wake.  NOAA said the "gorilla" hail was remarkable not only because of its size but also because it accumulated up to 76 mm (3 inches) on the ground, particularly in Llano, where the largest hail fell.  The GOES-East satellite, on the evening of April 12, 2021, viewed a supercell thunderstorm bubble up in central Texas, part of several severe thunderstorms that produced hailstones up to the size of a grapefruit.  Texas meteorologist Shel Winkley reported that the storm produced hail the size of a golf ball, teacup, tennis ball, and baseball, while NOAA reported hail as big as a grapefruit.The term 'gorilla hail' was coined by storm chaser Reed Timmer, who met the storm west of Llano.  He shared footage of him driving through the storm with a broken windshield as he called it one of the 'top 5 most intense hail cores' he has encountered.

At least 2 killed, 7 injured as severe storms and tornadoes hit Gulf Coast, U.S. (videos) At least 2 people have been killed and 7 others injured after severe thunderstorms produced strong winds and at least 5 tornadoes across the Gulf Coast, U.S. on April 9, 2021. A 28-year-old man was killed and 7 others injured after an EF-3 tornado with estimated peak winds of 225 km/h (140 mph) touched down in Palmetto, Louisiana, destroying at least 6 homes and 2 trailers on Friday, April 9.  In Shreveport, Louisiana, a 48-year-old man was killed after a tree fell onto his mobile home. The Caddo Sheriff's Office said there were strong winds in the area when the incident occurred. Severe weather warnings of flooding, hail, and thunderstorms have also been issued in parts of Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi, affecting nearly 6 million residents.  5 tornadoes were confirmed on April 9 - 2 in Louisiana, 2 in Mississippi, and 1 in Arkansas.  As of Saturday afternoon, April 10, more than 50 000 customers were without power across Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

Hundreds of wildfires rage in Wisconsin as state enters devastating season of blazes - Wisconsin is in a state of emergency due to one of the worst series of firestorms the state has seen in five years. On April 5, Gov. Tony Evers declared a state of emergency, authorizing the state's national guard to help put out the flames, prevent further damage, and make recovery efforts. The firestorms have surpassed all of last year in terms of acreage damaged. Since January, 365 wildfires have ignited, burning more than 1,500 acres, and in April, 162 fires were started, The Guardian reported. According to Wisconsin's department of natural resources, there are no reported fatalities so far, but the loss of 26 structures is significant, especially when it is unusually early in the spring for fires. With certain places having snowpack melted away and below-average precipitation, the fire season started two weeks in advance, cooperative area forest ranger Marc Sass said. Midwestern states like Minnesota and Wisconsin are usually wet and less likely to get wildfires like California, but the rural forestlands are more sensitive to dry conditions, which causes fires. "With nearly the entire state experiencing high or very-high fire risk, protecting Wisconsinites from the destructive dangers of wildfires is a top priority," Evers said when he announced the order. "The ability of the Wisconsin department of natural resources to have all available resources ready to be quickly dispatched is a critical element in keeping fires small and achieving swift containment." In the spring, 98 percent of wildfires are caused by humans who burn yard waste as well as the plants are either dead and dry. In addition to burning trash, heavy equipment and vehicles can also ignite. A spark from a lightning strike is responsible for a small percentage of wildfire. "Dry grasses and debris catch fire more easily, and strong, dry winds push the embers and make it spread more quickly," a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Milwaukee, Rebecca Hansen, said.

Fire burning underground can’t be extinguished. - The west has seen a rash of wildfires in recent years. Some caused by nature, others caused by humans. But geologists say one fire likely started by spontaneous combustion in Utah has been burning for decades and is showing no signs of dying out. If that’s not intriguing enough, the blaze is burning underground. In Kane County, a blazing hot area located north of western Lake Powell is dotted with heat-related places. Warm Creek, Burning Hills, Smoky Hollow, Blackburn Canyon, and Smoky Mountain are a few of the, ahem, hotspots. According to Utah Geological Survey (UGS) research conducted by Marshall Robinson, these place names actually signify underlying heat sources that have nothing to do with the air temperature. Smoky Mountain itself has actually been burning hot for hundreds, and maybe even thousands of years. This underground fire is known by geologists as the “Big Smokey Fire,” the Utah Geological Survey shares. It is burning, or at least smoldering, underground. Large fissures, or cracks in the ground feed oxygen to this underground fire allowing it to continue to burn all these years. “Expectations may be high to see the gaseous fumes from this fire venting from the cracks, but realize this is only possible when temperatures are near or below freezing,” as stated on the Utah Geological Survey’s website. Even when you can see the smoke or fumes, you can see a scene similar to a volcanic area, such as Yellowstone National Park. UGS says an underground coal seam, or seams, fuels the fire beneath Smoky Mountain. According to the Utah Geological Survey, spontaneous combustion or a lightning-sparked wildfire are the two probable candidates for the start of the Big Smokey Fire. The fire is still burning today, despite attempts to extinguish it. The Utah Geological Survey says on two separate attempts, once in 1967 and again in 1968, the U.S. Bureau of Mines tried to extinguish the Big Smokey Fire with water and other fire retardants. They even had bulldozers and excavators fill the cracks in the earth with rocks and dirt, hoping to smother it. As proof that the fire still burns, new cracks have popped up on the surface since attempts to extinguish it. Because the Smokey Mountain fire is a coal fire, it is a naturally occurring phenomenon. When coal begins burning, it often burns until there is none left, or the oxygen source is cut off.

Strong M6.0 earthquake leaves at least 8 people dead, 1 350 buildings damaged in Java, Indonesia - At least eight people were killed while around 1 350 buildings were damaged after a strong M6.0 earthquake struck near the south coast of Java, Indonesia, at 07:00 UTC on April 10, 2021.The epicenter was located 45 km (28 miles) SSW of Gongdanglegi Kulon (population 22 468), 45 km (28 miles) S of Sumberpucung (population 35 285), and 148 km (92 miles) S of Surabaya (population 2 374 658).The USGS reported a depth of 82.3 km (51.1 miles), while EMSC reported 84 km (52 miles).According to disaster agency spokesman Raditya Jati, eight people had lost their lives while multiple others had sustained injuries. One of the fatalities was a woman who was hit by falling rocks while riding a motorcycle in Lumajang District.Three of the victims were killed in Malang, while four bodies were retrieved from the rubble in Kali Uling.About 1 189 homes were damaged, along with 150 public facilities, including hospitals, government offices, and schools, Jati added. Several communities had been evacuated."I had just finished praying and was changing my clothes when suddenly the quake struck. It was pretty strong and went for a long time. Everything was swaying," Malang resident Ida Magfiroh told AFP. The earthquake came on the heels of tropical storm Seroja, which killed more than 200 people in the eastern portion of the archipelago and neighboring East Timor in early April.

Massive power outage following another explosive event at La Soufriere volcano, ash rising up to 16 km (52 000 feet) a.s.l., St. Vincent -  The majority of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is without power and covered in ash on April 11, 2021, following another explosive event at La Soufriere volcano.Volcanic ash is rising up to 16 km (52 000 feet) above sea level and extending up to 3 000 km (1 850 miles), especially to the ENE but becomes rather diffuse, the Washington VAAC reported at 00:59 UTC on April 11. The National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) is urging residents with respiratory problems to take necessary precautions to remain safe and healthy and drivers to be careful on the roads which have become treacherous as a result of the ash flow from the volcano.  Volcanic Hazard Map - The map only shows hazard zone on land. However, lahars and pyroclastic falls, flows and surges will also impact areas offshore to varying degrees, and as such, the hazard zones must be envisaged as extending some distance offshore.

 New massive eruption at Soufriere St. Vincent, SO2 emissions spreading over two continents - A new high-level, major eruption took place at Soufriere St. Vincent volcano at 10:40 UTC on April 13, 2021. The SO2 emissions produced over the past 2 days are now spreading over two continents -- South America and Africa. Extremely heavy ash is covering the island of St. Vincent, leaving the nation without electricity. The pattern of seismicity changed again, with the end of the episodes of high-amplitude tremor 2 to 8 hours apart, the University of West Indies Seismic Research Center (UWI-SRC) said early April 13, 2021. Three episodes of tremor have been recorded since 06:00 LT on April 13, 2 of them with lower-amplitude, and the third, at about 17:00 LT, was high-amplitude. The episodes continue to coincide with periods of enhanced venting or explosive activity. Observations indicate that pyroclastic density currents (PDCs) had descended several valleys on the southern and western flanks of the volcano and had reached the sea at Morne Ronde, Larikai, and Trois Loupes Bay. Extensive damage to vegetation was noted in an area extending from Larikai Bay to Turner Bay on the west coast. No other areas along the coast had been affected by PDCs but villages located on the eastern flank of the volcano had been affected by heavy ashfall. Explosions and accompanying ashfall, of similar or larger magnitude, are likely to continue to occur over the next few days with the chance of PDCs occurring, UWI-SRC warned just hours before another massive eruption at 10:40 UTC today: The images below show the impact of the ongoing eruption in the Red Zone on April 12: Volcanic Hazard Map - St. Vincent. The map only shows hazard zone on land. However, lahars and pyroclastic falls, flows and surges will also impact areas offshore to varying degrees, and as such, the hazard zones must be envisaged as extending some distance offshore. A massive explosion and new pyroclastic flows were produced at 08:15 UTC on April 12, with ash cloud reaching approximately 17 km (55 000 feet) above sea level. Imagery acquired by Sentinel 5P on April 12 showed SO2 emissions spreading over two continents: SO2 plume produced by La Soufriere volcano as seen by Sentinel 5P on April 12. Processed by Antonio Vecoli Extremely heavy ash has covered the island of St. Vincent since the explosive eruptions began on Friday, April 9, leaving the majority of St. Vincent and the Grenadines without power on April 11, 2021. New observations show changes to the summit crater with a possible smaller vent inside the new crater. The black/dark areas to the west (left) of the summit are the pyroclastic flow deposits from earlier explosive events.

Effusive eruption continues at Piton de la Fournaise volcano, lava reaches Piton le Bonnet, Reunion - The effusive eruption at Piton de la Fournaise volcano, Reunion continues from a new eruptive fissure on the southern flank of Enclos depression. The eruption started at around 15:00 UTC on April 9, 2021, following several hours of intense seismicity. The Alert Level remains at 2-2.Volcanic tremor, indicating the intensity of the eruption, has been very fluctuating over the past 24 hours, OVPF reported in a bulletin released 02:45 UTC on April 13.Lava spattering continues at two main vents, producing mild lava fountains reaching a height of about 60 m (196 feet).According to HOTVOLC, the current estimated discharged rate of the lava flow continues at values between 8 and 30 m3 per second since the start of the eruption. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions traveled south and west on April 12, reaching 4 000 - 5 000 tonnes/day. From April 9 to 11, SO2 emissions were around 2 000 to 4 000 tonnes per day.

Detecting significant thermal unrest years before volcanic eruption - Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the University of Alaska (UA) have developed a new method that may lead to earlier predictions of volcanic eruptions. There are telltale warning signs that a volcano is likely to erupt in the future, such as an increase in seismic activity, changes in gas emissions, and sudden ground deformation. However, forecasting such eruptions is difficult, because no two volcanoes behave exactly in the same way. To make things worst, just a small number of the world's 1 500+ active volcanoes have monitoring systems in place. Using satellite data, scientists at JPL and UA came up with a new method that brings us a step closer to predicting volcanic eruptions years in advance. "The new methodology is based on a subtle but significant increase in heat emissions over large areas of a volcano in the years leading up to its eruption," said lead author Tarsilo Girona. "It allows us to see that a volcano has reawakened, often well before any of the other signs have appeared." The team studied more than 16 years of radiant heat data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometers (MODIS) instruments aboard NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites for several types of volcanoes that exploded in the last 20 years. Despite the differences among the volcanoes, the results were the same-- in the years leading up to an eruption, the radiant surface temperature over the majority of the volcanoes increased by 1 °C (1.8 °F) from its normal state. However, it decreased after each eruption. "We’re not talking about hotspots here but, rather, the warming of large areas of the volcanoes," co-author Paul Lundgren said. "So it is likely related to fundamental processes happening at depth." Particularly, scientists believe that the thermal increase may result from the interaction between hydrothermal systems and magma reservoirs. When magma rises through a volcano, the gases diffuse to the surface and can give off heat. Similarly, this degassing can promote the up-flow of underground water and hydrothermal circulation, which can heat up soil temperature. Scientists say other processes may also cause it-- while their understanding of volcano behavior is evolving, it remains limited.

 

Underwater Robot Detects More Warm Water Beneath Antarctica’s Doomsday Glacier - Scientists have maneuvered an underwater robot beneath Antarctica's "doomsday glacier" for the first time, and the resulting data is not reassuring. Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier is referred to as the doomsday glacier because every year it contributes four percent to global sea level rise and acts as a stopper for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. If the glacier were to collapse and take the sheet with it, that would raise global sea levels by around 10 feet. Now, a study published in Science Advances on April 9 warns that there is more warm water circling below the glacier than previously believed, making that collapse more likely."Our observations show warm water impinging from all sides on pinning points critical to ice-shelf stability, a scenario that may lead to unpinning and retreat," the study authors wrote. Pinning points are areas where the ice connects with the bedrock that provides stability, Earther explained.The new paper is based on a 2019 expedition where an autonomous submarine named Ran explored the area beneath the glacier in order to measure the strength, salinity, oxygen content and temperature of theocean currents that move beneath it, the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration explained in a press release."These were the first measurements ever performed beneath the ice front of Thwaites glacier," Anna Wåhlin, lead author and University of Gothenburg oceanography professor, explained in the press release. "Global sea level is affected by how much ice there is on land, and the biggest uncertainty in the forecasts is the future evolution of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet."This isn't the first instance revealing the presence of warm water beneath the glacier. In January 2020, researchers drilled a bore hole through the glacier and recorded temperature readings of more than two degrees Celsius above freezing, EcoWatch reported at the time.However, Ran's measurements were taken earlier and allow scientists to understand the warmer water's movement in more detail. Scientists now know that water as warm as 1.05 degrees Celsius is circulating around the glacier's vulnerable pinning points. "The worry is that this water is coming into direct contact with the underside of the ice shelf at the point where the ice tongue and shallow seafloor meet," Alastair Graham, study co-author and University of Southern Florida associate professor of geological oceanography, told Earther. "This is the last stronghold for Thwaites and once it unpins from the sea bed at its very front, there is nothing else for the ice shelf to hold onto. That warm water is also likely mixing in and around the grounding line, deep into the cavity, and that means the glacier is also being attacked at its feet where it is resting on solid rock."

Scientists Warn 4°C World Would Unleash 'Unimaginable Amounts of Water' as Ice Shelves Collapse - A new study is shedding light on just how much ice could be lost around Antarctica if the international community fails to urgently rein in planet-heating emissions, bolstering arguments for bolder climate policies.The study, published Thursday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that over a third of the area of all Antarctic ice shelves — including 67% of area on the Antarctic Peninsula — could be at risk of collapsing if global temperatures soar to 4°C above pre-industrial levels.An ice shelf, as NASA explains, "is a thick, floating slab of ice that forms where a glacier or ice flows down a coastline." They are found only in Antarctica, Greenland, Canada, and the Russian Arctic—and play a key role in limiting sea level rise."Ice shelves are important buffers preventing glaciers on land from flowing freely into the ocean and contributing to sea level rise," explained Ella Gilbert, the study's lead author, in a statement. "When they collapse, it's like a giant cork being removed from a bottle, allowing unimaginable amounts of water from glaciers to pour into the sea.""We know that when melted ice accumulates on the surface of ice shelves, it can make them fracture and collapse spectacularly," added Gilbert, a research scientist at the University of Reading. "Previous research has given us the bigger picture in terms of predicting Antarctic ice shelf decline, but our new study uses the latest modelling techniques to fill in the finer detail and provide more precise projections."  "At 1.5°C, just 14% of Antarctica's ice shelf area would be at risk," Gilbert noted in The Conversation.  Gilbert said Thursday that the findings of their new study "highlight the importance of limiting global temperature increases as set out in the Paris agreement if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, including sea level rise." "If temperatures continue to rise at current rates," she said, "we may lose more Antarctic ice shelves in the coming decades." The researchers warn that Larsen C—the largest remaining ice shelf on the Antarctic peninsula—as well as the Shackleton, Pine Island, and Wilkins ice shelves are most at risk under 4°C of warming because of their geography and runoff predictions.

World Will Exceed 1.5 Degrees Celsius in the 2030s, Australian Report Predicts - A new report promoting urgent climate action in Australia has stirred debate for claiming that global temperatures will rise past 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next decade.Australia's Climate Council released the report on Thursday. The council is an independent organization of climate scientists and experts on health, renewable energy and policy who work to inform the Australian public on the climate crisis. But their latest claim is causing controversy."Multiple lines of evidence show that limiting global warming to 1.5°C above the preindustrial level, without significant overshoot and subsequent drawdown, is now out of reach due to past inaction," Dr. Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Prof. Christopher Field of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment wrote in the foreword. "The science is telling us that global average temperature rise will likely exceed 1.5°C during the 2030s, and that long-term stabilization at warming at or below 1.5°C will be extremely challenging."The report is titled "Aim high, go fast: Why emissions need to plummet this decade," and as the name suggests, it is ultimately concerned with urging more robust climate action on the part of the Australian government. The report calls for the country to reduce emissions by 75 percent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2035 in order to achieve the long-term goals of the Paris agreement, which means limiting warming to well below two degrees Celsius."The world achieving net zero by 2050 is at least a decade too late and carries a strong risk of irreversible global climate disruption at levels inconsistent with maintaining well-functioning human societies," the authors wrote. The report further argues that global temperatures are likely to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius in the 2030s based on existing temperature increases; locked-in warming from emissions that have already occurred; evidence from past climate changes and the percentage of the carbon budget that has already been used.

U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions declined by 11% in 2020 - Based on data in EIA’s Monthly Energy Review, energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions decreased by 11% in the United States in 2020 primarily because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions. U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions fell in every end-use sector for the first time since 2012. Within the U.S. power sector, emissions from coal declined the most, at 19%. Natural gas-related CO2 rose by 3%. In 2020, as fossil fuel generation declined, generation from renewables continued to grow. Generation from wind and solar together increased by 17% in 2020. This shift in the United States toward renewable generation sources helped to lower the carbon emissions per unit of electricity generated, also known as carbon intensity. In our end-use sector CO2 emissions series, emissions from the power sector are distributed to each sector based on the sector’s share of total electricity consumption.

  • Transportation: Energy-related CO2 emissions fell by 15% in the transportation sector in 2020, largely because of less travel. Because of pandemic restrictions, working from home and online meetings frequently replaced commuting and in-person meetings. Both domestic and international air travel fell as well. Petroleum typically accounts for the majority of CO2 emissions in the transportation sector, and it saw a 15% decrease in emissions relative to 2019. Emissions from natural gas used in transportation fell by 1%.
  • Commercial: CO2 emissions associated with energy use fell by 12% in the commercial sector in 2020. Part of this drop in emissions was due to pandemic restrictions. Because electricity is a large source of energy for the commercial sector, the declining carbon intensity of electric power also contributed to declining CO2 emissions from commercial activity. Emissions from commercial electricity use fell by 13%. Commercial petroleum and natural gas emissions fell by 13% and 11%, respectively.
  • Industrial: Energy-related CO2 emissions fell by 8% in the industrial sector in 2020. Most of this decline came from a slowing of manufacturing operations because of responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Emissions from coal fell by 15%, from electricity by 15%, from petroleum by 8%, and from natural gas by 2%.
  • Residential: CO2 emissions associated with energy use in the residential sector declined by 6% in 2020. Much of the reduction in residential emissions stemmed from declining carbon intensity in the power sector as opposed to declining energy consumption. Although the number of people working from home increased during the pandemic, 2020 also had relatively mild winter weather. These opposing consumption effects led to only a 1% decrease in residential energy consumption. Residential petroleum emissions fell by 11%, natural gas by 7%, and electricity by 5%.

Despite Pandemic Shutdowns, CO2 Now at Levels Unseen in 3.6 Million Years - U.S. government scientists warned Wednesday that despite temporary drops in planet-heating emissions due to shutdowns triggered by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, “levels of the two most important anthropogenic greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, continued their unrelenting rise in 2020.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also said that the global surface average for carbon dioxide (CO2) last year was 412.5 parts per million (PPM), among the highest rates of increase ever documented since the federal agency started keeping records over six decades ago. At the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, the annual mean was 414.4 ppm in 2020.  The figures likely would have been higher if the pandemic hadn’t happened, according to Pieter Tans, senior scientist at NOAA’s Global Monitoring Lab (GML), which measures carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide from observatories in Alaska, American Samoa, Hawaii, and the South Pole. “The economic recession was estimated to have reduced carbon emissions by about 7%during 2020,” the agency explained. “Without the economic slowdown, the 2020 increase would have been the highest on record.”  According to NOAA, “Carbon dioxide levels are now higher than at anytime in the past 3.6 million years.”  NOAA’s 2020 findings came after activists and experts responded with alarm to the concentration of atmospheric CO2 surging past 420 PPM for the first time in recorded history over the weekend. Youth climate leader Greta Thunberg of the Fridays for Future movement said that if that data from Hawaii is confirmed, “it is truly groundbreaking to say the least.”  Colm Sweeney, assistant deputy director of the GML, echoed campaigners’ calls for climate action that followed the latest reading. “Human activity is driving climate change,” Sweeney said. “If we want to mitigate the worst impacts, it’s going to take a deliberate focus on reducing fossil fuels emissions to near zero—and even then we’ll need to look for ways to further remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere.”  However, it’s not just energy policies that need an overhaul. NOAA found that last year saw “a significant jump in the atmospheric burden of methane, which is far less abundant but 28 times more potent than CO2 at trapping heat over a 100-year time frame.”  Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), tweeted that the”worrying new data” from NOAA demonstrate that climate action “cannot be put on the back burner any longer.”  Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego released similar findings Wednesday, saying their measurements showed atmospheric CO2 levels to be 417.4 PPM at their monitoring station in Hawaii. Scripps noted that this puts atmospheric CO2 levels 50% higher than they were just prior to the industrial revolution. 

World's 5% 'Polluter Elite' Responsible for 37% of Global Emissions Growth, Study Concludes - As world leaders prepare for this November's United Nations Climate Conference in Scotland, a new report from the Cambridge Sustainability Commission reveals that the world's wealthiest 5% were responsible for well over a third of all global emissions growth between 1990 and 2015.The report, Changing Our Ways: Behavior Change and the Climate Crisis, found that nearly half the growth in absolute global emissions was caused by the world's richest 10%, with the most affluent 5% alone contributing 37%."In the year when the UK hosts COP26, and while the government continues to reward some of Britain's biggest polluters through tax credits, the commission report shows why this is precisely the wrong way to meet the UK's climate targets," the report's introduction states.The authors of the report urge United Kingdom policymakers to focus on this so-called "polluter elite" in an effort to persuade wealthy people to adopt more sustainable behavior, while providing "affordable, available low-carbon alternatives to poorer households."Introduction to the Cambridge Commission report on Scaling Behaviour Change, with Peter Newell - YouTubeThe report found that the "polluter elite" must make "dramatic" lifestyle changes in order to meet the UK's goal — based on the Paris climate agreement's preferential objective — of limiting global heating to 1.5°C, compared with pre-industrial levels.In addition to highlighting previous recommendations — including reducing meat consumption, reducing food waste, and switching to electric vehicles and solar power — the report recommends that policymakers take the following steps:

  • Implement frequent flyer levies;
  • Enact bans on selling and promoting SUVs and other high polluting vehicles;
  • Reverse the UK's recent move to cut green grants for homes and electric cars; and
  • Build just transitions by supporting electric public transport and community energy schemes.

"We have got to cut over-consumption and the best place to start is over-consumption among the polluting elites who contribute by far more than their share of carbon emissions," Peter Newell, a Sussex University professor and lead author of the report, told the BBC. "These are people who fly most, drive the biggest cars most, and live in the biggest homes which they can easily afford to heat, so they tend not to worry if they're well insulated or not," said Newell. "They're also the sort of people who could really afford good insulation and solar panels if they wanted to."

Executives Call for Deep Emission Cuts to Combat Climate Change - The New York Times — More than 300 businesses, including Google, McDonalds and Walmart, are pushing the Biden administration to nearly double the United States’ target for cuts to planet-warming emissions ahead of an April 22 global summit on climate change. In a letter to President Biden released on Tuesday morning, chief executive officers from some of the nation’s largest companies will call on the administration to set a new Paris Agreement goal of slashing the nation’s carbon dioxide, methane and other planet-warming emissions at least 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. That is roughly what most major environmental groups want, and the corporate executives called the target “ambitious and attainable.” Former President Donald J. Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Agreement, eradicating emissions reduction targets set by the Obama administration that many environmentalists had seen as too weak. President Obama had pledged to cut national emissions 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. With Mr. Biden promising to tackle climate change intensely, climate change activists are watching to see how much more ambitious his targets will be than those set when he was vice president. Mr. Biden, who returned the United States to the Paris Agreement on Inauguration Day, has said the United States will announce fresh targets for the Paris Agreement on or before a virtual summit of world leaders he is hosting around Earth Day next week. According to two administration officials familiar with the deliberations, the target is expected to be a range that will include a 50 percent reduction in emissions. Organizers of the business letter said they hoped such a message coming from the private sector — including electric utilities like Exelon and Pacific Gas & Electric, as well as dozens of companies based in Republican districts — would resonate strongly with Congress. Other signatories include Target, Verizon and Altria Group, the parent company of the tobacco giant Philip Morris USA, which was once considered a firm ally of the Republican Party, and Philip Morris International. and Philip Morris, the tobacco giant once considered a firm ally of the Republican Party. The effort also underscores the delicate path corporate leaders are treading in the post-Trump era. Their decisions to break with Republicans on issues like voting rights and racial justice have rankled their traditional allies in the G.O.P. Pressing the Biden administration to aggressively combat climate change could further alienate Republicans, who have long fought emissions regulations as “job killers” that would make American business less competitive.

School students strike in New Zealand over inaction on climate change - Thousands of school students walked out of classes to protest throughout New Zealand on April 9 against government inaction on climate change. They were supported by many university students and workers. More than 1,000 people marched through Queen Street in Auckland, about 4,000 rallied outside parliament in Wellington, and thousands more attended events in Christchurch, Dunedin, Hamilton, New Plymouth, Tauranga, Rotorua and other towns. It was the first nationwide action led by School Strike 4 Climate (SS4C) since 2019, when hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders joined international protests involving millions of people. The global movement has been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic over the past year There are many studies warning that man-made global warming is leading to a catastrophe. In March, a report by the Australian Academy of Science stated that “the planet is well on the path to devastating climate change” and it was “now virtually impossible” to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.The scientists called for a “rapid transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions” to keep the temperature increase “well below” 2°C. Without such action, they predicted a “global mean surface temperature increase of approximately 3°C or more by mid to late century,” leading to mass extinctions and large areas becoming uninhabitable.Governments are neither willing nor capable of taking the measures needed, which would cut across the profit interests of the handful of companies responsible for most of the world’s pollution. The Biden administration is instead using the climate crisis as a justification for military spending in preparation for war against China and Russia. New Zealand’s Green Party, which is part of the Labour-led coalition government, has similarly used climate change as a pretext for supporting multi-billion dollar upgrades to the army, navy and air force.

Experts Lay Out Their Case Against Carbon Pricing - With the clock running and the world’s economies headed in the wrong direction, climate policy experts see an urgent need to quickly throw out approaches that do not work and accelerate the ones that do. In the months leading up to the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Glasgow running from November 1 to 12, 2021, Yale Climate Connections is looking at ideas put forward in a new book: “Making Climate Policy Work” and elsewhere. To keep average global temperatures from rising no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, net emissions by 2100 must decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by about 2050, according to a new report by the UN. To limit warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, CO2 emissions must decrease by about 25% below 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by about 2070.Current pledges under the 2015 Paris Agreement “fall far short of what is required, demonstrating the need for Parties to further strengthen their mitigation commitments” to avoid catastrophic climate change in this century, the report stated. Even if parties to the agreement follow through with their latest plans to cut emissions, the globe will be on a path to cut greenhouse gas emissions only 0.5% below 2010 levels by the end of this decade. Market-based schemes like cap-and-trade agreements and carbon offsets have largely failed to deliver on the promise that policy makers once saw in them, according to a new book by carbon policy experts Danny Cullenward, a Stanford Law School lecturer and policy director at CarbonPlan, and David G. Victor, co-director of the Deep Decarbonization Initiative and a professor at the University of California-San Diego. The authors analyze the reasons those “magic wand” approaches have failed and lay out a suggested course correction in their 2020 book, “Making Climate Policy Work.”The book says the most effective way to cut emissions quickly enough to avoid climate disaster is for governments to adopt policies and regulations targeting specific sectors such as electricity generation. The authors recently summarizedthe ideas from the book in a wide-ranging, three-part interview with David Roberts of the clean energy newsletter Volts.The biggest reason for the disappointing results of carbon pricing schemes like cap-and-trade, they argue, is that policy makers aggregated industries and jurisdictions. This made it easier for a wide variety of opponents to aggregate to fight the policies, resulting in a “lowest common denominator” system that fails to lower emissions as much as intended.“By linking all the sectors together, in effect you are linking the politics together,” Victor told Roberts in the Volts interview. “And then the whole program becomes connected to the sea anchor of the least ambitious politics.”The authors also see problems with carbon offsets, which allow polluters to pay someone else to take action that “offsets” their pollution, such as planting trees or rehabilitating forests. A major flaw: This approach makes it hard to ensure that what polluters are paying for is actually happening, or that the steps are really offsetting the pollution. “Everyone imagines that there’s this vast army of people working on this problem, insuring that there’s a good outcome, but in practice you see understaffed regulators – very few people paying close attention to this who have no financial interests,” Cullenward said.

Biden's Paris Goal: Pressure Builds for a 50 Percent Greenhouse Gas Cut by 2030 - The United States is back in the Paris climate accord, but the depth of its commitment will become clear only in the next two weeks, when President Joe Biden unveils the details of the nation’s pledge for reducing greenhouse gas pollution.President Barack Obama pledged that the United States would cut emissions 26 to 28 percent by 2025, a goal the nation is not quite on track to meet. But environmental advocates are pushing for Biden to set a goal of at least a 50 percent cut in U.S. emissions by 2030, based on a slew of recent studies, including research by the United Nations and the National Academies of Science, showing that a 50 percent target is both necessary and achievable. On Tuesday, a coalition of hundreds of businesses, including Walmart, Apple, Microsoft, Verizon and Unilever, sent a letter to the White House, joining in the call for a 50 percent goal.Only by doubling the original U.S. commitment under the Paris accord, they argue in the letter, will the world’s largest economy and historic contributor to carbon pollution be in a position to persuade other nations to join in the action necessary to hold global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.“To restore the standing of the U.S. as a global leader, we need to address the climate crisis at the scale and pace it demands,” said the letter from the We Mean Business coalition, organized by the investor activist group Ceres.Scientists and economists have charted a number of different paths that would allow the U.S. to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half in less than a decade, but all of them entail dramatic changes. At least half of new passenger vehicles purchased in 2030 would be electric. Coal-fired electricity would essentially become a thing of the past and carbon capture and storage plants would become common at the remaining fossil fuel plants, which would be mostly natural gas-fired. Millions of buildings would be retrofitted to use less energy. Critics of the idea warn that there are plenty of obstacles in the real world that could complicate an overhaul of the energy system like the one envisioned by academics.

Are Car Giants Right To Bet On The EV Revolution?  - Big Auto is going all-in on EVs, but is their big bet on the electric vehicle revolution foolish given America’s reluctance to embrace it with the same gusto?  For as much as EVs (read: Tesla) tends to dominate media headlines, the adoption rate of EVs in America has been painfully slow. For every “150% increase” in annual EV sales—or whatever the smoke and mirrors figure is these days, there are numbers that show the real story: EVs make up 1.9% of all retail autos, according to Edmunds. And their estimated EV sales figure for 2021 could be dressed up in terms of 100%+ growth, or we could get real—EVs will make up a paltry 2.5% of all retail sales in America.  The growth numbers look great. But 100% growth of a tiny piece of the market is still… tiny. And it shows that Americans aren’t buying into the EV revolution just yet. Meanwhile, Big Auto is focusing all its efforts on electrifying their fleets. Are they decades too early?  EVs are projected to make up 7% of all vehicles on the road by 2030—this equates to roughly 18.7 million vehicles.  But alas, those are just predictions. The slow adoption we’ve seen to date should be triggering alarm bells for Big Auto, who is sinking money hand over fist into an EV future.  According to J.D. Power U.S. Vehicle Experience Ownership Study (EVX) released in January, 82% of those early adopters who already own electric vehicles say they “definitely will” consider purchasing another EV in the future.  While this is more positive than those who have not yet tried an EV, it still shows a rather unenthusiastic response. The fact that 18% of EV adopters won’t even consider a second EV purchase is a fairly bleak view of how EVs are perceived. Studies—supported by sales figures—show that Americans just aren’t ready to embrace the monumental shift in the motoring industry. And even the cultish following of Tesla that has catapulted the EV-maker’s stock over the last two years to unreasonable levels cannot overcome sentiment toward actually driving one. A few of the biggest barriers are:

  • Cost to Charge: Public charging infrastructure isn’t everywhere. This leaves EV owners to charge their own EV at home, in their garage. Unfortunately for EV owners, charging an EV sucks up 100 kW of energy—more than triple the daily energy consumption of an average American household.
  • Range Anxiety: Despite the fact that Americans drive about 30 miles per day, drivers are still concerned with range, with J.D. Power claiming that when it comes to picking out an EV, range is the top deciding factor.
  • Cost: Cost continues to be the biggest barrier to EV adoption. An Ipsos study in early 2020 showed that consumers are willing to pay only 10% more for an EV over an ICE vehicle. But EVs are often significantly more expensive, because of the high cost of EV batteries.  Driving the high cost of EV batteries are the metals used to make it. The price of battery metals have recently spiked, sending battery costs through the roof.
  • Bitterness: Big Auto is somewhat stuck, because EVs have become politically polarizing, and subsidies and incentives are widening the gap. ICE vehicle owners harbor some bitterness because EV owners don’t pay the same taxes on the vehicle that fund roads—meanwhile they are benefiting from those roads. ICE vehicle owners view themselves as being forced to subsidize the EV revolution. Then there is the ‘ICE shaming’. Instead of trying to woo ICE owners to choose electric by highlighting the pros, there is a campaign to shame the gas-guzzling crowd. FOr now, this strategy seems to be causing ICE owners to dig in, not convert.

Big Auto is working with a different set of goals than climate activists and politicians who are trying to spur on the EV revolution.  Big Auto doesn’t have much skin in the climate change game. It’s focusing efforts on having a better EV than their rivals. GM, for one, has tried to “Americanize” EVs, starting with the Super Bowl. They’re not moralizing; they’re capitalizing. But in doing so, they’re assuming Americans will, in the end, choose EVs over ICE.  But Big Auto must rely on the right U.S. policies for laying the EV foundation, and they are sensing that this is the administration to do it. Incentives or subsidies, charging infrastructure, ensuring the grid can handle all the charging, and favorable battery metals policies must be in place for the revolution to truly kick in. Once Big Auto has sunk billions into the EV revolution, we will see them fully support policy shifts in favor of EVs.

Electric Vehicles Could Be 100 Percent of New Car Sales by 2035  --The lofty and seemingly improbable vision of a country with exclusively new electric car and truck sales by 2035 is within reach, according to a new report from the University of California, Berkeley. And pairing the electrification of transit with a grid dominated by clean energy would set the United States on the path to keep global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels, the study finds.  By comparing an ambitious electrification scenario with a business-as-usual scenario, the study’s researchers found not only that the former is possible within the next 15 years, but also that it will come with benefits for the climate, economy and public health. This accelerated electrification process for new vehicle sales could save consumers roughly $1,000 annually per household by 2050, or $2.7 trillion in total, the report concludes. And doing so could avoid 150,000 premature deaths related to air pollution issues and save $1.3 trillion in environmental health costs over the next 30 years, as compared with the business-as-usual scenario.These emissions and cost savings are in reach, the authors say, because recent developments related to electric vehicle battery costs and performance have already accelerated the electrification of transportation, leaving EVs poised to overtake gasoline and diesel vehicles, despite modest sales projections in the coming years.“The uptake of electric cars and trucks can go much faster than previously forecast and is already exceeding market projections,” Dr. Amol Phadke, a senior scientist at Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy and one of the study’s authors, said in a news release. “The performance and cost of the technology are ready to meet the needs of American drivers today, and the necessary charging infrastructure can be built cost-effectively without straining electricity grids.”While more EVs will inevitably mean more demand for electricity, the report states that the precipitous drop in wind and solar costs in recent years has meant that “a cost-effective pathway to decarbonize the transportation sector is in reach,” without relying on coal or new natural gas plants to make up the difference.

Scientists Fear Trump Wood-Burn Stance to Stay Under Regan EPA -- Academics and environmentalists say they’re worried the Biden administration won’t walk back a Trump-era endorsement of burning wood for energy—a technology they say emits more carbon than coal. Some opponents of wood biomass, which uses plant or animal materials as fuel to produce electricity or heat, say they’re especially concerned about Environmental Protection Agency chief Michael Regan’s track record with the industry when he headed North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality. During those years, Regan approved several permits for wood pellet plants in North Carolina, one of the nation’s biggest-producing states. Most of the state’s wood pellets are shipped overseas for energy production. Regan hasn’t publicly commented on his plans for the wood biomass sector. An agency spokeswoman told Bloomberg Law that the issue is “a complex topic, and one that EPA is considering very carefully.” She also said the EPA is “committed to following science and the law as we determine next steps.” That doesn’t satisfy Juliette Rooney-Varga, director of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell’s Climate Change Initiative. She joined 15 other scientists in a February letter to the Biden transition team, asking them to permanently designate mature and old temperate forests as national strategic carbon reserves. “We are eagerly awaiting clarity,” Rooney-Varga said. “What do they mean when they say they’re going to follow the science? I’m not satisfied with it. That response leaves the door open to continuing to treat woody biomass as carbon-neutral, and we don’t think it is.” The scientists haven’t gotten a response, she said.

Interior bolsters offshore wind by revoking Trump-era legal opinion The Interior Department on Friday bolstered offshore wind energy by revoking a legal opinion issued during the Trump administration that gave more weight to fishing concerns about that kind of energy development. Robert Anderson, the Interior Department’s principal deputy solicitor, issued an opinion that reversed the Trump-era solicitor Daniel Jorjani’s December opinion that the department should err “on the side of less interference rather than more interference” in fishing when it comes to offshore wind activities Anderson, in his new legal opinion, said instead that the Interior secretary should seek to “strike a rational balance” between various interests. At issue is a section of the law that aims for "prevention of interference with reasonable uses" of the ocean. Jorjani's interpretation followed another memo that similarly interpreted the same section of the law. Jorjani argued that this memo's interpretation of the law was too narrow and only preventing interference with the legal right to fish. But Anderson argued that Jorjani’s opinion “failed to note” that the law also says that the “interference with reasonable uses” is followed by the phrase “(as determined by the Secretary),” which he argued gives the secretary discretion to decide. The difference in opinions comes as the Biden administration seeks to boost renewable energy as part of its transition to net-zero emissions. The Interior Department has recently moved closer to approving a major offshore wind project. President Biden recently said he’ll nominated Anderson to be Interior’s top lawyer.

Illinois Wind Farm Project Threatens Rare Frog Species --Most frogs make their homes near water, spending their days near ponds and streams. But the Illinois chorus frog lives, burrows, and eats in sand, according to a 2016 report by the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, spending about 85 percent of its life underground. Forbes’ findings, not yet peer-reviewed, are the first direct field evidence of this unique behavior. His observations suggest that these frogs somehow detect and eat prey underground by sensing the minute vibrations of insects scuttling beneath the sandy soil.  His research is shedding more light on these peculiar frogs at a dire time, too. Soon, a new neighbor will move in next door — one noisy enough to potentially disrupt the way that these frogs sense and capture their prey. A 30,000-acre wind farm — an area about 25 percent larger than Disney World — is set to be installed near an Illinois chorus frog habitat in Mason County, Illinois.  That wind farm, called the Glacier Sands Wind Project, was submitted to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for approval in May 2019. A conservation plan for the project, which addressed potential impacts to the chorus frogs, was cleared in February 2020, according to public records, and concluded that the wind farm would not “reduce the likelihood of survival” for these frogs. The new wind farm, owned by Cordelio Power, has an expected completion date of October 2021, according to a press release, and will include “up to 53 wind turbines” and impact an estimated 8.72 acres of chorus frog habitat. Cordelio Power did not respond to requests for comment.

Wind generates most power in Texas ERCOT grid in March (Reuters) - Wind generated the most electricity in the Texas power grid in March, according to federal energy data, with analysts at S&P Global Platts saying this was the first time wind topped gas-fired generation. Wind generated 39% of the power in March in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s grid operator, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That compares with 30% for gas, 15% for coal, 12% for nuclear and 4% for solar. The wind record comes after generators of all sorts failed to keep the lights on for millions in ERCOT in mid-February when frigid weather boosted heating demand well above the grid’s forecasts at the same time freezing pipes left gas-fired power plants without enough fuel and wind turbines frozen. In February, gas generated 46% of the power in ERCOT with the rest coming from wind (21%), coal (19%), nuclear (12%) and solar (2%). Analysts at S&P Global Platts said gas would likely take market share back from wind in coming months as demand for air conditioning rises this summer. Demand in Texas for both heating and cooling is usually low in March.

ERCOT requests energy conservation, though outages not expected | The Texas Tribune --Texas’ main power grid struggled to keep up with the demand for electricity Tuesday, prompting the operator to ask Texans to conserve power nearly two months after catastrophic power outages left millions without electricity for days.The Electric Reliability Council of Texas said it does not expect customer power outages like those caused in February’s winter storm, one of the most deadly andexpensive disasters in the state’s history.Texans were asked to conserve power from Tuesday afternoon through the evening. By late Tuesday, the grid was again operating in normal conditions, according to ERCOT data.Tuesday’s tight conditions for the grid were caused by a high number of power plants being offline for maintenance — some due to repairs from the February winter storm — combined with higher demand than ERCOT predicted, Woody Rickerson, an ERCOT vice president, told reporters Tuesday evening.ERCOT officials said a cold front stalled, leaving parts of the state hotter than the grid operator planned. With hotter temperatures, energy use increased as air conditioners operated longer than anticipated for the day.Data from ERCOT showed that demand for energy on the grid was near 49,000 megawatts at 5 p.m., when the available supply to the grid was about 50,000 megawatts. That’s much less than the peak demand it neared during February, about 72,000 megawatts, when energy use surpassed record levels as Texans tried to stay warm during a severe winter storm. Approximately 32,000 megawatts of generation was offline due to maintenance on Tuesday, Rickerson told reporters Tuesday evening, enough to power 6.4 million Texas homes on a hot day.

Toxic and Radioactive: The Damage From Mining Rare Elements - More than every second person in the world now has a cellphone, and manufacturers are rolling out bigger, better, slicker models all the time. Many, however, have a bloody history.Though made in large part of plastic, glass, ceramics, gold and copper, they also contain critical resources. The gallium used for LEDs and the camera flash, the tantalum in capacitors and indium that powers the display were all pulled from the ground — at a price for nature and people."Mining raw materials is always problematic, both with regard to human rights and ecology," said Melanie Müller, raw materials expert of the German think tank SWP. "Their production process is pretty toxic."The gallium and indium in many phones comes from China or South Korea, the tantalum from the Democratic Republic of Congo or Rwanda. All in, such materials comprise less than ten grams of a phone's weight. But these grams finance an international mining industry that causes radioactive earth dumps, poisoned groundwater and Indigenous population displacement.The problem is that modern technologies don't work without what are known as critical raw materials. Collectively, solar panels, drones, 3D printers and smartphone contain as many as 30 of these different elements sourced from around the globe. A prime example is lithium from Chile, which is essential in the manufacture of batteries for electric vehicles."No one, not even within the industry, would deny that mining lithium causes enormous environmental damage," Müller explained, in reference to the artificial lakes companies create when flushing the metal out of underground brine reservoirs. "The process uses vast amounts of water, so you end up with these huge flooded areas where the lithium settles."This means of extraction results in the destruction and contamination of the natural water system. Unique plants and animals lose access to groundwater and watering holes. There have also been reports offreshwater becoming salinated due to extensive acidic waste water during lithium mining.But lithium is not the only raw material that causes damage. Securing just one ton of rare earth elements produces 2,000 tons of toxic waste, and has devastated large regions of China, said Günther Hilpert, head of the Asia Research Division of the German think tank SWP.He says companies there have adopted a process of spraying acid over the mining areas in order to separate the rare earths from other ores, and that mined areas are often abandoned after excavation."They are no longer viable for agricultural use," Hilpert said. "Nature has been overexploited."China is not the only country with low environmental mining standards and poor resource governance. In Madagascar, for example, a thriving illegal gem and metal mining sector has been linked to rainforest depletion and destruction of natural lemur habitats. States like Madagascar, Rwanda and the DRC score poorly on the Environmental Performance Index that ranks 180 countries for their effort on factors including conservation, air quality, waste management and emissions. Environmentalists are therefore particularly concerned that these countries are mining highly toxic materials like beryllium, tantalum and cobalt."It is a dirty, toxic, partly radioactive industry," Hilpert said. "China, for example, has never really cared about human rights when it comes to achieving production targets."

US met coal miner Warrior strike continues as union rejects deal - US coking coal miner Warrior Met Coal said April 12 a strike by workers is continuing as weak reference Australian coking coal prices at $110/mt threaten margins at higher cost producers. United Miner Workers of America members rejected a tentative collective bargaining agreement reached last week with Warrior, and are on an unfair labor practice strike, according to the union. Warrior, while confirming on April 12 the strike was ongoing, referred to its March 31 statement that it has continuity plans in place to continue meeting the demands of its key customers. Major Warrior coking coal buyers include Exiros, Voestalpine, Erdemir Group, and trader Xcoal Energy & Resources, according to company documents. Warrior has worked off coal inventory from around 1 million st at the start of the year due to strong export contract demand and spot shipments to China, according to market sources. Contracts typically price off Australian FOB indices, while spot prices won premiums since the fourth quarter on demand in China for North American met coal imports. "Our belief is that the company will likely ship from those stockpiles to satisfy contracts while production is idled. The question is how long it will take before those tons run out," investment bank The Benchmark Company's analyst Nathan Martin said in an April 12 report. "Even if a more prolonged outage at HCC caused force majeure to become necessary, the company's customers could likely secure replacement cargoes from Australia if necessary. While this might put some upward pressure on Australian prices, there probably wouldn't be an oversized near-term reaction in the market," the bank said. The UMWA will continue negotiations with the company, and the UMWA District 20 and the International union support the workers on strike, the union said in an April 9 statement. "Our members made it clear that the tentative agreement was not sufficient enough to make up for the sacrifices made in 2016," said UMWA International President Cecil Roberts. "So, the UMWA will continue to strike at Warrior Met until an agreement can be reached that provides these miners what they deserve." Miners at Brookwood, Alabama-based Warrior have been on strike since 10 pm on April 1, according to the UMWA. "We have not been able to see the agreement brought before the group, but we hear that wages continue to be a sticking point," Benchmark's Martin said. "Notably, miners reportedly took an hourly wage cut to get the last contract done as HCC emerged from bankruptcy back in April 2016. It would seem members are now trying to recoup some of that concession in the new five-year agreement." The strike included over 1,100 workers, of around 1,400 in total, and affected the two active coal mines and coal processing plants, according to local reports. Warrior produced 7.9 million st of coking coal in 2020, 7.2% lower on 2019, due to weaker demand stemming from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the second quarter of last year.

 Former NRC chair questions economic feasibility of new nuclear in US - Without further aid from Congress and the White House, the prospects for the U.S. nuclear industry will dwindle in the face of cheaper resources that are getting built faster than new nuclear generators, according to a former Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Small modular reactor developers are eyeing the potential to replace retiring coal generation and take advantage of those facilities' interconnection sites. Excepting NuScale Power, which has advanced in permitting with the NRC, the near-term potential for other small modular reactor designs to replace physical coal plants is "very low in the near future, like zero," Allison Macfarlane, who chaired the NRC during the Obama administration and now directs the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia, said during a Friday webinar hosted by OurEnergyPolicy. Larger nuclear plants are still being built globally, in "parts of the world where electricity demand growth is significantly higher" than in the U.S., John Kotek, senior vice president of policy development and public affairs at the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), said on the panel. The only U.S. reactors currently under construction continue to face delays. Vogtle Unit 3 and Unit 4 are poised to be the first nuclear plants completed in the United States since the Tennessee Valley Authority put Watts Barr Unit 2 into service in 2016, which was the first unit to be built in the last three decades. Large conventional nuclear plants require a series of attributes for safety, including a 10-mile emergency planning zone, a special water supply and redundant transmission interconnections. Panelists discussed the low likelihood of a new large nuclear power plant in the U.S. based on the numerous safety attributes required in new sites. "A lot of those opportunities already have existing nuclear plants ... there are some large coal plant sites where maybe they have all those attributes," said Chris Colbert, chief financial officer and chief strategy officer at NuScale. . NuScale is proposing designs with six to 12 modules. "I don't know that it's possible in terms of economies of scale for truly small modular reactors to actually survive and compete. I mean, if we look at NuScale, you're looking at building the 12-packs, you're not actually looking at a one-off. And it's not clear to me that a one-off can survive" in the U.S. markets, Macfarlane said. NuScale's Colbert said the company is looking at six- or eight-module designs. According to him, a one-off reactor could be competitive in areas where the alternative would be burning diesel fuel, but that economies of scale would be required for small modular reactors, as with renewable energy, to compete with abundant, cheap natural gas. NuScale's light water reactor technology boasts an existing global supply chain for its advanced reactor design, with 75% of the supply chain based in the United States, Colbert said.

Japan plans to dump treated water from Fukushima disaster into the ocean --Japanese officials plan to release more than 264 million gallons of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean over a period of decades as part of efforts to dispose of waste resulting from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. A report from Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry obtained by Bloomberg indicated that the first release of water would take place in roughly two years, with the water being processed to remove all radioactive elements except for tritium and engineers working to dilute it before it is released. The report prompted statements from China and South Korea's governments, the latter of which firmly condemned the idea while Beijing urged Japan to deal with the issue prudently, according to Bloomberg. “Disposing of the treated water is an unavoidable issue for decommissioning the Fukushima nuclear power plant,” said Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, according to Bloomberg. Just more than 10 years ago, the Fukushima nuclear plant experienced a meltdown resulting from an earthquake and an ensuing tsunami that heavily damaged the facility, resulting in large amounts of radiation being released into the surrounding area and Pacific Ocean. In 2012, a Japanese commission found that the company responsible for overseeing the plant, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, had failed to prepare for damage containment and had not developed proper evacuation procedures for employees. Environmental groups have warned against plans to release more radioactive water into the ocean, while local fishing groups are also opposed to the idea, Bloomberg reported.

Japan Says Sorry, But It Has to Dump This Radioactive Water Into the Ocean --Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says that the government has put off figuring out what to do with all of the contaminated water building up at the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plantfor long enough — and it’s time to start dumping it into the ocean. Suga’s hand is forced given that the plant will soon run out of space to store the contaminated groundwater seeping into the facility, The Japan Times reports, and he’s framing the controversial plan to release the water into the Pacific Ocean as “unavoidable.” Japanese officials have been debating how to best contain the radioactive water at the Fukushima plant for years, but the plan that seems to have stuck is to purify the water as best as possible, dilute the radioactive tritium that persists even after the cleaning process, and to dump it over the course of 30 years. “What to do with the [treated] water is a task that the government can no longer put off without setting a policy,” Japanese trade minister Hiroshi Kajiyama told reporters on Wednesday. But outside of government halls, the plan is still considerably unpopular, especially among fishers who are concerned no one will want to buy fish caught in radioactive waters. Reasonably so, too, since 15 countries and regions still restrict imports from the Fukushima prefecture, according to the Japan Times. If the government proceeds, the plan will be to dilute tritium down to just 2.5 percent of the maximum concentration allowed by national standards before dumping it out. That means, Japanese officials say, the water won’t be dangerous to people — though only time will tell how much people trust it.

 Engineering professor says Japan's plan to dump treated radioactive water in the sea is not dangerous --Japan's plan to release treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean will have "zero environmental impact," according to one nuclear engineering professor who spoke to CNBC.Japan said Tuesday the Fukushima plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co or TEPCO, will treat and dilute the water before pumping it out in about two years. There are more than a million metric tons of radioactive water from the wrecked plant, and it will take decades to completely release them.The move has drawn sharp opposition from Japan's neighbors and environmental activists.But Brent Heuser of the University of Illinois said the filtering process will remove most radioactive elements from the water, leaving only tritium — a radioactive isotope of hydrogen — that's not harmful in small quantities.    "Tritium is not dangerous in small amounts ... it's gonna be very dilute, it is simply not a concern, the environmental impact is zero," Heuser, a professor of nuclear, plasma and radiological engineering, told CNBC's "Squawk Box Asia" on Thursday.Still, Japan's neighbors including China and South Korea have opposed the plan. Environmental group Greenpeace as well as local residents and fishermen also raised their concerns.South Korea summoned the Japanese ambassador in Seoul and is reportedly exploring ways to fight Japan's decision in an international court. Over in China, the foreign ministry criticized Japan in a statement for "unilaterally" deciding to release the water, while ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian challenged Japanese officials to drink water from the Fukushima plant.Meanwhile, Reuters reported Taiwan saying it will continue to express its concerns and closely monitor the related developments.The International Atomic Energy Agency said "Japan's chosen water disposal method is both technically feasible and in line with international practice." The U.S. said Japan has been transparent and its approach appears in line with "globally accepted nuclear safety standards."For Heuser, there are larger issues about ocean pollution to worry about than Japan releasing the treated water. "I would say to people who are concerned about this going into the ocean: We dump 8 tons of plastics in the ocean, pregnant women are not supposed to eat tuna because of mercury poisoning, microplastic is in the marine food chain — this is what we should be worried about," he said.

 

 

 Activists say moratorium on new gas project is needed — New York should declare a moratorium as soon as possible on new natural gas plants, according to members of an advisory group that is helping the state plan its green energy future. The suggestion that new gas facilities should be halted came from members of the state’s Power Generation Advisory Panel, which met last week. The Power Generation Advisory Panel is one of several special groups or subcommittees that will advise the Climate Action Council, a 22-member organization charged with laying out a roadmap for meeting the state’s ambitious renewable energy goals. “We need this moratorium and we need it to start now,” said Betta Broad, director of New Yorkers for Clean Power. While the Panel members weren’t unanimous in their call for a moratorium, they planned to bring it up in May during a presentation to the Climate Action Council. While it’s far from clear that such a moratorium would be put in place, the discussion was an example of the many debates, exchanges and analyses that are taking place as New York policy makers prepare by the end of this year to develop concrete regulations and policies toward eliminating greenhouse gases. During last week’s brief discussion on a moratorium, some noted the need for the reliability of gas power since it’s not reliant on wind for turbines or sunshine for solar arrays. But those favoring a moratorium said the state also should look harder at battery storage – a developing technology that allows the capture and storage of power generated by wind and solar. Storing power for use on cloudy, windless days, or on very hot days when energy demand peaks, is a major consideration in developing clean energy strategies. The discussion of a moratorium also comes amid a request by the Orange County-based Danskammer gas plant to re-build and re-activate – a move opposed by environmentalists. They should have a decision from the state Public Service Commission by the end of the year. Moreover, the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester is by the end of April expected to shut down the remaining of its two reactors. Once that nuclear plant stops operating, other gas plants will likely have to fill the gap, at least until solar and wind plants come on line. In addition to the Power Generation Advisory Panel, other panels are focusing on agriculture and forestry; energy efficiency and housing; power-intensive industry; land use; transportation and waste disposal. There is also a Just Transition Working Group that is looking at job-training and ensuring overlooked communities benefit from the transition to more renewable energy.

 

 

Qatar Could Throw A Wrench In America’s Ambitious LNG Plans  - U.S. domestic demand for natural gas has been falling for a year now, according to EIA data. The authority expects demand will continue down this year as well because of cheap renewables and coal. And yet, production is on the rise—a combination that makes U.S. gas producers increasingly dependent on export markets. Reuters’ John Kemp wrote in a recent column that while U.S. natural gas production grew at some 4.3 percent between 2015 and 2020, domestic consumption of the commodity only increased at half that rate. Exports—via pipelines and as LNG—were what absorbed the excess. In a best-case scenario, they will continue to absorb it. In a worst-case scenario, competition on the LNG market could hit U.S. producers hard.Exports of American liquefied natural gas to the three top importers in Asia hit a record in February, reaching 3.2 million tons in February amid colder than usual weather for that time of the year. The February export amount was two and a half times greater than the previous monthly record set by U.S. exporters.LNG exports to Asia also surged by as much as 67 percent last year, which is certainly good news for producers and liquefiers. What’s not so good is that exports to Asia represented about half of all U.S. LNG exports last year.It’s obvious that Asia is the key market for LNG exporters: the continent is currently moving from coal to gas for its power generation and will drive demand for the commodity for probably decades to come. The problem with that, for U.S. LNG producers, is that they’re not alone on the market.The biggest threat comes from Qatar—reigning top LNG exporter and low-cost producer—which recently announced plans to expand its production capacity significantly.In February, Qatar announced the final investment decision on what it says will be the world’s largest LNG project, boosting the tiny Gulf nation’s annual total from 77 million tons to 110 million tons—a 40-percent capacity increase. The capacity increase will cost $28.75 billion and should become operational by 2025. Yet there is something even more significant in the Qatari project than its sheer size. The North Field East Project will feature a carbon capture and sequestration system, according to operator Qatar Petroleum. This means that the gas produced there will have a lower carbon footprint than LNG produced without a CCS system, which is most LNG today. Now, Europe is not Asia, for sure, but it is quite a big LNG buyer, too, and another key market for U.S. exporters of the superchilled hydrocarbon fuel. Besides a big buyer of LNG, Europe has also been a source of a stable stream of bad news that could be summed up with three words: European Green Deal. The EU’s energy transition plan involves ambitious emission targets, and these targets will likely make the bloc picky about the sources of its natural gas, which, according to the man who heads the green push, Frans Timmermans. Timmermans recently said gas has no viable future in Europe’s energy mix, and that was nothing if not a warning.

Biden budget would triple spending to clean abandoned wells -- Monday, April 12, 2021 -- The Biden administration's proposal to triple the budget for cleaning up abandoned oil and gas sites left environmentalists hopeful that the federal government would begin addressing a long-standing problem in the oil field that contributes to climate change.

Biden’s Promising, Problematic Plan to Plug Orphaned Oil and Gas Wells -   Tucked into Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan is a provision for “plugging orphaned oil and gas wells and cleaning up abandoned mines.” The plan’s fact sheet identifies plugging these sites, which tend to exist primarily in rural areas facing various forms of disinvestment, as a high priority, noting that “hundreds of thousands of former orphan oil and gas wells and abandoned mines pose serious safety hazards, while also causing ongoing air, water, and other environmental damage … President Biden’s plan includes an immediate up-front investment of $16 billion that will put hundreds of thousands to work in union jobs plugging oil and gas wells and restoring and reclaiming abandoned coal, hardrock, and uranium mine.  It’s oil and gas wells in particular, though, that are of the most immediate concern.   To define the term, an orphaned well is an idled oil or gas well whose owner or operator is unknown, out of business, or otherwise unable or unwilling to pay to plug it. This means the responsibility for plugging these wells falls to the states (the particulars of this definition vary from state to state). An unplugged well can spew everything from crude to methane to brine, which can have huge effects on greenhouse gas pollution and soil and groundwater contamination, among other things. Methane pollution in particular is extremely troubling, given the already sky-high levels of atmospheric carbon. In 2016, University of Cincinnati researcher Amy Townsend-Small tested abandoned wells in Colorado, Wyoming, Ohio, and Utah, and found that 40 percent were emitting methane. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the country’s abandoned wells are spewing greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to burning more than 16 million barrels of oil. Just how many orphaned wells exist in the United States currently is a matter of disagreement. The EPA says there are some two million orphaned wells, with 3.2 million abandoned wells (those for which an owner can be identified) nationwide. Industry groups say it’s much lower. Their states of decline are also contested: An unplugged well can be in disrepair, or with little change in its condition. According to a recent study from the Carbon Tracker Initiative, there are 2.6 million documented onshore wells in the U.S. alone that are currently unplugged, which will cost a staggering $280 billion to plug and remediate. There are, they estimate, another 1.2 million undocumented onshore wells that are unplugged on top of that, which sums to nearly four million. Cleaning and capping all the unplugged abandoned wells across the United States could cost as much as $300 billion.

House panel to debate $8B orphan well cleanup bill -- Monday, April 12, 2021 -- A House Natural Resources subcommittee will debate the merits of legislation that promises to clean up thousands of polluting oil and gas wells that have sat abandoned, in some cases, for decades.

Senate bill would provide $4.6B for orphaned wells -- Tuesday, April 13, 2021 -- Lawmakers are introducing bipartisan legislation in the Senate today to create a multibillion-dollar federal cleanup effort for the tens of thousands of abandoned and orphaned oil and gas wells throughout the United States.

 US oil drillers ‘dying on the vine’ as PE flight prompts funding drought | Financial Times --A vital source of funding for the US oil sector is drying up as private investors retreat, prompting stricken operators to make “last gasp” efforts to boost production and cash flow to lure in buyers. The exodus mirrors shale’s experience in public markets, where even before last year’s crash investors had soured on an industry notorious for poor returns and weak environmental, social and governance performance. “Private equity has been decimated in this downturn,” said Wil VanLoh, head of Quantum Energy Partners, one of the largest PE investors in the shale patch. “The total quantum of money available out there to private companies has shrunk and is going to stay much, much smaller.” Now scores of oil producers are “dying on the vine”, said Ben Dell, managing partner at rival Kimmeridge, as they are left without the regular cash infusions to bankroll the capital spending needed to keep on drilling. The private flight comes despite oil’s recovery to $60 a barrel — a price that allows many operators to break even and has raised investors’ hopes of a profitable final exit from the sector. Those notions gained strength this month when Pioneer Natural Resources, a large listed operator in the prolific shale fields of Texas’s Permian Basin, agreed to buyprivately owned rival DoublePoint Energy for $6.4bn — the biggest public-private deal in the US upstream oil and gas business in a decade.But investors say deals of that scale are unlikely to be repeated.  private mood has been shifting for some time. Between the start of 2015 and the end of 2019, 136 private funds closed after raising an aggregate of $86bn to spend in US oil and gas, according to Preqin, a financial data provider. The influx helped to finance an unprecedented surge in American oil production to a record high of about 13m barrels a day last year. But the “dry powder”, as PE groups refer to investors’ capital, has diminished and the same “war chest mentality” is not evident in this recovery, according to Raoul LeBlanc, head of North American unconventionals for the consultancy IHS Markit. Just 11 funds closed last year and only $4.5bn was raised as oil prices crashed, according to Preqin. Production plunged and remains around 11m b/d now. “What’s different this time is there’s very little new private equity going into forming new private companies, because they don’t have capital to deploy,” said Kimmeridge’s Dell. “They are not confident they can raise more capital.” Some private oil operators are spending an unexpected bounty from higher oil prices into more drilling, hoping extra output will lift valuations and attract buyers — a “last gasp” effort to secure a profitable exit, said Van Loh. Rigs operated by private companies have climbed to about 50 per cent of the contiguous 48 states’ total this year, according to the consultancy Enverus. While public operators slashed capital spending and output last year, some private ones did the opposite. Quantum’s portfolio companies boosted total output by a quarter to 500,000 b/d by December, according to the consultancy Rystad Energy.According to PitchBook, another data provider, private equity deal values last year amounted to just $13bn from 35 exits — a fraction of previous years. The market does not seem to be rewarding dealmaking if investors think it points to more growth from public companies, analysts say. Pioneer’s shares are down more than 10 per cent since April 1, the eve of the DoublePoint deal, partly because of a perception that the company — which will be by far the Permian’s biggest producer after the deal closes — was chasing supply gains again. Initial public offerings, the other main exit route for private equity, are also difficult given capital markets’ lack of enthusiasm for fossil fuel producers and a shale sector that generated such poor returns in recent years. Another underlying problem, investors say, is the lack of assets of sufficient quality to attract public operators that have sworn off the fast-growth strategy and land-grab mentality of previous years.

Driven by Industry, More States Are Passing Tough Laws Aimed at Pipeline Protesters -   When Nancy Beaulieu’s Ojibwe ancestors signed a series of treaties with the federal government in the 19th century, one of the goals was to protect the land, she said. So she sees it as not just her right but her duty to protest the building of a major oil pipeline underway in northern Minnesota.As an organizer for the state chapter of 350.org, Beaulieu has helped lead a campaign against the replacement and expansion of Line 3, which carries oil from Canada’s tar sands to the United States. Advocates say more than 200 protesters have been arrested as part of the campaign, and Beaulieu said she intends to be arrested herself as construction continues this spring.But a bill currently pending in the state legislature threatens her right to do so, by increasing the penalties for trespassing on pipelines and other energy infrastructure.“These are our own lands in some areas, ceded lands. We never gave up the right to hunt, fish and travel. So just because we don’t hold title doesn’t mean we cannot protect. That’s what treaties are all about, is that responsibility,” she said. The Minnesota bill would impose a felony offense carrying up to five years in prison for anyone who enters a pipeline construction site with “intent to disrupt” operations.The legislation is just one of a growing number of such bills, backed by the oil and gas industry, that are pending in at least five states and have been enacted in 15 others over the last four years, according to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. While the details vary state by state, the legislation in many cases imposes felony charges for trespassing and “impeding” the operation of pipelines, power plants and other “critical infrastructure.”The bills emerged in 2017 after a pair of stinging losses for the pipeline industry. Activists had used civil disobedience and mass arrests to draw attention to the Keystone XL and Dakota Access projects, and the Obama administration eventually blocked both. States’ critical infrastructure legislation raised the stakes for protesters by increasing penalties for acts like blocking access to a construction site, in many cases converting the offenses from misdemeanors to felonies.Some of the laws include clauses allowing prosecutors to seek 10 times the original fines for any groups found to be “conspirators.” Those bills have prompted concerns on the part of civil liberties advocates and leaders of groups like the Sierra Club, who fear they could be roped into trials and face steep fines for having joined with broader coalitions that include an element of civil disobedience.The nation’s leading oil industry groups have been among the most vociferous advocates of the legislation, and in several states, including Kansas this year, lawmakers have openly introduced the bills on behalf of industry lobbyists. Enbridge, TC Energy and Energy Transfer—the companies behind Line 3, Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines—have been some of the most active corporations lobbying for the legislation along with Marathon Petroleum, according to Connor Gibson, an independent researcher who has tracked the bills for Greenpeace.

Enbridge taps new approach for pipelines - Indian Country Today --It’s the dead of winter in Minnesota, and the woman’s footsteps make a distinctive crunching sound as she walks down a snow-covered road. She and others are conducting an Ojibwe pipe ceremony along the Mississippi River, offering a ground blessing and prayers for the safety and health of people working on Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline project. The pipe is loaded with tobacco, and people smudge themselves with burning sage. The scene – a traditional ceremony considered sacred by Ojibwe – is captured on a video posted on Enbridge’s website as an example of the company’s commitment, respect and connection to Native peoples and the lands affected by the Line 3 project. “I’m very honored to work with Enbridge,” says the woman, identified in the video only as Diane, a citizen of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. “They want to do it the right way. They’re looking at our culture, and how to be respectful to the land and the people.” Enbridge’s use of the video – and the company’s extensive promotion of its programs and efforts to engage the Native community – is an example of a burgeoning business model called corporate social responsibility, experts say. “Their approach seems to be to get buy-in without affecting their bottom line.” What isn’t apparent in the video is that Diane was pilloried on social media for supporting the multibillion-dollar Line 3 project, which has divided Natives and non-Natives alike. Nancy Beaulieu, a citizen of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, told Indian Country Today she was astonished by the video. “This is a dishonor to our culture,” she wrote on Facebook. “No tribal elected officials, no spiritual leader, no tribal members in attendance, just ‘Diane’ who says she likes working for Enbridge, and a few other Natives.” Daniseton Vendiola, of the Swinomish Indian Community, posted similar sentiments. “This is what you call MEDIA MANIPULATION,” he wrote on Facebook, “where a corporation tries to trick the community into thinking they are inclusive and considerate but are really showboating and exploiting to attain their means.” There are no official rules for using sacred Ojibwe items such as the pipe. There is no bible or handbook, or official process for sanctioning their perceived misuse. Through unspoken understanding, however, Ojibwe people are protective of their traditional spirituality and ceremonies. It’s unusual to see a video of an Ojibwe pipe ceremony shared publicly on the internet; many consider it unseemly.

KXL Pipeline developer presses land acquisition despite federal block on project  -- Progress on the Keystone XL Pipeline halted in January due to a presidential order. Still, the Canadian developers are moving forward with plans to secure rights to lay pipe across private land. Earlier this year, TC Energy called the attorney representing 65 Nebraska landowners and let them know they intended to move forward with eminent domain proceedings to use their property to build the tar sands oil pipeline. Notice of the plans to hold on to the property rights came in a phone call from the company's lawyers to Brian Jorde, the attorney representing 65 hold-out landowners.   Jorde told NET News his clients were "pretty frustrated, upset and wondering why the state of Nebraska isn't stepping in to stop this.  With an executive order, President Biden withdrew permits allowing the pipeline to cross the border with Canada. TC Energy, formerly TransCanada, announced it would suspend plans to start laying pipe. It did not disclose it was continuing to move forward with acquiring the last remaining property rights along the 270-mile Nebraska route.  "It means they're still fighting this battle," Jorde said. "They're still defending themselves, incurring costs for an easement that's supposed to apply to a project that is, at this point, null and void." In Jorde's interpretation, the Nebraska law regulating pipelines may not explicitly cover the question of what happens if a project can no longer proceed after being authorized by state regulators. For the landowners, in Jorde's view, the vagueness in law combined creates an added layer of uncertainly about the future of the KXL pipeline and the company's intentions."What could happen is TransCanada, to make a quick buck, could sell or flip the easement," and sell off the project or the pipeline subsidiary to another company. "All of a sudden, the landowner, for the rest of time, will be dealing with someone that they never got to size up (and) never had to say no."

 Settlement with Merit Energy resolves violations of oil pollution -  The U.S. EPA announced a proposed settlement with Merit Energy Company of Dallas, Texas, resolving alleged violations of the Clean Water Act.As a result, Merit is implementing regulations meant to prevent oil pollution, according to EPA.The violations include failure to comply with spill prevention, control, and countermeasure (SPCC) requirements at a tank battery facility operated by the company in Hot Springs County, Wyoming. The proposed agreement results in Merit agreeing to pay a civil penalty of $115,000 to resolve the alleged violations, according to EPA.The $115,000 penalty will be deposited into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which is a fund used by federal agencies to respond to discharges of oil and hazardous substances, according to EPA."Due to the harm oil spills can cause to public health and the environment, every effort must be made to prevent oil spills and to clean them up promptly once they occur," said the EPA Region 8 Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division Director Suzanne Bohan, according to EPA. “We are encouraged by Merit’s actions to come into compliance with the laws and regulations that protect the environment from the damages that can occur when oil is discharged into navigable waters or adjoining shorelines.”The proposed settlement is a result of EPA’s investigation of an oil spill that occurred on June 19, 2018. The settlement alleges that Merit released approximately 455 barrels of crude oil from the Stateland Tank Battery Facility into Grass Creek, a tributary of the Big Horn River, reported EPA. After reviewing the spill, EPA discovered deficiencies in Merit’s SPCC plan for the facility and since the violation and the company has since submitted an updated plan to EPA.  The Oil Pollution Prevention requirements of the Clean Water Act aim to prevent and facilitate the response to the discharge of oil from non-transportation-related onshore facilities, according to EPA. All facilities with 1,320 gallons of oil that have the potential for a spill to reach waters of the U.S. are required to have an SPCC Plan.

US will allow Dakota Access oil pipeline to operate during review - The $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline can continue to operate while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completes its environmental review of the project, likely to take until March 2022, but the question of a shutdown remains on the table.  At an April 9 hearing, a U.S. Justice Dept. attorney told Brian Boasberg, U.S. district court judge in Washington, D.C. that the Corps doesn't plan to shut down the 1,172-mile pipeline, which starts in North Dakota and ends in southern Illinois. But it could change its mind after consulting with officials from tribes and North Dakota. The pipeline moves more than half a million gallons of crude oil daily. It crosses Lake Oahe, which the Standing Rock Sioux rely on for drinking water. Department attorney Ben Schifman said the Corps wants to take stakeholder's views into account before it decides, saying the agency is in a continuous process of evaluating the safety of the pipeline. He added the Biden administration could shut down operations at any time before the Corps completes an Environmental Impact Statement for the project.  The pipeline has been operating for about three years. In a complicated case that has gone on for years, Boasberg ordered an immediate shutdown of the pipeline in 2020. The federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. overruled him but agreed the Corps violated federal law in 2016 when it issued permits for the pipeline to cross beneath the Missouri River. The EIS will study the risk that an oil spill poses to the Standing Rock Sioux and will decide whether to reissue the permit or require an alternative route that mitigates risk to the tribe. In 2015 the Corps issued a draft environmental assessment finding construction would have no significant environmental impact. Both the U.S. Dept. of Interior and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency raised concern the assessment lacked significant analysis of the impact on water resources. The Corps decided in January 2017 to prepare an EIS, but the Trump administration directed the agency to expedite approvals and reconsider that decision. In February 2017, the Corps granted the easement for the pipeline to travel under the lake without the complete EIS.Jan Hasselman, an EarthJustice attorney representing the Standing Rock Sioux, expressed disappointment that Boasberg didn't order a shut down. Tribes and environmental groups were dismayed by Biden’s decision not to shut down the pipeline given his climate platform. But he said they would ask the judge “to shut the pipeline down under a judicial standard. We will continue this fight for as long as it takes.” According to Hasselman, in a press conference after the hearing, the Corps shut out the tribes and their cultural experts in developing the original environmental review. “It’s critical that the Corps take the time to engage with tribes as sovereign nations to make sure the decision is fully informed,” he said. Meanwhile, two ranking House and Senate Republicans urged President Joe Biden to allow the Corps to issue nationwide project water crossing general permits for those "with limited environmental impact," in an April 7 letter, as the administration reviews the project-wide permits that face new opposition and legal challenges.

Biden Refuses to Shut Down Dakota Access Pipeline, Despite Campaign Pledges on Tribal Relations and Climate - Indigenous leaders and climate campaigners on Friday blasted President Joe Biden's refusal to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline during a court-ordered environmental review, which critics framed as a betrayal of his campaign promises to improve tribal relations and transition the country to clean energy."Biden's inaction to protect our fragile ecosystems, natural resources, traditional medicines, and Indigenous rights is a clear sign that this administration is the exact opposite of the climate leadership narrative they promised to lead during his campaign," said Tasina Sapa Win Smith of the Cheyenne River Grassroots Collective.Brooke Harper, campaign strategist for the environmental group 350.org, declared that "the Biden administration missed a huge opportunity today to take a step towards ensuring a livable future for everyone in this country.""The Dakota Access Pipeline violates treaty rights and endangers land, water, and communities," Harper said. "The climate crisis is here; we can no longer afford to build polluting, dangerous fossil fuel pipelines and delay a just transition to 100% clean energy. In solidarity with Indigenous water protectors, we call on President Joe Biden to stop the Dakota Access pipeline, Line 3, and all new fossil fuel projects immediately. If Biden wants to be a climate leader on the world stage, he needs to start at home."   U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, who ordered the environmental impact assessment last year, held a hearing Friday afternoon so the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could provide an update on whether the Biden administration planned to allow the pipeline known as DAPL to continue operating without a federal permit.After Ben Schifman, an attorney for the government, shared that the Army Corps of Engineers would not shut down the pipeline at this time but "is essentially in a continuous process of evaluating," Boasberg granted the 10-day continuance. The DC-based judge is expected to decide whether he will order DAPL to shut down by April 19. Indigenous water protectors and environmentalists have been fighting against the pipeline for years — opposition that's been met with forceful crackdowns by private security and law enforcement. Since it began operating in 2017, DAPL and the communities through which it runs have been plagued by repeated leaks. Dozens of Democrats have recently joined with tribal leaders and climate activists in calling on Biden to order a shutdown. Chairman Mike Faith of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said Friday that "we are gravely concerned about the continued operation of this pipeline, which poses an unacceptable risk to our sovereign nation." "In a meeting with members of Biden's staff earlier this year, we were told that this new administration wanted to 'get this right,'" Faith noted. "Unfortunately, today's update from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shows it has chosen to ignore our pleas and stick to the wrong path."

Dakota Access Pipeline Seeks to Scrap Environmental Review Order -Dakota Access pipeline lawyers are urging a federal appeals court to reconsider a recent ruling against the divisive oil project.Lawyers for the Energy Transfer LP line on Monday petitioned for rehearing before all active judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, asking them to toss a three-judge panel’s January decision that said a critical easement violated the National Environmental Policy Act.The Biden administration granted Dakota Access a reprieve April 9, announcing it wouldn’t, for now, require the pipeline to shut down during a court-ordered environmental review. The pipeline company’s rehearing request targets the underlying legal conclusions that prompted the review.A federal district court last year said the Army Corps of Engineers violated NEPA by foregoing an environmental impact statement when it granted an easement for Dakota Access to cross part of the Missouri River. The agency should have done the in-depth analysis, rather than the narrower environmental assessment it performed, in light of expert disagreement over the impacts of a potential oil spill on nearby Indigenous tribes and resources, a judge ruled. The D.C. Circuit affirmed the ruling in January.The panel’s decision “impermissibly transforms NEPA from a procedural statute into one requiring particular results, and is inconsistent with decisions from the Supreme Court and other circuits,” Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP attorney Miguel A. Estrada, representing Dakota Access, told the appeals court Monday.The D.C. Circuit rarely grants rehearing. Dakota Access is facing separate but related proceedings in district court, where the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other opponents have asked a federal judge to issue a shutdown order. The case is Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. Army Corps of Engineers, D.C. Cir., No. 20-5197, petition for rehearing filed 4/12/21.

Big Oil Fed Educators Stats to Push Back on Biden Climate Goals --For years, Big Oil has cozied up to American public schools—and now they seem to be cashing in their chips. New emails appear to show that some elected officials in charge of public schools may have been helped in attacking the Biden administration’s recent decision to pause oil and gas leasing on federal land by powerful oil industry lobbying groups. The emails, obtained by the watchdog group Accountable.us as part of a public records request, are exchanges from late January of this year between Kirsten Baesler, the superintendent of public schools in North Dakota, and two members of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, an industry advocacy group in the state.“Ron wanted me to send you some ND stats on oil impacts,” the first email from Kristen Hamman, the director of regulatory and public affairs at the North Dakota Petroleum Council, reads, referencing Ron Ness, the group’s president, who is also cc’ed. In the email, Hamman listed a series of statistics and employment numbers on the oil and gas industry in North Dakota and Wyoming. A little over two weeks after that exchange, on Feb. 16, Baesler joined four other state superintendents from Alaska, Utah, Montana, and Wyoming (the former two are governor-appointed while the latter two are elected like North Dakota’s) in penning a letter to the Biden administration. Their letter was in protest of, curiously for five educators, the administration’s decision to ban fossil fuel leasing on federal lands. The letter described the five states as dependent “on revenues from various taxes, royalties, disbursements, and lease payments to fund our schools, community infrastructure, and public services,” and goes on to list statistics about fossil fuel money and education—using some of the same statistics and numbers sent to Baesler by the North Dakota Petroleum Council.The North Dakota Petroleum Council, the organization’s website states, is partially sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s biggest lobbying organization in the U.S. Around the time when the North Dakota Petroleum Council emailed Baesler, API was busy promoting various pieces of the same information on Facebook. API, of course, recently made headlines for coming out in support of a carbon tax, part of a seemingly industry-wide push to present itself as greener and carbon-free.“Oil and gas executives love to talk about working with the Biden administration to address climate change, but these documents show behind closed doors they are actively working to undermine that very effort,” said Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US, in a press release.

Former Secretary of State Pompeo to speak at North Dakota oil conference Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is set to headline a major oil conference in Bismarck next month. The North Dakota Petroleum Council announced on Monday, April 12, that Pompeo will speak on May 13, the final day of the trade group's Williston Basin Petroleum Conference. Pompeo, who previously led the CIA and served as a Republican congressman from Kansas, worked as the president of an oilfield services company before entering the national political scene. Former Republican President Donald Trump appointed Pompeo to the country's top foreign policy-making post in 2018 and he remains popular with Trump's loyal supporters. Widely rumored to be considering a run for president in 2024, Pompeo is a controversial figure nationally, taking heat from Democrats and political observers for failing to acknowledge that Trump had lost his bid for reelection last year. "(Pompeo) has an energy background and understands the important role our domestic energy industry plays in supporting our national security,” said Ron Ness, the council's president. “We look forward to hearing an encouraging message about the value of American energy to the world.” More than 70 speakers will take the stage during the three-day conference, including executives from oil giant ConocoPhillips and Dakota Access Pipeline operator Energy Transfer, according to a news release from the council.

California Senate Fails to Advance Fracking Ban Bill - A bill that would have banned fracking in California died in committee Tuesday.The bill, SB467, would have prohibited fracking and other controversial forms of oil extraction. It would also have banned oil and gas production within 2,500 feet of a home, school, hospital or other residential facility. The bill originally set the fracking ban for 2027, but amended it to 2035, The AP reported."Obviously I'm very disappointed," State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), one of the bill's two introducers, told the Los Angeles Times. "California really has not done what it needs to do in terms of addressing the oil problem. We have communities that are suffering right now, and the Legislature has repeatedly failed to act."The bill was introduced after California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would sign a fracking ban if it passed the legislature, though his administration has continued to issue permits in the meantime, Forbes reported. Newsom has also spoken in favor of a buffer zone between oil and gas extraction and places where people live and learn, according to the Los Angeles Times. The latter is a major environmental justice issue, as fossil fuel production is more likely to be located near Black and Latinx communities.Urban lawmakers who want California to lead on the climate crisis supported the bill, while inland lawmakers in oil-rich areas concerned about jobs opposed it. The oil and gas industry and trade unions also opposed the bill. This opposition meant the bill failed to get the five votes it needed to move beyond the Senate's Natural Resources and Water Committee. Only four senators approved it, while Democrat Sen. Susan Eggman of Stockton joined two Republicans to oppose it, and two other Democrats abstained.Eggman argued that the bill would have forced California to rely on oil extracted in other states. "We're still going to use it, but we're going to use it from places that produce it less safely," Eggman told The AP. She also said that she supported the transition away from fossil fuels, but thought the bill jumped the gun. "I don't think we're quite there yet, and this bill assumes that we are," she added.Still, California's fossil fuel industry is at odds with state attempts to position itself as a climate leader. "There is a large stain on California's climate record, and that is oil,"

U.S. boosts oil exports to Canada  -Canada’s crude oil imports fell by 20 percent in 2020 due to lower demand in the pandemic, but the United States further cemented its position as top oil supplier to Canada, supplying nearly four out of every five barrels of oil, the Canada Energy Regulator said on Wednesday. Canada is a major crude oil producer and exports much more oil than it imports, almost exclusively to the United States. Yet, Canada imports oil from abroad to feed refineries in its Atlantic Provinces, Quebec, and Ontario. “Less than one third of Canadian crude oil is processed by Canadian refineries for a variety of reasons, such as lack of pipeline access to domestic supplies, specific product requirements of refineries, or because it costs less to import,” the regulator said in its analysis.Last year, total Canadian crude oil imports plunged by 20 percent annually to 555,000 barrels per day (bpd), down from 693,000 bpd in 2019, because the pandemic crushed demand for fuels. As imports dropped in volumes, the share of imports from the United States jumped to 77 percent of all imports in 2020 from 72 percent in 2019.The second-biggest oil supplier to Canada was the world’s top oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, with a 13-percent share of Canadian oil imports, followed by Nigeria with 4 percent of imports and Norway with 3 percent, the Canada Energy Regulator said.“The source for Canada’s crude oil imports has changed dramatically over the past decade. The United States has moved from a bit player in 2010 to a major supplier today, with the majority of oil imported into Canada coming from our southern neighbour,” Darren Christie, Chief Economist at the Canada Energy Regulator, said in a statement.

Argentinas Pampa to start producing Vaca Muerta oil — Pampa Energia, the fifth-biggest natural gas producer in Argentina, is taking its first steps to produce oil from the Vaca Muerta shale play while also stepping up gas output on a bet that a rise in domestic and export demand and prices will improve profits, Horacio Turri, the company's executive director of hydrocarbons, said April 14. Its first exploratory oil well in Rincón de Aranda, a block in Vaca Muerta's oil window, has shown "very promising signs," In March, Pampa said it plans to boost its gas production 28% to 9 million cubic meters/day this winter — June to August — from 7.1 million in winter 2020 after winning a contract to deliver the supplies at an incentivized price of $4.68/MMBtu. The higher price — up from less than $2.50/MMBtu in 2020 — stems from a 2021-24 stimulus program designed to rebuild production from a slump over the past year and a half from low prices. The government wants to eventually do away with imports and increase exports, now going to neighboring countries in small amounts. The challenge is to revert the decline first. Gas output fell 21% to 114.5 million cu m/d in February from a most recent peak of 144.4 million cu m/d in July 2019, according to the latest Energy Secretariat data. This has led the government to hire a second regasification terminal to boost LNG imports this winter, and there are expectations that imports will rise starting this year from an average of 19.9 million cu m/d in 2020 when production averaged 123.2 million cu m/d. Argentina consumes an average 140 million cu m/d.  In the near term, companies can fill 7 million to 8 million cu m/d of spare capacity in the pipelines out of Vaca Muerta during winter to reduce the imports, but for longer-term growth, a new pipeline must be built, a project that the government shelved last year as the coronavirus pandemic and Argentina's financial crisis deterred bidders in an already-delayed auction. Turri expects that the government will revive the $2 billion project in the next few months given that the country's financial crisis is ebbing and the economy is rebounding from a slump last year. This will improve the possibility of companies securing financing to build the 1,000-km line with a full capacity for moving 40 million cu m/d, probably built in two stages.  To prepare for sales growth, Pampa is investing $50 million to build a 4.8 million cu m/d treatment plant by the end of this year at El Mangrullo, its most productive gas field. This project, along with the expansion of other facilities, will boost its production capacity from the field to 9 million cu m/d from a current 5.2 million, Turri said. Most of the production is coming from tight plays, with five more wells planned for drilling and five for completions in El Mangrullo, plus another well to be drilled and four completed in Sierra Chata, its second-most-productive block.

Failed fitting caused oil spill - A Transportation Safety Board report says the failure of a fitting on a section of narrow tubing at a Trans Mountain pumping station in British Columbia was the cause of a crude oil spill last year.The investigation report into the spill on June 12, 2020, at the Trans Mountain Sumas pump station in Abbotsford confirms as much as 190,000 litres of crude, roughly 1,200 barrels, leaked when the fitting separated on the one-inch tube.A board report released Tuesday says tests show the compression fitting was not properly tightened when it was installed in 2015 on a tube that carries a small amount of oil to a section of the pump station for analysis.The pipeline was shut down within an hour of the spill at Trans Mountain's control centre in Edmonton, but the report says it took another four hours to find and manually close valves to the tube, spilling oil into a culvert, the water table and a neighbouring agricultural field.No one was hurt and no evacuation was ordered, but the safety board report says a "multi-year remediation plan" will be needed to recover contaminants in the area surrounding the pump station.

 Total signs key deals for Ugandas Lake Albert project --Total said today that first crude exports from the long-delayed Lake Albert project are planned for 2025, after key final agreements needed to develop two oil fields in Uganda and a pipeline to Tanzania were signed yesterday. The two countries signed the agreements with Total and China's state-controlled CNOOC. "Uganda, Tanzania and oil firms Total and CNOOC [yesterday] signed the agreements that will kickstart the construction of a $3.5bn crude pipeline to help ship crude from fields in western Uganda to international markets," the Petroleum Authority of Uganda (PAU) said. "This implies that signatories have now agreed to start investment in the contruction of infrastructure that will produce and transport oil".The deal, which includes the shareholders' agreement for the pipeline between the two countries, and the tariff and transportation agreement to ship crude through it, will pave the way to award the main engineering, procurement and construction contracts, according to Total.The project involves developing the Kingfisher and Tilenga fields in Uganda's Lake Albert basin with a central processing facility, with production planned to plateau at a combined 230,000 b/d. Upstream partners comprise Total with 56.67pc, CNOOC with 28.33pc, and Uganda's state-owned oil company UNOC with 15pc. Total acquired London-listed Tullow Oil's stake in the project in November and will operate the Tilenga field, while CNOOC will operate Kingfisher.The heated East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) will transport around 216,000 b/d of Ugandan crude to the Tanzanian port of Tanga, while the rest will be used as feedstock for a proposed domestic refinery at Hoima, set to be completed in 2024. Total, UNOC, CNOOC and Tanzania's state-owned TPDC are shareholders in the pipeline. Ugandan energy ministry commissioner Frank Mugisha told Argus last month that Total will raise around $2.5bn in international finance to support its share of pipeline construction costs.

 ExxonMobil temporarily slashes output at Liza-1 project - ExxonMobil has reportedly reduced production output at its Liza-1 project offshore Guyana by at least 75% after it detected problems with the gas compressor. Production has been temporarily reduced from 120,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 30,000bpd in order to maintain gas injection and fuel gas to the power generators, as well as to reduce flare. The US-oil giant company said it encountered a problem with the compressor’s discharge silencer during the final testing phase of the reinstalled flash gas compressor on the Liza Destiny FPSO. ExxonMobil public and government affairs adviser Janelle Persaud said: “Relevant Government agencies have been notified and we are continuing to work with officials to determine the next best steps. “ExxonMobil Guyana is extremely disappointed by the design issues and continued underperformance of this unit, and will be working with the equipment manufacturer MAN Energy Solutions and the vessel’s operator, SBM, to rectify the situation. “This performance is below ExxonMobil’s global expectations for reliability.” This is the third time the company has reduced output on the Liza Destiny FPSO vessel due to problems associated with the gas compressor since its commissioning in December 2019. The Liza-1 is the first development phase of Liza oil field located in the Stabroek Block, approximately 190km offshore Guyana.

 Exxon Mobil plans closure of another Australian oil refinery - US petroleum giant Exxon Mobil earlier this year announced plans to close its oil refinery in Australia, claiming it is no longer “economically viable.” The Exxon Mobil facility in Altona, Melbourne, commenced operations in 1949. Now the jobs of 350 workers—most of them highly skilled specialists in a dangerous industry—are under threat. In October last year, BP announced its plans to close its Kwinana refinery in Western Australia. If BP’s planned April 2021 shutdown also proceeds, there will be only two refineries left in Australia, down from seven a decade ago. The trade unions have enforced repeated “orderly closures” of the refineries. United Workers Union (UWU) national secretary Tim Kennedy responded to the Exxon Mobil Altona announcement by again making clear there would be no struggle to defend jobs. Describing “the closure” of the plant (though this is not slated to begin until another six months) as a “terrible missed opportunity,” the UWU head pleaded with the federal government to “invest in just transition and quality jobs of the future.” Other sections of the trade union bureaucracy have made open appeals to nationalist-militarist calculations within the Australian ruling class on the question of oil refining capacity. The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), a division of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union, responded to the BP Kwinana refinery closure announcement by urging the government to nationalise the facility. MUA Assistant National Secretary Ian Bray said, “The COVID crisis exposed how vulnerable Australia’s supply chains have become, highlighting that essential supplies can quickly run short if seaborne trade is disrupted by a pandemic, military conflict, natural disasters or an economic shock.” This reference to petroleum supply chains in the event of “military conflict” was made amid accelerating US plans for a military conflict with China, in which Australia would be immediately involved as Washington’s regional ally.

Sri Lanka seeks $17 million from Greek ship owner over oil spill - Sri Lanka on Friday lodged a claim for $17.38 million with the Greek owners of an oil tanker that caught fire and left a spill stretching 40 kilometres (25 miles) off the South Asian island. The New Diamond vessel was travelling from Kuwait to India with 270,000 tonnes of crude oil on board in September when a fire broke out as it passed Sri Lanka's east coast Sri Lanka on Friday lodged a claim for $17.38 million with the Greek owners of an oil tanker that caught fire and left a spill stretching 40 kilometres (25 miles) off the South Asian island. The New Diamond vessel was travelling from Kuwait to India with 270,000 tonnes of crude oil on board in September when a fire broke out as it passed Sri Lanka's east coast. The crude being carried as cargo was unaffected by the blaze but some of the tanker's fuel leaked into the Indian Ocean. Its skipper was in October fined $65,000 for causing the spill and failing to inform local officials of the environmental damage left behind. Authorities are now seeking compensation from Greek firm Porto Emporios Shipping Inc for the damage. "The Attorney-General forwarded the marine pollution claim for 3,423 million rupees ($17.38 million) to lawyers of the owners of MT New Diamond in respect of the oil spill caused in September," the office of Sri Lanka's state prosecutor said in a statement. Officials said about 400 to 480 tonnes of fuel had leaked from the Panamanian-registered ship. Firefighters led by India's coastguard as well as the Indian and Sri Lankan navies succeeded in putting out the blaze before the vessel was towed to the United Arab Emirates. Porto Emporios paid Sri Lanka $2.38 million for extinguishing the fire. The blaze started after an engine room boiler exploded, killing one crew member. The remaining crew of 22, including the skipper, were rescued.

PipeChina starts work on new gas pipeline project China's national oil and gas pipeline operator PipeChina has begun construction on the first phase of its Mengxi pipeline project, which will link existing national trunklines and facilitate the flow of domestic and imported gas to the key demand centre of Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei in north China. The first, 6.6bn m³/yr capacity phase of the Mengxi project run for 413.5km from the 2.2mn t/yr Tianjin LNG receiving facility to the Dingxing sub-transmission station at Baoding in Hebei province. The Mengxi trunkline is designed to facilitate the continuous flow of gas from the Tianjin LNG terminal to the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area and other northern China regions. It will help to connect such national gas pipelines as the Sino-Russian eastern pipeline, the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei natural gas pipeline branch network and gas storage facilities in north China. Completion dates for each phase of the project are unclear. But PipeChina said a second phase may release a "bottleneck" at the Tianjin LNG receiving facility, allowing it to supply 25 counties along its route including the new Xiong'an area with 6.6bn m³/yr of gas output as well as imported LNG. PipeChina operates a floating storage regasification unit as an import terminal at Tianjin. The Mengxi pipeline will be the first trunkline connecting to Xiong'an, a new urban district being developed in Hebei province that was launched by China's president Xi Jinping in 2017.

Fire, oil spill at Chinas Penglai platform- Update --An offshore crude production platform in China's Bohai bay has caught fire and spilt oil, forcing output to be halted, market participants said. The accident happened on 5 April at the Penglai 19-3 field, which is operated by state-owned CNOOC in a 51:49 venture with US independent ConocoPhillips. The third wellhead production platform at Penglai's phase 3 caught fire and has been largely destroyed, leaving some workers missing, according to industry participants in China. The incident was confirmed by an employee at one of the companies involved, although the details are unclear. ConocoPhillips referred questions to CNOOC. CNOOC did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The platform is still on fire and at risk of collapse if the blaze is not extinguished soon, a market participant said. Penglai 19-3 was one of China's largest oil fields when it was discovered more than 20 years ago. ConocoPhillips also has a 49pc non-operating share in Penglai's 19-9 and 25-6 blocks, which together with the 19-3 field produced a combined 30,000 b/d in 2020. The phase 3 project comprises mainly three new wellhead platforms and a central processing facility. The Penglai fields produce heavy-sweet crude that is sold to CNOOC's own refineries and to independent refiners in Shandong province. An oil spill at the Penglai fields in 2011 resulted in CNOOC and ConocoPhillips paying several hundred million dollars in compensation.

 Saudi Aramco in deal to sell 49pc stake in oil pipelines - State oil giant Saudi Aramco said it has reached a $12.4 billion agreement to sell a 49 per cent stake in its pipelines to a consortium led by US-based EIG Global Energy Partners (EIG), one of the world’s leading energy infrastructure investors. The transaction represents a continuation of Aramco’s strategy to unlock the potential of its asset base and maximize value for its shareholders. It also reinforces Aramco’s role as a catalyst for attracting significant foreign investment into the kingdom and optimising its assets through a lease-and-lease-back agreement involving its stabilised crude oil pipeline network. As part of the transaction, a newly-formed Aramco subsidiary, Aramco Oil Pipelines Company, will lease usage rights in Aramco’s stabilized crude oil pipelines network for a 25-year period. In return, Aramco Oil Pipelines Company will receive a tariff payable by Aramco for the stabilized crude oil that flows through the network, backed by minimum volume commitments. As per the deal, Aramco will hold a 51% majority stake in the new company and the EIG-led consortium will hold a 49% stake, said the statement from Aramco. As per the deal, the state oil giant will continue to retain full ownership and operational control of its stabilized crude oil pipeline network. The transaction will not impose any restrictions on Aramco’s actual crude oil production volumes that are subject to production decisions issued by the kingdom. Aramco President & CEO Amin H. Nasser said: "This landmark transaction defines the way forward for our portfolio optimization program. We are capitalizing on new opportunities that also align strategically with the kingdom’s recently-launched Shareek program. Aramco’s strong capital structure will be further enhanced with this transaction, which in turn will help maximize returns for our shareholders."

A Key Oil Spread Heralds Rising Competition Among Suppliers - The battle for oil sales is set to become more intense as rising output from OPEC+ and the Middle East boosts the competitiveness of the region’s shipments, potentially forcing other suppliers to discount their barrels. The warning signs can be seen in the widening of a key price spread that’s used by traders to determine the affordability of cargoes from the Middle East against Brent-linked barrels. Right now, the gap is close to the widest in more than 16 months, and that doesn’t bode well for oil that’s priced against Brent. Brent's premium to Dubai swaps at widest since late 2019 “There’s much cheaper crude, and a lot of it coming from the Middle East,” said Grayson Lim, a senior oil analyst at FGE. “Those Brent-linked cargoes will need to be offered at a huge discount for buyers in the region to snap up the barrels,” he said, referring to Asian users. “But if they’re heavily discounted, there’s a chance that Chinese buyers may come out to buy.” Earlier this month the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies decided to relax the deep production curbs that rescued prices from last year’s pandemic-driven collapse. The move will see more than 2 million barrels a day in supply restored in stages through to July amid expectations that the roll-out of vaccines will underpin further gains in energy consumption. So far, the plan has been defended by leading architect Saudi Arabia, with futures for Brent and West Texas Intermediate up almost a quarter this year. At the same time that the OPEC+ cartel is preparing to loosen off the taps, there have been continuous flows of clandestine Iranian oil to China. That -- plus planned maintenance of some North Sea fields, which will shrink the flow of Brent-linked barrels -- has pushed out the spread to the widest since late 2019, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s a big reversal from just a few months ago. The so-called Brent-Dubai exchange of futures for swaps -- to give the marker its formal name -- showed Brent-Dubai at a small discount as recently as November. In October and September, Dubai-linked cargoes were also more costly on some days. The shift favoring Dubai-linked flows is likely to ripple through the market, prompting buyers to shop around and sellers to respond. In Asia, the widened spread means users will probably scoop up more affordable spot cargoes from the Middle East, unless oil from the Atlantic Basin and West Africa is slashed to stay competitive, according to traders who asked not to be identified. s See More There may be signs of that already. Last week, Angola’s Sonangol Group again reduced the offer price for a Dated Brent-linked Saturno cargo for May, with the shipment eventually taken by China’s Unipec. Nigeria has also cut official selling prices of Qua Iboe and Bonny Light to the lowest since November.

 OPEC raises 2021 oil demand growth forecast on hope pandemic wanes(Reuters) -OPEC on Tuesday raised its forecast for growth in world oil demand this year on expectations the pandemic will subside, providing help for the group and its allies in their efforts to support the market. Demand will rise by 5.95 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2021, or 6.6%, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries forecast in its monthly report. That is up 70,000 bpd from last month. “As the spread and intensity of the COVID-19 pandemic are expected to subside with the ongoing rollout of vaccination programmes, social distancing requirements and travel limitations are likely to be scaled back, offering increased mobility,” OPEC said in the report. The upward revision marks a change of tone from previous months, in which OPEC has lowered demand forecasts because of continued lockdowns. A further recovery could bolster the case for OPEC and its allies, known as OPEC+, to unwind more of last year’s record oil output cuts. Oil gained further towards $64 a barrel after the report was released on Tuesday. Prices have risen to pre-pandemic highs above $70 this year, boosted by anticipation of economic recovery and OPEC+ supply restraint. OPEC made a small upward revision in its 2021 demand projection last month, but it has steadily lowered the forecast from 7 million bpd expected in July 2020. The group raised its forecast of 2021 world economic growth to 5.4% from 5.1%, assuming the impact of the pandemic is “largely contained” by the beginning of the second half of the year. “The global economic recovery continues, significantly supported by unprecedented monetary and fiscal stimulus,” OPEC said. “The recovery is very much leaning towards the second half of 2021.”

 IEA ups oil demand forecast as vaccinations brighten outlook(Reuters) - Vaccine rollouts are brightening the outlook for global oil demand, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Wednesday, though rising cases in some major oil-consuming countries show a recovery may be fragile. “Fundamentals look decidedly stronger,” the IEA said in its monthly report. “The massive overhang in global oil inventories that built up during last year’s COVID-19 demand shock is being worked off, vaccine campaigns are gathering pace and the global economy appears to be on a better footing.” Citing rising cases in Europe, Brazil and the United States, the Paris-based watchdog said it remained concerned about new waves of the virus derailing progress. Still, the IEA predicted global oil demand and supply were set to re-balance in the second half of the year and that producers may then need to pump 2 million barrels per day more to meet the expected demand. OPEC and allies like Russia, a grouping known as OPEC+, would likely prove capable of tailoring its output to demand whether the virus is tamed or not, the IEA added. “The bloc’s monthly calibration of supply may give it the flexibility to meet incremental demand by ramping up swiftly or adjusting output lower should the demand recovery fail to keep pace.” The IEA said commercial oil stored in OECD countries fell for a seventh consecutive month in February, signalling a rise in demand and increased imports in the near future. Less developed countries faced a steeper climb out of the demand crater created by COVID-19, the IEA warned, as the differences between countries with prompt access to the vaccine and those without become more pronounced. “Some emerging countries with lower access are in a more difficult situation, with likely new COVID waves slowing economic activity and mobility,” the IEA said. “The situation is currently deteriorating sharply in some large non-OECD oil consumers (Brazil, Iran and India).”

Oil could plummet to $10 by 2050 if Paris climate goals are achieved, energy consultancy says — The price of oil could plunge to as little as $10 a barrel by 2050 if the world succeeds in electrifying the energy market and meeting Paris Agreement goals, a consultancy said on Thursday. Energy research and consultancy Wood Mackenzie said in a report that if world leaders took decisive action to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius by 2050, as set out in the landmark Paris climate accord, oil demand would drop "significantly." Wood Mackenzie said under its accelerated energy transition scenario, the energy market would be increasingly electrified through to 2050, squeezing out the most polluting hydrocarbons, like oil. Under this scenario, oil demand could fall 70% by 2050 from current levels, the report said. Wood Mackenzie forecast demand for oil would start to fall from 2023 under this scenario and this decline would quickly accelerate thereafter, with year-on-year falls of around 2 million barrels a day. The report said oil prices could go into "terminal decline," with international benchmark Brent crude falling to between $37 and $42 a barrel by 2030. Brent crude futures traded at $66.29 a barrel during morning deals in London, down around 0.4%. Wood Mackenzie said oil prices could slide to between $28 and $32 a barrel by 2040, before slipping to between $10 and $18 a barrel in 2050. Almost 200 countries ratified the Paris climate accord in 2015, agreeing to pursue efforts to limit the planet's temperature increase to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to cap the temperature rise at 1.5 degrees Celsius. It remains a key focus ahead of COP26, although some climate scientists now believe that hitting the latter target is already "virtually impossible." To be sure, a United Nations analysis published on Feb. 26 found that pledges made by countries around the world to curb greenhouse gas emissions were "very far" from the profound measures required to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate breakdown. Ann-Louise Hittle, vice president for macro oils at Wood Mackenzie, stressed that the consultancy's report was a scenario rather than a "base-case forecast." "Even so, the oil and gas industry cannot afford to be complacent," she added. "The risks associated with robust climate-change policy and rapidly changing technology are too great."

 

 IMF hikes growth forecast for the Middle East, says recovery will be 'divergent' - The International Monetary Fund has revised its growth forecast upward for the Middle East and North Africa region, as countries recover from the coronavirus crisis that began in 2020. Real GDP in the MENA region is now expected to grow 4% in 2021, up from the fund's October projection of 3.2%. However, the outlook will vary significantly across countries depending on factors such as vaccine rollouts, exposure to tourism and policies introduced, the IMF said in its latest regional economic report published on Sunday. Jihad Azour, director of the IMF's Middle East and Central Asia department, said the recovery would be "divergent between countries and uneven between different parts of the population." He told CNBC's Hadley Gamble that the growth would be driven mainly by oil-exporting countries that will benefit from the acceleration of vaccination programs and the relative strength in oil prices. Azour said each country's capacity to recover in 2021 varies a "great deal." "(The) vaccine is an important variable this year, and the acceleration of vaccination could contribute to almost one additional percent of GDP in 2022," he said. Some countries in the region — such as the Gulf Cooperation Council states, Kazakhstan and Morocco — started their vaccinations early and should be able to inoculate a significant share of their population by end-2021, the IMF said. Other nations including Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon were classified as "slow inoculators" that will probably vaccinate a big portion of their residents by mid-2022. The last group — the "late inoculators" — are not expected to achieve "full vaccination until 2023 at the earliest," the report said. It added that early inoculators are expected to reach 2019 GDP levels in 2022, but countries in the two slower categories will recover to pre-pandemic levels between 2022 and 2023. Azour said innovative policies helped to speed up the recovery, but it's "very important to build forward better." That could include measures to improve the economy, attract investment, increase regional cooperation and address scars of the Covid crisis. "All these elements are silver linings that can help accelerate the recovery and bring the economy of the region (to) the level of growth that existed prior to the Covid-19 shock," he said.

Major powers respond to Israel’s criminal attack on Natanz with a shrug of the shoulders --The international response to Israel’s attack last Sunday on Iran’s main uranium enrichment facility at Natanz highlights the reality of geo-political relations. The attack took place as the US and Iran resumed supposedly “highly constructive talks” in Vienna on a possible return the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), constraining Iran’s nuclear program. Israel is vehemently opposed to any resumption of the deal. The New York Times reported that, according to US and Israeli intelligence sources, Israel had played a role in the attack, involving the remote detonation of an explosive device—below more than 20 feet of reinforced concrete—smuggled into the plant. The explosion took out both the primary and backup systems supplying electricity to thousands of underground centrifuges at the Ahmadi Roshan nuclear enrichment facility, Iran’s main enrichment program. Israeli news outlets, citing intelligence sources, attributed the attack to Mossad, Israel’s spy agency. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government issued no official statement. The explosion follows a long list of actions taken by Israel against Iran’s nuclear program, including the use of the US-Israeli Stuxnet virus to disable 1,000 centrifuges and the assassination of its scientists. The blast was criminal and reckless. The loss of electrical power for any length of time could have had catastrophic consequences, as the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan demonstrated. The earthquake and subsequent tsunami knocked out all the electrical supply to the nuclear power station, including the emergency generators that keep the cooling systems running, leading to the second worst nuclear meltdown in history, rivaling Chernobyl. Iran condemned the blackout at the underground Natanz nuclear facility, branding it an act of “nuclear terrorism.” Saeed Khatibzadeh, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, called it “an act against humanity” that could have caused a disaster.

Iran to defy uranium enrichment limits of 2015 nuclear deal after attack on Natanz facility – Iran will begin enriching uranium at 60%, a significant step toward weapons-grade material, in response to an attack at a key nuclear site, the country's top nuclear negotiator told state media on Tuesday. Iran's deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, said he informed the International Atomic Energy Agency, which oversees the monitoring and inspection of nuclear sites, of Tehran's decision. An estimated 90% of enriched uranium is needed to develop a bomb. The move comes two days after Tehran said its underground Natanz atomic facility experienced a blackout. The Natanz facility has been previously targeted by cyberattacks. Iran's Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, described the event on Sunday as an act of "nuclear terrorism." A day later, Iran formally accused Israel of being behind the attack and vowed revenge. The blackout at Natanz coincided with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin's arrival in Israel for meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. The Israeli government has not publicly commented on the incident. The White House on Monday said the United States was not involved in the attack. Iran's decision to increase its enrichment of uranium comes as the Biden administration works to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, nuclear agreement. The JCPOA, brokered by the Obama administration, lifted sanctions on Iran that had crippled its economy and cut its oil exports roughly in half. In exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief, Iran agreed to dismantle some of its nuclear program and open its facilities to more extensive international inspections. Alongside the United States, France, Germany, the U.K., Russia and China ⁠were also signatories of the agreement. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump kept a campaign promise and unilaterally withdrew the United States from the JCPOA calling it the "worst deal ever." Trump also reintroduced sanctions on Tehran that had been previously lifted. Following Washington's exit from the landmark nuclear deal, other signatories of the pact ⁠have struggled to keep the agreement alive.

China and Russia will keep Iran from building a bomb - The U.S. pursuit of a return to the Iran deal has received new strength after recent talks in Vienna appeared to indicate that working groups might bring Tehran and Washington closer to a series of agreements. The original 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed by China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia, the United States, United Kingdom and European Union. The complex deal was supposed to block Iranian pathways to a nuclear weapon in exchange for sanctions relief. It also was supposed to prevent a war with Iran.    Largely absent in discussions about claims that Iran will develop a nuclear weapon if the U.S. doesn’t enter into a new Iran deal are questions about whether China, Russia and even Turkey might restrain Iran from its progress toward making a bomb. Because much of the discussion focuses on the U.S. and Iran, Tehran’s ties with Beijing and Moscow largely are ignored.  Iran recently entered into a 25-year cooperation agreement with China. Both China and Russia don’t want a nuclear-armed Iran, and Iran’s neighbor Turkey likely would not want Iran to be armed with nuclear weapons in the region. Therefore, the real restraint on Iran’s nuclear ambitions may not be a U.S. strategy or a new Iran nuclear deal, but rather, Iran’s need to please other authoritarian regimes. The U.S. should consider this in its discussions with Iran.   Recently, Iran met signatories of the JCPOA in Vienna while the U.S. was sidelined because Washington withdrew from the deal under the Trump administration. There is a lot of pressure on the Biden administration to cave to Iranian demands. At the heart of the problem is a misunderstanding of the current restraints on Iran’s nuclear program. Iran uses nuclear enrichment as leverage to goad the West into giving Tehran sanctions relief, essentially demanding cash in exchange for not building a nuclear bomb.   Iran does this skillfully. It periodically releases information about its enrichment activities to put pressure on the U.S. For example, recent reports said Iran had 55kg of 20 percent-enriched uranium, a stockpile that violates the 2015 deal. Tehran’s message is that the U.S. must return to the deal and then Iran will reduce its stockpile.    Iran never built a bomb. Instead it used claims that it was “moving toward a nuclear weapon” to wring concessions from other nations. It also used talking points about political “hardliners” and fear of “another war in the Middle East” to get the U.S. to the bargaining table. Now Iran once again has trotted out the “hardliners” equation, claiming that if the U.S. doesn’t agree to a new deal, the hardliners might win an upcoming election. This is a talking point that Iran uses only in its discussions with the West; it doesn’t appear to ever mention hardliners in its own media or in talks with Russia, China and Turkey.    That means Iran doesn’t threaten Beijing or Moscow with “hardliners” who might emerge if those countries don’t give in to Iran’s demands. Having China and Russia as part of the Iran deal keeps Iran from developing a nuclear weapon because it would anger Moscow and Beijing — and Iran can’t risk its ties to those countries.   Iran uses talk of uranium enrichment, political hardliners and possible war as leverage over the United States. But leaders in Beijing, Moscow and Ankara don’t appear to have much concern about such matters, including whether Iran builds a bomb or goes to war in the Middle East. This is because China and Russia are happy to use Iran’s destabilizing policies to counter and distract the United States, and realize that Iran apparently won’t violate the JCPOA to the extent of actually building a bomb (it had ample opportunity to do so before the accord). 

France Moves to Ban Short-Haul Flights --France moved one step closer this weekend to banning short-haul flights in an attempt to fight the climate crisis.A bill prohibiting regional flights that could be replaced with an existing train journey of less than two and a half hours passed the country's National Assembly late on Saturday, as Reuters reported."We know that aviation is a contributor of carbon dioxide and that because of climate change we must reduce emissions," Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher told Europe 1 radio, according to Reuters.The measure now has to pass the French Senate, then return to the lower house for a final vote. It would end regional flights between Paris's Orly airport and cities like Nantes and Bordeaux, The Guardian explained. It would not, however, impact connecting flights through Paris's Charles de Gaulle/Roissy airport.The bill is part of a legislative package which aims to reduce France's emissions by 40 percent of 1990 levels by 2030, Reuters reported. It is a watered-down version of a proposal suggested by France's Citizens' Convention on Climate, BBC News explained. This group, which was formed by President Emmanuel Macron in 2019 and included 150 ordinary citizens, had put forward a ban on flights that could be replaced with an existing train journey of under four hours.However, the journey length was lowered after protests from KLM-Air France, which had suffered heavy losses due to the coronavirus pandemic, and regions who were concerned about being left out of national transit networks, as The Guardian explained."We have chosen two and a half hours because four hours risks isolating landlocked territories including the greater Massif Central, which would be iniquitous," transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said, as The Guardian reported.However, some environmental and consumer groups objected to the changes. The organization UFC-Que Choisir compared plane routes with equivalent train journeys of under four hours and found that the plane trips emitted an average of 77 times more carbon dioxide per passenger than the train journeys. At the same time, the train alternatives were cheaper and only as much as 40 minutes longer."[T]he government's choice actually aims to empty the measure of its substance," the group said, according to The Guardian. The new measure also opens the French government to charges of hypocrisy. It bailed out Air France-KLM to the tune of a seven-billion euro loan last year, though it did require the airline to drop some domestic routes as a condition. Then, days before the measure passed, it more than doubled its stake in the airline, BBC News reported. However, Pannier-Runacher insisted to Europe 1 radio that it was possible to balance fighting climate change and supporting struggling businesses.

German Cabinet Approves Uniform COVID Measures Nationwide - On Tuesday, cabinet members approved legal changes to grant the federal government more power to enforce coronavirus regulations in German states.The changes to the German Infection Protection Act must now be passed in the parliament, the Bundestag.If approved, the new "federal emergency brake" means that any region in any state with a high incidence of COVID-19 cases would be legally required to implement a uniform set of rules set out by the federal government.The government, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), wants to fast-track approval. However, the timeline for enacting the new regulations remains unclear. "Let's finish it this week," Ralph Brinkhaus, CDU parliamentary leader, said in the German media on Monday. "The situation is serious and we also have to take it seriously," Merkel told a press conference Tuesday."The third wave of the pandemic has a tight grip" on Germany, Merkel said, adding that the current system of regulations decided between the federal government and states is not enough to to stop the third wave."We must not ignore the cries for help from the medical profession. They need us," Merkel said. "Our fight against the pandemic needs to be stricter and more resolute," she added. "The nationwide emergency brake is long overdue," said Merkel, while emphasizing that Germany is "approaching the light at the end of the tunnel."Restrictions would be enforced in a district or city where the seven-day incidence rate of new COVID cases crosses 100 per 100,000 population for at least three consecutive days. When the incidence rate drops below this level for three consecutive days, the restrictions will be lifted. Gatherings of people from different households will be limited. Contact with one person outside of the household is permitted, with a maximum of five people being allowed together. Retail stores, including hardware stores, must close. Supermarkets and drug stores may remain open. Theaters, museums, zoos, public pools and gyms must remain closed. Restaurants are limited to takeout, and touristic travel in hotels is not allowed.