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

Saturday, October 20, 2018

week ending Oct 20

 Fed Officials Debated Hiking Rates to Restrictive Territory - Federal Reserve officials stepped deeper into a debate over how high to push interest rates, as a majority favored an eventual and temporary move above the level they deem neutral for the economy in the long run.  The clearest summary of policy makers’ views, unusually, appeared not in the minutes to the Sept. 25-26 policy meeting, which were released Wednesday in Washington, but in the accompanying notes to officials’ most recent economic projections.  “A substantial majority of participants expected that the year-end 2020 and 2021 federal funds rate would be above their estimates of the longer-run rate,” according to the document. The committee was otherwise in broad agreement over continuing on the current, gradual path of rate increases. The record showed “all participants” backed the Sept. 26 quarter-percentage point hike to a range of 2 percent to 2.25 percent.The release of the minutes comes three weeks after central bankers signaled their intention to hike again before year end. Chairman Jerome Powell has said he’s trying to balance the risks of allowing the economy to overheat by moving too slowly, and smothering the second longest economic expansion on record by hiking too quickly. The Fed’s tightening has drawn criticism from President Donald Trump, who blamed it for the stock market decline last week. The minutes revealed no discussion among policy makers of the president’s remarks and no sign they had influenced their outlook for rates. “Participants generally anticipated that further gradual increases in the target range for the federal funds rate would most likely be consistent with a sustained economic expansion, strong labor market conditions and inflation near 2 percent over the medium term,” according to the minutes.

FOMC Minutes Signal 'Hawkish' Fed Ready To Hike Above Neutral - After Powell's 'reassuring' hawkish speech, following the briefly dovishly-interpreted Fed statement, all eyes are back on the FOMC Minutes today to see just how assuredly The Fed will stick to its 25bps-per-quarter trajectory, come hell (stock crash) or high water (inflation). The labor market (judged by the unemployment rate) has rarely been lower and inflation is right at The Fed's mandated goal so the biggest focus will be on any neutral rate discussions (see chart below on Fed rate trajectory) and any discussions of the potential for inverting the yield curve. As Bloomberg Chief U.S. Economist Carl Riccadonna noted:  "The Sept. 25-26 FOMC meeting predated much of the recent volatility in financial markets. At the meeting, the broad majority of officials signaled a preference for an additional rate increase in December. Fed watchers will scrutinize the minutes for sources of vulnerability regarding policy makers’ collective conviction -- the extent of inflation weakness or tightening of financial conditions -- that could lead them to consider either a near-term pause or a slow trajectory of hikes next year." If Powell's PR is anything to go by, the Minutes should be pitched hawkish...and it appeared to do so:  A Number of Officials Saw Need to Hike Above Long-Run Level "A few participants expected that policy would need to become modestly restrictive for a time and a number judged that it would be necessary to temporarily raise the federal funds rate above their assessments of its longer-run level.''  The Fed is worried about asset bubbles...  "Some participants commented about the continued growth in leveraged loans, the loosening of terms and standards on these loans, or the growth of this activity in the nonbank sector as reasons to remain mindful of vulnerabilities and possible risks to financial stability."  The Fed does not see the use or removal of the word "accommodative" as a signal:  "Almost all considered that it was also appropriate to revise the Committee’s postmeeting statement in order to remove the language stating that “the stance of monetary policy remains accommodative.” Participants discussed a number of reasons for removing the language at this time, noting that the Committee would not be signaling a change in the expected path for policy, particularly as the target range for the federal funds rate announced after the Committee’s meeting would still be below all of the estimates of its longer-run level submitted in the  September SEP."

FOMC Minutes: Further Gradual Increases "Would be appropriate" --From the Fed: Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, September 25-26, 2018: In their consideration of monetary policy at this meeting, participants generally judged that the economy was evolving about as anticipated, with real economic activity rising at a strong rate, labor market conditions continuing to strengthen, and inflation near the Committee's objective.Based on their current assessments, all participants expressed the view that it would be appropriate for the Committee to continue its gradual approach to policy firming by raising the target range for the federal funds rate 25 basis points at this meeting. Almost all considered that it was also appropriate to revise the Committee's postmeeting statement in order to remove the language stating that "the stance of monetary policy remains accommodative." […] With regard to the outlook for monetary policy beyond this meeting, participants generally anticipated that further gradual increases in the target range for the federal funds rate would most likely be consistent with a sustained economic expansion, strong labor market conditions, and inflation near 2 percent over the medium term. This gradual approach would balance the risk of tightening monetary policy too quickly, which could lead to an abrupt slowing in the economy and inflation moving below the Committee's objective, against the risk of moving too slowly, which could engender inflation persistently above the objective and possibly contribute to a buildup of financial imbalances. […] A few participants expected that policy would need to become modestly restrictive for a time and a number judged that it would be necessary to temporarily raise the federal funds rate above their assessments of its longer-run level in order to reduce the risk of a sustained overshooting of the Committee's 2 percent inflation objective or the risk posed by significant financial imbalances. A couple of participants indicated that they would not favor adopting a restrictive policy stance in the absence of clear signs of an overheating economy and rising inflation.

My Biggest Threat Is The Fed Says Trump, Citing Aggressive Rate Hikes - President Trump told Fox Business' Trish Reagan that the Federal Reserve is his "biggest threat" to his presidency because it's raising rates too fast. “My biggest threat is the Fed,” Trump said on Tuesday during an interview with FOX Business’ Trish Regan. “Because the Fed is raising rates too fast, and it’s too independent," he complained. -Fox BusinessThe Fed has already voted to raise short-term interst rates three times this year, and are on course for another hike in December - keeping on track with the course they laid out in late 2017. Three more hikes are expected in 2019 and one in 2020. Mr. Powell said earlier this month he sees little sign the economy is overheating, but defended the Fed against criticism that policy makers are raising rates too fast.Consumer prices, a broad measure of inflation, rose less than expected for the second straight month in September, the Commerce Department said last week, suggesting price pressures remain in check. In the 12 months through September, overall prices rose 2.3%, the smallest year-over-year change since February.The Fed’s preferred inflation gauge, the personal-consumption expenditures index, rose 2.2% in August from a year earlier, above the Fed’s 2% target. –WSJ  In February, President Trump appointed Fed Chair Jerome Powell to replace former Chair Janet Yellen, however he has been highly critical of Powell in the ensuing months. In August, Trump was critical of the Fed's decision to raise interest rates - urging the central bank to instead consider "what's good for the country."

China Cuts U.S. Treasury Holdings for Third Straight Month - China’s holdings of U.S. Treasuries fell for a third consecutive month in August as the Asian nation struggles to prevent the yuan from weakening amid trade tensions with America. China’s ownership of U.S. bonds, bills and notes was $1.165 trillion, down from $1.171 trillion in July, according to data released by the Treasury Department on Tuesday. Japan, which is the largest foreign owner of Treasuries after China, decreased its holdings to $1.03 trillion from $1.036 trillion a month earlier. Saudi Arabia boosted its ownership by $2.7 billion to a record $169.5 billion. Beijing’s sale of Treasuries is sometimes viewed as a response to the trade war, especially after China’s ambassador to the U.S. signaled in March his country could scale back purchases of the debt to retaliate against American tariffs. President Donald Trump since July has imposed tariffs on about half of Chinese imports, with Beijing responding with duties of its own on American goods. “Holdings have declined over the past three months and may continue to do so as the ongoing trade war sours the relationship between China and the U.S. and thus reduces their appetite for Treasuries,” Thomas Simons, an economist at Jefferies LLC, wrote in a note after the department’s release. “This will be important to keep an eye on going forward.” But China may have allowed its foreign-exchange reserves to decline as part of a policy to stabilize the yuan and prevent it from weakening further. The currency already has depreciated more than 4 percent against the dollar in the past year amid signs of an economic slowdown and capital outflows. Trump has accused Beijing of deliberately weakening its currency to stimulate exports.

Q3 GDP Forecasts -- The BEA is scheduled to release the advance estimate of Q3 GDP on Friday, Oct 26th. The early consensus is real GDP increased 3.3% on an annualized basis in Q3. Here are a few forecasts: From Merrill Lynch:We expect 3Q GDP growth of 3.4% in the advance release next week. [Oct 19 estimate].     From Goldman Sachs:  We left our Q3 GDP tracking estimate unchanged on a rounded basis at +3.5% (qoq ar). [Oct 19 estimate]     From Nomura: We expect real GDP growth to increase solidly by 3.4% q-o-q saar in Q3 [Oct 19 estimate]   And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNow The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the third quarter of 2018 is 3.9 percent on October 17, down from 4.0 percent on October 15. [Oct 17 estimate]   From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report  The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 2.1% for 2018:Q3 and 2.4% for 2018:Q4. [Oct 19 estimate]   CR Note: It looks like GDP will be in the 3s in Q3.

 Is a Slowdown in Bank Lending a Bad Sign for the Economy? - NYTimes  -Something is afoot in the world of banking that suggests the economy is not as strong as it looks. Four of the United States’ largest banks on Friday reported third-quarter results that, for the most part, exceeded Wall Street’s expectations. But a worrisome trend again showed up in their numbers: The banks were not lending at the same rate that they had in recent years. In the third quarter, the combined loans of JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and PNC Financial Services increased just 2 percent from a year earlier, in line with the second-quarter rate. Last year, loans at the four banks grew 2.9 percent, and in 2016 and 2015 the rate was well above 4 percent. Though third-quarter loan growth was subpar, the tax cuts enacted at the end of last year continued to lift bank profits, and rising interest rates are helping banks earn more on their loans. JPMorgan Chase’s earnings surged 24 percent. Wells Fargo, still under regulatory scrutiny after a series of scandals, posted a 32 percent rise in net income, helped, in part, by a decline in costs. Citigroup’s profits were up 12 percent.Earnings at PNC were solidly higher, but its sluggish lending helped send its stock down over 5 percent on Friday. In the third quarter, its loans grew only 0.9 percent, and the banks said growth would be modest in the fourth quarter. It’s probably too early to get alarmed about the slowdown in lending. One of the reasons growth has decelerated should not be a source of concern. Companies, enjoying stronger revenues and lower taxes, have less need to borrow and roll over existing debt when it comes due. William S. Demchak, chief executive of PNC, said Friday that borrowers were paying down their loans more than expected.Another reason for the lower growth is sensible. Bank executives said they saw signs of the economy overheating and were holding back. At Wells Fargo, loans fell 1 percent in the third quarter. Loans to finance the purchase or construction of buildings used by businesses drove the decline.

Deficits won't hit the dollar (but other things might) - Last year's US tax cut was predicted to cost roughly $1.5trn over ten years. A spending bill followed, priced at $300bn. We've been waiting for months to find out the real fiscal cost; now we have a better idea. According to a new report by the Treasury and Office of Management and Budget, the US budget deficit widened to $779bn, the largest shortfall in six years. That's a 17 per cent uptick from the year prior, at a time when the unemployment rate sits at a 49-year low and US economic growth in the second quarter accelerated at the fastest pace in nearly four years. Yes, federal revenues did rise slightly, but the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reckons that under current laws, public debt will reach its highest levels relative to GDP in US history in the next three decades.Treasury's new numbers, and the CBO's forecast, might encourage a widely held belief that the dollar's strength this year — having gained roughly 6 per cent against its peers since April — cannot persist in the face of gaping "twin deficits:" when a country runs both fiscal and current account deficits. In fact, the dollar can remain strong.But: over the medium term, bears still have their pick of worrisome signals about the dollar's path. History shows that "twin deficits" can produce a stronger dollar. After Reagan's tax cuts in 1981, both the budget and current account deficits soared. Rather than weaken, we saw the dollar climb some 32 per cent between 1981-86. Here's a chart from George Saravelos of Deutsche Bank showing the fluctuations:

 How Trump Could Fatally Weaken the Dollar - The United States dollar seems to be under threat from multiple quarters. Countries that have been hit by American sanctions, such as Iran and Russia, economic rivals like China, and even allies in the European Union want to shake off the dollar’s tight grip on global finance.For now, they are out of luck. The American economy and financial markets are the largest in the world, and there are no good alternatives.In the long run, however, the rest of the world might get its wish. The dollar’s status as the dominant global reserve currency is the result of faith in America’s strong institutions. This includes the checks and balances among different arms of government, the rule of law and an independent central bank. These institutions have proved durable and earned the trust of global investors, who see the dollar as a safe haven in troubled times. But President Trump and his acolytes are undermining those very institutions with their words and actions. Other countries have long chafed at the dollar’s dominance in global finance. Nearly two-thirds of the foreign exchange reserves held by the world’s central banks’, essentially their rainy-day funds, are held in dollars. It is the currency used to denominate and settle a significant part of international financial transactions. Almost all commodity contracts, including those for oil, are priced and settled in dollars. This gives the United States a lot of power. Since dollar transactions usually involve the American banking system, the United States government can put a chokehold on countries like Iran and Russia by limiting their access to global finance. But the Trump administration, and its allies in Congress, are wreaking havoc on the institutions that have made the dollar dominant for so long.Republicans in Congress have abrogated their role to act as a check on the powers of the President. They have merrily gone along with harmful economic policies, including tax cuts that will add at least $1 trillion to government debt when the economy is doing well and needs no help from the government. And they have willingly accepted weakening of regulation on banks and other parts of the economy, raising the risks of financial market problems in the future.

Bond Traders Are Paid Big to Dump U.S. Treasuries and Go Abroad  There’s never been a more profitable time for U.S. investors to ditch Treasuries and go abroad. By now, everyone knows Treasuries have been a lousy bet. But because of a quirk in the way currency markets work, there’s even less reason for investors to park their money in U.S. government bonds. Those with dollars to spare can lock in historically high returns in Europe and Japan, even though yields in the two markets are among the lowest in the developed world. In fact, dollar investors are getting paid more than ever to enter a trade that takes the currency risk out of their euro-based returns. As a result, they can earn what amounts to 3.8 percent a year from ultra low-yielding 10-year German bunds -- more than a half-percentage point above Treasuries. Aside from Italy, hedged U.S. investors would have done better putting their money into the bonds of any developed nation this year rather than Treasuries.“These low-yield bonds pack a pretty big punch after hedging,” said Jim Caron, a fund manager at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, which oversees $474 billion. Caron is using the strategy to buy euro bonds and highlighted Spain, where he can get effective yields of nearly 5 percent on 10-year notes. “We do this across all of our portfolios. This is a lucrative quirk.” But more than just being a savvy trade idea, it underscores how the longstanding and popular narrative of the U.S. as a go-to destination for yield-seeking bond investors is little more than an illusion. The reason is simple: The trade cuts both ways. While U.S. investors have few incentives to stay at home, the sky-high cost for foreigners to hedge the dollar means they have little cause to buy Treasuries. In some cases, their effective yields can fall below zero. Any letup in demand could drive up U.S. borrowing costs, at a time when the government can ill-afford to lose investors as it raises ever more debt to meet its widening budget deficits.

 US budget deficit jumps 17% in 2018 - The federal government is running up its credit bill again.The deficit rose to $779 billion in fiscal year 2018, up 17% from last year, according to final figures released Monday by the Treasury Department. That's the largest number since 2012, when the country was still spending massively to stimulate an economy struggling to recover.Government receipts were flat this year from last year. Corporate tax collections fell $76 billion, or 22%, due to the Republican-backed tax cut. But that drop was more than offset by increased revenues from individual and self-employment taxes. The fiscal year ended September 30.Spending rose 3% over the previous year, fueled in part by  increases to the defense budget agreed upon in September 2017 as part of a deal between Republicans and Democrats to head off a government shutdown. Social Security and interest on the federal debt also contributed to the increase.The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a think tank that warns of the dangers of rising debt levels, said the deficit could reach $1 trillion as soon as next year. That would still be below a high of $1.4 trillion reached in 2009, but in a vastly different economy.

Deficit hits six-year high of $779 billion: Treasury The federal government spent $779 billion more than it took in during the 2018 fiscal year, the highest deficit since 2012, according to Treasury Department data released Monday. The deficit rose 17 percent from the previous year, fueled by the 2017 GOP tax cuts and a bipartisan agreement to increase spending. Treasury projected that the deficit will surpass $1 trillion in fiscal 2019, which began Oct. 1. Overall receipts were similar to the previous year, up 0.5 percent despite a booming economy and a low unemployment rate. Outlays, however, rose six times faster, surpassing $4.1 trillion. Earlier this month, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office issued a similar deficit figure of $782 billion. The fiscal performance is at odds with what President Trump promised on the campaign trail, when he said he would eliminate the debt over two terms. Fiscal 2018 was the first full fiscal year under Trump's watch, and debt has risen from $20 trillion to around $21.5 trillion since he took office. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney issued a joint statement that blamed Congress for the increasing deficits, arguing that the president had requested far-reaching spending cuts in his budget proposals. "The President’s Budget has provided multiple avenues for Congress to tackle reckless Washington spending with aggressive proposals that reduced deficits by $3.6 trillion over 10 years," according to a document released Monday by the Treasury. "The Administration will work with Members of Congress on a renewed focus to reduce the deficit and get our fiscal house back in order." “Going forward the President’s economic policies that have stimulated strong economic growth, combined with proposals to cut wasteful spending, will lead America toward a sustainable financial path,” Mnuchin said.

US Spending On Interest Hits All Time High As Budget Deficit In Trump's First Year Soars To $779  - One month ago we already knew that the U.S. budget deficit for the 2018 fiscal year - Trump's first full year in office - would be jarring after the August deficit soared to $211 billion, nearly double the deficit gap from one year ago (largely due to calendar quirks) which on a cumulative basis for the first 11 months of the fiscal year was a staggering $895 billion, $222 billion or 39% more than the previous year. This was largely due to outlays which climbed 7% while revenue rose a mere 1%. Today at 2pm we got official confirmation of the rapid expansion in the US budget deficit when the Treasury announced that in Trumps first full fiscal year as president, the U.S. budget deficit grew 17% to $779 billion from $666 billion.... the highest full year total since 2012 amid tax cuts and spending increases, if below the trailing 12 month total as of August which, as noted above, was a whopping $895 billion. The budget gap for the 12 month period ended September was 17% greater than the same 12-month period a year earlier, as spending rose 3.2% and revenue gained just 0.4%. The deficit as a share of GDP was 3.9% in fiscal 2018, up 0.4% point from the prior year.To fund this deficit, the U.S. government borrowed $1.08 trillion from the public in Fiscal 2018, more than double the amount borrowed in 2017 ($498.3 billion) and the most borrowed from the public in a fiscal year since FY'12. There was some good news: contrary to more pessimistic expectations, the surplus for the fiscal year's final month of September jumped to $119 billion, the largest windfall for the last month of any fiscal year on record. However, like in August, there were calendar effects in play - and if not for timing shifts, last month's surplus would have been just $44BN, $7BN (13%) less than Sep '17 surplus. In actual terms, the surplus was the result of a sharp drop in Federal Outlays from $433.3BN in August to $224.4BN in September, down from $340.8BN a year prior. This was the lowest one month spending total since June 2013. At the same time receipts jumped from $219.1BN in August to $343.6BN in September, fractionally lower than the $348.7BN collected a year prior. But the most troubling observation in the latest data was that the government paid $523 billion in total interest in fiscal 2018, the highest on record. But wait, there's more, because as we warned last month, these numbers are set to deteriorate rapidly: according to the Congressional Budget Office, the government deficit will hit $973 billion in fiscal 2019 and rise above $1 trillion the next year. That would be the first time the deficit exceeds $1 trillion since 2012, when the American economy was still recovering from the Great Recession. A key culprit for receipts not keeping up with spending are Republican tax cuts, while increased federal spending and an aging population have also contributed to the fiscal strains, though the GOP says tax reform enacted this year will spur economic growth and lift government revenue. Meanwhile, corporate income-tax receipts fell 31% in fiscal 2018 while individual income taxes gained 6.1%.

 U.S. Deficit Defies Economic ‘Boomtime’ - Despite a growing economy, the U.S. deficit has risen 17 percent for the fiscal year ending September 30th, hitting $779 billion. This is the highest level since 2012, when it hit $1 trillion—but in the aftermath of a recession. This year’s excuse doesn’t include recession damage control. In fact, it somehow includes the backdrop of a stable economy, with record-low unemployment, modestly rising wages and inflation that’s mostly under control.So while economic growth usually leads to higher tax revenues and higher household income, which in turn enables more government spending and lower deficits, 2018 is defying the trend.According to the U.S. Department of Treasury, tax cuts mean revenue cuts that coincide with higher government expenses coupled with new government spending under Trump’s first full-year budget.The Treasury Department data showed that while government receipts were flat from last year to this year, corporate tax collections fell 22 percent, by $76 billion, which was in turn offset by increased revenues from individual and self-employment taxes. There was also a registered 35-percent revenue increase for the month of September 2018 from “excise, customs and other” sources possibly attributed to new tariffs. But the overall picture is one of spending rising faster than revenues, though. Spending rose 3 percent on the fiscal year, with more defense spending and increases in social security and federal debt interest.

McConnell Blames Entitlements, Not GOP, for Rising Deficits - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blamed rising federal deficits and debt on a bipartisan unwillingness to contain spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and said he sees little chance of a major deficit reduction deal while Republicans control Congress and the White House.“It’s disappointing, but it’s not a Republican problem,” McConnell said Tuesday in an interview with Bloomberg News when asked about the rising deficits and debt. “It’s a bipartisan problem: unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future.”McConnell’s remarks came a day after the Treasury Department said the U.S. budget deficit grew to $779 billion in Donald Trump’s first full fiscal year as president, the result of the GOP’s tax cuts, bipartisan spending increases and rising interest payments on the national debt. That’s a 77 percent increase from the $439 billion deficit in fiscal 2015, when McConnell became majority leader.McConnell said it would be “very difficult to do entitlement reform, and we’re talking about Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid,” with one party in charge of Congress and the White House.“I think it’s pretty safe to say that entitlement changes, which is the real driver of the debt by any objective standard, may well be difficult if not impossible to achieve when you have unified government,” McConnell said. Shrinking those popular programs -- either by reducing benefits or raising the retirement age -- without a bipartisan deal would risk a political backlash in the next election. Trump promised during his campaign that he wouldn’t cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, even though his budget proposals have included trims to all three programs.

Mitch McConnell Calls to Cut Social Security, Medicare -After instituting a $1.5 trillion tax cut and signing off on a $675 billion budget for the Department of Defense, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that the only way to lower the record-high federal deficit would be to cut entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security."It’s disappointing but it’s not a Republican problem," McConnell said of the deficit, which grew 17 percent to $779 billion in fiscal year 2018. McConnell explained to Bloomberg that "it’s a bipartisan problem: Unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future." The deficit has increased 77 percent since McConnell became majority leader in 2015.New Treasury Department analysis on Monday revealed that corporate tax cuts had a significant impact on the deficit this year. Federal revenue rose by 0.04 percent in 2018, a nearly 100 percent decrease last year’s 1.5 percent. In fiscal year 2018, tax receipts on corporate income fell to $205 billion from $297 billion in 2017.Still, McConnell insisted that the change had nothing to do with a lack of revenue or increased spending and instead was due to entitlement and welfare programs. The debt, he said, was very “disturbing” and driven by “the three big entitlement programs that are very popular, Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid...There’s been a bipartisan reluctance to tackle entitlement changes because of the popularity of those programs. Hopefully, at some point here, we’ll get serious about this.”  President Donald Trump promised to leave Medicare untouched on the campaign trail, but Republican leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan and Florida Senator Marco Rubio have long indicated their desire to cut entitlement programs to pay for their tax cuts. "You have got to generate economic growth because growth generates revenue,” Rubio said at a Politico conference late last year. "But you also have to bring spending under control. And not discretionary spending. That isn’t the driver of our debt. The driver of our debt is the structure of Social Security and Medicare for future beneficiaries."

As midterms near, Democrats accuse GOP of plotting to cut Medicare, Social Security -- Democrats issued warnings Wednesday about the peril Republicans pose to Medicare and Social Security, accusing the GOP of plotting to cut critical safety net programs to close a budget deficit of their own making.“A vote for Republican candidates in this election is a vote to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid,” argued Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).Van Hollen and other Democrats pounced on comments from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in which the top Senate Republican blamed social programs for the growing deficit and said he hoped Congress would tackle spending on them “at some point here.”The Democrats’ alarm bells about deficits, which are reaching $1 trillion annually, came three weeks ahead of midterm elections that will decide control of Congress. President Trump himself expressed new concern about government spending Wednesday, telling members of his Cabinet that they should plan to cut 5 percent from their agencies’ budgets while offering few details except to say the Pentagon budget would largely be spared. As reporters looked on, Trump promised the cuts will “have a huge impact.”Congress would have to approve the spending cuts, and lawmakers have rejected the president’s past budgets. But Trump’s push represents a recent refocusing on spending and the deficit. Trump has been meeting with senior advisers about the budget in recent days and trying to formulate a budget strategy. A report from the White House budget office and the Treasury Department Monday showed the deficit had grown 17 percent last year to $779 billion, with projections that it would eclipse $1 trillion annually by 2020.

Trump asks Cabinet secretaries for 5% budget cut -  President Donald Trump on Wednesday instructed every agency secretary in his Cabinet to cut 5% from their budget for next year. "I think you’ll all be able to do it. There may be a special exemption, perhaps. I don’t know who that exemption would be," Trump told Cabinet members during a meeting at the White House. Trump added "some people at the table" could cut "substantially more" than 5% of their budgets. "There are some people here at the table, I’m not going to point you out, but there are some people that can do substantially more than that. Because now that we have our military taken care of, we have our law enforcement taken care of, we can do things that we really weren’t in a position to do when I first came," he said. Democrats in Congress have blamed the Republican tax plan for ballooning the deficit. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren claimed it amounted to a "$1.5 trillion in tax giveaways to wealthy donors." The federal deficit, essentially the difference between the federal government’s revenue and how much it spent, rose to $779 billion in fiscal year 2018, up 17% from last year, according to final figures released Monday by the Treasury Department. Thats the largest number since 2012, when the country was still spending massively to stimulate an economy struggling to recover. The White House has steadfastly defended its policies, maintaining that the yawning gap is a reason to cut deeper into social programs to balance out increases to the military budget. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, a notable debt hawk while he was a congressman, said the numbers underscored a need to cut spending. Last week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin suggested in an interview with CNN that Democrats; resistance to cutting government spending on education, health care and other social programs was to blame for deficit increases. 

 Analysis: Here’s Why Trump’s Budget Proposal May Cut Deeper Than Advertised - President Donald Trump’s new push to trim the proposed budgets of all federal agencies next year could prove more draconian than it sounds, amounting to a 25 percent cut for all nondefense programs compared to the current year.Technically, the request is for 5 percent cuts across the Cabinet departments, as Trump laid out at a White House event Wednesday: “We’re going to ask every [Cabinet] secretary to cut 5 percent for next year,” Trump told reporters, presumably referring to fiscal 2020, beginning next October.An across-the-board cut of 5 percent from all discretionary spending likely to be enacted in fiscal 2019 would amount to about $62 billion, not counting money for war-related operations and natural disasters. However politically unpalatable that may be, such cuts could actually understate the depths of reductions the administration may be envisioning.That’s because if recent history is any guide, the reductions may not come from current spending, but from already depressed fiscal 2020 levels previously laid out in the February budget request. The Obama administration Office of Management and Budget asked agencies to cut their proposed budgets by 5 percent in that fashion on at least four occasions. If that’s the case with the Trump OMB this time, it would mean fiscal 2020 nondefense discretionary budget authority in his request due next February would be roughly $445 billion — a whopping $152 billion, or 25 percent, cut from the fiscal 2019 cap signed into law by Trump in February. That would also be nearly $100 billion below the austere fiscal 2020 nondefense funding required under the 2011 deficit reduction law — already reviled by lawmakers from both parties — which snaps back into place upon expiration of the February deal after fiscal 2019.

Tyndall Air Force Base a ‘Complete Loss’ Amid Questions About Stealth Fighters - NYT - Sitting in the ruined airplane hangars of Tyndall Air Force Base, which was shredded on Wednesday when Hurricane Michael swept across the Florida Panhandle, may be some of the Air Force’s most advanced — and most expensive — stealth fighter jets.Tyndall is home to 55 F-22 stealth fighters, which cost a dizzying $339 million each. Before the storm, the Air Force sent at least 33 of the fighters to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.Air Force officials have not disclosed the whereabouts of the remaining 22 planes, other than to say that a number of aircraft were left at the base because of maintenance or safety reasons. An Air Force spokeswoman, Maj. Malinda Singleton, would not confirm that any of the aircraft left behind were F-22s.But photos and video from the wreckage of the base showed the distinctive contours of the F-22’s squared tail fins and angled vertical stabilizers amid a jumble of rubble in the base’s largest building, Hangar 5. Another photo shows the distinctive jet in a smaller hangar that had its doors and a wall ripped off by wind.All of the hangars at the base were damaged, Major Singleton said Friday. “We anticipate the aircraft parked inside may be damaged as well,” she said, “but we won’t know the extent until our crews can safely enter those hangars and make an assessment.” The high-tech F-22 is notoriously finicky and not always flight-worthy. An Air Force report this year found that on average, only about 49 percent of F-22s were mission ready at any given time — the lowest rate of any fighter in the Air Force. The total value of the 22 fighters that may remain at Tyndall is about $7.5 billion.The high-tech F-22 is notoriously finicky and not always flight-worthy. An Air Force report this year found that on average, only about 49 percent of F-22s were mission ready at any given time — the lowest rate of any fighter in the Air Force. The total value of the 22 fighters that may remain at Tyndall is about $7.5 billion.Hurricane Michael hit the base with unexpected force. Winds roaring up to 130 miles per hour broke the base’s wind gauge. Hangars where Air Force jets have sheltered during past tropical storms began to groan and shudder before being ripped to ribbons. The eye of the storm cut directly over the base, which sits on a narrow spit of land that juts into the Gulf of Mexico, about a dozen miles south of Panama City. Trees bent in the howling wind, then splintered. Stormproof roofs only a few months old peeled like old paint and were scraped away by the gale. An F-15 fighter jet on display at the base entrance was ripped from its foundation and pitched onto its back amid twisted flagpoles and uprooted trees.

Hackers breach US defense department travel records -- Unidentified hackers breached travel records at the US Department of Defense, the US military said on Friday. The department uncovered the breach on October 4, but a defense official told the Associated Press news agency that it may have occurred months earlier. The perpetrators were able to gain access to the personal and credit card data of up to 30,000 workers, he added. "The department is continuing to assess the risk of harm and will ensure notifications are made to affected personnel," the department said in a statement. It added that it was investigating the scale of the breach and the identity of the hackers. The announcement came days after a US government report criticized the Department of Defense for slow progress in securing major US weapons systems from hackers.

Pentagon chief's future cast into doubt after Trump's remarks - (Xinhua) -- U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis is one of the longest serving members of U.S. President Donald Trump's cabinet, but a remark made by Trump Sunday has put Mattis's position into doubt. "I think he's sort of a Democrat, if you want to know the truth," Trump said in an interview that aired Sunday on the TV show "60 Minutes," adding that "But General Mattis is a good guy. We get along very well. He may leave. I mean, at some point, everybody leaves. Everybody. People leave. That's Washington." Trump said he and Mattis enjoyed a "very good relationship," but the remark nevertheless raised questions about Mattis's future as the U.S. defense chief. Pentagon spokesman Robert Manning said in a statement in response to Trump's remark Sunday that "Secretary Mattis is laser-focused on doing his job -- ensuring the U.S. military remains the most lethal force on the planet." Trump's remarks came days after Mattis was asked by the media whether he was going to "stick around" after U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley announced her resignation.Mattis said at the time that "things are going fine." Rumors about a potential exit for Mattis, often labeled a grown-up figure in the Trump administration, have been circulating for weeks. 

‘I’m 100% With You,’ Trump Tells Mattis After Hinting at the Secretary’s Departure --Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said President Trump reassured him that he has his full support, even after Mr. Trump said in an interview that the two may not be politically aligned and that the secretary’s resignation could be imminent. “He said, ‘I’m 100% with you,’” Mr. Mattis told reporters traveling with him to Vietnam, where he is meeting with local officials before a broader meeting this week in Singapore. There, Asian defense chiefs will be confronted with uncertainty over how long the U.S. secretary will remain in his job. Mr. Mattis said Mr. Trump offered the assurances during a phone call about Hurricane Michael relief as Mr. Trump traveled to Florida. But even before that call, Mr. Mattis dismissed the president’s most pointed critiques of him. “I’m on his team. We have never talked about me leaving,” Mr. Mattis told reporters on Monday, the first time he responded publicly about the president’s comments. .Some in the Pentagon have said they feared Mr. Mattis was being urged to leave through Mr. Trump’s public comments, similar to Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, pushed out in April as the president’s national security adviser, and Jeff Sessions, who is widely expected to leave his attorney general post later this year. Mr. Trump, in an interview with “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday, called his defense chief “sort of a Democrat,” a veiled critique as the president rallies his Republican base head of the midterm elections next month. The president said he wasn’t sure how long Mr. Mattis, one of the last senior cabinet members still in place from Mr. Trump’s first days in office, would stay in his job, saying, “He may leave. I mean, at some point, everybody leaves.” Mr. Mattis corrected the president’s assertion of his political affiliation, saying he had “never registered for any political party.” The retired Marine Corps general said his apolitical position was a natural result of his long military service, which demands that service members salute and serve the commander in chief, regardless of personal or political opinions. During the interview, the president said he knew more than Mr. Mattis about managing the U.S. relationship with NATO, which has been buffeted over the past two years by Mr. Trump’s disparaging remarks. NATO leaders have viewed Mr. Mattis as an advocate for continuing the practices of the seven-decade alliance. The president’s remarks were the sharpest criticism of his most popular cabinet member, one whom some of Mr. Trump’s critics have viewed as a stabilizing force in the administration.

 It's All About Space - Trump Says Russia And China Are Ahead Of US Space Force - The US needs its own space force because China and Russia have already gotten a head start, but American ingenuity and the ability to make the "greatest rockets" in the world are right here at home, President Trump said at a rally in Richmond, Kentucky Saturday night.“Russia has already started, China has already started. They’ve got a start, but we have the greatest people in the world, we make the greatest equipment in the world, we make the greatest rockets, and missiles, and tanks, and ships in the world.”  He said his record $700bn+ military budget that would “fully rebuild the American military” and vaunted that creation of the Space Force, first announced last June, is already underway.  “You know it's all about space. It's all about space. Defense, offense, everything is going to soon be all about space," Trump said before a packed audience in Kentucky.Based on details from comments made by Vice President Mike Pence in August, the US Space Force is set to become the sixth branch of the Military as well as to help ensure “American dominance in space” by 2020.Trump was echoing Pence's prior emphasis, that moving forward on a US military space program is ultimately in response to other nations' advances in the area. Pence had pointed out, for example, that Beijing's People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Strategic Support Force is overseeing the developing and maintaining of the PLA’s space capabilities.

'Trump Wants To Have Me Killed', Says Venezuela's Maduro -- As the US continues to send not-so-subtle signals that it could be open to a military invasion of Venezuela after a US-supported coup plot involving Venezuelan military officers fizzled, Nicolas Maduro - who only a few months ago evaded a bizarre assassination attempt involving C4-laden drones - has accused the Trump Administration of conspiring to have him assassinated. When approached for a response to Maduro's comments, a White House spokesman did little to rebut his claims, saying only that the US's "policy preference" is "for a peaceful, orderly return to democracy in Venezuela." Given Venezuela's ailing energy infrastructure, and US sanctions that have made it difficult for the Maduro regime to sell its oil or tap capital markets for funding, the government has been forced to rely on China and, to a lesser extent, Russia to keep it afloat. But China's latest money for oil deal hasn't been enough to plug the gaping hole in the socialist country's budget, and the country's frenzied money printing has stoked expectations that the country's inflation rate will surge to 1.37 million percent by the end of next year. Meanwhile, the IMF earlier this week reaffirmed its forecast that Venezuela's GDP will shrink by 18% during 2018. Nearly 2 million Venezuelans have fled since 2015 as the economic mismanagement under Maduro left the oil rich nation with crippling shortages of food and medicine. In response, Maduro has authorized violent crackdowns on street protests and dissent. Earlier this week, the US accused Maduro of ordering the death of a jailed opposition leader who died in police custody. They say he killed himself. But in a televised broadcast, Maduro accused Colombia and the US of conspiring to kill him. The president has long claimed that he has been the target of an "economic war" orchestrated by Washington that has been the true cause of Venezuela's societal collapse. 

 The Use and Misuse of Economic Statecraft: How Washington is Abusing Its Financial Might - Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has come to rely more and more on economic tools to advance its foreign policy goals. Some of these tools, such as sanctions, involve the direct application of economic pressure. Others, such as the promotion of free trade and open markets, work by changing other countries’ incentives. But all of them rest on a recognition that unrivaled economic power gives the United States a singular capacity to pursue its interests without resorting to force. But economic power, like any tool, can have unfortunate results if wielded unwisely, producing unwanted short-term consequences and prompting the long-term decline of U.S. economic leadership. Today, Washington is increasingly using its economic power in aggressive and counterproductive ways, undermining its global position and thus its ability to act effectively in the future. Symptoms of the problem have been evident for years, but it has gotten markedly worse under the Trump administration, which has pursued reckless tariffs against both allies and rivals, reimposed sanctions on Iran without any pretense of international support, and acted in both cases with little evident regard for the negative consequences to U.S. interests. Every policy presents a tradeoff. Yet U.S. officials seem to have adopted the belief that the United States is so large and powerful that the laws of economic and political gravity no longer apply to it. According to this line of thinking, the country can start trade wars and no one will retaliate because, in the words of Peter Navarro, the director of the Trump administration’s National Trade Council, “we are the most lucrative and biggest market in the world.” The United States can threaten sanctions against its closest partners and allies, and they will somehow still cooperate, now and in the future. And it can continue to make poor economic choices, and the primacy of the U.S. dollar will somehow remain unchallenged.

Erdogan Frees US Pastor While Still Managing to Embarrass Trump - Recep Tayyip Erdogan could teach Donald Trump a few things about bullying. The Turkish leader has largely accomplished in his own country what Trump’s critics think the U.S. president would like to do in the United States: taking control of its politics and media and masterfully directing the national narrative. Since a failed military coup in July 2016, he’s shut down one media outlet after another; last month, Erdogan’s cronies appeared to assume control of Turkey’s last independent newspaper. When it comes to the international arena, however, Erdogan is getting out-narrated and out-bullied. Or so it seems at first glance. The latest instance came Friday, when, after two years of bluster and falsified evidence, Turkey abruptly released an imprisoned U.S. pastor, Andrew Brunson. It was a tacit concession by the Turkish president that his country could no longer stand the pain inflicted by U.S. sanctions—which Trump doubled in August on aluminum and steel, in addition to withholding delivery on 100 F-35 jets. The Turkish lira had been plummeting since August, and the Turkish economy may already be in recession. But who really won this week? Senior Trump administration officials were happy about Brunson’s release, which they touted as a triumph for the president’s tough stand, including his imposition of sanctions on Turkey’s justice and interior ministers. But U.S. officials had little time to celebrate. That’s because they were struggling the same week with Turkey’s carefully orchestrated release of details in the horrific case of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist allegedly killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. The torrent of leaks from Turkey, culminating in a stomach-turning story in the Washington Post late Thursday that detailed audio and video recordings of Khashoggi’s alleged torture and murder, has embarrassed Trump during a mostly high-riding month of news. Trump faced bipartisan Senate resistance to his embrace of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is believed to be responsible for ordering Khashoggi’s alleged murder.

US Knew of Saudi Plan to Seize Missing Journalist -- U.S. intelligence services intercepted communications of Saudi officials discussing a plan to capture Saudi journalist and government critic Jamal Khashoggi, whose disappearance in Turkey last week threatens to damage the warm ties between the kingdom and Washington. The Saudis were discussing a plan to lure Khashoggi back to the kingdom, The Washington Post reported, citing a person familiar with the communications, which were intercepted before he vanished. Khashoggi, a columnist for the newspaper, was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 and is feared to be detained or dead. It wasn’t clear whether the Saudis wanted to interrogate or kill him, or whether the U.S. warned the journalist he was a target, the person said. A Turkish official, speaking anonymously and without providing evidence, has said the 59-year-old journalist was murdered by a 15-member team sent for the task. The Saudi government has denied the allegation, but without producing any proof to back up Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s assertion that Khashoggi exited the building. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he planned to contact Saudi authorities over the case. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said it’s “imperative” that the Saudi government give clear answers about what happened to Khashoggi. “If there was any truth to the allegations of wrongdoing by the Saudi government it would be devastating to the US-Saudi relationship and there will be a heavy price to be paid -- economically and otherwise,” Graham wrote on Twitter. “Our country’s values should be and must be a cornerstone of our foreign policy with foes and allies alike.”.

US, European powers threaten Saudi crown prince after Khashoggi murder - Mounting evidence that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the gruesome October 2 murder of Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi has unleashed a political crisis of global proportions. Over the weekend, Turkish officials again charged that Saudi Arabia sent a 15-man death squad to the Saudi consulate, armed with a bone saw, to murder and dismember Khashoggi and transport his remains out of Turkey. The daily Sabah wrote that Khashoggi’s Apple watch, synced to the iPhone he left with his Turkish fiancée Hatice Cengiz outside the consulate, recorded his murder: “The moments when Khashoggi was interrogated, tortured and murdered were recorded in the Apple Watch’s memory.” US intelligence officials endorsed the authenticity of these recordings, possibly taken from bugs planted by Turkish intelligence in the consulate. They told the Washington Post: “The voice recording from inside the embassy lays out what happened to Jamal after he entered. You can hear his voice and the voices of men speaking Arabic. You can hear how he was interrogated, tortured and then murdered.” These charges against America’s closest Middle East ally, also the world’s largest oil exporter at the heart of the global financial system, expose the brazen criminality of the entire financial aristocracy. A profound contradiction underlies the official response to Khashoggi’s murder. US and European businessmen and politicians are deeply tied to the brutal Saudi regime, which underwrites both US war strategy in the Middle East and the capitalist financial system as a whole. They are flocking to the “Davos in the Desert” conference planned for this month in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. The initial conference last year was attended by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Among those still slated to attend this year’s conference are US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, and BlackRock investment firm CEO Lawrence Fink, whom Barron’s magazine recently crowned the “New Conscience of Wall Street.”

Is This the Break With Saudi Arabia We’ve Been Waiting For? If the reports of Jamal Khashoggi’s abduction, murder, and dismemberment at the hands of a Saudi kill team dispatched to Istanbul prove correct, his death might achieve what years of abuses by a despotic government have failed to: a meaningful rebuke by the U.S. and its Western allies.That may have begun with a “60 Minutes” interview of President Donald Trump on Sunday. He said his administration is seeking to “get to the bottom of” the reporter’s disappearance, and if it turns out the reports of Khashoggi’s murder are correct, there would be “severe punishment” for the Kingdom. The comments came as the Saudi stock market continued to plunge on Sunday.Despite its alleged complicity in the 9/11 attacks, a long history of supporting radical Islamist groups, one of the world’s worst human rights records, and the prosecution of a savage war in Yemen, Saudi Arabia—up until now—has largely escaped censure by both Republicans and Democrats in Washington.  In fact, politicians from both parties have implausibly lauded Saudi Arabia as one of Washington’s most important allies. However, the Trump administration appeared to have taken this obsequious approach to the House of Saud to a new level. He and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have lavished praise on Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, often referred to as MbS. In his speech to the United Nations in September, Trump singled out the Saudi king and crown prince citing their “bold new reforms.” The president has hardly been alone. For much of the last three years, the crown prince has been able to count on a devoted fan club that includes prominent columnists, philanthropists, and titans of industry. By contrast, Khashoggi, a onetime insider who advised ranking princes of the House of Saud, is a prominent and well-informed critic of MbS and his policies. Khashoggi has rubuked the Saudi-led war in Yemen and its push to launch an unprovoked invasion of Qatar. However, despite his criticism, Khashoggi remained a stalwart Saudi nationalist whose columns for The Washington Post often emphasized his interest in saving Saudi Arabia from itself or rather from its capricious young leader.

Trump, Saudis Escalate Threats – WSJ - The White House and Saudi Arabia traded sharp words over the suspected killing of a dissident Saudi journalist as the case tests the Trump administration efforts to make the kingdom the linchpin of its Middle East policy. On Sunday, Riyadh vowed to retaliate against any punitive measures from Washington and delivered a pointed reminder that the world’s top oil exporter “plays an impactful and active role in the global economy.” The comments came after President Trump pledged to impose “severe punishment” on Riyadh if an investigation implicates the kingdom in the case of Jamal Khashoggi, who disappeared after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Turkish officials say a team of alleged Saudi assassins apprehended and likely killed a Saudi journalist in Istanbul. The Saudis have denied any involvement but Jamal Khashoggi has not been seen since he entered the Saudi Consulate on Oct.2.  . Trump has put Saudi Arabia and its crown prince at the center of a Middle East policy aimed at challenging Iran, which is Riyadh’s main rival in the region, trying to broker an end to the Palestinian-Israeli crisis and countering extremism. Mr. Trump chose Saudi Arabia as the site of his first overseas presidential trip. Now relations are under scrutiny, and ties between Washington and Turkey, a regional competitor to the Saudis, could be improving. Mr. Trump declared on Saturday that the U.S. is now on track to have “a terrific relationship with Turkey” after it agreed to free an American pastor, Andrew Brunson. The case of Mr. Khashoggi is forcing the Trump administration to recalibrate on a number of issues, from military aid to sanctions to business ties. The private sector is also adjusting. JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive James Dimon will no longer attend Riyadh’s premier business conference set for later this month, a bank spokesman said Sunday. .Saudi Arabia has been implicated by Turkish officials in Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance, and has denied he is in custody. Turkey says it has audio and video recordings purporting to show that Mr. Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate. While the U.S. has been cautious not to make any public statements about the fate of Mr. Khashoggi while an investigation is under way, Mr. Trump said on Saturday that it is “not looking too good.” In an interview with “60 Minutes,” portions of which were broadcast Saturday, Mr. Trump said he would be “very upset and angry” if the allegations against Saudi Arabia concerning Mr. Khashoggi prove true, and vowed there would be consequences. But he also said he opposed sanctions against the U.S. ally because it may hurt jobs in the U.S. tied to a $100 billion arms deal with the kingdom.

Trump and the boy king: Mohammed bin Salman’s reign is over before it even began -- As the nightly drip feed of detail has come out about the killing - the identity of the passengers on the private jets, the bone saw used to dismember Khashoggi's body, the news I broke that he was dragged out of the consul general’s office, and now a gruesome audio and visual recording of Khashoggi's interrogation, torture and death, has been shared by the Turks with Western allies - so this has become a huge crisis for the White House and for America. The dimensions of this crisis are just dawning. This is a barbaric act of which the Islamic State group (IS) would have been proud. A wholly innocent and high profile victim was trapped, beaten, tortured and sacrificed like an animal. But this was not committed by religious fanatics. It was ordered and committed by America's chief Arab ally in the Middle East on its diplomatic premises, using state resources. Riyadh continues to deny responsibility for the murder. Saudi officials have strongly denied any involvement in his disappearance and say that he left the consulate in Istanbul soon after arriving. However, they have not presented any evidence to corroborate their claim and say that video cameras at the consulate were not recording at the time. Hurricane Jamal has made landfall in Virginia and is now heading for the White House. "This thing happened in Turkey and Khashoggi isn't even a US citizen," US President Donald Trump claimed in vain last night. But by then, Khashoggi was no longer just a Saudi dissident, one of many. He had become "a Virginia resident". The storm began to rip up certainties, all the way along Pennsylvania Avenue: that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, from whose personal bodyguard some of the 15 assassins were drawn, was "our man". "We've put our man on top!" Trump told his friends,   The man who created bin Salman, promoted him and redirected the entire US foreign policy, military and security establishments to place their trust on his shoulders, is Trump. And it is Trump who allowed the crown prince to act with total impunity.

 Journalist's disappearance the 'first big policy crisis' for Trump administration: Ex-NATO commander --There's about a 50-50 chance that tensions between the United States and Saudi Arabia significantly escalate, retired Adm. James Stavridis told CNBC on Monday.International outcry over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is already growing. On Monday, President Donald Trump said he would "immediately" send Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet with Saudi Arabia's King Salman. Trump also suggested "rogue killers" might have murdered Khashoggi."This is the first true foreign policy crisis of the administration," said Stavridis, former NATO supreme allied commander.King Salman has ordered an internal investigation into the disappearance of Khashoggi, who was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. The journalist, a Saudi national, is a critic of the royal family and lives in the U.S. under self-imposed exile."If we don't get answers as to what happened, this could get very inflamed," Stavridis said on "Power Lunch.""Who's the big winner? Iran, which will continue to press across the entire region and the potential for instability rises," he said.  Stavridis called Pompeo's pending visit a good move. "We can't just let this go. That doesn't mean that we're going to end up absolutely shattering this vital relationship with the kingdom but we're going to have to have some answers before we take next steps, which could include some level of sanctions," he said. "That's the path that gets us down in flames."

Five things to watch for in deteriorating US-Saudi relations The Hill. U.S.-Saudi relations are weakening following the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist and critic of the Saudi government.Lawmakers on Capitol Hill were already losing patience with Saudi Arabia over its military conduct in the Yemen civil war, which has resulted in thousands of civilian deaths, widespread famine and other devastation.The alleged killing of Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi operatives in Istanbul appears to be the last straw for many lawmakers, who have threatened a variety of punitive measures, including ending U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, cutting off support for the Yemen campaign and imposing sanctions. But President Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who’s considered the country's day-to-day leader, have fostered a close relationship since Trump took office. Though the president warned this week that there would be "severe punishment" if Saudi Arabia is shown to be behind Khashoggi's disappearance.  Here are five things to watch as U.S.-Saudi relations are tested.

The Saudis may not have realized how unpopular they are outside the White House - The Saudi government spends tens of millions of dollars every year on lobbying in Washington and has, to a large extent, gotten a good return on its investment. President Donald Trump made the kingdom his first foreign visit as president last year, he repeatedly touts his friendship with the royal family, and he singled out Saudi Arabia as part of a “beautiful constellation” of like-minded nations in his speech to the United Nations last month. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman got a warm welcome from Washington, Silicon Valley and Hollywood during his trip to the U.S. last spring. And the United States has mostly looked the other way as the crown prince has continued to lock up his critics, carried on bizarre feuds with U.S. allies, detained the prime minister of a sovereign state and, most egregiously, continued a brutal war with a sickening civilian toll in impoverished Yemen. But the surprisingly strong reaction to the disappearance and likely murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi indicates that the Saudi government overestimated its popularity in the United States. While few can match Trump for sycophancy, he’s certainly not the first president to stick up for the Saudis. The U.S. political divide over the relationship with Saudi Arabia has long been less between Republicans and Democrats than between Congress and the executive branch. Under Trump, congressional criticism over U.S. support for the Saudi war in Yemen has been growing, and a resolution blocking a sale of precision-guided munitions to the kingdom was narrowly defeated last summer. Saudi Arabia is not popular with the U.S. public, either. Only 31 percent of Americans had a favorable view of the kingdom, just behind China and just ahead of Russia, according to a Gallup poll from last year. So members of Congress generally feel safe expressing grave concerns about the kingdom. Presidents, meanwhile, have generally found the U.S.-Saudi partnership too valuable to cut loose, no doubt on the advice of the Pentagon.

Trump criticizes rush to condemn Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi -  (AP) — President Donald Trump Tuesday criticized rapidly mounting global condemnation of Saudi Arabia over the mystery of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi, warning of a rush to judgment and echoing the Saudis’ request for patience. In an interview with The Associated Press, Trump compared the case of Khashoggi, who Turkish officials have said was murdered in the Saudis’ Istanbul consulate, to the allegations of sexual assault leveled against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing.  “Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned.” Trump’s remarks were his most robust defense yet of the Saudis, a U.S. ally he has made central to his Mideast agenda. They put the president at odds with other key allies and with some leaders in his Republican Party who have condemned the Saudi leadership for what they say is an obvious role in the case. Trump appeared willing to resist the pressure to follow suit, accepting Saudi denials and their pledge to investigate. The Oval Office interview came not long after Trump spoke Tuesday with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He spoke by phone a day earlier with King Salman, and he said both deny any knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi. After speaking with the king, Trump floated the idea that “rogue killers” may have been responsible for the disappearance. The president told AP Tuesday that that description was informed by his “feeling” from his conversation with Salman, and that the King did not use the term. Also Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with the king and crown prince in Riyadh and said the Saudis had already started a “serious and credible investigation” and seemed to suggest it could lead to people within the kingdom. The secretary of state noted that the Saudi leaders, while denying knowledge of anything that occurred inside the consulate, had committed to accountability “including for Saudi Arabia’s senior leaders or senior officials.” Pompeo was heading next to Turkey, where officials have accused the Saudis of using a 15-member team to kill Khashoggi inside the consulate.

Trump gives Saudi Arabia benefit of doubt in journalist's disappearance (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump gave Saudi Arabia the benefit of the doubt in the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi even as U.S. lawmakers pointed the finger at the Saudi leadership and Western pressure mounted on Riyadh to provide answers. “I think we have to find out what happened first,” Trump told the Associated Press in an interview on Tuesday. “Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that.” Trump then referred directly to his nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ran into trouble in the Senate after several women came forward to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, before Kavanaugh was ultimately confirmed. Earlier, in a Twitter post, Trump said that Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman denied knowing what happened in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where Khashoggi vanished two weeks ago after going there to collect documents he needed for his planned marriage. Turkish officials have said they believe the Saudi journalist was murdered and his body removed, which the Saudis have strongly denied. Khashoggi was a U.S. resident who wrote columns for the Washington Post and he was critical of the Saudi government, calling for reforms. “Just spoke with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia who totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish Consulate,” Trump wrote on Twitter. Trump also wrote that the crown prince “told me that he has already started, and will rapidly expand, a full and complete investigation into this matter. Answers will be forthcoming shortly.”

Trump suggests ‘rogue killers’ murdered Saudi journalist - AP — President Donald Trump suggested Monday that “rogue killers” could be responsible for the mysterious disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an explanation offering U.S. ally Saudi Arabia a possible path out of a global diplomatic firestorm. The Saudis continued to deny they killed the writer, but there were indications the story could soon change.While Trump commented at the White House, Turkish crime scene investigators finally entered the Saudi consulate to comb the building where Khashoggi was last seen alive two weeks ago.Trump spoke after a personal 20-minute phone call with Saudi King Salman and as the president dispatched his secretary of state to Riyadh for a face-to-face discussion with the king. Late in the day, there were published reports that the Saudis were preparing to concede that Khashoggi, a U.S.-based Saudi contributor to The Washington Post, had been killed in an interrogation gone wrong. Before Monday Trump had focused less on possible explanations for Khashoggi’s likely demise than on possible punishment if the Saudis were found culpable.

US Intelligence Increasingly Convinced Saudi Prince Ordered Khashoggi's Killing -- By now, there's little doubt that Jamal Khashoggi is dead - this despite reports that surfaced in the Daily Mail and a handful of other outlets last week claiming that Khashoggi was alive and had been renditioned to Saudi Arabia. And while the Turkish government has publicly assured the Saudis that they will pursue a cautious, thorough and transparent investigation, even inviting the Saudis to join as a partner in the probe, behind the scenes, Turkish media - which is tightly controlled by the regime - have spread details about a gruesome execution that they say occurred in the office of the (now former) Saudi consul, who was urged to leave the room under threat of reprisal by a member of the hit squad. What's more, a leak last week already suggested that the US knew about the Saudis' plans to ambush Khashoggi - though whether US intercepts detailed a murder plot, or merely a plan to interrogate and rendition the government insider-turned critic, remains unclear. If anything, the one thing that now appears certain about this situation is that, in a maneuver that's reminiscent of the de-classification of an intelligence community report blaming Russia for interfering in the 2016 election, the US intelligence community is once again rebelling against the Trump White House - after Trump suggested that he would do everything he could to preserve the US-Saudi relationship (reportedly fearful of losing Saudi cooperation in a plot to undermine Iran) - and has effectively joined with the Turks to undermine the rule of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.The latest example of this appeared in Thursday's New York Times, where a trio of national security reporters published a piece claiming that the US intelligence agencies have been "increasingly convinced" that MbS directly ordered Khashoggi's killing - claims that were, admittedly, not based on anything other than circumstantial evidence, by the reporters' own admission.

Pompeo Took 12-Hour Flight To Saudi Arabia For '15 Minute Meeting' With King Salman - Even before the publication of last night's Saudi trial balloon hinting that the kingdom would soon acknowledge that the extrajudicial killing of Jamal Khashoggi - the insider-turned dissident journalist who walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week and never walked back out - was the result of a "botched" kidnapping attempt carried out by "rogue killers" (despite reports that the US intelligence community knew that Khashoggi was being "targeted"), two realities had become increasingly clear. One: That the Saudis would avoid responsibility for the killing by pinning it on some unfortunate underling, and two: that there would be few, if any, lasting diplomatic repercussions.And as more media organizations confirmed reports about Saudi's plans to spin Khashoggi's murder as a botched interrogation (we can only imagine what was said in that room to justify the use of such extreme violence), CNN calculated the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Saudi King Salman in Riyadh for approximately 15 minutes early Tuesday, following his 12-hour-plus flight to the kingdom.US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s meeting with King Salman of Saudi Arabia lasted no more than 15 minutes, CNN estimates based on the time the top US diplomat’s motorcade arrived at the royal court and departed.The motorcade arrived at the royal court at 11:42 a.m. (4:42 a.m. ET) and left 26 minutes later. There is a fair distance to walk from where the motorcade dropped Pompeo off to where he met the king.

Republican Senators Threaten Sanctions Against Saudi Arabia -  By now, observers in Asia and North American have probably sensed that President Trump's threats of "severe punishment" for Saudi Arabia, should proof emerge that the kingdom masterminded the murder of Washington Post columnist and dissident expatriate Jamal Khashoggi, were disingenuous. The US intelligence community already has evidence that Saudi was targeting Khashoggi for writing some less-than-flattering things about Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Of course, Trump knows that sanctioning the Saudis or blocking arms sales to the regime could provoke a disproportionate reaction: Worst-case, the kingdom could 'weaponize' oil and provoke a global recession. Best case, thousands of those manufacturing jobs that President Trump has fought so hard for could disappear. But following reports that the Kingdom is preparing to admit its role on Khashoggi's death (the official story: that Khashoggi was killed during an interrogation by rogue killers), Republican lawmakers are stepping up their rhetoric against the kingdom, with several Republican leaders in the Senate saying on Tuesday that the body could move to sanction Saudi Arabia, a policy that would likely find widespread purchase with liberal lawmakers. As speculation that Republicans could levy sanctions against Saudi Arabia via the Magnitsky Act, the controversial law passed to make it easier for the US to punish Russian officials for perceived human rights abuses, Mitch McConnell left the door open to this possibility, saying "it may well be." "I can’t imagine there won’t be [a response] but I think we need to find out what happened," he told Bloomberg. "It may well" be worth sanctioning through Magnitsky Act. But compared with Lindsey Graham's comments on Fox and Friends, McConnell's take was relatively mild. Lindsey Graham, speaking during an interview with Fox and Friends, said that while he was once Saudi Arabia's biggest ally, he would never again support Saudi Arabia - and that he would vote to "sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia" - if Mohammad bin Salman remains in charge. "That guy's got to go," he said.

Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP -- The mysterious disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey is driving a wedge between President Trump and Republican members of Congress, who are pressing for an aggressive U.S. response if Saudi Arabia is found responsible for the suspected killing. Trump on Tuesday said Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman had denied any knowledge of Khashoggi’s fate, a statement that for the second day in a row sent the signal that the president is comfortable with the Saudi government’s explanations so far. “Just spoke with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia who totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish Consulate,” Trump wrote on Twitter. He added that the crown prince had told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that his government would rapidly expand an investigation and that answers would be “forthcoming.”Later, Trump said in an interview with The Associated Press that blaming Saudi Arabia for Khashoggi’s disappearance is another example of “guilty until proven innocent,” an allusion to sexual misconduct allegations made last month against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. On Monday, following a conversation with Saudi King Salman, Trump said that “rogue killers” could have killed Khashoggi. Not long after the president spoke, published reports said the Saudi government was preparing to say that Khashoggi was killed as part of a botched interrogation.

Does Saudi Arabia Own Donald Trump? - On Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted: “For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia (or Russia, for that matter). Any suggestion that I have is just more FAKE NEWS (of which there is plenty)!” For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia (or Russia, for that matter). Any suggestion that I have is just more FAKE NEWS (of which there is plenty)! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 16, 2018 Is this yet another barefaced lie from the commander-in-chief? In this video essay, I examine Trump’s long history of doing deals with Saudi royals and look back at how the former reality TV star even bragged about his financial ties to the kingdom during the election campaign. I also highlight the controversial payments made by the Saudi government to Trump-owned properties since the Republican businessman entered the White House. With the president refusing to take a strong stance against the Saudi government’s alleged murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, I ask: “Does Saudi Arabia own Donald Trump?”

Saudis Transfer $100 Million To US State Department As Khashoggi Crisis Deepens Washington says funds for US efforts against Islamic State group were approved months ago but critics claim transfer's timing suspicious.  When US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew into Riyadh to discuss the disappearance and likely death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia transferred $100m to the State Department for US efforts against the Islamic State (IS) group, the New York Times reported late Tuesday.While the funding was approved earlier in the summer, critics have viewed the timing of the transfer payment with suspicion. “The timing of this is no coincidence,” a US official told the New York Times.The US State Department envoy for the anti-IS coalition said in a statement on Wednesday that they “expected the contribution to be finalized in the fall time frame”.  “The specific transfer of funds has been long in process and has nothing to do with other events or the secretary’s visit,” envoy Brett McGurk said. The White House has not seemed alarmed amid a barrage of questions about Khashoggi's disappearance, what Saudi officials know about it and its close ties to Saudi rulers and the country's powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in particular. US President Donald Trump has called for people to give the Saudis the benefit of the doubt, stressing Washington's business and geopolitical interests in staying close to Riyadh.Trump tweeted that he spoke to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who "totally denied any knowledge of what took place" in Istanbul. Trump said MBS told him "that he has already started, and will rapidly expand, a full and complete investigation into this matter".

Trump and Jamal Khashoggi— Saudi Arabia Has Been Bribing the US with Arms Sales for Years -- Yves here. The uproar over the almost certain execution of Jamal Khashoggi is so disproportionate to the event that it’s become a proxy for something else in terms of the US-Saudi relationship. The post by Vijay Prashad makes the argument that Khashoggi went too far in defending his allies in the royal family who were opposed to Mohammed bin Salman, which led to his presumed execution, and that the US won’t do much about it due to the importance of the arms sales. While this is probably part of the equation, the US also has important air bases in Saudi Arabia. The US recognized that it was at risk of having the kingdom become unstable regardless of whatever the path of succession was after King Salman, who was well liked internally, decided to cede power. But Salman’s choice of MbS was contrary to tradition and expectations (57 year old Prince Mohammed bin Nayef would have been the new ruler under the usual protocol), setting factions in the royal family even more against each other. And MbS has consolidated power in an extremely heavy-handed way, by using corruption charges to arrest rivals and their allies and stripping them of assets. As Wikipedia noted:The arrests resulted in the final sidelining of the faction of the late King Abdullah and MbS’s complete consolidation of control of all three branches of the security forces, making him the most powerful man in Saudi Arabia since his grandfather, the first King, Ibn Saud.There are likely members of the US military apparatus who are sympathizers with the losers in the royal family power struggle But if what Wikipedia says is correct, MbS looks to have consolidated his position quickly and with a ruthless show of force. It’s puzzling to see the press up in arms about Khashoggi, given that the US has been joined at the hip with the thuggish Saudis for decades. Informed reader input welcomed.

Saudi electronic army floods Twitter with insults and mistruths after Khashoggi’s disappearance — The electronic army’s insults are relentless, their pace dizzying. They brand people “cockroaches” and “traitors.” They engulf news with mistruths. To Saudi opposition activists, they are known as the “flies.” The disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi more than two weeks ago has dragged the kingdom’s cyber-battles to center stage, with a vast network of Twitter accounts in the spotlight for amplifying Saudi government denials of involvement and hounding dissidents who contradict the official line. Researchers and activists say they have tracked a sprawling web of loyalist social media accounts — real people and bots — that have repeatedly joined forces in times of crisis for the Saudi government. “You can draw a correlation between the amount of negative press coverage and the pace of their [online] activities,” said Marc Owen Jones, a researcher and lecturer at Exeter University who has tracked the phenomenon since 2016. “They have to work harder when they’re doing damage control.” And no crisis has been more sensitive than this latest one. Turkish officials have said Khashoggi was killed by a Saudi hit squad. They also say they have audio and video recordings of the journalist’s slaying and dismemberment. In the weeks since Turkish officials first accused Riyadh of responsibility for his disappearance, and as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has come under mounting scrutiny for his ties to the alleged killers, the online army has worked tirelessly to smear Khashoggi’s reputation. It has also intensified attacks on dissidents, many of them in exile. This week, the Arabic hashtag “We all trust in Mohammed bin Salman” was among the most popular in the world. By Friday, it had appeared more than 1.1 million times, according to an analysis by Ben Nimmo, an information defense fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. “It’s a numbers game,” he said. “Once you get something trending, it’s reaching an audience that not everyone can get.” Social media is wildly popular in Saudi Arabia, with more than 11 million registered Twitter users, according to Crowd Analyzer, a Dubai-based analysis firm. The engagement pattern behind other trending hashtags, including “a word to our enemies,” “strongly suggests artificial amplification” by automated bot networks or well-coordinated groups of social media users, Nimmo said. Saudi officials did not respond to a request for comment.

 Treasury Secretary Mnuchin drops out of Saudi conference amid outcry over Khashoggi disappearance - Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced Thursday that he will not attend the upcoming investment conference in Saudi Arabia, the latest high-profile dropout from the event amid a global outcry over the disappearance of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. "Just met with @ realDonaldTrump and @ SecPompeo and we have decided, I will not be participating in the Future Investment Initiative summit in Saudi Arabia," Mnuchin wrote in a post on Twitter.A host of Wall Street power players and international finance leaders have announced in recent days that they would no longer be attending the conference, dubbed "Davos in the Desert."Among those who dropped out are JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, as well as the chiefs of Uber, BlackRock, MasterCard and Viacom, among others.On Tuesday, Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, announced that she too would not attend. A number of media outlets, including CNBC, have also dropped out of the conference. The New York Times, Bloomberg, CNN and the Financial Times have all withdrawn from the event, which is scheduled to begin on Tuesday in the Saudi Arabian capital.

Jamal Khashoggi: Where The Road to Damascus & The Path to 9/11 Converge - As a 9/11 widow who has spent the last 17 years fighting for accountability with regard to the 9/11 attacks that killed my husband and 3,000 others, I find the recent uproar over Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance and alleged murder interesting and out of character for many of those decrying his disappearance and demanding an investigation and accountability.Frankly, 9/11 Family members keep a running list of all those in Washington who have proved by their past actions to be against U.S. victims of terrorism and in support of nations like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a nation with a long history of supporting global Wahhabist terrorism. As victims of terrorism, we are ever vigilant and watchful about all those named on our lists. We follow these folks actions, their speeches, their legislation, because we know that they are never looking out for our best interests as U.S. victims of terrorism. As a group, our institutional memory is broad and long. And we never forget.That’s why we all happened to notice the uncharacteristic behavior of so many of those on our lists with the advent of Jamal Khasoggi’s disappearance. And it made us wonder why so many people, who had previously always blindly supported the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, were now so vociferously jumping Saudi ship.  What had caused this Road to Damascus conversion?  [….]  One last fact to mention: the timing of Khashoggi’s disappearance when taken in connection with the 9/11 Families’ litigation. Last Friday, something very notable happened in the 9/11 litigation against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. For the first time ever, the Department of Justice stood on the side of the 9/11 Families and publicly committed to finally releasing three large tranches of formerly secret documents that we believe connect the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the 9/11 attacks. This is the biggest development we have had in our over 16 years of litigation.

Jamal Khashoggi: What the Arab world needs most is free expression Jamal Khashoggi, WaPo -  A note from Karen Attiah, Global Opinions editor I received this column from Jamal Khashoggi’s translator and assistant the day after Jamal was reported missing in Istanbul. The Post held off publishing it because we hoped Jamal would come back to us so that he and I could edit it together. Now I have to accept: That is not going to happen. This is the last piece of his I will edit for The Post. This column perfectly captures his commitment and passion for freedom in the Arab world. A freedom he apparently gave his life for. I will be forever grateful he chose The Post as his final journalistic home one year ago and gave us the chance to work together.

 Jamal Khashoggi’s final appeal  -Editorial Board, WaPo - JAMAL KHASHOGGI’S last column for The Post, written shortly before his Oct. 2 disappearance and published today on the opposite page, espouses the cause that animated most of his life: free expression in the Arab world. The absence of that freedom, he wrote, means that Arabs “are either uninformed or misinformed. They are unable to adequately address, much less publicly discuss, matters that affect the region and their day-to-day lives.”Mr. Khashoggi made it his mission to fill that gap. To speak freely, he left Saudi Arabia, where he held comfortable positions in the ruling establishment, and moved to Washington, where he began contributing columns to The Post. He was planning ways to create space for other uncensored Arab voices that could advocate for democratic reforms. His final column calls for “the creation of an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of nationalist governments spreading hate through propaganda.”Mr. Khashoggi, who would have turned 60 this past weekend, held numerous positions during his career, including as an adviser to a Saudi ambassador to the United States. But he was first and foremost a journalist — one who relentlessly tried to push the boundaries of free speech. He was twice fired as the editor of the most progressive Saudi newspaper, Al Watan, in one case for publishing sharp critiques of Islamist extremists. A television news network he helped to found in Bahrain in 2012 was taken off the air after one day, after it broadcast an interview with a critic of that country’s authoritarian regime.A turning point for Mr. Khashoggi came in 2016, when he warned the regime of King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, about “an overly enthusiastic embrace of then-President-elect Donald Trump,” as he later described it in The Post. His column with the Saudi-owned international Arabic daily Al Hayat was canceled, and he was forced off Twitter. “I spent six months silent, reflecting on the state of my country and the stark choices before me,” he wrote in his first Post column, published 13 months ago this week. Then he acted. “I have left my home, my family and my job, and I am raising my voice,” he declared. “I can speak when so many cannot.”

Saudi Arabia admits Khashoggi killed but claims he died in 'fistfight’ -- Saudi Arabia said on Friday that Khashoggi died in a “fistfight” inside its Istanbul consulate - Riyadh’s first acknowledgement of his death after two weeks of denials that it was involved in his disappearance. The Saudi regime also announced a purge of senior officials including Saud al-Qahtani, an influential adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and General Ahmed al-Asiri, a senior intelligence official. Both men have been fired. Eighteen Saudi nationals were said to have been arrested.The announcement, which cited preliminary findings from an official investigation, was made on state television. The purge appeared to be aimed at insulating the crown prince and protecting his position. It was reported that he would remain overall head of intelligence.Khashoggi, a critic of the crown prince, went missing after entering the consulate to obtain documents for his upcoming marriage. Days later, Turkish officials said they believed he had been killed in the building, an allegation that Saudi Arabia initially strenuously denied. A follow-up statement released by the Saudi ministry of foreign affairs claimed that discussions between Khashoggi and Saudi officials at the consulate “did not go as required and escalated negatively which led to a fight between them … and led to his death”. It claimed that officials, referred to as “suspects”, were involved in a “cover-up”. Donald Trump said Saudi Arabia’s announcement on the circumstances of Khashoggi’s death was credible and a “good first step” but that what happened was “unacceptable”. He also said he preferred that any sanctions against Riyadh not include cancelling large defence orders.

'Utter bulls---': Khashoggi's editor sounds off on Saudi explanation for journalist’s death - An editor and friend who worked closely with Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist killed inside Saudi Arabia's consulate, blasted the country’s explanation Friday for his death as “utter bullshit.”Karen Attiah, the global opinions editor for The Washington Post, has been vocal on Twitter ever since Khashoggi disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul early this month.She fired off a series of tweets on Friday ripping into the Saudi government's statement that claimed Khashoggi died following a physical altercation inside the consulate.“Khashoggi was killed. By Saudi men. In a consulate. His life was taken from him,” she wrote in one tweet. “What sort of equal ‘fight’ would he have had against 15 other men? And who brings a bone saw to a ‘discussion’?!” she added.

MBS Must Go --Barkley Rosser -  The grisly details of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi now coming out make it clear that the one thing that would really clear the air would be for 33-year old Muhammed bin Salman bin Abdulaiz al Sa’ud (MBS) to be replaced as Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and to be removed from any position of authority and power that he currently possesses.  Indeed, it would be wise if he were subjected to what he imposed on others whom he saw as in his way to assuming the  extreme level of power he currently has in KSA, to be confined to his palace under guard or perhaps in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.  To make clear his removal from power it would also be appropriate to have da Vinci’s painting of Salvador Mundi taken from him, which he is reported to have purchased through intermediaries for $480 million, a sign of the degree of corruption that he has personally engaged in. It should be clear that MBS’s crimes and mistakes go far beyond this awful mmuder by members of his personal bodyguard of Khashoggi.  The thousands of dead civilians in Yemen in the war there that he instigated as Defense Minister is at the top of the list.  But his idiotic embargo of Qatar and his hyper-aggressive attitude towards Iran (stupidly supported by the current US administration) are also on the list, along with his broader suppression of disssidents within KSA.  It may well be that a successor will continue the strongly anti-Iran policy, although some potential candidates have in the past urged negoatiating with Iran, including former ambassador to the US, Turki bin Faisal bin Abdulaziz al Sa’ud, for whom the now late Jamal Khashoggi once worked as a top staff aide.  However, for a variety of reasons this 73 -year old now Chair of the powerful King Faisal Foundation is unlikely to succeed MBS. Obviously this is not very likely, given that this would have to be done by his father, 82-year old King Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman al Sa’ud, who clearly strongly supports him, even as he has apparently overruled him on certain matters, most recently in insisting on the shutdown of the proposed sale of 5% of ARAMCO.  Of course, for now MBS appears to have the personal support by President Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who may have quietly supported the coup through which he came to power.  It is fairly clear that this personal support is reinforced by MBS providing substantial funding to both the Trump Organization and the business activities of Kushner, although the full details of that are not fully known.

How to Punish Saudi Arabia - Saudi Arabia has now admitted that Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. The story: He was killed in a fist fight with 15 intelligence officials sent to interrogate him – a claim that is implausible and would not be exculpatory even if true. Americans are rightfully angry and rightfully mortified by the Trump administration’s limp response, with President Trump repeating the King’s and Crown Prince’s “very strong” and total denials of foreknowledge and responsibility. On Friday night, he reportedly told reporters, “Well, I think it’s a good first step. It’s a big step. There’s a lot of people involved.” When asked if he found the Saudi explanation credible, he responded: “I do.” ..Senator Lindsey Graham summed up Capitol Hill’s view of the apparent assassination to Fox News, saying “I feel used and abused.” But when asked for solutions, Graham fell back to one of Congresses favorite national security tools: “I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia.” Khashoggi’s murder demands a meaningful response from the United States. Washington has a responsibility to stand up for U.S. residents—Khashoggi, a longtime journalist, was living in Virginia—and an interest in standing up for the free press. But sanctions are a lazy and inadequate answer. Instead, the U.S. needs to distance itself from reckless Saudi policies. President Trump has tools to do so. If he does not use them, it’s time for Congress to step up. Talk about sanctioning Saudi Arabia is focused on the Global Magnitsky Act, legislation that authorizes sanctions targeting individuals responsible for gross human rights abuses. In part, that is because the Trump administration has shown little appetite to hold autocrats to account, while Congress has a role in Magnitsky sanctions. Congress cannot force the executive to impose sanctions, but can embarrass it for choosing not to.

 U.S. Saudi Trade - Donald Trump appears to be reluctant to investigate the murder of Jamal Khashoggi because of an alleged trade deal? Donald Trump has said US investigators are looking into how Jamal Khashoggi vanished at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, but made clear that whatever the outcome, the US would not forgo lucrative arms deals with Riyadh. The president’s announcement raised concerns of a cover-up of evidence implicating Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in plans to silence the dissident journalist…Any sense that the administration might seek to impose serious consequences on Saudi Arabia was dispelled by the president. Asked at an impromptu press conference in the Oval Office whether the US would cut arms sales if the Saudi government was found to be responsible for Khashoggi’s disappearance, the president demurred, saying the US could lose its share of the huge Saudi arms market to Russia or China. In the Oval Office Trump pointed out that the disappearance took place in Turkey and that Khashoggi was not a US citizen. He may not be a citizen but he did hold a green card and worked for the Washington Post. Credit to the Republicans in Congress for pressing on the appropriate investigation of this matter. My only comment today will be to challenge Trump’s argument that our trade with Saudi Arabia is more important than sanctioning the Saudi government for this murder likely ordered by Mohammed bin Salman. The Census Bureau reports on both our imports from Saudi Arabia and our exports to them. Over the last decade, imports have varied from less than $17 billion per year to over $55 billion. These imports are predominantly been oil of course. Exports have never reached $20 billion per year so we have run persistent and sometimes large deficits with the Saudis. In Trumpian “logic” – aren’t we losing to them? To be fair, we choose to import Saudi oil but then again, the kingdom is not the only supplier of this commodity. But Trump is telling us that we may have yuuuge exports of military goods:

Saudi Money Flows Into Silicon Valley—and With It Qualms - WSJ - As international backlash grows over Saudi Arabia’s alleged involvement in the possible murder of a journalist, Silicon Valley faces a potentially unsettling fact: The kingdom is now the largest single funding source for U.S. startups. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has directed at least $11 billion of Saudi money into U.S. startups since mid-2016, either directly or through SoftBank Group Corp.’s $92 billion tech-focused Vision Fund, to which the Saudis committed $45 billion, according to a Wall Street Journal estimate of data from research firm PitchBook. The total invested by the kingdom so far in U.S. startups is far bigger than the total raised by any single venture-capital fund. Some of tech’s most prominent young companies have welcomed Saudi money, including Uber Technologies Inc., office-sharing company WeWork Cos. and augmented-reality device maker Magic Leap Inc. For Uber, the situation could be particularly dicey: A prominent Saudi official sits on its board. .For now, the companies are preferring to keep quiet about the escalating controversy. Of the 22 startups in which the Vision Fund or the Saudis have invested, all but one declined to comment or didn’t respond to requests. Uber pointed to a recent statement from CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who said he planned to pull out of a Saudi-sponsored business conference and that he was troubled by the reports about the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. For the startup community, “there are incidents where you have to look and decide which side of history you want to be on, and if this is true, this is one of those,” said Venky Ganesan, former chairman of the National Venture Capital Association and an investor at Menlo Ventures, which has invested in Uber. “It’s more than about startups and money—it’s fundamentally about what you think about human rights.” Tech companies are in a particularly conflicted spot given the idealistic missions espoused by many leaders in Silicon Valley, where employees routinely rebel over contracts they find unprincipled. WeWork, for instance, has banned meat over concerns about its environmental impact. “Silicon Valley has been incredibly hypocritical in accepting investments from an anti-Semitic country, [which] criminally punishes gays and de jure discriminates against women,”

“The Dirtiest Money on Earth.” Silicon Valley Has a Saudi Arabia Problem. - Some of Silicon Valley’s biggest private players—the so-called unicorn—have managed to put off public listings thanks to a market awash in private capital. Exhibit A: Uber Technologies, which landed a staggering $3.5 billion from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund in 2016. Yasir Al Rumayyan, managing director of the fund, is one of a dozen members on Uber’s board of directors. But amid growing questions about the kingdom’s role in the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi—Saudi Arabian officials have denied Turkish allegations that Saudi government agents murdered Khashoggi in Istanbul—tech’s private funding strategy is getting a fresh look. And Silicon Valley now has a full-blown Saudi Arabia problem. The deep financial ties and chummy relationships illustrate that “the most idealistic companies in American capitalism—especially Silicon Valley in its rhetoric—are more than happy to take the dirtiest money on Earth to be bankrolled,” Anand Giridharadas, author of Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, tells Barron’s. “It is a hollowness when one considers damage down to climate change by Saudi Arabia, and its oppression of women.” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a statement that he was “very troubled” by Khashoggi’s disappearance. He’s skipping a major investor conference in Riyadh this month, dubbed “Davos in the Desert.” But he had nothing to say about Uber’s business relationship with Saudi Arabia. Uber did not respond to a request for further comment. But the debate goes beyond Uber, whose massive Saudi investment helped the company fend off an initial public offering while pushing its private market value to $72 billion.

Is This Why Jeff Bezos Has Kept Quiet On WaPo Employee Khashoggi's Disappearance- Following reports over missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, reportedly murdered and dismembered in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul by a 15-member Saudi team, several high profile business leaders have voiced their disgust over what appears to have been a gruesome, state-sponsored assassination.Virgin CEO Richard Branson announced on October 11 that he was suspending his advisory role in the Saudi Vision 2030 projects, followed by JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, Verizon CEO Robert Bakish, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, AOL co-founder Steve Case - who have all distanced themselves from the Saudi government following the Khashoggi incident. What's more, the Financial Times, Bloomberg, CNN, New York Times, Economist and CNBC have all withdrawn from the Saudi Future Investment Initiative.  Deafeningly silent, however, is Khashoggi's own boss - Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos, who has yet to issue any sort of statement. According to CNBC, "It's interesting that in a context where people are so publicly disavowing and disengaging that there's not been a clear statement from the owner of the newspaper," Félim McMahon, the technology and human rights program director at the University of California at Berkeley law school's Human Rights Center. "It's legitimate to ask that person's opinion." Perhaps Bezos has refrained from issuing a statement due to a lucrative deal to set up data centers in Saudi Arabia - a plan announced last year.It announced plans a year ago for the opening of a Middle East division based in Bahrain, an island nation that neighbors Saudi Arabia. Since May, Amazon has had a job post up for a "Head of Public Policy AWS Saudi Arabia" based in Bahrain. Part of the candidate's role is to "help further advance Amazon as a leading cloud platform provider in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia." The position requires fluency in Arabic, and one of the top objectives is to "develop, lead and implement Saudi Arabia government affairs advocacy objectives and policy/political priorities" for AWS.Amazon also has an office in Riyadh for Souq.com, the Middle Eastern e-commerce company that it acquired last year for $580 million. –CNBC Saudi money in general has permeated tech, with the country's Public Investment Fund having committed $45 billion to the Softbank inaugural Vision Fund, while Crown Prince Mohammed recently said he will invest a similar amount in the next fund. Other investors in the Vision Fund include Apple and Qualcomm, while Softbank has large stakes in Uber, DoorDash, WeWork and several other companies. 

A tale of two houses- how Jared Kushner fuelled the Trump-Saudi Love-in - A key player in the US-Saudi relationship is conspicuously missing from the talks held in Riyadh by the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, to try to defuse the international crisis over the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi. Jared Kushner helped build the alliance between the House of Saud and the House of Trump. The president’s son-in-law and senior adviser took the lead in promoting Mohammed bin Salman as a Saudi visionary, and persuaded the administration to hitch US Middle East policy to the prince’s rising star. Together the two thirty-something princelings, MBS and Kushner, stayed up late into the night planning to remake the map of the Middle East with bold thinking and mountains of cash. For now, however, those plans are stalled. The Saudi crown prince stands accused of masterminding the cold-blooded murder of a dissident journalist, Kushner is silent and Donald Trump has been performing crisis public relations for the Saudi monarchy. Peppered with questions on Monday, the president gamely suggesting that the suspected hit team that arrived in Istanbul on official jets and had free run of the Saudi consulate there, were “rogue killers” acting without the knowledge of the prince or his father, King Salman. The scramble for alibis is a long way from the high hopes of May last year, when the Trump–Saud courtship was consummated. The new president made Riyadh the destination of his first trip abroad since taking office. In the months before, Kushner identified MBS as a potential partner. The state department and the CIA backed Mohammed bin Nayef, the incumbent crown prince at the time, but the first son-in-law insisted that he had “reliable intelligence” – most likely from the Israeli president, Benjamin Netanyahu, a Kushner family friend – that Mohammed Bin Salman was the man to bet on. The prophecy became self-fulfilling as wholehearted support from Washington aided Mhis rise, eventually eclipsing and replacing Nayef.

Trump Administration Urges Saudis To Stick To Killing Random Yemeni Civilians —As criticism mounted over the country’s alleged role in the disappearance and possible death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Trump administration reportedly urged the leaders of Saudi Arabia Friday to stick to killing random Yemeni civilians. “The potential murder of a high-profile journalist critical of their regime raises grave concerns for us, and we appeal to the leaders of Saudi Arabia to restrict their extrajudicial murders to Yemeni people who don’t have any public platform,” said President Trump, adding that the White House would not sit idly by as the Saudis caused the deaths of innocent people unless they were Yemeni children in a school bus or a group of Yemeni people attending a wedding. “The United States asks Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to content himself with killings that don’t affect business deals or call our diplomatic ties into question, such as airstrikes on Yemeni infrastructure, fueling mass cholera outbreaks, or blocking food and medical supplies from reaching civilians. Look, we don’t even mind if you dismember and murder people inside the Turkish consulate, as long as they’re unknown Yemenis whose deaths won’t cause an international scandal. For the sake of all parties, we demand that the Saudis only kill people who hardly anyone in America cares about.” At press time, several major U.S. newspapers had published editorials praising the Trump administration for its tough stance on Saudi Arabia.

 US mercenaries were hired to assassinate politicians and clerics in the Middle East -Video captured by military drones shows armed American mercenaries take part in an operation to assassinate a prominent cleric in Yemen, a Buzzfeed News investigation has revealed.Two former Navy SEALs were among the fighters working for Spear Operations Group, a private US company that was hired by the United Arab Emirates to carry out an assassination in war-torn Yemen on December 29, 2015.That night, the target was Anssaf Ali Mayo, the local leader of the Islamist political party As-Islah. The UAE considers it to be the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which it deems a terrorist organization – but experts disagree. The plan was to place a bomb at the door of its headquarters in Aden, but drone footage of the attack obtained by Buzzfeed showed that it went wrong.Before the mercenary could plant the bomb, one of his team opened fire - it's not clear at what - and the team was forced to retreat without proof of the kill.'There was a targeted assassination program in Yemen. I was running it. We did it,' Abraham Golan, the Hungarian-Israeli security contractor who found Spear Operations Group, told Buzzfeed.'It was sanctioned by the UAE within the coalition,' he added.Nearly 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE intervened on the side of the Yemeni government in 2015 to fight what is essentially a proxy war against Iran.Golan says his team was responsible for assassinating a number of high-profile names during the war, but declined to elaborate further. He said the terms were that the team would receive $1.5million a month – with bonuses paid for successful kills.

Trump Assassination Plot Foiled After ISIS Operative Tweets Plan- Secret Service Reveals - The US Secret Service foiled an assassination plot against President Trump last November, after an ISIS operative in the Philippines issued a credible threat amid a series of violent Jihadist videos released prior to the ASEAN 50 summit, according to the Daily BeastPrior to President Trump’s arrival on Air Force One, a PID agent informs Special Agent Gibson that he’s come across a credible threat against POTUS—in the form of a tweet reading, “Gonna be in Manila the same time as Trump… I’ll take one for the team lads,” accompanied by a mugshot of Lee Harvey Oswald. And on his Instagram, they find a photo of the male suspect wielding a copy of the book How to Kill: The Definitive History of the Assassin. The PID agents then track his IP address and discover that the man is indeed located in downtown Manila, kilometers away from the president’s hotel, and his social media posts reveal that he is traveling in the direction of the president’s hotel. They continue to monitor him. -Daily Beast

Netanyahu Hopes To Bring U.S. Attention Back On Iran, Threatens Action In Syria - With the Jamal Khashoggi affair shaking up Saudi-Washington relations, and with multiple Gulf countries predictably coming out in support of Riyadh's denials that it was behind the journalist's disappearance and apparent murder, it will be interesting to see Israel's stance on the issue. We fully expect Israel to do all that it can to lobby Washington toward keeping its bulls-eye ever steadfast on Iran. Indeed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears already cognizant of Iran receding into the background of priorities for the West as the alleged gruesome death and dismemberment of Khashoggi at the hands of a Saudi hit team ordered by MbS takes center stage.  On Monday Netanyahu opened a parliamentary session at the Knesset by addressing his familiar theme of "Iranian expansion" in Syria, except that the timing is now more interesting given some of the public heat and attention has now been taken off Tehran for a time: "We must act against the Iranian regime in Syria," Netanyahu said. But crucially, he added a new theme important in light of the past two weeks: "Because of the Iranian threat, Israel and other Arab countries are closer than they ever were before," the prime minister said. This acknowledgement comes after years of Saudi Arabia joining in a covert partnership to topple the Syrian government a project which has clearly failed.  And not only has it utterly failed, but Israel's repeat air strikes on Syria (acknowledged recently by Israel's military to be over 200 strikes in the past year alone), culminated in last month's accidental downing of a Russian Ilyushin-20 reconnaissance plane with 15 crew members on board, resulting in the now accomplished transfer of the advanced S-300 anti-aircraft defense system to the Syrian government.  Concerning this, Netanyahu also addressed the ongoing diplomatic crisis with Moscow in the aftermath of the September 17th Russian aircraft downing, claiming that he "maintains a direct connection with Vladimir Putin."  "A strong connection is important," Netanyahu said. "This allows us to deal with all the problems in our region. It is important for the safety of Israel." And he stressed: "But the most important connection is our alliance with the United States."

Who Is The Bigger Terrorist Threat: Iran Or Saudi Arabia?  - Barkley Rosser - Yesterday’s WaPo had competing headlines about Iran and KSA (Saudi Arabia): Iran is described as a “potential” terrorist threat while the likely Saudi role in the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is described as threatening the US-KSA relationship.  The latter problem (likely to be smoothed over by claiming it was done by “rogue agents”) has distracted from the ongoing story of how Iran is this awful enemy and threat to the US, “the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism” as organs of the US government repeatedly tell us.  The problem is that in recent years there have been zero terror attacks by entities principally funded by Iran.   It may be that such a plot was in the making, but it did not happen.  Regarding the US two supposed Iranian spies were arrested in the US who may have been plotting something, but again, no actual attacks, and there is a related report that at least one spy supposedly supported by Iran working for Hezbollah went to the FBI to offer to become an informant but was arrested.  Ah ha!  Another terrorist! Of course, there is the usual complaint that Iranian forces are in Syria and Iraq, but they are in both nations at the invitation of their governments.  Iran supports Hezbollah in Lebanon, but like Iran itself it ceased engaging in terror attacks in any serious way back in the 90s and is now too busy ruling Lebanon to mess with such stuff.  There are also claims they arm the Houthis in Yemen, but most evidence says they do little of that, and the main problem there comes from the US-Backed Saudis bombing the Yemenis, including civilians. Which brings us to the Saudis.  So now people are suddenly questioning the close US alliance with them after this Khashoggi business.  But they are the ones bombing and killing civilians in large numbers in Yemen.  They have supported al Qaeda related groups in Syria.  It was from KSA that most of the bombers on 9/11 came from.  And while the Saudis may now have allowed women to drive, women were never kept from driving in Iran.  The  Saudi-funded madrassas all over the world have been major breeding grounds for Sunni terrorists of various factions and stripes.  Really, this is a no-brainer.  It is the KSA that is a much more serious terror threat than Iran.

U.S. Edges Toward New Cold-War Era With China – WSJ - The Trump administration is moving deliberately to counter what the White House views as years of unbridled Chinese aggression, taking aim at military, political and economic targets in Beijing and signaling a new and potentially much colder era in U.S.-China relations. In the first 18 months of the administration, ties between the world’s two biggest powers were defined by negotiations over how to restrain North Korea and ways to rebalance trade. Those high-profile endeavors masked White House preparations for a more hard-nosed stance with Beijing—a strategy now surfacing as China’s help with Pyongyang wanes and trade talks stall. Interviews with senior White House officials and others in government make clear that recent volleys in what appears a new Cold War aren’t the exception to President Trump’s China policy. They are exactly what the administration wants—putting the spotlight on a meeting between Mr. Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a multilateral summit planned for November. Vice President Mike Pence last week gave a blistering speech on U.S.-China relations, saying “the United States has adopted a new approach to China” with the message to China: “This president will not back down.” On Wednesday, the Treasury Department announced new rules targeting China that tighten national security reviews of foreign investment. On the same day, the Justice Department said it had brought a Chinese intelligence operative arrested in Belgium to the U.S. to face charges he conspired to steal trade secrets from GE Aviation and others. It was the first time prosecutors publicly identified someone in custody as a Chinese intelligence officer. The Energy Department announced Thursday heightened controls on nuclear technology exports to China. The administration also signed off recently on Justice Department directives that force a pair of Chinese state media outlets to register as foreign agents. The speed of the U.S. shift to a more confrontational China strategy has surprised many Chinese officials and sent Beijing scrambling to stabilize the relationship, with Washington the disrupter, analysts said. “The U.S. is getting tougher and tougher, confronting China on all fronts,” said Zhu Feng, an expert on China-U.S. relations and international security at Nanjing University. “Beijing should be very coolheaded because does a new Cold War serve China’s interests? No.” The U.S. moves represent an emphatic shift from a “constructive engagement” strategy that dates to the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1979. It was based on hopes China would slowly liberalize economically and politically. 

Mauldin Warns- Trump's Tariffs Echo US Trade Policy That Led The Great Depression - Free trade used to be a core belief of the conservative movement. Hayek, Friedman, Mises, Rothbard, and numerous other economists eloquently explained why. Several liberal economists agree. Conservative politicians spent the last few decades moving us in that direction, albeit imperfectly and with some big mistakes along the way. But few disagreed with the ideal. Let me be clear on this: I do not think the tariffs on China are going to cause a recession. But if we have a recession, that is precisely what the Democrats will say. Democrats will not run against the Fed, investor sentiment, markets, Italy, or anything else that actually causes the next recession. They will be running against Trump and everything will be his fault. It will be the Trump Trade War Recession. Whether or not it is true is immaterial. That is neither here or there because a trade war with China introduces too many variables into an already difficult situation. Let’s look at what is actually happening on the ground. We all wonder if Trump’s trade actions are as random as they appear or if there is a broader strategy. Some of my contacts argue that the relatively strong US economy allows the administration to take a harder line than would normally be advisable. We can ride out a trade war better than China can, the thinking goes. This only works if the US economy keeps prospering long enough for the tariffs to make China bend. We can postpone a recession for another year or two if the trade war doesn’t intensify and Europe holds together. Since it is intensifying—with a new round of 10% tariffs taking effect this week and more to come in January—we may not get that time. In other words, tariffs could end the conditions that justified them. Something similar happened before, during the most famous trade mistake in US and global history: the 1930s Smoot-Hawley tariffs. Herbert Hoover promised higher tariffs in his 1928 presidential campaign. He won, and the House passed a tariff bill in May 1929. The Senate was still debating its version of the bill when the stock market crashed in October 1929. Today, we use that event to mark the Great Depression’s beginning, but at the time, people didn’t know they were in a depression or even a recession. . So, when the Senate finally passed a tariff bill in March 1930, the thinking was not that different than we see today. They thought they could preserve and even extend the good times. But conditions worsened quickly and by 1931, unemployed men were standing in soup lines.

 Trump Threatens China With More Tariffs, Does Not Seek Economic Depression - US equity futures dipped in the red after President Trump threatened to impose a third round of tariffs on China and warned that Chinese meddling in U.S. politics was a "bigger problem" than Russian involvement in the 2016 election.During the same interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes”, in which Trump threatened to impose sanctions against Saudi Arabia if the Saudis are found to have killed WaPo reported Khashoggi, and which sent Saudi stock plunging, Trump said he "might," impose a new round of tariffs on China, adding that while he has "great chemistry" with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and noting that Xi "wants to negotiate", he doesn’t "know that that’s necessarily going to continue." Asked if American products have become more expensive due to tariffs on China, Trump said that "so far, that hasn’t turned out to be the case.""They can retaliate, but they can’t, they don’t have enough ammunition to retaliate," Trump says, "We do $100 billion with them. They do $531 billion with us."Trump was also asked if he wants to push China’s economy into a depression to which the US president said “no” before comparing the country’s stock-market losses since the tariffs first launched to those in 1929, the start of the Great Depression in the U.S."I want them to negotiate a fair deal with us. I want them to open their markets like our markets are open," Trump said in the interview that aired Sunday. So far, the U.S. has imposed three rounds of tariffs on Chinese imports totaling $250 billion, prompting China to retaliate against U.S. products. The president previously has threatened to hit virtually all Chinese imports with duties.

 Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai: It's 'very confusing' trying to figure out who Trump listens to on trade - Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, said Sunday that it’s “very confusing” trying to discern who has President Trump’s ear on trade policy, as China-U.S. relations continue to come under strain over the issue.In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Cui was asked for his take on the Trump administration’s approach to trade.“Are you clear who President Trump listens to on trade issues, whether it’s moderates like Kudlow and Mnuchin or hard-liners like Navarro?” host Chris Wallace asked, referring to White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and trade adviser Peter Navarro. Cui replied: “You tell me.” “Honestly, I’ve been talking to ambassadors of other countries in Washington, D.C., and this is also part of their problem,” Cui continued. “They don’t know who is the final decision-maker. Of course, presumably the president will take the final decision. But who is playing what role? Sometimes, it could be very confusing.”

How Trump’s trade war is driving China nuts - — Five years ago, China’s Xi Jinping rocked the Communist Party establishment by pledging to let markets play a “decisive role” in decision-making. Things haven’t gone as planned. First, Xi slow-walked steps to reduce China’s reliance on runaway credit, debt and an antiquated state sector. He prioritized short-term growth over long-term upgrades. And then Donald Trump came along to imperil both objectives. Initially, Xi’s government figured the president was bluffing. Beijing’s calculation was that, sure, Trump might slap some tariffs on Chinese goods, but it’s a mere negotiating tactic — his “Art of the Deal” writ large. After all, past American presidents have often attacked China on the campaign trail — only to make nice while in office. Xi’s men held it together as Trump slapped taxes of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum. They figured Trump’s initial attack on $50 billion of Chinese imports in June would satisfy Peter Navarro and other protectionist voices in the White House. Hardly, as Xi’s team is realizing. If the extra $200 billion of levies Trump tossed Beijing’s way in September weren’t reality-check enough, Mike Pence’s October 4 “we will not stand down” speech suggests 2019 could get even worse for Beijing. Pence accused Beijing of trying to “malign” Trump’s credibility, of “reckless harassment” and of working to engineer “a different American president.” On both economic and military issues, Pence declared: “We will not be intimidated; we will not stand down.” The vice president seemed to confirm that Trump’s trade war is more about tackling China than creating U.S. jobs. Worse, perhaps, taxing Beijing is shaping up to be a 2020 reelection strategy. Forget Russia, Pence suggested: China is the real election meddler. It “clearly laid down an official marker for a much more competitive and contentious New Era of U.S.-China relations,” said China analyst Bill Bishop. All this is throwing Xi’s domestic strategies into disarray — perhaps permanently.

Donald Trump to pull US out of postal alliance in latest move targeting China The Trump administration said on Wednesday that it intends to pull the US out of a 144-year-old international postal alliance, citing a “flawed system” that allows developing countries like China to ship goods around the world more cheaply.The announcement is the latest sign that tensions between Washington and Beijing have spilled beyond trade.The Universal Postal Union (UPU) – an organisation first established in 1874 and now run by the UN – sets the rules for international mail exchange, such as determining fees that postal services within any given country can charge for delivering shipments from foreign carriers. It currently represents 192 member countries, including the US.Explaining the decision, the Trump administration said that favourable shipment rates for developing countries have let members  like China flood the US with goods, putting American companies at a disadvantage.“This is a strong action by this administration to fix this flawed system and make it better,” US politics website The Hill quoted a senior administration official as saying to reporters in a background briefing call.Rather than adhering to the fees designated by the UPU, the administration will seek to institute self-declared rates for US postal services handling international shipments. In a statement issued after the announcement, the White House said: “The president concurs with the Department of State’s recommendation to adopt self-declared rates for terminal dues as soon as practical, and no later than January 1, 2020.”

Trump Is Right About China’s Postal Subsidy   - President Donald Trump has been known to exaggerate what he sees as China’s unfair advantages in trade with the U.S., and to unproductively escalate tensions between the two countries. But with his latest complaint, having to do with the seemingly trivial matter of global postal fees, Trump has highlighted an unfair imbalance between the two nations that should be relatively easy to put right. Here’s the problem: Arcane rules established by the 144-year-old Universal Postal Union make it possible for a Chinese e-retailer to send a package across the Pacific to a customer in the U.S. at a cost lower than what an American competitor would spend to ship the same item to a neighboring state. This is because the union, which determines what national carriers can charge to deliver small packages and first-class letters originally sent from abroad, allows poor nations to pay lower rates than wealthy ones. That makes sense. But, insensibly, the union still places China, the world’s second-largest economy, in the same category as Bosnia, Botswana, Cuba and other developing countries. (India also gets some degree of preferential treatment.) These steep postal discounts add to the considerable cost advantages Chinese manufacturers already have over American firms. And they hurt the United States Postal Service — which delivers packages that originate from China at a loss — and put private shippers like FedEx and UPS at a disadvantage.

U.S. Announces Trade Talks With Allies Amid China Dispute - U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer notified Congress that the Trump administration seeks to open talks with Japan, the European Union, and the United Kingdom to “address both tariff and non-tariff barriers to achieve fairer, more balanced trade” (WaPo).The move appears to be part of a new phase in U.S. trade policy as the administration resolves disputes with allies while continuing a trade war with China (FT). Lighthizer said trade talks with Japan and the European Union could begin in three months. That would follow a mandatory ninety-day congressional review period. Negotiations with the United Kingdom could begin once it formally exits the European Union in March 2019 (Bloomberg). "The trade actions to date haven’t come close to achieving the turnaround in manufacturing trade President Trump promised. Imports of manufactures are up significantly," writes CFR's Brad W. Setser."The European Union is likely to reap particularly large benefits, because it remains one of the largest trading partners of both the US and China, and because European producers are often US companies’ closest competitors," Daniel Gros writes for Project Syndicate.“Despite its very real role in increasing inequality, globalization does, as its champions argue, still do more good than harm,” Matthew J. Slaughter and Kenneth F. Scheve write for Foreign Affairs.

USTR gears up to negotiate 3 new trade deals - As if 2019 weren’t busy enough with an effort to push a new North American trade deal through Congress, President Donald Trump’s trade team will now take on three negotiations with the European Union, Japan and the United Kingdom. The administration took the formal step of notifying Congress of the trade talks in letters sent Tuesday — a requirement under Trade Promotion Authority legislation.The three letters (Japan, EU and U.K.) allow the administration to begin talks within 90 days, although the U.K. letter notes that negotiations with Britain won’t start until after the country exits the EU, which is expected to happen on March 29. The letters shed little light on what the U.S. specifically will include in the scope of any talks. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said he will comply with the broad negotiating objectives laid out by Congress in the TPA legislation. On the Japan and EU talks, the letters say the aim of negotiations is to “address both tariff and non-tariff barriers and to achieve fairer, more balanced trade.” USTR also says it could pursue those two talks “in stages as appropriate.” The U.K. letter uses different language in which the U.S. sets expectations for an “ambitious” agreement that would remove tariff and non-tariff barriers on goods and services and develop “cutting edge obligations for emerging sectors.”Preparatory talks with Brussels, Tokyo and London have provided a small glimpse into what could come out of the talks. A joint statement between the U.S. and Japan clearly stated U.S. expectations that a deal would increase auto production and jobs domestically and that Japan would not go past its previous deals on opening its market to agricultural imports. The U.S. had negotiated bilaterally with Japan in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks, for which Tokyo made unprecedented openings to its sensitive agricultural market. Observers say it’s likely the U.S. will push Japan even harder to make more concessions on automotive trade.U.S. and EU officials have been scoping out talks since July, when Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said they would negotiate on trade in order to avert U.S. auto tariffs. However, the EU has already said it won’t negotiate on agriculture. The deal was initially pitched by Brussels as a way to eliminate all remaining tariffs on industrial goods, including cars, but it could also include efforts to align regulatory standards. European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said in August that the talks are not an attempt to restart the comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that started and stalled under the Obama administration. The EU trade chief said the two sides are now aiming for “a more limited trade agreement.” Meanwhile, U.S. and British officials have been meeting under the auspices of a trade “working group” since 2017 to prepare for Brexit. That work has been geared toward laying the groundwork for formal trade talks but also having as much of the pre-existing regulatory arrangements ready to go the day after the U.K. splits from Brussels. Megan has more here.

Washington Post Says that Protectionism for Its Friends is “Free Trade” Dean Baker - Yes, they are at it again. Expressing the usual journalistic need to waste words, the Post twice referred to trade deals that Donald Trump is attempting to negotiate as "free-trade" deals. While these deals are likely to reduce barriers in some areas (not for foreign physicians who want to practice in the US), they will almost certainly include longer and stronger patent and copyright protections.We understand that the Post likes to see money going from the rest of us to Pfizer, Microsoft, and Disney, but that doesn't make these forms of protectionism free trade. It would be nice if the paper could just give the facts and spare us the propaganda.

U.S., Canada and Mexico look for a steel solution - The three NAFTA countries are looking for a way to lift the steel and aluminum tariffs and retaliatory duties, potentially through some sort of quota. Also, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' harsh comments in Brussels have pushed the U.S.-EU trade truce to a breaking point, and the yuan is tumbling after Treasury issued China a warning about the relative weakness of its currency.  The duties of 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively, haven’t been lifted despite the three countries reaching a new North American trade deal at the end of September. President Donald Trump imposed the tariffs under a law that allows trade restrictions on the basis of national security concerns.“This is being discussed at very high levels between the three governments,” Philip Bell, president of the Steel Manufacturers Association, told Morning Trade. “There will be something in place to replace the 25 percent tariff.” It’s unclear what will replace the tariffs, which have invited retaliation from Canada and Mexico. Other countries like Brazil and Argentina have accepted quotas limiting their exports of steel and aluminum to the U.S. Industry sources say they expect the same to apply to Canada and Mexico. A Canadian industry source said the government in Ottawa was quietly preparing business for a managed trade solution that could involve quotas. A USTR spokeswoman declined to comment. The top trade negotiator in the incoming Mexican government, Jesús Seade, said earlier this week the U.S. is seeking to impose quotas on Mexico as part of its solution. In an interview with Reuters, he said he had discussions with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in which the U.S. official said the solution would involve managing volumes of trade. Mexican Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo said he hopes the dispute would be resolved before the new government took office.

Trump's USMCA victory lap hits roadblocks over tariffs - The Trump administration is looking to talk up the new North American trade pact ahead of the midterms with the help of Canada and Mexico — but lingering tariffs could stop that from happening. Plus, a major auto industry group is pushing to get the penalties on steel and aluminum lifted, and a group of Democrats are urging USTR to reconsider exemptions on the latest China tariffs.  President Donald Trump wants to tout the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement with a symbolic signing ceremony ahead of the midterms. But Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum from Mexico and Canada could derail his plans to have the two neighbors participate in his show. Canadian and White House sources told POLITICO there are discussions about inviting Canadian and Mexican officials to an event in an industrial Midwest city. But the Canadians, at least, aren’t inclined to help Trump garner favor with voters unless he gives in on the tariffs. “There won’t be any of that as long as the tariffs are in place,” Canadian Ambassador David MacNaughton said. Mexican officials said all options are being considered. Two senior U.S. officials said there has been discussion about “generous quotas” for Canada and Mexico to replace the duties — 25 percent for steel and 10 percent on aluminum — that went into effect in June. MacNaughton declined to say whether Canada would refuse to ultimately sign the deal if the tariffs weren’t removed entirely. “We just don’t think quotas or tariffs make an awful lot of sense between Canada and the United States,” MacNaughton said. “That’s our position and that’s a position we’ve taken consistently.”Jesús Seade, chief NAFTA negotiator for Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador, told Mexican newspaper Reforma that the new deal should not be signed until Trump eliminates the duties.  Adam Behsudi, Ben White and Doug Palmer have more on the possible future of the tariffs here.

Trump's Stimulus Trumps his Trade Policy - Brad Setser - It is hard to think of a President more committed—at least rhetorically—to closing the trade balance than President Trump. The usual criticism of his trade policy is that it is overly focused on a single goal—reducing the bilateral, and ultimately the overall, trade deficit, to the exclusion of more traditional goals like liberalization (e.g. expanding trade) or expanding the scope of the traditional rules governing trade. President Trump has made it equally clear he cares about the manufacturing balance.   Yet the results of the first seven quarters of his presidency show, ironically, the limits on what can be achieved through trade policy alone. To be sure, the impact of Trump's new tariffs (on China) and the new trade deal (with Canada and Mexico) aren't in the data yet. President Trump's trade policy for the first six quarters of his presidency consisted of halting further liberalization (by opting not to participate in the TPP) and a set of fairly narrow, sector specific trade cases (steel, solar, washing machines); the really big shift in policy is only now starting.   But, well, the trade actions to date haven’t come close to achieving the turnaround in manufacturing trade President Trump promised. Imports of manufactures are up significantly. (I forecast out the third quarter based on the first two months of data, if China's September numbers are indicative, I may have been too conservative).  I used the contributions data in the national income and product accounts rather than the trade data directly. And I calculated the contribution each quarter from the national income and product accounts data and then summed the contributions over time. This avoids the difficulties of scaling real trade measures to real GDP (I think) – and takes out the effect of price movement. This allows me to paint a picture about what is happening to different sectors of the economy—manufacturing for example, petrol, and even services (though there isn’t a story in the services data over the past few years)—as well as the overall numbers.* What jumps out in the data on manufacturing trade? Well, two macroeconomic factors. One: The dollar’s 2014/15 appreciation led export growth to stall, and created a significant drag on the economy at a time when overall demand growth was weak. Falling exports added to the pressure on the manufacturing sector created by the fall in oil and agricultural investment (see Neil Irwin of the New York Times). Two: Trump’s stimulus has, as predicted, supported strong import growth—even in the face of Trump’s “America first” trade policy. Yep, so far Trump’s overall policy mix—his combination of stimulative macroeconomic policies and more aggressive trade policy—has delivered a net stimulus of about 1 percent of U.S. GDP to the United States' main manufacturing trade partners. Trump’s stimulus—and the still relatively strong dollar—are making German and Chinese exports great (again).

Trump considers reinstating family separations at the border -- According to a report in the Washington Post Friday, the Trump administration is considering reinstating a version of the “zero tolerance” family separation program it implemented in May as part of its ongoing war against immigrants. In the most widely discussed proposal, parents who cross the border will be detained with their children for 20 days, at which point they will be forced to chose between being deported together or being detained separately.This sadistic policy, likely devised by Trump’s aide Stephen Miller, has a distinctly fascistic character. The proposal to force parents to chose between separation and deportation to war-torn, violence-ridden Central America constitutes a form of emotional torture.The government is employing the language of the extreme right, linking the mass detention of children with “tough-on-crime” rhetoric aimed at falsely presenting immigrants as a threat to public safety.In an email statement to the Post, deputy White House Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said, “Career law enforcement professionals in the U.S. government are working to analyze and evaluate options that would protect the American people, prevent the horrific actions of child smuggling, and stop drug cartels from pouring into our communities.”A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official told Politico, “There is currently a crisis at our southern border as we encounter rising numbers of adults who enter the country illegally with children. Catch-and-release loopholes in the law incentivize illegal border-crossers to take this dangerous journey because they are unlikely to face consequences for their illegal conduct and in fact will almost certainly be released.”US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is also reportedly considering eliminating the right of any asylum applicant to appear before a judge. “Everything’s on the table,” the DHS official told Politico. “Nothing is ruled out by virtue of having litigation risk.”In other words, the Constitution and international law are dead letter. These words are a serious threat not only to democratic rights, but also to the physical safety of immigrants.

Trump warns Central American countries he'll withhold funds over immigrant 'caravan' -- President Trump in a tweet on Tuesday warned Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador that he intends to withhold funds if the "caravan" of Honduran migrants reaches the U.S.-Mexico border.Trump earlier in the day had threatened to cut off aid for Honduras over the so-called caravan. "We have today informed the countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador that if they allow their citizens, or others, to journey through their borders and up to the United States, with the intention of entering our country illegally, all payments made to them will STOP (END)!" Trump tweeted on Tuesday evening."Anybody entering the United States illegally will be arrested and detained, prior to being sent back to their country!" he added in another post.The U.S. in fiscal year 2017 gave around $248 million in aid toGuatemala, $175 million to Honduras, and $115 million to El Salvador. Trump's tweets are a response to reports that there is a migrant caravan of more than 1,600 people moving north from Honduras, heading toward Guatemala with the ultimate goal of reaching the U.S.-Mexico border. Many of the migrants say they are fleeing rampant poverty and violence in Honduras."There's a misery and a violence that is overwhelming people," an organizer with the group, Dunia Montoya, told The Associated Press on Monday. "People no longer have faith in this country and they are fleeing." The caravan is currently making its way through Guatemala, NBC reported.

 Trump Vows To Send Military, Close Southern Border To Block Migrants - As another "migrant caravan" has swelled to more than 4,000 hopeful "asylum seekers" marching toward the US's southern border, recently prompting the Mexican government to dispatch 500 additional border guards to its border with Guatemala, President Trump threatened to send in the military and close the US's southern border with Mexico in a tweet Thursday morning, after threatening to withhold aid from Honduras earlier in the week.  After bashing Democrats for pushing for "open borders" and Honduras and Guatemala for having "almost no control" over their populations, Trump demanded that Mexico "stop this onslaught" at the country's border with the US. If they fail, Trump threatened to ("in addition to stopping all payments to those countries") "call up the US Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!"  The new caravan, which began in the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula with 150 migrants, has swelled in size. It's the second caravan from Honduras this year.  Trump added that "the assault on our country...including the Criminal elements and DRUGS pouring in, is far more important to me, as President, than Trade or USMCA," adding "hopefully Mexico will stop this onslaught" before declaring it's "all Democrats fault for weak laws!"

 Trump threatens to deploy military to close US-Mexico border --Donald Trump threatened Thursday to deploy the US military to close the US-Mexico border as a caravan of 4,000 immigrants fleeing Honduras in search of asylum approached the southern border of Mexico.Calling the caravan an “onslaught” and an “assault,” Trump demanded that Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico all use armed force to stop the immigrants, tweeting:“In addition to stopping all payments to these countries, which seem to have almost no control over their population, I must, in the strongest of terms, ask Mexico to stop this onslaught - and if unable to do so I will call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!”  Deploying the armed forces to “seal the border” poses the threat of mass arrests, mass detention and extensive military checkpoints. It raises the specter of martial law and violates the democratic principle of posse comitatus, which bars the military from carrying out law enforcement activities within the country.The immigrants marching north have maintained a hopeful and defiant spirit despite Trump’s threats. The caravan, which is made up of people who would normally make their way separately toward the US border, has been transformed into a political demonstration whose daily movements are followed closely by all the region’s major media outlets, along with the US Spanish-language network Univision.As the marchers, many of them mothers with young children, moved northwest en route to the United States, they chanted and waved Honduran flags and greeted onlookers, who delivered donations of food and water.These Honduran workers and impoverished peasants are fleeing a country ravished by imperialist exploitation and US-backed death squads and thrown into disarray by the 2009 coup that overthrew the country’s elected president Manuel Zelaya—an international crime overseen by Democratic Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In press interviews, the immigrants are gaining widespread popularity for denouncing the inequality, corruption and state violence that plague all of Central America.The Mexican government has responded to Trump’s orders by preparing to carry out the dirty work of his administration’s crackdown on immigrants, including physical repression. Yesterday, black airplanes carrying several hundred Mexican federal police armed with riot gear arrived at the Mexico-Guatemala border. Helicopters were also deployed to monitor the border region.

Migrant caravan: Tear gas on Guatemala Mexico border - Thousands of would-be migrants are stranded on the border between Guatemala and Mexico, after Mexican police blocked their bid to reach the US. On Friday some tried to force their way across the frontier bridge, reportedly throwing rocks at riot police. The officers used tear gas to push back the crowd, most of whom are from Honduras. President Trump, who has threatened to cut aid to Honduras over the issue, thanked Mexico for holding back the group. The migrants, whose numbers include children and elderly people, say they are simply trying to escape violence and poverty. Jari Dixon, an opposition politician in Honduras, tweeted on Monday that the caravan was not "seeking the American dream" but "fleeing the Honduras nightmare". These pictures capture the scenes unfolding on the Guatemala-Mexico border.

America’s Ongoing Civil War - Jeffrey D. Sachs - America continues be in a state of civil war. Not just acivil war, but the civil war. In the first round, back in the 1860s, the Confederacy lost. Yet now the Confederacy is temporarily on top. The United States remains one country divided by two cultures. From the start, the US has been a battleground of two competing visions. America’s founding credo was that “all men are created equal.” Yet the founding reality was that white males were far more equal than everyone else. White men owned slaves, denied the vote to women, and took the lands and lives of native Americans. During the 1861-1865 Civil War, the slaveholding Confederacy, formed by 13 secessionist states, was defeated by 19 northern states and then occupied by the federal government for a dozen years. Yet after “Reconstruction” ended in 1877, the South vigorously practiced systemic racism for almost a century, until the US Congress enacted the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, mainly with the support of northern Democrats. From that moment, Southern white voters deserted the Democratic Party en masse. The Republicans embraced the so-called Southern strategy, based on resisting the rise of African-Americans and other minority groups and opposing legislation that would transfer any funds, status, or power to them. The Republicans thereby became the party of the South, and the Democrats the party of the Northeast and Pacific West, with the Midwest and western mountain states the swing regions. The industrial Great Lakes region tended toward the Democrats while the Midwestern farm states and mountain states leaned Republican. The Midwestern and mountain states also carried the frontier culture of white settlers suppressing native Americans and Asian and Hispanic immigrants. Gun ownership marks another divide between Democrats and Republicans. The Republican Party’s gun culture reflects the same cultural forces that shape its anti-minority views. In a brilliant book, Loaded, historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz reminds us that the “well-regulated militias” mentioned in the US Constitution’s Second Amendment, which enshrines the right to bear arms, were groups of white men that raided native American villages and hunted down escaped slaves.

White House Announces That the U.S. Intends to Withdraw From International Postal Agency The Trump administration announced on Wednesday it plans to withdraw from an organization aimed at tackling international postal issues, saying the existing agreements put U.S. businesses at a disadvantage.The administration planned to deliver its “letter of denunciation” to formally convey its intention to leave the Universal Postal Union on Wednesday, a senior White House official said. The UPU traces back to an international treaty from 1874 and now exists as an agency within the United Nations.The announcement follows a presidential memorandum Trump issued in August in which the president said other nations were unfairly receiving cheaper rates when sending small packages into the United States than postal customers shipping domestically. Trump directed the U.S. contingency at a UPU meeting last month in Ethiopia—an interagency group led by the State Department—to negotiate a fairer pricing structure, but White House officials said there was little progress toward that goal.The withdrawal announcement kicks off a year-long process, and officials were hopeful they can negotiate a new system in the interim before the administration finalizes its departure from the international group. The announcement comes as the Trump administration is engaging in a trade dispute with China, and senior officials said the current system mostly benefits China, as well as Singapore and a few European countries such as France and Germany. Those countries receive a 40-70 percent discount on packages weighing 4.4 pounds or less, officials said. The White House is seeking authority to set its own rates to ensure the Postal Service is able to cover its costs and that American businesses are not put at a disadvantage. Currently, the UPU sets “terminal dues” as the rates that foreign mailers pay to a postal operator in the country of destination to cover costs for shipping a package. Efforts to push for self-determination of rates were not well received at the Ethiopia meeting, a senior White House official said, and the administration will now begin a regulatory process to accomplish that on its own outside of the UPU.

Obama’s Resistance to Investigating the Bush Administration Allowed Brett Kavanaugh to Skate Onto the Supreme Court - Kavanaugh’s rise to the Supreme Court is the result of elite institutional failure. The judge was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts on Saturday evening, even as demonstrators banged on the doors of the court. “The road that led us here has been bitter, angry, and partisan,” said Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer on the Senate floor after the vote, “steeped in hypocrisy and hyperbole and resentment and outrage.”Three allegations of sexual assault — the first was broken by The Intercept — and and FBI investigation weren’t enough to sink Kavanaugh. Nor were indications of perjurious testimony — in part because a trove of documents relating to Kavanaugh’s time with the Bush administration that is currently being analyzed by the National Archives, including emails and memos about surveillance, torture, and Kavanaugh’s involvement with a hacking scandal, won’t be released until the end of October.At least 100,000 documents relating to Kavanaugh’s involvement in developing policy during his time as associate counsel to the president from 2001 to 2003, and his time as staff secretary from 2003 to 2006, have been withheld by the Trump administration, citing executive privilege. But the National Archives revealed, in response to a lawsuit from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, that there are hundreds of emails in the separate, 300,000 document cache that the agency is reviewing for publication. “The communication to EPIC revealed that Kavanaugh sent 11 e-mails to John Yoo, the architect of warrantless wiretapping; 227 e-mails about ‘surveillance’ programs and the ‘Patriot Act;’ and 119 e-mails concerning ‘CAPPS II’ (passenger profiling), ‘Fusion Centers’ (government surveillance centers), and the Privacy Act,” EPIC said in a statement announcing the revelation. With proper public understanding of Kavanaugh’s role in the unpopular policies of of the Bush White House, that role may have been disqualifying by itself.

Democrat Senators Traded 15 Trump Judge Confirmations to Go Campaign Newsweek. With the November midterms approaching, Senate Democrats on Thursday night made a deal with their Republican colleagues to allow their endangered incumbents to get home and campaign, according to multiple reports. In exchange for the ability to go campaign, Democrats agreed to confirm 15 federal judges—a lifetime appointment—who had been nominated by President Donald Trump. Politico reported that it was a calculated move by the Democrats because, under Senate rules, even if they spent 30 hours of debate on each nominee, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would still have been able to push them through before the election.  So, the Democrats, led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, made the deal to go home. Liberal activists were upset, especially on the heels of the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was confirmed despite multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. Chris Kang, the chief counsel for activist group Demand Justice, called it "totally unnecessary" and "a bitter pill to swallow so soon after the Kavanaugh fight," according to The New York Times.  But Democrats said they simply would not have been able to stop the Trump-nominated federal judges from reaching the bench."The fact of the matter is, we don’t have the votes to stop these nominees,"

Trump Probably Engaged in Felony Tax Evasion -- NEP’s Bill Black appears on The Real News Network and analyzes the New York Times investigation into Trump’s tax evasion and argues that if true, these would be considered felonies. However, he will probably never be held to account for this, before he leaves office. You can view here with transcript.

Kushner Paid No Federal Income Tax for Years, Documents Suggest Over the past decade, Jared Kushner’s family company has spent billions of dollars buying real estate. His personal stock investments have soared. His net worth has quintupled to almost $324 million.And yet, for several years running, Mr. Kushner — President Trump’s son-in-law and a senior White House adviser — appears to have paid almost no federal income taxes, according to confidential financial documents reviewed by The New York Times.His low tax bills are the result of a common tax-minimizing maneuver that, year after year, generated millions of dollars in losses for Mr. Kushner, according to the documents. But the losses were only on paper — Mr. Kushner and his company did not appear to actually lose any money. The losses were driven by depreciation, a tax benefit that lets real estate investors deduct a portion of the cost of their buildings from their taxable income every year.In 2015, for example, Mr. Kushner took home $1.7 million in salary and investment gains. But those earnings were swamped by $8.3 million of losses, largely because of “significant depreciation” that Mr. Kushner and his company took on their real estate, according to the documents reviewed by The Times.  Nothing in the documents suggests Mr. Kushner or his company broke the law. A spokesman for Mr. Kushner’s lawyer said that Mr. Kushner “paid all taxes due.”In theory, the depreciation provision is supposed to shield real estate developers from having their investments whittled away by wear and tear on their buildings. In practice, though, the allowance often represents a lucrative giveaway to developers like Mr. Trump and Mr. Kushner.

 Trump Jr. and Other Aides Met With Gulf Emissary Offering Help to Win Election -NYT— Three months before the 2016 election, a small group gathered at Trump Tower to meet with Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son. One was an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation. Another was an emissary for two wealthy Arab princes. The third was a Republican donor with a controversial past in the Middle East as a private security contractor.The meeting was convened primarily to offer help to the Trump team, and it forged relationships between the men and Trump insiders that would develop over the coming months — past the election and well into President Trump’s first year in office, according to several people with knowledge of their encounters.Erik Prince, the private security contractor and the former head of Blackwater, arranged the meeting, which took place on Aug. 3, 2016. The emissary, George Nader, told Donald Trump Jr. that the princes who led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were eager to help his father win election as president. The social media specialist, Joel Zamel, extolled his company’s ability to give an edge to a political campaign; by that time, the firm had already drawn up a multimillion-dollar proposal for a social media manipulation effort to help elect Mr. Trump.The company, which employed several Israeli former intelligence officers, specialized in collecting information and shaping opinion through social media.  Donald Trump Jr. was said to respond approvingly to a proposal for a social media manipulation effort to help elect his father as president.CreditDamon Winter/The New York Times It is unclear whether such a proposal was executed, and the details of who commissioned it remain in dispute. But Donald Trump Jr. responded approvingly, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting, and after those initial offers of help, Mr. Nader was quickly embraced as a close ally by Trump campaign advisers — meeting frequently with Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, and Michael T. Flynn, who became the president’s first national security adviser. At the time, Mr. Nader was also promoting a secret plan to use private contractors to destabilize Iran, the regional nemesis of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.

U.S. brings first charge for meddling in 2018 midterm elections - The Justice Department has brought its first criminal case over alleged Russian interference in the 2018 midterm elections. Elena Khusyaynova, 44, a St. Petersburg, Russia-based accountant, was charged in a criminal complaint with conspiracy to defraud the United States for taking part in a scheme to spend in excess of $10 million since the beginning of the year on targeted social media ads and web postings intended “to sow division and discord in the U.S. political system.” Story Continued Below ..Khusyaynova, who is not in U.S. custody, allegedly works for Concord, a Russia-based firm that special counsel Robert Mueller's office indicted in February for alleged interference in the 2016 election. The unsealing of the new charge Friday appears to signal that U.S. law enforcement is not letting up in its efforts to investigate, deter and publicize alleged Russian interference in U.S. politics. The release was coordinated with a statement from President Donald Trump’s top national security leaders warning about the foreign interference efforts from Russia, China and Iran. These “ongoing campaigns” seek to “undermine confidence in democratic institutions and influence public sentiment and government policies,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and the heads of the FBI and the departments of Justice and Homeland Security said in a joint statement. They added that the activities are an attempt to sway voter opinions and decisions about the upcoming election as well as ahead of the 2020 presidential vote.

FBI investigated whether McCabe leaked info about Flynn and Trump to media - The FBI opened an investigation into an unauthorized media leak of a comment made by former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe about former national security adviser Michael Flynn and President Trump, according to bureau documents released Monday.The documents show that the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs received a complaint about an alleged leak that involved “a statement overheard in early February 2017.”“Specifically, the alleged comments were made by DD AG McCabe and pertained to General Michael T. Flynn and the POTUS,” one document states.The investigation into the unauthorized media disclosure appears to have started on March 20, 2017.The document does not make it clear whether McCabe was a witness or made the statement himself, as the complaint alleged.A spokesperson for McCabe declined to comment.Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe earlier this year, saying the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility and Office of Inspector General (OIG) had found McCabe made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and "lacked candor — including under oath — on multiple occasions."McCabe was dismissed just days before the then-FBI official was set to retire and would have been eligible for his pension.

Paul Manafort shows up to court in a wheelchair, learns sentencing date Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was rolled into a Virginia federal court Friday in a wheelchair, wearing a green prison uniform instead of his signature tailored suit.The judge scheduled Manafort to be sentenced Feb. 8 for eight counts of tax evasion and bank fraud and dismissed the remaining charges against him.Manafort, appearing visibly grayer, was pushed into court in a wheelchair, missing his right shoe."There are significant issues with Mr. Manafort’s health concerning confinement," his lawyer, Kevin Downing, told the judge.Downing requested that the court expedite Manafort’s sentencing so he could be moved to a facility better equipped to deal with his health issues.A jury in Alexandria convicted Manafort on eight counts of tax evasion and bank fraud counts in August, but were unable to reach a verdict on 10 additional counts, leaving Mueller's prosecutors to decide whether to retry him. The new ruling no longer gives them that option. In September, Manafort took a plea deal based on separate charges filed by the Mueller team in Washington, agreeing to cooperate with investigators. Court filings in that case indicated that the prosecutors would seek to delay Manafort's sentence in the Virginia case until they were satisfied that he had answered all their questions as part of his cooperation agreement.

Judge Dismisses Remaining Charges Against Paul Manafort - Amid reports that former Trump campaign executive Paul Manafort has been spending an awful lot of time in the special counsel's office (visiting at least nine times in the last four weeks, according to CNN), the Virginia judge who presided over the summer trial where Manafort was convicted of 8 counts of tax fraud and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts has dismissed the 10 remaining deadlocked counts against against the political operative, the first indication of how Manafort's efforts to cooperate with prosecutors (turning over information that some believe could lead to one more bombshell indictment from the special counsel) has benefited him.  Manafort appeared in an Alexandria Federal Court Friday in a wheelchair, and his lawyer complained of his client's ill health, and asked that he be sentenced as soon as possible. Judge T.S. Ellis then set a date for Manafort's sentencing was set for Feb. 8. Manafort's lawyer, Kevin Downing, said this expedited sentencing was for Manafort’s safety. Moving up the pre-sentence investigation would allow Manafort to move as soon as possible out of a local jail and presumably to a federal prison, per the Washington Post.

 Mueller Ready to Deliver Key Findings in His Trump Probe, Sources Say - Special Counsel Robert Mueller is expected to issue findings on core aspects of his Russia probe soon after the November midterm elections as he faces intensifying pressure to produce more indictments or shut down his investigation, according to two U.S. officials. Specifically, Mueller is close to rendering judgment on two of the most explosive aspects of his inquiry: whether there were clear incidents of collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, and whether the president took any actions that constitute obstruction of justice, according to one of the officials, who asked not to be identified speaking about the investigation. That doesn’t necessarily mean Mueller’s findings would be made public if he doesn’t secure unsealed indictments. The regulations governing Mueller’s probe stipulate that he can present his findings only to his boss, who is currently Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The regulations give a special counsel’s supervisor some discretion in deciding what is relayed to Congress and what is publicly released. The question of timing is critical. Mueller’s work won’t be concluded ahead of the Nov. 6 midterm elections, when Democrats hope to take control of the House and end Trump’s one-party hold on Washington. But this timeline also raises questions about the future of the probe itself. Trump has signaled he may replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions after the election, a move that could bring in a new boss for Mueller. Rosenstein also might resign or be fired by Trump after the election. Rosenstein has made it clear that he wants Mueller to wrap up the investigation as expeditiously as possible, another U.S. official said. The officials gave no indications about the details of Mueller’s conclusions. Mueller’s office declined to comment for this story.

Mueller assembles team of cooperators in Russian probe Special counsel Robert Mueller has assembled a list of figures cooperating with his Russia investigation that could provide him with substantial insight into the workings of the Trump campaign. Mueller’s ability to turn associates of President Trump into cooperators has been a key facet of his investigation, lending strength to a probe that has pressed on for nearly a year and a half amid withering public scrutiny. Legal analysts expect former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and other recruits to bring the special counsel closer to getting to the bottom of whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow, though doing so may hinge on Mueller striking deals with even more figures. With Mueller’s probe advancing behind closed doors, it is impossible for onlookers to judge the value or extent of any one witness’s cooperation. At the same time, observers say the deals Mueller has struck signal he believes their cooperation to have significant value. “If they have struck a deal where they’re going to cooperate, then that’s a pretty good indication that special counsel’s office believes they have something worth cooperating over,” said Jack Sharman, a former special counsel to Congress for the Whitewater investigation. In Manafort, the newest cooperator, the special counsel has a window into the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between top campaign aides and a lawyer with connections to the Russian government. The central question surrounding the Trump Tower meeting and other significant events is whether members of the campaign conspired with Russia to damage Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions, and to what level any such conspiracy rose in the campaign.

Mueller report PSA: Prepare for disappointment - President Donald Trump's critics have spent the past 17 months anticipating what some expect will be among the most thrilling events of their lives: special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report on Russian 2016 election interference. They may be in for a disappointment. ..That’s the word POLITICO got from defense lawyers working on the Russia probe and more than 15 former government officials with investigation experience spanning Watergate to the 2016 election case. The public, they say, shouldn’t expect a comprehensive and presidency-wrecking account of Kremlin meddling and alleged obstruction of justice by Trump — not to mention an explanation of the myriad subplots that have bedeviled lawmakers, journalists and amateur Mueller sleuths. Perhaps most unsatisfying: Mueller’s findings may never even see the light of day. “That’s just the way this works,” said John Q. Barrett, a former associate counsel who worked under independent counsel Lawrence Walsh during the Reagan-era investigation into secret U.S. arms sales to Iran. “Mueller is a criminal investigator. He’s not government oversight, and he’s not a historian.” All of this may sound like a buzzkill after two years of intense news coverage depicting a potential conspiracy between the Kremlin and Trump’s campaign, plus the scores of tweets from the White House condemning the Mueller probe as a “witch hunt.”

FBI Concealed Evidence That Directly Refutes Premise Of Trump-Russia Probe- GOP Lawmaker -  After hinting for months that the FBI was not forthcoming with federal surveillance court judges when they made their case to spy on the Trump campaign, Texas Rep. John Ratcliffe (R) said on Sunday that the agency is holding evidence which "directly refutes" its premise for launching the probe, reports the Daily Caller's Chuck Ross. Texas Rep. John Ratcliffe provided Sunday the clearest picture to date of what the FBI allegedly withheld from the surveillance court.  Ratcliffe suggested that the FBI failed to include evidence regarding former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, in an interview with Fox News.Ratcliffe noted that the FBI opened its investigation on July 31, 2016, after receiving information from the Australian government about a conversation that Papadopoulos had on May 10, 2016, with Alexander Downer, the top Australian diplomat to the U.K. -Daily CallerWhile Australia's Alexander Downer claimed that Papadopoulos revealed Russia had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton, Ratcliffe - who sits on the House Judiciary Committee - suggested on Sunday that the FBI and DOJ possess information which directly contradicts that account. "Hypothetically, if the Department of Justice and the FBI have another piece of evidence that directly refutes that, that directly contradicts that, what you would expect is for the Department of Justice to present both sides of the coin to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to evaluate the weight and sufficiency of that evidence," Ratcliffe said, adding: "Instead, what happened here was Department of Justice and FBI officials in the Obama administration in October of 2016 only presented to the court the evidence that made the government’s case to get a warrant to spy on a Trump campaign associate."

Rosenstein Agrees to Sit for Transcribed Interview With Judiciary, Oversight Leaders Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has agreed to sit for a transcribed interview with leaders of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees Oct. 24, the panels’ chairmen announced Thursday evening. The announcement comes just hours after House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, an Oversight subcommittee chairman, called on Rosenstein to resign, citing his unwillingness to cooperate with the panels’ investigation. “Even more importantly, based on further information we’ve learned over the last week, it’s also clear Mr. Rosenstein has shown a lack of candor in the way he characterized his involvement in a number of events to Congressional investigators,” the North Carolina Republican said in a statement. “Repeatedly, he has declined opportunities to come before Congress and tell the truth.” Several Judiciary and Oversight members thought Rosenstein was going to appear before the panels Oct. 11, but the date was never officially agreed to as Rosenstein allegedly did not want to sit for a transcribed interview before the full committees but offered to do a briefing instead. Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte and Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy announced later Wednesday that Rosenstein will sit for a transcribed interview that they will conduct with Judiciary ranking members Jerold Nadler and Oversight ranking member Elijah E. Cummings. The only other person will who be present for the interview besides Rosenstein and the four committee leaders will be a court reporter.

Stormy Daniels Lawsuit Dismissed, Trump Entitled To Legal Fees - The Judge has dismissed porn actress and stripper Stephanie Clifford's lawsuit against President Trump, according to one of Trump's attorneys. The judge says that Trump is entitled to legal fees from Daniels, which Trump's legal team says will be determined at a later date.  FLASH: Federal judge dismisses porn star Stormy Daniels’ defamation lawsuit against President Donald Trump pic.twitter.com/J1UJrTi1Ys   A statement from Trump's legal team reads:  United States District Judge S. James Otero issued an order and ruling today dismissing Stormy Daniels' defamation lawsuit against President Trump. The ruling also states that the President is entitled to an award of his attorneys' fees against Stormy Daniels. A copy of the ruling is attached. No amount of spin or com mentary by Stormy Daniels or her lawyer, Mr. Avenatti, can truthfully characterize today's ruling in any way other than total victory for President Trump and total defeat for Stormy Daniels. The amount of the award for President Trump's attorneys' fees will be determined at a later date.Daniels' attorney Michael Avenatti responded to the dismissal, tweeting: "We will appeal the dismissal of the defamation cause of action and are confident in a reversal," while stating that Daniels' other claims against Trump and Cohen "proceed unaffected." 

 Trump calls Stormy Daniels 'Horseface’ -- President Trump on Tuesday called adult-film star Stormy Daniels "Horseface" and threatened to "go after" her after he won a court victory over his alleged mistress.“'Federal Judge throws out Stormy Danials [sic] lawsuit versus Trump. Trump is entitled to full legal fees.' @FoxNews Great, now I can go after Horseface and her 3rd rate lawyer in the Great State of Texas. She will confirm the letter she signed! She knows nothing about me, a total con!' he tweeted.The tweet comes one day after a federal judge in California threw out Daniels's defamation lawsuit against Trump and ordered Daniels to repay the president's legal fees.Daniels's attorney, Michael Avenatti, responded by calling Trump a "disgusting misogynist" and a "liar" who has dishonored his family and country."You are a disgusting misogynist and an embarrassment to the United States. Bring everything you have, because we are going to demonstrate to the world what a complete shyster and liar you are. How many other women did you cheat on your wife with while you had a baby at home?"

Warren DNA test results ‘strongly support’ existence of Native American ancestor -- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Monday publicly released results of a DNA test that a top researcher said “strongly support[s]” the existence of a Native American ancestor.Warren gave the results of the analysis, conducted by Stanford University professor and MacArthur genius Carlos Bustamante, to The Boston Globe.Bustamante said that Warren’s test results show the “vast majority” of her ancestry is European, but that “the results strongly support the existence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor,” likely 6–10 generations ago.Warren’s campaign also released a video on her family history,published fact-checking informationon her website about her heritage and published the results of Bustamante’s report.“The facts suggest that you absolutely have Native American ancestry in your pedigree,” Bustamante tells the senator in the video.The results of the test align with what Warren has said publicly about her heritage, though she has come under fire for identifying as Native American earlier in life. The “fact squad” findings published Monday on her website purports to set the record straight on those claims, saying that her heritage “played no role” in her hiring throughout her career. The unprecedented move is seen as an effort to silence critics who claim Warren is fabricating Native American ancestry, including President Trump, who has repeatedly used the derogatory term “Pocahontas” to refer to the senator.

Trump denies offering $1 million for Warren DNA test, even though he did President Trump on Monday denied that he offered Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) $1 million to take a test proving her Native American heritage, even though he did just that.  Trump spoke after Warren responded to the president's challenge and released the results of a DNA test showing she has a distant Native ancestor."I didn't say that. You'd better read it again," Trump told reporters at the White House when asked about his $1 million offer. Responding to a question about Warren's test, Trump said, "Who cares?" During a campaign rally on July 5, Trump taunted Warren for her claims of Native American ancestry, a staple of his campaign stump speeches. "I will give you a million dollars, to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you’re an Indian," Trump said at the time. "I have a feeling she will say 'no.' " FLASHBACK: President Trump on Elizabeth Warren, 7/5/2018: "I will give you a million dollars to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you’re an Indian."https://t.co/WNdyvfgaYd pic.twitter.com/ToAd1qaQJl — The Hill (@thehill) October 15, 2018

 GOP Seizes On Left's Unhinged Mob Mentality In Viral Video - The GOP message going into midterms is simple; the left is an "unhinged mob" full of "radical Democrats" who shouldn't be allowed to govern the country. The mob-mentality began last Saturday after President Trump said that the Democratic resistance to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was an attempt by an "angry mob" to hijack the proceedings "in their quest for power."  "They threw away and threw aside every notion of fairness, of justice, of decency and of due process," Trump said of the anti-Kavanaugh efforts. "What he and his wonderful family endured at the hands of Democrats is unthinkable, unthinkable."Trump then said "On November 6 you will have the chance to stop the radical Democrats — and that’s what they have become."  To that end, the GOP has crafted an advertisement around the "unhinged mob" theme in a Thursday video which quickly went viral:

 Nearly Every Member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Still Takes Corporate PAC Money - In April, the Congressional Progressive Caucus announced that it was going to be drawing a line: Its political action committee would no longer accept corporate campaign donations.   “If we are going to end the influence of corporations and special interests in government, we have to start by not relying on their support,” said caucus co-chair Mark Pocan, D-Wis. “Only by being fully independent of their financial influence can we prioritize people over corporations.”  The development was largely ignored by the press, but for those who heard about it, the move raised an immediate question: Wait, the Congressional Progressive Caucus was taking corporate money?Yes, it was. And not only did the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC accept corporate contributions until recently, but also, almost all of its 78 members — including Pocan — still take corporate money individually, even as their caucus shuns it. Just four caucus members who will be returning to the House next session have pledged to decline corporate funds: Reps. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.; Ro Khanna, D-Calif.; Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii; and David Cicilline, D-R.I.

How tech workers became activists, leading a resistance movement that is shaking up Silicon Valley When news broke in December 2016 that then president–elect Donald Trump would meet with some of the tech world’s most prominent CEOs—Apple’s Tim Cook, Alphabet’s Larry Page, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, among them—many tech workers were furious. In an industry that draws talent and ideas from around the world, Trump’s anti-immigrant campaign promises were abhorrent, and just meeting with him seemed like a tacit endorsement of these views. His promises of mass deportations and a Muslim ban raised additional alarms for some: “If you’re going to target a sector of the population, it requires a database and collecting information on people,” says software engineer Ka-Ping Yee, who worked at the mobile money-transfer platform Wave during the election. “[Databases are] a necessary component of that particular evil.” And who was better poised to build them than the highly skilled engineers of Silicon Valley? So Yee was heartened when his friend (and fellow Canadian) Leigh Honeywell, then a security manager at Slack, enlisted him to help draft a statement to both the incoming administration and tech leaders that Silicon Valley’s rank and file were not on board. “We were seeing what felt like a new energy in tech-employee organizing,” says Honeywell, who had volunteered for the Hillary Clinton campaign. The result was the Never Again pledge, signed by 2,843 engineers, designers, and other workers at companies including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. Referencing the role of IBM’s punch-card technology in Holocaust record-keeping, the signatories vowed not to participate in the creation of any targeted databases for the U.S. government. And they laid out a playbook for worker-led resistance: Raise issues with leadership, whistle-blow, protest, and—as a last resort—resign.

Facebook’s purge of left-wing media: A frontal assault on freedom of speech -- On Thursday, Facebook carried out a mass purge of left-wing political pages as part of an ongoing conspiracy by the state and the technology monopolies to censor the internet.  Over 800 pages and accounts, with a combined following in the tens of millions, were summarily removed. The banned pages include highly popular postings by groups opposing and publicizing incidents of police violence such as Police the Police, Cop Block and Filming Cops, as well as prominent left-wing news pages such as Anti-Media, Reverb Press, Counter Current News and Resistance.The removal of these pages is an unconstitutional assault on freedom of speech and expression. Facebook, acting in coordination with the US government, is violating the most fundamental rights of the American population.Facebook’s claim that the pages are being removed for “inauthentic behavior” is a transparent fraud. It is a pretext for political censorship. No less shocking than the brazen actions of Facebook is the response of all of the mainstream political news outlets, which have parroted the company’s absurd lies, citing “experts” who label constitutionally protected speech as “spam.”  Facebook’s actions are the latest and to date the most aggressive moves in a systematic campaign aimed at delegitimizing political opposition in preparation for the forcible suppression of oppositional groups and news outlets.

Internet Censorship Just Took An Unprecedented Leap Forward, And Hardly Anyone Noticed – Caitlin Johnstone  - While most indie media was focused on debating the way people talk about Kanye West and the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an unprecedented escalation in internet censorship took place which threatens everything we all care about. It received frighteningly little attention. After a massive purge of hundreds of politically oriented pages and personal accounts for “inauthentic behavior”, Facebook rightly received a fair amount of criticism for the nebulous and hotly disputed basis for that action. What received relatively little attention was the far more ominous step which was taken next: within hours of being purged from Facebook, multiple anti-establishment alternative media sites had their accounts completely removed from Twitter as well. As of this writing I am aware of three large alternative media outlets which were expelled from both platforms at almost the same time: Anti-Media, the Free Thought Project, and Police the Police, all of whom had millions of followers on Facebook. Both the Editor-in-Chief of Anti-Media and its Chief Creative Officer were also banned by Twitter, and are being kept from having any new accounts on that site as well. “I unfortunately always felt the day would come when alternative media would be scrubbed from major social media sites,” Anti-Media’s Chief Creative Officer S.M. Gibson said in a statement to me. “Because of that I prepared by having backup accounts years ago. The fact that those accounts, as well as 3 accounts from individuals associated with Anti-Media were banned without warning and without any reason offered by either platform makes me believe this purge was certainly orchestrated by someone. Who that is I have no idea, but this attack on information was much more concise and methodical in silencing truth than most realize or is being reported.” It is now clear that there is either (A) some degree of communication/coordination between Twitter and Facebook about their respective censorship practices, or (B) information being given to both Twitter and Facebook by another party regarding targets for censorship. Either way, it means that there is now some some mechanism in place linking the censorship of dissident voices across multiple platforms. We are beginning to see smaller anti-establishment alternative media outlets cut off from their audiences by the same sort of coordinated cross-platform silencing we first witnessed with Alex Jones in August. This is about as acute a threat to our ability to network and share information with each other as anything you could possibly imagine. If new media outlets are beginning to silence dissident voices together in unison, that means we can see entire alternative media outlets not just partially silenced but thoroughly silenced, their ability to grow their audiences and get information out to heavily populated parts of the internet completely crippled.

Self-Censorship: Where The Real Damage Is Being Done - Caitlin Johnstone  I was going to write another article today about a different topic, but I backed down because I didn’t think I could deliver the kind of fiery, forceful, unmitigated argument it would need to be without risking getting banned from social media and blogging platforms. The article I was planning on writing, which you’ll just have to imagine now, would have been titled ” ‘Assange Can Leave Whenever He Wants!’ No, Idiot, He Can’t.” The feature image was going to be a screen shot of a blue-checkmarked empire loyalist named Greg Olear tweeting the infuriatingly dopey argument that Assange is free to just waltz out the embassy doors whenever he wants, so therefore he isn’t actually being imprisoned by an Orwellian power establishment for publishing authentic documents about powerful people.  Never mind the fact that a UN panel ruled that Assange is being arbitrarily detained by the threat of imprisonment. Never mind that the same US government which tortured Chelsea Manning is currently openly pursuing Assange’s arrest because of his publications, making the assertion that he’s “free to leave” the same as saying he’s “free” to jump off a cliff. People don’t want to believe that their government imprisons journalists, so whenever Assange is in the news you see this argument making the rounds. It would have been a firecracker of an article, but when it came time to write it, I backed down. I’d generally rather scrap an article than write something tepid and boring that won’t make any impact, so the risk of losing access to my platforms outweighed my desire to write what I’d planned on writing.I’ve been self-censoring more and more lately, especially since the latest round of coordinated cross-platform silencing of multiple alternative media outlets the other day. Back in August I had my Twitter account temporarily deleted when I said the world will be better off without John McCain and a bunch of #Resistance accounts mass reported me; Twitter cited “abusive behavior” as its justification. The only reason my account was restored was because there was a large objection from many high-profile journalists and activists who understand the dangers of internet censorship, and I’m not willing to gamble that I’d get that lucky should something similar happen again. Being able to disrupt establishment narratives on a high-traffic website like Twitter outweighs the benefits of speaking in an unmitigated way.

‘Do Not Track,’ the Privacy Tool Used by Millions of People, Doesn’t Do Anything  -- When you go into the privacy settings on your browser, there’s a little option there to turn on the “Do Not Track” function, which will send an invisible request on your behalf to all the websites you visit telling them not to track you. A reasonable person might think that enabling it will stop a porn site from keeping track of what she watches, or keep Facebook from collecting the addresses of all the places she visits on the internet, or prevent third-party trackers she’s never heard of from following her from site to site. According to a recent survey by Forrester Research, a quarter of American adults use “Do Not Track” to protect their privacy. (Our own stats at Gizmodo Media Group show that 9% of visitors have it turned on.) We’ve got bad news for those millions of privacy-minded people, though: “Do Not Track” is like spray-on sunscreen, a product that makes you feel safe while doing little to actually protect you.  “Do Not Track,” as it was first imagined a decade ago by consumer advocates, was going to be a “Do Not Call” list for the internet, helping to free people from annoying targeted ads and creepy data collection. But only a handful of sites respect the request, the most prominent of which are Pinterest and Medium. (Pinterest won’t use offsite data to target ads to a visitor who’s elected not to be tracked, while Medium won’t send their data to third parties.) The vast majority of sites, including this one, ignore it.   Yahoo and Twitter initially said they would respect it, only to later abandon it. The most popular sites on the internet, from Google and Facebook to Pornhub and xHamster, never honored it in the first place. Facebook says that while it doesn’t respect DNT, it does “provide multiple ways for people to control how we use their data for advertising.” (That is of course only true so far as it goes, as there’s some data about themselves users can’t access.) From the department of irony, Google’s Chrome browser offers users the ability to turn off tracking, but Google itself doesn’t honor the request

The Facebook hack is way worse than previously thought - Facebook revealed Friday that the biggest security breach in the company’s history is much worse than they first thought.When the social media giant first reported the breach two weeks ago, it said that up to 50 million accounts could have been impacted. On Friday it downgraded that figure to 30 million, but the scale of the information the hackers accessed was much worse than initially reported.Along with basic details like email address and phone number, the hackers gained access to personal data like who or what users were searching for on the platform. And for a subset of 14 million Facebook accounts, the outlook gets very grim: Hackers accessed deeply personal information, including relationship status, religion, hometown, self-reported current city, birthdate, and the device types used to access Facebook. Facebook also admitted hackers had access to the last 10 places users checked in to or were tagged in, the people or Pages they follow, and their 15 most recent searches. The company revealed that it took them 13 days from discovering the breach on Sept. 14 to closing the vulnerability on Sept. 27. Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of product management, told reporters on a conference call that the company could not give any details about who was behind the attack or where they were, at the request of the FBI, which is actively investigating the hack.  Facebook has already forced affected users to reset their logins in order to void the access tokens the hackers stole, but the breach could have long-lasting privacy consequences for the 14 million users most affected.

Facebook hack victims will not get ID theft protection --Facebook has said it will not provide identity fraud protection for the victims of its latest data breach.On Friday it revealed 14 million users had highly personal information stolen by hackers.It included search history, location data and information about relationships, religion and more.However, unlike other major hacks involving big companies, Facebook said it had no plans to provide protection services for concerned users.One analyst told the BBC the decision was "unconscionable". "This kind of information could help thieves create social engineering-based theft programmes, preying on the Facebook hack victims," said Patrick Moorhead, from Moor Insights and Strategy.Users can visit this link to find out if they have been directly affected. For the most severely impacted users - a group of around 14 million, Facebook said - the stolen data included "username, gender, locale/language, relationship status, religion, hometown, self-reported current city, birthdate, device types used to access Facebook, education, work, the last 10 places they checked into or were tagged in, website, people or pages they follow, and the 15 most recent searches". Typically, companies affected by large data breaches - such as Target, in 2013 - provide access to credit protection agencies and other methods to lower the risk of identity theft. Other hacked companies, such as on the Playstation Network, and credit monitoring agency Equifax, offered similar solutions.

Jack Dorsey complains about ‘unfairness’ in San Francisco homeless tax on corporations -- Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Friday sounded off against a San Francisco measure to increase corporate taxes that would give the city more funding to tackle its homeless crisis.Dorsey said he was opposed to San Francisco’s Proposition C because he believes one of companies he leads as CEO, Square, will be taxed at unfair rates compared to other major companies such as Salesforce. The Twitter head wrote in a series of tweets that with the proposition’s passage, Square could potentially face more than $20 million in taxes in 2019 compared to Salesforce.

 Did Uber Steal Google’s Intellectual Property? -One day in 2011, a Google executive named Isaac Taylor learned that, while he was on paternity leave, [robot car maven Anthony Levandowski, who later left for Uber,] had modified the cars’ software so that he could take them on otherwise forbidden routes. A Google executive recalls witnessing Taylor and Levandowski shouting at each other. Levandowski told Taylor that the only way to show him why his approach was necessary was to take a ride together. The men, both still furious, jumped into a self-driving Prius and headed off.The car went onto a freeway, where it travelled past an on-ramp. According to people with knowledge of events that day, the Prius accidentally boxed in another vehicle, a Camry. A human driver could easily have handled the situation by slowing down and letting the Camry merge into traffic, but Google’s software wasn’t prepared for this scenario. The cars continued speeding down the freeway side by side. The Camry’s driver jerked his car onto the right shoulder. Then, apparently trying to avoid a guardrail, he veered to the left; the Camry pinwheeled across the freeway and into the median. Levandowski, who was acting as the safety driver, swerved hard to avoid colliding with the Camry, causing Taylor to injure his spine so severely that he eventually required multiple surgeries.The Prius regained control and turned a corner on the freeway, leaving the Camry behind. Levandowski and Taylor didn’t know how badly damaged the Camry was. They didn’t go back to check on the other driver or to see if anyone else had been hurt. Neither they nor other Google executives made inquiries with the authorities. The police were not informed that a self-driving algorithm had contributed to the accident.

 The Big Blockchain Lie  - Nouriel Roubini -- With the value of Bitcoin having fallen by around 70% since its peak late last year, the mother of all bubbles has now gone bust. More generally, cryptocurrencies have entered a not-so-cryptic apocalypse. The value of leading coins such as Ether, EOS, Litecoin, and XRP have all fallen by over 80%, thousands of other digital currencies have plummeted by 90-99%, and the rest have been exposed as outright frauds. No one should be surprised by this: four out of five initial coin offerings (ICOs) were scams to begin with.2 Faced with the public spectacle of a market bloodbath, boosters have fled to the last refuge of the crypto scoundrel: a defense of “blockchain,” the distributed-ledger software underpinning all cryptocurrencies. Blockchain has been heralded as a potential panacea for everything from poverty and famine to cancer. In fact, it is the most overhyped – and least useful – technology in human history.In practice, blockchain is nothing more than a glorified spreadsheet. But it has also become the byword for a libertarian ideology that treats all governments, central banks, traditional financial institutions, and real-world currencies as evil concentrations of power that must be destroyed. Blockchain fundamentalists’ ideal world is one in which all economic activity and human interactions are subject to anarchist or libertarian decentralization. They would like the entirety of social and political life to end up on public ledgers that are supposedly “permissionless” (accessible to everyone) and “trustless” (not reliant on a credible intermediary such as a bank). Yet far from ushering in a utopia, blockchain has given rise to a familiar form of economic hell. A few self-serving white men (there are hardly any women or minorities in the blockchain universe) pretending to be messiahs for the world’s impoverished, marginalized, and unbanked masses claim to have created billions of dollars of wealth out of nothing. But one need only consider the massive centralization of power among cryptocurrency “miners,” exchanges, developers, and wealth holders to see that blockchain is not about decentralization and democracy; it is about greed.

Liquidity Effects of Post-Crisis Regulatory Reform – NY Fed - The post-crisis regulatory reform efforts to improve capital and liquidity positions of regulated institutions provide incentives for banks to change not only the structure of their own balance sheets but also how they interact with their customers and other market participants more generally. A 2015 PwC study on global financial market liquidity, for example, noted that “[a]s banks respond to the new regulatory environment, they have sought to make more efficient use of capital and liquidity resources, by reducing the markets they serve and streamlining their operations.” In this blog post, we provide an overview of three recent New York Fed staff reports that study the impact that post-crisis regulation has had on the willingness and ability of regulated firms to participate in U.S. over-the-counter (OTC) markets.

 An uncompromising Jeb Hensarling is not sorry — During his tenure, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling has attempted to undo the Dodd-Frank Act, eliminate the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, severely weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's authority and overhaul the National Flood Insurance Program. While some say Hensarling deserves credit for sticking to his guns and pursuing such ambitious goals, none of those proposals came to pass. In a polarized Washington his efforts have been overshadowed by more modest bipartisan bills championed by other lawmakers. Hensarling says even if his uncompromising proposals weren't likely to become law, they were still worth pursuing. But as he prepares to leave Congress, he has shown more willingness to accept compromise lately, giving ground on regulatory relief and housing finance. And he has not given up on working with Democrats on one last legislative package before he leaves. "It is important that, No. 1, conservatives and Republicans set forth paradigm pieces of legislation that are comprehensive that encompass our vision of capital markets, of banking, of securities markets, of housing,” the Texas Republican said in an interview with American Banker. “So we want to know what the ultimate goal is. But having said that, once you put that out there and you know what the goal is, you know that in order to actually pass law, to make law, not just make speeches, you’re going to have to engage in the legislative process. "If we end up with 20% of what we set out to do, that’s probably a pretty good day.”

FDIC poised to revamp deposit rules. Banks say it's about time — Community bankers are hopeful that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. will soon deliver long-awaited reforms of how it defines high-rate deposits. The FDIC plans to solicit comment on revamping how it determines that a deposit is brokered. The change could have huge implications for less-than-"well-capitalized" banks that face restrictions on accepting new brokered deposits, among other things. But bankers are also eager for the agency to change its methodology for setting interest rate caps for certain banks on all of their deposits. Those caps, which also apply to banks that are less than well-capitalized, are meant to prevent banks from avoiding the brokered-funds restrictions by offering above-market yields. “The fear of God has been put into the smaller banks by their regulators, so the community banks just swear off brokered money,” said Dirk Meminger, president and CEO of Sauk Valley Bank in Sterling, Ill. “We very much appreciate the door is open to discuss the rate cap.” While the FDIC's current methodology for setting interest rate caps was developed about a decade ago, executives and industry representatives note that its core rule defining brokered deposits was written in the nineties, before online banking existed. They argue that the rule currently captures some deposits that are not necessarily risky or come from an outside broker. “More banks are gathering deposits through the internet that might be through a division or part of a bank, but the way the rules are written, it makes it brokered,” said Wayne Abernathy, executive vice president for financial institutions policy and regulatory affairs at the American Bankers Association. “We think that’s shortsighted. ... Banks have always been a part of the future and this rule is one of the things that’s in the way.” Meanwhile, others say the FDIC's methodology in setting the interest rate cap is largely based on rates offered by the biggest banks, which tend to be lower than what community banks can offer.

Industry group urges delay in new accounting standard for loan losses — A group of the nation’s largest banks are urging regulators to delay a new accounting standard that requires banks to immediately book potential loan losses, arguing it could inadvertently create systemic risk. The Bank Policy Institute said in a letter this week to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that the Current Expected Credit Loss accounting rule is a “sea change” from 40 years of traditional accounting standards, and could tie up capital and credit availability. Mnuchin chairs the Financial Stability Oversight Council, which is tasked with identifying risks to the system. “We believe that the implementation of CECL could undermine financial stability in a future recession as its requirements establish disincentives for banks to extend credit during stressed economic conditions,” Greg Baer, the institute's president and CEO, wrote in the letter. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin An industry trade group told Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a letter this week that the Current Expected Credit Loss accounting rule could tie up capital and credit availability Bloomberg News CECL requires banks to set aside reserves for a potential credit loss as soon as the loan is booked, rather than wait until there is a probable loss with an estimated amount. These "requirements are likely to adversely affect the availability, structure and price of credit at all times, with a disproportionate impact on longer-term and higher-risk loans, including residential mortgage, small business, student, and unsecured term and non-prime lending,” wrote Baer. The group is asking the FSOC to work with the Financial Accounting Standards Board to delay the rule, which takes effect Dec. 15, 2019, and try to assess the potential economic and systemic risks.

Meet The Finance Professor Exposing Rigged Markets One Academic Paper At A Time - Finance professor John Griffin, along with his doctoral student companion, Amin Shams, were the two academics that drew market-moving conclusions about bitcoin last year, while the digital currency was trading around $20,000. After sifting through 2 terabytes of trading data, they alleged that bitcoin was being manipulated by someone using the cryptocurrency Tether to purchase it. Tether remains a relatively little-known crypto, which is pegged to one US dollar. Part of its appeal is that it can "stand in" for dollars when necessary, according to Bloomberg.Griffin and Shams authored a paper in June, with the results of their findings ultimately catalyzing many digital assets to move lower, despite the fact that the CEO of Tether publicly denied that its currency was used to prop up bitcoin.Griffin works at the University of Texas at Austin, and has become quite an unpopular figure on Wall Street for similar work he has done in the past on ratings companies, the VIX and investment banks. In most of his findings, he claims that these well-known financial instruments and players are, in one way or another, rigged. And the professor seems to enjoy exposing precisely that: rigged, manipulated markets and shady players. Griffin's work has become popular reading within the DOJ and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, according to Bloomberg. These regulators – many of them low on resources, time and staff - welcome any additional help they can get (the SEC’s budget has forced it into a hiring freeze and the CFTC budget was cut by Congress in March of this year).John Reed Stark, a former attorney in the SEC’s enforcement division, stated: “It’s incredibly helpful to have an expert of Griffin’s caliber." After spending the beginning of his tenure as a professor tackling little-known and inconsequential parts of the market, he started to feel the need to take on bigger tasks. In fact, he claims that part of the Bible spoke to him, when he read a passage that motivated him. It stated “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”

The Perils Of Trade With Machine Learning- One Pin Drop Can Make You Lose 20 Years Of Returns - With hedge funds failing for years in their struggle to generate alpha in a time when legal insider trading in the form of "expert networks" has long been eliminated following the infamous SAC crackdown, and a 3% drop in the market is enough to cause a shockwave ripple around the globe as central bankers have been tasked with avoiding any declines in capital markets - thus eliminating the need to "hedge" - one increasingly popular approach to trading that has captivated asset managers has become machine learning, or the ability to tap huge data sets, such as social media postings in ways that no mere human could.Yet, despite the enormous potential, its record remains mixed. According to Bloomberg, the Eurekahedge AI Hedge Fund Index, which tracks the returns of 13 hedge funds that use machine learning, has gained only 7% a year for the past five years, while the S&P 500 returned 13% annually. After peaking in January, in 2018 the Eurekahedge benchmark dropped 5% through September. What is the reason behind this disappointing performance for a strategy for which so many hedge funds had such great expectations? Simple: machines programmed to find a pattern within the noise of the market will always do so... even when there is no actual pattern at all.According to Marcos López de Prado, who joined AQR Capital Management as head of machine learning in September, one of the potential pitfalls for machine learning strategies is the extremely low signal-to-noise ratio in financial markets: "Machine learning algorithms will always identify a pattern, even if there is none," he says. In other words, as Bloomberg's Jon Asmundsseon notes, algorithms can view flukes as patterns and hence are likely to identify false strategies. "It takes a deep knowledge of the markets to apply machine learning successfully to financial series," López de Prado says, explaining the biggest failing with a strategy that tries to replicate human skill and intuition when it comes to the most complex of non-linear systems: the market.

Wall Street volatile as global economy becomes “fragile” --Volatility has continued on Wall Street following two days of major falls last week. The Dow Jones index shot up by more than 500 points on Tuesday, followed by a more than 300-point decline during Wednesday before recovering to finish 80 points down.Yesterday, after a global sell-off, the Dow finished down by 327 points, after dropping 470 points during the course of the day. In what was described as a “jittery session,” the S&P 500 was down 1.4 percent, its largest fall in a week, and has now experienced a decline in 10 out of the 14 trading sessions this month.The immediate volatility is being driven by two conflicting tendencies. On the one hand, US markets are being pushed down by the further expected increases in the Federal Reserve’s base interest rate and the general tightening of monetary conditions expressed in the rise of the rate on the benchmark 10-year US Treasury bond, which is now hovering around 3.2 percent. Monetary conditions are also being made more restrictive by the Fed’s reduction of its assets holdings by $50 billion per month as part of its program to reduce its balance sheet. Its previous quantitative easing program saw Fed assets expand from less than $1 trillion to $4.5 trillion.On the other hand, share prices are being boosted by the rise in profits being reported by banks and major companies. There is also an expectation that US growth will continue and that, while asset valuations may be “stretched,” there is still some way for the market to run and gains to be reaped. The underlying instability and fears of a major sell-off were underscored by further comments by US President Donald Trump following his denunciation of the Fed’s interest rate rises as “crazy” and “loco” during last week’s sell-off. In an interview with the Fox Business News Network, he repeated his assertion that the Fed was raising interest rates too fast and described the central bank’s actions as “my biggest threat.”

U.S. Households Are Overly Invested In Equities - The fact that households have a large allocation to equities is viewed as a positive by some because it provides a floor for the market. Others view it as a negative because the ownership rate is unsustainably high. The logic that households need to invest in equities is the same logic which supports a house of cards. You’re betting that because Americans have so many assets and need a place to invest, stocks will go up or at least avoid long term underperformance. Specifically, Americans have $28.3 trillion in retirement assets,19% of which is in 401(k) accounts which equates to $5.3 trillion. There 550,000 plans and 54 million participants. The money flows in every month when the economy is strong and investors are optimistic.However, it’s not fair to act as if US equities are the only place to invest. There’s no rule that Americans can’t switch to emerging markets or other foreign markets which are cheaper. The problem of course is that most retail investors have home country bias when investing. A lot of America’s high valuation is based on technology companies. There are always new technologies which garner attention and investments. American internet firms are currently dominating the world. However, if new technology firms from other countries out-innovate them or regulations stop their momentum, America won’t continue its amazing run.Secondly, sentiment is important. Real estate was a great source of returns in the 2000s, so it garnered a lot of capital; investors always chase returns. When stocks crater most Americans won’t be ready to buy more. It takes a seasoned investor with great patience to buy when markets crash. However, those who blindly chased momentum to the upside (buying), will begin chasing the momentum to the downside (selling). Obviously, it was a bad idea to sell stocks after they fell 40% in 2008, but investors still sold until buyers overwhelmed them at the bottom in March 2009. The final point on this topic is you can’t use household assets to support the narrative that stocks will rise because assets grow in expansions and fall in recessions. Since households own so much stock, assets will fall drastically in a bear market. High investment in stocks can’t save the U.S. from a bear market. That’s circular reasoning.

Warren rebukes Comerica over fraud in benefits program — A string of fraud cases tied to a Comerica Bank program for federal benefits recipients has caught the attention of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.  In August, American Banker reported on hundreds of cases in which Direct Express — a partnership between the Texas bank and the U.S. government — allegedly sent funds to fraudsters, who had impersonated the real account holders after having gained access to their cardholder data. Warren is sending letters Tuesday to Comerica CEO Ralph W. Babb Jr., as well as the heads of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration, demanding answers about the security breaches. She asked all three to respond by Oct. 30.  In her letter to Babb, Warren pressed the bank to respond to complaints from consumers over how the bank handled the fraud. “Complaints from my constituents, confirmed by detailed reporting in the American Banker, described your company's security vulnerabilities, your mismanaged responses to data breaches, and your misleading and cruel customer service tactics when harmed consumers sought help,” Warren wrote. (Drafts of all three letters were obtained by American Banker.) “I am particularly concerned about the lack of transparency about the security breaches and subsequent fraud schemes that compromised Americans' federal benefits,” Warren added.

CFPB's Inspector General asked to probe questions over political aide's past writings — The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s inspector general has been asked to look into questions over a political appointee at the agency whose racially charged writings from over a decade ago have led to calls for his resignation. Referral of the matter to the inspector general by acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney was first reported by Politico on Tuesday, although further details about the inquiry were still unclear. The CFPB shares an inspector general with the Federal Reserve Board. As first reported by The Washington Post, the writings by Eric Blankenstein from 14 years ago suggested that using a racial slur does not necessarily make someone a racist and most hate crimes were “hoaxes.” Blankenstein, the CFPB’s policy director for supervision, enforcement and fair lending, wrote in one blog post: “Fine … let’s say they called him a n-----, would that make them racists, or just an a-----e looking for the most convenient way to get under his skin?” The blog spelled out the racial slur.Revelations of Blankenstein’s writings have led to recriminations both inside and outside the agency. CFPB employees, consumer groups and some lawmakers have argued that the blogs disqualify him from a leadership position at the agency, where his duties include overseeing the bureau’s fair-lending office. Some have said the controversy calls into question Mulvaney’s planned reorganization of that office.

CFPB writing rule to define ‘abusive’ standard: Mulvaney — The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is planning a rulemaking to define what types of practices qualify as "abusive" to provide more clarity to the industry about the controversial standard, the agency's interim chief said Monday.The remarks by acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney are yet another example of how the agency is trying to remake its enforcement processes in the Trump administration. Former CFPB Director Richard Cordray had opted for letting individual enforcement actions define what "abusive" meant, but Mulvaney said he prefers clearer rules of the road."Regulation by enforcement is done," Mulvaney said in a speech to the Mortgage Bankers Association annual conference.    U.S. law has long banned "unfair or deceptive acts or practices." But the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act expanded the prohibition to "unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices." The 2010 law also gave the CFPB primary rulemaking authority for UDAAP.But much to the industry's consternation, the agency under Cordray started issuing enforcement actions without stating clearly how it was interpreting the new UDAAP standard.Mulvaney said the bureau under his leadership is going in a different direction.“I think ‘unfair’ is fairly well-established in the law, ‘deceptive’ is very well-established in the law and to my knowledge, I don’t think ‘abusive’ is nearly as established in the law,” Mulvaney said.While Cordray made pursuing UDAAP violations a priority, the agency under Mulvaney has not appeared as interested in targeting firms for UDAAP violations. “There’s been some stuff I’ve seen at the bureau that I really don’t like,” he said.

Need Cash Fast- US Bank Unveils Payday Loan Program With 88% APR - Just as Goldman Sachs is putting the breaks on what had been a rapidly expanding consumer lending business amid growing doubts about how its $4 billion portfolio might perform during a downturn, US Bank is gambling on the riskiest form of consumer credit, offering old-fashioned pay-day loans with a digital twist.Last month, US Bank introduced "Simple Loan", an online-lending platform that combines the ease of Quicken Loans' app-based platform with usurious interest rates. ICYMI - US bank will loan you money for 3 months at 70.65% APR if you sign up for automatic payments.@RudyHavenstein @DavidBCollum @TheLimerickKing pic.twitter.com/yknbhGCkNl    Lynn Heitman, executive vice president of US Bank Consumer Banking Sales and Support, told MarketWatch that the loans provided a "trustworthy, transparent" option.

 Trump socialism and housing finance - Various tax law scholars have commented on the tax fraud allegations in the recent New York Times story. Equally important is the story's reminder that our housing finance system, and the real estate fortunes it has spawned, have depended for nearly a century on the largess of government.Fred Trump, the president's father, built the fortune that Donald Trump inherited after avoiding or evading millions in estate and gift taxes.  Fred's fortune was almost entirely due to his savvy exploitation of federal government housing subsidies. When Roosevelt's New Dealers struggled to put the economy back on its feet, they invented the FHA mortgage insurance program, and Fred Trump was one of FHA's first profiteers. As recounted in Gwenda Blair's wonderful book, Fred went from building one house at a time to building Huge middle-class apartment complexes when he was first able to tap into government-backed FHA loans.   In his fascinating 1954 testimony before the Senate Banking Committee (begins at p. 395), Fred Trump explains how he purchased the land for the Beach Haven apartments for roughly $200,000, put the land in trust for his children and paid gift taxes on a $260,000 land valuation, and then obtained a a $16 million FHA mortgage to build the apartments.  Fred's corporation owning the buildings netted $4 million from the loan proceeds above and beyond the construction costs, and the land belonging to the Trump childrens' trust was valued by the City tax assessors at $1.3 million as a result of the FHA mortgage transaction and apartment construction. In other words, Fred Trump parlayed his $200,000 investment into a $4 million cash profit for his business and a $1.3 million ground lease producing $60,000 annual income for his children. In his testimony he conceded that this would have been impossible without the FHA government loan guarantee.

 Zero-Down Subprime Mortgages Are Back, What Could Possibly Go Wrong-Ten years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, banks are once again taking bets on the same type of loans that nearly collapsed the economy amid a flurry of emergency bailouts and unprecedented consolidations.  Bank of America has backed a $10 billion program from Boston-based brokerage Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA), to offer zero-down mortgages to low-income borrowers with poor credit scores, according to CNBC. NACA has been conducting four-day events in cities across America to educate subprime borrowers and then lend them money - with a 90% approval rate and interest rates around 4.5%. "It's total upside," said AJ Barkley, senior vice president of consumer lending at BofA. "We have seen significant wins in this partnership. Just to be clear, when we get those loans with all the heavy lifting here, we're over a 90 percent approval, meaning 90 percent of the people who go through this program that we actually underwrite the loans."Borrowers can have low credit scores, but have to go through an education session about the program and submit all necessary documents, from income statements to phone bills. Then they go through counseling to understand their monthly budget and ensure they can afford the mortgage payment. The loans are 15- or 30-year fixed with interest rates below market, about 4.5 percent. -CNBC"That's what's going to help people who've been locked out of homeownership to really become homeowners and to build wealth," said Bruce Marks, CEO of NACA. "It's a national disgrace about the low amount of homeownership, mortgages for low- and moderate-income people and for minority homebuyers."

Mortgage Applications Collapse To 18-Year Lows - After sliding 2.1% the prior week, mortgage applications collapsed 7.1% last week as mortgage rates topped 5.00%... Ignoring the collapses during the Xmas week of 12/29/00 and 12/26/14, this is the lowest level of mortgage applications since September 2000... The Refinance Index decreased 9 percent from the previous week.  The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 6 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 6 percent compared with the previous week and was 2 percent higher than the same week one year ago. Perhaps this is why... The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($453,100 or less) increased to its highest level since February 2011, 5.10 percent, from 5.05 percent, with points increasing to 0.55 from 0.51 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.  Still, The Fed should keep on hiking, right? Because - "greatest economy ever.." and so on... As we noted previously, the refinance boom that rescued so many in the post-2008 'recovery' is now over. If rates hit 5%, the pool of homeowners who would qualify for and benefit from a refinance will shrink to 1.55 million, according to mortgage-data and technology firm Black Knight Inc. That would be down about 64% since the start of the year, and the smallest pool since 2008.  Naturally, hardest hit by the rising rates will be young and first-time buyers who tend to make smaller down payments than older buyers who have built up equity in their previous homes, and middle-income buyers, who can least afford the extra cost. Khater said that about 45% of the loans that Freddie Mac is backing are to first-time buyers, up from about 30% normally, which also means that rising rates could have an even bigger impact on the market than usual. Younger buyers are also more likely to be shocked by higher rates because they don’t remember when rates were more than 18% in the early 1980s, or more recently, the first decade of the 2000s, when rates hovered around 5% to 7%.“There’s almost a generation that has been used to seeing 3% or 4% rates that’s now seeing 5% rates,”

Housing’s most difficult comparisons in years begin next Wednesday -- After a real quiet week for news, next week we get retail sales, industrial production, the JOLTS report, existing home sales … and housing permits and starts. The week after, real residential fixed investment will be reported as part of Q3 GDP.  Permits and residential fixed investments will have some of the most challenging comparisons in a long time.  Here’s why. First, here’s a graph of 30 year mortgage rates: These have broken out to highs not seen since early 2011.Here’s what that means for a graph that I have run many times: the inverted YoY change in mortgage rates (blue) vs. the YoY% change in single family permits (red, divided by 10 for scale). I’ve also added 0.75% to the inverted YoY number for mortgage rates to account for the positive effect demographics have had on the comparison over the last six years. Remember that permits tend to follow mortgage rates by about 6 months: In short, even giving the housing market credit for a demographic boost, we are probably going to see the YoY change in building permits for single family houses go to roughly zero. Since (not shown) permits surged between last October and this March, the comparisons will be quite difficult. Another housing comparison that is going to get much more challenging starting next week is purchase mortgage applications. Here’s a close-up on those over the last five years from Ed Yardeni’s blog: For most of the last two months, purchase mortgage applications have been compared with some of the weakest numbers in all of 2017. Beginning with the report next Wednesday morning, for the remainder of the year, almost all of the comparisons except for a couple of weeks will be against index values of 240 or higher (this past week they were  reported at 239). And the latest surge in mortgage rates hasn’t really shown up in these yet. The bottom line is that housing is facing probably the most difficult set of circumstances in that market since prices bottomed in 2012.  And the acid test begins next Wednesday.

Merrill on House Prices -- A few excerpts from a Merrill Lynch note on house prices:  Home prices nationally, as measured by the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller index are running at 6.0% yoy as of the latest data in July. Assuming some modest slowing into the end of the year, we believe we are on track for home prices to end up 5.0% this year, as measured by 4Q/4Q change. As we look ahead into next year, we expect the slowing in home prices to persist, leaving home price appreciation (HPA) of 3% at the end of 2019. … Home prices are ultimately anchored to a fair value which is a function of income growth. Based on the OECD’s methodology, we compare nominal Case-Shiller home prices with disposable income per capita, indexed to 100 in 1Q 2000 (Chart 4) which shows the overvaluation during the housing bubble given the irrational exuberance in the market and easy credit conditions. The housing bust left prices to tumble back below fair value. Based on our calculation, prices are once again overvalued on a national level, albeit not nearly as much as during the bubble period. Over time the overvaluation can be solved in two ways: 1) home prices grow at a rate below income for a period of time to close the gap; 2) home prices decline to correct the valuation difference. The pull to fair value can be quite strong.  This chart from Merrill Lynch shows their calculation of house prices vs. disposable income.

NAR: Existing-Home Sales Declined to 5.15 million in September From the NAR: Existing-Home Sales Decline Across the Country in SeptemberExisting-home sales declined in September after a month of stagnation in August, according to the National Association of Realtors®. All four major regions saw no gain in sales activity last month. Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, fell 3.4 percent from August to a seasonally adjusted rate of 5.15 million in September. Sales are now down 4.1 percent from a year ago (5.37 million in September 2017).Total housing inventory at the end of September decreased from 1.91 million in August to 1.88 million existing homes available for sale, and is up from 1.86 million a year ago. Unsold inventory is at a 4.4-month supply at the current sales pace, up from 4.3 last month and 4.2 months a year ago. This graph shows existing home sales, on a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) basis since 1993. Sales in September (5.15 million SAAR) were down 3.4% from last month, and were 4.1% below the September 2017 rate. The second graph shows nationwide inventory for existing homes. Existing Home InventoryAccording to the NAR, inventory decreased to 1.88 million in September from 1.91 million in August. Headline inventory is not seasonally adjusted, and inventory usually decreases to the seasonal lows in December and January, and peaks in mid-to-late summer. The last graph shows the year-over-year (YoY) change in reported existing home inventory and months-of-supply. Since inventory is not seasonally adjusted, it really helps to look at the YoY change. Note: Months-of-supply is based on the seasonally adjusted sales and not seasonally adjusted inventory.

Existing Home Sales Drop For 7th Straight Month As Homebuilders Stocks Collapse -- With US homebuilder stocks having their worst year since 2007, hope is high that September will show the long-awaited rebound in home sales (despite a soaring mortgage rate).After 'stabilizing' unchanged in August, existing home sales were expected to drop 0.9% MoM in September, but instead August's data was revised notably lower and September plunged... down 3.4% MoM - the biggest drop since Feb 2016…  With SAAR at its lowest since Nov 2015... This is the seventh month in a row of annual declines in existing home sales... Sales fell across all price ranges (not just the low-end as we have seen recently).Median home price rose 4.2% from last year to $258,100And you can't blame supply as it rose notably - 4.4 months supply in Sept. vs. 4.3 in Aug.As NAR notes:“This is the lowest existing home sales level since November 2015,” he said.“A decade’s high mortgage rates are preventing consumers from making quick decisions on home purchases. All the while, affordable home listings remain low, continuing to spur underperforming sales activity across the country.”“There is a clear shift in the market with another month of rising inventory on a year over year basis, though seasonal factors are leading to a third straight month of declining inventory,” said Yun.“Homes will take a bit longer to sell compared to the super-heated fast pace seen earlier this year.”

Existing-home sales slump to a near 3-year low as buyers back out - Existing-home sales ran at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.15 million in September, the National Association of Realtors said Friday. That was a 3.4% decline for the month, and the lowest pace of sales since November 2015.Sales of previously-owned homes stabilized in August after declining for four straight months, so September’s lurch lower was surprising to some. Sales were 4.1% lower than year-ago levels. September’s selling pace missed the MarketWatch consensus forecast of a 5.27 million rate.The median sales price in September was $258,100, which was 4.2% higher than a year earlier. Home prices are still growing faster than wages, but the pace of price increases is decelerating steadily. hat’s likely because inventory is ticking up gradually. At the current pace of sales, it would take 4.4 months to exhaust available supply, up from 4.3 months last month. And it’s taking properties longer to get snatched up: homes stayed on the market for 32 days in September, up from 29 days in August. The Realtors blamed another stagnant month in the housing market on rising mortgage rates, higher prices and the supply stranglehold. But it’s also likely that many would-be buyers are dropping out of a market that’s become too competitive, expensive and unsatisfying, especially as conditions in the rental market ease up. The national median rent declined compared to a year ago in September, Zillow ZG, -2.30%   said Thursday. That was the first yearly decline since 2012, and reflects a glut of supply, with more to come.  “Recent sluggishness seems increasingly driven by softer demand from would-be home buyers in the face of two emerging trends: falling rents and rising mortgage interest rates,” said Zillow Senior Economist Aaron Terrazas. “It all adds up to a situation in which supply-side factors are becoming less critical in driving home sales as they give way to softening demand. There’s still a lot of energy left in the housing market, but the rapid rise of the past few years has clearly begun to level off.”  NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun now forecasts that existing-home sales will be 1.6% lower in 2018 than last year. Economists at mortgage financier Fannie Mae are even more bearish: they’re projecting a 2% decline.

September existing home sales: yet another poor housing report --While existing home sales are roughly 90% of the entire housing market, they are much less important as an economic indicator because they do not have the knock-on effects of construction improvements, and less of the landscaping and indoor improvements, that new homes do.But they certainly do help us track the trend. And like housing permits and starts, and new home sales, the trend has not been good this year.In September, existing home sales were at a 5.15 million annualized trend, down for the sixth month in a row, down YoY, and close to a 3 year low. Further, existing home sales have not made a new monthly high since last November, 10 months ago. The 3 month average has not made a meaningful new high since April of last year. Here's what the last year (excluding this month not shown) looks like:If there was a silver lining in this report, it was that the YoY increase in the median price of an existing home, at 4.2%, while still outpacing wage and household income growth, decelerated from last month's 4.6% level, and was well below the 5%+ YoY readings from earlier this year Because prices have pronounced seasonality, the YoY metric is the only way to track them. My typical workaround, that if the increase declines by more than 1/2, then the top has probably been set, is valid for this number, but of course we would need to fall below a 3% YoY increase for that to kick in.Inventory is now increasing, and I expect that to last until sales decline enough to drag prices down with them.  Bottom line: this is another negative report from the housing sector. We still have September new home sales and Q3 fixed residential spending to be reported next week for the picture to be complete.

A Few Comments on September Existing Home Sales - Bill Mcbride - Earlier: NAR: Existing-Home Sales Declined to 5.15 million in September --A few key points:
1) The key for the housing - and the overall economy - is new home sales, single family housing starts and overall residential investment. Overall this is a reasonable level for existing home sales, and the recent weakness is no surprise given the increase in mortgage rates.
2) Inventory is still low, but was up 1.1% year-over-year (YoY) in September. This was the second consecutive year-over-year increase in inventory, and the first YoY increases since May 2015.
3) As usual, housing economist Tom Lawler's forecast was closer to the NAR report than the consensus. See:Lawler: Early Read on Existing Home Sales in September.   The consensus was for sales of 5.30 million SAAR, Lawler estimated the NAR would report 5.20 million SAAR in September, and the NAR actually reported 5.15 million.
The current slight YoY increase in inventory is nothing like what happened in 2005 and 2006. In 2005 (see red arrow), inventory kept increasing all year, and that was a sign the bubble was ending. Although I expect inventory to increase YoY in 2018, I expect inventory to follow the normal seasonal pattern (not keep increasing all year). Also inventory levels remains low, and could increase significantly and still be at normal levels. No worries. The second graph shows existing home sales Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA).  Sales NSA in September (420,000, red column) were well below sales in September 2017 (462,000, NSA), and the lowest for September since 2012.Sales NSA through September (first nine months) are down about 2.1% from the same period in 2017. This is a small YoY decline in sales to-date - it is likely that higher mortgage rates are impacting sales, and it is possible there has been an impact from the changes to the tax law (eliminating property taxes write-off, etc).

Without more intervention, the affordable housing crisis will escalate -- Will today's baby boomers be able to afford their existing lifestyle after retirement? Unfortunately, for many the answer is no. And what impact will this influx of often underprepared retirees have on affordable housing supply and demand? The NHP Foundation queried boomers and found a real disconnect between this group's actual financial planning and where they envision themselves in retirement. For the majority of U.S. private-sector workers, the prospect of earring a pension is remote, and the median Social Security benefit is approximately $17,000 per year for men and less than $13,000 for women. At the same time, older homeowners owe almost double on their mortgage today versus what older homeowners owed a decade ago, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.To make matters worse, one in three working Americans has no retirement savings other than Social Security, and 35% of people over 65 rely almost entirely on Social Security, according to Long-Term Living.An NHPF survey of 1,000 nonretired Americans 50 and older showed a disturbing difference between how they have prepared for retirement and how they expect to maintain their lifestyle: 76% of respondents have either no retirement budget or expect to depend on Social Security for at least half of their retirement income, and 73% expect to delay retirement, mostly for economic reasons. That goal could be cut short by a decline in health. The National Low Income Housing Coalition reports a 7.7-million unit shortfall between supply and demand for rental units affordable and available to very low-income households.

More homes for sale have price reductions, but the cuts aren't much  - The share of homes for sale listed with a price cut hit its highest level since 2014, but the reductions themselves are shrinking, according to Trulia. About 17.2% of house listings had at least one price cut in August, up from 16.7% a year ago. While this may seem like a good sign for homebuyers, the median price reduction only knocked 2.6% off a listing price. This figure has been steadily falling since 2012, when it was 4%. Local housing markets experienced varying results, with some seeing price reductions for up to 26.4% of homes, like in San Diego, and others having reductions for only 14%, such as in Pittsburgh. San Francisco and Detroit experienced the highest median reduction amount, with listing prices tanking 4.6% and 4.1%, respectively. In contrast, property values in San Antonio were only cut 1.3%, the smallest amount of all cities. "Buyers should be encouraged by the signals we're seeing in the market. But not all buyers will benefit equally, and it pays to do research on your preferred neighborhood," Felipe Chacon, Trulia's housing economist, said in a press release. "Price reductions typically aren't uniformly spread out across a given city — some neighborhoods might have a lot of listings with a reduced price, others may have none. Our research shows that price cuts are much more prevalent in higher-cost neighborhoods, so budget-conscious buyers may have some trouble finding a bargain," he added. Of the nation's top 100 metropolitan areas, 63 had a higher share of property listings with price cuts in August compared to the same period last year. 

Update: Real Estate Agent Boom and Bust - Way back in 2005, I posted a graph of the Real Estate Agent Boom. Here is another update to the graph. The graph shows the number of real estate licensees in California. The number of agents peaked at the end of 2007 (housing activity peaked in 2005, and prices in 2006). The number of salesperson's licenses is off 28% from the peak, and is increasing again (up 8.6% from low). The number of salesperson's licenses has increased to September 2004 levels. Brokers' licenses are off 14.1% from the peak and have fallen to December 2005 levels, and are still slowly declining (down 1% year-over-year).

Housing Starts Decreased to 1.201 Million Annual Rate in September --From the Census Bureau: Permits, Starts and Completions Privately‐owned housing starts in September were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,201,000. This is 5.3 percent below the revised August estimate of 1,268,000, but is 3.7 percent above the September 2017 rate of 1,158,000. Single‐family housing starts in September were at a rate of 871,000; this is 0.9 percent below the revised August figure of 879,000. The September rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 324,000. Privately‐owned housing units authorized by building permits in September were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,241,000. This is 0.6 percent below the revised August rate of 1,249,000 and is 1.0 percent below the September 2017 rate of 1,254,000. Single‐family authorizations in September were at a rate of 851,000; this is 2.9 percent above the revised August figure of 827,000. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 351,000 in September. The first graph shows single and multi-family housing starts for the last several years. Multi-family starts (red, 2+ units) decreased in September compared to August. Multi-family starts were up slightly year-over-year in September. Multi-family is volatile month-to-month, and has been mostly moving sideways the last few years. Single-family starts (blue) decreased slightly in September, but were up 4.8% year-over-year. Total Housing Starts and Single Family Housing StartsThe second graph shows total and single unit starts since 1968. The second graph shows the huge collapse following the housing bubble, and then - after moving sideways for a couple of years - housing is now recovering (but still historically fairly low). Total housing starts in September were slightly below expectations, and starts for July and August were revised down slightly, combined.

Another poor month for housing permits and starts - This was another poor month for housing permits and starts. Here is the Census Bureau's graph: Single family permits did improve month over month are are up +2.4% above last September's easy comparison, but are still about 3.5% below their February peak, and tied with March for the 3rd worst reading in the past 12 months.Total permits came in at yet another 12 month low, are down -1% YoY, and down -10% from their March high. This is recession watch territory. Housing starts were higher YoY by +3.7% against an easy comparison, but were lower than every other month since except June and July, and are -9% off their March peak.Last month I wrote that the poor data was "enough to turn this important long leading indicator negative, as we have gone 6 months without a new high and are down over -5%."  We are now one month further removed from the last new high, and the trend remains negative, with the sole silver lining that this month's reading of single family permits isn't quite down -5% from peak I am maintaining my negative reading for these numbers. If this is confirmed by new home sales and real private residential fixed investment next week, housing as a whole will be in firm negative territory.

Housing starts fell last month amid Hurricane Florence - New-home construction fell in September on a decline in the South that may reflect disruptions from Hurricane Florence, government figures showed Wednesday.Residential starts dropped 5.3% to a 1.201 million annualized rate (the estimate was 1.21 million) after a downwardly revised 1.268 million pace in the prior month. Multifamily home starts fell 15.2%, while single-family starts declined 0.9%. Permits, a proxy for future construction of all types of homes, slipped 0.6% to a 1.241 million rate (the estimate was 1.275 million) after a 1.249 million pace.Analysts had forecast a decline in housing starts after Hurricane Florence, which made landfall in North Carolina on Sept. 14, caused damage and flooding throughout the Carolinas. Those states are part of the report's South region, which accounts for about half of starts and showed a 13.7% drop from the prior month. Hurricane Michael, which struck Florida and other Southeastern states last week, will probably affect activity in October. While the impact of the storms on housing data is likely to be temporary, the decline in starts largely reflected slower construction in multifamily housing, a category that tends to be volatile. In addition, permits for single-family homes rose 2.9% last month, the most in a year, on gains in the Northeast and West, indicating builders have a steady pipeline of construction.

New Residential Building Permits: 1.241M in September - The U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have now published their findings for September new residential building permits. The latest reading of 1.241M was a decrease from 1.249M in September and below the Investing.com forecast of 1.278M.Here is the opening of this morning's monthly report:Privately‐owned housing units authorized by building permits in September were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,241,000. This is 0.6 percent (±1.2 percent)* below the revised August rate of 1,249,000 and is 1.0 percent (±1.2 percent)* below the September 2017 rate of 1,254,000. Single‐family authorizations in September were at a rate of 851,000; this is 2.9 percent (±1.2 percent) above the revised August figure of 827,000. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 351,000 in September. [link to report] Here is the complete historical series, which dates from 1960. Because of the extreme volatility of the monthly data points, a 6-month moving average has been included.

NAHB: Builder Confidence increased to 68 in October - The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported the housing market index (HMI) was at 68 in October, up from 67 in September. Any number above 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor.From NAHB: Builder Confidence Rises One Point in October, Remains at Summer Levels Builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes rose one point to 68 in October on the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). Builder confidence levels have held in the high 60s since June.“Builders are motivated by solid housing demand, fueled by a growing economy and a generational low for unemployment,” said NAHB Chairman Randy Noel. “Builders are also relieved that lumber prices have declined for three straight months from elevated levels earlier this summer, but they need to manage supply-side costs to keep home prices affordable.”“Favorable economic conditions and demographic tailwinds should continue to support demand, but housing affordability has become a challenge due to ongoing price and interest rate increases,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “Unless housing affordability stabilizes, the market risks losing additional momentum as we head into 2019.” The HMI index measuring current sales conditions rose one point to 74 and the component gauging expectations in the next six months increased a single point to 75. Meanwhile, the metric charting buyer traffic registered a four-point uptick to 53. Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the Northeast rose three points to 57 and the South edged up one point to 71. The West held steady at 74 and the Midwest fell two points to 57.

The Deceptive, Shameful, Lucratively Funded War Against Rent Control --On August 24, the tenants of two buildings near the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles received letters from their landlord notifying them of a rent increase of over $800 a month. The increase was not a result of repairs or tax increases but rather, the letter said, of the upcoming election in November. The section of the ballot in question is Proposition 10, which, if it passes, would repeal a 1995 state law prohibiting local governments from enacting rent control on apartments and homes built after that year (or even earlier in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco). According to the letter: “Although you don’t want higher rent and we did not plan on charging you higher rent, we may lose our ability to raise rents in the future. ... Therefore, in preparation for the passage of this ballot initiative we must pass along a rent increase today.” If the ballot initiative failed, however, the landlord, Rampart Property Management, promised to “revisit the rent increase with a desire to cancel it.”  As the vote on rent control approaches, tenants across California have been harassed, served with eviction notices, and forced to pay more rent. In Concord, an entire building of 29 families was given 60-day eviction notices, with landlords explicitly citing Proposition 10 as the cause. In Modesto, tenants of a single-family building were not only notified of a rent increase, but also encouraged to vote against Prop 10, which the landlord said would “eliminat[e] the current availability of single family homes to rent.” Shanti Singh of the California renters’ rights organization Tenants Together says these are not isolated incidents: “This is punishing renters for participating in the democratic process. And we’re expecting to see a lot more of this in the coming month.”

Retail Sales increased 0.1% in September - On a monthly basis, retail sales increased 0.1 percent from August to September (seasonally adjusted), and sales were up 6.6 percent from August 2017. From the Census Bureau reportAdvance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for September 2018, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading‐day differences, but not for price changes, were $509.0 billion, an increase of 0.1 percent from the previous month, and 4.7 percent above September 2017.  This graph shows retail sales since 1992. This is monthly retail sales and food service, seasonally adjusted (total and ex-gasoline). Retail sales ex-gasoline were up 0.2% in September. 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 4.1% on a YoY basis. The increase in September was well below expectations, and sales in July and August were revised down.

September Retail Sales: Up 0.1% MoM, Worse Than Forecast - The Census Bureau's Advance Retail Sales Report for September was released this morning. Headline sales came in at 0.1% month-over-month to one decimal and was worse than the Investing.com forecast of 0.7%. Core sales (ex Autos) came in at -0.06% MoM (to two decimals). Revisions were made going back to 2017.Here is the introduction from today's report:Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for September 2018, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading‐day differences, but not for price changes, were $509.0 billion, an increase of 0.1 percent (±0.5 percent)* from the previous month, and 4.7 percent (±0.5 percent) above September 2017. Total sales for the July 2018 through September 2018 period were up 5.9 percent (±0.5 percent) from the same period a year ago. The July 2018 to August 2018 percent change was unrevised from up 0.1 percent (±0.1 percent)*.Retail trade sales were up 0.4 percent (±0.5 percent)* from August 2018, and 4.4 percent (±0.5 percent) above last year. Gasoline Stations were up 11.4 percent (±1.6 percent) from September 2017, while Nonstore Retailers were also up 11.4 percent (±1.4 percent) from last year. [view full report]  The chart below is a log-scale snapshot of retail sales since the early 1990s. The two exponential regressions through the data help us to evaluate the long-term trend of this key economic indicator.

US retail sales rose 0.1% in Sept, vs 0.6% increase expected —American consumers reined in their spending at restaurants and department stores in September, resulting in the second straight month of weak retail spending. Sales at retail stores and restaurants rose a seasonally adjusted 0.1% in September, the Commerce Department said Monday. That undershot economists’ expectations for a 0.7% month-over-month increase, and matched the rate of spending in August. “The September figures were unquestionably soft, but there was a lot going on,” said Amherst Pierpont economist Stephen Stanley in a note to clients, pointing to payback last month from strong retail spending in the spring and summer, and warm weather that may have dampened back-to-school apparel sales. September’s sales stagnation was led by a 1.8% decline in sales at food services and drinking places, that category’s steepest month-over-month drop in nearly two years. Economists said restaurant sales were likely impacted by Hurricane Florence, which made landfall in coastal North Carolina in mid-September. The Census Bureau said it couldn’t isolate the effect of the hurricane, although companies in its survey said the storm “had both positive and negative effects on their sales data while others indicated they were not impacted at all.” While motor-vehicle sales recovered in September after declining in August, sales fell 0.1% in September when excluding motor vehicles, missing economists’ expectations for a 0.4% rise and marking the biggest drop since May 2017. Consumer spending is a key driver of the U.S. economy, representing about two-thirds of economic output. Overall consumer spending was strong in the second quarter, a trend which Monday’s report suggests abated toward the close of the third quarter and is a potentially worrying signal for retailers headed into the holiday shopping season. Still, economists said September’s spending was likely hindered by Hurricane Florence, and underlying consumer outlays remained on track. “The net result still appears to be a fairly strong quarter for consumer spending growth,” Jim O’Sullivan, an economist High Frequency Economics Ltd, said in a note to clients. Sales at department stores fell 0.8%. Sales at nonstore retailers, such as purchases made online or from mail-order catalogs, increased 1.1%. Retail sales data can be volatile from month to month. Measures of consumer confidence have remained high recently, supported by continued job gains and broader economic growth.

The Perfect Storm- Trade War Could Have A Catastrophic Effect On Toy Industry - The American toy industry is headed for turmoil as the Trump administration has placed tariffs of up to 25% on about half of all goods shipped from China. Barbie dolls, Spider-Man action figures, and Transformers have so far escaped the wrath of President Trump's new tariffs but could be affected if a full-blown trade war erupts next year between the world's two largest economies. According to the South China Morning Post, the latest round of trade tariffs has already affected children's dress-up clothing, board games, and art item, with the US imposing a 10% tariff on those items last month. There are indications that these tariffs could rise to 25% on January 01. If a full-blown trade war breaks out, it would cut nearly $10.8 billion out of the US economy and lead to a devastating loss of 68,000 American jobs, said Rebecca Mond, vice-president for federal government affairs at the Toy Association, a US-based trade organization. She said tariffs would have a much more significant impact on China. "About 85% of all toys sold in the US annually are produced in China." "China is an established manufacturing base. The infrastructure is there. It's not a base that's easily moved," said Mond. "Even with the increased duty rate, it's still more expensive to bring manufacturing here in the United States than it would be to stay in China." A full-blown trade war has been forecast for 2019 by JPMorgan. Mond said many toy companies are taking a wait-and-see approach for the remaining months in 2018. She added that shifting supply chains is not an easy task. 

Sears files for bankruptcy, set to close 200 stores - After 132 years in business, the former retail giant Sears Holding Corp. filed for bankruptcy protection on Monday. Sears will use Chapter 11 filing with the Federal Bankruptcy Court in New York in an attempt to manage its debts and continue operating at least until the end of the holiday season. The company plans to close 142 Sears and Kmart stores by the end of the year, in addition to 46 store closures announced in August.Thousands of workers will lose their jobs as stores close by the end of the holidays. Some 68,000 employees, including 32,000 full-time workers, will be at risk of losing their jobs if the company fails to stay afloat. Mass layoffs have been common in the retail industry as a whole in recent years with Sears Holding already shrinking its workforce from 178,000 in January. Sears filing for bankruptcy is the latest catastrophe in a broader crisis in the US retail industry. The last decade has seen a multitude of buyouts, mergers and acquisitions by finance corporations as part of desperate efforts by retailers to avoid bankruptcy or liquidation by corporate robber barons gaining what profit they can before selling or liquidating the retail companies. US retailers have been forced to close brick-and-mortar stores to maintain profitability, closing thousands of stores in 2018 alone. Figures in May indicated the retail industry was responsible for more than a third of job cuts announced in 2018. An overview of a handful of corporations gives scope to the severity of the issue.

Sears Goes Bankrupt, Mired in Debt and Deserted by Shoppers -- Sears Holdings Corp., the 125-year-old retailer that became an icon for generations of American shoppers, filed for bankruptcy, saddled with billions of dollars of debt racked up as it struggled to adjust to the rapid shift toward online consumption. The company, which employs 68,000 people, filed for Chapter 11 early Monday in White Plains, New York. Eddie Lampert, the hedge fund manager who propped up the retailer for years with lifelines and financial engineering, is stepping down immediately as chief executive officer. At the same time, Lampert’s ESL Investments Inc. is negotiating a financing deal while also discussing buying “a large portion of the company’s store base,” Sears said in a statement. The financing would help ensure that much of Sears’ and Kmart’s stores are kept open through the crucial holiday season. Lenders and Lampert will in the meantime begin hashing out through the courts how much -- if any -- of the company will remain a going concern beyond that. The retailer, for years called Sears, Roebuck & Co. and famous for its massive catalog, boomed in the decades after World War II along with a growing middle class. But it wasn’t able to keep up with shifting consumer habits as online rivals including Amazon.com Inc. siphoned off shoppers, while turnaround efforts were hobbled by mountains of debt. Walmart Inc. supplanted Sears as the biggest retailer in the early 1990s. Lampert, who engineered a $12.3 billion acquisition of Sears by Kmart in 2005, held about $2.5 billion in Sears debt as of September, the result of multiple attempts to keep the chain afloat. Kmart, which itself has a more than 100-year history as a U.S. retailer, was also included in the Chapter 11 filing. The retailer, which listed liabilities of around $11.34 billion and assets of about $6.94 billion as of Aug. 4, said in court filings that it’s seeking to reorganize around a smaller base of profitable stores. Sears and Kmart stores will remain open with help from $600 million in new loans, but the company will shut 142 unprofitable outlets near the end of the year, on top of 46 unprofitable stores already slated to be closed by November.

Sears’ Terminal Slide: Bankruptcy and Likely Liquidation - This follows the script of the brick-and-mortar meltdown of retailers that were bought by Wall Street and subsequently subjected to asset-stripping and cost-cutting, which ruined what little was left of their brands. Mired down in survival mode, those retailers failed to build a vibrant online presence and fulfillment infrastructure. As sales withered and losses ravaged the company, debts became unmanageable. But the bankruptcy by Sears Holdings is just so much richer – and the restructuring in bankruptcy has a zero chance of succeeding. Monday morning, Sears Holdings filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy with the intent to restructure its debts and obligations, close 142 more stores, in addition to the 46 store closings it recently announced, and in addition to the thousands of stores it closed in prior years. This would bring its store count from the 866 stores in Q2 to about 678 Sears and Kmart stores by the end of 2018. The new goal is to shrink and somehow thrive. Same as the old goals. This chart shows how Sears cut its way to health and profitability, by reducing the number of stores from nearly 4,000 in 2011 to 678 by the end of 2018: And at this unstoppable trajectory, the store count will drop below 300 by the end of 2019 and dip into the negative by 2020 – if only that were possible.Every wave of store closings came with corporate verbiage about transforming the company into a smaller but profitable retailer. And so inevitably, there was more of the same in today’s announcement of the bankruptcy filing.“Over the last several years, we have worked hard to transform our business and unlock the value of our assets,” hedge-fund owner and Sears Holdings CEO Eddie Lampert said with deadpan sarcasm. He, his hedge fund ESL, and related entities are Sears Holdings’ largest shareholders and largest creditors, and what they have lent the company is secured by the company’s best assets. So the “value of our assets” that he has “unlocked” has already gone, or will go, to him and ESL. In financial terms, the filing listed $6.9 billion in assets and $11.3 billion in liabilities. On paper, there is a hole of $4.4 billion. The size of the hole may change, depending on the magnitude of further losses and the ultimate sale price of the assets, ranging from inventories to the remaining company-owned stores. In the announcement, Sears said that it has lined up a debtor-in-possession (DIP) loan of $300 million to fund its operations through the bankruptcy proceedings, and that it is “negotiating” an additional $300-million Junior DIP loan. Reuters reported on Sunday that according to “sources,” Lampert may participate in the DIP loan.

 Who Will Benefit The Most From Sears' Collapse?  -  While the closure of hundreds of Sears stores will drive a new stake through the heart of the CMBS market, potentially renewing calls for CMBX BBB- as being the "big short" trade, not everyone will be a loser. And, according to new analysts by Morgan Stanley, Best Buy, Off-price, and Old Navy could be the greatest beneficiaries from the Sears Chapter 11 filing, based on on geographical overlap, hypothetical comp lift assuming full liquidation, and historical trends. According to MS' analysis, while SHLD's market share is dwindling, the bank estimates ~$2.8b in Apparel sales, ~$2.7b in Appliance sales, ~$2b in Consumer Electronics sales, and ~$0.6b in Home Improvement sales up for grabs, with one caveat: "if liquidation sales occur as proposed, competitors will likely face a near term headwind, before having an opportunity to capture SHLD's former market share in the following 12 months." Additionally, the analysis by analyst Simeon Gumtan notes the dynamic nature of the situation, as store closures could range from the incremental 142 closures proposed today, to a full scale shutdown. We are not updating our store overlap analysis but based on our previous analysis, mall-centric retailers JCP, M, and Old Navy have the highest store overlap across all companies we looked at. Beyond these mallcentric retailers, BBY and TGT have the next greatest proximities.  Within Hardline/Broadline Retail, BBY stands to potentially benefit the most from SHLD's Chapter 11 filing. This is based on high physical store overlap and potential comp lift assuming full liquidation. Geographically, BBY, along with TGT, has the highest overlap of stores using a ¼ mile, ½ mile, and 1 mile radius. Expanding the radius to 2 miles, TGT, BBY, HD, and WMT all have 60%+ overlap  each. In terms of comp, BBY could experience the highest benefit (~70 bps) from gains in appliances and consumer electronics. The next biggest beneficiaries are HD and LOW who could see a ~30-40 bps lift to comps by capturing sales in appliance and home improvement categories.

Tracking Trump's tariffs: US vs. Canadian rail loads - Let me start out by saying that there is an excellent case for the US imposing a VAT ("value added tax") similar to those enacted by Canada and European countries in order to recapture the losses due to far lower wages in China and other developing countries. Additionally there is an excellent national security rationale for not entering into"free trade" agreements with authoritarian governments who will use the benefits to build up their militaries. Not that this is what Trump is doing, of course.  I've already noted that the weekly rail report by the AAR seems like an excellent way to track the impact of Trump's tariffs, especially via intermodal units which are used for ocean shipping. This week I happened on another excellent usage: comparing US vs. Canadian real loads, both of which are monitored weekly by the Association of American Railroads.To the point, here's what year to date growth in US (first graph) and Canadian (second graph) rail loadslooked like 2 months ago:Note that carloads, especially of various agricultural products, were reasonably comparable in the two countries.Now here are the same two graphs updated through this past week:  With the exception of forest products and grain, YTD comparisons are still positive in Canada.  But look at what has happened in the US. All of the YTD and YoY weekly comparisons have collapsed, and the latter have turned completely flat or negative. This is incontrovertible evidence that Trump's tariffs are hitting US agriculture - and transportation - hard.

LA area Port Traffic in September - 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 0.2% compared in September to the rolling 12 months ending in August.   Outbound traffic was up 0.4% compared to the rolling 12 months ending in August. 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. In general imports have been increasing, and exports have mostly moved sideways over the last 6 or 7 years.  It is still too early to tell about the impact of the tariffs.

 Industrial Production Increased 0.3% in September -- From the Fed: Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization Industrial production increased 0.3 percent in September, about the same rate of change as in the previous two months. Output growth in September was held down slightly by Hurricane Florence, with an estimated effect of less than 0.1 percentage point. For the third quarter as a whole, total industrial production advanced at an annual rate of 3.3 percent. In September, manufacturing output moved up 0.2 percent for its fourth consecutive monthly increase, while the output of utilities was unchanged. The index for mining increased 0.5 percent and has moved up in each of the past eight months. At 108.5 percent of its 2012 average, total industrial production was 5.1 percent higher in September than it was a year earlier. Capacity utilization for the industrial sector was unchanged at 78.1 percent, a rate that is 1.7 percentage points below its long-run (1972–2017) average.This graph shows Capacity Utilization. This series is up 11.4 percentage points from the record low set in June 2009 (the series starts in 1967). Capacity utilization at 78.1% is 1.7% below the average from 1972 to 2017 and below the pre-recession level of 80.8% in December 2007. Industrial ProductionThe second graph shows industrial production since 1967. Industrial production increased in August to 108.5. This is 24.6% above the recession low, and 3% above the pre-recession peak. The increase in industrial production was slightly above the consensus forecast - however capacity utilization was below consensus.

Empire State Manufacturing Survey: Activity Grew in October - This morning we got the latest Empire State Manufacturing Survey. The diffusion index for General Business Conditions at 21.1 was an increase of 2.1 from the previous month's 19.0. The Investing.com forecast was for a reading of 20.4.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 continued to grow strongly in New York State, according to firms responding to the October 2018 Empire State Manufacturing Survey. The headline general business conditions index rose two points to 21.1, pointing to a slightly faster pace of growth than in September. New orders and shipments both picked up noticeably. Delivery times continued to lengthen, while inventories held steady. Labor market indicators pointed to a modest increase in employment levels and no change in hours worked. Price indexes edged down but remained elevated, suggesting ongoing significant increases in both input prices and selling prices. Looking ahead, firms generally remained optimistic about the six-month outlook. [source] Here is a chart of the current conditions and its 3-month moving average, which helps clarify the trend for this extremely volatile indicator:

Earlier: Philly Fed Manufacturing Survey Suggested "Steady" Growth in October - Earlier: From the Philly Fed: October 2018 Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey - Regional manufacturing activity continued to grow in October, according to results from this month’s Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey. The survey’s broad indicators for general activity, new orders, shipments, and employment remained positive and near their readings in September. The firms reported continued growth in employment and an increase in the average workweek this month. Expectations for the next six months remained optimistic.The diffusion index for current general activity edged down slightly, from 22.9 in September to 22.2 this month. Nearly 36 percent of the manufacturers reported increases in overall activity this month, while 14 percent reported decreases. … The firms continued to report overall higher employment. More than 30 percent of the responding firms reported increases in employment this month, while 11 percent of the firms reported decreases in employment. The current employment index increased 2 points to 19.5. The firms also reported a longer workweek this month, as the workweek index increased from 14.6 to 20.8. Here is a graph comparing the regional Fed surveys and the ISM manufacturing index:

BLS: Job Openings "reached a series high of 7.1 million" in August Notes: In August there were 6.939 million job openings, and, according to the August Employment report, there were 6.234 million unemployed. So, for the fifth consecutive month, there were more job openings than people unemployed. Also note that the number of job openings has exceeded the number of hires since January 2015. From the BLS: Job Openings and Labor Turnover SummaryThe number of job openings reached a series high of 7.1 million on the last business day of August, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the month, hires and separations were little changed at 5.8 million and 5.7 million, respectively. Within separations, the quits rate was unchanged at 2.4 percent and the layoffs and discharges rate was little changed at 1.2 percent. ...The number of quits was little changed in August at 3.6 million. The quits rate was 2.4 percent. The number of quits was little changed for total private and for government. Quits increased in wholesale trade (+24,000) but decreased in professional and business services (-82,000). The number of quits was little changed in all four regions. The following graph shows job openings (yellow line), hires (dark blue), Layoff, Discharges and other (red column), and Quits (light blue column) from the JOLTS.  The difference between JOLTS hires and separations is similar to the CES (payroll survey) net jobs headline numbers.   Note that hires (dark blue) and total separations (red and light blue columns stacked) are pretty close each month. This is a measure of labor market turnover.  When the blue line is above the two stacked columns, the economy is adding net jobs - when it is below the columns, the economy is losing jobs.Jobs openings increased in August to 7.136 million from 7.077 million in July.The number of job openings (yellow) are up 18% year-over-year.Quits are up 13% year-over-year. These are voluntary separations. (see light blue columns at bottom of graph for trend for "quits").Job openings are at a series high (started in 2001), and quits are increasing year-over-year. This was a strong report.

US Job Openings Hits Record High- 1.2 Million More Job Vacancies Than Unemployed Workers -- According to the BLS, in August the number of job openings in the US hit a new all time high of 7.136 million, up from July's prior upward revised record of 7.077 million. More importantly, August was the fifth consecutive month in which total job openings surpassed the number of unemployed Americans, which last month declined to 5.964 million. This means that there are now 1.2 million more job openings than unemployed Americans who are seeking a job (how accurate the BLS data is, is another matter entirely).In other words, in an economy in which there was a perfect match between worker skills and employer needs, there would be zero unemployed people at this moment (of course, that is not the case.)According to the BLS, the number of job openings was little changed for total nonfarm, total private, and government, while Job openings increased in federal government (+15,000). The number of job openings was little changed in all four regionsAdding to the exuberant labor picture, while job openings remained above total unemployment, the number of total hires also increased to a new record high, rising to 5.784 million in August from 5.713 million in July.  According to the historical correlation between the number of hires and the 12 month cumulative job change (per the Establishment Survey), either the pace of hiring needs to drop, or else the number of new jobs will rise significantly in the coming months. Meanwhile, looking at the number of quits - the so-called "take this jobs and shove it" indicator - which shows worker confidence that they can leave their current job and find a better paying job elsewhere, revealed that one month after hitting an all time high, there was a modest, -31,000 dip to 3.577 million in August, further confirmation that Americans are increasingly confident in their job prospects should their part ways with their current employer.Putting all this in in context:

  • Job openings have increased since a low in July 2009. They returned to the prerecession level in March 2014 and surpassed the prerecession peak in August 2014. There were 7.1 million open jobs on the last business day of August 2018.
  • Hires have increased since a low in June 2009 and have surpassed prerecession levels. In August 2018, there were 5.8 million hires.
  • Quits have increased since a low in September 2009 and have surpassed prerecession levels. In August 2018, there were 3.6 million quits.
  • For most of the JOLTS history, the number of hires (measured throughout the month) has exceeded the number of job openings (measured only on the last business day of the month). Since January 2015, however, this relationship has reversed with job openings outnumbering hires in most months.
  • At the end of the most recent recession in June 2009, there were 1.2 million more hires throughout the month than there were job openings on the last business day of the month. In August 2018, there were 1.4 million fewer hires than job openings.

 US Unemployment Rate Hits 50-Year Low: What Does the Number Reveal and Conceal? - mp3 wth transcript - September’s unemployment rate dropped to a 50-year low, but what is behind this statistic, how does it affect ordinary citizens, and can Trump take credit for the drop? We discuss these questions with PERI’s Gerald Epstein

BLS: Unemployment Rates Lower in 9 states in September, Six States at New Series Lows -From the BLS: Regional and State Employment and Unemployment Summary; Unemployment rates were lower in September in 9 states, higher in 4 states, and stable in 37 states and the District of Columbia, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Sixteen states had jobless rate decreases from a year earlier and 34 states and the District had little or no change.    Hawaii had the lowest unemployment rate in September, 2.2 percent. The rates in Arkansas (3.5 percent), California (4.1 percent), Idaho (2.7 percent), South Carolina (3.3 percent), Texas (3.8 percent), and Washington (4.4 percent) set new series lows. (All state series begin in 1976.) Alaska had the highest jobless rate, 6.5 percent.This graph shows the number of states (and D.C.) with unemployment rates at or above certain levels since January 1976. At the worst of the great recession, there were 11 states with an unemployment rate at or above 11% (red). Currently only one state, Alaska, has an unemployment rate at or above 6% (dark blue).

Top 1.0 percent reaches highest wages ever—up 157 percent since 1979 --Newly available wage data for 2017 show that annual wages grew far faster for the top 1.0 percent (3.7 percent) than for the bottom 90 percent (up only 1.0 percent). The top 0.1 percent saw the fastest growth, up 8.0 percent—far faster than any other wage group. This fast wage growth for the top 0.1 percent reflects the sharp 17.6 percent spike upwards in the compensation of the CEOs of large firms: executives comprise the largest group in both the top 1.0 and top 0.1 percent of earners. The fast wage growth of the top 1.0 percent in 2017 brought their wages to the highest level ever, $719,000, topping the wage levels reached before the Great Recession of $716,000 in 2007. The wages of the top 0.1 percent reached $2,757,000 in 2017, the second highest level ever, roughly only 4 percent below their wages in 2007. These are the results of EPI’s updated series on wages by earning group, which is developed from published Social Security Administration data. These data, unlike the usual source of our wage analyses (the Current Population Survey) allow us to estimate wage trends for the top 1.0 and top 0.1 percent of earners, as well as those for the bottom 90 percent and other categories among the top 10 percent of earners. These data are not topcoded, meaning the underlying earnings reported are actual earnings and not “capped” for confidentiality.

  Why is Labor Force Participation Falling for Prime-Age Males- - . Didem Tüzemen asks "Why Are Prime-Age Men Vanishing from the Labor Force?" in the Economic Review of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City (First Quarter 2018, pp. 5-28). She begins: "The labor force participation rate for prime-age men (age 25 to 54) in the United States has declined dramatically since the 1960s, but the decline has accelerated more recently. From 1996 to 2016, the share of prime-age men either working or actively looking for work decreased from 91.8 percent to 88.6 percent. In 1996, 4.6 million prime-age men did not participate in the labor force. By 2016, this number had risen to 7.1 million."As Tüzemen shows, this rise in nonparticipation rates of prime-age males is broad-based. If you break down prime-age male labor force participation by education levels (less than high school, only high school, some college, college or more), the nonparticipation level is higher for those with less education, but it's up in every education category.  If break down the prime-age group into decades (25-34, 35-44, 45-54), then nonpartication is higher in the 45-54 age group, but it's been rising in every age category, too.   Perhaps more of a clue comes from the employment survey data tiself.  As Tüzemen reports:  Those who report their status as "not in the labor force” also respond to another question, which asks, “what best describes your situation at this time? For example, are you disabled, ill, in school, taking care of house or family, in retirement, or something else?”  The answers to this survey question suggest that between 1996 and 2016, the share of nonparticipating men who give "disability" as an answer has declined, while the share who refer to family responsibilities, taking care of family, and in retirement have all increased. Of course, these decisions about not being in the labor market are not made in a vacuum, but are presumably also affected by the reality of labor market opportunities. That's just a long way of saying that the rise in nonparticipation can involve both decisions about labor supply and realities of labor demand. Tüzemen makes a case that evolving labor demand is probably more important for rising male nonparticipation than choices about labor supply. In particular, she focuses on the "polarization" of the labor market--the overall pattern in which low-skill workers do OK, because they are providing personal services that are (at least so far) hard to replace with automation or software, and high-skilled workers do OK, because they are well-positioned to make gains from the use of automation and software, but those in the ranks of the middle-skilled can find themselves at risk.

Affluent cities gained at expense of Trump’s ‘forgotten’ America study (Reuters) - The economic divide between affluent U.S. cities and suburbs and the ailing, often rural, areas where blue collar and middle-tier service jobs are the norm grew wider after the onset of the Great Recession, a Washington-based think tank said on Monday. The crisis and ensuing rebound saw a “reshuffling” of jobs, entrepreneurial energy, and human capital from worse-off areas towards those that have increasingly captured the benefits of growth, the Economic Innovation Group concluded after comparing demographic data for the 2007-2011 and 2012-2016 periods. The findings show “a big blindspot” in strong national data, including a 3.7 percent unemployment rate that is near a 50-year low, said John Lettieri, co-founder and president of the bipartisan Economic Innovation Group think tank. “The distribution of new jobs, new businesses, the distribution of the best human capital - it is a geographical concentration,” Lettieri said. “National growth alone is not doing it for Americans in terms of their local realities.” The time frame of the study, capturing the impact of the 2007-2009 recession and the bulk of an ongoing recovery, gives insight into some of the forces that fueled President Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory, with areas outside the booming coastal cities struggling to hang on to old-line industries in the information age. Trump has brandished himself as a defender of the “forgotten” Americans that he says have been left behind by the forces of globalization, vowing to bring back manufacturing jobs that have moved offshore. In that objective, he is fighting longstanding trends, that are rooted in decades of urbanization, as well as the more recent power of knowledge-based companies, colleges and other institutions to attract investment and talent. .

Maryland’s poor plan for public-private partnership toll roads WaPo. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) $9 billion plan to add tolled express lanes to the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270 is flawed.Maryland transportation officials are proposing to borrow the project’s cost from private investors, but they are downplaying how much more expensive it is to borrow directly from a Wall Street bank or a global corporation rather than use municipal bonds, the traditional method of financing. And they are minimizing the potential risks for Maryland residents now and in the distant future, as so-called public-private partnership contracts include pages of complex agreements that extend for decades.Instead of being up front with the public, those officials point to an alleged local success story: Virginia’s experiment with using private financing to add tolled express lanes to the Beltway and Interstate 95. So, let’s take a look.Virginia’s 75-year public-private partnership has been plagued by lower-than-expected traffic since being signed in 2012. One year in, weekday usage on the Beltway lanes was only a little more than half of what had been projected. The project’s financier and operator, the Australian corporation Transurban, urged patience, while an analyst at the libertarian Reason Foundation added that it typically takes a year to 18 months for tolled express lanes to pan out.But, six years later, that hasn’t happened. The project just delivered another year of financial losses, with a 1.2 percent drop in traffic on its Beltway section. Transurban, which raked in nearly half a billion dollars in profits last year, will be just fine — but Virginia residents have cause for concern. A number of public-private partnerships have gone bankrupt because of financial losses, leaving taxpayers to clean up the mess.

Washington state Supreme Court strikes down death penalty as “arbitrary and racially biased” - The Washington state Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously struck down the death penalty in that state as invalid, unconstitutional and “racially biased.” The ruling invalidating the state’s 37-year-old death penalty law makes Washington the latest in a string of states in recent years to abandon capital punishment.Governor Jay Inslee had already imposed a moratorium on the state’s death penalty in 2014. The court’s order has now declared that the death sentences of the eight inmates on death row should be converted to life in prison. Because the ruling was based on the unconstitutionality of the death penalty law according to the state constitution, and not the US Constitution, it cannot be appealed to the US Supreme Court.“The death penalty is invalid because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner,” the Washington justices wrote in their opinion. “While this particular case provides an opportunity to specifically address racial disproportionality, the underlying issues that underpin our holding are rooted in the arbitrary manner in which the death penalty is generally administered.”The Supreme Court ruled in an appeal by convicted murderer Allen Eugene Gregory, a black death row inmate. The court did not revisit arguments over Gregory’s guilt, noting his murder conviction had already been appealed and confirmed by a second jury.Gregory’s appellate attorneys, Neil Fox and Lila Silverstein, presented arguments in light of a 2012 case, State v. Davis, in which the high court had considered the death penalty’s “proportionality review” to ensure fairness in death sentences, calling on experts to present evidence on the “statistical significance of the racial patterns” in capital murder trial reports.  Fox and Silverstein commissioned an analysis by University of Washington (UW) sociologists Dr. Katherine Beckett and then-PhD candidate Health Evans, which evaluated all of Washington’s aggravated-murder trial reports from 1981 to 2014 and found widespread bias based on race and location of crime. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Gregory’s appeal, and dozens of former state judges urged the court to overturn the death penalty.Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst wrote the opinion, in which four justices concurred, (one in result only). The other four justices signed a concurrence agreeing with the majority’s conclusions invalidating the death penalty but adding that other state constitutional factors “compel this result.”

Bloody Battle Breaks Out On Portland Streets As Antifa Clashes With Patriot Prayer  --Street anarchy and mob violence on American streets is getting wilder by the day.The following videos from Portland, Oregon show a confrontation between left-wing Antifa members and right-wing Proud Boys as scores of bystanders look-on. Things spiraled out of control quickly, prompting Portland police officers dressed in riot gear to open fire with less-lethal rounds.As OregonLive.com reports, the demonstration billed as a march for "law and order" in the streets of Portland descended into chaos as rival political factions broke into bloody brawls downtown Saturday night.Members of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer and their black-clad adversaries, known as antifa, used bear spray, bare fists and batons to thrash each other outside Kelly's Olympian, a popular bar on Southwest Washington Street. The melee ended when riot cops rushed in and fired pepper balls at the street fighters.

NY State Justice Center protecting sexual predators, not people with special needs - The Jonathan Carey Foundation was established by civil rights and disability rights advocate Michael Carey to protect our most vulnerable children and people with disabilities. Thousands of women and children with disabilities are being sexually assaulted and raped within New York State’s extremely dangerous mental health agencies and group homes.  The New York State Justice Center is operating a corrupt abuse hotline and is ensuring that there are rarely any criminal prosecutions of these sex crimes. Governor Andrew Cuomo is without question operating his mental agencies almost identical to the Catholic Church. Less than 1% of sex crimes reported to the fraudulent Justice Center are ever prosecuted. To wrap your mind around the scope of the astronomical and absolute rampant sexual abuse occurring multiply 1,300 sexual assaults times 33 to get the approximate numbers within the Office of People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) system annually. State records obtained through Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) reveal an average of 1,300 reported cases with OPWDD alone and according to a well known study called Prevalence of Violence only 3% of these sexual assaults are ever reported.

Homelessness in New York Public Schools Is at a Record High: 114,659 Students - NYT - Tonight, about one out of every 10 students in New York City will sleep in a homeless shelter or in the homes of relatives. That’s more children than at any other time since city records have been kept. In the morning, those same children will fan out across the city to go to school, some crossing multiple boroughs to get there. Last year, the number of city students in temporary housing topped 100,000 for the third consecutive year, according to state data released Monday by Advocates for Children of New York, a group that provides legal and advocacy services for needy students. Those students are the most vulnerable victims of homelessness, an issue that has dogged Mayor Bill de Blasio since he took office in 2014. But as the number of homeless children continues to swell, there hasn’t been a significant increase in public or private dollars spent to support these students. The number of school-age children who are homeless has sharply increased in the last eight years along with a rise in homelessness over all. As politicians debate policy solutions, the number of students in temporary housing has ballooned to 114,659 students as of last spring, from 69,244 children in 2010. That’s more homeless students in New York City than the population of Albany. New York City has one of the highest populations of homeless students of any big city in America. About 5 percent of students in Chicago’s public schools were homeless last year, and just above 3 percent of Los Angeles’ students were homeless in 2016. There are about 1.1 million children in the city’s public schools in total.

Stephen Miller's third grade teacher who said he ate glue as a kid has been suspended - A teacher who claimed that Stephen Miller, President Donald Trump's senior policy adviser and an immigration hardliner, ate glue as a kid has reportedly been suspended from her job.Teacher Nikki Fiske told The Hollywood Reporter this week that, as a child, Miller would "pour the glue on his arm, let it dry, peel it off, and then eat it. He was a strange dude."She described Miller as "a strange dude." "I remember being concerned about him — not academically. He was OK with that, though I could never read his handwriting. But he had such strange personal habits. He was a loner and isolated and off by himself all the time," she said.She said that she had a lot of "concerns" about Miller, so the school's principal "took some white-out and blanked out all my comments.""Of course, Stephen wasn't political then — it wasn't until later that he started to make waves," Fiske wrote.Now, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District has placed her on "home assignment" while it decides what to do, if anything, about Fiske's comments, t he Los Angeles Times reported.A school district spokesperson told the Times that they were concerned about "her release of student information." Miller has been identified as the driving force behind the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy that separates immigrant children from their families at the US-Mexico border.

New York City teachers union attempts to rush though sellout contract - Anger is brewing among New York City teachers after last week’s announcement of a tentative contract agreement between the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and the city’s Department of Education. The deal provides small wage increases that fail to keep up with inflation, contains new healthcare givebacks and does nothing to secure decent conditions among the approximately 1.6 million public school children in the largest school district in America. “I will vote no on the contract,” a senior teacher told the World Socialist Web Site. We have the 150 extra minutes each week, split on Mondays and Tuesdays, that was added [to our school day] in 2014. It is not a raise if I have to work for it. On top of that the money does not even keep up with inflation.”He added, “It is not respectful of what teachers do. I don’t need to be mandated to stay later and call parents. The popular term we use is ‘teacher detention.’ The UFT says there is no giveback but there is plenty giveback.”The UFT called an emergency delegate assembly last Friday, months before the negotiations were scheduled to finish, and sent the proposed contract to teachers for approval. The rush to ratification is unquestionably motivated by the concern that a social explosion among educators is mounting in New York City in the aftermath of strikes by teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado and Washington state.With the 2018 midterm elections approaching, the leading union executives, including UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, are desperately seeking to forestall a conflict that could disrupt the Democratic Party’s posturing as a progressive and pro-worker organization.  The UFT executives also want to push through a contract quickly because of the tense situation in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the second largest American school district. The United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) has forced educators to work without a contract for 14 months and has ignored the 98 percent vote to authorize a strike, which teachers cast last September. Mediation has failed to come to any resolution and teachers are determined to fight for improved wages, school funding and classroom conditions.

Why are teachers in Europe paid so much better than those in the United States?  — Midterm elections have rarely captivated Americans' attention, but this year’s elections are shaping up to be different. Voter enthusiasm has spiked following the polarizing Supreme Court confirmation process for Brett M. Kavanaugh. Outside the nation’s capital, however, other issues have raised the stakes of the upcoming vote. Education may not be featured across cable news 24/7, but a wave of teacher strikes this year has put a spotlight on education funding in many states. Cut it more or raise it? Disagreement about that question has motivated a growing number of teachers to run for office and has dealt several blows to Republican contenders. But to observers in Europe, the mere existence of the U.S. debate has appeared rather strange at times — if not downright tragic. On both sides of the Atlantic, the vast majority of people tend to agree that teachers are important — and that they deserve to be paid well. When the Pew Research Center surveyed Americans in 2013 about the professions that contribute the most to society, teachers came in second, right behind military personnel and ahead of doctors, scientists and engineers. And yet, somehow, the wages of American teachers — unlike anyone else in the top ranks of that list — have dropped over the past decade. That’s a long way from similarly wealthy European nations such as Germany, for example, where teachers are among the nation’s top earners and can make more money than Web developers or sometimes even entry-level doctors. Besides the United States, no other developed country has such a large gap between salaries paid to teachers and to professionals with similar degrees. In fact, according to a recent OECD study, teachers' salaries have increased almost everywhere else since 2005. Europe’s social welfare states generally perceive education as a right rather than as a privilege. College, for example, is free in many of those nations, and some countries, such as Denmark, even pay people to attend. The importance of public education has translated into higher pay for teachers, who also often benefit from robust employment laws for public servants. In some cases, a lack of qualified teachers has resulted in even higher wages. Those transatlantic differences didn’t emerge overnight. While teachers in Luxembourg earned almost three times as much as the average employee there in 2004, American teachers already ranked at the bottom of the list at the time.

 Maker Movements Should NOT Endanger School Libraries, Librarians, and Reading  To call yourself a librarian, you need to have that training and to be certified. If you replace a certified librarian with someone who’s just an expert in technology, you’re losing half of the role that school libraries are supposed to be serving. You still need someone who is a champion of reading. School libraries are where students have access to books. Librarians assist students with reading, research, and a variety of language and reading activities. Children learning to read can find a book on any topic in the library.We know that schools with excellent libraries have students that do better than those with insufficient or no libraries. From Phi Delta Kappan:Data from more than 34 statewide studies suggest that students tend to earn better standardized test scores in schools that have strong library programs. Further, when administrators, teachers, and librarians themselves rated the importance and frequency of various library practices associated with student learning, their ratings correlated with student test scores, further substantiating claims of libraries’ benefits. In addition, newer studies, conducted over the last several years, show that strong school libraries are also linked to other important indicators of student success, including graduation rates and mastery of academic standards.The mere presence of a librarian is associated with better student outcomes.Libraries have always been places where students can work independently. But the Maker Movement appears to be about replacing school libraries and the role of librarians with digital learning. There is a concerted effort to convert libraries to Makerspaces, Hackspaces, or Fab Labs. Why? Why can’t these places be set up in another room, or why can’t teachers include hands-on activities in their classes?  Why can’t some part of the library be used for these activities without an overall library conversion to digital instruction? We hear that the only way libraries and librarians will survive, is if they sign on to Makerspaces! Many librarians are being renamed “innovation specialists” and their role is changed to that of a facilitator for digital learning. But if libraries are already such a known factor in student achievement, why would anyone tamper with their success?

The Harvard Admissions Trial Won’t End Affirmative Action – But That’s The Ultimate Goal - One legal term of art the Supreme Court has never bothered to define with precision is the phrase “critical mass.” When the Court last upheld the use of affirmative action by colleges and universities in the admissions process, Justice Anthony Kennedy glossed over those words without really stopping to explain what they meant. Broadly defined, though, achieving a critical mass on campus means simply to assemble a diverse student body and let students reap the educational benefits that flow from that learning environment. So long as race is just one of many factors administrators weigh in deciding whom to admit, the Supreme Court has made clear, its consideration doesn’t run afoul of the Constitution. “It is the University’s ongoing obligation to engage in constant deliberation and continued reflection regarding its admis­sions policies,” Kennedy said in 2016’s Fisher v. University of Texas, the case that breathed life anew into race-sensitive admissions policies. One misconception about the high-profile affirmative action trial now unfolding in a federal courtroom in Boston is that affirmative action itself is on trial. It’s true that Edward Blum, the conservative legal activist who engineered and lost the Fisher case, has never encountered an affirmative action program that he likes. His latest crusade against Harvard University is unquestionably an attempt to once again try to kill affirmative action for good. But that’s one thing Allison Burroughs, the federal judge overseeing the four-year dispute, won’t do. When Blum and his group, Students for Fair Admissions, brought the case in 2014, their complaint asked Burroughs outright to reject “diversity” as a rationale for justifying the continued use of affirmative action. “The Supreme Court’s decisions holding that there is a compelling government interest in using race as a factor in admissions decisions in pursuit of ‘diversity’ should be overruled,” the lawsuit charged. “Those decisions were wrongly decided at the time they were issued and they remain wrong today.” But lower court judges know their place, and are aware that’s not how precedent works. In 2017, in pretrial proceedings, Burroughs dutifully rejected that argument and ruled for Harvard on that point, acknowledging that doing away with precedent is “something [she] decidedly cannot do.” Affirmative action, it’s fair to say, is not going anywhere under her watch.

In Admissions, Harvard Favors Those Who Fund It, Internal Emails Show -Getting into Harvard is hard. But it’s a lot less hard if your family promises to pay for a new building, according to internal emails presented in court on the third day of the Harvard admissions trial. John M. Hughes, a lawyer for Students for Fair Admissions — the anti-affirmative action group suing the College over its race-conscious admissions policies — introduced the emails in a bid to prove Harvard unfairly prefers the wealthy and well-connected. Hughes read each messsage aloud before grilling the College’s long-serving Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 on their contents. Hughes and Fitzsimmons faced off in court Wednesday as part of the high-stakes and high-profile trial in SFFA’s four-year-old suit alleging Harvard discriminates against Asian-American applicants. The trial, which kicked off Oct. 15 in a Boston courthouse, will likely continue for three weeks. If the case reaches the Supreme Court, it could decide the fate of affirmative action in the United States.The handful of emails — most of them sent between administrators and admissions officers — hint at the College’s behind-the-scenes fondness for applicants whose admission yields certain practical perks. Hughes referenced the emails as he quizzed Fitzsimmons on the “Dean’s Interest List,” a special and confidential list of applicants Harvard compiles every admissions cycle. Though the University closely guards the details, applicants on that list are often related to or of interest to top donors — and court filings show list members benefit from a significantly inflated acceptance rate.

Faced with a daily barrage of news, college students find it hard to tell what’s real and what’s ‘fake news’  College students turn to their peers and online versions of trusted newspapers for news at least twice as often as they do to print publications, TV, or podcasts. Those who get their news on social media turn to Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube more often than Twitter. And nine out of ten college students get their news from at least five different sources in a given week.  With so many different ways to get news, students face a constant surge that makes it difficult for them to distinguish between what’s real and what’s fake, and in some cases, to trust any news at all, according to a new report from one of the largest and most comprehensive studies of youth media engagement. “Young people have different ways of consuming news than people born even a decade before them,” said John Wihbey, a Northeastern professor and one of the researchers who conducted the study. “Our report suggests that in some ways, we have created for young people an extremely difficult environment of news. We need to figure out ways to guide them so they can navigate it.” Much of the work comes down to education, including teaching students both from an earlier age and more frequently throughout their school careers how to evaluate news, according to the researchers. They also encouraged journalists to embrace new storytelling techniques and add context to the news they push out, and called on social media companies to help users discern real news from “fake news.”

The Student Loan Debt Crisis Is About to Get Worse - While Wall Street and U.S. President Donald Trump tout news of a booming stock market and low unemployment, college students may be quick to roll their eyes. The improved economy has yet to mean higher wages for graduates already struggling to pay down massive debt, let alone ease the minds of students staring down the barrel of six-digit loan obligations yet to come. Federal student loans are the only consumer debt segment with continuous cumulative growth since the Great Recession. As the costs of tuition and borrowing continue to rise, the result is a widening default crisis that even Fed Chairman Jerome Powell labeled as a cause for concern. Student loans have seen almost 157 percent in cumulative growth over the last 11 years. By comparison, auto loan debt has grown 52 percent while mortgage and credit-card debt actually fell by about 1 percent, according to a Bloomberg Global Data analysis of federal and private loans. All told, there’s a whopping $1.5 trillion in student loans out there (through the second quarter of 2018), marking the second-largest consumer debt segment in the country after mortgages, according to the Federal Reserve. And the number keeps growing. Student loans are being issued at unprecedented rates as more American students pursue higher education. But the cost of tuition at both private and public institutions is touching all-time highs, while interest rates on student loans are also rising. Students are spending more time working instead of studying. (Some 85 percent of current students now work paid jobs while enrolled.) Experts and analysts worry that the next generation of graduates could default on their loans at even higher rates than in the immediate wake of the financial crisis.  “Students aren’t only facing increasing costs of college tuition; they’re facing increasing costs of borrowing to afford that degree,” said John Hupalo, founder and chief executive officer of Invite Education, an education financial planner. “That double whammy doesn’t bode well for students paying off loans.”

The Student Debt Crisis, Labor Market Credentialization, and Racial Inequality: How the Current Student Debt Debate Gets the Economics Wrong As tuition has risen over the last several decades in the U.S., student loan debt has ballooned. Despite growing debt loads, federal policy encourages the use of loans for financing higher education, based on the assumption that student debt supports increased postsecondary attainment—and, in turn, improved outcomes for individuals and our economy as a whole. In The Student Debt Crisis, Labor Market Credentialization, and Racial Inequality, Roosevelt Fellow Julie Margetta Morgan and Research Director and Fellow Marshall Steinbaum investigate the individual and societal effects of student loan debt by focusing on trends in student debt and labor market outcomes. Findings include:

  • More education has not led to higher earnings over time.
  • Student debt is a burden for a growing share of young adults.
  • Credentialization better explains these dynamics than the “skills gap.”
  • These trends have had particularly negative impacts on Black and brown Americans.

Ultimately, the paper challenges the dominant literature and conventional wisdom that drive the pursuit of higher education, concluding that student debt exacerbates income inequality and threatens the broader economy’s stability. It is crucial to understand these dynamics of student debt, labor markets, and race, as well as how they interact and intersect, in order to inform better public policy that lifts students up, rather than maintain a system that holds them back.  With the Higher Education Act overdue for reauthorization, it is inevitable that policymakers will be rewriting federal higher education policy in the next few years. But new policies based on the same flawed assumptions about the individual and economic benefits of debt-financed education will only continue to fuel credentialization, deepen our country’s student debt crisis, and exacerbate racial and economic inequality

Win for Student Holding Loans From Predatory For – Profits -  A Federal Court cleared the way for students who have been defrauded by for-profit institutions (I hesitate to call them schools).“This court ruling is a major victory for thousands of students across the country who were defrauded by predatory for-profit colleges taking advantage of our broken student loan system. We commend Attorney General Maura Healey for her leadership fighting for students who were left with thousands of dollars in debt after their for-profit colleges collapsed.The federal student loan system creates perverse incentives that enable bad actors to prey on students. Without adequate protections for students, these predatory corporations will continue to base their business models on the availability of these loans, with little commitment to providing quality education.”These Obama-era protections and remedies were being blocked by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss rejected a request by for-profit college representatives to halt the regulations. Even with the win, the answer from the Department of Education is arrogant in response. Student loan servicers do not hesitate a moment to penalize a borrower with penalties and fees if the are late.“DeVos and conservatives have said the Obama-era policies are unfair to colleges and too costly for taxpayers. She has proposed creating a stricter standard for fraud claims and eliminating the ban on mandatory arbitration agreements.But DeVos’ push to finalize those revised regulations has hit an unexpected snag that will delay having a replacement policy on the books by another year. The Education Department said it won’t meet a key Nov. 1 regulatory deadline, meaning that the replacement regulations aren’t likely to take effect until July 2020 at the earliest.” Hopefully the State Attorneys and others can convince the Judge to hold Betsy DeVos in contempt for not activating the court’s requirements in a reasonable amount of time less than 2 years.

More on PSLF fail - The US Education Department is assigning the complex task of monitoring the employment and the on-time payments of Public Service Loan Forgiveness aspirants to its worst-performing servicer. USED has contracted with servicing company FedLoan, affiliate of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), to administer the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. PHEAA/FedLoan has performed its contract obligations poorly. At the end of 2017 the Department ranked FedLoan 9th out of 9 servicers based on a combination of delinquency rates and customer satisfaction survey results.  Based on this poor performance, US Ed will allocate only 3% of new loan servicing to FedLoan. However, all public servants who are applying for Pubic Service Loan Forgiveness are assigned to FedLoan for loan servicing. FedLoan's application of the Department's "every month by day 15" payment rule has led to truly absurd impediments to public servants qualifying for PSLF. Borrowers who make an extra monthly payment, and therefore cause all subsequent payments to be posted to the month BEFORE the payment was made, are told those payments don't count, because they are not made in the month they are due. Other borrowers find that while they continue making on-time payments and are trying to correct FedLoan's recordkeeping errors, FedLoan will place their account in administrative forbearance. Administrative forbearance means that no payments are due, so that even if the borrower continues making a payment called for by their income-based repayment plan, the payment will not count towards the 120 needed to qualify for forgiveness. The servicers are paid for each month they continue to service a loan (more for a performing loan, less for a delinquent loan.) While this makes some sense as a contract design, it does create a disincentive for servicers to approve public service loan forgiveness and other discharges (like permanent disability.)  Servicing contracts also create incentives for servicers to put borrowers into forbearance rather than income-based repayment. The PSLF fail comprises a combination of regulatory failure, contract design failure and contract supervision failure.

A Sears bankruptcy could cause one of the biggest pension defaults ever, but the government would protect 90,000 retirees Chicago Tribune - If Sears, once the nation’s largest retailer, declares bankruptcy, it could cause one of the biggest pension defaults in U.S. history, but the government would step in to keep checks coming to more than 90,000 retirees. The company’s long-term pension obligations, which have been underfunded by more than $1 billion for years, would be covered by the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., which has footed the bill for nearly 5,000 failed employer pension plans since its founding in 1974. “PBGC is monitoring developments at Sears and will continue to protect its two pension plans, which cover over 90,000 people,” the agency said in a statement Thursday. “PBGC’s guarantee is critical to the retirement security of workers and retirees in pension plans.” A spokesman for Sears Holdings Corp. did not respond Thursday to a request for comment. The struggling Hoffman Estates-based retailer is facing a $134 million debt repayment Monday, which reportedly could lead Sears to seek bankruptcy protection in the next few days. Under a Chapter 7 liquidation, the company’s pension obligations would shift to the government, while under a Chapter 11 reorganization, Sears could maintain one or both of its pension plans. Drew Dawson, a law professor at the University of Miami, called the potential Sears pension default “pretty staggering” in its scope, based on historic comparisons. “The human impact of this is really big on the individual retirees,” Dawson said. “But this would be a big impact on the PBGC itself, financially.”

 Almost Half of U.S. Births Happen Outside Marriage, Signaling Cultural Shift - Forty percent of all births in the U.S. now occur outside of wedlock, up from 10 percent in 1970, according to an annual report released on Wednesday by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the largest international provider of sexual and reproductive health services. That number is even higher in the European Union. The EU likely sees more births out of wedlock because many member countries have welfare systems that support gender-balanced child care, said Michael Hermann, UNFPA's senior adviser on economics and demography, in an interview. Public health care systems, paid paternal leave, early education programs and tax incentives give unwed parents support beyond what a partner can provide. The data show such births in the U.S. and EU are predominantly to unmarried couples living together rather than to single mothers, the report says. The data suggest that societal and religious norms about marriage, childbearing and women in the workforce have changed, said Kelly Jones, the director for the Center on the Economics of Reproductive Health at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Medicare premiums are going up next year. Here’s what you can expect to pay CNBC. If you are covered by Medicare, take note: Your premiums will increase slightly next year. The standard monthly premium for Medicare Part B will be $135.50 in 2019, up from $134 in 2018. That increase is in line with previous estimates. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Friday unveiled the new rates for 2019. The announcement comes a day after the Social Security Administration set a 2.8 percent cost-of-living adjustment to benefits in 2019. About 2 million Medicare beneficiaries — 3.5 percent — will pay less than the $135.50 premium for next year due to the "hold harmless" provision. That rule protects certain Social Security beneficiaries from paying more for their Part B premiums.. The annual deductible for Medicare Part B beneficiaries will be $185 in 2019, up from $183 in 2018. Medicare Part B covers costs for services related to physicians, outpatient hospitals, home health, medical equipment and other care not covered by Medicare Part A.

Medicare-for-all? Without action, there won’t be Medicare at all  --The recent debate between Democrats and Republicans on “Medicare-for-All” reveals just how fruitless our politics have become.Medicare-for-All is Senator Bernie Sanders’s idea, which many Democrats have adopted as their next big health-care idea. (Other Democrats embrace less expansive ideas, like a more limited Medicare buy-in plan or a public option on the exchanges.) The plan, the cost of which Sanders pegs at $1.3 trillion a year (another study puts it at over $3 trillion), projects covering millions of still-uninsured or underinsured Americans in a Medicare-like government program.Democrats sense an opening: As has often been the case, Democrats are strongest when comparing their “something” on health care to the Republicans’ “nothing.” But Republicans have learned that, so their strategy on Medicare-for-All will be the same as it was on Clintoncare and Obamacare: Make the Democrats’ something worse than the Republicans’ nothing. This week we saw a coordinated Republican effort, led by President Trump and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, to redefine Medicare-for-All as a Democratic effort to undermine Medicare, as they claim that the Sanders proposal will ruin Medicare as we know it. (Who knew Republicans cared about Medicare so much?)There is a lot not to like about this latest turn in the health-care debate, but what is most troubling is what’s missing from it: any discussion of fiscal reality.Forget a massive new expansion of the Medicare program. How is the nation going to pay for the one we already have? Here’s reality: Our nation’s deficit, plumped by Republican tax cuts, is now more than $1 trillion a year. Under current policy, the deficit is projected to rise further to over $2 trillion annually in 10 years.  The national debt, an accumulation of all those unpaid deficits, is projected to rise from its current $20 trillion to more than $35 trillion, or from 72 percent of gross domestic product to 109 percent, a percentage unprecedented in our history, even during the Second World War.

Costly Rehab for the Dying Is on the Rise at Nursing Homes, a Study Says NYT - Nursing home residents on the verge of death are increasingly receiving intense levels of rehabilitation therapy in their final weeks and days, raising questions about whether such services are helpful or simply a lucrative source of revenue.That is the heart of a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, which found that the practice was twice as prevalent at for-profit nursing homes as at nonprofit ones.More broadly, the study’s findings suggest that some dying residents may not be steered to hospice care, where the focus is on their comfort. Although the research is based on a relatively small number of patients in one state, it echoes what federal regulators have found in recent years.It’s also a fresh reminder that families should keep a close watch on, and ask questions about, the kind of care their relatives are getting in nursing homes.“Some of these services are being provided in the last week and sometimes on the day of their death,” said Dr. Thomas Caprio, one of the study’s authors. Dr. Caprio, who specializes in geriatric medicine, hospice and palliative care, is an associate professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Death or Debt? National Estimates of Financial Toxicity in Persons with Newly-Diagnosed Cancer  --This longitudinal study used the Health and Retirement Study from 1998–2014. Persons ≥50 years with newly-diagnosed malignancies were included, excluding minor skin cancers. Multivariable generalized linear models assessed changes in net worth and debt (consumer, mortgage, home equity) at 2 and 4 years after diagnosis (year+2, year+4), controlling for demographic and clinically-related variables, cancer-specific attributes, economic factors, and mortality. A 2-year period before cancer diagnosis served as a historical control. Across 9.5 million estimated new diagnoses of cancer from 2000–2012, individuals averaged 68.6±9.4 years with slight majorities being married (54.7%), not retired (51.1%), and Medicare beneficiaries (56.6%). At year+2, 42.4% depleted their entire life's assets, with higher adjusted odds associated with worsening cancer, requirement of continued treatment, demographic and socioeconomic factors (ie, female, Medicaid, uninsured, retired, increasing age, income, and household size), and clinical characteristics (ie, current smoker, worse self-reported health, hypertension, diabetes, lung disease) (P<.05); average losses were $92,098. At year+4, financial insolvency extended to 38.2%, with several consistent socioeconomic, cancer-related, and clinical characteristics remaining significant predictors of complete asset depletion. This nationally-representative investigation of an initially-estimated 9.5 million newly-diagnosed persons with cancer who were ≥50 years of age found a substantial proportion incurring financial toxicity. As large financial burdens have been found to adversely affect access to care and outcomes among cancer patients, the active development of approaches to mitigate these effects among already vulnerable groups remains of key importance.

 Winter deaths in Scotland at highest level in 18 years -  The number of people who died in Scotland last winter hit an 18-year high, new statistics have revealed. There were 23,137 deaths between December 2017 and March 2018, according to the National Records of Scotland – the highest figure since 1999/2000. It also revealed that the seasonal increase in mortality – the number of “additional” deaths in winter – was 75% greater than in 2016/17. The main underlying causes of the deaths were influenza and pneumonia. The report was published as the Scottish government admitted that there was a shortage of one of two flu vaccines being offered this winter.

Obese Millennials Are Threatening National Security, New Study Finds - Once again, millennials are making a mess of things, and this time it could "threaten national security," according to a new report which found that approximately 71% of millennials aged 17 to 24 - the prime age to enlist in America's armed forces and fight a foreign war in the Middle East - are non-recruitable, with obesity disqualifying about 31% of them.  The Council for a Strong America, a nonprofit team of law enforcement leaders, retired admirals and generals, business executives, pastors, and prominent coaches and athletes who promote solutions that ensure America's next-generation is "citizen-ready," published the study on Wednesday, called "Unhealthy and Unprepared," warns that America's rising number of overweight millennials are going to have a significant impact on the military's ability to win a future war. "Out of all the reasons that we have future soldiers disqualify, the largest - 31% - is obesity," Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, head of Army Recruiting Command, said Wednesday at AUSA's annual meeting in Washington, D.C.  This year, the Army missed its recruiting goals for the first time since 2005, and the study warned: as the obesity epidemic grows, these recruiting challenges will continue unless immediate countermeasures are enacted to promote healthy lifestyles for youth. 

Should We Just Ban 'Best By' Labels on Food? - Tesco, one of the UK's biggest supermarket chains, announced this week that it will remove "best by" date labels from 116 fruit and vegetable items. The move builds on a smaller reduction in the label earlier this year. So why are those labels bad?The "best by" label, along with its siblings "best before" and "best if used by," are not federally regulated in any way; they are not only not required, but there aren't even any rules about how to determine which product gets which date. (It's sometimes done by anecdotal evidence, sometimes by lab tests, more often by just following other labels and assuming that, say, the best time to drink milk is earlier than two weeks after it was processed.)But over the past few years, resistance to the "best by" label has grown. A 2016 survey from the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic found that 84 percent of respondents occasionally throw away food that's past its labeled date, and a third of respondents "usually" or "always" do. This is a significant issue because that food isn't actually bad; the "best by" date is not the same as a spoilage date. The "best by" label is, unexpectedly, a major contributor to food waste, and food waste is so rampant in the US that an estimated 40 percent of the entire country's food never makes it to the plate.Tesco's own research indicated that 69 percent of respondents supported removing the "best by" label, with more than half stating that they believed it would reduce food waste. This isn't a trick to get you to buy spoiled food; you can tell if a tomato is rotten, or about to be rotten, in a way that's much more precise than a stamped generic label. It's a way to discourage people from walking past food that's perfectly good.

Farmers Can Profit From Waste - An astonishing 56% of romaine lettuce, 40% of tomatoes and 39% of peaches never made it out of the field, according to a recent study by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). In some cases, the market dries up. In others, weather damages the crop. Those findings suggest the entire food system, including farmers and growers, must work together to ensure the supply and demand of fresh fruits and vegetables match up, says Pete Pearson, director of food waste at WWF.  “You see loss on farms—even, to some degree, entire fields that don’t get harvested at all,” Pearson says. “This is a market failure.” In many cases, growers’ hands are bound by a lack of visibility into marketplace demand beyond their typical buyers. Yet people are eating more fruits and vegetables today compared to five years ago, according to data from The Packer 2017 Fresh Trends. Still, the WWF report states only one in 10 Americans eat the daily recommended servings of fruit and vegetables. There is an opportunity to deliver more fruit and veggie nutrients to people by just using and processing what farmers grow, even if it isn’t always fresh, WWF says.   Although other industries rely heavily on predictive analytics to ensure just-in-time production and delivery of goods based on demand, the produce sector isn’t one of them. The lack of a national tool for pairing buyers and sellers can contribute to the challenge of reducing food waste.

90% of Table Salt Is Contaminated With Mircroplastics - A year after researchers at a New York university discovered microplastics present in sea salt thanks to widespread plastic pollution, researchers in South Korea set out to find out how pervasive the problem is—and found that 90 percent of salt brands commonly used in homes around the world contain the tiny pieces of plastic.The new research, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, suggests that the average adult ingests about 2,000 microplastics per year due to the presence of plastics in the world's oceans and lakes. Examining 39 brands sold in 21 countries, researchers at Incheon National University and Greenpeace East Asia found microplastics in 36 of them. The three table salts that did not contain the substance were sold in France, Taiwan and China—but Asia overall was the site of some of the worst plastic pollution.The study "shows us that microplastics are ubiquitous," Sherri Mason, who conducted last year's salt study at the State University of New York at Fredonia, told National Geographic. "It's not a matter of if you are buying sea salt in England, you are safe." Greenpeace East Asia found a strong link between the level of plastic pollution in a given part of the world and the amount of microplastics people in those regions are inadvertently ingesting each year. "The findings suggest that human ingestion of microplastics via marine products is strongly related to emissions in a given region," Seung-Kyu Kim, a co-author of the study, told National Geographic. Indonesia, it was found in an unrelated 2015 study, has the world's second-highest level of plastic pollution. The researchers in South Korea discovered that the country's table salt brands also contain the most microplastics.

Trump team makes controversial change to allow chicken plants to operate at faster speeds -WaPo - The Trump administration is now allowing more chicken-processing plants to operate at faster speeds, a controversial move that some fear will hurt workers and chicken consumers by lowering safety standards.Plants that receive a waiver from the Trump administration will be able to process up to 175 birds per minute, up from the old limit of 140 birds per minute. The administration recently published new criteria spelling out what it would take to get a waiver. The National Chicken Council, which represents the poultry industry, praised the move and noted that each individual plant must meet stringent criteria to obtain a waiver. But labor, consumer and animal rights groups decried the change as a capitulation to big business that will open the floodgates to most of the nation’s more than 200 poultry-processing plants operating at the faster rate. The move comes on the heels of the Trump administration’s push to eliminate speed limits entirely in the pork-processing industry and at a time when the United States has an abundance of chicken in grocery stores and warehouses. Foreign buyers, especially China and Mexico, have slowed U.S. meat purchases as Trump’s trade war escalates. The result is that chicken sitting in cold-storage warehouses is at its highest level since 2006, and domestic prices of boneless chicken breasts have slumped in recent months, according to U.S. Agriculture Department data.  “The Trump administration doesn’t care that this change will exploit workers and harm public health and animal welfare. This is all about increasing profits for the poultry industry,”

Antibiotics in Burgers: Majority of U.S. Fast Food Chains Fail Annual Report Card -- Less than two weeks ago, JBS USA, one of our country's largest meat processors, announced a high-riskrecall of nearly 7 million pounds of its raw beef, over concerns it may be contaminated with Salmonella Newport. Nearly 60 patients in 16 states have so far been made sick. This recent outbreak of infections tied to contaminated ground beef is especially worrisome because S. Newport is a strain of Salmonella that has often been resistant to antibiotics. It may also be the largest beef recall in history for Salmonella.  Recent research suggests we eat three hamburgers a week, on average—nearly 50 billion burgers per year for the entire country. Fast food burger chains are some of the largest beef buyers in the U.S. (McDonald's is actually the biggest beef purchaser in the world). This buying power gives burger companies a singular ability to send a powerful message to beef producers: it's time to stop using medically important antibiotics routinely on animals that are not sick. By continuing to use antibiotics routinely on farms, beef producers contribute to the rise and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria like this type of Salmonella, which cause infections that are difficult or sometimes impossible to treat. In fact, more medically-important antibiotics are sold for use on cows than any other farm animal sector. Which is why for this fourth annual edition of our Chain Reaction report and antibiotics scorecard, which grades fast food restaurants on their antibiotics policies and practices, NRDC and our allies decided to shine a spotlight on where much work remains: beef. This year, for the first time, we graded the top 25 burger restaurants in the U.S. And the results weren't pretty: all but 3 got an F.

A pandemic killing tens of millions of people is a real possibility — and we are not prepared for it - What single event killed more Americans than any other in our history? The attacks of 9/11? The epic conflicts of World War I or World War II? None of the above. This year, we mark the 100th anniversary of a catastrophe that killed more Americans than all of the events above combined: the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, which took as many as 675,000 lives in this country and more than 50 million worldwide — killing nearly one out of every 20 humans then alive. One hundred years later, it is the prospect of another such pandemic — not a nuclear war, or a terrorist attack, or a natural disaster — that poses the greatest risk of a massive casualty event in the United States. The scope of the danger is breathtaking: Bill Gates, citing epidemiologists, has said that there is a “reasonable probability” of a pandemic that kills more than 30 million people worldwide in the next two decades. A tabletop exercise run at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in May simulated a global flu-like outbreak called Clade X and found that 150 million people (including 15 million in the US) would die in the first year alone. In an era with so much progress in science and medicine, how can the United States remain so vulnerable to such a pandemic? With so much money and energy being devoted to combating large-scale terrorist attacks, nuclear proliferation, and other dangers, why has so much less attention been devoted to a threat that is arguably more likely and potentially deadlier? We cannot totally eliminate the risk of pandemics in the near term. But most importantly, we need to take the risk seriously. A catastrophic pandemic is not merely the stuff of dystopian fiction. It is very much a real danger, as real today as it was 100 years ago.

 The Next Flu Explosion- Rise In Obesity And Diabetes Will Exacerbate Future Pandemics - Scientists involved in a new study published this month in the research journal, Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, have sounded the alarm over their ability to contain future flu pandemics in relation to the rise of obesity especially in the West today. The study finds that growth rates in obesity and diabetes, along with populations which are increasingly resistant to antibiotics, could turn even a mild flu outbreak into an explosive global pandemic. One of the authors of the study, Dr Kirsty Short, virologist at the University of Queensland, told The Telegraph of the link between obesity and spread of dangerous diseases: “There’s been an incredible rate of increase of diabetes and obesity even in my lifetime.” She explained: “This has significant implications on infectious diseases and the spread of infectious disease.” Dr. Short continued, "But because chronic diseases have risen in frequency in such a short period of time, we’re only starting to appreciate all of the consequences." Reflecting on the now century old Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918, which infected a third of the global population and is estimated to have killed between 50 and 100 million people, she said of the next big outbreak, “we know that there will be one”. “As our population is ageing and chronic diseases are becoming so prevalent, that could turn even a mild pandemic into a chronic one,” Dr. Short concluded.

Scientists Freak Out Over Pandemic Potential Of Genetically Engineered Smallpox -  Following the release of a paper earlier this year which describes how researchers stitched together segments of DNA in order to revive horsepox - a previously eradicated virus, scientists have been flipping out over the possibility that bad actors may use the study as a blueprint to revive smallpox.  The disease killed an estimated 300 million people before the World Health Organization deemed it eradicated following a long vaccination campaign. Thus, the publication of a method for reviving a closely related disease has understandably raised some red flags within the scientific community, reports futurism.comCritics argue that the paper not only demonstrates that you can synthesize a deadly pathogen for what Science reported was about US$100,000 in lab expenses, but even provides a slightly-too-detailed-for-comfort overview of how to do it. Some of the horsepox scientists' coworkers are still pretty upset about this. PLOS One's sister Journal, PLOS Pathogens, just published three opinion pieces about the whole flap, as well as a rebuttal by the Canadian professors. Overall, everyone's pretty polite. But you get the sense that microbiologists are really, really worried about someone reviving smallpox. -futurism.com Prior to its eradication, smallpox was primarily spread by direct and fairly prolonged face-to-face contact between people. Once the first sores appeared in the mouth and throat (the early rash stage), they were contagious until the last smallpox scab fell off. According to the CDC, "these scabs and the fluid found in the patient’s sores also contained the variola virus. The virus can spread through these materials or through the objects contaminated by them, such as bedding or clothing. People who cared for smallpox patients and washed their bedding or clothing had to wear gloves and take care to not get infected."

Essays reveal Stephen Hawking predicted race of 'superhumans’ -The late physicist and author Prof Stephen Hawking has caused controversy by suggesting a new race of superhumans could develop from wealthy people choosing to edit their and their children’s DNA.  The scientist presented the possibility that genetic engineering could create a new species of superhuman that could destroy the rest of humanity. The essays, published in the Sunday Times, were written in preparation for a book that will be published on Tuesday.“I am sure that during this century, people will discover how to modify both intelligence and instincts such as aggression,” he wrote.“Laws will probably be passed against genetic engineering with humans. But some people won’t be able to resist the temptation to improve human characteristics, such as memory, resistance to disease and length of life.” In Brief Answers to the Big Questions, Hawking’s final thoughts on the universe, the physicist suggested wealthy people would soon be able to choose to edit genetic makeup to create superhumans with enhanced memory, disease resistance, intelligence and longevity.Hawking raised the prospect that breakthroughs in genetics will make it attractive for people to try to improve themselves, with implications for “unimproved humans”.“Once such superhumans appear, there will be significant political problems with unimproved humans, who won’t be able to compete,” he wrote. “Presumably, they will die out, or become unimportant. Instead, there will be a race of self-designing beings who are improving at an ever-increasing rate.”

Mammals cannot evolve fast enough to escape current extinction crisis - We humans are exterminating animal and plant species so quickly that nature's built-in defence mechanism, evolution, cannot keep up. An Aarhus-led research team calculated that if current conservation efforts are not improved, so many mammal species will become extinct during the next five decades that nature will need 3-5 million years to recover. There have been five upheavals over the past 450 million years when the environment on our planet has changed so dramatically that the majority of Earth's plant and animal species became extinct. After each mass extinction, evolution has slowly filled in the gaps with new species. The sixth mass extinction is happening now, but this time the extinctions are not being caused by natural disasters; they are the work of humans. A team of researchers from Aarhus University and the University of Gothenburg has calculated that the extinctions are moving too rapidly for evolution to keep up. If mammals diversify at their normal rates, it will still take them 5-7 million years to restore biodiversity to its level before modern humans evolved, and 3-5 million years just to reach current biodiversity levels, according to the analysis, which was published recently in the scientific journal, PNAS.   Some extinct animals, such as the Australian leopard-like marsupial lion Thylacoleo, or the strange South American Macrauchenia (imagine a lama with an elephant trunk) were evolutionary distinct lineages and had only few close relatives. When these animals became extinct, they took whole branches of the evolutionary tree of life with them. We not only lost these species, we also lost the unique ecological functions and the millions of years of evolutionary history they represented.

Humans Are Wiping Out Species So Fast That Evolution Can't Keep Up -- With the consequences of human activities pushing Earth into a sixth mass extinction, a team of biologists have calculated that plant and animal species are being wiped out so quickly that evolution cannot keep up.Human activities—including pollution, deforestation, overpopulation, poaching, warming oceans and extreme weather events tied to climate change—are predicted to drive so many mammals to extinction in the next five decades that nature will need somewhere between 3 to 7 million years to restore biodiversity levels to where it was before modern humans evolved, according to an alarming new analysis published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "It is much easier to save biodiversity now than to re-evolve it later," lead author Matt Davis of Aarhus University said in a press release.  For the study, the researchers combed through an extensive database of mammals that includes existing species and species that lived in the recent past but have gone extinct since the rise of Homo sapiens. They determined that in the 130,000 years that humans have wandered the planet, we've erased 2.5 billion years-worth of evolutionary development by driving 300 million different mammal species to extinction. When certain species die off, much of its "phylogenetic diversity" disappears, too. For instance, as Davis explained to The Guardian, losing a few species of shrew is not as devastating as losing elephants. Losing elephants is akin to "chopping a large branch off the tree of life … whereas losing a shrew species would be like trimming off a small twig." Davis further noted in the press release: "Large mammals, or megafauna, such as giant sloths and saber-toothed tigers, which became extinct about 10,000 years ago, were highly evolutionarily distinct. Since they had few close relatives, their extinctions meant that entire branches of Earth's evolutionary tree were chopped off. There are hundreds of species of shrew, so they can weather a few extinctions. There were only four species of saber-toothed tiger; they all went extinct." Worryingly, some of today's most iconic megafauna are facing increasing rates of extinction, the press release warns. Black rhinos are at high risk of becoming extinct within the next 50 years. Asian elephants have less than a 33 percent chance of lasting beyond this century.

47,000 ticks on a moose, and that’s just average--blame climate change  -The biggest number of winter ticks that Peter J. Pekins ever found on a moose was about 100,000. But that moose calf was already dead, most likely the victim of anemia, which develops when that many ticks drain a moose’s blood. So it was probably a lowball estimate, because some of the ticks had already detached. “It’s about as grody a picture as you can imagine on a dead animal,” said Dr. Pekins, a professor of natural resources and the environment at the University of New Hampshire. (A warning: The pictures below are, indeed, grody.)Between 2014 and 2016, Dr. Pekins counted ticks on moose calves at two locations in New Hampshire and Maine. He wanted to see how the moose were faring, given that climate change has been delaying snow’s arrival in New England’s winters.The longer-lasting warmth gives the ticks a leg up as they glom onto the moose, their preferred hosts, in the fall. They then feed through winter and hop off in the spring to lay eggs.Moose ticks at Maine Medical Center Research Institute. The ticks live on the moose through the winter, at first so small that they’re difficult to see with the naked eye — until they’re engorged with blood as adults.CreditShawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald via Getty ImagesThe moose-tracking exploits of Dr. Pekins and his colleagues werepublished last month in the Canadian Journal of Zoology. They argued that three consecutive years of tick outbreaks “arguably reflects a host-parasite relationship strongly influenced by climate change at the southern fringe of moose habitat.” While large numbers of ticks, literal bloodsucking parasites, aren’t great for adult moose, they’re especially bad for moose calves, which can die from the onslaught. With the help of a team that shoots nets from helicopters to catch and tag the calves with radio collars (a process that takes about 15 minutes for the moose and eschews the use of drugs), Dr. Pekins was able to track 179 moose calves. The average number of ticks he found on them was 47,371.

Idaho Wildlife Official Resigns After Boasting About Killing Family of Baboons on Hunting Trip - Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner Blake Fischer decided to resign after sharing graphic pictures of his African hunting trip. In the middle of September, Fischer sent an email to more than 100 friends and colleagues recapping his recent hunting trip to Namibia. Along with the email, obtained by CNN, Fischer attached 12 pictures of himself and his wife standing over various kills: an oryx, a giraffe, a waterbuck, a leopard and, perhaps most notably, a group of four dead baboons. He boasted about using the baboon kills to introduce his wife to African game hunting. “First day she wanted to watch me, and ‘get a feel’ of Africa,” he wrote in the e-mail. “So I shot a whole family of baboons. I think she got the idea quick.” One of the animals in the photo appears to be a young baboon, bloodied and propped up on a larger one. . Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter said Monday that he had asked for, and received, Fischer’s resignation, according to a statement. “I have high expectations and standards for every appointee in state government. Every member of my administration is expected to exercise good judgment. Commissioner Fischer did not.” The photos and the tone of Fischer’s email left some of his colleagues unsettled, and some past commissioners of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game asked that Fischer step down. “My reaction to the photo and accompanying text of you smiling and holding a ‘family’ of primates you killed, dismays and disappoints me,” former Commissioner Fred Trevey wrote Fischer in an email. “I have a difficult time understanding how a person privileged to be an Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner can view such an action as sportsmanlike and an example to others.” Trevey said the baboon photo, and the accompanying caption, violated commonly held hunting ethics by describing the nature of the kill in a lurid way, and suggested the photos could tarnish the reputation of the IDFG and the hunting community at large. “For the good of all, I encourage you to shield the Commission as an institution and hunting as a legitimate tool of wildlife management from the harm that is sure to come,” Trevey wrote.

Grinning wildlife official poses with blood-soaked baboon family he slaughtered - including mum 'hugging' baby -- With a huge grin on his face, wildlife official Blake Fischer poses with a baboon family he slaughtered - including a mum 'hugging' her baby. This "deplorable" photo was among 12 sent by Mr Fischer to more than 100 pals and colleagues following a recent hunting trip to Namibia. In the image, he can be seen smiling behind the dead baboons - with the blood-soaked youngest lying back in its mother's embrace.He allegedly boasted in the email of shooting the "whole family".Mr Fischer, an Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner in the US, also sent pictures of himself and his wife standing over other kills. These included a leopard, a waterbuck and a giraffe.And this week, he was forced to resign after the photos of him posing with various wild animals' corpses sparked outrage online. The images were taken on the African hunting trip last month.In a resignation letter to Idaho Governor C. L. 'Butch' Otter, Mr Fischer cited "poor judgment" in sharing the images."I recently made some poor judgments that resulted in sharing photos of a hunt in which I did not display an appropriate level of sportsmanship and respect for the animals I harvested," he wrote.  Gov Otter, who first appointed Mr Fischer to the commission in 2014, said he asked for and received his resignation on Monday. "I have high expectations and standards for every appointee in state government, he said in a statement."Every member of my administration is expected to exercise good judgment. Commissioner Fischer did not."In his email, seen by CNN , Mr Fischer reportedly boasted about killing the baboon family to introduce his wife to African game hunting. "First day she wanted to watch me, and 'get a feel' of Africa," he is said to have written in the email, which was sent in mid-September."So I shot a whole family of baboons. I think she got the idea quick." He and his spouse are said to have shot at least 14 animals on the trip.

New Study Highlights Collapse of Insect Populations -  Yves Smith - An important new study that finds a dramatic fall in the insect population in a protected tropical rain forest hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. To its credit, the Washington Post appears to be the lone mainstream media exception. Its story, ‘Hyperalarming’ study shows massive insect loss, not only covers the new PNAS article, Climate-driven declines in arthropod abundance restructure a rainforest food web, but also summarizes other recent studies on insect populations that show similar alarming declines. And what is particularly troubling is that the new studies attribute the fall in insect numbers to climate change, not pesticides. Google News shows only one other story on the PNAS study, Several species of insects have almost completely vanished from some tropical forests in Science Magazine.  The PNAS study measures insect biomass over time in an isolated rain forest in Puerto Rico. The authors point out that insects in tropical settings are more vulnerable to changes in temperature than insect species that live in other habitats.  As the article title indicates, the plunge in insect numbers has devastated the species that feed on themArthropods, invertebrates including insects that have external skeletons, are declining at an alarming rate. While the tropics harbor the majority of arthropod species, little is known about trends in their abundance. We compared arthropod biomass in Puerto Rico’s Luquillo rainforest with data taken during the 1970s and found that biomass had fallen 10 to 60 times. Our analyses revealed synchronous declines in the lizards, frogs, and birds that eat arthropods. Over the past 30 years, forest temperatures have risen 2.0 °C, and our study indicates that climate warming is the driving force behind the collapse of the forest’s food web. If supported by further research, the impact of climate change on tropical ecosystems may be much greater than currently anticipated. Although arthropods comprise over two-thirds of terrestrial species, information on their abundance and extinction rates in tropical habitats is severely limited.

Several species of insects have almost completely vanished from some tropical forests - Insects and other arthropods have declined by up to 99% over 4 decades in a Puerto Rican forest, apparently because of climate change, according to new study. And that’s not the only bad news.Previously, most insect declines have been documented in temperate ecosystems and blamed on habitat destruction, insecticides, and climate change. In 1976–77, one of the authors of the new study surveyed insects and other arthropods—such as millipedes and pillbugs—in the protected Luquillo rainforest of Puerto Rico with sticky traps and nets. He returned several times between 2011 and 2013 to see how the populations were faring. The weight of arthropods collected in traps on the ground was 97% less than before, he and a colleague report today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The 10 most common species living in the forest canopy also declined, as did the population of walking stick insects (photo). Something similar happened in the Chamela forest of Mexico when the two researchers compared the abundance of arthropods in 2014 with their previous survey in 1987–88. Meanwhile, the average maximum daily temperatures in the Puerto Rican forest have risen 2°C, and by 2.4°C in the Mexican forest. Ecologists know excessive heat can harm animals, especially those that have evolved to live in relatively constant tropical temperatures.

Trump White House Pushes to Let Minors Spray Brain-Damaging Pesticides on Farms - The White House's just-released list of planned environmental and public health rollbacks includes letting high-school-age kids spray brain-damaging pesticides on commercial farms.The plan would drop the age of workers permitted to spray restricted-use pesticides on crops from 18 to 16. Minors would be allowed to apply dangerous chemicals such as chlorpyrifos, which U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists say can cause brain damage in children even in small doses.The move, which would take effect next September, was first announced last year by Scott Pruitt, the former head of the EPA, who was forced in July to resign after a string of ethical scandals. In one of the first acts of the Trump administration, Pruitt aborted a scheduled ban of chlorpyrifos just weeks after meeting with the CEO of Dow, chlorpyrifos's manufacturer.Pruitt's reversal of the ban was recently overturned by a federal appeals court. Under acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, the EPA is fighting the court's order to ban the pesticide.The minimum age rules were enacted by the Obama administration to protect minors who work on farms. Many of these teenagers are migrant workers who speak little English, making it harder to understand directions on how to apply pesticides safely. The rules were championed by physicians and farmworker-rights advocates, who led a multi-year effort to improve protections for farmworkers.  "Letting younger teenagers handle dangerous pesticides fits perfectly with the Trump administration's war on children's health protection," said EWG President Ken Cook. "There are other farm jobs they could do that don't involve strapping containers of dangerous chemicals on their backs that they will inhale and ingest. But this administration will let unscrupulous farm bosses risk these kids' health."

Cherry Blossoms are Blooming Across Japan. It's October.-  Each year, Japan's iconic cherry blossoms herald the arrival of spring. But after a bout of extreme weather, blooms are being reported several months early.The Japanese weather site Weathernews said it had received more than 350 reports of blossoms throughout the country. The flowers usually appear in March or April.  It's not unusual for sakura to arrive ahead of schedule, however experts said it's rare for the flowering to be so widespread."We get reports every year of cherry blossom blooming early, but those are confined to specific areas," Toru Koyama, a senior official with the Flower Association of Japan, told Reuters. "This time we are hearing about it from all over the country."Koyama explained that the leaves of cherry blossom trees contain a chemical that suppresses the pink and white flowers from blooming. But two powerful typhoons this September—including devastating Typhoon Jebi—stripped the trees of their leaves or exposed them to salt water. Without the presence of the growth-inhibitors, the trees flowered early.What's more, temperature swings brought by the storms may have tricked the bulbs into thinking it was spring.The early blooms should not spoil the 2019 hanami, or the traditional flower-viewing season. The number of flowers blooming early is still small, so viewers are unlikely to notice much difference, Koyama added.Regardless of this year's major storms, cherry blossoms in Japan are emerging increasingly early, and scientists say that climate change is likely the culprit. The Economist reported: From its most recent peak in 1829, when full bloom could be expected to come on April 18th, the typical full-flowering date has drifted earlier and earlier. Since 1970, it has usually landed on April 7th. The cause is little mystery. In deciding when to show their shoots, cherry trees rely on temperatures in February and March. Yasuyuki Aono and Keiko Kazui, two Japanese scientists, have demonstrated that the full-blossom date for Kyoto's cherry trees can predict March temperatures to within 0.1°C. A warmer planet makes for warmer Marches.

One of the world’s largest organisms is shrinking - The Pando aspen grove, located in central Utah, is the largest organism on the planet by weight. From the surface, it may look like a forest that spans more than 100 U.S. football fields, but each tree shares the exact same DNA and is connected to its clonal brethren through an elaborate underground root system. Although not quite as large in terms of area as the massive Armillaria gallica fungus in Michigan, Pando is much heavier, weighing in at more than 6 million kilograms. Now, researchers say, the grove is in danger, being slowly eaten away by mule deer and other herbivores—and putting the fate of its ecosystem in jeopardy.“This is a really unusual habitat type,” says Luke Painter, an ecologist at Oregon State University in Corvallis who was not involved with the research. “A lot of animals depend on it.” Aspen forests such as the Pando grove and many others reproduce in two ways. The first is the familiar system in which mature trees drop seeds that grow into new trees. But more commonly, aspen and some other tree species reproduce by sending out sprouts from their roots, which grow up through the soil into entire new trees. The exact amount of time it took the Pando grove to reach its modern extent is unknown, says Paul Rogers, an ecologist at Utah State University in Logan. “However, it’s very likely that it’s centuries old, and it’s just as likely that it’s millennia old.”

Trump jumps into Western water wars ahead of midterms President Donald Trump is jumping into Western water wars on the side of agricultural interests just weeks before the midterm elections — a major political gift for GOP incumbents in some of the most competitive House races in the country where water supply is a top campaign topic. The effort appears aimed at helping endangered Republicans including California Reps. David Valadao, Devin Nunes, Tom McClintock and Jeff Denham, as well as Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the sole woman in House leadership who is facing an unexpectedly competitive race. ..Denham, McClintock, Nunes, Valadao and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy joined Trump in Arizona this afternoon for theclosed-press signing of a presidential memorandum. The memo sets a swift new timeline for reviewing the environmental impact of the dams and canals that pump water to central and southern California farms and communities and seeks to streamline all such reviews. It also addresses water supply and hydroelectric projects in Oregon and Washington. “This will move things along at a record clip. And you’ll have a lot of water. I hope you’ll enjoy the water you’ll have,” Trump told them, according to a White House pool report. It is Trump's latest foray into California’s long-running water wars and comes as the region has become ground zero for Democrats’ bid to take back control of the House. With his immigration, trade and health care policies deeply unpopular in agriculture-heavy regions like the Central Valley, the water move may let GOP incumbents boast about their influence with an administration that supports farmers over environmentalists and city-dwellers.

E.P.A. to Disband a Key Scientific Review Panel on Air Pollution - — An Environmental Protection Agency panel that advises the agency’s leadership on the latest scientific information about soot in the atmosphere is not listed as continuing its work next year, an E.P.A. official said.The 20-person Particulate Matter Review Panel, made up of experts in microscopic airborne pollutants known to cause respiratory disease, is responsible for helping the agency decide what levels of pollutants are safe to breathe. Agency officials declined to say why the E.P.A. intends to stop convening the panel next year, particularly as the agency considers whether to revise air quality standards. Environmental activists criticized the move as a way for the Trump administration to avoid what they described as the panel’s lengthy but critical assessment of how much exposure to particulate matter is acceptable in the atmosphere. “To me this is part of a pattern,” said Gretchen Goldman, research director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a science-oriented environmental nonprofit. “We’re seeing E.P.A. trying to cut science out of the process.” She and others noted that the move follows other decisions at the E.P.A. they find worrisome, including eliminating a senior science advisory position and pressing for new rules that would restrict the number and type of studies the E.P.A. could consider when writing new regulations. Dr. Goldman, an environmental engineer, wrote on Twitter that the E.P.A. quietly telegraphed its latest move in a personnel announcement Wednesday. In that announcement, the E.P.A. said that a smaller, seven-person umbrella advisory board would from now on be conducting reviews of federal air standards and that the administration hoped to complete any revisions by late 2020.

EPA tells air pollution scientists 'your service on the panel has concluded' -   The EPA just decided to dismiss dozens of outside scientists who were charged with advising the agency on how to set air pollution standards -- or being considered for that role. Last week, the agency informed scientists advising the EPA on the health impacts of soot that their “service on the panel has concluded,” according to an email The Post's Juliet Eilperin and I reported on over the weekend. Experts being considered to sit on a separate board evaluating ground-level ozone also received an email from the EPA saying it will no longer form the panel, which had yet to meet. The EPA had asked for nominations in July.In the past, each panel had roughly two dozen researchers who reviewed the latest air pollution science and made recommendations on how to set new air standards for a specific pollutant the agency is legally obligated to regulate. These experts, who came from a variety of fields, often encouraged the EPA to impose tougher limits on the six pollutants for which it sets nationwide standards.Now, under acting administrator Andrew Wheeler, the EPA has instead decided to let a seven-member group called the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) alone perform those assessments and make recommendations to the agency’s political leaders. Previously, CASAC and the now-scrapped panels worked together to craft findings.   Environmentalists sharply criticized the decision as another instance of the Trump administration’s curtailing the use of science that contradicts the president’s pro-industry agenda. “By removing science and scientists, they are making it easier for the administration to set a weaker standard” said Gretchen Goldman, research director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy.

EPA to unveil plans to weaken rule limiting toxic mercury pollution -  The US Environmental Protection Agency next month will unveil plans to start weakening the economic justification for a rule limiting toxic mercury pollution from coal plants. The EPA isn’t rescinding the standard as of yet but has finished deciding to reconsider the underlying analysis for the 2011 rule, according to the government’s newly published agenda. Donald Trump’s administration is revoking major environmental protections enacted by the Barack Obama administration, arguing Obama rules overestimated health benefits and undercounted costs. Conservatives say Obama’s EPA shouldn’t have counted health improvements from the mercury rule that would have come from eliminating other kinds of pollution from coal plants, including soot and nitrogen oxide linked to respiratory illnesses and early deaths. Power companies have already spent the money to comply with the mercury standard, but the EPA wants to rework the cost-benefit analysis behind the regulation anyway. Air law experts say the move could set the agency up to roll back other pollution protections that depend on the mercury rule math. It could also throw settled other regulations into question, setting off a frenzy of lawsuits against the government and businesses, they say. Obama’s EPA estimated the rule would result in $37bn to $90bn in annual health benefits but that only a small portion of that would be from reducing mercury levels. The agency expected that installing mercury controls would cost industry $9.6bn per year, so the benefits would outweigh the costs. Excluding those secondary benefits would imply the rule cost more than it was worth. The supreme court in 2015 ruled the EPA broke the law in deciding to regulate mercury without first considering the costs. The EPA in 2016 responded to that with a new analysis. The agency now wants to reassess.

EPA signals Andrew Wheeler could stay in place until 2020 without Senate confirmation -- When Andrew Wheeler hit his 100th day at the top of the Environmental Protection Agency this week, the press office put out what seemed to be two humdrum updates on the trip “Administrator Wheeler” took to Louisiana. But the press releases’ subject lines contained a small, almost unnoticeable tweak with significant implications: He still hasn’t been nominated or confirmed to serve as the agency’s permanent chief. He’s not the EPA administrator; he’s the acting EPA administrator. The agency had been noting the distinction ― until this week. The change could easily be chalked up to a mistake or an attempt to condense a clunky title in a tight space. But former EPA officials say it raises questions about the administration’s plans to keep Wheeler in place indefinitely, making him the longest-serving acting administrator in the agency’s nearly 48-year history. With 101 days under his belt, Wheeler ranks fifth in tenure out of the agency’s 17 acting administrators since 1970. By Dec. 9, he’ll surpass Bob Perciasepe’s roughly five-month stint as acting administrator in 2013. After a series of bruising confirmation processes for President Donald Trump’s nominees, critics say the White House could exploit the ambiguous rules governing the acting agency head to keep Wheeler as the EPA’s boss, overseeing a dramatic deregulatory effort for the remaining 748 days of the president’s term ― nearly six times the current record for an acting administrator. “To keep an Acting Administrator indefinitely is of course at variance with the past practice for Administrators,” Stan Meiburg, a former acting deputy EPA administrator who spent 39 years at the agency, wrote in an email. “My expectation has been that if they are going to nominate Andrew they would wait until after the midterms, to avoid what would have been a (another!) contentious hearing and in hopes of a larger Senate majority.”

Beijing Air Pollution Mystery Could Be Solved, Scientists Say - More than one million people die each year in China from particulate matter air pollution, but despite 15 years and billions of dollars of efforts to clean up the country's air, dangerous winter smog persists. Now, an international team of scientists think they have discovered the reason why: The instruments used to measure Beijing's particulate matter pollution were misinterpreting their readings. "Our research points towards ways that can more quickly clean up air pollution. It could help save millions of lives and guide billions of dollars of investment in air pollution reductions," said Jonathan M. Moch, first paper author and graduate student at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences(SEAS), in a Harvard press release. In the past, instruments had picked up on the high level of sulfur compounds and read them as sulfates. The Chinese government therefore focused on reducing sulfur dioxide pollution from coal burning power plants. But while the government was successful in those efforts, the overall air pollution levels did not decrease as expected. That is because, as the team of researchers from Harvard, Tsinghua University and the Harbin Institute of Technology revealed in Geophysical Research Letters Thursday, a lot of those sulfur compounds were actually hydroxymethane sulfonate (HMS)—a compound formed when sulfur dioxide reacts with formaldehyde in smog or fog. The type of instruments used to measure particulate matter in Beijing can easily confuse the two. The researchers ran a computer model and found that HMS compounds could make up a lot of the particulate matter found in China's persistent winter smog. "By including this overlooked chemistry in air quality models, we can explain why the number of wintertime extremely polluted days in Beijing did not improve between 2013 and January 2017 despite major success in reducing sulfur dioxide," Moch said.

El Niño possible in the next two months - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting a 70 to 75 percent chance of El Niño conditions developing within the next two months. Typically El Niño means drier and warmer weather for the Pacific Northwest and wetter and cooler conditions for the Southern United States. Middle Tennessee typically sees minimal impacts from El Niño.  Not every El Niño is the same and there can be variations in how strong the impacts are. El Niño can be weak, moderate, or strong.  Here's some interesting information from NOAA. When we look back at previous El Niño years in Middle Tennessee, it seems that weak El Niño patterns typically have more of an impact on our weather conditions than strong events. During weak El Niño years, Middle Tennessee is typically slightly cooler and slightly drier than it is during strong El Niño years or during years with no El Niño (neutral years). Since El Niño is expected to be weak, it's possible that we will see slightly cooler and slightly drier conditions as we start the Winter season. 

Australia sounds El Nino alert - India Climate Dialogue - The chances of an El Niño developing late in 2018 have increased and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology has moved to El Niño ALERT. This means that model outlooks and observations indicate there is approximately a 70% chance that El Niño will develop in the coming months. Current patterns in the Pacific are similar to the early stages of past El Niño, with warm water shifting east towards South America.We’re also seeing indications a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) has likely started, in which warmer waters near Africa drag moisture away from Australia. El Niño and positive IOD events typically mean below-average spring rainfall in central and southern Australia, and a drier start to the wet season in Queensland and the Northern Territory.The development of either would favour continued dry weather, and increase the likelihood that widespread drought relief will be delayed until 2019. Higher than average temperatures, heatwaves, and more severe bushfire weather are also more likely during El Niño and positive IOD events.September 2018 was a very dry month, adding to low rainfall seen across many parts of Australia so far this year. September 2018 was not only the driest September in 119 years of record for Australia, but it was also the second-driest for any month of the year (behind only April 1902).Rainfall for the year to date has been exceptionally low over the mainland southeast, with much of the region experiencing totals in the lowest 10% of records for January–September. Many locations in eastern New South Wales, eastern Victoria, and southeast Queensland have received about 400 mm less rainfall than they usually would have by this time of the year. Much of southern Australia has experienced a persistent rainfall decline spanning several decades, which is adding to drought stress by drying the landscape.

'This drought is different': it's drier and hotter – and getting worse -- On the land and in the towns across Australia they’re affected to varying degrees; some find it harder to cope. But they all agree something has changed.  Drought has long been a part of the Australian climate and features in Indigenous stories and history. Indigenous agricultural and land management practices, documented by historians such as Bruce Pascoe and Bill Gammage, consider drought as a subjective notion – that is, it’s a state of mind. This is replicated among today’s landholders, reflected back in comments like these: “the only thing we know about drought is that it will end”. That is, it is a period that needs to be managed, like any other. We will explore more of this thinking about drought in the last of this series. Then there is the scientific definition of drought. According to the Bureau of Meterology, drought is serious or severe rainfall deficiency – essentially a period of prolonged dryness. By this measure, south-west Queensland has experienced almost seven years of dry times. Yet when Guardian Australia visited the region, locals were keen to reject some commonly held assumptions. Drought is not uniform. Parts of Queensland have been in drought for seven years but it does not mean those communities have not had any rain. Drought doesn’t stop with one rainfall. Even in NSW, which is 100% drought-declared, some areas are not strictly in drought. Each region responds differently to drought and has different assets and challenges. All of the community is affected by drought, not just farmers. Businesses, shops and social events can close down as people hunker down and stop spending. Not every farmer is male – businesses are mostly partnerships – and not every farmer is on her last legs. Many farmers have taken advantage of rain when it does come, by making hay and stockpiling other fodder. Many are careful to protect their pastures and therefore their soil by selling or locking up livestock and feeding – a practice known as drought lotting – in dry times. Others over-graze and accelerate land degradation. This explains why driving through the countryside you can see one side of a fence is as bare as a board and the other with foot-high pasture. And yet, no matter how much you prepare, it is hard to manage for seven lean years with a business, bills to pay and an average farm debt.

Warming raises threat of global famine repeat - − Climate change driven by human-induced global warming could recreate the conditions for a re-run of one of the most tragic episodes in human history, the Great Drought and Global Famine of 1875 to 1878.  Those years were marked by widespread and prolonged droughts in Asia, Brazil and Africa, triggered by a coincidence of unusual conditions in the Pacific, Indian, and North Atlantic Oceans.The famine – made more lethal by the political constraints linked to 19th-century colonial domination of three continents – is now thought to have claimed up to 50 million lives.And the message contained in new research published in the Journal of Climate is stark: what happened before could happen again.  One of the triggers was a cyclic blister of Pacific warming called El Niño, known to reverse global weather patterns, scorch rain forests and destabilize societies. Another factor was a set of record warm temperatures in the North Atlantic that have been linked to drought in North Africa. A third was an unusually strong Indian Ocean dipole, a natural cyclic temperature change that has recently been linked to famine in the Horn of Africa. The 1875−78 drought and famine began with the failure of the monsoon in India and China, leading to the most intense drought in the last 800 years. So many died in Shanxi province, China, that the population was restored to 1875 levels only in 1953. The combination of record ocean temperatures and a very strong El Niño also intensified and prolonged droughts in Brazil and Australia. One million people are thought to have perished in the Northeast region of Brazil.In India, British colonial powers hoarded grain and exported it to England while continuing, the authors say, “to collect harsh taxes.”Hunger, followed by typhoid and cholera, so weakened Asian and Africa societies that the French could colonize North Africa, and British forces could finally defeat the Zulu Nation in South Africa in 1879.In effect, the authors say, the famine helped advance global inequalities and divide the globe into “first” and “third” worlds.

Hurricane Michael Death Toll Rises to 18, Survivors Desperate for Aid - The death toll from Hurricane Michael climbed to 18 Saturday after a victim was discovered in Virginia, but officials think it could climb higher still as search and rescue efforts continue in the most hard hit areas around the Florida Panhandle, CNN reported.  "Unfortunately, we're probably still going to find people in the coming weeks," Panama City Fire Department Battalion Chief David Collier told CNN.  He said that national and state rapid response teams had done an initial sweep of the area, but could not access everywhere that was destroyed. Florida Governor Rick Scott said about 1,700 search and rescue personnel had checked 25,000 homes, the Associated Press reported Saturday. Scott further said that more than 1,800 law enforcement officers, 400 ambulances and 700 staff had been sent to Florida's Panhandle and Big Ben, and that 4,000 soldiers and airmen with the Florida National Guard had been activated to help with rescue operations, road clearing and supply delivery, CNN reported.But for residents in the hardest hit areas, real help was still too slow to come, The Daily Beast reported from Panama City.As of Saturday morning, they reported that there was no power or water in the city, and no sign of a large presence from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)."We're not getting any help," storm survivor Barbara Sanders told The Daily Beast. "We need food. It's just crazy." Police had only stopped by to say there was nothing they could do and to advise people to leave.

Death toll from Hurricane Michael continues to climb -- The death toll from Hurricane Michael rose to 18 on Sunday as emergency crews continued to sift through the wreckage in search of survivors. State officials have said that the possibility of rescuing more people trapped by the storm grew less and less likely as the days pass and that the focus of operations had shifted to recovering the dead.“We’re going into recovery mode, unfortunately,” Panama City fire chief Alex Baird told Reuters, “At sunrise, we’ll start again on our search. We hope that we’ll find more survivors, but it’s more and more doubtful.”There have been casualties related to the storm so far in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia.Florida Governor Rick Scott told the media that the state had deployed 300 ambulances to the affected area, and 1,700 rescue workers. They are using both cadaver dogs as well as unmanned drones to locate victims of the storm, and heavy construction equipment to dig through the rubble.Electricity and telephone service is down throughout the affected area, and it could be weeks or months until service is fully restored. Much of the worst-hit area is in remote, rural parts of the state, and emergency responders are still trying to account for all those impacted by the storm. State officials have reported that there at least 250,000 residents who have lost power.Survivors continued to suffer from a lack of food, fresh water, and medicine. On Saturday, Reuters reported that rescue crews in Panama City discovered a mother and daughter who had been trapped within a closet inside their mobile home since the storm hit. Both diabetics, the women were near death from a lack of insulin when they were found.

Every Structure on Florida Air Force Base Unlivable Following Hurricane Michael, General Says The damage to Florida's Tyndall Air Force Base is so complete and widespread following Hurricane Michael that officials told airmen and their families that they won't be able to return for some time. After an initial assessment, it was determined that 100 percent of the buildings on the base were damaged or destroyed to the point that none of them are livable, a general told local media. The base, which is located 12 miles east of Panama City, is the nation's primary training facility for F-22 Raptor pilots. "We need to restore basic utilities, clear our roads of trees and power lines, and assess the structural integrity of our buildings," Col. Brian Laidlaw said in a letter posted Thursday. "I know that you are eager to return. I ask you to be patient and try to focus on taking care of your families and each other. We can rebuild our base, but we can’t rebuild any of you." All across the base, debris was scattered on the ground from roofs and facades blown off by the storm. A display fighter jet was overturned and thrown away from its display, and planes that were under repair and therefore unable to be flown out of the storm's path were seen sitting inside damaged hangars. On Friday, Florida Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, as well as Rep. Neal Dunn, issued a formal request for help from the U.S. Air Force to quickly rebuild Tyndall. "Each of us stand ready to work with the Air Force to rebuild Tyndall AFB and advocate for the resources needed to do so," said the letter. The base was evacuated prior to the storm's arrival, except for a few essential personnel. No injuries were reported on the base, where some 3,600 men and women are stationed, according to the Associated Press.

Dozens missing in Hurricane Michael as death toll rises -- The death toll from Hurricane Michael continues to mount as rescue and recovery crews work through the vast area along the coastline of the Florida panhandle and further inland that was laid waste by the gigantic storm, the third strongest ever to strike the mainland of the United States. The official toll was 18 as of Monday, when President Trump and his wife Melania visited the disaster zone briefly as part of a stage-managed political tour, where he stayed as far away from actual victims as possible, while praising his political ally, Republican Governor Rick Scott of Florida, and hailing the work of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.The attitude of residents of the area was summed up in the comments of one survivor, 57-year-old Sheila Vann of Panama City, who spoke to the Associated Press in her garage, where she and her husband Joseph were cleaning up after the hurricane tore off most of the roof of her home, collapsing the ceiling. Four freezers filled with fish and meat were starting to rot since power has not been restored. “You want to see the president?” she asked her husband, adding, “I ain’t got time unless he wants to help us clean up.”Another survivor, Nanya Thompson, 68, of Lynn Haven, said of Trump, “He’s doing this, I believe, to project a different image of himself because of all the bad publicity he’s had. He’s not going to get into the sewage water with other people and start digging. If this is just going to be another reality show, I don’t think he should come.”Trump actually flew over the disaster zone in an Air Force helicopter, but his political handlers ensured that there would be no photographs of the president looking down on the wreckage, which would evoke the indelible memories of President George W. Bush peering down through the window of Air Force One on devastated New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.Trump and his wife then walked quickly through one wrecked neighborhood near Panama City, before moving on to Tyndall Air Force Base, which sits on a spit of land projecting into the Gulf of Mexico and suffered a direct hit from the eye of the storm. The presidential party then moved on to southwestern Georgia, which suffered tremendous damage when struck by Hurricane Michael after it moved inland, still a Category Three storm.

 Hurricane Cost May Skyrocket As Billions In Stealth Fighter Jets Unaccounted For; Tyndall AFB Co  - After Hurricane Michael rendered Tyndall Air Force Base a "complete loss" from "widespread, catastrophic damage" - questions remain over nearly two-dozen F-22 Stealth Fighters which are unaccounted for.  According to the New York Times, Tyndall is home to 55 stealth fighters, "which cost a dizzying $339 million each." Before Michael hit, the Air Force evacuated at least 33 of the planes to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, however they would not comment on the status of the remaining 22 fighters.  Air Force officials have not disclosed the whereabouts of the remaining 22 planes, other than to say that a number of aircraft were left at the base because of maintenance or safety reasons. An Air Force spokeswoman, Maj. Malinda Singleton, would not confirm that any of the aircraft left behind were F-22s.  But photos and video from the wreckage of the base showed the distinctive contours of the F-22’s squared tail fins and angled vertical stabilizers amid a jumble of rubble in the base’s largest building, Hangar 5. Another photo shows the distinctive jet in a smaller hangar that had its doors and a wall ripped off by wind.  All of the hangars at the base were damaged, Major Singleton said Friday. “We anticipate the aircraft parked inside may be damaged as well,” she said, “but we won’t know the extent until our crews can safely enter those hangars and make an assessment.” –NYT    F-22s are notoriously finicky and, as the Times puts it "not always flight-worthy." The Air Force reported earlier this year that just 49% of F-22s were mission ready at any given time - the lowest rate of any fighter in the Air Force. The total value of the unaccounted-for fighters is around $7.5 billion.  The eye of Hurricane Michael traveled directly over Tyndall, peeling back stormproof roofs like tin cans and flipping over an F-15 fighter jet display at the base entrance.  When it was over, the base lay in ruins, amid what the Air Force called “widespread catastrophic damage.” There were no reported injuries, in part because nearly all personnel had been ordered to leave in advance of the Category 4 hurricane’s landfall. Commanders still sifting through mounds of wreckage Thursday could not say when evacuation orders would be lifted. –NYT

Hurricane Michael: the damage in pictures - NYTimes -- Hurricane Michael made landfall on the Florida Panhandle last Wednesday as what Gov. Rick Scott called, “the worst storm that our Florida Panhandle has seen in a century.” Packing maximum sustained winds of 155 miles an hour, the storm rolled ashore midday and pummeled the coast with rain, wind and storm surges.Residents are beginning to return to assess the damage and start the long, slow road to recoveryThe photographers Gabriella Angotti-Jones, Emily Kask, Chang Lee, Scott McIntyre, Johnny Milano and Eric Thayer have been on the ground in Florida covering the storm for The New York Times. We’ll be updating this feed with their latest work over the next several days.

Hurricane strands many in Florida Panhandle's poor, rural backcountry (Reuters) - Bernard Sutton, a 64-year-old cancer patient, and two buddies have been living out of a camping tent and broken-down minivan since his double-wide trailer home in rural Fountain, Florida, was torn apart by Hurricane Michael last week. On Monday, five days after the storm plowed into Florida’s Gulf Coast, Sutton was standing over a heap of clothes, books, furniture and other belongings he had salvaged from the wreckage. “I’m staying out here to try to keep away looters, to try to save what I can save,” he said. “This is everything we own right here.” With his wife having moved in with a sister for the time being, Sutton said he had no means of transportation even if he was willing to leave. He had been working on the minivan’s motor when the storm hit, and ended up taking cover from the hurricane on the ground underneath his shattered trailer. Sutton, who worries about how he will make it to his next round of chemotherapy, is one of countless hurricane survivors in the backcountry of Florida’s Panhandle who have struggled for days without power, running water or sanitation as they await help from authorities. While the attention of emergency officials, the media and even President Donald Trump has been focused on the devastated beachfront towns hardest hit by the storm, residents in battered communities farther inland said they were making do until disaster relief was able to reach them. “Everyone needs help. We’re devastated out here. We’re wiped off the map,” said Gabriel Schaw, 40, gesturing to a handful of neighbors surrounding his own demolished mobile home in Fountain, an unincorporated Bay County community off U.S. Highway 231 northeast of Panama City. 

Florida evacuates 4,000 inmates from prisons damaged by hurricane michael -  Not even a week has passed since Hurricane Michael made landfall in the Florida Panhandle as a Category 4 storm, obliterating much of the infrastructure in its path. Despite the fair warning before impact, the state Department of Corrections failed to evacuate most of its prison facilities.Now that the storm’s rolled through and road access has allowed the state to assess the damage Michael inflicted, the Department of Corrections announced Sunday and Monday it was evacuating a total of more than 4,000 inmates from three facilities in northern Florida. The state hasn’t clarified the conditions of specific facilities, but its press releases note that all of the facilities “sustained significant damage to roofs and security infrastructure.”Including the 850 inmates evacuated before the storm, nine prisons have now had their nearly 5,000 inmates moved out of harm’s way. The state told Earther that other facilities in the area suffered minor damage, none of which has impacted housing or security, and that all incarcerated people have had access to meals and drinking water. None of this, however, is enough to quell the fears and concerns family members have for their loved ones who are incarcerated in the state. Deandra Cram, 52, has a 22-year-old son doing time at the Apalachee Correctional Institution, West Unit in Sneads, Florida, which wasn’t evacuated though it sat in the storm’s path. Cram told Earther she’s been in touch with her son over the phone and he alleges the state isn’t feeding inmates or providing them with safe drinking water. She’s worried the conditions he describes will fuel a riot.

Without captions, warnings about Hurricane Michael failed to reach disabled  (Reuters) - When Oscar-winning deaf actress Marlee Matlin turned to the internet to view a video warning about Hurricane Michael, she was quickly reminded that sign language interpreters are often edited out of broadcast clips and closed captioning seems to be non-existent online. “There are 35 million deaf and hard of hearing people and it’s amazing today that there isn’t full access to them,” she told Reuters through an interpreter on Friday in a telephone interview. Matlin drew attention to emergency communication glitches with disabled people earlier in the week, when she tweeted on Tuesday about the Weather Company’s failure to include closed captioning in reports about the approaching storm. “Dear @weatherchannel I wanted to share this video for the thousands of Deaf and Hard Of Hearing residents in the path of #HurricaneMichael but unfortunately, it’s NOT closed captioned. Access to info is VITAL; it’s a life or death matter. Thank you,” Matlin wrote. Emergency notifications about troubles ranging from life-threatening tornadoes to New York City subway delays fail to reach Americans with hearing loss because of the failure to integrate closed captioning on public address systems, she noted. 

Death toll from Hurricane Michael reaches 36 as residents struggle to recover - The official death toll from Hurricane Michael rose to 36 on Thursday. Thousands more residents are struggling to recover and survive. Those who evacuated last week and have been allowed to return home for the first time have arrived to a scene of utter devastation. Mexico Beach, Panama City and other areas hardest hit by the storm have the appearance of a war zone, with nearly every structure reduced to rubble.An estimated 400,000 people are still without power in Florida. Motorists continue to form lines hundreds of cars long to buy gas for their cars and generators. Cellphone service is still unrestored in much of the impacted area, and freshwater and sewage systems in many areas are not functioning.Residents left homeless by the hurricane have filled tent cities and makeshift refugee camps. Curfews have been imposed, including from 6:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. in Bay County, which includes Panama City, Lynn Haven and Mexico City. Local police have reported arresting dozens of residents desperate for food for “looting” every night. Thousands of National Guard troops have been deployed throughout the area.Everywhere, the massive volunteer effort in support of the storm’s victims contrasts with the inadequate and repressive response of state and federal authorities. Authorities have acknowledged that the death toll is likely to climb, as residents currently listed as missing will soon be presumed dead. In addition to those who are buried beneath the debris in the cities, there may be many more in remote, rural areas whom rescuers have not reached. Still others may have been carried out to sea in the storm. Efforts to identify victims have been hampered by the fact that the offices of the county medical examiners were damaged in the storm and are still without power. Dr. Jay Radke, the medical examiner for Bay County, told the New York Times that most of the deaths in his county thus far were so-called “medical” fatalities, not arising from physical injuries during the storm, but nonetheless caused by it, “perhaps because of missed dialysis or a heart attack connected to yard cleanup.”

Ajit Pai killed rules that could have helped Florida recover from hurricane  - The Federal Communications Commission chairman slammed wireless carriers on Tuesday for failing to quickly restore phone service in Florida after Hurricane Michael, calling the delay "completely unacceptable."  But FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's statement ignored his agency's deregulatory blitz that left consumers without protections designed to ensure restoration of service after disasters, according to longtime telecom attorney and consumer advocate Harold Feld. The Obama-era FCC wrote new regulations to protect consumers after Verizon tried to avoid rebuilding wireline phone infrastructure in Fire Island, New York, after Hurricane Sandy hit the area in October 2012. But Pai repealed those rules, claiming that they prevented carriers from upgrading old copper networks to fiber. Pai's repeal order makes zero mentions of Fire Island and makes reference to Verizon's response to Hurricane Sandy only once, in a footnote.  “Chairman Pai repealed many of the safeguards put in place by the Obama FCC following Superstorm Sandy, [which were] designed to prevent recurrence of the lengthy loss of service (and in some cases, discontinuance of service) suffered in many areas after Sandy," wrote Feld, the senior VP of advocacy group Public Knowledge. Among other things, the November 2017 FCC action eliminated a requirement that telcos turning off copper networks must provide Americans with service at least as good as those old copper networks. This change lets carriers replace wireline service with mobile service only, even if the new mobile option wouldn't pass a "functional test" that Pai's FCC eliminated. Additionally, "in June 2018, Chairman Pai further deregulated telephone providers to make it easier to discontinue service after a natural disaster," Feld wrote.

UK weather forecast: Satellite map reveals deadly Hurricane Michael could hit UK THIS WEEK --  A terrifying satellite map shows Hurricane Michael in the Atlantic barrelling towards the UK as the deadly weather system left the United States after causing havoc and claiming the lives of 18 people.Met Office meteorologist Alex Deakin warned there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding Michael or what will be left of the hurricane next week.Mr Deakin set out two possible paths the hurricane could be expected to embark in the coming days.  He said: “Next week we start to look out in the Atlantic and our eyes are turning to whatever happens to Hurricane Michael.  “So there is a lot of uncertainty about the position of Michael and even more uncertainty about what happens as it approaches the UK.“One of the scenarios is that the storm system looks like it’s going to hit the UK but then it just kind of sizzles south.

27 Injured, 300,000 Without Power as Leslie Becomes Strongest Storm to Hit Iberian Peninsula Since 1842 - Leslie became the rare named Atlantic tropical system to hit Europe late Saturday when it rammed into Portugal as a post-tropical cyclone, injuring 27 and leaving more than 300,000 without power, The Associated Press reported Sunday.Leslie had been downgraded from a Category One hurricane before making landfall, but it still lashed Portugal with hurricane-force winds. The seaside town of Figueira da Foz recorded wind speeds of 105 miles per hour. "I have never seen anything like it," one Figueira da Foz resident told SIC television, as BBC News reported. "The town seemed to be in a state of war, with cars smashed by fallen trees. People were very worried." The storm, which was one of the most powerful to ever hit Portugal, canceled flights, caused flooding, uprooted 1,000 trees and blocked roads including, for a time, the main A1 highway. The area around the capital of Lisbon, as well as the districts of Coimbra and Leiria, were the most impacted. In the north, Aveiro, Viseu and Porto also suffered damage.In one incident, the roof was blown off the stadium of the women's European roller hockey final. Leslie was expected to head towards Spain Sunday, with winds of 100 kilometers per hour (approximately 62 miles per hour) recorded near Zamora early Sunday, though wind speeds then decreased. Tropical Atlantic storm systems do not usually head towards Europe. The last hurricane to impact the Iberian peninsula was the Spanish hurricane of 1842. The last named storm system to make landfall was Vince in 2005, according to The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang.

Power Cut to 60,000 in Northern California to Prevent Wildfires - Major California utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) shut off power to 60,000 Northern California residents Sunday night in an attempt to reduce the risk of wildfires sparking from hot, dry windy weather, the Huffington Post reported Tuesday.A total of 100,000 people were warned their power might be cut off due to wind speeds of 60 miles per hour and gusts of 70 miles per hour increasing the risk of electrical fires."The safety of our customers and the communities we serve is PG&E's top priority," PG&E's senior vice president of electric operations Pat Hogan told the Huffington Post. "We know how much our customers rely on electric service and only considered temporarily turning off power in the interest of safety, and as a last resort during extreme weather conditions."The communities covered by the blackout were about 42,0000 customers in El Dorado, Amador and Calaveras counties in the Sierra Foothills and 17,483 customers in parts of Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties, CNN reported. PG&E tweeted Monday night that they had restored power to more than 38,000 customers in the North Bay and the Sierra Foothills as of 9:30 p.m. and expected to restore power to their remaining customers by Tuesday.

California utility puts users in the dark to dampen wildfire threat (Reuters) - California’s largest public utility cut off electric power to about 60,000 customers to prevent wildfires such as those that erupted in the state’s wine country last fall, as high winds threatened to topple trees and power lines this week. With gusty winds and low humidity in the forecast this week, Pacific Gas & Electric warned customers on Sunday that their power would be cut. The company initially said the blackout would last until at least Monday evening, and some schools canceled classes in the six affected northern California counties. But by Monday afternoon, the company said it expected to restore power to 70 percent of affected customers by midnight. “This is the first time that we have proactively turned off the power due to fire threat conditions,” said Melissa Subbotin, spokeswoman for the utility, which is owned by PG&E Corp. The power outage, which started on Sunday, came just days after California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection found that last year’s Cascade Fire in Yuba County, which burned nearly 10,000 acres and killed four people, was started by “sagging power lines coming into contact during heavy winds.” One of the lines was owned by PG&E. With PG&E facing billion of dollars in potential payouts from lawsuits, California lawmakers in September passed a bill that could help the utility avoid potentially crippling liabilities. Two smaller California utilities, San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison (SCE_pe.A) also announced power cuts to some communities because the seasonal Santa Ana winds blowing off the deserts of southeastern California presented an extreme danger. PG&E’s move prompted many customers to complain on Twitter that the outage was spoiling food, disabling traffic lights and keeping them from doing their jobs. 

At Least 27 Dead as Landslides Strike Indonesia, Including Village - Another tragedy struck Indonesia Friday when heavy rains triggered flash flooding and mudslides that killed at least 27 in Sumatra, ABC reported.The most devastating casualties occurred when mudslides inundated an Islamic school in Muara Saladi village, sweeping up 29 children. Villagers managed to rescue 17 children and some teachers, but 11 bodies were discovered in the rubble hours after the incident and another was discovered Saturday. "The victims were buried in a torrent of mud and wall debris," National Disaster spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, said, as ABC reported.The disaster comes two weeks after an earthquake and tsunami wreaked havoc on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. The death toll from the quake has since surpassed 2,000 as search and rescue efforts came to an official end this week, AccuWeather reported Sunday.On Sumatra, meanwhile, the flooding and mudslides damaged more than 500 homes and destroyed three suspension bridges, ABC reported. Hundreds of people have fled their homes in the mountains out of fear that more landslides might follow. In addition to the tragedy at the school, two people were found dead on Saturday when their vehicles were carried away by flood waters, four died in landslides in Sibolga, in North Sumatra and at least four more died in flash floods in West Sumatra.

IPCC Releases Climate Report — First Thoughts -Gaius Publius: I’m just delving into the new IPCC special report on the effects of limiting, or not limiting, global warming of 1.5°C (full report here), and there are a number of bottom lines coming out of it, including this one, which we reported earlier: “IPCC Manipulating Climate Report Summary to Favor Wealthy Nations.”The reference to manipulation refers to the executive summary part of the report (titled “Summary for Policymakers“), which national representatives are allowed to edit line by line. The rest of the report is written by climate scientists, but written by consensus, which causes it to “lean conservative” in its prognostication and prescriptions. On that last point, Climate Central wrote in 2012: Across two decades and thousands of pages of reports, the world’s most authoritative voice on climate science has consistently understated the rate and intensity of climate change and the danger those impacts represent, say a growing number of studies on the topic. The drastic decline of summer Arctic sea ice is one recent example: In the 2007 report [here], the IPCC concluded the Arctic would not lose its summer ice before 2070 at the earliest. But the ice pack has shrunk far faster than any scenario scientists felt policymakers should consider; now researchers say the region could see nearly ice-free summers within 20 years. Sea ice predictions that are way off the mark are just the first of the prognostication failures the article lists. Yet taking all that into account, the bulk of which will strike most people as obvious, I still want to write several pieces about this publication, starting with this one. Greenpeace bottom-lines the report as follows: Key takeaways

  • • 2°C is much more dangerous than thought when the Paris deal was signed. We are closer to critical tipping points and other key risks than we thought.
  • • Limiting warming to 1.5°C instead of 2°C would make a huge difference for the life in oceans and land.
  • • Limiting warming to 1.5°C or below is challenging but still achievable, if we are fast, bold and lucky, and accelerate action on all fronts now.
  • • Solutions exist that could enable halving global carbon emissions by 2030 in ways that support development goals, build climate resilience and deliver us healthier and more prosperous societies.
  • • The next few years are critical for the world to embark on a transformational path to reduce its carbon emissions and increase its forests to bring emissions to net zero by mid century the latest.
  • • We need to think big, at all levels, with everyone on board. T
  • • With countries’ current climate targets we are heading for well above 3°C. …
  • • To get below 1.5°C global CO2 emissions would need to be halved by 2030 and reach net zero by mid-century at the latest, with substantial reductions in other gases.

 Climate catastrophe: The median is NOT the message --Anyone who has followed the climate change issue in the last 30 years knows that official forecasts provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are quickly upended by developments and have often been obsolete before they were issued.The latest report from the IPCC is the first, however, to abandon the measured tone of its previous ones and foretell what it considers a climate catastrophe for human civilization unless the world makes an abrupt U-turn and begins dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions almost immediately.And yet, even this forecast is probably too conservative in its pronouncements. That's according to Michael Mann, a climate researcher whose famous "hockey stick" graph has been central to understanding the rise in global temperatures and has been replicated again and again using other measures of historical worldwide temperatures.What is little understood by the public is that humans have been underestimating the pace and impact of climate change since Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius first suggested in 1896 that the globe was warming due to emissions of carbon dioxide.Which brings me to a broader point: The public tends to hear most often about the median values or middle-of-the road scenarios in any forecast, sometimes called the reference case. (Very little emphasis is put on the range of possibilities. For example, the IPCC in 2000 forecast that global average temperature could be 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Centigrade higher than the 1990 level by 2100.)Today, we find ourselves fretting that going beyond a 1.5-degree increase from pre-industrial times will spell catastrophe involving global agriculture, severe weather, sea-level rise, and disease epidemics. Previously, 2 degrees was thought to be the threshold for severe irretrievable consequences resulting from climate change.We've been surprised by the speed with which climate change is proceeding (because we tend to think of climate change as progressing in a gradual straight line). And, we've been surprised by the effects so far. Ice sheets are melting faster, the rate of carbon buildup in the atmosphere is accelerating, and the observed rise in sea level continues to accelerate. But, the public has not even begun to grasp what 4 or 5 degrees of warming would mean.

UN Says Climate Genocide Is Coming. It’s Actually Worse Than That. - Just two years ago, amid global fanfare, the Paris climate accords were signed — initiating what seemed, for a brief moment, like the beginning of a planet-saving movement. But almost immediately, the international goal it established of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius began to seem, to many of the world’s most vulnerable, dramatically inadequate; the Marshall Islands’ representative gave it a blunter name, calling two degrees of warming “genocide.” The alarming new report you may have read about this week from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — which examines just how much better 1.5 degrees of warming would be than 2 — echoes the charge. “Amplifies” may be the better term. Hundreds of millions of lives are at stake, the report declares, should the world warm more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, which it will do as soon as 2040, if current trends continue. Nearly all coral reefs would die out, wildfires and heat waves would sweep across the planet annually, and the interplay between drought and flooding and temperature would mean that the world’s food supply would become dramatically less secure. Avoiding that scale of suffering, the report says, requires such a thorough transformation of the world’s economy, agriculture, and culture that “there is no documented historical precedent.” The New York Times declared that the report showed a “strong risk” of climate crisis in the coming decades; in Grist, Eric Holthaus wrote that “civilization is at stake.” If you are alarmed by those sentences, you should be — they are horrifying. But it is, actually, worse than that — considerably worse. That is because the new report’s worst-case scenario is, actually, a best case. In fact, it is a beyond-best-case scenario. What has been called a genocidal level of warming is already our inevitable future. The question is how much worse than that it will get. . As a planet, we are coursing along a trajectory that brings us north of four degrees by the end of the century. The IPCC is right that two degrees marks a world of climate catastrophe. Four degrees is twice as bad as that. And that is where we are headed, at present — a climate hell twice as hellish as the one the IPCC says, rightly, we must avoid at all costs. But the real meaning is, “you now have permission to freak out.”

Why Catastrophic Climate Change is Probably Inevitable Now –—umair haque -  It strikes me that the planet’s fate is now probably sealed. We have just a decade in which to control climate change — or goodbye, an unknown level of catastrophic, inescapable, runaway warming is inevitable. The reality is: we’re probably not going to make it. It’s highly dubious at this juncture that humanity is going to win the fight against climate change.  Yet that is for a very unexpected — yet perfectly predictable — reason: the sudden explosion in global fascism — which in turn is a consequence of capitalism having failed as a model of global order. If, when, Brazil elects a neo-fascist who plans to raze and sell off the Amazon — the world’s lungs — then how do you suppose the fight against warming will be won? It will be set back by decades — decades…we don’t have. America’s newest Supreme Court justice is already striking down environmental laws — in his first few days in office — but he will be on the bench for life…beside a President who hasn’t just decimated the EPA, but stacked it with the kind of delusional simpletons who think global warming is a hoax. Again, the world is set by back by decades…it doesn’t have. Do you see my point yet? Let me make it razor sharp. My friends, catastrophic climate change is not a problem for fascists — it is a solution. History’s most perfect, lethal, and efficient one means of genocide, ever, period. Who needs to build a camp or a gas chamber when the flood and hurricane will do the dirty work for free? Please don’t mistake this for conspiracism: climate change accords perfectly with the foundational fascist belief that only the strong should survive, and the weak — the dirty, the impure, the foul — should perish. That is why neo-fascists do not lift a finger to stop climate change — but do everything they can to in fact accelerate it, and prevent every effort to reverse or mitigate it.

Dutch court rules that government must help stop climate change A court of appeal in The Hague has upheld a precedent-setting judgment that forces the Dutch government to step up its efforts to curb greenhouse-gas emissions in the Netherlands. In 2015, a district court in The Hague had ruled in favour of the Urgenda Foundation, a Dutch citizens' climate-change group that filed the lawsuit on behalf of 886 plaintiffs. The foundation asked for more-stringent government action to protect the low-lying country from the harmful effects of climate change. The government appealed against the verdict, arguing that courts have no right to take decisions on this matter. The appeal judges disagreed. On 8 October, the court of appeals confirmed that the government must take measures to cut domestic greenhouse-gas emissions to at least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020. The Netherlands has pledged to reduce emissions by 49% by 2030, but has so far achieved only a 13% drop from 1990 levels. The court cites the state’s legal duty of care for its citizens, which is enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights. The ruling coincides with a landmark report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change outlining the drastic global action required to stabilize Earth’s climate at a safe level. And similar court cases are now ongoing in several countries, including the United States, Belgium, Norway and Ireland.

Trump Administration Launches Third Legal ‘Hail Mary’ to Halt Youth Climate Case - The Trump administration has filed another extraordinary appeal in its attempt to avoid a trial in the landmark youth-led climate lawsuit, Juliana v. United States. The government filed its third writ of mandamus petition to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to stay district court proceedings pending the resolution of a separate petition it plans to file with the Supreme Court next week. The Ninth Circuit denied the first two requests for a writ of mandamus—a rarely used and even more rarely approved judicial appeal that asks a higher court to overrule a lower one before the conclusion of a case—and the Supreme Court has already once denied a request by the federal government to halt discovery. A writ of mandamus is usually granted only under extraordinary circumstances and is considered a legal last resort. The Ninth Circuit said after the first two requests that the government has not shown it would be meaningfully burdened by discovery or a trial. Julia Olson, co-counsel for the plaintiffs, said there is nothing new in the government’s latest petition. “To suggest that our government suffers harm greater than its citizens by having to participate in a trial when its youngest citizens bring legitimate claims of constitutional harm before our Article III courts flies in the face of democratic principles,” said Olson.

Giving Up On Fighting Global Warming - - That is what Robert J. Samuelson did in yesterday's Washington Post (I have not picked on him for awhile, time to gt back at it). The new UN report on global climate change has brought from him a giant shrug of the shoulders along the lines of, so what? He makes three arguments. The first is that we do not have the technology to do anything. Only 4% of total energy is coming from renewables he says, by which he means solar and wind. But there is also geothermal, hydro, and nuclear. They add up to quite a bit more. Maybe we have reached the limits on the first two and lack political will to do more on the third, although it is still expanding in China and in some other nations. But this seems overly pessimistic. Then he gets into a rant about how in the US there is no focus on the future. That may be true, but emphasizing that seems to be just giving up. Every other nation in the world has signed the Paris Accord. Just because the current US administration has pulled out does not mean we cannot get back into it. Finally he notes that we shall likely see further emissions from poorer nations, especially China and India. That is certainly true. But China in particular has begun to move against GHGs, and India is leading the world in efforts to develop clean and safe nuclear power using thorium the US gave up on in the 1950s because one cannot make nuclear weapons from it. Really. None of this seems like we should do nothing. Just to make himself look really ridiculous, on the second argument he goes back to one of his longstanding bugaboos. He concludes his argument on the lack of future orientation in the US by denoucing the lack of change in Social Security and Medicare, presumably meaning cuts in benefits as he has long advocated. For me personally, I oppose this as I want to see my children and grandchildren get the same benefits I shall get. I oppose cutting those benefits out of my concern for future generations. This is probably the most shameful part of what is already a pretty shameful piece by him

The idea that action against climate change will ‘destroy the economy’ couldn’t be more wrong Jared Bernstein --Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) admitted Sunday that human activity is leading to increased global temperatures and that steps should be taken to mitigate the impact of climate change. But, when pushed for concrete policies, he argued that he’s “not going to destroy our economy.” This betrays a consequential misunderstanding of not just how economies work but of what economies are. The idea that economies are somehow inherently unable to repel existential threats belies logic and common sense: There is absolutely nothing in the construct of this creature we call an economy that precludes mechanisms to fight global warming. To the contrary, such mechanisms abound, as I explain below.Rubio is making two big mistakes here. First, he’s defining “our economy” in a way that has little to do with “us” and a lot to do with pay-to-play politics. Second, he’s claiming there is no trade-off that improves social welfare (not gross domestic product, but people’s broader well-being) while enhancing environmental sustainability. To the contrary, standard-issue economics is extremely clear about the necessity of policies to offset pollution. In fact, the concept is fundamental to classical economics, which places price signals at its core. If a polluter fails to face the costs of her actions, she will generate “negative externalities” that make others worse off. The classical solution is to “internalize the externality” through policies that shift the cost back onto the person or company causing the degradation. Two ways of doing so in this context are taxing carbon and regulating production.Both solutions — which, to repeat, are totally consistent with standard economics — have not only been disallowed by current politics, but, as Rubio’s comment on CNN’s “State of the Union” reveals, also have been prohibited by his perverse definition of “our economy.” In a twist that Orwell would have appreciated, we can’t save our economy because to do so would destroy it. Status quo supporters arrive at this illogic by conflating human welfare with GDP and then defining anything that might lower GDP as a destroyer. They couldn’t be more wrong.

With Planet in 'Crisis Mode,' Bernie Sanders Rips Trump White House for 'Dangerous' Dismissal of Climate Science -- Appearing on ABC's This Week on Sunday just moments after President Donald Trump's chief economic adviser and noted Wall Street stooge Larry Kudlow dismissed a new United Nations climate report showing that the world must cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 to avert global catastrophe, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) denounced the White House for its "dangerous" rejection of climate science and slammed Trump for working hand-in-hand with Big Oil to make "a bad situation worse.""The comments a moment ago that Larry Kudlow made are so irresponsible, so dangerous that it's just hard to believe that a leading government official could make them," Sanders told host George Stephanopoulos after Kudlow—a fervent climate denier—accused the U.N. of overestimating the severity of the climate crisis."What the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said is that we have 12 years—12 years to substantially cut the amount of carbon in our atmosphere or this planet, our country, the rest of the world, is going to suffer irreversible damage," the Vermont senator . "We are in crisis mode and you have an administration that virtually does not even recognize the reality of climate change and their policies, working with the fossil fuel industry, are making a bad situation worse." Watch:

Trump says he has 'natural instinct for science' when it comes to climate change -- President Donald Trump told the Associated Press that he has a "natural instinct for science" that informs his understanding of climate change and allows him to see through the political bias that he accused some scientists of holding. In his interview, published Wednesday, the president reiterated his belief that the climate is changing but argued that the climate "goes back and forth, back and forth." He claimed that scientists are divided on whether climate change is the result of human activity, even though the vast majority of climate scientists believe that it is. Story Continued Below "You have scientists on both sides of it. My uncle was a great professor at MIT for many years, Dr. John Trump," the president said. "And I didn’t talk to him about this particular subject, but I have a natural instinct for science, and I will say that you have scientists on both sides of the picture." Trump's comments to the AP came in response to remarks he made in an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes," in which the president admitted that climate change is not a hoax, but also said he believes that it may not be "man-made." Earlier this month, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report saying that the planet will reach 1.5 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels as soon as 2030, which could increase the risk for extreme drought, wildfires, floods and food shortages for hundreds of millions of people. The president said that he is "an environmentalist." "Everything I want and everything I have is clean. Clean is very important — water, air," he said. "I want absolutely crystal clear water and I want the cleanest air on the planet and our air now is cleaner than it’s ever been. Very important to me."

Dems damp down hopes for climate change agenda --Democrats are unlikely to pursue major climate change legislation if they win the House majority, despite a growing body of evidence suggesting time is running out to address the issue. This represents a shift in strategy from when House Democrats last controlled the chamber. In 2009, they passed cap-and-trade legislation, which subsequently died in the Democratic-controlled Senate. The game plan for next year, House Democrats say, is more incremental steps and hearings.With President Trump in the White House and Republicans favored to keep the Senate next year, climate legislation would face stiff headwinds, and pushing it could spark backlash from the right — both now and after the Nov. 6 midterm elections.Considering those “constraints,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Democrats should “focus on the practical and the opportunistic” to make short-term progress while fighting for bolder measures — “the aspirational goals” — over the longer term. “It’s going to be, I think, more of an opportunistic strategy, where, in various pieces of legislation, across the board, we’re going to insert measures that address climate change,” said Connolly, a leader in the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition. The office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a fierce environmentalist who ushered the cap-and-trade bill through the lower chamber almost a decade ago, declined to comment about the Democrats’ future climate plans. Pelosi has been touring the country stumping for Democratic candidates, with a focus on economic and health-care issues. Others anticipate a piecemeal approach to climate policy if the Democrats win the chamber. “I could imagine that we can do ancillary pieces that are very much reinforcing this issue and concern for climate change,” said Rep. Paul Tonko (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s environment subcommittee.

Climate politicking isn't working. We need climate civil disobedience -- Bill McKibben -  The small town of Bagley, Minn., looked set to be the scene for one of the nation’s most interesting airings of the climate controversy this week. Three people went on trial there on Monday for shutting down a pipeline from Canada’s tar sands in 2016 — one of them, after warning the company, turned the valve that shut the pipe, and then they sat and waited for the police to arrive. They were arrested and charged with felony destruction of public property.  The judge had originally signaled that they would be allowed to mount a full “necessity defense,” and argue that climate change presented such a severe threat that they had little choice but to break the law. On Friday, however, he decided not to allow the team of expert witnesses — including me — to testify about the main points at issue: the danger of global warming, the lack of alternatives to civil disobedience and the effectiveness of direct action. Then on Tuesday, after a jury had been selected, the judge dismissed the case, announcing that the activists’ actions didn’t meet the seriousness of the charges.  I’m glad the protesters in Minnesota aren’t facing 10 years in prison, but it’s almost too bad. The case for climate activism needs to be made. If I’d had the chance to testify, here are the points I would have tried to impress on the jury.

A last-ditch global warming fix? A man-made 'volcanic' eruption -- The international panel charged with reining in climate changesaid this week that the world needs to take "unprecedented" steps to remake its energy, transportation and agriculture systems to avoid the worst effects of global warming. What the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change did not discuss was an even more radical potential response — one that would re-engineer Earth’s stratosphere to create a massive heat shield by effectively duplicating the fallout that follows a volcanic eruption. This kind of revolutionary “solar geoengineering” — known by some as the “Pinatubo Strategy,” after a volcano whose 1991 eruption shrouded the planet in a sulfurous cloud — was once relegated to a far corner of academia. But a number of scientists and environmental advocates said this week that the IPCC report — punctuated by Hurricane Michael, which hit the Florida panhandle and may have been intensified by global warming — argues for speeding up the study of the once unthinkable. “The politics of this were impossible a few years ago. But not so much now,” said Rafe Pomerance, chairman of the environmental alliance Arctic 21 and a four-decade advocate of increased action on global warming. “If we think the problem of climate change is catastrophic, how can we say that we can’t at least consider this as an option?”

No, Wind Farms Are Not Causing Global Warming- Despite what you may have read, wind farms are not causing the planet to heat up. The current claims that they do stem from a misreading of a scientific study, which does not show anything of the kind.The study in question was conducted by Lee Miller and David Keith at Harvard University. The pair simulated what would happen if the US's entire electricity demand was supplied solely by wind turbines. This is not a plausible scenario, because the electricity grid is easier to run if it has a mix of sources rather than just one, but let's set that aside: it's a "what if" question, designed solely to examine how the turbines affect the surrounding environment.Miller and Keith estimate that this many wind turbines would heat up the surface area over the continental US by 0.24°C. The study was published in the journal Joule. At first glance, 0.24°C seems like quite a lot - particularly when you consider that we are being told that we must do everything possible to limit global warming to 2°C or even 1.5°C. But that is where the misreadings come in. For starters, that warming is only occurring over the US - a rather small fraction of the Earth's surface. It would take much more energy to warm the entire planet's surface by 0.24°C.But that is almost beside the point, because the wind turbines are not generating extra heat. Instead, they are moving the existing heat around. Normally, the air just above the ground cools at night, but the rotating turbine blades draw down warmer air from higher up. So things get warmer just under the turbines at night while they're on, but they also get cooler elsewhere. The planet as a whole does not warm at all.

 Five graphics from Google show how carbon-intensive its data centers really are - Google has long been a carbon-neutral company in a theoretical sense. That is, even when it's physically impossible for Google's data centers and offices to consume renewable energy, the company offsets that "dirty" energy with "clean" energy purchases at other times and locations.The problem is, this does not make Google carbon-neutral in a practical sense, because the company still needs polluting energy sources to keep functioning. In a new report (PDF), Google has acknowledged this limitation and offered a few interesting graphics showing how much carbon-free energy its data centers actually consume.The report is interesting not just because Google is the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy in the world but also because it shows Google is heading off criticism that has been lobbed at all kinds of corporate buyers of renewable energy, including major players like Facebook and Apple. That is, if you're "offsetting" your carbon emissions by paying a wind farm owner for energy that's created at 2am on land that's 3,000 miles from your data center or factory, how much good have you really done? In addition, there has been pushback from utilities that are concerned about the technical and financial aspects of corporate mandates to increase renewable energy sources.

Exxon is lobbying for a carbon tax. There is, obviously, a catch. -ExxonMobil, the largest investor-owned oil company in the world, announced last week that it will spend $1 million over two years to lobby for a US carbon tax. But what’s gone largely unnoticed is that Exxon’s proposal comes with a massive catch: In exchange for a tax, the company wants immunity from all climate lawsuits in the future. Cities across the United States are currently suing oil companies to make them pay for damages wrought by climate change, which could put companies like Exxon on the hook for billions of dollars in payouts. The proposal Exxon wants to enact is one that would shield the company from lawsuits while also preventing further climate change regulations. All in all, it would grant oil companies the kind of immunity from litigation the gun industry currently enjoys. A carbon tax could also work in favor of Exxon because the heaviest burdens of a tax would fall on the dirtiest fuels, namely coal. A price on carbon would force coal-fired generation off the market and leave a vacuum for alternatives, even higher-priced oil and gas. Exxon itself has observed that cleaner fuels like natural gas and renewables are the largest growth sectors in energy. So it makes sense that a powerful oil company wants to get ahead of any energy transitions. The $40 per ton price on carbon might not move the needle much on fighting climate change or dealing with its consequences. “You really need a much stronger response to meet global goals,” said Paul Griffin, a distinguished professor of management at the University of California Davis, who studies greenhouse gas accounting.  There’s nothing inherent in a carbon tax that requires legal immunity for polluters. The Citizens’ Climate Lobby, the other group lobbying for a carbon price, has a fee and dividend model that doesn’t absolve oil companies of liability

Doubling down on the biofuel boondoggle -- Washington Post Editorial - FOR MORE THAN a decade, the United States has pursued the foolhardy energy policy known as the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS. Thanks to legislation passed by a Democratic Congress and signed into law by a Republican president, George W. Bush, in 2007, the RFS illustrates the sad-but-true principle of Washington life that bipartisanship is no guarantee of wisdom. In a nutshell, the RFS required the nation’s petroleum refiners to blend ever-increasing quantities of biofuels, chiefly ethanol, into gasoline, purportedly to promote energy independence and fight climate change. Never mind that the United States has meanwhile become a major oil exporter, due to a production boom. Never mind that the environmental harms of ethanol arguably outweigh its benefits, because it takes massive amounts of energy to distill ethanol from corn — and massive amounts of fragile farmland to grow that crop. Never mind that diverting resources into corn production for ethanol raises the price of food. Never mind all that, because 39 percent of Iowa’s corn crop goes to create nearly 30 percent of all U.S. ethanol. And Iowa is a swing state with six crucial electoral votes and a first-in-the-nation presidential caucus; whatever Iowa wants, Iowa gets, from politicians of both parties. Hence President Trump’s announcement, on the midterm-election campaign trail in Iowa, that he would, in effect, double down on this decreasingly justifiable policy. Mr. Trump declared that the Environmental Protection Agency will draft regulations allowing the year-round sale of motor fuel containing 15 percent ethanol, as opposed to the 10 percent limitation in effect for several months a year because of air-pollution concerns related to summertime atmospheric conditions. This would incentivize gas station owners to install pumps capable of delivering the fuel, thus boosting ethanol sales. Refiners face high and rising costs when they are forced either to mix more ethanol into their motor fuels or to buy offsetting credits known, obscurely, as Renewable identification numbers (RIN). Plagued by volatility and ma­nipu­la­tion, the market for RIN has turned into a major headache for smaller refiners, which often seek waivers of the ethanol blending requirement. The entire system adds enormous bureaucracy and complexity to the fuel market, with little or no benefit to consumers. E15, as the 15 percent ethanol blend is known, might cost less per gallon, but because of its lower energy content, motorists would probably get poorer mileage and have to fill up more often.

EPA chief says agency can expand ethanol sales without Congress (Reuters) - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said on Thursday the agency has the authority to allow sales of higher-ethanol blends of gasoline year-round without an act of Congress, and hopes the oil industry will drop its threat of a lawsuit to stop the move. “We do have the authority to move forward on E15,” Wheeler told reporters after an event with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in Washington. “And I hope the oil industry would join us in helping make (U.S. biofuel policy) function better for the American public, rather than taking it to court.” President Donald Trump announced last week that he was directing the EPA to lift a summer ban on sales of so-called E15 to help farmers, a move cheered by the corn lobby but opposed by the oil industry, which threatened to sue to block it. The oil industry is concerned that expanding sales of corn-based ethanol will cut into its share of the fuel market. The Environmental Protection Agency prohibits summer sales of E15 in certain areas because of smog concerns. 

 Aging Infrastructure Poses Risks for Communities Relying on Natural Gas - Insurance Journal -- The kind of dramatic scenes that played out in suburban Massachusetts last month following a series of explosions and fires may serve as a warning of what lies ahead for the U.S., where an increasing reliance on natural gas is running up against aging infrastructure. While there’s no firm conclusion about what caused the series of deadly blasts on Sept. 14, a preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report on the incident released this week says it was linked to work being carried out to replace old pipes. And across the U.S. there’s an awful lot of old pipes: In all, the country has about 80,000 miles of unprotected bare steel and cast or wrought-iron natural gas pipes — enough to wrap around the Earth three times — much of which dates back to the early 1900s. “Aging infrastructure is clearly an issue in the U.S., especially on the East Coast where they have a lot of old cast iron pipes that are well known to fail,” said Carl Weimer, the executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust in Bellingham, Washington. While those lines represent just 3.6 percent of all the pipes that deliver gas to consumers nationally, they pose the highest risk and account for 41 percent of all fatalities, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. PHMSA, as the regulator is also called, has urged operators to accelerate plans to replace the oldest lines because decades of wear and degradation has made them more brittle and prone to leaks or ruptures from ground movement. Exposure to rain and freezing temperatures is also a problem (modern gas lines installed in towns and cities are made of plastic, which is corrosion-resistant and less brittle, or from protected steel that won’t rust as easily). Utilities continue to spend billions of dollars to replace old lines.  But while those lines are being ripped out and replaced, there’s a huge build-out of new pipelines, driven by the shale-gas boom. And that’s prompted concerns that the regulatory environment hasn’t kept pace.

 Rick Perry’s coal rescue runs aground at White House The White House has shelved the plan amid opposition from the president’s own advisers, according to four people with knowledge of the discussions. One of the Trump administration’s major efforts to prop up ailing coal companies has run aground in the White House, a setback to an industry that had hoped for a major resurgence after Donald Trump won the presidency. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has spent more than a year pushing various plans that would invoke national security to force power companies to keep their economically struggling coal plants running — a goal in line with Trump’s frequent pledges to revive what he calls “beautiful, clean coal.” ..But the White House has shelved the plan amid opposition from the president’s own advisers on the National Security Council and National Economic Council, according to four people with knowledge of the discussions. It is unclear whether Trump himself has decided against following Perry’s proposal. Even if he has, the sources warned that Trump frequently changes his mind, and the idea could re-emerge in advance of the president’s reelection campaign. The failure of Perry’s bailout efforts still leaves Trump with plenty to brag about in coal country: He has shredded former President Barack Obama’s environmental regulations and pulled out of the Paris climate agreement. But the stalemate is frustrating the politically active coal mining companies that backed Trump’s presidential campaign and lobbied heavily for an economic lifeline for their industry. 

Trump Bails On Coal Industry Incentives - President Trump has reportedly cancelled a plan proposed by Energy Secretary Rick Perry to provide financial support for troubled coal-fired power plant operators, Politico says, quoting four unnamed sources familiar with the matter. According to the sources, the President made the decision prompted by opposition from his own advisers.Last year, Energy Secretary Rick Perry proposed a plan for subsidizing coal and nuclear plants for providing base load generation—that is, round-the-clock power, but the plan was rejected by the utility regulators who said they will study the national grid’s resilience to supply interruptions. Many grid operators said they are already factoring in everything that has to do with their grid’s resilience to disruptions.In June, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said it did not see any emergency in the U.S. electricity market that would merit financial aid for coal and nuclear power plants. The stance was announced by the panel regulating the national grid at a Senate hearing. The opinion is likely to undermine efforts by the Trump administration to save non-competitive coal and nuclear power plants on the grounds that they guarantee the grid’s resilience in case of emergency.Now, advisors to the president from the National Security Council and the National Economic Council have also spoken against the plan that has raised the hackles of the oil and gas industry—another priority industry for Trump along with “beautiful, clean coal”. The bailout plan proposed by Perry largely sought to shield coal and nuclear plant operators from the suffocating competition of cheap natural gas.But oil and gas producers are by far not the only stakeholders opposing a potential bailout for American coal. Pretty much everyone except the coal industry itself is against it. “The problem they’ve got is every option they might consider raises the costs for somebody at a time when nobody has an appetite for increased costs anywhere,” the co-head of an energy advisory company told Politico. “I think that’s the problem they keep running into. The political will to pay for it is not broadly there enough yet for them.”

  U.S. nuclear plant outages increased in September after remaining low during summer - Electric generation capacity losses as a result of U.S. nuclear plant outages were relatively low during much of the 2018 summer, averaging 2.8 gigawatts (GW) from June through August. This year’s seasonal maintenance and refueling cycle began earlier than in recent years, and total nuclear outages averaged 14.5 GW in the last week of September. The earlier-than-expected retirement of the Oyster Creek Generating Station and a temporary plant shutdown related to Hurricane Florence also increased outages in September. Nuclear capacity outages are typically lowest during the summer and winter months when electricity consumption is high to meet increased cooling and heating demand. Nuclear power plant outages can be either scheduled or unscheduled, and they can range from a partial outage, where only some of a plant’s capacity is offline, to a full outage, where the entire plant is shut down. A scheduled shutdown of a nuclear power plant is generally timed to coincide with the plant’s refueling cycle. Nuclear power plants typically refuel every 18 to 24 months, often during the fall and spring when electricity demand is lower. During a refueling outage, plants typically optimize downtime by scheduling facility upgrades, repairs, and other maintenance work to be completed while the reactor is offline. During the past six years, average refueling outages have become shorter, decreasing from an average of 46 days in 2012 to 34 days in 2018. The decrease in refueling outage times is a result of greater operator experience in regulated markets and competition from other generators in unregulated or wholesale electricity markets.  During a refueling outage, the reactor is entirely shut down and produces no electricity and, therefore, no revenue. Plant operators try to minimize lost revenues and non-operating costs by bringing reactors back online as quickly as possible. In 2017, six U.S. reactors had refueling outage times of less than 20 days: Peach Bottom Unit-3 (15 days), Vogtle Unit-1 (16 days), Nine Mile Point (17 days), Quad Cities (18 days), Dresden (18 days), and Three Mile Island Unit-1 (19 days).

 U.S. OKs startup of part of Enbridge Ohio-Michigan NEXUS natgas pipe - (Reuters) - U.S. energy regulators approved Canadian energy company Enbridge Inc's request to put part of its $2.6 billion NEXUS natural gas pipeline from Ohio to Michigan into service. NEXUS is one of several gas pipelines designed to connect growing output in the Marcellus and Utica shale basins in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio with customers in other parts of the United States and Canada. Enbridge said the facilities the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Wednesday allowed the company to put into service will enable it to transport about 0.97 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd). Once the 255-mile (410-km) NEXUS project is fully in service, it will be able to carry up to 1.5 bcfd of gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale fields to the U.S. Midwest and Gulf Coast and Ontario in Canada. NEXUS is a partnership between Enbridge and Michigan energy company DTE Energy Inc. Earlier this week, Enbridge said it put part of its $200 million Texas Eastern Appalachian Lease (TEAL) gas pipeline project into service. TEAL is an expansion of Enbridge's Texas Eastern system designed to deliver 0.95 bcfd of gas to NEXUS. When it started construction of the NEXUS pipe in late 2017, Enbridge estimated the TEAL and NEXUS projects would enter service in the third quarter of 2018. Enbridge said it completed the NEXUS project in September when it asked FERC for permission to put part of pipeline into service. New pipelines built to remove gas from the Marcellus and Utica basins have enabled shale drillers to boost output in the Appalachia region to a forecast record high of around 29.4 bcfd in October from 24.2 bcfd during the same month a year ago. That represents about 36 percent of the nation's total dry gas output of 81.1 bcfd expected on average in 2018. A decade ago, the Appalachia region produced just 1.6 bcfd, or 3 percent of the country's total production in 2008.

Trumbull County Residents Working To Limit Wastewater Wells –   -- Much of the wastewater from Pennsylvania's fracking industry is trucked across the border to Ohio. Last year, Pennsylvania and West Virginia contributed nearly half of the more than a billion gallons of frack waste that were injected into underground wells in Ohio. In Trumbull County, Michelle Garman used to marvel at the 22-acres of land around her home in Vienna, Ohio, less than 10 miles from the Pennsylvania border. She didn’t know much about fracking then, let alone frack waste injection wells. But she remembers New Years Eve 2011, when a 4.0-magnitude earthquake shook nearby Youngstown, Ohio. Around a dozen smaller quakes followed. The state determined that the quakes were caused by an injection well. And one in New Castle, Pennsylvania was linked to fracking as well. The well believed to have caused the Youngstown quakes has been closed permanently. Garman’s view changed in 2013 when an injection well was built on the property next door. “How does it affect our health, my son’s health?” she wondered. “I mean, it is toxic. Plain and simple, that’s poison that they’re pumping into the ground.” On a recent evening, leaders from townships in Trumbull County gathered at the gazebo in the Brookfield town square. Brookfield Township trustee Gary Lees coached people on how to send letters to their representatives in Columbus asking them to consider legislation that would stop more injection wells in Trumbull County. Trumbull County already has 17, among the most in the state, and 6 more are in the works. In Hubbard Township, Bobcat LLC has applied to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for an injection well. Pittsburgh-based Seneca Resources has drilled a new injection well in Brookfield Township, one of five it plans on the site. The company still needs state approval of its surface facility. State representative Glenn Holmes says people there are fed up. He references a petition against a plan for the five injection wells by Seneca Resources. “In a community of about 8,000 people, [we have] 5,000 signatures,” he said. “They don’t want it.” Holmes has proposed two bills in the Ohio House of Representatives meant to rein in injection wells. One,introduced last spring, would divert more than a third of fees Ohio collects from other state’s frack waste disposal to local governments. Last year, fees for this waste brought in more than $650,000. Holmes says counties should get a cut.

 A Great Lakes pipeline dispute points to a broader energy dilemma – WTOP - Gov. Rick Snyder and Enbridge, a Canadian company, have reached an agreement over a leak-prone pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac, the 4-mile-long waterway that divides Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.Rather than shut the 65-year-old pipeline down altogether, as environmentalists are demanding, or conduct routine maintenance, as Enbridge desired, Snyder is requiring Enbridge to replace the pipeline at an estimated cost of up to US$500 million without a deadline. While the lakes, beaches and livelihoods vulnerable to harm from a potential spill are perhaps unique to Michigan, the question of what to do about a host of aging pipelines across the U.S. is not. Nearly half of the nation’s pipelines currently operating were built before 1960.  Amid rising oil and gas production, there are hard compromises to make between ensuring an adequate energy supply, protecting public safety, and reducing the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels – a key contributor to climate change.  Approximately 3 million miles of pipelines move crude oil, natural gas and other hazardous liquids across the U.S. Most crude oil pipelines traversing the center of the country transport oil from western Canada and North Dakota southward to refineries in Texas and Louisiana. Much of this system dates back to the economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s. Indeed, roughly half of the crude oil pipelines operating today are at least 50 years old. More of the natural gas pipelines that span the county are concentrated around the Marcellus Shale formation, in eastern Ohio and Pennsylvania. And 60 percent of the 319,000 miles of pipelines currently transporting natural gas were installed before 1970. A recent Department of Energy report suggested that replacing just the cast-iron pipelines, which are the oldest and riskiest variety, would cost approximately $270 billion. Compared to hauling fuel by rail or truck, the Transportation Research Board, a nonprofit that serves as an advisory body to the White House, Congress and federal agencies, considers pipelines to be safer. Yet when pipeline accidents do occur, they are typically larger and impact the environment more directly than the alternatives. A big spill in the Straits of Mackinac could result in oil polluting over 1,200 miles of shoreline, cause $1.3 billion in damage and cost $500 million to clean up, Michigan Technological University researchers estimate.

Perhaps 29 New Natural Gas Fueled Electric Power Plants in PA, OH, & WV -- A new report shows that natural gas-powered energy plants either in operation or in various stages of development have attracted more than $25 billion worth of new investment to the Appalachian Basin.The report comes on the heels of an announcement Tuesday that the Lordstown Energy Center, a $1 billion, 940-megawatt combined cycle-energy plant, is now operational and producing electrical power.Some 29 new power plants, each with a capacity of 475-megawatts or greater, are in operation, under construction, or in the various stages of the permitting process in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.When operating at full capacity, the 29 plants would generate a combined 26,086 megawatts of power. Total construction jobs would amount to 17,800, the industry group reports. DOWNLOAD CHART Ten plants are either in operation or slated for Ohio, 16 are in operation or in various stages of development in Pennsylvania, and three are in the works in West Virginia, the advocacy group reports.  Among the plants under construction in Pennsylvania is the Hickory Run Energy Center in Lawrence County, Pa., which represents an $863 million investment. In addition to the Lordstown plant, in Ohio the $889 million Carroll County Energy plant is operating, the South Field Energy plant in Columbiana County, a $1.3 billion investment, is scheduled to begin construction soon. And permits have been issued for the Trumbull Energy Center, also in Lordstown, a $865 million project that remains in limbo pending resolution of a legal dispute. The plants are being constructed using local labor. Don Crane, former president of the Western Reserve Building and Construction Trades Council, described the labor agreement that employed the workers who built the Lordstown Energy Center as “the best labor agreement that anyone has ever seen on either side of the table in the oil and gas industry. It will be a model going forward that gets used often.” Moreover, many of the new power plants are being built on the sites of previous power plants or other industrial facilities. Ohio’s 10 new plants represent more than 9,000 megawatts of power and an estimated $9 billion worth of investment, the report found. The projects have the prospect of creating about 7,200 jobs during the construction phase.

 Appalachia has 29 gas-fired power plants in various development stages— One of the biggest untold stories in the Utica Shale is the still-growing development of natural gas-fired power plants, Kallanish Energy reports. That assessment came from Jackie Stewart, managing director, energy and natural resources, for FTI Consulting, headquartered in Washington, D.C. “It’s the most exciting thing happening on Ohio … and it’s the greatest story in Ohio,” she said. She touted the shale boom in a talk on Wednesday at Utica Summit VI at Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio. The downstream-focused conference drew roughly 100 people, and was presented by Shaledirectories.com and the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce. Ohio has 10 gas-fired power plants in operation, under construction or planned, offering a total of 9,294 megawatts of capacity, Stewart said. The 10 plants together have a price tag of $9.1 billion. They will produce roughly 7,200 construction jobs. Four Ohio gas-fired plants are operational and two are under construction. The Lordstown Energy Station in Trumbull County in northeast Ohio just became operational in the last few days, she said. The plants are replacing coal-fired plants that are being shut down and they provide baseload electricity renewables cannot provide, she said. What’s happening in Ohio is also spreading to its neighboring states in the Appalachian Basin, Stewart said. Pennsylvania has 16 gas-fired power plants in operation, under construction or on the drawing boards. Those plants together will cost an estimated $9.1 billion and produce 9,300 MW of electricity. They will create about 7,200 construction jobs. In addition, West Virginia has three plants in development. They would produce 2,050 MW of electricity and cost roughly $2.3 billion. They would create 1,900 construction jobs. That means the 29 gas-fired plants in the Appalachian Basin will cost about $20.5 billion and create more than 16,000 construction jobs, according to Stewart.   Natural gas produces 26.7% of electricity in the 13-state PJM Interconnection region. Coal produces 32.2% and nuclear power produces 35.9% and renewables generate 5%.

Residents: Fracking disposal well would make Plum 'a dumping ground for the oil and gas industry' - Opening the state’s largest drilling and fracking wastewater disposal well in Plum could lead to earthquakes and contaminated groundwater, according to opponents of the proposal who testified at a state Department of Environmental Protection hearing Monday.  More than a dozen speakers urged DEP regulators not to approve a permit sought by at Delmont-based Penneco Environmental Solutions, a subsidiary of Penneco Oil Co. The company wants to convert an old oil and gas well into a wastewater injection well allowed to accept more than 2.2 million gallons of salty and chemically laced fracking wastewater a month.“This injection well would put a lot of young families at risk,” said Angela Billanti, a member of Citizens 4 Plum, a community group opposed to the wastewater injection well. “This, along with new zoning that will allow the drilling of hundreds of shale gas wells, will make Plum Borough a dumping ground for the oil and gas industry.”In addition to accepting more wastewater than any other disposal well in the state, it would be the first such well in Allegheny County.  Matt Kelso, a Plum resident and manager of data and technology for the Fractracker Alliance, a non-profit that maps shale gas industry operations, said the potential for earthquakes caused by the disposal well poses a significant risk, not only due to the underlying geology, but also because of the many abandoned mines in the area.“For decades, (the DEP) determined that the subsurface geology of most of Pennsylvania was unsuitable for underground injection. But now they are tasked with overseeing an oil and gas industry that produced 58 million barrels, or 2.4 billion gallons, of toxic liquid waste in 2017 alone,” Mr. Kelso said. “Just because there is more waste to deal with does not make our area suddenly suitable to be a dump for toxic liquid waste.”

Natural gas-fired power plants are being added and used more in PJM Interconnection -- The average annual capacity factors for natural gas-fired generators in the PJM Interconnection—the largest competitive wholesale electricity market in the United States—have increased in recent years, reflecting greater use of natural gas-fired generators in the region.  The increase in PJM’s capacity factors for natural gas-fired generators is the largest of any regional transmission organization in the country in the past five years (2013–2017). Capacity factors are an indicator of how often a generator is run, and the combination of additions of natural gas-fired capacity in the region and higher capacity factors have meant that utilities in the PJM Interconnection have been generating more electricity using natural gas. Similar to the rest of the country, the share of natural gas-fired electricity generation in PJM has increased during the past five years as relatively low natural gas prices have made natural gas more cost-competitive with coal. Much of the increase in generation from natural gas is from generating units using combined-cycle technology. By comparison, the use of natural gas-fired combustion turbines in PJM has remained relatively constant. Average annual capacity factors for natural gas-fired combined-cycle generators in PJM first surpassed those of coal-fired generators in 2015. Relatively lower natural gas prices—in part because of PJM’s proximity to Appalachian natural gas production—have been a primary driver for increasing natural gas capacity factors.  The monthly average cost of Central Appalachian coal in the PJM region averaged $2.76 per million British thermal unit (MMBtu) in 2013 and has only slightly increased since then, most recently averaging 3.30/MMBtu in 2017. In contrast, the monthly average price of natural gas at the Texas Eastern Transmission Market Zone 3 (TETCO M-3) hub, which generally reflects natural gas prices in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, fell below the price of coal on a dollar-per-MMBtu basis in mid-2014 and, with the exception of winter price spikes, has remained lower than the price of coal since then.

Gas leak prompts evacuations Friday near Oil City -- An unknown issue at a local oil and gas well site prompted local authorities to evacuate several homes near Oil City Friday evening. Carter County Emergency Management Director Paul Tucker said 20-30 homes were evacuated as a precaution after a natural gas leak was reported at a rural well site in northwestern Carter County. Tucker said the cause for the leak is still unknown and the extent and volume of gas leaked had not been reported. Evacuated residents were allowed to return home early Saturday morning.

Bird's Eye View of the Mountain Valley Pipeline - The controversial Mountain Valley Gas Pipeline has been under construction since the beginning of the year.  Most of the trees on its 300 mile path have been cut and sections of pipeline and were being installed when the project hit a snag last week and a court issued a suspension for construction through streams and waterways. Flying over the Mountain Valley Pipeline last week in a small plane, pilot Hap Endler gets close enough to construction site that it looks a bit like one of those miniature train sets. Long sections of light green colored pipe, 42 inches in diameter, waiting to be buried, are easy to see from the air.  But what you can’t see are the hundreds of water ways, some little more than a trickle that cross the pipeline’s path.“A lot of them are very small water bodies and some, including some of the agencies, would tell you, ‘don’t worry about it because they’re small, little streams.' The problem is those are some of the most valuable and sensitive streams that we have,” says  David Sligh with a group called ‘Wild Virginia.’“Those are the homes of the Brook Trout, of the endangered Roanoke Log Perch, of mussels that are found nowhere else in the world.  So, the fact that those places are so vulnerable means they should have more protection not less, and we believe, and scientists tell us, that (for) some of these streams, the populations will be wiped out,” Sligh says.We’re being flown over the pipeline,  courtesy of a nonprofit conservation organization called Southwings. As we soar over mountainous terrain, interrupted by patchwork quilts of residential areas, farms, small towns and endless trees. Sligh points out what he believes to be violations of proper protocol and safety.  But it’s not pipeline construction that has now been halted by the court in the decision announced last Friday.  Only the crossing of any of the 383 streams and 142 wetlands in the pipeline's path,is on hold. And while that makes pipeline construction more difficult, it is not prohibited under the ruling.

Flood carries a piece of the Mountain Valley Pipeline into the hands of opposing landowner - It’s one thing for rain to wash mud and sediment away from where the Mountain Valley Pipeline is being built; that’s happened many times. But when part of the pipe gets swept away, that’s another story. It happened Thursday on Dale Angle’s cornfield in Franklin County. And Angle — who has been complaining for months about runoff from construction damaging his land — says he’s not ready to give Mountain Valley its pipe back. “They called this morning wanting me to sign a permission slip” that would allow company workers onto his property to retrieve two 80-foot sections of steel pipe that floated away, Angle said Friday. “I said I couldn’t do it right now. They’ve done destroyed enough of my property. I’m not going to let them do it again.” In recent weeks, Mountain Valley has been digging trenches to bury a 42-inch diameter pipe that will transport natural gas at high pressure through Angle’s 160-acre farm on its way from West Virginia to a connecting pipeline in Pittsylvania County. Sections of the pipe were laid along the construction right of way and left until they could be lowered into the ground. Two such sections were in a low-lying area, next to where Little Creek enters the Blackwater River, when Thursday’s torrential rains began. Angle, who says the bottom land is often completely covered by flood waters, was not surprised by what happened next. One section was washed about 60 feet from its spot, he said. The other one floated nearly 1,000 feet before lodging against some trees near the banks of the Blackwater. Both had clearly crossed a boundary line drawn earlier this year when Mountain Valley used its legal power of eminent domain to obtain an easement through Angle’s land, despite his fervent opposition. Although construction crews can do as they please along established rights of way and access roads, they must obtain permission before venturing onto adjacent private property.

The Quiet but Furious Nationwide War Against Pipelines - People here have seen what big industry can mean for water. Now fracked gas pipelines are being pushed through Appalachia, not only the one near my house but also the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The MVP and the ACP would originate in northwestern West Virginia and run down through Virginia, parallel to each other about 100 miles apart in routes that will take them through national forests, the Appalachian Trail, waterways, and private land. A report earlier this year from the National Resources Defense Council warned that construction of the MVP and the ACP would cause erosion and stir up sediment in drinking water sources before they were even operational. Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst at the NRDC, told me, “Some people think erosion doesn’t sound so bad, but it’s considered a major source of water pollution. It increases turbidity, which makes it harder for plants and animals to live. Water temperature is also affected. Sedimentation can clog intakes for public water supplies. Quantity can also be impacted. Basically, these construction projects can crush an aquifer, so there’s no water available in a well anymore.” Chemical spills from the drilling process are also a risk, Mall added. After the pipelines are finished, residents will worry about explosions like the one that happened near our house in 2011, or about natural gas leaking out and contaminating their water—according to High Country News, between 2010 and 2017, 17.55 billion cubic feet of natural gas has leaked out of the country’s sprawl of pipes.Naturally, people are angry. Appalachian communities are mounting a stiff opposition to the MVP and the ACP, joining grassroots pipeline resistance around the country and internationally. Since February, local people have launched up to a dozen tree-sits in-the path of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.   The tree-sits in the path of the MVP have meant that work crews can’t clear trees or operate heavy machinery without endangering activists. The current tree-sitters, Lauren Bowman and an activist going by the name “Nettle,” climbed to their platforms on September 4 and have been up there for more than a month. Before climbing her tree, Bowman posted a statement to the Appalachians Against Pipelines Facebook page, a group which supports MVP and ACP resistance. She wrote, “I am compelled to fight back against this pipeline because I cannot sit back and ignore what is happening to my home and to the mountains that I have known and loved since I was a child.”

Fragile Pipelines Pose an Increasing Risk in Gas-Hungry US – The kind of dramatic scenes that played out in suburban Massachusetts last month following a series of explosions and fires may serve as a warning of what lies ahead for the U.S., where an increasing reliance on natural gas is running up against aging infrastructure. While there’s no firm conclusion about what caused the series of deadly blasts on Sept. 14, a preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report on the incident released this week says it was linked to work being carried out to replace old pipes. And across the U.S. there’s an awful lot of old pipes: In all, the country has about 80,000 miles of unprotected bare steel and cast or wrought-iron natural gas pipes -- enough to wrap around the Earth three times -- much of which dates back to the early 1900s.  "Aging infrastructure is clearly an issue in the U.S., especially on the East Coast where they have a lot of old cast iron pipes that are well known to fail,"   While those lines represent just 3.6 percent of all the pipes that deliver gas to consumers nationally, they pose the highest risk and account for 41 percent of all fatalities, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. PHMSA, as the regulator is also called, has urged operators to accelerate plans to replace the oldest lines because decades of wear and degradation has made them more brittle and prone to leaks or ruptures from ground movement. Exposure to rain and freezing temperatures is also a problem (modern gas lines installed in towns and cities are made of plastic, which is corrosion-resistant and less brittle, or from protected steel that won’t rust as easily).Utilities continue to spend billions of dollars to replace old lines. In Ohio, for example, the Public Utilities Commission oversees programs undertaken by utilities including Duke Energy Corp. But while those lines are being ripped out and replaced, there’s a huge build-out of new pipelines, driven by the shale-gas boom. And that’s prompted concerns that the regulatory environment hasn’t kept pace.

Cold Snaps Could Trigger Winter Pipeline Constraints in New England, Los Angeles, FERC Says -- Forecasters are expecting a warmer-than-average winter this year, but prolonged periods of cold temperatures could still trigger regional pipeline constraints in New York City, Boston and Los Angeles and increase the risk of price volatility, according to the 2018-2019 Winter Energy Market Assessment released Thursday by FERC's Office of Enforcement (OE).  A bomb cyclone last winter drove cash prices north of $100/MMBtu in the Northeast. If similar conditions materialize this winter, "pipeline constraints on Algonquin Gas Transmission, Transcontinental Pipeline, and Tennessee Gas Pipeline could result in high gas prices at Transco Zone 6 near New York City, Algonquin Citygates in ISO New England Inc., and Transco Zone 5 South in PJM Interconnection LLC," OE said. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said in a separate winter outlook also released Thursday that it expects warmer-than-normal conditions across much of the northern and western United States. An El Nino event, which often signals wetter-than-average weather in the southern United States and drier conditions in parts of the North, is also likely to develop during the next few months, according to Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. "The last winter that was impacted by El Nino was back in 2015-2016," Halpert said. “However, we're not anticipating a repeat of that winter, as this El Nino is expected to be much weaker than that one." Basis futures prices are up 47 cents/MMBtu in New York City and $3.40/MMBtu in Boston compared with the same time last year, OE said, suggesting "a market expectation that both regions may face pipeline transportation constraints this winter." A 13-cent increase in basis futures price at Dominion South -- a point representative of the Marcellus Shale region -- "is likely a result of recent increases in pipeline takeaway capacity out of the region leading to a reduction of the local natural gas production surplus." Basis futures are also up compared with last year at Southern California Border and Southern California Citygates, OE said.In its own Winter Fuels Outlook, released last week, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said it expects Henry Hub prices during December, January and February to average $3.20/MMBtu, an 8% increase based on increased gas use in the electric power sector, growing natural gas exports from liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities, and lower-than-average inventory levels.

Natural Gas Breaks Higher - Injections Pick Up The Pace At The 11th Hour - Price volatility in the natural gas futures market is nothing new for the energy commodity that has traded in a range from $1.02 to $15.65 per MMBtu since contracts began trading on the NYMEX division of the CME in 1990.Since the February 2018 high at $3.661 per MMBtu, the energy commodity had traded in a range from $2.53 to $3.053 on the continuous futures contract until the final week of September.The natural gas futures market has been growing, and open interest recently hit a new record at 1,699,571 contracts on October 4. The expansion of the metric is a result of the rising demand for hedging from producers and consumers aside from the speculation players who come to the market to profit from price volatility. On the supply side, quadrillions of cubic feet of the energy commodity in the Marcellus and Utica shale regions of the U.S., technological advances in extraction, and fewer regulations have combined to increase output to record levels.On the demand side, replacing coal with natural gas in power generation and shipments of LNG by ocean vessel around the globe have increased demand as supply rises. The rise in open interest reflects the growing scope of the U.S. natural gas market. As open interest and volumes in a futures markets rise, it can have a dampening impact on price volatility. The wild and explosive moves to levels above $10 per MMBtu in 2005 and 2008 have faded in the market's rearview mirror. However, the current level of stockpiles going into the season of peak demand is at a level where the price broke above its technical resistance level during the last week of September, and it remained above $3.053 at the end of last week as that price has now become technical support.  Over recent weeks, the pace of natural gas injections into storage facilities around the United States has picked up. After an increase in stocks of 46 bcf for the week ending on September 21, they rose by 98 bcf during the final week on September. On October 11, the EIA reported an increase of 90 bcf bringing the total amount of the energy commodity in inventories to 2.956 trillion cubic feet.  As the chart shows, stocks were 17.5% below last year's level and 17% below the five-year average as of October 5. While the injection slightly exceeded the increase last year at 87 bcf, the increases in stocks are coming at the eleventh hour when it comes to preparing for the upcoming peak season for demand of the energy commodity.

Prices Little Changed As Bullish Weather Forecasts Are Offset By Commencement Of New Pipeline Projects -- Highlights of the Natural Gas Summary and Outlook for the week ending October 12, 2018 follow. The full report is available at the link below.

  • Price Action: The November contract rose 1.8 cents (0.6%) to $3.161 on a 23.0 cent range ($3.368/$3.138).
  • Price Outlook: Prices continued higher and established a new weekly high for the 4th consecutive week. However, the market ended near the weekly low as new supply did begin flowing on the Atlantic Sunrise expansion, focusing market attention again on US production. However, there is still no indication of a +100 bcf injection and the chance for a triple digit injection has now passed.
  • Weekly Storage: US working gas storage for the week ending October 5 indicated an injection of +90 bcf. Working gas inventories rose to 2,956 bcf. Current inventories fall (639) bcf (-17.8%) below last year and fall (598) bcf (-16.8%) below the 5-year average.
  • Supply Trends: Total supply rose 0.4 bcf/d to 82.3 bcf/d. US production fell. Canadian imports rose. LNG imports fell. LNG exports fell. Mexican exports rose. The US Baker Hughes rig count rose +11. Oil activity increased +8. Natural gas activity increased +4. The total US rig count now stands at 1,063 .The Canadian rig count rose +13 to 195. Thus, the total North American rig count rose +24 to 1,258 and now exceeds last year by +118. The higher efficiency US horizontal rig count rose +8 to 927 and rises +141 above last year.
  • Demand Trends: Total demand rose +0.9 bcf/d to +69.5 bcf/d. Power demand rose. Industrial demand fell. Res/Comm demand rose. Electricity demand rose +3,127 gigawatt-hrs to 78,378 which exceeds last year by +4,085 (5.5%) and exceeds the 5-year average by 5,364 (7.3%%).
  • Nuclear Generation: Nuclear generation fell (5,035)MW in the reference week to 77,759 MW. This is (8,933) MW lower than last year and (4,855) MW lower than the 5-year average. Recent output was at 78,103 MW.
  • The cooling season is now over. With a forecast through October 26 the 2018 total cooling index is at 5,629 compared to 4,850 for 2017, 5,495 for 2016, 4,402 for 2015, 3,451 for 2014, 4,811 for 2013, 7,212 for 2012 and 6,709 for 2011.

Natural Gas Winter Prices Rally as Current Cold Snap to Linger Through October - For the second weekend in a row, a bullish turn in the weather outlooks led to a sharp rally in core winter natural gas contracts to start the week, elevating November natural gas prices on Monday by 8.1 cents to $3.242. Spot gas prices also strengthened as the early-season cold snap drove up demand across much of the United States. The NGI National Spot Gas Avg. rose 17 cents to $3.135.

Natural Gas: Just When Things Seemed To Be Going So Well For Trump's America -- October 15, 2018: oh-oh. Maybe the Natural Gas Supply Association spoke too soon. From SeekingAlpha -- Bullish weather forecasts again led to a sharp rally in core winter natural gas contracts to start the week, boosting November natural gas prices by more than $0.08 to $3.242/MMBtu, and spot gas jumped $0.17 to $3.135/MMBtu as early-season cold drove up demand across much of the U.S.With unseasonably low temperatures expected to persist through the end of October, NatGasWeather expects the coming weather pattern to further raise storage inventory deficits vs. the five-year average to more than 650 Bcf and likely toward 700 Bcf.The background state will remain bullish for quite some time until record production finally shows signs of improving deficits, “something that’s not expected to happen until after October due to the coming colder-than-normal pattern," the forecaster says. In the SeekingAlpha note above, the writer suggests the deficit could trend toward 700 Bcf. In the graphic from last week, "stocks were 627 Bcf less than last year at this time and 607 Bcf below the five-year average.

Natural gas jumps on expectations of above-average cold, with supplies at decade low --  Natural gas prices jumped Monday on report of below-average cold weather expected across the U.S. at a time when gas supplies are at decade lows.Natural gas futures for November rose 2.6 percent, to $3.242 per million British thermal units."The updated model from over the weekend showed an early-season cold snap for the bulk of the country, which is the last thing consumers needed to have happen," said John Kilduff of Again Capital.Natural gas hit a high of $3.37 per mBtu a week ago Tuesday on a cold weather report, but that concern faded and a new 11-day to 15-day forecast shows a blast of cold across the U.S., particularly in the South and in the Midwest. "It's a different pattern," said Jacob Meisel, Bespoke Weather Services chief weather analyst. "You're seeing more risk that cold air masses get trapped across the East. Before, it looked like we'd get warm Pacific air into the East."Meisel said this year's weather pattern has been unusual, and it coincides with extremely low supply. "My early thoughts are for a warmer November into December and then some colder risk in January but primarily February," he said. "In October, we're actually looking at a top-five cooling demand days and a top-five heating demand. We started with near-record heat, and we flipped to cold. You always expect to get several weeks of low energy demand, and that's not happening."

Bullish Weather Forecasts Send Natural Gas Injections Lower - We expect a +85 Bcf change in the storage report for the week ended October 12. A storage report of +85 Bcf would compare with +50 Bcf last year and +79 Bcf for the five-year average. Natural gas storage is expected to be 3.177 Tcf by November 9. That's 671 Bcf below the five-year average. You can see that in the chart above and below:  Sadly for the natural gas bears, the weather models showed increasingly cooler than normal conditions over the weekend resulting in further downward revisions in our natural gas injections.In addition, the latest ECMWF-EPS long-range outlook flipped from a bearish outlook in early November to a bullish one. Yes, the weather has been consistently turning bullish. With the latest weather forecast update, we will no longer be initiating a new DGAZ position as we wrote about last week. Given that we are now entering a period where weather model volatility dictates the movements in natural gas prices, we will need to avoid shorting into a bullish outlook such as this one. Of course, the daily model updates are more important, so we will be keeping a close eye on that, but so far, it's not supportive for the bears. As the weather turns bullish and heating demand gets an early start, we can see the overall increase below.  The bump up we are seeing in 2018 is materially higher than the two previous years. This also is another reason why the natural gas storage deficit to the five-year average is expected to increase into November. On the supply side, we are seeing lower Canadian gas net imports due to a pipeline accident in Western Canada. Enbridge  is currently trying to fix the rupture with no return date just yet: Overall, the natural gas market continues to be well supported due to a bullish weather outlook. The early bearish November outlook has now flipped to a bullish one, so we will not be initiating any new short position on the back of this update.

NYMEX November gas jumps 8.1 cents on weather-related issues, storage concerns — The NYMEX November natural gas futures contract jumped 8.1 cents and settled at $3.320/MMBtu Wednesday, largely driven by erratic weather and storage concerns. The front-month contract traded between $3.240/MMBtu and $3.338/MMBtu so far in the session. "Natural gas prices are getting a bounce because of the weather," said Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at Price Futures Group. The National Weather Service calls for a likelihood of below-average temperatures to continue across much of the Midwest, Northeast, Southwest and Texas, while above-normal temperatures are in the forecast for the rest of the US over the next six to 10 days. These extreme weather conditions during the shoulder season are providing support for prices, Flynn said. The offsetting weather patterns have resulted in cooling demand extending deep into the shoulder season along with a rise in heating demand. Residential and commercial demand rose over the past seven days and is estimated to stand at 23.7 Bcf Wednesday, according to data from S&P Global Platts Analytics. Over the next seven days, heating demand is set to average 24 Bcf/d, up from 16.9 Bcf/d in the year-ago period. The lingering cooling demand and strengthening heating demand is likely to cut into injections, dampening the market's expectation of a reduced storage deficit during the fall injection season, despite elevated production levels. "As we get closer to winter, the market is getting more and more nervous about [the storage deficit]," Flynn said. A consensus of analysts surveyed by S&P Global Platts expects an 83-Bcf injection for the week that ended October 12, down 7 Bcf from the strong build of 90 Bcf announced last week by the US Energy Information Administration, but largely in line with the five-year build of 79 Bcf for the same time.

November Natural Gas Plunges 12 Cents as Cold Seen Breaking Down; Spot Gas Crashes --A pullback in heating degree days for the end of October/early November laid the groundwork for a dramatic sell-off in natural gas futures Thursday that was further pressured by Lower 48 gas production returning to near record highs in recent days. With no surprises on the storage data front, the Nymex November gas contract went on to settle at $3.198, down 12.2 cents

EIA expects US natural gas production to jump nearly 1 Bcf/d - With four regions expected to see triple-digit increases from October to November, U.S. natural gas production from the lower 48 states’ seven most productive shale plays will jump nearly 1 billion cubic feet per day, according to Kallanish Energy.The most recent issue of the Drilling Productivity Report, which is produced by the Energy Information Administration, projects total production from the seven regions will increase by 957 million cubic feet per day (Mmcf/d), to 74.06 billion cubic feet per day, from 73.10 Bcf/d.The Appalachian Basin — the combined Marcellus and Utica shales — is expected to see the biggest month-to-month increase in gas production. The report projects an increase of 337 Mmcf/d, to 29.79 Bcf/d, from 29.45 Bcf/d.

Natural Gas Production From Big Seven Plays to Reach 74.06 Bcf/d in November, EIA Says- The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) is projecting production from the nation's seven most prolific onshore unconventional plays -- the Anadarko, Appalachian and Permian basins, and the Bakken, Eagle Ford, Haynesville and Niobrara formations -- will increase in November, continuing a nearly two-year trend, with natural gas output forecast to reach 74.06 Bcf/d and oil production an estimated 7.71 million b/d. In its latest Drilling Productivity Report (DPR), released Monday, the EIA said it expects total gas production from the the seven key regions this month to reach 73.1 Bcf/d and oil production to be 7.61 million b/d.The plays have been on a roll since January 2017, when EIA estimated total gas production was 47.51 Bcf/d and total oil production was an estimated 4.54 million b/d.Natural gas production in November is expected to increase the most in the Appalachian Basin, which includes the Marcellus and Utica shales. Production is expected to reach 29.77 Bcf/d, up from 29.45 Bcf/d in October.EIA said it also is forecasting increased production in the Anadarko (7.4 Bcf/d from 7.31 Bcf/d), Bakken (2.56 Bcf/d from 2.53 Bcf/d), Eagle Ford (7.24 Bcf/d from 7.12 Bcf/d), Haynesville (9.74 Bcf/d from 9.63 Bcf/d), Niobrara (5.21 Bcf/d from 5.136 Bcf/d) and Permian (12.13 Bcf/d from 11.89 Bcf/d).Oil production is expected to increase in six of the seven plays. More than half of the increase is expected to come from the Permian, which is projected to hit 3.55 million b/d in November from 3.5 million b/d in October.Oil production is expected to reach 572,000 b/d in the Anadarko, 132,000 b/d in Appalachia, 1.35 million b/d in the Bakken, 1.44 million b/d in the Eagle Ford and 626,000 b/d in the Niobrara. Haynesville production is expected to remain flat at 43,000 b/d.The number of drilled but uncompleted (DUC) wells across the Big Seven ended September at 8,389, an increase of 192 from August, according to EIA.The bulk of the DUCs, and the largest increase in DUCs, came in the Permian, which rose 194 in September to 3,528. DUCs increased by 31 in the Anadarko to 1,045 and by 18 in the Eagle Ford to 1,584. DUC numbers decreased from August in Appalachia (minus 22), Bakken (minus 11), Haynesville (minus 3) and Niobrara (minus 15). The productivity of new oil wells in the Big Seven plays is expected to increase in November to 668 b/d, according to the DPR. New-well gas production per rig is also expected to increase to 3.79 MMcf/d.

EIA Oct '18 Drilling Report: Shale Gas Output Up Another 1 Bcf/d -  Last month the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) monthly “Drilling Productivity Report” (DPR) estimated that this month (in October) the country’s seven major shale plays would produce an amazing, all-time high of 73 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) of natural gas production (see EIA Sep ’18 Drilling Report: Shale Output Flies Past 73 Bcf/d). EIA issued the October DPR yesterday (with numbers for November) and once again, production is going up. EIA estimates November production will hit 74 Bcf/d–another record-breaker.Month after month production in the Marcellus/Utica region, called “Appalachia” in the report, goes up roughly 1/3 Bcf. And yes, it happens again for November. EIA predicts Appalachia production will hit 29.8 Bcf/d–a full 40% of all shale gas production in the U.S., up 337 million cubic feet per day (~1/3 Bcf) from last month.Shale oil production also continues to rise in the coming month–from 7.6 million barrels this month to 7.7 million barrels next month. Below are the three charts the EIA doesn’t include in the official PDF of the report (for whatever reason). We think these are the three best charts they issue each month.Note the third chart above, DUCs (Drilled but UnCompleted wells). A DUC happens when drillers put the initial hole in the ground, including the lateral, but they don’t finish the job by fracking the well and bringing it online into production.In our region the DUC number went down by 22, indicating we’re drilling fewer new wells and completing and bringing online already-drilled wells instead. We’re burning off our DUC inventory. That’s been a trend for a number of months.A big surplus in DUCs (like that in the Permian) means they’re drilling holes in the ground like crazy and mothballing wells, waiting for new pipelines to connect them (or prices to go up) before bringing them online. The Permian adding over 100 DUCs a month has also been a trend for a number of months.

Low U.S. gas market stocks tempered by mild El Niño forecast -- U.S. natural gas stocks are going into winter at the lowest level for fifteen years despite a slightly faster rate of injections into storage over the summer than in 2016 or 2017. Low inventories have encouraged hedge funds to build their largest position in futures and options for more than eight years and pushed benchmark prices to their highest level for almost nine months. But pressure on stocks and prices is being tempered by the development of El Niño conditions over the Pacific which should lead to a relatively mild winter for much of the country. Higher prices will encourage power producers to run gas-fired units for fewer hours in the coming weeks and increase generation from coal, which has been languishing at multi-decade lows. The resulting switch from gas to coal should help boost gas stocks faster than normal in the remainder of the injection season and limit drawdowns in the early stages of the winter heating season, conserving scarce stocks. If the winter starts with prolonged cold periods in November and December, however, the gas market could come under severe pressure, with prices spiking. Working gas stocks in underground storage reached 3,037 billion cubic feet (bcf) on Oct. 12, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration ("Weekly natural gas storage report", EIA, Oct. 18). Stocks have risen by 1,688 bcf since the injection season started on April 1, compared with increases of 1,586 bcf in 2017 and 1,325 bcf in 2016 (https://tmsnrt.rs/2J76aKS ). Even so, gas stocks are the lowest level since 2003, and the market has struggled to eliminate the deficit to the five-year average that developed during the long cold winter of 2017/18. Until a few weeks ago, most traders appeared unconcerned by low inventories and benchmark futures prices were stuck below $3 until the final week of September. Since then, hedge funds and other money managers have turned strongly bullish, increasing their net long position in futures and options by nearly 1,500 bcf over the last three weeks. Portfolio managers' net long position is the highest for 35 weeks, according to position records published by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

EIA data show weekly U.S. natural-gas supply above 3 trillion cubic feet for first time since Dec. 2017 - The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported Thursday that domestic supplies of natural gas rose by 81 billion cubic feet for the week ended Oct. 12. Consensus estimates called for build near 85 billion, according to Schneider Electric. Total stocks now stand at 3.037 trillion cubic feet, down 601 billion cubic feet from a year ago, and 605 billion below the five-year average, the government said. Stocks in storage haven't topped 3 trillion since late December 2017, EIA data show. November natural gas NGX18, +1.03% traded at $3.259 per million British thermal units, down 6.1 cents, or 1.8%, from Wednesday's settlement. It was trading at $3.247 before the supply data.

October 19 Natural Gas Weekly: Injection Season Is Likely To End In The 2nd Week Of November  - We estimate that aggregate demand for American natural gas (consumption + exports) totaled around 530 bcf for the week ending October 19 (up 3.7% w-o-w and up as much as 15.0% y-o-y). The deviation from the norm stayed positive but increased marginally from +27% to +29% (see the chart below). According to our calculations, aggregate demand for U.S. natural gas (on a weekly basis) has been above 9-year norm since February 24, 2017. Last week, the weather conditions cooled down significantly across the country - but particularly in the Central, Midwest, and Southwest parts of the U.S. We estimate that the number of nation-wide heating degree-days (HDDs) has more than doubled in the week ending October 19, while the number of cooling degree-days (CDDs) dropped by 50% w-o-w to the point where they are no longer having any meaningful effect on consumption. In addition, non-degree-day factors - such as higher nuclear outages - spurred extra consumption in the Electric Power sector. Overall, total energy demand (measured in total degree-days) should be above last year's level by no less than 60%. Total exports dropped by 6% w-o-w, mostly due to weaker LNG sales (because of the base effect). According to Marine Traffic data, Sabine Pass served only four LNG tankers this week (total natural gas carrying capacity of 13 bcf), whereas last week, it served six vessels (total carrying capacity of 20 bcf). Despite the fact that flows to liquefaction at Cove Point have resumed (after a three-week maintenance), the terminal has not yet supplied any vessels since mid-September.We estimate that dry gas production has been expanding in annual terms for 72 consecutive weeks now. However, the daily rate of output has been unable to set a new all-time high for 24 days now. Currently, we project that dry gas production will average 88.2 bcf/d in October, 87.4 bcf/d in November, and 87.2 bcf/d in December. The aggregate supply of natural gas (production + imports) averaged around 93.0 bcf per day for the week ending October 19 (up 12.0% y-o-y, but down 0.3% w-o-w). Overall, total unadjusted supply/demand balance should be positive at around 119 bcf. The volume is some 20 bcf smaller than a week ago and 10 bcf below 5-year average for this time of the year (see the chart below).

Gulf Coast LNG Heading to Poland Under Long-term Deal -Polish Oil and Gas Co. (PGNiG) and Venture Global has signed 20-year sales and purchase agreements under which the former will receive U.S.-sourced liquefied natural gas (LNG) for domestic customers or for resale, Venture Global reported Wednesday. “These are the first long-term contracts for purchase of LNG from the U.S. announced in Central Europe,” Maciej Woźniak, vice president of PGNiG’s management board for trade, said in a written statement emailed to Rigzone. “The contract conditions in the USA are very attractive. The LNG price is based on the American Henry Hub index along with liquefaction costs.” The agreements will enable PGNiG to purchase LNG on a free on board (FOB) basis when commercial operations begin at the two LNG export facilities Venture Global is developing in South Louisiana, Venture Global stated. The company’s Calcasieu Pass LNG facility near Lake Charles is slated to start commercial operations in 2022 and its Plaquemines LNG project near New Orleans the following year, the company added. Under the deals, PGNiG will purchase 2 million tons per annum (mtpa) of LNG – 1 mtpa from each facility – for two decades. Venture Global stated the FOB arrangement means that it, as the seller, will deliver LNG to a tanker ship at the loading port and that the purchaser PGNiG will freely dispose of the load – including decide on the cargo destination. “Recently signed contracts are a milestone towards building PGNiG’s position in the global liquefied natural gas market,” noted Piotr Woźniak, president of PGNiG’s management board. “Thanks to the FOB formula, we will be able to decide, independently and based on our needs at a given time, whether the purchased LNG load should be directed to Poland or be used for further trading through our London office.” The 2 mtpa of LNG amounts to roughly 2.7 billion cubic meters of natural gas after regasification, Venture Global stated. Based on vessel capacity, that equates to more than 25 cargoes a year, the company added.

Bayou Bridge pipeline meets resistance from the L’eau Est la Vie camp - The swamps of southern Louisiana, a territory of the Atakapa-Ishak tribe, are the grounds of pipeline resistance as communities are rising to stop the Bayou Bridge pipeline (BBP).The 163-mile pipeline would transport crude oil from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota and connect with the infamous Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) system to refineries in St. James Parish, Louisiana. The company behind the BBP, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), is the same company responsible for the DAPL, which had police violently fend off peaceful Water Protectors at Standing Rock in 2017. The BBP was approved in December that year by the Army Corps of Engineers, and construction began at the end of January 2018. But on February 27, a preliminary injunction was issued to block the completion of an extension of the BBP because the Army Corps of Engineers had not met all the environmental assessment requirements. Despite this injunction, ETP continued construction with plans to complete the pipeline by the end of 2018.Pipeline construction would cut through the southern end of the Atchafalaya Basin, one of the last critical swamp habitats in the world, which is home to more than 65 species of reptiles and amphibians and more than 200 species of birds and fish. The pipeline path would cross 600 acres of wetlands and 700 bodies of water, some of which reportedlyprovide drinking water for around 300,000 families. Geographically speaking, southern Louisiana is greatly threatened by climate change impacts from flooding and intensified hurricanes, and the wetlands that the BBP could potentially destroy are vital sponges for floodwaters. If built, this pipeline would create the carbon equivalent of 30 new coal plants, which is contradictory to current climate change global mandates to reduce carbon emissions.The BBP would eliminate southern Louisiana’s best defense against climate crises while simultaneously contributing to intensified effects of climate change from its carbon emissions.

Oil Majors Offload Gulf of Mexico Fields to Hunt Bigger Finds  -- Big Oil is giving up looking for singles and doubles in the Gulf of Mexico: Now it’s home runs or bust. Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell Plc, the world’s two biggest oil companies, have put a slew of assets in the Gulf up for sale in recent weeks, while Brazil’s state-run Petrobras this week sold the bulk of its production in the region to mid-cap explorer Murphy Oil Corp. The majors are not leaving the Gulf altogether but they are shifting priorities. They’re using oil’s climb to a four-year high above $86 a barrel to offload older assets that are past their peaks to focus on bigger, more profitable discoveries, either in the deepest reaches of the Gulf or unexplored seas elsewhere in the world. The message is clear: Go big or go home. “When oil was in the doldrums, companies were much happier to sit on assets that performed as expected,” said Oma Wilkie, a senior analyst at RS Energy Group. “But with Brent pushing $80, they can hopefully get top dollar for assets that are OK but not the best in the portfolio.” The sales come at a time when production from the Gulf has reached record levels -- 1.85 million barrels a day -- but has been dwarfed by the growth of onshore shale. The region now makes up just 17 percent of U.S. total production, down from 27 percent a decade ago. Exxon, Shell and Petrobras may have all put ‘for sale’ signs up but their reasons for doing so are different. 

'The Guy Who Defended Company That Caused Worst Oil Spill in US History' Just Confirmed to Head DOJ's Environmental Division -- Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.) joined with Senate Republicans on Thursday to confirm Jeffrey Bossert Clark—a climate-denying former attorney for the fossil fuel industry—to lead the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.  "Clark's blatant hostility toward environmental protection is good news for polluters, but awful news for the rest of us," warned Environmental Working Group (EWG) president Ken Cook. "The guy who defended the company that caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history is not likely to aggressively go after corporate environmental outlaws." The new assistant attorney general's nomination has been stalled for more than a year due to concerns about his history as a lawyer. Clark has represented B.P. in lawsuits that stemmed from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in suits attacking the U.S. government's authority to craft regulations that aim to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Texas uses $100m from 2010 oil spill settlement for coast -- — Officials say more than $100 million from a settlement after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been spent on restoring Texas coastal habitat. The Houston Chronicle reports details were announced Monday night during a public meeting in Galveston. Trustees of the Texas Implementation Group offered the update on how the overall $238 million in damages were being spent.The money comes from a 2016 settlement with BP, which leased the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded in April 2010. The accident killed 11 workers and dumped millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf.Texas funds so far have been used to restore sea turtle, bird, and oyster coastal and wetland habitats, plus recreational improvements such as artificial reefs for fishing and diving.

 LNG Project in South Texas Advances - NextDecade Corp. has secured a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for its Rio Grande LNG project near Brownsville, Texas, along with its associated Rio Bravo Pipeline, the company reported Friday afternoon. “We appreciate the FERC staff’s continued commitment to the review of our project,” Matt Schatzman, NextDecade’s president and CEO, said in a written statement. “The draft EIS represents a culmination of several years of analysis and evaluation in conjunction with multiple federal, state and local agencies and stakeholders.”FERC, which reviews and permits LNG facilities in the United States, issued the draft EIS as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. The document follows a detailed review of environmental, engineering, social and other aspects of NextDecade’s proposed project. The 27-million-tonne-per-annum Rio Grande LNG export facility would receive natural gas from the Agua Dulce gas hub near Corpus Christi via the company’s 4.5 billion cubic foot per day Rio Bravo Pipeline. FERC will issue a final EIS April 26, 2019, and has established a 90-day Federal Authorization Decision Deadline July 25, 2019, NextDecade stated. Pending a favorable FERC order, NextDecade stated that it expects to make a final investment decision on the project during Third Quarter 2019. In a 2017 interview with Rigzone, NextDecade founder and then-CEO (and current board chair) Kathleen Eisbrenner said the project could produce first LNG in 2022.

1 MMbpd Pipeline to Link Permian to Deepwater Ports - JupiterMLP is building a 670-mile oil pipeline linking the Permian to Texas' three deepwater ports. JupiterMLP, LLC anticipates a November open season for capacity on the 1 million barrel per day (MMbpd) crude oil pipeline it plans to build from the Permian Basin to Brownsville, Texas, the privately held midstream company announced Wednesday afternoon. Jupiter made the announcement after securing a funding commitment from Charon Systems Advisors that it reported is sufficient to build the approximately 670-mile pipeline, which it expects to become operational in Third Quarter 2020. “With the backing by Charon and the firm commitments that Jupiter has already secured on the Jupiter Pipeline, we will be holding an open season for the remaining capacity in November,” Albert Johnson, president of Jupiter Pipeline LLC, said in a written statement. “We are excited about our investment in Jupiter pipeline along with Jupiter management and our investment partners,” noted Adrayll Askew, partner of Charon. “We are fully committed to Jupiter’s long-term global strategy that focuses on the integration of the midstream supply chain and distribution of Permian crude oil to the world.” According to Jupiter, the pipeline’s Permian Basin origination points will be located near Midland, Pecos and Crane, Texas, and its offtake points will be near Three Rivers, Texas. The company added that it has completed engineering, design and right-of-way planning for the pipeline, which will directly link to Kinder Morgan’s Double Eagle and Crude & Condensate pipeline systems. As designed, the pipeline will be the only such conduit out of the Permian that can access Texas’ three deepwater ports – in Houston, Corpus Christi and Brownsville – and will enjoy direct access to a fully capable very large crude carrier (VLCC) facility, Jupiter added. In May, Jupiter announced that it had received all initial governmental and regulatory permits to load and unload vessels of up to 65,000 deadweight tons or Panamax-sized vessels at its Jupiter Export Terminal. The company is building the crude upgrading, processing and export terminal on a 270-acre site at the Port of Brownsville. Jupiter has already secured permits to construct more than 2.8 million barrels of storage in Brownsville and has additional permits on file to boost its storage capacity to more than 6 million barrels, the company stated Wednesday. In addition, it reported that it is in the final stages of securing a permit to construct a 170,000-barrels per day processing facility to convert light crude into on-spec gasoline and ultralow sulphur diesel.

West Texas pipeline to resume on schedule after spill, Company Says - Energy Transfer Partners LP said on Monday that a West Texas pipeline would resume operations on Saturday as planned after the pipeline spilled water with nontoxic green dye and residual crude oil near Abilene, Texas. The spill went into Button Willow Creek and then into Canyon Rock Lake during a recent test, Energy Transfer Partner said. It did not specify when the spill occurred, and the company could not immediately be reached for further comment. The spill involved an undisclosed amount of water, which contained “a very small amount of residual crude oil,” the Dallas pipeline operator said in an email. The area has been contained, crews have begun cleaning up the spill and no changes have been made to the pipeline’s maintenance schedule, spokeswoman Vicki Granado said in the email. The West Texas Gulf Pipeline is owned by Sunoco Logistics Partners LP, which is owned by Energy Transfer. The pipeline runs from Colorado City, Texas, to Longview, Texas, connecting there to the Mid-Valley long-haul pipeline system that transports crude to refineries in the Midwestern United States. 

EPA Weighs Allowing Oil Companies to Pump Wastewater Into Rivers, Streams - For almost as long as there have been oil wells in Texas, drillers have pumped the vast quantities of brackish wastewater that surfaces with the oil into underground wells thousands of feet beneath the earth’s surface. But with concern growing that the underlying geology in the Permian Basin and other shale plays are reaching capacity for disposal wells, the Trump administration is examining whether to adjust decades-old federal clean water regulations to allow drillers to discharge wastewater directly into rivers and streams from which communities draw their water supplies. Technically speaking, drillers are allowed to do this in limited circumstances under federal law, but the process of cleaning salt-, heavy metal- and chemical-laden wastewater to the point it would meet state or federal water standards is so costly that it’s rarely done, experts say. “Technology is changing. At some point, if your disposal options are limited or it becomes so expensive you’re having to truck water to be disposed of several hundred miles away, companies will do it,” said Jared Craighead, legal counsel to Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton. “It might not make sense today but maybe in a year or two.” The Environmental Protection Agency is consulting with experts and conducting public meetings around the country toward making a decision next summer, said Lee Forsgren, deputy assistant administrator at EPA’s Office of Water, Tuesday in Washington. “We’re very much in a listening mode now,” he said. The primary question facing the EPA is whether water standards can be adjusted so oil and gas companies can economically treat wastewater to be pumped into the water supply without contaminating drinking water supplies or killing off local wildlife.

DUCs continue climbing in Lower 48 - The number of drilled, but uncompleted wells located in the most productive/busiest basins/plays in the Lower 48 U.S. states continues to rise, up 2.3% from August to September, the Energy Information Administration’s Drilling Productivity Report (DPR) found. The number of so-called DUCs rose by 192 from August to September, even though just three of the seven regions surveyed reported an August-to-September increase, Kallanish Energy finds. The largest number of DUCs was in the Permian Basin, up 194, to 3,722 DUCs in September, from 3,528, the October DPR found. The next-largest increase was in the Anadarko, up 31 DUCs, or 3.1%, to 1,045, from 1,014. Four of the seven major drilling basins/plays reported a drop in DOCs, although the total decrease was just 51. The biggest August-to-September drop was in Appalachia (the Marcellus and Utica Shale plays combined), which reported a 22-DUC drop, to 665, from 687, the October DPR reported. 

Enbridge outlines $1.4 billion worst-case scenario spill - A worst-case oil spill on Enbridge's planned new oil pipeline across northern Minnesota would cost an estimated $1.4 billion, a little more than the price of the company's mammoth spill in Michigan eight years ago. Enbridge was required to come up with the worst-case scenario by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which conditionally approved the company's new Line 3 pipeline in June. Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge filed the cost estimate Tuesday with the PUC, noting that the worst-case spill would involve pipeline ruptures near the Red, Mississippi or Red Lake rivers. The PUC will use the information in determining Enbridge's financial liabilities for a major spill. Before the PUC signs off completely on the controversial $2.6 billion Line 3 project, Enbridge has to meet several conditions, and the most critical involves its corporate guarantee and insurance coverage for spills. To calculate the worst case, Enbridge assumed a "full-bore rupture scenario where the pipeline is shut down and isolated after 13 minutes from the release occurring," the company said in a PUC filing. In that 13 minutes, "a conservative response time," the break would be detected, pumps would be shut down and valves closed, the filing said. The largest costs would involve mopping up environmental damage, including spill containment site cleanup and remediation. The damage costs incurred by businesses located near a pipeline break also would be significant, as would costs to Enbridge's reputation, the filing said. "The report confirms Enbridge has the ongoing financial ability to cover cleanup costs in the unlikely event of a worst-case pipeline release in a high consequence area," the company said in a statement. "This engineering analysis, by design, did not take into account timely response or mitigation efforts."

Tight Oil, Shale to Drive Majors' Output to New Highs -In a new report released by Wood Mackenzie, the potential of unconventionals in the Lower 48 is examined by looking at five U.S. majors (BP plc, Chevron Corp., Equinor ASA, Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell plc). “Following BP’s $10.5 billion deal with BHP, all of the supermajors have a footprint in the Permian Basin, and are poised to deliver an unprecedented phase of production growth that will see output reach new highs over the next decade,” Roy Martin, research analyst in WoodMac’s corporate upstream team, said in a release. In terms of value and volume, tight oil and shale gas will be essential to the majors’ portfolios. In fact, without their volumes, collective production from the majors would enter long-term decline from 2020, WoodMac finds. By the mid-2020s, U.S. unconventionals will generate $15-$20 billion of yearly cash flow and account for 20 percent of total upstream value. “U.S. unconventionals will drive the majors’ output to new highs,” said Martin. “Their investment in the resource theme is set to nearly double over the next five years, underpinned by tight oil.” “We think the advantages of scale in U.S. unconventionals will continue to manifest themselves as the industry shifts close to a ‘big company’ business – almost resembling conventional oil developments,” he added. The big player here seems to be ExxonMobil, who has the most acreage, biggest resource and highest peak production. Martin said no other major has comparable diversity across the Permian, Bakken, Eagle Ford, Haynesville and Marcellus plays. He also called BP’s deal with BHP “transformational” and makes it possible for BP to overtake Exxon to become the leading shale gas producer. 

U.S. Shale’s Glory Days Are Numbered -There are some early signs that the U.S. shale industry is starting to show its age, with depletion rates on the rise.A study from Wood Mackenzie found that some wells in the Permian Wolfcamp were suffering from decline rates at or above 15 percent after five years, much higher than the 5 to 10 percent originally anticipated. “If you were expecting a well to hit the normal 6 or 8 percent after five years, and you start seeing a 12 percent decline, this becomes more of a reserves issue than an economics issue,” said R.T. Dukes, a director at industry consultant Wood Mackenzie Ltd., according to Bloomberg. As a result, “you have to grow activity year over year, or it gets harder and harder to offset declines.”Moreover, shale wells fizzle out much faster than major offshore oil fields, which is significant because the boom in shale drilling over the past few years means that there is more depletion in absolute terms than ever before. A slowdown in drilling will mean that depletion starts to become a serious problem.A separate study from Goldman Sachs takes a deep look at whether or not the shale industry is starting to see the effects of age. The investment bank says the average life span for “the most transformative areas of global oil supply” is between 7 and 15 years.Examples of these rapid growth periods include the USSR in the 1960s-1970s, Mexico and the North Sea in the late 1970s-1980s, Venezuela’s heavy oil production in the 1990s, Brazil in the early 2000s, and U.S. shale and Canada’s oil sands in the 2010s. Each had their period in the limelight, but ultimately many of them plateaued and entered an extended period of decline, though some suffering steeper declines than others.

Trump Plan to Ramp Up Fracking, Mining in National Forests Threatens Climate -- The Trump administration's plan to make it easier for industry to frack and mine in national forests would endanger the climate, wildlife and watersheds, the Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation groups said in submitted Monday to the U.S. Forest Service."The Forest Service shouldn't be complicit in the Trump administration's assault on America's public lands at the behest of fossil-fuel and mining companies," said Taylor McKinnon, a public-lands campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. "More fracking and mining, with fewer safeguards, would be disastrous for national forests and watersheds. Instead of weakening protections, Trump should clean up the mess the mining industry has already left behind in our forests." A Center for Biological Diversity analysis of federal oil and gas volume estimates shows that, outside of wilderness areas and national monuments, national forests contain 1.8 billion barrels of oil and 24 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. That would produce 2.4 billion tons of greenhouse gas pollution if fully developed—the equivalent of annual emissions from 601 coal-fired power plants. The proposed Forest Service oil and gas rulemaking would align its procedures with controversial new Bureau of Land Management policies that have been temporarily halted by a federal court because they prevent public input. The Center for Biological Diversity and other organizations are calling on the agency to improve transparency and public involvement in decisions about drilling, fracking and mining in national forests. The groups also want the Service to fully account for the toll fossil-fuel extraction and mining would take on public health, public lands, wildlife and the climate.

Iowa regulators question whether Dakota Access pipeline has enough insurance to protect against an oil spill - The Iowa Utilities Board is questioning whether the builder of the controversial Dakota Access pipeline has adequate insurance coverage to protect Iowans from potential oil spills.That crude oil pipeline spans four states from North Dakota to Illinois, cutting through 18 Iowa counties. In permitting the controversial project, the utilities board required that its builder, Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, secure $25 million in insurance coverage to protect against the potential of an Iowa oil spill.Energy Transfer has $50.1 million in total coverage across the four-state pipeline, but IUB officials say that doesn't prove that the company holds $25 million in Iowa-specific coverage. In essence, the board has argued that a catastrophic incident in one of the other three states could exhaust the pipeline's insurance coverage for Iowans.Dakota Access has maintained it secured more than adequate coverage. But the IUB has rejected that logic: On Tuesday, the board ordered the company to provide more information on how it would comply with the $25 million insurance requirement. Energy Transfer has 21 days to respond.IUB spokesman Don Tormey said the board had no further comment beyond its order to the company.The spat between the IUB and the pipeline operator represents just the latest controversy for a project that has sparked protests, arrests and lawsuits up and down the route. Most notably, the project led to a giant gathering of Native Americans near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota.

Colorado's anti-fracking measure would keep wells farther away from homes and schools - Colorado voters next month will decide how close is too close when it comes to oil and gas drilling. A statewide ballot measure known as Proposition 112 would keep new wells dramatically farther away from homes and schools, expanding the distance from a 500-foot minimum to 2,500 feet, the biggest statewide setback requirement in the country. It's a change the industry says would threaten its very existence.The spending has been lopsided, with the oil and gas industry raising some $30 million to defeat the measure. That's about 40 times more money than environmental groups have raised.Colorado Rising, the advocates promoting greater distances for well locations, hopes to gain an edge with unpaid volunteers who go door to door.Therese Gilbert is one of them. She's a mother and seventh-grade teacher from Greeley, the center of Colorado's oil and gas industry."This is my little petition bag," Gilbert says as she points to a small denim pouch that holds flyers, a water bottle and pens.In Loveland, located squarely in purple Larimer County, Gilbert explains to 31-year-old Democratic voter Susana Ruiz how Colorado wells have exploded and burned, putting health and the safety of children and workers at risk. In 2017, an oil tank fire killed one and injured three. A home explosion in Firestone last year that was linked to an oil well killed two people and severely injured another.Gilbert says she gets the most positive responses from women, and Ruiz does like the idea of more distance between new wells and schools. "Obviously I would want my children safe," she says. Proposition 112's half-mile setback would also apply to drinking water sources, rivers, playgrounds and gathering spots like amphitheaters. If voters approve, the new regulation would be greater than similar rules in places like Pennsylvania.

Oil-by-Rail Rises Once Again as Safety Rules Disappear - While a second oil-by-rail boom is well underway in North America, both the U.S. and Canada are taking steps that ignore or undermine the lessons and regulatory measures to improve safety since the oil train explosions and spills of years past.Canadian oil-by-rail now is operating at record levels, which are predicted to double by 2019. Favorable economics have led to a recent rise in oil-by-rail movements in the U.S. as well, with more Bakken oil moving by train to East Coast refineries.Meanwhile, in September the Trump administration finalized its rollback of a regulation requiring an updated braking system for oil trains, known as modern electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes, in a highly questionable regulatory process detailed on DeSmog last year.In North Dakota, the Department of Mineral Resources now plans to reverse a regulation which required even the minimal stabilization of oil transported by train, with “stabilization” referring to a process that removes some of the natural gas liquids that make Bakken oil so explosive. That move doesn't bode well for avoiding earlier scenarios in which rail operators dubbed oil trains as “bomb trains.”In September Canada committed to phasing out some of the unsafe older rail tank cars ahead of schedule, but a derailment earlier this year shows that this step is far from foolproof. On June 22, a train carrying Canadian oil that derailed in northwestern Iowa was using the newer DOT-117R tank cars, the same ones being phased in as the new standard. The derailment still resulted in the release of an estimated 230,000 gallons of tar sands oil into local floodwaters. And while track defects are the leading cause of train derailments (which, of course, lead to fires, explosions, and spills), the Trump administration has hit pause on efforts to regulate rail wear, which makes unlikely the possibility of new rules on this issue while Trump is in office.

California fire: Thousands evacuate as blaze threatens underground natural gas pipeline - Officials have evacuated 4,000 people and close an elementary school after a grass fire threatened an underground natural gas pipeline in the San Francisco Bay Area.The fire started on Wednesday in Bay Point, and was reportedly started after a power line fell, according to Chevron Pipe Line Company. That company operates the pipeline that was threatened by the fire.The company said that it cut supply to the gas line, and was working with firefighters to help evacuate the area in case something went wrong."Venting of the Bay Point gas line is resulting in a loud, shrieking noise that has been described as a jet-engine-like sound emanating from the Chevron Pipeline Facility," the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District said in a tweet. "This is a normal part of the risk-mitigation process. Please do not call 911".Fire officials said that Willow Cove Elementary School in Pittsburg would be closed on Thursday just in case something went wrong between the fire and the gas line. About 1,400 homes were evacuated in the area.

Evacuations Still In Place For Thousands As Crews Evaluate Bay Point Pipeline (CBS SF) — An evacuation order that affected thousands in Bay Point and Pittsburg remained in effect Thursday afternoon as crews worked to secure a major Chevron natural gas pipeline that was threatened by fire, officials said. Around 4,000 people were forced to flee from 1,400 homes, officials said. Assistant Fire Chief Terence Carey said a small vegetation fire erupted in the area Wednesday afternoon. Crews extinguished the fire without incident but were called back to the scene when they were alerted to a fire in a utility vault that threatened the pipeline. “There is an active fire in the vault,” Carey told reporters Thursday morning. “We are not sending our firefighters in there until we know it is safe.’ Drone video provided by the Pittsburg Police Department showed the utility vault on fire overnight. Under that vault sits a 12-inch high pressure natural gas line at risk of exploding. “It was realized very quickly that there was a high probability of danger,” said Carey. Chevron officials said they were contacted at around 8 p.m. Wednesday to notify them of the blaze. “Chevron Pipe Line Company was notified of a fire caused by an electrical power line falling, which started a fire near our valve junction on the Northern California Gas Line near Pittsburg,” a company statement said. “CPL immediately shut down the line and dispatched a field team to investigate.” The 12-inch, high-pressure natural gas line runs through the East Bay. The line affected by the blaze has been isolated from the rest of the pipelines, Hill said. He advised that didn’t mean the threat of an explosion was mitigated and said residents should still heed evacuation orders from Wednesday night in an abundance of caution because there is still a threat of an explosion. 

Natural gas pipeline rupture in Canada affects U.S. energy markets - The October 9, 2018 rupture of Enbridge’s BC natural gas pipeline near Prince George, British Columbia, continues to affect natural gas supply, electricity generation, and petroleum refining in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. The BC Pipeline links natural gas production in northeastern British Columbia with distribution markets in Canada as well as Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Imports of natural gas through the pipeline, which in the first half of the year averaged 1.1 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) at the Sumas hub import point, fell to zero for a day after the rupture.The rupture occurred on the 36-inch diameter mainline, one of two pipelines that make up the BC Pipeline system. Both pipelines were shut down and depressurized following the rupture. On October 10, Enbridge restarted the second, smaller 30-inch diameter pipeline, which is now operating at 80% capacity. Operators were also able to transport natural gas from production areas in eastern British Columbia and Alberta through the Kingsgate import point to replace some of the disrupted supply. As of the morning of October 15, Enbridge had started constructing a temporary access road to the site of the rupture, but it has announced no timeline on when it will complete the repair work. The pipeline rupture forced some refineries in Washington to cut production, as the pipeline carries natural gas used to operate refining units. Royal Dutch Shell and Phillips 66 both shut down refineries in the region, resulting in an increase in wholesale gasoline prices in the Pacific Northwest.  Retail gasoline prices in the area were already rising because of recent increases in crude oil prices. On October 15, the Monday following the pipeline rupture, the retail price of gasoline in Seattle rose 9 cents per gallon from the previous week’s value, the largest weekly increase since mid-2015. Also on that day, Seattle’s regular retail gasoline price was $3.48 per gallon, or about 60 cents per gallon more than the U.S. average, based on EIA’s weekly Gasoline and Diesel Fuel Update.

West Coast military installations eyed for US fuel exports (AP) — The Trump administration is considering using West Coast military installations or other federal properties to open the way for more U.S. fossil fuel exports to Asia in the name of national security and despite opposition from coastal states. The proposal was described to The Associated Press by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and two Republican lawmakers.“I respect the state of Washington and Oregon and California,” Zinke said in an interview with AP. “But also, it’s in our interest for national security and our allies to make sure that they have access to affordable energy commodities.”Accomplishing that, Zinke said, may require the use of “some of our naval facilities, some of our federal facilities on the West Coast.” He only identified one prospect, a mostly abandoned Alaska military base. The idea generated a quick backlash Monday from some Democrats and environmentalists. It’s tantamount to an end-run around West Coast officials who have rejected private-sector efforts to build new coal ports in their states.Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, called the proposal a “harebrained idea,” and said President Donald Trump should instead consider that climate change represents a national security threat.Boosting coal and gas exports would advance the administration’s agenda to establish U.S. “energy dominance” on the world stage. The potential use of government properties for exports underscores a willingness to intervene in markets to make that happen.The administration in recent months has cited national security as justification for keeping domestic coal-burning power plants online to prevent disruptions of electricity supplies. Zinke said the administration was interested in partnering with private entities in the use of federal facilities designated to help handle exports and cautioned that the idea is still in its early stages.

U.S. eyes military bases for coal, natural gas exports -- The Trump administration is considering using West Coast military bases or other federal properties as transit points for shipments of U.S. coal and natural gas to Asia as officials seek to bolster the domestic energy industry and circumvent environmental opposition to fossil fuel exports, according to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and two Republican lawmakers.The proposal would advance the administration's agenda of establishing American "energy dominance" on the world stage and underscores a willingness to intervene in markets to make that happen. It's tantamount to an end-run around West Coast officials who have rejected private-sector efforts to build new coal ports in their states.In an interview with The Associated Press, Zinke cast the proposal as a matter of national security to ensure U.S. allies have access to affordable fuels. The Trump administration also has cited national security as justification for keeping domestic coal-burning power plants online to prevent disruptions of electricity supplies. It's unclear which sites are under consideration other than one in Alaska. Experts said the possibilities are constrained by the need for a deep water port. Zinke said the administration is interested in partnering with private entities to ship coal or liquefied natural gas through naval installations or other federal facilities. He added it's still early in the process."I respect the state of Washington and Oregon and California," Zinke said. "But also, it's in our interest for national security and our allies to make sure that they have access to affordable energy commodities."Accomplishing that, he said, may require the use of "some of our naval facilities, some of our federal facilities on the West Coast."Zinke specified only one site that could serve as an export hub, for natural gas: the former Adak Naval Air Facility in Alaska's Aleutian Islands, which he suggested could receive fuel by barge from the North Slope. The base closed in 1997 and has been largely abandoned. Roughly 300 people live in the town of Adak, the westernmost community in the U.S.

Washington governor blasts plan to use West Coast military bases to ship coal, natural gas - The Hill - Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Monday slammed President Trump's proposal to use military bases to export coal from the West Coast to Asia, saying in a statement that the idea is "reckless."  “This reckless, harebrained proposal undermines national security instead of increasing it, and it undermines states’ rights to enforce necessary health, safety and environmental protections in their communities," Inslee said. U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Monday told The Associated Press that the Trump administration is considering using military bases and federal properties in states such as Washington, Oregon and California to ship coal and natural gas to Asia. “I respect the state of Washington and Oregon and California,” Zinke told the AP. “But also, it’s in our interest for national security and our allies to make sure that they have access to affordable energy commodities.” Zinke also said the Trump administration is interested in partnering with private companies to handle the exports. Inslee in his statement said that "the men and women who serve at our military bases are there to keep our country safe, not to service an export facility for private fossil fuel companies." He added that he hasn't personally heard from the Trump administration and has instead had to rely on news reports for information about the potential exports. “Our state has been left in the dark about the Administration's latest scheme. We’ve seen the news reports but have yet to hear from them in person. This effort is just the latest attempt at an end run around Washington’s authority to safeguard the health and safety of our people," he said.

Four Huge LNG Tankers Pass Through Panama Canal in One Day - The Panama Canal Authority has announced that the Canal has reached a new milestone, after four LNG ships with beams of up to 160 ft (49 m) transited the waterway in a single day through the Neopanamax Locks. This breaks the record set by the Canal on 17 April 2018, when three LNG vessels transited the waterway on the same day.Ribera del Duero Knutsen (cargo capacity of 173 000 m3) and Maran Gas Pericles (cargo capacity of 174 000 m3) transited northbound, while Torben Spirit (cargo capacity of 174 000 m3) and Oceanic Breeze (cargo capacity of 155 300 m3) transited southbound, facilitating international trade between customers in South Korea, Japan, Chile and the US Gulf Coast.Resulting from the experience acquired with the transit of more than 4200 Neopanamax vessels, the Panama Canal introduced changes to its Transit Reservation System to offer two slots per day to LNG vessels. These modifications have allowed the expanded Canal’s capacity to be optimised, in order to meet specific demands such as the transit of four LNG vessels today.The modifications, which were announced in August this year and that came into effect on 1 October, also allow lifting certain daylight restrictions for LNG vessels, as well as meetings between LNG vessels in opposite directions in Gatun Lake. Panama Canal Administrator, Jorge L. Quijano, said: “The transit of these four LNG ships in just one day demonstrates the Panama Canal’s commitment to maximising the efficiency, flexibility and reliability of its service to all customers.” With these modifications now effective, the Canal claims that it has reinforced its ability to handle the growing LNG transit demand from the US once the different export terminals begin operation.

 Mexico's state-owned oil giant just announced a major discovery that could transform the country's struggling industry --Mexico's state-owned oil producer, Pemex, on Tuesday said it had discovered about 180 million barrels of oil offshore.The reserves could boost Mexico's oil output, which has been in decline since 2004.They were found in the Manik well, roughly 52 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, and the Mulach well, about 11 miles offshore.Pemex CEO Carlos Treviño said in a statement that the reserves were proven, probable, and possible, or 3P, meaning there's a high degree of certainty that the oil can be extracted. The company will need $7 billion to $10 billion in capital, including investments in oil rigs and pipelines, to develop the newly announced discovery and others found nearby in recent years, according to Reuters.The offshore fields combined could increase Mexico's production by up to 210 million barrels of oil and 350 million cubic feet of gas a day, Pemex said.Mexico earlier this year became the first Latin American country to join the International Energy Agency, an industry watchdog."The country's energy sector is in a period of profound change, catalyzed by comprehensive energy reforms the government has been enacting since 2013," the IEA said. These reforms includeending Pemex's monopoly and attracting new players into the oil industry. Pemex's discovery was announced just as the IEA urged larger oil producers to open the taps on output. Fatih Birol, the agency's head,said at a conference in London on Tuesday that US sanctions on Iran and shrinking production from Venezuela could tighten the market even further.

Mexico's Lopez Obrador pushes Big Oil to hurry, but offers little (Reuters) - At his first meeting with foreign oil majors, Mexico’s leftist president-elect pushed the companies to prove themselves by quickly pumping oil from recent finds, sources say, but gave no sign of offering up new fields to reverse dwindling output. President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador repeated a promise to respect more than 100 existing contracts awarded following a sweeping five-year-old energy overhaul as long as a review by his team finds no corruption. And he added: companies must show results, three executives who attended the meeting said. For U.S. independent Talos Energy, which is developing a high-profile, big offshore discovery announced last year along with partners Premier Oil and Sierra Oil & Gas, Lopez Obrador’s message was clear: quickly bring new streams of production online. “We know we have to exceed expectations and we’re trying to make sure we do that,” said Talos Energy CEO Tim Duncan, one of the executives who attended the session. At the Sept. 27 meeting, the president-elect also criticized the 2013 constitutional reform for failing to stop an extended output slide. Operators such as Talos and Italy’s Eni, which also announced a major offshore find last year, are on Lopez Obrador’s watch list to pump oil quickly, said Carlos Pascual, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico who now helps run consultancy IHS Markit’s global energy business. “The focus on increased barrels is going to create greater pressure for some companies,” he said. 

 Fracking to restart in UK after last-minute legal bid fails -- The first fracking in the UK for seven years will start on Saturday, the shale gas company Cuadrilla has confirmed, after campaigners lost a last-minute legal challenge to block the operations. Lancashire resident Robert Dennett won an interim injunction last Friday against Lancashire county council, putting a temporary halt to the start of fracking at a well outside Blackpool. His lawyers argued on Thursday that the council’s emergency planning was inadequate in the event of an incident at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site. But on Friday a high court judge rejected the request for an injunction, on the grounds that the council had not failed in its duties regarding civil contingency planning. Justice Supperstone also dismissed an application for a judicial review of emergency planning. The court’s decision removes the final barrier to fracking starting again in the UK after a hiatus of seven years. Cuadrilla said it was delighted it could start operations as planned. “We are now commencing the final operational phase to evaluate the commercial potential for a new source of indigenous natural gas in Lancashire,” said the chief executive, Francis Egan. Lawyers for the company had said it was incurring costs of £94,000 for every day it was injuncted and prevented from fracking. The oil services firm Schlumberger has been contracted to undertake the hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, which involves pumping water, chemicals and sand underground at high pressure to fracture shale rock 2km below the surface to release gas. The operation is allowed to run from 9am-1pm on Saturday, and then 8am-6pm Monday to Friday. In all, the process is expected to take around three months, because the company is proceeding slowly to monitor any seismic activity. 

Fracking starts in Lancashire amid protests - Fracking for shale gas has begun in Lancashire amid protests over the controversial process.Energy firm Cuadrilla said it had started hydraulic fracturing at Preston New Road in Little Plumpton, on Monday, and it will continue for three months.It is the first time fracking has taken place in the UK since 2011, when the nascent industry was halted after it caused two small earthquakes in Lancashire.A spokesman for the company said: “Cuadrilla is pleased to confirm that it has started hydraulic fracturing operations at our Preston New Road shale gas exploration site.“Hydraulic fracturing of both horizontal exploration wells is expected to last three months after which the flow rate of the gas will be tested.”Earlier police closed off the site as about 50 protesters gathered ahead of the start of the process and a team had to cut a man and woman out of a set of tyres which they had apparently cemented their arms into.One activist sat on top of a van outside the site with a banner which read “Stop the Start” while another lay down in front of railings.Protester Ginette Evans, 60, from Fleetwood, said: “We’ll be monitoring the site 24 hours a day. It is definitely not over, it has just got serious.“The fight’s just really started.”

Protesters Block Site Where Fracking In UK Resumes After 7 Years - Protesters gathered on Monday morning outside a drilling site in northwest England, where fracking is returning for the first time in seven years, after a last-minute request for an injunction failed at court on Friday.The company that will go ahead with the fracking, Cuadrilla Resources, confirmed on Friday that it planned to go ahead with hydraulic fracturing operations at its Preston New Road shale gas exploration site in Lancashire on Saturday, October 13.On Friday, Justice Supperstone at the High Court in London dismissed a last-minute request for an interim injunction from a campaigner to prevent this from happening.“We are delighted to be starting our hydraulic fracturing operations as planned,” Cuadrilla’s chief executive Francis Egan said, commenting on the decision.  Cuadrilla, however, had to postpone the drilling from Saturday to Monday due to a storm, with Cuadrilla saying that protests would not halt plans to start the fracturing operations today.Local police have closed off Preston New Road in both directions, while dozens of protesters gathered outside the Cuadrilla drilling site vow that their fight just “got serious.”Ginette Evans, 60, told Blackpool Gazzette:“We'll be monitoring the site 24 hours a day. It is definitely not  over, it has just got serious. The fight’s just really started.”Anti-fracking group Reclaim The Power said on Twitter early on Monday that they are blockading Preston New Road for the start of ‘Green Great Britain Week’ to “stand with the Lancashire locals and stop the start of fracking to prevent climate chaos.”

 Fracking protesters walk free after court quashes 'excessive' sentences - Three protesters jailed for blocking access to a fracking site have walked free after the court of appeal quashed their sentences, calling them “manifestly excessive”.Simon Blevins, 26, Richard Roberts, 36, and Rich Loizou, 31, were sent to prison last month after being convicted of causing a public nuisance with a protest outside the Preston New Road site near Blackpool, Lancashire. Blevins and Roberts were sentenced to 16 months and Loizou to 15 months. But on Wednesday afternoon the court of appeal ruled their sentences were inappropriate and they should be freed immediately. Soon after, the trio walked free from Preston prison, where they were greeted with hugs and cheers from dozens of supporters. To applause from the crowd, Loizou said: “If people break the law out of a moral obligation to prevent the expansion of fossil fuel industries they should not be sent to prison. “The fracking industry threatens to industrialise our beautiful countryside. It will force famine, flooding and many other disasters on the world’s most vulnerable communities by exacerbating climate change.“Fracking is beginning right now, so there has never been a more critical time to take action. Your planet needs you.”

UK parliament to probe gas storage adequacy — A House of Commons select committee will carry out an inquiry into whether the UK has enough gas storage after events last winter heightened concerns about supply security, its chair Rachel Reeves said today.The cross-party Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) select committee will take evidence on 31 October to assess whether the government has the "necessary measures" in place to cope with a repeat of last March's gas deficit warning, Labour MP Reeves said."Following the closure of Rough there have been issues over our ability to ensure supply in the winter," she said at the Energy UK Annual Conference 2018.The UK issued its first gas balancing alert in seven years on 1 March, as cold weather and supply disruptions left the system short.While the system balanced without market intervention, it led to a record NBP prompt price spike and prompted calls from industrial users for a government review including subsidies for new and existing storage facilities. The UK government said Rough being available at the time would have made little difference to supply security and maintained the UK benefits from diverse supply sources. Parliament launching an inquiry elevates an issue that died down over the summer, with the BEIS ruling out a formal investigation. BEIS was not immediately available to comment on the announcement.The committee will also investigate "whether the market is mature and liquid enough to respond in an affordable way", Reeves said.Within-day gas traded above £3/th on 1 March and the day-ahead market closed at £2.30/th — up from an average 50.2p/th earlier in the winter — as the UK had to outbid continental hubs to secure enough supply.  The Gas Security Group, a lobby group that represents major energy users, said the inquiry was "very timely".  March 2018's events proved the government's arguments that the gas system was robust and could cope with bad weather "was not the case", the group said. Brexit including the UK's withdrawal from the EU's Internal Energy Market pose additional threats to supply security, it said. Even if the government changed position and deemed more gas storage was necessary and agreed to fund a new storage site, it could take several years before it could contribute to supply security.

110MM Barrel North Sea Field Comes Online - The North Sea Oseberg Vestflanken 2 field, which is said to contain recoverable resources of 110 million barrels of oil equivalent, came online on October 14, Equinor revealed Monday. The field is utilizing the first unmanned platform on the Norwegian Continental Shelf, Oseberg H, which is being remote operated from the Oseberg field center. Delivered at $795 million (NOK 6.5 billion), the project came in at more than 20 percent lower than the cost estimate of the plan for development and operation, Equinor highlighted. “With Oseberg H we take a huge technological leap forward. The fully automatic, unmanned and remote-operated platform is digitalization in practice and I am proud of Equinor and its partners having chosen this in-house developed solution,” Anders Opedal, Equinor’s executive vice president for technology, projects and drilling, said in a company statement. Arne Sigve Nylund, Equinor’s executive vice president for development and production in Norway, said, “with the Oseberg Vestflanken 2 development we keep expanding the massive infrastructure at the Oseberg field.” “This is a key contribution to renewing and securing long-term NCS activity,” he added.

Saint-Tropez cleans up after Mediterranean oil spill - French workers on Thursday scooped balls of tar off the beach in Saint-Tropez after oil that leaked from two ships which collided washed ashore in the Riviera resort. Authorities in Saint-Tropez said this week that 16 kilometers of coastline had been affected by the spill. One of them is the Pampelonne beach where screen siren Brigitte Bardot posed in the 1956 classic And God Created Woman. The oil is believed to have leaked from one of the ships involved in an accident off the French island of Corsica on October 7. Read also: Nikki Beach wants to remake itself as a chill resort brand Some 600 tons of bunker fuel leaked from the Cyprus-registered "Virginia" after it was rammed by a Tunisian freighter. Officials said most of the spill had been cleaned up, but that some of the residues had become trapped in seagrass that washed up ashore in Saint-Tropez. The beaches have been closed until the clean-up is complete.

Beaches closed on the French Riviera due to oil pellets  — France’s Ecology Ministry says pellets of oil have reached Mediterranean beaches near Saint-Tropez on the French Riviera ten days after two cargo ships collided north of the island of Corsica. It said those beaches were closed to the public Wednesday and agents were going to be mobilized to collect the oil. Authorities have also deployed three anti-pollution ships equipped with nets along the coast in the Var region. The ministry says French and Italian maritime authorities have cleaned up “nearly all” the fuel spill that has spread in the Mediterranean Sea, using a skimmer to suck it up.A Tunisian cargo ship pierced a hole in the hull of a Cypriot container ship in the collision on Oct. 7, causing the fuel leak. No one was injured.

Oil's $133 Billion Black Market - Oil is still the world’s leading energy source, with growing demand, a fluctuating pricing system, and much of its production in volatile regions. The oil market’s value is larger than the world’s valuable raw metal markets combined, with an annual production valued at US$1.7 trillion. A flourishing black market is no surprise, with about US$133 billion worth of fuels stolen or adulterated every year. These practices fund dangerous non-state actors such as the Islamic State, Mexican drug cartels, Italian Mafia, Eastern European criminal groups, Libyan militias, Nigerian rebels and more – and are a major global security concern.The top five countries accused of oil trafficking – Nigeria, Mexico, Iraq, Russia, and Indonesia – are also producers. It is estimated that Nigeria alone loses US$1.5 billion a month due to pipeline tapping, illegal production and other sophisticated schemes. In Southeast Asia, about 3 percent of the fuel consumed is sourced from the black market, estimated to be worth up to US$10 billion a year. In Mexico, drug cartels launder drug revenues through the oil trade.  Other countries are not immune. Turkey is not an oil producer yet serves as a major transit route for hydrocarbons flowing to Europe from OPEC countries like Iraq and Iran. As an energy hub, Turkey is strategically situated for the illegal trade and lost an estimated US$5 billion in tax revenue in 2017. An uptick in smuggling oil and other refined products began 2014, when ISIS took control of major Syrian and Iraqi oil fields.As with most commodities, the volume of oil smuggling is primarily linked to fluctuating prices. With climbing oil prices, illicit trade is expected to increase. The European Union is a prime example on how price disparities of fuel within its own member state countries tend to incentivize illegal trade producing counterintuitive routes. Lower oil prices in Eastern Europe have created maritime smuggling routes to the United Kingdom and Ireland. Ireland estimates it loses up to $200 million annually with fuel fraud, while up to 20 percent of fuel sold in regular gas stations in Greece is illegal. The legal complexities and ambiguities of the global oil and gas trade often create an opening for illegal activity.

India Targets Oil Traders for $1.5B Emergency Oil Reserve-- India is seeking $1.5 billion of investments from global oil producers and traders to build additional emergency crude reserves that will act as a buffer against volatility in oil prices. The plan is to build underground caverns that can hold a combined 6.5 million tons of crude at two locations, Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves Ltd. Chief Executive Officer H.P.S. Ahuja said. The state-run ISPRL will collaborate with private entities, who will invest in the project, he said. Getting investors to build the storage facilities will lessen the strain on state finances and help Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government meet its budget goals, while expanding strategic petroleum reserves to shield the economy from oil-price volatility. India, which meets almost 85 percent of its crude needs through imports, this month cut taxes on fuel sales to lower the burden of high oil prices on consumers. “We are taking the commercial model for building and filling the caverns, which will provide opportunity to the investor to make some profits,” Ahuja said. “India will continue to reserve first right over the crude stored in these caverns.” The two new reserves include 4 million tons of storage at Chandikhol in the eastern state of Odisha and a 2.5 million-ton facility at Padur in southern India’s Karnataka. India has built 5.33 million tons of underground reserves in three locations, including Padur, under an earlier phase that can meet 9.5 days of the country’s oil needs. The government purchased crude to fill the caverns in Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh and half of another facility in Mangalore in Karnataka, while leasing out the other half to Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. 

India Yet To Figure Out Way To Pay For Iranian Oil Imports - India hasn’t worked out yet a payment system for continued purchases of crude oil from Iran, Subhash Chandra Garg, economic affairs secretary at India’s finance ministry, said on Friday.India’s Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan has conveyed the message that his country would continue to buy Iranian oil to some extent, Garg told CNBC TV18 news channel, as quoted by Reuters.Recent reports have it that India has discussed ditching the U.S. dollar in its trading of oil with Russia, Venezuela, and Iran, instead settling the trade either in Indian rupees or under a barter agreement.India is Iran’s second-largest single oil customer after China and was expected to cut back on Iranian oil purchases, but it is unlikely to cut off completely the cheap Iranian oil that is suitable for its refineries.India wants to keep importing oil from Iran, because Tehran offers some discounts and incentives for Indian buyers at a time when the Indian government is struggling with higher oil prices and a weakening local currency that additionally weighs on its oil import bill.But the United States continues to insist that it expects Iranian oil buyers to bring their purchases down to zero.Earlier this week, Indian officials said that they hoped India could secure a waiver from the United States, because it has significantly reduced purchases of Iranian oil. Late last week, the United States hinted that it was at least considering waivers.  Meanwhile, Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook is currently touring India and Europe to discuss U.S. foreign policy toward Iran, the U.S. Department of State said on Thursday.Special Representative Hook and Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources Francis R. Fannon are will be meeting with Indian government counterparts for consultations.“During this trip, Special Representative Hook will engage our allies and partners on our shared need to counter the entirety of the Iranian regime’s destructive behavior in the Middle East, and in their own neighborhoods,” the State Department said.

Asia's natural gas prices are rising. Now higher oil prices and tariffs could cause more pain -- Asia's liquefied natural gas prices are set to go up on the back of surging oil prices and tightening supplies, according to analysts.It comes at a time when demand for LNG is set to shoot up in Asia, driven by China's appetite for natural gas as it seeks to replace coal.If China — the world's number 2 importer of natural gas — imposes tariffs on LNG exports from the U.S., it may cause Chinese buyers further pain in the short run, the experts said. But that could also alter supply chains in Asia and benefit other producers, they added.Prices of Asia's natural gas jumped this year — in tandem with crude — as most of the region's long-term LNG contracts are linked to oil prices, Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist at HIS Markit, told CNBC in an email."With world oil prices having moved higher in recent weeks as US sanctions on Iranian oil exports will be implemented in November, this is contributing to further upward pressure on Asian LNG contract prices," he added. Average Chinese gas import prices jumped 23 percent compared to a year ago in the second quarter, while Japanese contract prices were up 17 percent in the same period.When U.S. sanctions on Iran kick in next month, they could push oil prices to above $90 per barrel, some analysts predicted. During Asian trade on Tuesday afternoon, Brent crude was at $81.04 per barrel, and U.S. crude futures at $71.84 a barrel — up from above $60 per barrel at the start of this year.Asia's spot LNG market — which has been growing steadily — will also be hit in the short term. Biswas expects Asian spot prices to move even higher to $11.85 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) by January 2019. Spot prices for the October delivery in Asia were at $11.40 per mmBtu, up 30 cents in a week, according to a Aug. 24 Reuters report.  Meanwhile, supply from Australia, the world's largest exporter of LNG, is tightening as domestic demand is fighting for a share of the pie with Asia. That situation will remain until 2028, according to Nicholas Browne, director of gas and LNG research at Wood Mackenzie.The bulk of growth in Asian demand is coming from China, as it switches from coal to gas.

China's LNG imports set to surge this winter with or without tariffs on US supply - Platts Snapshot video - As we move out of the summer and turn our attention to winter, all eyes are turning towards China. Total LNG imports to the country continue to push higher and are surely going to increase to new highs this winter as heating demand picks up. New regasification capacity will certainly help to handle the influx of supply, but utilization is expected to stay elevated. Furthermore, a recent proposal for tariffs on US LNG could complicate things this winter. With the uptick in imports, where will these volumes come from? Jeffrey Moore, S&P Global Platts Analytics Manager for LNG in Asia, examines the market.

Vice-Premier: Northern China Needs To Prepare For Winter - The northern region of Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei needs to make sure there is enough fuel for heating during the winter, Vice Premier Han Zheng has warned, as quoted by Reuters. The northern region is notorious for its high levels of pollution but last year it also became notorious for natural gas shortages that left millions of households without heating during the peak of winter.In a bid to prevent a repeat, the authorities are now in a rush to secure fuel supplies, and not just gas but coal as well. Last year, the central government criticized the local authorities for retiring coal plants before ensuring there would be enough natural gas to provide heating for the region and applying a “one size fits all” approach to the fight against pollution.Yet neither local nor central authorities are giving up on that fight. This winter will be difficult for the industrial sector in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei, with the last member of the trio accounting for 25 percent of China’s total steel output. The government has already asked industrial producers to curb their activity ahead of winter to reduce the amount of particulate matter in the air if they haven’t already reduced their emissions by other means. The anti-pollution drive is paying off, too. Reuters reports that between January and September this year, the amount of particulate mater PM2.5 had fallen by a third from a year earlier thanks to the reduction in coal consumption and changes in industrial production practices.Natural gas is a big part of this transformation, including LNG. Last year, China became the world’s second-largest LNG importer, taking in some 38 million tons of the fuel, a 46-percent increase on 2016. Even so, some parts of the country suffered shortages because the gas could not reach them fast enough. As a result, China is now actively working on expanding its LNG storage capacity and pipeline network. It is also expanding its domestic natural gas production and storage capacity. In the past 10 years China’s natural gas consumption has risen fourfold to more than 25 billion cu ft daily. Now, companies are turning depleted gas fields into storage facilities as part of efforts to avoid a repeat of last winter’s shortage.

Exxon Mobil bets big on China LNG, sidesteps trade war (Reuters) - In the middle of a Sino-U.S. trade war, the world’s largest publicly traded oil and gas company is turning toward Beijing for business at a time when most of Corporate America is looking elsewhere to avoid the threat of tariffs. FILE PHOTO: The ExxonMobil Hides Gas Conditioning Plant process area is seen in Papua New Guinea in this handout photo dated March 1, 2018. ExxonMobil/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo Exxon Mobil Corp is placing big bets on China’s soaring liquefied natural gas (LNG) demand, coupling multi-billion dollar production projects around the world with its first mainland storage and distribution outlet. Its gas strategy is moving on two tracks: expanding output of the super-cooled gas in places such as Papua New Guinea and Mozambique, and creating demand for those supplies in China by opening Exxon’s first import and storage hub, according to an Exxon manager and people briefed on the company’s plans. That combination “will guarantee us a steady outlet for lots of our LNG for decades,” said the Exxon manager who was not authorized to discuss the project and spoke on condition of anonymity. One of the company’s top policy goals this year, the manager said, is building its Chinese client roster. “China’s natural gas demand is rising really fast, with imports soaring well over 10 percent annually at the moment because of the government gasification program and due to fast rising industrial demand, including in petrochemicals,” the Exxon manager said.   For a graphic, click tmsnrt.rs/2CwGQgT

Global LNG Demand to Outperform - Demand for LNG will post strong growth to 2027, outperforming the wider energy complex, according to oil and gas analysts at Fitch Solutions Macro Research. “Emerging Asia will dominate growth, led by China. Asian emerging markets have been driving demand, globally, for a number of years, offsetting weakened growth in Japan and South Korea and declines in both Western Europe and North America,” the analysts said in a report sent to Rigzone. “This trend is set to continue, but with regional buyers increasingly diversified,” the analysts added. Fitch Solutions Macro Research said China will see its share progressively diluted, in part due to a slowdown in its own LNG import growth. “Its share will also be driven lower by the number of new buyers entering the market. This includes Bangladesh, the Philippines, Myanmar and Vietnam, which, according to our data, will together add almost 40.0 billion cubic meters [1.4 trillion cubic feet] of LNG demand by 2027,” the analysts added. “We also hold a strongly bullish outlook on the region's other existing buyers - India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Thailand,” the analysts continued. Outside of Asia the outlook for emerging market demand is more clouded, according to Fitch Solutions Macro Research. “LNG demand growth in MENA [Middle East North Africa] will slow, dragged down by rising regional output. Latin America tells a similar story, with strong domestic gas demand offset by higher local output and rising competition from piped gas,” the analysts said. 

China Can’t Get Enough Of The World’s Cheapest Crude - Canada’s oil industry woes have been a topic of discussion in the media for some time now, what with the persistent delays in the Trans Mountain expansion, unyielding opposition to anything that involves pipelines, and the growing crude production from the oil sands. The latest news, however, is good news. Chinese refiners are buying growing amounts of Canadian crude, taking advantage of a substantial discount in its price to the U.S. benchmark, brought about by the above combination of factors. Earlier this month Bloomberg reported Chinese refiners were buying Canadian heavy that was trading at a discount of as much as US$50 to West Texas Intermediate. In a context of rising prices—all but Canadian crude, apparently—a $50-per-barrel discount is more than a good bargain. It’s an excellent bargain, especially for refiners who have just completed summer maintenance and plan to increase their imports on higher local fuel demand. China purchased 1.58 million barrels of heavy Canadian crude oil for loading in September, up by nearly 50 percent compared to the 1.05 million barrels it imported from Canada in April, Bloomberg said last week, quoting data by cargo-tracking and intelligence company Kpler. These imports are seen to continue rising this month as well, amid the height of construction season ahead of winter in China.This week, S&P Global Platts reported that Chinese companies had bought three cargoes of Canadian heavy crude, to load in Vancouver in November. More will follow: the huge discount of Western Canadian Select to WTI is not the only reason for this shift. The other reason has to do with supply. China’s two other main sources of heavy crude—Australia and Venezuela—are both going through a production decline albeit for different reasons.  While the Venezuela situation is clear and unchanged, Australian heavy crude production has been on the decline due to natural depletion, S&P Global Platts notes. In fact, Woodside, the operator of the field that produces one of its benchmark heavy grades, Enfield, plans to stop pumping oil at the field by the end of this year.

Iran Sends Record Amount Of Oil To China - Tankers carrying some 22 million barrels of Iranian crude are on their way to the Chinese port of Dalian, Reuters reports, citing ship-tracking data, and noting this is a record-high amount of crude from Iran to be received by Chinese clients amid falling imports to other large clients, such as Japan and South Korea.Both countries earlier this month said they had completely suspended their purchases of Iranian crude ahead of the U.S. sanctions, which will enter into effect on November 5.Dalian is a major oil hub in China and, Reuters notes, Iran has used storage facilities at the port to keep crude during the previous international round of sanctions against Tehran. The usual rate of Iranian crude oil cargoes going into China has been between 1 million and 3 million barrels monthly.  Reuters’ data confirms earlier reports from TankerTrackers.com, which repeatedly warned that Iran’s oil exports have not fallen by as much as official shipping data suggests: NIOC tankers began switching off their transponders to conceal their routes earlier this year.   The Financial Times’ David Sheppard cited the satellite imaging data from the independent tracker service in a recent story: according to it, Iran’s oil exports have not fallen by half since April’s 2.5 million bpd as most media report. In fact, he says, the data suggests they’d fallen by a modest amount and as of mid-October totaled over 2.2 million bpd.  China has never made a secret of its plans to continue buying Iranian crude despite attempts by Washington officials to persuade Chinese refiners to at least reduce their intake. At one point earlier this year, Beijing was said to have agreed not to increase the amount of Iranian crude it buys, but since then the trade row between China and the United States has deepened, casting a shadow over the likelihood of China sticking to its word.

Iran says oil exports, production holding up despite looming sanctions — Iran's oil exports have only declined "very slightly," while production has remained level, the managing director of National Iranian Oil Company said Tuesday. "We are very solid now" in terms of production outlook, Ali Kardor said at an oil and power conference in Tehran, though he conceded that this could change depending on how NIOC's sales volumes hold up. Iran faces the reimposition of US sanctions targeting its oil sales on November 5. Many buyers of Iranian crude are already ramping down their purchases ahead of the deadline. Oil exports from the country fell to their lowest level in at least two and a half years in September to 1.7 million b/d, from 1.92 million b/d in August, according to S&P Global Platts trade flow software cFlow, though some shipments not visible through vessel-tracking data are suspected to be taking place. About 1.5 million b/d of the September figure consisted of crude oil, while the remainder was condensate. Iran's crude production, meanwhile, dropped to 3.50 million b/d in September from 3.60 million b/d in August, the latest Platts OPEC production survey found. Iran, however, self-reported to OPEC that its September output was much higher at 3.76 million b/d, down from 3.81 million b/d in August. To get around the sanctions, Iran has reactivated its domestic exchange, or bourse, where private traders can buy Iranian crude to resell into the international market, rather than NIOC selling directly to refiners. NIOC aims to launch a sale of 1 million barrels on October 26. At the conference Tuesday, Kardor said the base price for the crude, which will be sold in 35,000 barrel lots, had been set at $79.15/b, pending market conditions. Many analysts doubt the bourse, last used four years ago when US and EU sanctions were in force, will be very successful, as any international buyers would still likely to be subject to US sanctions for dealing with Iranian entities. Iranian oil minister Bijan Zanganeh said the looming sanctions had impacted investment in Iran's oil industry, but he said Iran would try to find ways to finance technology and know-how through domestic markets to keep the oil flowing.

US 'confident energy markets will remain stable' after Iran sanctions: State Department official — The US is confident the oil market will have sufficient supply to avoid price spikes once sanctions on Iran's oil buyers snap back in three weeks, a top State Department official said Monday ahead of talks with EU officials. "We are confident that energy markets will remain stable," said Brian Hook, head of the State Department's Iran action group. "We are seeing a well-supplied and balanced oil market right now. We should focus on these fundamentals and not be distracted by the emotional and unbalanced claims coming from Tehran." "We are going to continue to coordinate very closely with oil producers," Hook said. "The US is doing its part to maintain supply." Hook said rising US crude exports are available to replace falling Iranian exports. Platts Analytics expects Iranian crude and condensate exports to fall to 1.1 million b/d by October loadings and to 800,000 b/d by Q4 2019, from 2.91 million b/d in April. Hook met Friday with Indian officials but declined to comment Monday on whether the countries had reached any deal for oil sanctions relief. India's oil minister said last week that two companies have made nominations to import Iranian oil in November despite the threat of sanctions.

Turkey's Tupras in talks with U.S. for Iran sanctions waiver: sources (Reuters) - Turkey’s top refiner, Tupras, is in talks with U.S. officials to obtain a waiver allowing it to keep buying Iranian oil after Washington reinstates sanctions on the Islamic Republic’s energy sector in November, industry sources said.   The United States is preparing to impose the new sanctions on Iran’s oil industry after Washington withdrew from a nuclear deal between Tehran and other global powers earlier this year, but is also considering offering waivers to some allies that rely on Iranian supplies. NATO member Turkey depends heavily on imports to meet its energy needs and neighboring Iran has been one of its main sources of oil because of its proximity, the quality of its crude, and favorable price differentials. Turkey has already made efforts to cut its purchases ahead of the U.S. sanctions, but would prefer to keep up some level of Iranian oil imports past November, an industry source familiar with the matter said. “They would like to be able to continue importing 3-4 cargoes a month, like they did during the previous sanctions round. But if the U.S. would tell them to stop, they will oblige and work towards achieving that,” the source said. A Tupras spokeswoman was not available for comment. Turkey’s Energy Ministry was not immediately available for comment. Turkey imported around 97,000 barrels per day of Iranian oil in August and 133,000 bpd in September, compared with just over 240,000 bpd in April, tanker tracking and shipping data showed. And in the first two weeks of October, Turkey has purchased three 1 million barrel-cargoes of Iranian oil - a level that would equate to about 97,000 bpd if it made no other purchases this month. 

60 Dead in Nigerian Pipeline Explosion - A fire that ignited at a Nigerian oil pipeline Friday has now claimed 60 lives, Reuters reported Monday.Officials gave a death toll of 16 on Friday, but a spokesperson for the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) updated that figure Monday.The fire broke out in southeast Nigeria near the city of Aba and was caused when vandals attempted to rob fuel from the pipeline, officials said."The incident occurred at about 1:30 a.m. Those burned are more than 30 with many others sustaining injuries," survivor Nnamdi Tochukwu told Al Jazeera Saturday.Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) spokesperson Ndu Ughamadu also blamed the fire on people attempting to steal fuel."I can't give the exact number of casualties for now, but the explosion was caused as a result of oil thieves who had hacked the line to intercept the flow of petrol from the Port Harcourt refinery to Aba," he told AFP, as Al Jazeera reported.Fires or explosions caused by pipeline robberies are a recurring problem in Nigeria, which is Africa's No. 1 oil producer and exporter. A 1998 pipeline explosion in the Niger Delta killed more than 1,000 and a 2006 fire at a vandalized pipeline killed about 269. Sometimes, the explosion occurs when villagers come to collect oil once the initial robbery has already taken place, increasing the death toll. This was the case with Friday's fire, NEMA coordinator Evans Ugoh told reporters, as Nigerian paper Vanguard reported."My team has visited the scene of the explosion and we discovered that victims of the incident took advantage of the pipeline leakage and were scooping the oil before fire caught on them," Ugoh said.

200 Dead In Nigeria Oil Pipeline Blast  -- The number of casualties after an oil product pipeline explosion in Nigeria has reached 200, local media report, as people from local communities have gathered to protest the negligence of the Nigerian national Petroleum Corporation, which, they said, was the reason for the explosion.  The pipeline exploded after it caught fire near the Aba Depot last week. NNPC at the time blamed the explosion on oil theft, which is still rampant in the Niger Delta despite many attempts by the government to put an end to the dangerous practice. The cause of the fire, the company said, could have been oil thieves trying to divert some of the fuel flowing along the pipeline from Port Harcourt to Aba.    Protesters, however, claim that NNPC’s negligence led to leaks in the pipeline and it was these leaks that caused the explosion. Some 2,000 young people from communities in proximity to the pipeline system gathered at the Aba Depot and barricaded its entrance with a coffin containing the remains of one of the victims of the blast, Nigeria’s Vanguard reported.The latest update from Reuters, however, puts the number of fatalities resulting from the pipeline blast at 60, as announced by the National Emergency Management Agency. Meanwhile, the System 2E pipeline system of which the exploded pipe is part, has been shut down, but will soon be up and running again.“We will resume the pumping of products very soon,” Reuters quoted an NNPC spokesman as saying. “We had put out the fire. We are now pumping water in the pipeline to detect other possible areas of leakages.”The System 2E network carries fuels from the two refineries in Port Harcourt to the southeastern and northern parts of Nigeria. The refineries, Reuters notes, have a capacity of 210,000 bpd but are operating at run rates that are a lot lower than this capacity.

Iraq presses customers for data in clamp down on Basra oil resales (Reuters) - Iraq’s state oil marketer SOMO is seeking data from its customers to see where their Basra crude cargoes were eventually consumed to catch buyers who may have flouted their purchase agreements, multiple industry sources said this week. Iraq, the second-largest producer among the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), currently restricts the delivery of its long-term crude sales to the buyers’ own refining system, the sources said. However, the company did not enforce the rule in past years to ease sales of its rising supply and to gain market share from other producers. Now, SOMO wants to stamp out the resales and divert some cargoes sold under the long-term contracts to its own trading business to maximize the profits from its oil sales, the sources said. The scrutiny on the Basra resales comes ahead of SOMO’s decision next month how much oil it will supply to its term buyers in 2019. Spot sales of Basra have slowed as traders await SOMO’s decision. Basra crude sold by equity producers is not subject to any destination restrictions and can be sold around the world, the sources said. The producers include BP Plc, Lukoil , Malaysia’s Petronas, and PetroChina . SOMO has confronted customers who have sold cargoes without seeking consent from the state marketing company, said one of the sources familiar with the matter. “It is a contractual obligation on customers not to re-sell the cargos without prior consent from SOMO,” he said. Iraq has said it plans to increase Basra crude exports from its southern ports to 4 million barrels per day (bpd) in the first quarter of 2019, up from the current record high of 3.62 million bpd. SOMO is expected to re-allocate some supplies to new partners such as China’s state-run Zhenhua Oil to boost trade volumes to the country, the world’s largest oil importer and Iraq’s biggest customer. “As for volumes for next year, if to Zhenhua or to any other company, it will be discussed and decided in November,” said the source familiar with the matter. In recent years, demand for long-term Basra crude has exceeded its supply, prompting SOMO to make changes to its annual allocations. While SOMO used to sign term agreements with trading companies, it now only has term deals with companies that own refineries, the sources said. 

Saudi Arabia assures OPEC there will be no crude shortage (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia has assured OPEC that it is “committed, capable and willing” to ensure there will be no shortage in the oil market, OPEC’s secretary-general said on Wednesday. Mohammed Sanusi Barkindo, the secretary general of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, was responding to a question on whether the cartel’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and global production of oil will be impacted by the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi - a prominent critic of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman - has been missing for more than two weeks after visiting the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. Turkish officials say they believe Khashoggi was murdered inside the consulate. The journalist’s disappearance has resulted in global pressure on Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter. U.S. lawmakers have blamed the Saudi leadership and many high profile guests have pulled out of a major Saudi Arabia investment conference in protest. Barkindo cited a speech by Saudi Arabia’s oil minister Khalip al-Falih at a conference in New Delhi on Monday, and said Saudi Arabia is ready to ensure that there is no oil shortage. “As OPEC, we remain focused on our common objectives,” Barkindo said. Saudi Arabia has “a healthy spare capacity to serve as a buffer against any emergency,” he added. 

Saudi Arabia Lifts West Coast Oil Export Capacity By 3 Million Bpd - Saudi Arabia has added 3 million bpd of oil export capacity to its West Coast on the Red Sea after the upgrade of Saudi Aramco’s Yanbu South Terminal, the state oil giant said on Wednesday.The Yanbu terminal in the port city on the Red Sea coast of western Saudi Arabia is now integrated with the existing crude oil supply network and adds 3 million barrels per day to Saudi Aramco’s export capacity through the West Coast, the company said.The increased export capacity from the Saudi West Coast comes as the Kingdom looks for routes other than the ones from its East Coast and via the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most important oil chokepoint, which Iran threatened earlier this year to close should the U.S. drive Iranian oil exports to zero.The Strait of Hormuz is the world’s most important chokepoint, with an oil flow of 18.5 million bpd in 2016, the EIA estimates. The Strait connects the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea and is the key route through which Persian Gulf exporters—Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, and Bahrain—ship their oil.Most of Saudi Arabia’s seaborne oil exports pass through the Strait of Hormuz, but an East-West pipeline in the Kingdom carries crude oil from the eastern oil fields to Yanbu, which lies north of another oil chokepoint around the Arabian Peninsula—Bab el Mandeb. The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is one of the three crucial chokepoints around the Arabian Peninsula. Located between Yemen, Djibouti, and Eritrea, Bab el-Mandeb connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea.Aramco also plans to launch the overhauled Muajjiz oil terminal on the Red Sea this year, which would increase the total Saudi loading and export capacity to 15 million bpd. While Saudi Arabia is raising its oil export capacities, it has recently started to vow that it will boost its oil production as well. Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said earlier this week that the Saudis are currently pumping 10.7 million bpd—very close to the all-time high of 10.72 million bpd—and would further increase that production in November.

Saudi-Kuwait Neutral Zone oil fields seen offline for a while on talks setback — Talks between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait over two shared oil fields have broken down after months of promise, shutting in some 500,000 b/d of anticipated oil production for the foreseeable future, sources close to the projects told S&P Global Platts. Workers involved in the Neutral Zone fields' restart are no longer optimistic that any resolution will occur, the sources said, as a recent meeting between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Kuwaiti Emir Sabah al-Ahmed failed to resolve issues of sovereignty over the long-contested area. "Dead as a doornail," a source said, of prospects for the fields' return, adding that the only hope may be through international arbitration. "It will not be easily fixed," another source said of the dispute. The stand-off looks set to cut off a source of crude that many market watchers were counting on to offset a looming supply squeeze as US sanctions hit Iran early next month. The offshore Khafji field, owned by Saudi Arabia's Aramco Gulf Operations Co. and Kuwait Gulf Oil Co, was shut down in October 2014 by Aramco, who cited new government emissions standards for gas flaring. The onshore Wafra field is operated by KGOC and Saudi Arabian Chevron. It was shuttered in May 2015, with Chevron saying it had encountered difficulties in securing work and equipment permits. Crude output in the two fields is shared equally between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and the two sides have been negotiating over their restart since early summer. As recently as September 23, Kuwaiti oil minister Bakheet al-Rashidi told reporters at an OPEC/non-OPEC monitoring committee meeting in Algiers that Neutral Zone production could resume as soon as January, eventually adding up to 400,000 b/d in supplies at full ramp-up. Saudi counterpart Khalid al-Falih said at the same meeting that the dispute over the fields, which he said had a combined capacity of 500,000 b/d, could be resolved "in the very near future." But a September 30 meeting between the Saudi crown prince, known as MBS, and Kuwait's Sheik Sabah, did not go well, sources said, with the Kuwaiti side insisting that Chevron, the only international oil company with a concession in the Neutral Zone, no longer operate the Wafra field.

Leaked Document: OPEC+ Struggling To Lift Oil Production - OPEC and its Russia-led non-OPEC allies are struggling to fully deliver on the oil production increase of 1 million bpd promised in June, Reuters reported on Friday, quoting an internal OPEC document that it has seen.OPEC and allies agreed in June to relax compliance rates with the cuts to 100 percent from the previous over-compliance. The respective leaders of the OPEC and non-OPEC nations part of the deal—Saudi Arabia and Russia—have been interpreting the eased compliance as adding a total of 1 million bpd to the market.The document that Reuters has seen, however, showed that the significant production increases in Saudi Arabia and Russia were offset by declines in Iran, Venezuela and Angola within OPEC, and by production drops in Mexico, Kazakhstan, and Malaysia from non-OPEC. Increasing production “is a work in progress,” OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo said this week. At an event in India he also reiterated OPEC’s position that “our current view is that the market is at the moment adequately supplied and well-balanced, though in a fragile state.”According to the internal OPEC document prepared for a technical panel meeting scheduled for Friday, OPEC—excluding Nigeria, Libya, and Congo—increased its combined production by 428,000 bpd in September compared to May. Saudi Arabia put the most extra barrels on the market and boosted its production by 524,000 bpd in September compared to May. Iraq, Kuwait, and the United Arab (UAE) also increased their production, according to the document seen by Reuters. However, Iran’s production slumped by 376,000 bpd in September from May, Venezuela’s output plunged by 189,000 bpd, and Angola saw its production drop by 17,000 bpd between May and September.

Is Saudi Arabia About To Enter The Arctic Gas Game? - Now that global oil markets have gotten used to Saudi-Russian oil production cooperation that first hit the scene in early 2017 in an effort to reign in global price concerns, it appears that the two fledgling allies are also going to cooperate in the liquefied natural gas (LNG) sector. And this time too, it looks as if the alliance could take aim at U.S. energy ambitions.  The kingdom’s media savvy energy minister Khalid Al-Falih said at the India Energy Forum in Delhi on Monday that Saudi state-owned Saudi Aramco is open to the idea of marketing some of the LNG from the proposed Russian Arctic LNG 2. “Aramco has the mandate to go global and not only invest in downstream but also invest in gas and LNG. We have looked at projects in Africa and the Mediterranean, and of course the Arctic with some Russian companies, Novatek. The idea is that Aramco will trade that [LNG] globally and bring some of that to India and other markets,” Al-Falih said. “We have looked at projects in Africa and the Mediterranean, and of course the Arctic with some Russian companies, Novatek,” he added. Arctic LNG 2 will be a mammoth facility and increase Russia’s gas ambitions for not only pipeline gas to Europe but to key LNG markets in Asia that account for over 70 percent of global LNG demand, with that demand growth projected to increase amid China’s ramped up natural gas usage. The project envisages the construction of three LNG trains at 6.6 million tons per annum (mtpa) each, or 535,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day. It is seen starting up sometime between 2022 or 2023. As far back as the beginning of the year, Saudi Arabia and Russia indicated that they could become LNG partners when Aramco and Novatek signed a MoU over possible cooperation in Arctic LNG 2.  Aramco is “seriously” studying investing in the planned Arctic LNG plant, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih told reporters in Riyadh on February 14 at a joint briefing with his Russian counterpart. Saudi King Salman is keen to strengthen energy ties between the two nations following their oil-cuts collaboration that helped drive crude’s recovery, according to Al-Falih.

Near Term Future of Saudi Oil Sector Examined  Verisk Maplecroft’s near term view of Saudi Arabia’s oil and gas industry is “cautiously optimistic,” according to Torbjorn Soltvedt, Verisk’s principal analyst for the Middle East and North Africa. “This owes a lot to the current oil price environment and more to Riyadh securing a highly favorable OPEC agreement in June,” Soltvedt told Rigzone. “The agreement will prove important domestically because it has given Saudi Arabia a great deal of flexibility to adjust output based on oil price movements and developments in Iran and Venezuela. We have already seen this in action; an initial ramp-up in production in June, followed by a cut in July,” Soltvedt added. The Verisk representative said the scaling back of “some of the more disruptive parts of Vision 2030” is also “welcome news” for Saudi Arabia’s oil and gas industry but warned that the broader political environment in Saudi Arabia “still demands caution.” “The recent recovery in oil prices has removed much of the immediate pressure on the ruling Al Saud dynasty,” Soltvedt said. “But Saudi Arabia is still facing perhaps the most challenging period in its 85-year history amid growing tensions with Iran, greater socioeconomic pressure and a shift away from the traditional rule-by-consensus approach within the Al Saud family,” he added. 

Oil prices ease as funds continue profit-taking: Kemp (Reuters) - Hedge fund managers have continued to take profits on their bullish positions in crude oil as the late summer rally has faded and fears about oil consumption and the state of the economy have replaced concerns over sanctions on Iran. Fund managers cut their combined net long position in the six most important petroleum futures and options contracts by 36 million barrels in the week to Oct. 9 after trimming it by 19 million barrels the week before. Liquidation was concentrated in Brent (-6 million barrels) and WTI (-37 million), while fund managers left positions unchanged in U.S. heating oil and added them in U.S. gasoline (+2 million) and European gasoil (+6 million). Net positions in Brent and WTI have been cut by a total of 71 million barrels over the last two weeks after being raised by 177 million during the five previous weeks (https://tmsnrt.rs/2OtbNcn ). The earlier bullishness was driven mostly by concerns about a possible shortage of crude oil once U.S. sanctions on Iran go into effect from early November. But in recent weeks Saudi Arabia, Russia and some other oil producers have pledged to boost their oil output to make up for any shortfall and stop prices spiralling higher. More importantly, and possibly in response to the surge in oil prices, the U.S. government has indicated it may show some flexibility to allow refiners to continue purchasing some Iranian oil. Portfolio managers remain relatively bullish on Brent, with net length of 476 million barrels, reflecting lingering concerns about the impact of sanctions on the availability of seaborne crude as well as the strength in global consumption. 

Al Arabiya op-ed warns of oil spike and 'economic disaster' if US sanctions Saudi Arabia -Oil prices could surge to all-time highs if the U.S. imposes economic sanctions against Saudi Arabia, according to an opinion piece written by the general manager of Saudi Arabia-based Al Arabiya television.The warning from Al Arabiya's Turki Aldakhil comes amid heightened tensions between Saudi Arabia and the West, after journalist Jamal Khashoggi — a U.S. resident and prominent critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.Turkish authorities claim Khashoggi was murdered and his body removed. Saudi Arabia has fiercely denied that."If U.S. sanctions are imposed on Saudi Arabia, we will be facing an economic disaster that would rock the entire world," Aldakhil wrote on Sunday."It would lead to Saudi Arabia's failure to commit to producing 7.5 million barrels. If the price of oil reaching $80 angered President Trump, no one should rule out the price jumping to $100, or $200, or even double that figure."International benchmark Brent crude traded at around $81.43 Monday morning, up around 1.2 percent, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $72.12, slightly more than 1 percent higher.Energy watchers are closely monitoring Brent, which has pulled back from recent multiyear highs but remains firmly established above $80 a barrel.So far this year, the price of oil has surged more than 25 percent, prompting some investors to bet that areturn to triple-digits could be just around the corner. Meanwhile, the U.S. is banking on Saudi Arabia to curtail soaring energy prices and help offset lost Iranian oil supply. But, in theory, an escalation of tensions in the Middle East could send prices sharply higher.

Oil Jumps After Saudi Official Floats Trial Balloon Op-Ed Envisioning Oil Weapon Devastation -- WTI Crude prices are up around 2% in the early Sunday trading  after Saudi Arabia appears to be now attempting to go on the offensive and is lashing out as it does damage control in the aftermath of journalist Jamal Khashoggi's alleged murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul nearly two weeks ago. What likely sparked the risk premium was the fact that Turki Al Dakhil, who heads the Saudi state-owned Arabiya news network, wrote in an article that U.S. sanctions against Saudi Arabia could wreak havoc on the global economy by taking oil prices to $200 a barrel and more. Faisal bin Farhan, a senior adviser to the Saudi embassy in Washington, said on Twitter that these comments didn’t represent the Saudi leadership. “The most powerful weapon Saudi has is oil and its investments,” said Fawaz Gerges, a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics. “ I doubt Saudi will decrease the production of oil to the world economy because it will hurt itself and I doubt that Saudi will withdraw its investments.” And the reaction to the threat - though modest for now - will not please President Trump

The case of the missing Saudi journalist is creating major worries around the oil  -As Saudi Arabia pushes back against international pressure that it played a role in the disappearance of a prominent journalist, analysts are warning there could be fallout for global oil markets. Relations between the kingdom and the some parts of the international community have deteriorated rapidly after Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist who resided in the U.S., disappeared early this month after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkey reportedly believes the Washington Post journalist and critic of the Saudi administration was deliberately killed inside the building and his body removed. Riyadh has dismissed the claims. The stock market in Saudi Arabia plunged on Sunday, and analysts believe oil could be the next to be affected. Robert Carnell, chief economist head of research at ING, said the incident "opens a new source of risk." "Any Saudi retaliation will presumably mainly come through reduced oil supply and higher prices. That won't help market sentiment," he wrote in a note on Monday. Oil prices rose on Monday afternoon during Asian trade, with Brent crude jumping 1.29 percent to $81.47 per barrel, and U.S. crude futures rising 1.14 percent to $72.15 a barrel. U.S. President Donald Trump said on Saturday there would be "severe punishment" for Saudi Arabia if it turned out that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate. But the Middle Eastern country said on Sunday it would retaliate to possible economic sanctions taken by other states over the case, the state news agency SPA reported, quoting an official source.

Why the market is suddenly concerned Saudi Arabia will weaponize oil in Khashoggi dispute -- The oil market is on edge after Saudi Arabia issued a combative statement that some are interpreting as a veiled threat to wield crude as a weapon in the ongoing scandal over missing dissident Jamal Khashoggi. The question is whether Saudi Arabia — the world's largest oil exporter, a close ally of President Donald Trump and the de facto leader of OPEC — would take that extraordinary step, one it has not taken since the Arab oil embargo of 1973-1974. To be sure, the current leadership in Riyadh is facing unprecedented scrutiny over allegations that the kingdom ordered the abduction of Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist. Turkey says it believes that Saudi agents detained and killed Khashoggi at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul. Saudi Arabia denies those claims.The scandal has caused businesses, influential individuals and media companies to drop out of this month's Future Investment Initiative, a conference in Riyadh meant to attract investment in the kingdom. The United States and European nations have threatened punishment if Saudi Arabia is found to be behind Khashoggi's alleged murder.That has caused Saudi Arabia to react forcefully. Here's why Riyadh's response is roiling the oil market.In interview excerpts released Saturday, Trump told the CBS program "60 Minutes" that the kingdom would face "severe punishment" if the allegations against it turn out to be true. This came after U.S. lawmakers raised the prospect of applying sanctions against Saudi individuals meant to punish human rights abuses.The following morning, the Saudi Press Agency issued a statement saying Riyadh rejects all threats of economic sanctions, political pressure and false accusations, adding that it will respond to any action with "greater action." What caught the eye of many oil market watchers was a reminder in the statement that "the Kingdom's economy has an influential and vital role in the global economy." Some took that as a veiled threat that Saudi Arabia could withhold supply and let oil prices rise.

Oil weapon has proved a double-edged sword- Kemp - (Reuters) - The oil shocks of 1973/74 and 1979/80 are now mainly remembered for the disruption and hardship they caused in the major oil-consuming countries. But they marked a lasting inflection point in the development of the oil market and almost all the changes were adverse to OPEC in the long run. Following the oil shocks, global oil consumption grew more slowly while non-OPEC production rose more rapidly. Members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries initially benefited from a gusher of windfall revenues, but in the long term the oil shocks were disastrous. OPEC's market share fell and its members were left with excess production capacity that remained a problem until the 2000s. OPEC’s responsibility for the shocks remains debatable: the market was on an unsustainable trajectory before 1973 as low prices boosted consumption without encouraging a similar increase in non-OPEC output. But the events of the 1970s and 1980s demonstrate clearly why oil cannot be employed as a weapon without doing long-lasting damage to the interests of the producer countries. OPEC members have never again resorted to the oil weapon - not out of goodwill to consumers but because it did not work and did long-term harm to their own economies. More generally, the oil shocks demonstrate why very high prices are damaging to the interests of OPEC countries, a lesson that was painfully re-learned when prices collapsed in 2014. OPEC members were the biggest losers from the oil shocks of the 1970s as surging prices accelerated the development of alternative sources of supply (https://tmsnrt.rs/2J1jPmI). In real terms, oil prices quintupled from $11 per barrel in 1970 to $58 in 1974 and then almost doubled again to $110 in 1980 (“Statistical review of world energy”, BP, 2018). In nominal terms, OPEC members’ export revenues jumped from $14 billion in 1970 to $116 billion in 1974 and $265 billion in 1980 (“Annual statistical bulletin”, OPEC, 2018). But revenues fell to just $72 billion in 1985 and did not pass their previous peak until 2004, even in nominal terms.  OPEC's own share of production, which had been increasing and peaked at 52 percent in 1973, fell to just 28 percent by 1985.

Oil prices rise amid Saudi tensions, but demand outlook drags -- Oil prices rose on Monday as tension over the disappearance of a prominent Saudi journalist stoked supply worries, balancing concerns over the long-term demand outlook.  Crude markets were also supported in the wake of data that showed South Korea did not import any oil from Iran in September for the first time in six years, before U.S. sanctions against the Middle Eastern country take effect in November. Brent crude were up 25 cents at $80.68 a barrel by 2:28 p.m. ET. U.S. crude futures ended Monday's session up 44 cents to $71.78 a barrel. Last week, both contracts fell by more than 4 percent as U.S. stock markets tumbled. Rising geopolitical tension between the U.S., the world's top oil consumer, and Saudi Arabia, one of the biggest oil producers supported prices on Monday. Riyadh has been under pressure since journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the kingdom and a U.S. resident, disappeared on Oct. 2 after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. U.S. President Donald Trump threatened "severe punishment" if it is found that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate.Saudi Arabia said it would retaliate to any action against it over the Khashoggi case, state news agency SPA reported on Sunday, quoting an official source. This comes at a critical time for global oil markets, which are bracing for U.S. sanctions against Iran due to come into force Nov. 4. The United States is still aiming to cut Iran's oil sales to zero, Washington's special envoy for Iran said on Monday.

 Oil Ends Up In Volatile Trade Amid Saudi Tensions, Global Macro Fear - - Oil prices settled higher on Monday in volatile trade after the disappearance of a prominent Saudi journalist caused a spike in geopolitical tensions and sent crude markets soaring before global macro uncertainties cut gains. Crude oil WTI futures settled up 44 cents at $71.78 per barrel. U.K. Brent oil futures, its global peer, were up 18 cents at $80.61 by 3:26 PM ET (19:26 GMT). Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post and a Saudi royal insider-turned-critic entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct. 2 and has not been seen since. Tensions in the Middle East typically drive crude prices up. The Khashoggi matter has reignited diplomatic wrangling between Saudi Arabia and Turkey that followed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s labeling of Ankara in March as part of a “triangle of evil” alongside Iran and Islamic extremists. In the latest spat, Turkish sources say they have recordings to prove Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered, but haven’t made those public. Saudi authorities say Khashoggi left the consulate after his visit, but haven’t provided evidence either. The fallout from the Khashoggi matter has widened to affect a business conference in Riyadh later this month, dubbed “Davos in the desert” where some notable attendees, including World Bank head Jim Kim, have pulled out. President Donald Trump has weighed in, saying Saudi King Salman had denied knowledge about Khashoggi’s whereabouts in a phone call but that the White House has ordered Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to "immediately get on a plane" to Saudi Arabia. After oil’s initial spike over the crisis, traders turned their attention to global economic uncertainties, and crude prices gave back much of their early gains. Since last week, a wobbly Wall Street, soaring U.S. Treasury yields and Federal Reserve plans for higher interest rates through 2020 have led to risk aversion.

Oil prices rise on signs of falling Iranian oil exports -- Oil prices fell on Tuesday following evidence of higher U.S. oil production and increasing U.S. crude inventories, but reports of a fall in Iranian oil exports helped to limit losses. Brent crude was down 33 cents a barrel at $80.45 by 10:39 a.m. ET (1439 GMT). U.S. light crude was 29 cents lower at $71.49. "Shale oil production continues unabated in the United States," said Carsten Fritsch, commodities analyst at Commerzbank. "Rising U.S. oil production is one key reason why the global oil market is likely to be amply supplied next year."Oil production from seven major U.S. shale basins is expected to rise by 98,000 barrels per day (bpd) in November to a record of 7.71 million bpd, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said.The largest change is forecast in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico, where output is expected to climb by 53,000 bpd to a new peak of 3.55 million bpd.U.S. oil production has increased steadily over the last five years, reaching a record high of 11.2 million bpd in the week to Oct. 5. But infrastructure has not kept pace with rising output, filling domestic tanks."Once pipelines and oil terminals are built connecting the Permian to the U.S. Gulf Coast, then there will be a big step up in U.S. crude oil exports," Harry Tchilinguirian, oil strategist at French bank BNP Paribas told Reuters Global Oil Forum. U.S. crude stockpiles are expected to have risen last week for the fourth straight week, by about 1.1 million barrels, according to a Reuters poll ahead of reports from the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Oil Prices Under Pressure As US Shale Supply Soars - Ongoing production gains in the U.S. are putting some downward pressure on oil prices. The EIA said that it expects large gains from the shale patch next month (more below).  Saudi Arabia shocked the oil world by seeming to threaten to engineer a price spike if the U.S. took action against Riyadh over the apparent murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. However, President Trump does not appear interested in taking action over the incident, taking Saudi assurances at face value. Sec. of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Riyadh to meet with the Saudi king, and all signs suggest that both sides are eager to put the issue behind them. Iran’s oil minister Bijan Zanganeh said that the U.S. won’t bring global oil prices down by “bullying” other nations. “The oil market is suffering from short supply and this cannot be resolved by words. Trump thinks he can bring the oil prices down by bullying,” Zanganeh said. He added that the rise of oil prices was a “self-inflicted pain” caused by U.S. sanctions and that the U.S. “has done most of the things it could do, and there is not much left to do against Iran.” In the first two weeks of October, Iran’s oil exports averaged 1.3 million barrels per day (mb/d), down sharply from the 1.6 mb/d it averaged in October, and down from the recent peak of 2.5 mb/d in April. Sanctions on Iran take effect on November 4, and most analysts see exports falling further over the next few weeks.  Bloomberg reported on the signs that the Permian basin is overheating, including high costs for frac sand, six-figure salaries for truck drivers, and clogged roads from truck traffic make West Texas one of the deadliest places to drive in the country. Output is still growing, but pipeline bottlenecks have cut the monthly growth rate down by three-quarters. Schlumberger has warned producers that drilling wells too closely together has led to lower productivity, raising the prospect that drilling efficiencies are bumping up against their limits.   The latest Drilling Productivity Report from the EIA shows strong gains expected for next month. The EIA predicts the U.S. will add 98,000 bpd in November compared to a month earlier. Unsurprisingly, the Permian leads the way with 53,000 bpd in growth, followed by the Eagle Ford (+15,000 bpd), the Bakken (+13,000 bpd) and smaller contributions from the Anadarko, Appalachia and Niobrara.

Oil up; Iran, Saudi supply worries offset U.S. supply growth  (Reuters) - Oil prices edged up in cautious trade on Tuesday as expectations of higher U.S. shale output and inventories vied with worries that crude supply from the Middle East could be disrupted by looming U.S. sanctions on Iran and growing tensions with top exporter Saudi Arabia. U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham accused Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of ordering the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and said the prince was jeopardizing relations with the United States. U.S. President Donald Trump said the Saudi crown prince intends to expand an investigation into the disappearance of Khashoggi and that the prince did not know what happened in the Turkish consulate where Khashoggi apparently disappeared. “The focus within the oil trade during the next couple of weeks is likely to be on Iran and Saudi Arabia,” “We don’t expect the Kingdom to be as accommodative to the White House requests for stronger production,” he said, adding that the Saudis could cut as much as 500,000 barrels per day of production “as a warning shot should the U.S. opt to impose any type of sanction in response to the Khashoggi developments.” Trump has urged the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to raise output to help cover a shortfall due to new U.S. sanctions on Iran. The market has been supported by reports that Iranian crude exports may be falling faster than expected ahead the Nov. 4 deadline on sanctions. Brent crude rose 63 cents, or 0.8 percent, to settle at $81.41 a barrel, while West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude ended the session up 14 cents at $71.92 a barrel. Last week, oil prices slumped as global stock markets fell, but a recovery in financial markets, boosted by earnings growth helped provide support to oil prices on Tuesday, traders said. 

WTI Jumps Above $72 After Surprise Crude Draw - Against expectations of a 2.5mm barrel build, API reported Crude stocks drewdown in the latest week by 2.13mm barrels, sparking a kneejerk gain in WTI crude back above $72...API

  • Crude -2.13mm (+2.5mm exp)
  • Cushing +1.5mm
  • Gasoline -3.4mm
  • Distillates -246k

After 3 weeks of crude builds, API reported a draw in the latest week...  And WTI spiked back above $72 on the headline crude draw...

Oil Rises After Industry Reports Surprise US Crude Stock Draw - -- Oil popped higher after an industry report showed an unexpected decline in U.S. crude inventories. Futures rose from the settlement in New York on Tuesday after the industry-funded American Petroleum Institute was said to report U.S. crude inventories dipped 2.13 million barrels last week. That would be the first decline in four weeks if Energy Information Administration data confirms it on Wednesday. Hurricane Michael shut in production in the Gulf of Mexico during the reporting period, which may contribute to the inventory decline. “Hurricane Michael is the deciding factor on why inventories didn’t continue to climb,” said Thomas Finlon, director of Energy Analytics Group Ltd. in Wellington, Florida. The loss of production “doesn’t all come back at once. It gradually comes back on.” Oil markets were roiled in recent days as the mystery over the disappearance of prominent Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi deepened, drawing tit-for-tat threats of punitive action by the U.S. and the Saudi regime. On Monday, media reports emerged that said the kingdom was considering saying Khashoggi perished in a botched interrogation inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. West Texas Intermediate for November delivery traded at $72.21 a barrel at 4:43 p.m. in New York after ending the session at $71.92 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Total volume traded Tuesday was about 11 percent below the 100-day average. Brent for December settlement rose 63 cents to close at $81.41 on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. The global benchmark crude traded at a $9.65 premium to WTI for the same month. The API was also said to report that inventories at the key pipeline hub in Cushing, Oklahoma, rose by 1.53 million barrels last week. Gasoline and distillate supplies both fell, according to the data. A Cushing increase would be the fourth consecutive one if EIA data confirms it. 

Oil prices steady as industry data shows unexpected drop in inventories - Oil pries held gains after an industry report showed an unexpected drop in American crude stockpiles, while traders continued to assess simmering tensions between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia over a missing journalist. Futures in New York rose as much as 0.7 percent, advancing for a fourth day. The American Petroleum Institute was said to report inventories fell 2.13 million barrels last week, in contrast to forecasts for a gain in a Bloomberg survey before government data Wednesday. Meanwhile, Donald Trump said in a tweet that the Saudi crown prince “totally denied any knowledge” of what happened to dissident Jamal Khashoggi, as the U.S. president faces rising pressure to act against the regime. Crude has increased about 20 percent this year as concerns linger that demand may outstrip supply with American sanctions on Iran set to be implemented early next month. While the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies say they remain committed to boosting production, questions remain over their spare capacity. Meanwhile, geopolitical tensions continue to hound sentiment, with the trade war ongoing between the U.S. and China. “Prices are rising today as the unexpected decline in U.S. inventory data comes at a time when tensions between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are boiling,” according to Stephen Innes, Singapore-based head of trading for Asia Pacific at Oanda Corp. “I’m looking for more disruptions in the Middle East with the tensions. I’m still bullish until data proves me wrong on the supply front” after the start of sanctions on Iranian oil. West Texas Intermediate for November delivery traded 11 cents higher at $72.03 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange at 11:04 a.m. in Singapore. The contract is on course to rise for a fourth day, the longest winning streak in almost two months. Total volume traded was about 25 percent below the 100-day average. Brent for December settlement rose as much as 38 cents to $81.79 on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange, and traded at $81.51. The global benchmark crude was at a $9.61 premium to WTI for the same month. In the U.S., a drop in crude inventories as signaled by the API data would be the first decline in four weeks. Analysts in a Bloomberg survey forecast government data to show a 2.5-million-barrel gain. Meanwhile, stockpiles in the nation’s storage hub of Cushing, Oklahoma, climbed by 1.5 million barrels, according to the API, which would be the fourth consecutive increase if confirmed by the Energy Information Administration’s data Wednesday

Iran says Trump cannot bring oil prices down by 'bullying' (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump cannot bring oil prices down by “bullying” other nations, Iran’s oil minister said on Tuesday, adding that the market was suffering from short supply. U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil exports are due to kick in on Nov. 4. The U.S. administration has been pushing its allies to cut Iranian oil imports and encouraging Saudi Arabia, other OPEC states and Russia to pump more oil to meet any shortfall. “The oil market is suffering from short supply and this cannot be resolved by words. Trump thinks he can bring the oil prices down by bullying,” Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said, according to the semi-official news agency ILNA. Benchmark Brent crude has been trading above $80 a barrel LCOc1. Zanganeh said the rise of oil prices was a “self-inflicted pain” caused by U.S. sanctions against Iranian energy exports, and could be resolved by lifting the measures. “Everyone is worried and Trump has failed to reassure them. That’s why the market is in turmoil,” he said. Zanganeh also said the United States “has done most of the things it could do, and there is not much left to do against Iran,” according to comments reported by Iran’s ISNA agency. Washington said this month it would consider waivers for Iranian oil buyers such as India, although it said they would eventually have to halt imports from Iran, the third biggest oil producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. 

Why the market should expect Saudi Arabia to send oil prices lower over journalist's disappearance --Saudi Arabia could soon take action to push oil prices lower, one analyst told CNBC Tuesday, as part of a "settlement" plan to alleviate diplomatic tensions with the U.S.It comes at a time of international outcry after journalist Jamal Khashoggi — a U.S. resident and prominent critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.Turkish authorities claim Khashoggi was murdered and his body removed. Saudi Arabia vehemently denies that."My guess is the quid quo pro is likely going to be that the Saudi's end up pumping as aggressively as they can. And so, all things being equal, I think this is probably negative for the oil price," Michael Harris, founder of Cribstone Strategic Macro, told CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe" on Tuesday.Harris said rising diplomatic tensions between Saudi Arabia and the West could ultimately become "hugely problematic" if it triggered oil prices to spiral out of control. That's because investors would then need to worry about Riyadh's leverage in the energy market."But I think the exact opposite is going to be happening. The Saudi guilt is going to play into the oil price," he said. International benchmark Brent crude traded at around $80.20 Tuesday morning, down around 0.7 percent, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $77.23, almost 0.8 percent lower.U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in Saudi Arabia to meet King Salman Tuesday morning, amid mounting pressure on the kingdom to explain the fate of Khashoggi.President Donald Trump has threatened "severe punishment" if it is found Khashoggi was killed in the Turkish consulate, prompting Saudi Arabia's state news agency to respond by saying it would retaliate against any economic sanctions. Escalating diplomatic tensions between the strategic allies has prompted speculation among oil traders that Riyadh could be tempted to weaponize its oil dominance.

WTI Plunges Below $70 To 1-Month Lows After Bigger-Than-Expected Crude Build - WTI extended losses this morning after a brief bounce on API's unexpected crude draw, pushing down to one-month lows below a $70 handle after DOE reported an unexpectedly large crude build.  DOE:

  • Crude +6.49mm (+2.5mm exp)
  • Cushing +1.78mm
  • Gasoline -2.016mm (+600k exp)
  • Distillates -827k

This is the 4th weekly build for crude (and Cushing stocks) in a row...  Bloomberg Intelligence Energy Analyst Fernando Valle notes that gasoline margins will remain challenged as demand wanes after summer driving season.  WTI traded with a $70 handle ahead of the DOE data - at the low end of the last week's range - and then legged down on DOE's big crude build...losing the $70 handleHowever, not everyone agrees with the market's direction:  “Our basic premise is that prices will move higher,” said Harry Tchilinguirian, head of commodity-markets strategy at BNP Paribas SA in London. “As Iran’s supply losses are fully realized and Venezuela suffers continuous decline, global spare production capacity will ebb and -- against a backdrop of average inventories -- the market will become more sensitive to adverse supply shocks.” Meanwhile, WTI Midland’s discount to WTI at Cushing narrowed to $4.50/bbl on Tuesday, smallest since June 21...

Oil prices sink as US crude stockpiles rise by 6.5 million barrels - Oil prices extended losses on Wednesday after U.S. inventory data showed a much larger than expected rise in U.S. crude stockpiles. U.S. commercial crude stockpiles rose by 6.5 million barrels in the week to Oct. 12, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported. A Reuters survey of eight analysts estimated crude stocks rose by about 2.2 million barrels last week. Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub rose by 1.8 million barrels, EIA said.Brent crude was down $1.77, or 2.2 percent, at $79.64 a barrel by 10:41 a.m. ET (1441 GMT), after gaining $1.15 in the previous three sessions. The global benchmark, which hit a two-week low last week as equity markets dropped, is trading around $6 below a four-year high of $86.74 reached on Oct. 3.U.S. light crude oil fell $1.99, or 2.8 percent, at $69.93.Gasoline stocks fell by 2 million barrels, compared with analysts' expectations in a Reuters poll for a 1.1 million-barrel drop. Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, fell by 827,000 barrels, versus expectations for a 1.3 million-barrel drop, the EIA data showed.Also underpinning sentiment is the scandal over the disappearance of prominent Saudi critic and journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who disappeared two weeks ago after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.U.S. President Donald Trump gave Saudi Arabia the benefit of the doubt in the case even as U.S. lawmakers pointed the finger at the Saudi leadership and Western pressure mounted on Riyadh to provide answers. Saudi Arabia has said it will conduct an investigation into the disappearance, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said before departing the kingdom for Turkey.

Large Crude Build Forces Oil Prices Lower - A day after the oversensitive oil market yet again demonstrated surprise at API’s estimate of a 2.13-million-barrel crude oil inventory draw, the Energy Information Administration’s official figures refuted that: the authority reported an increase in U.S. commercial crude oil inventories of 6.5 million barrels for the week ending October 12. EIA’s report comes amid relatively stable prices as the tension between Saudi Arabia and the Untied States prompted by the suspicious disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was countered by oil demand forecasts from OPEC and the International Energy Agency.Both the oil producers’ cartel and the international authority this week had bad news for oil bulls, forecasting demand growth will slow down both this year and in 2019. Although in his comment on the news Bloomberg’s Julian Lee said that this does not necessarily mean oil prices will follow down, it was reason enough for Brent and WTI to stop rising so fast. The EIA said refineries processed 16.3 million bpd of crude last week, compared with 16.2 million bpd a week earlier. They churned out 10.4 million bpd of gasoline, versus 9.7 million bpd a week earlier, and 4.8 million bpd of distillate, down from 5 million bpd in the prior week.  At the time of writing, Brent crude was trading at US$81.55 a barrel, with WTI at US$72.12, both up from yesterday’s close slightly. Prospects remain mixed. Just yesterday Goldman Sachs warned of an oil surplus on the global market, to emerge in 2019 because of higher utilization of spare capacity. This, the investment bank’s commodity analysts said, would offset the loss of Iranian crude after the November sanctions enter into effect and swing the market into an excess of supply. What’s more, Saudi Arabia’s warning it will retaliate if the United States decides to punish it for Khashoggi’s disappearance, seems to have lost whatever substance it had when it was made on Sunday. As Reuters’ John Kemp noted, “self-interest makes it improbable the government will retaliate by reducing oil sales or trying to drive up prices,” which has reduced the upward potential for oil for the time being.

OPEC daily basket price stood at US$79.50 barrel Wednesday - The price of OPEC basket of fifteen crudes stood at US$79.50 a barrel on Wednesday, 17th October, 2018, compared with $79.02 the previous day, according to OPEC Secretariat calculations. The fourteen crudes, from separate OPEC member countries, includes a mix of blends and light and heavy crudes, including the UAE’s Murban.

Don't mention the oil price - U.S. legal threat prompts change at OPEC (Reuters) - OPEC has urged its members not to mention oil prices when discussing policy in a break from the past, as the oil producing group seeks to avoid the risk of U.S. legal action for manipulating the market, sources close to OPEC said. Proposed U.S. legislation known as “NOPEC”, which could open the group up to anti-trust lawsuits, has long lain dormant, with previous American presidents signaling that they would veto any move to make it law. But U.S. President Donald Trump has been a vocal critic of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, blaming it for high oil prices and urging it to increase output to relieve pressure on a market hovering around four-year highs. That has made OPEC and its unofficial leader, Saudi Arabia, nervous about what it might mean for NOPEC, or No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act. The decision to refrain from discussing a preferred oil price level — one way the group can guide market expectations — underlines how Trump’s aggressive stance on the oil market is unsettling OPEC and testing ties between allies Riyadh and Washington. In July, senior OPEC officials attended a workshop in Vienna with international law firm White & Case to discuss the NOPEC bill, and the lawyers advised avoiding public discussion of oil prices and rather talk about the stability of the oil market, two sources familiar with the matter said. OPEC officials were also advised to explore diplomatic lobbying channels to try and prevent the NOPEC bill from becoming law, one of the sources said. On Aug. 1, the OPEC secretariat sent a letter to the ministers making a similar recommendation. “We solemnly believe that market stability, and not prices, is the common objective of our actions,” UAE Energy Minister Suhail al-Mazroui, who holds the rotating OPEC presidency this year, wrote in the letter, seen by Reuters. “I would like to call upon OPEC Member Countries, as well as our participating Non-OPEC colleagues, to refrain from any reference to prices in their commentary about our collective efforts or oil market condition,” he added. 

OPEC has 'no price objective' in its decisions: Barkindo  - CNBC interview - Mohammad Barkindo of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries says there is a "perception" of "increasing tightness" in the oil market due largely to factors such as geopolitics.

Putin Hints At New Russia-Saudi Axis- No Reason To Spoil Saudi Ties Over Khashoggi Killing - Russian President Vladimir Putin finally weighed in on the disappearance (and purportedly brutal slaying) of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi during a speech in Sochi on Thursday. His verdict? Russia doesn't have enough information about the incident to justify spoiling their relationship with Saudi Arabia (and, by extension, the rest of OPEC, which has mostly backed Saudi Arabia during the burgeoning diplomatic crisis), according to Reuters. Putin's take is hardly surprising: Russia's work with OPEC, which created a new Russia-Saudi axis to help manage global oil production and push up prices, has helped revive the Russian economy (while angering President Trump). Of course, Russia would be overjoyed to step in to any void left by the US if lawmakers force a rupture in the US-Saudi relationship, as evidenced by the recent agreement to sell Russian S-400 missiles to the Saudis. Two weeks ago, Putin criticized the US and its sanctions against Russia, Iran and others, saying the US was "making a colossal mistake" and risked undermining the dollar in its role as the global reserve currency.   The IMF now believes Russian GDP will grow by 1.8% next year, up from a previous report published in July, which projected Russia's GDP growth at 1.7% in 2019, with growth supported by stronger domestic demand and higher fuel prices.

Oil prices ease as supply outlook improves: Kemp(Reuters) - Oil prices and calendar spreads have softened significantly this month as traders became more confident about the availability of supplies towards the end of the year and into early 2019. Iran's exports have not declined as much as predicted a couple of months ago and it is now clear they will not fall to zero, even after U.S. sanctions are re-imposed next month. Refiners in Turkey, India and possibly China are reportedly negotiating with U.S. officials over waivers to enable them to continue purchasing at least some Iranian oil after Nov. 4. At the same time, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf producers have boosted their exports in response to the earlier rise in prices and pressure from the United States to cool the market. Traders, meanwhile, have become more cautious about the consumption outlook for the rest of 2018/19, with most indicators pointing to a loss of economic momentum outside the United States. As a result, most major forecasters are now predicting a significant acceleration in non-OPEC oil supplies in 2019 as well as slower growth in consumption, shifting the outlook from one of continuing deficits back towards a surplus. In part, the improved supply picture has come about because the surge in oil prices during August and September forced both the White House and Saudi Arabia to adapt their positions. The United States has softened its insistence on forcing Iran's exports towards zero, while Saudi Arabia has ramped up its own exports in October and November to alleviate fears about a possible shortage. In effect, the oil market found the pain threshold for the U.S. administration, which lies at around $80 per barrel for Brent, and pushed prices high enough to enforce a partial course correction from policymakers.  

Oil slips below $80 on rising US stockpiles - Oil fell $1 a barrel to below $80 on Thursday as the fourth weekly increase in U.S. crude inventories suggested ample supply, while Saudi-U.S. tension and falling Iranian exports lent support.Brent crude, the global benchmark, was down $1.25, or 1.6 percent, at $78.80 a barrel at 8:45 a.m. ET (1245 GMT). It has dropped by about $8 from a high of $86.74 reached on Oct. 3.U.S. crude was down $1.01, or 1.5 percent, at $68.74, after falling 3 percent in the previous session to settle below $70 for the first time in a month.U.S. crude inventories rose 6.5 million barrels last week, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday, the fourth straight weekly increase and almost three times what analysts had forecast.Inventories rose sharply even as U.S. crude production slipped 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 10.9 million bpd last week due to the effects of offshore facilities closing temporarily for Hurricane Michael."Stocks are building," said Olivier Jakob, oil analyst at Petromatrix. "It's a continuous trend. Week after week, it does start to add up."Oil prices had been rising this week on concern about a decline in Iranian exports due to U.S. sanctions and tension between the United States and Saudi Arabia after the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.U.S. lawmakers pointed the finger at the Saudi leadership over the disappearance of the Saudi critic, suggesting sanctions could be possible. Saudi Arabia denies that it had any role in Khashoggi's disappearance. But President Donald Trump on Wednesday gave Saudi Arabia the benefit of the doubt in the journalist's disappearance, suggesting the White House may not take additional action against Saudi Arabia.

Oil Ends Down Again; Questions Linger Over Iran Sanctions - With a little more than two weeks to go until the most-anticipated development in oil markets this year, traders look flummoxed about the impact of Iran oil sanctions due Nov. 4. Prices for New York-traded WTI futures and its U.K. peer Brent settled down again on Thursday after falling 3% the previous day, as U.S. oil inventories showed an outsized build for a fourth week running. Data from TankerTrackers, an independent oil cargo surveyor, showed on Wednesday that Iran exported 2.2 million barrels per day in the first two weeks of October, not far from the peak of 2.7 million bpd it shipped in May before the U.S. decision to reimpose sanctions against the Islamic state. Meanwhile, Turkey's top refiner, Tupras, was in talks with U.S. officials to obtain a waiver allowing it to keep buying Iranian oil after Nov. 4, Reuters reported, citing industry sources. A mix of confusing signals from Saudi Arabia's crisis over missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi to varying supply-demand reports from sources tracking the global movement of crude added to market noise in the latest session. "I feel like this is a classic 'gut check' to the bulls in front of the Iran sanctions as ... everyone (got) into a bullish frenzy, where the derivatives traders bought futures, the physical traders bought cargos and we all talked ourselves into being long $85 Brent, as everyone was talking about $100 oil," said Scott Shelton, broker at ICAP (LON:NXGN) in Durham, N.C.. "The buying is done now, (but) I still find us to be on the bottom of the range. We may stay here for a while as the market mentally struggles with the WTI spreads being contango and the spread yield to being long WTI has evaporated," Shelton added. WTI's front-month contract, November, settled down $1.10, or 1.6%, at $68.65 per barrel, after hitting a one-month low at $68.47. November WTI's spread, or difference, with the ensuing month December was a negative 10 cents, a situation described in commodity markets as contango. Since financial speculators in crude do not take delivery of physical oil, they roll out of the front-month to the subsequent month before contract expiry. A negative yield at that moment will mean loss of money. Brent, the global benchmark for crude, was down 52 cents, or 0.5%, at $79.53 by 2:46 PM ET (18:46 GMT). 

 Oil Trades Near Lowest Level in a Month-- Oil traded near the lowest level in a month after a bigger-than-expected gain in American stockpiles overshadowed tensions between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia over a missing critic of the kingdom. Futures in New York were little changed, after plunging 3 percent Wednesday, the biggest drop since August. U.S. crude inventories rose 6.49 million barrels last week, the Energy Information Administration reported, more than twice the rate forecast in a Bloomberg survey before the data was released. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump and his top diplomat cautioned against putting the entire U.S.-Saudi relationship at risk over dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi. Crude bumped higher this year as uncertainties persisted over whether the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its partners can offset potential supply losses from U.S. sanctions on Iran that kick in early next month. The gains were further supported by the escalating U.S.-Saudi tensions after Trump pledged “severe punishment” should the Saudis be linked to Khashoggi’s disappearance. “The looming Iranian supply disruption and the conflict between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are pushing traders to take a cautious stance at the moment,” Will Yun, a commodities analyst at Hyundai Futures Corp., said by phone from Seoul. “That comes after prices dropped sharply on Wednesday as U.S. crude stockpiles surged more than what the market had expected.” West Texas Intermediate for November delivery traded 11 cents lower at $69.64 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange at 2:25 p.m. in Singapore. The contract declined $2.17 to $69.75 on Wednesday. Total volume traded was about 9 percent below the 100-day average. Brent for December settlement was at $79.89 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. The global benchmark’s premium was at a $10.25 to WTI for the same month, after settling at the highest level since June 11 on Wednesday. In the U.S., nationwide crude stockpiles have risen for four straight weeks in the longest streak of gains since early 2017. Inventories in the American storage hub of Cushing, Oklahoma, have also increased by about 1.8 million barrels last week to more than 28 million barrels, the highest level in almost four months.

Oil plunges 11% in just 2 weeks, shrugging off Iran sanctions and Saudi tension -Talk of oil prices spiking to $100 has been replaced by another discussion: How low can crude futures go?The oil market has undergone a spectacular reversal, even against a backdrop of looming U.S. sanctions onIran, OPEC's third-largest crude producer, and rising tensions between Washington and Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter.U.S. crude futures fell to a nearly five-week low of $68.47 on Thursday, plunging more than $8 a barrel from this month's four-year high at $76.90. That's a remarkable 11 percent plunge from peak to trough over just two weeks.Meanwhile, Brent crude bottomed out at $78.69 a barrel on Thursday, down $8, or 9.3 percent, from its four-year high at $86.74 on Oct. 3.There are three reasons oil prices have fallen so far so fast, said Matt Smith, director of commodity research at tanker-tracking firm ClipperData.First, the supply of oil held in U.S. storage tanks has risen sharply over the last four weeks. U.S. crude stockpiles are up by 22.3 million barrels through last week. That's the biggest increase over that four-week period since 2015, when storage levels were rising toward all-time highs in a heavily oversupplied market.Second, Brent crude's spike above $86 a barrel two weeks ago sparked fears that the high cost of oil would start to erode demand for the commodity. In recent weeks, OPEC and the International Energy Agency have knocked down their forecasts for growth in oil demand in light of a weaker outlook for global economic gains. Last, crude got swept up in a sell-off last week that saw investors dump risk assets. During the two-day stock market rout alone, crude futures fell by more than 5 percent.

Oil prices edge up, but set for a weekly loss on stock build, trade row --Oil prices rose on Friday on signs of surging demand in China, the world's second-biggest oil consumer, although the market was heading for a second week of losses on rising U.S. inventories and concern that trade wars were curbing economic activity.Benchmark Brent crude oil jumped $1.14 a barrel, or 1.4 percent, to a high of $80.43 before easing back to around $80.06, up 77 cents by 11:36 a.m. ET. U.S. light crude was 71 cents higher at $69.36.For the week, Brent crude was 0.2 percent lower while U.S. crude was down 2.9 percent, both on track for a second consecutive weekly decline, and down around $7 a barrel from four-year highs reached in early October."After two consecutive days of slide the oil market is staging a half-hearted come-back," said Tamas Varga, analyst at London brokerage PVM Oil. "Maybe it is down to some pre-weekend short-covering."Refinery throughput in China, the world's largest oil importer, rose to a record high of 12.49 million barrels per day (bpd) in September as some independent plants restarted operations after prolonged shutdowns over the summer to shore up inventories, government data showed on Friday.Undermining sentiment were official figures showing China's economic growth slowed in the third quarter to its weakest pace since the global financial crisis, with gross domestic product expanding by only 6.5 percent, missing estimates.The data raised concerns that China's trade war with United States was beginning to hit growth, which may limit oil demand.Also denting confidence was evidence this week that U.S. oil inventories had risen sharply. U.S. crude stocks last week climbed 6.5 million barrels, marking a fourth straight weekly build and almost triple the amount analysts had forecast, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.

Where Have The Oil Bulls Gone? - The oil market is suddenly rather sanguine about a supply shortage in the short run. “The concerns about a tightening of supply, which dominated markets until two weeks ago, have abated despite the fact that the reasons for them (falling Iranian oil exports, declining oil production in Venezuela, reduced spare capacities) still apply,” Commerzbank said in a note. The bank said that the recent uptick in inventories provides some cover, and traders are no longer on edge about shortages. “Nonetheless, we believe it is still too early to sound the all-clear for the oil market.” Oilfield services companies are expected to post mediocre figures when they report third quarter results in the coming days. Oil producers have been under pressure to keep costs low, which means less revenue for servicers as more drillers are doing work in-house. Also, U.S. tariffs are driving up the cost for projects. “The risk for a number of (oilfield service) firms is to the downside,” Brad Handler, a Jefferies equity analyst in New York, told Reuters.  The overuse of sanctions by the Trump administration is undermining their effectiveness, according to Jacob Lew, the U.S. Treasury Secretary under President Obama, and Richard Nephew, the lead on Iran sanctions during the Obama administration. “Today, Washington is increasingly using its economic power in aggressive and counterproductive ways, undermining its global position and thus its ability to act effectively in the future,” Lew and Nephew write in a Foreign Affairs essay.  Jeff Currie, head of commodities research at Goldman Sachs, said that $100 oil is not “very likely.” “We're not saying $100 oil cannot happen. It's not our base case nor do we think it's very likely,” Currie told S&P Global Platts in an interview. Reaching $100 would require a “sustainable loss in all of Iran's oil exports for an extendable period of time.”  The latest EIA report showed another strong increase in inventories, which helped push down prices mid-week. The data release also revealed a sudden drop in production, but that figure is an anomaly due to hurricane-related outages. Also, the effort by the Trump administration to smooth over tension with Saudi Arabia tamped down geopolitical concerns. “The inventory numbers were a real bearish surprise,” Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research, told Bloomberg. “That combined with the gradual lessening of tension” between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia “has taken some of the steam out of the market.”

Oil Set for Weekly Loss - -- Oil is poised for a second weekly drop after a larger-than-expected gain in American crude stockpiles eclipsed tensions between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia over the disappearance of a prominent critic of the kingdom. Futures in New York headed for a 3.4 percent loss this week as government data showed U.S. inventories grew by more than double what analysts had forecast. Prices were little changed on Friday after President Donald Trump said it “certainly looks” like missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi is dead and warned of “very severe” consequences for the killing. Also in oil markets, the front-month contract traded below the following month’s settlement in New York, flipping into negative territory this week in a condition known as contango. That signals oil traders are turning less optimistic on the near-term direction of the market. The U.S. inventories data “was a complete shocker, sending oil markets spiraling lower,” said Stephen Innes, Singapore-based head of trading for Asia Pacific at Oanda Corp. “Price action and discovery suggests traders are no longer concerned about how high prices will go but rather how quickly they will fall. As for today, at least, the bid on dip mentality has run for cover.” Crude’s rally has staggered since hitting a four-year high earlier this month as the growth in U.S. inventories for a fourth week added to concerns over the lingering trade war between America and China. In the midst of mounting tensions surrounding Saudi Arabia, data showed the world’s largest oil exporter boosted crude output in August as it sticks to its OPEC pledge to pump more. West Texas Intermediate for November delivery traded 23 cents higher, or up 0.4 percent, at $68.88 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange at 7:32 a.m. in London. The contract declined 1.6 percent to $68.65 on Thursday. Total volume traded was about 25 percent below the 100-day average. Brent for December settlement was at $79.60 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange, up 31 cents. The contract fell 1 percent to $79.29 on Thursday, and is down 1.1 percent for the week. The global benchmark’s premium was at a $10.66 to WTI for the same month.

 Baker Hughes: US rig count up 4 units to 1,067 - The US drilling rig count was up 4 units to 1,067 rigs working for the week ended Oct. 19, according to Baker Hughes data. The count is up 154 units from the 913 rigs working this time a year ago.Land-based rigs rose 7 units to 1,044 for the week. Offshore units fell by 3 to 20 rigs working, while those drilling in inland waters remained unchanged at 3 rigs working.Oil-directed rigs were up 4 units from last week to 873 units working, and up from the 736 rigs drilling for oil this week a year ago. Gas-directed rigs were up 1 unit to 194, and up from the 177 units drilling for gas a year ago. Unclassified rigs were down 1 unit, leaving no units working. Among the major oil and gas-producing states, Texas saw the largest increase in rigs for the second week in a row with another 8-rig jump to 540. California, with its 2-rig gain to 15 units working, was the only other state to see an increase for the week.  Eight states were unchanged this week: Louisiana, 64; North Dakota, 52; Colorado, 33; Wyoming, 30; Ohio, 17; West Virginia, 13; Utah, 6; and Kansas, 1. Oklahoma and Pennsylvania each dropped a single rig to reach 141 and 44, respectively.With a loss of 2 units each, New Mexico, at 100, and Alaska, at 3, saw the largest drop in rigs for the week. Canada’s rig count fell by 4 for the week. With 191 rigs running, the count falls short of the 202 units drilling this week a year ago. Canada lost 4 oil-directed rigs to reach 123 units for the week. Its gas-directed rig count remained unchanged at 68.

 Oil Up on Day, but U.S. Crude Loses 3% After Rough Week - - Oil prices rose on Friday, but remained at an inflection point after a rough week. Reports of record Chinese demand for crude and of producers’ struggling to boost output suggest prices should be higher. But surging stockpiles and a rise in drilling activity in the U.S. indicate the path of least resistance is lower. The conflicting themes were on display as Brent, the global benchmark for oil, posted a drop of nearly 1% on the week, while WTI had a weekly loss of 3%. Some think WTI will return to its recent perch above $70 per barrel and dismiss this week’s tumble as aberration, or simply profit-taking, ahead of the expiry of its front-month November contract on Monday. “Despite the weakness into contract expiration, nothing has changed,” said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Chicago’s Price Futures Group, who’s typically bullish on oil. He referred to an earlier 3% selloff in WTI on Aug. 15, which he said was ahead of contract expiration as well. “That was just a correction," he said. "So is this down move.” Others, such as Phil Davis at PSW Investments in New York, believe WTI should trade at $65 or below in coming weeks and that Brent might slip another $5 or so to hover around $75. “Logically, oil is overpriced with the kind of builds we’ve seen in U.S. crude lately and the growing notion that the Iran sanctions might not hit as hard as thought. The only problem is finding the right entry point to short WTI and Brent,” Davis said. WTI settled up 47 cents, or 0.7%, at $69.13 per barrel. The U.S. crude benchmark gave back much of its early gains on data showing the U.S. rig count had risen to March 2015 highs after drillers added four rigs this week. Brent settled up 49 cents, or 0.6%, at $79.78. In Friday's trading, oil was supported by government data showing refinery throughput in China, the world's largest oil importer, rising to a record high of 12.49 million barrels per day in September as some independent plants restarted operations after prolonged shutdowns over the summer to shore up inventories. OPEC, meanwhile, was struggling to add barrels to the market after agreeing in June to increase output, according to an internal document seen by Reuters.

Turkish paper reports: Saudi journalist's watch may have transmitted evidence of his death -Missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi may have recorded his own death, a Turkish newspaper reported Saturday morning. Khashoggi turned on the recording function of his Apple Watch before walking into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, according to Sabah newspaper. The moments of his "interrogation, torture and killing were audio recorded and sent to both his phone and to iCloud," the pro-government, privately owned newspaper paper reported. The Turkish newspaper said conversations of the men involved in the reported assassination were recorded. Security forces leading the investigation found the audio file inside the phone Khashoggi left with his fiancé, according to Sabah.Upon noticing the watch, Sabah reports, Khashoggi's assailants tried to unlock the Apple Watch with multiple password attempts, ultimately using Khashoggi's fingerprint to unlock the smart watch. They were successful in deleting only some of the files, Sabah reported.However, on its website, Apple does not list fingerprint verification as one of the Apple Watch's capabilities. A representative from the company confirmed to CNN the watches do not have the feature.It was not immediately clear whether it would have been technically feasible for Khashoggi's Apple Watch to transfer audio to his phone, which he had given to his fiancée before entering the consulate.CNN cannot independently verify the Sabah report and is seeking comment from both Saudi and Turkish officials. CNN intelligence and security analyst Robert Baer cast doubt on the claim, saying it was too far for a Bluetooth connection and that Khashoggi was unlikely to have anticipated transmitting a recording in advance. "I think what's happened, clearly, is the Turks have the Saudi consulate wired, they have transmitters," he told CNN's Anderson Cooper.

Saudi media: Any US sanctions over Khashoggi would 'stab its own economy to death' -- As international pressure mounted on Saudi Arabia over the case of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the kingdom came out swinging Sunday, threatening to retaliate and spelling out the ways in which Riyadh would punish the US if it imposed sanctions.  Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post and Saudi royal insider-turned-critic, went missing after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to obtain paperwork that would allow him to marry his Turkish fiancée. His disappearance has drawn international condemnation and sparked warnings from US President Donald Trump on Saturday of "severe punishment" if the Saudis are found to be behind his death. Britain, France and Germany also said on Sunday they were demanding a "credible investigation." In a statement Sunday on the official Saudi Press Agency attributed to "an official," the kingdom rejected any threats of economic sanctions or political pressure and said it would "respond with greater action." But in a strongly worded op-ed published later on Sunday, Turki Aldakhil, general manager of the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news channel, warned that if the US imposed sanctions on Riyadh "it will stab its own economy to death," cause oil prices to reach as high as $200 a barrel, lead Riyadh to permit a Russian military base in the city of Tabuk, and drive the Middle East into the arms of Iran. "The information circulating within decision-making circles within the kingdom have gone beyond the rosy language used in the statement," Aldakhil wrote, referring to the earlier comment. "There are simple procedures, that are part of over 30 others, that Riyadh will implement directly, without flinching an eye if sanctions are imposed," he said. "If US sanctions are imposed on Saudi Arabia, we will be facing an economic disaster that would rock the entire world," he added.  "if the price of oil reaching $80 angered President Trump, no one should rule out the price jumping to $100, or $200, or even double that figure."

Saudis Break 45-Year Taboo with Veiled Oil Threat -- For 45 years, it’s been considered out of bounds for Saudi Arabia. But all of a sudden, Riyadh made what many read as a veiled threat to use the kingdom’s oil wealth as a political weapon -- something unheard of since the 1973 Arab embargo that triggered the first oil crisis. Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, said on Sunday it would retaliate against any punitive measures linked to the disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi with even “stronger ones." In an implicit reference to the kingdom’s petroleum wealth, the statement noted the Saudi economy “has an influential and vital role in the global economy.” Roger Diwan, a longstanding OPEC watcher at consultant IHS Markit Ltd., said the Saudi comments broke “an essential oil market taboo.” While few think that Saudi Arabia is prepared to follow through, even the suggestion of using oil as a weapon undermines Riyadh’s long-standing effort to project itself as a force for economic stability. Jeffrey Currie, the head of commodities research at Goldman Sachs Inc., said Middle East tensions impacting the oil market have now "broadened to include Saudi Arabia." The anxieties were exacerbated by an opinion piece penned by Turki Al Dakhil, who heads the state-owned Arabiya news network and is close to the Royal Court, in which he openly talked about using oil as a weapon. “If President Trump was angered by $80 oil, nobody should rule out the price jumping to $100 and $200 a barrel or maybe double that figure,” he wrote. The Saudi embassy in Washington later said Al Dakhil didn’t represent the official position of the kingdom and Saudi officials, speaking privately, said there wasn’t a change in the long-held policy that oil and politics don’t mix. On Monday, Khalid Al-Falih, the Saudi energy minister, used a speech in India to soothe concerns, pledging his country will continue to be a responsible actor and keep oil markets stable.

Suspects in journalist's disappearance linked to Saudi crown prince: report - Several suspects that Turkish authorities have identified involving the disappearance of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi have been linked to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman or his security detail, according to a new report.One of the suspects identified by Turkish authorities was Mohammed's travel companion, seen exiting planes with him in Paris and Madrid and photographed standing guard during visits to Houston, Boston and the United Nations this year, The New York Times reports.Witnesses and other records have linked three other suspects in Khashoggi's disappearance to Mohammed's security detail, while a fifth suspect has top positions in the country's Interior Ministry and medical establishment, according to the Times. The newspaper reported that the fifth suspect is "a figure of such stature that he could be directed only by a high-ranking Saudi authority." After speaking with Mohammed,President Trump said Tuesdaythat the crown prince "totally denied any knowledge" of Khashoggi's fate.The U.S.-based journalist, who has been critical of Saudi leadership, disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.Turkish authorities have accused the Saudi government of killing and dismembering Khashoggi inside the consulate. Trump suggested on Monday after speaking with Saudi Arabia's King Salman that "rogue killers" may be responsible for the death of Khashoggi.

NYT Identifies Four Suspected Saudi Hit Squad Members As 'Close Associates' Of Crown Prince --  After two days of non-stop news pertaining to the widening backlash to the disappearance of Saudi insider-turned dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who is widely suspected to have been murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul during a trip to obtain a marriage license, the New York Times waited until 6:30 pm ET to drop one of the biggest bombshells yet. Citing sources from within the Turkish government (who have taken the lead in directing the international outrage by first leaking information about Khashoggi's killing, then following that up with claims that they had substantive evidence), the NYT reports that Turkish officials have linked four members of the 15-man Saudi hit squad purportedly sent to ambush Khashoggi to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who earlier today denied having any knowledge of the killing during a conversation with President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.One of the men is a diplomat who has been frequently spotted in the Crown Prince's company, including being photographed with MbS during his visit to the US earlier this year. Three others have been linked to MbS's security detail. A fifth was a doctor and autopsy expert, whose presence suggests that Khashoggi's murder was a premeditated hit - not the actions of "rogue operatives" as the Saudi government and Trump have suggested. The news is bound to produce a fresh round of outrage directed at MbS, whose authoritarian crackdown on political rivals within Saudi Arabia, as well as his escalation of the conflict in Yemen (which Saudi Arabia has blithely supported with arms and financing) and the kidnapping last year of the Prime Minister of Lebanon have undermined his reputation as a reformer (a reputation that, ironically, the NYT first helped to burnish). Turkish authorities have said that the 15-man team flew into Istanbul on two chartered jets on Oct. 2, the day Khashoggi walked into the embassy only to never be seen or heard from again. Flight records indicate that some or all of the men left later that day, and that their planes stopped in Dubai on the way back to Saudi Arabia. Turkish officials told the Times that all 15 suspects are Saudi security officers, intelligence agents or government employees. At least 9 of them worked for the Saudi security services, military or other government ministries. One of the men was identified as Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, a diplomat who is one of the Crown Prince's closest associates.

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince went a ghastly step too far --According to news reports, Saudi Arabia’s leaders might be preparing to announce that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was indeed killed inside the country’s consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Apparently they plan to explain away his death as a botched abduction attempt carried out by “rogue” killers — an extremely unlikely scenario, given the ruthlessly centralized structure of the Saudi regime.Whatever happens next, it is already clear that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, has gone a ghastly step too far in his ruthless pursuit of absolute power.Khashoggi, 59 at the time of his reported death, was far more than an excellent reporter and analyst of his beloved kingdom. As one of its leading critics (a role that included his stint as a Post columnist), he became a high-profile symbol of the daunting struggle for media freedom throughout the Arab world today. Most ironically, he had respect for the reforms being undertaken by the very Saudi prince who probably gave the orders for his suspected extrajudicial murder. Khashoggi’s unpardonable sin was to call for debate not about the crown prince’s social reforms, which he wholeheartedly supported, but about the crown prince’s stifling intolerance for anyone who cast even a speck of dirt on his highly polished image as the kingdom’s long-awaited savior. I have known Khashoggi for at least two decades, and we were scheduled to have lunch together as soon as he returned from Istanbul to discuss the status of his efforts to obtain a green card allowing him to become a permanent resident in the United States. He had a book project in mind to write at the Wilson Center in Washington, where I am a Middle East fellow after working for 35 years for The Post, including four years as its Middle East correspondent. The Wilson Center had offered him a fellowship, but he needed his green card first.

Settling The Khashoggi Case Is A Difficult Matter --The negotiation over the Khashoggi case will be extremely difficult. The protagonists are headstrong and dangerous people. The issue could easily escalate. The Ottoman empire ruled over much of the Arab world. The neo-Ottoman wannabe-Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan would like to regain that historic position for Turkey. His main competition in this are the al-Sauds. They have much more money and are strategically aligned with Israel and the United States, while Turkey under Erdogan is more or less isolated. The religious-political element of the competition is represented on one side by the Muslim Brotherhood, 'democratic' Islamists to which Erdogan belongs, and the Wahhabi absolutists on the other side.There are more tactical aspects to this historic conflict. When the Saudis cut ties with Qatar it was Turkey that sent its military to prevent a Saudi invasion of the tiny but extremely rich country. This gave Erdogan the financial backing he urgently needs. In response to that the Saudis offered several $100 millions to prop up the YPK/PKK proxy force the U.S. uses to occupy north-east Syria. These Kurdish groups fight a guerrilla war within Turkey and are a threat to its unity.The effective Saudi ruler, clown prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS), made a huge mistake when he ordered the abduction (or murder) of the Saudi journalist Khashoggi in Istanbul. The botched operation gave Erdogan a tool to cut the Saudis to size. But he needs U.S. support to achieve that. The recent release of the U.S. pastor (and CIA asset) Andrew Brunson is supposed to buy him good will with U.S. President Donald Trump. But Trump build his Middle East policy on his Saudi relations. He can not go berserk on them. Some solution must be found.

Saudis to admit journalist Khashoggi was killed by mistake: reports -- Saudi Arabia is preparing an official account that will admit journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, according to multiple reports on Monday.It is not clear how much responsibility Saudi Arabia will take for the journalist's death, as reports indicate that while an official narrative is being prepared it is not complete.The kingdom will reportedly deflect responsibility for the death away from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman by saying Khashoggi's death was "unintentional" and the result of a "botched operation" by Saudi agents who were not authorized by the government's top authorities, two sources told CNN. "We are hearing from the sources at this stage that [the operation] was not carried out with the proper clearance," CNN's Clarissa Ward said on air."There will be plenty of people who will have difficulty swallowing that narrative, [saying] it's hard to believe anything of this nature, of this sensitivity, could possibly take place without those in power in Saudi Arabia … being privy to it on some level," Ward noted. A source familiar with Saudi plans told The New York Times earlier Monday that Saudi Arabia was planning to indicate the killing was done by an incompetent intelligence official.The Wall Street Journal also reported Saudis are weighing admitting one of their intelligence officials killed Khashoggi by mistake.A joint team of Saudi and Turkish investigators on Monday began their search of the Saudi consulate in Turkey, where Khashoggi went missing on Oct. 2. Turkish reports have indicated Saudi agents were likely working on orders from Riyadh when they allegedly dismembered and killed Khashoggi. Turkey said they have unreleased video and audio evidence of the incident. Saudi Arabia has so far denied a role in Khashoggi's disappearance.

Saudi Arabia To Admit Khashoggi Killed During "Botched Interrogation" - As the Saudis prepare to pin Khashoggi's murder on "rogue killers", just as President Trump had advised, the office of Turkey's attorney general has leaked the first findings from Turkish prosecutors' search of the Saudi consulate to Al Jazeera (a news organization that his financed by Qatar, a geopolitical nemesis of the Kingdom, which took place on Monday, nearly two weeks after Khashoggi disappeared. In addition to reportedly discovering evidence that Khashoggi had been killed inside the consulate, Turkish investigators also found "evidence of tampering" - suggesting that the Saudis tried to cover up the crime. Though it may have been a coincidence, a team of professional cleaners was spotted entering the consulate early Monday. A source at the Attorney General's office, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera "they have found evidence that supports their suspicions that Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate," our correspondent Jamal Elshayyal reported from Istanbul. "This is a significant step forward after several days of an impasse," he said. The Attorney General's office also said their team inside the consulate found evidence of "tampering", Elshayyal added. Meanwhile, CNN is reporting that Saudi Arabia is preparing to admit that Khashoggi was killed as the result of an interrogation that went wrong, citing two unnamed sources. One source cautioned that a report was still being prepared and could change, CNN said. The other source said the report would likely conclude that the operation was carried out without clearance and that those involved will be held responsible, the news outlet said. Considering that Saudi Arabia is effectively a Medieval Theocracy that still beheads hundreds of people every year via sword, we imagine the men who actually killed Khashoggi (and according to Turkish flight records, they were almost certainly men) must be feeling pretty anxious right about now. 

Saudis Plan To Pin Khashoggi Slaying on ‘Rogue’ General - The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is starting to float a trial-balloon explanation for its apparent slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, The Daily Beast has learned, in hopes of escaping the consequences of an episode that has shaken whatever geopolitical confidence existed in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. According to two sources familiar with the version of events circulating throughout diplomatic circles in Washington, the Saudis will place blame for Khashoggi’s murder on a Saudi two-star general new to intelligence work. That line is in keeping with President Donald Trump’s Twitter-borne speculation that “rogue killers” may be responsible for whatever happened to Khashoggi inside Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate on Oct. 2. Three other former U.S. officials did not have direct knowledge of the inchoate Saudi line but told The Daily Beast they expect Riyadh to blame a fall guy. The Saudis are considering admitting that the general received approval from the Crown Prince to interrogate Khashoggi on the suspicion that he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist political faction whose rise during the Arab Spring prompted the Saudis and their allies in the United Arab Emirates to sponsor a wave of reaction. They also are considering intimating that Khashoggi received money from Gulf rival Qatar. But, the Saudi story continues, this overeager general exceeded bin Salman’s intentions. He improvised a rendition to send Khashoggi from Turkey back to Saudi Arabia—and botched it, killing him. Then he lied to his Saudi superiors about what happened. “It’s ludicrous in the extreme. Saudi Arabia doesn’t work that way. They don’t freelance operations.”

Coverup Deal Will Blame Khashoggi Death On Extreme Torture - The coverup of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, killed on behalf of the Saudi clown prince Mohammad bin Salman, proceeds apace. It is part of a deal between Turkey and Saudi Arabia under the aegis of the United States. The haggling over the details will take a while.Several media report of a test ballon, floated to find out if an 'alternative' story will fly:Saudi Arabia was preparing an alternative explanation of the fate of a dissident journalist on Monday, saying he died at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago in an interrogation gone wrong, according to a person familiar with the kingdom’s plans. In Washington, President Trump echoed the possibility that Jamal Khashoggi was the victim of “rogue killers.” ..[O]n Monday, a person familiar with the Saudi government’s plans said that Mr. Khashoggi was mistakenly killed during an interrogation ordered by a Saudi intelligence official who was a friend of the crown prince. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Prince Mohammed had approved interrogating or even forcing Mr. Khashoggi to return to Saudi Arabia under duress. But, the person said, the Saudi intelligence official went too far in eagerly seeking to prove himself in secretive operations, then sought to cover up the botched job. One might expand on that fairytale: "The Saudi general who allegedly botched the interrogation of Jamal Khashoggi mysteriously died in a Saudi air force plane crash on the same day the coverup story was floated."

Saudis To Blame Top General For Journalist's Killing- NYT  - Less than a day after the New York Times published a report claiming that US intelligence agencies believe Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman gave the order to murder and dismember a former Saudi insider turned critic inside the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul, the Grey Lady has published yet another scoop claiming that the Saudis have selected a scapegoat who will most likely take the fall for the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Anonymous officials with knowledge of the Saudis' plans said the kingdom is close to blaming to Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, a high-ranking intelligence official and adviser to the crown prince, as the man responsible for masterminding the plot.  The report followed another anonymously sourced report from earlier in the week claiming the Saudis were preparing to admit that Khashoggi had been killed during a botched interrogation. Though the kingdom still has "a few more days" to complete its investigation, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, scrutiny of General Assiri has intensified as the kingdom believes he would blaming him could provide "a plausible explanation for the killing" while "helping to deflect blame from the crown prince" as calls for MbS's ouster intensify.  Perhaps to add an element of plausibility to the story, the Saudis are also expected to say that MbS "signed off" on the murder plot.  General Assiri, who previously served as the spokesman for the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, is close enough to the crown prince to have easy access to his ear and has considerable authority to enlist lower ranking personnel in a mission. The Saudi rulers are expected to say that Mr. Assiri received verbal authorization from Prince Mohammed to capture Mr. Khashoggi for an interrogation in Saudi Arabia, but either misunderstood his instructions or overstepped that authorization and took the dissident’s life, according to the two of the people familiar with the Saudi plans. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief journalists.

Saudi Media Casts Khashoggi Disappearance as a Conspiracy, Claims Qatar Owns Washington Post -- In Saudi Arabia, major media outlets have cast the disappearance and apparent murder of Saudi dissident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi as a foreign conspiracy to denigrate the image of the kingdom. The media accounts, which come from outlets run with the backing of Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf monarchies, are spinning the coverage of Khashoggi’s disappearance as a plot by rival governments and political groups to hurt the kingdom — going so far as to make false claims about the Washington Post’s owners.The English-language arm of the news channel Al Arabiya, for instance, claimed that reports of Khashoggi’s detention inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul were pushed by “media outlets affiliated with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar” — the pan-Arab Islamist political movement and rival Persian Gulf monarchy, respectively. A subsequent story on Al Arabiya casts doubt that Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, is truly who she says she is, claiming that her Twitter profile shows that she follows “critics of Saudi Arabia.”Al Arabiya is owned by the Saudi royal family and based in Dubai, one of the Gulf monarchies that has sided closely with Saudi Arabia amid the regional row with Qatar and others. It’s among a handful of other Saudi- and Gulf-controlled outlets — such as Al Riyadh Daily, Al-Hayat, and the Saudi Gazette — that toe their governments’ line, including frequently casting a conspiratorial light on critics of the governments’ human rights records.

Saudi Arabia's oil weapon doesn't work: Kemp -  (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia is unlikely to employ its so-called "oil weapon" in the diplomatic crisis over the disappearance of a journalist after visiting the country’s consulate in Istanbul.Experience from the last time Saudi Arabia tried to use oil sales as a diplomatic instrument in 1973/74 shows such action does not work and the kingdom itself would be the biggest victim.Despite some of the impassioned rhetoric in Saudi media, self-interest makes it improbable the government will retaliate by reducing oil sales or trying to drive up prices.That has not stopped some veiled threats to weaponise oil production and prices, but they should be interpreted as an urgent plea for support and understanding rather than a serious threat."If U.S. sanctions are imposed on Saudi Arabia, we will be facing an economic disaster that would rock the entire world," according to one heated editorial ("U.S. sanctions would mean Washington is stabbing itself", Al Arabiya, Oct. 14)."Riyadh is the capital of (global) oil and touching this would affect oil production before any other vital commodity," the editorial warned.If the price of oil reaching $80 a barrel angered U.S. President Donald Trump, "no one should rule out the price jumping to $100, or $200, or even double that figure", the author said bluntly. The government’s official response has been more circumspect but it nonetheless warned that it would respond to any action with even greater retaliation and pointed to the kingdom’s "influential and vital role in the global economy".

Saudis Must Cough Up Billions To Settle Khashoggi Case --The Khashoggi case, discussed here, will be moved off the news pages even faster than assumed. A CNN correspondent just tweeted this: Erdogan spox: "At the request of Saudi Arabia, a joint working group will be established to uncover the events surrounding Jamal Khashoggi." Translation: Erdogan spox: "Our Sultan received a sufficient down payment to start negotiating about the burial of the case."Prediction:Erdogan will use the 'joint working group' to squeeze as much as he can out of the Saudis. (A deal may even include a political settlement of the Saudi blockade of Erdogan's sponsor Qatar.)Yesterday 22 Senators signed a request to Trump to investigate the Khashoggi case under the Global Magnitsky Act. The Trump administration has 120 days to finish the investigation and to report back to the Senate. Any person or organization found to be involved in the kidnapping and possible murder of Khashoggi could then come under U.S. sanctions.Those 120 days are the time-frame for Erdogan to use the thumbscrews the Saudi fuckup in its consulate in Istanbul handed him. The Saudi clown prince Mohammad bin Salman will get squeezed like never before. It will cost him billions to purchase the video of the Khashoggi killing the Turkish government claims to have. Erdogan will not be the only one to profit from the issue. The Senate move gives Trump enormous leverage over the Saudis. He will use it.Trump loudly claimed that he personally closed a $110 billion deal in which the Saudis purchase more useless weapons. There never was a 'deal', only some non-binding letters of intent. The Saudis have been reluctant to follow through. They did not pony up the $15 billion for the U.S. made THAAD missile defense systems Trump 'sold' them and even talked with Russia about buying the much cheaper and better S-400

The Full Story of Why MbS Might Have Wanted Jamal Khashoggi Dead - This was not a straightforward snatch and grab attempt. The officers sent to Istanbul to deal with Jamal Khashoggi were given clear instructions; return with Khashoggi alive or kill him there.That order did not come from any senior general or bureaucrat, but straight from the de-facto head of the largest Royal family in the world that controls the world’s largest proven oil reserves.It comes from the last remaining bastion of medieval court politics, ironically supported by the seemingly unstoppable tide of global populism.A giant of a man yet with an approachable demeanor, Jamal Khashoggi had an intimidating contact list that included leaders, politicians, businessmen and, what would help lead to his tragic death, the numbers of some of the most senior members of the House of Saud.Khashoggi was the go-to man for almost every Western journalist, think-tanker and academic looking for a quick soundbite from a reliable source on Saudi Arabia, popular Saudi reactions to Western policies.Indeed, in his work with The Washington Post, he pursued writing with a new vigour, often smiling wryly as he read the online threats and insults from Saudi government trolls and their systematic campaigns. In one answer to them, Jamal talked about how sad he was at their existence. History will vindicate those jailed and tortured while it would ignore these trolls entirely, he tweeted. The inner peace that Jamal found infuriated and enraged the rash and impulsive Mohammed bin Salman. Surrounded by a coterie of aggressive, eager to please loyalists with little experience, his anger reached untold limits. With an almost chronic addiction to social media, the crown prince would scour the virtual newsfeeds daily on his iPad, to examine firsthand the impact of the campaigns engineered by his adviser. With all the resources that eight million barrels of oil a day bring, being unable to stop Khashoggi’s influence was a constant reminder of the limits of authoritarianism against unrestricted freedom. Having publicly humiliated and demoted the strongest royal in the kingdom to become crown prince, MbS had effectively wiped out all opposition within the family. And with a list of disgruntled Saudi royals courtesy of Jared Kushner, he was able to target every one of them, removing them from public posts, scaring them into fleeing or imprisoning them in what was the greatest protection racket in history. Members of MbS’s personal elite squad – Al-Ajrab Sword Brigade – began working with colleagues from the General Intelligence service and forensic experts to plan their move.  As soon as reports came from the consulate in Turkey that he had come in to ask for divorce papers, Riyadh set things in motion. He was told to come back after a week in which all logistics were planned out and overseen by MbS and his advisers. Alive or dead, finishing within an hour was imperative.

Did Saudis, CIA Fear Khashoggi 9/11 Bombshell? -- The macabre case of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi raises the question: did Saudi rulers fear him revealing highly damaging information on their secret dealings? In particular, possible involvement in the 9/11 terror attacks on New York in 2001. Even more intriguing are US media reports now emerging that American intelligence had snooped on and were aware of Saudi officials making plans to capture Khashoggi prior to his apparent disappearance at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week. If the Americans knew the journalist’s life was in danger, why didn’t they tip him off to avoid his doom?  Jamal Khashoggi (59) had gone rogue, from the Saudi elite’s point of view. Formerly a senior editor in Saudi state media and an advisor to the royal court, he was imminently connected and versed in House of Saud affairs. Khashoggi’s articles appeared to be taking on increasingly critical tone against the heir to the Saudi throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The 33-year-old Crown Prince, or MbS as he’s known, is de facto ruler of the oil-rich kingdom, in place of his aging father, King Salman.While Western media and several leaders, such as Presidents Trump and Macron, have been indulging MbS as “a reformer”, Khashoggi was spoiling this Saudi public relations effort by criticizing the war in Yemen, the blockade on Qatar and the crackdown on Saudi critics back home. However, what may have caused the Saudi royals more concern was what Khashoggi knew about darker, dirtier matters. And not just the Saudis, but American deep state actors as as well. He was formerly a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal, who is an eminence gris figure in Saudi intelligence, with its systematic relations to American and British counterparts. Prince Turki’s father, Faisal, was formerly the king of Saudi Arabia until his assassination in 1975 by a family rival. For nearly 23 years, from 1977 to 2001, Prince Turki was the director of the Mukhabarat, the Saudi state intelligence apparatus. He was instrumental in Saudi, American and British organization of the mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan to combat Soviet forces. Those militants in Afghanistan later evolved into the al Qaeda terror network, which has served as a cat’s paw in various US proxy wars across the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, including Russia’s backyard in the Caucasus. Ten days before the 9/11 terror attacks on New York City, in which some 3,000 Americans died, Prince Turki retired from his post as head of Saudi intelligence. It was an abrupt departure, well before his tenure was due to expire. There has previously been speculation in US media that this senior Saudi figure knew in advance that something major was going down on 9/11. At least 15 of the 19 Arabs who allegedly hijacked three commercial airplanes that day were Saudi nationals.

UK minister pulls out of Saudi summit -- The UK's International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has pulled out of attending an investment conference in Saudi Arabia next week.It comes amid allegations the country was behind the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.Mr Khashoggi has not been seen since entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October, where Turkish officials allege he was killed.Saudi Arabia, which denies the killing, allowed investigators inside overnight.The Dutch and French finance ministers, as well as several other politicians and business leaders, have said they are pulling out of the event.  However, a number of major businesses - including Goldman Sachs, Pepsi and EDF - are still intending to go despite growing pressure for a boycott.A spokesman for Dr Fox said "the time is not right for him to attend" the conference in Riyadh."The UK remains very concerned about Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance... those bearing responsibility for his disappearance must be held to account."On Thursday, the Washington Post published Mr Khashoggi's last column - a call for press freedom across the Arab world.The newspaper said the column had been submitted by Mr Khashoggi's translator the day after he was reported missing.It had initially held off from publishing the column, but decided to go ahead after accepting Mr Khashoggi was not going to return safely.

 Why pressure on Saudi Arabia could 'escalate quickly', and bring pain for everyone else -- With Saudi Arabia denying a role in the sudden disappearance of a prominent journalist — and vowing to push back against any effort at international retribution — the chances are growing that the crisis could escalate, and ricochet across the global economy. On Sunday, the world reacted to last week's vanishing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the Saudi Government. The West has threatened consequences for the kingdom, which is suspected of having captured the journalist at a Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The governments of the United Kingdom, France and Germany on Sunday called for a "credible investigation to establish the truth about what happened, and — if relevant — to identify those bearing responsibility for the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, and ensure that they are held to account." Although Saudi Arabia has fiercely denied any involvement, reports suggest Riyadh may been behind Khashoggi's disappearance, with Turkey airing suspicions that the journalist may have been killed by Saudi operatives. For the moment, the suspicions alone have imperiled Saudi Arabia's carefully crafted plans to reform its economy and burnish its image abroad. Meanwhile, the reformist image cultivated by Crown PrinceMohammed bin Salman (MBS) is also in jeopardy."Right now, this episode is eroding all the good will and trust built up by MBS," said Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a national security think tank. He called for caution in the face of a lack of actionable evidence against Saudi Arabia, and cast doubt on intelligence and reporting from Turkey that implicated Riyadh.

 Saudi Arabia could hike oil prices over the Khashoggi case. Here's why it would backfire -- Fears are spreading that Saudi Arabia, in retaliation against the growing global outcry caused by the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, may hit back at potential economic sanctions byweaponizing its oil dominance.Saudi Arabia's not-so-veiled threat issued in a government statement Sunday emphasized its "vital role in the global economy" and that any action taken upon it will be met with "greater action". But as oil ticks upward, a look at history and geopolitics suggests that while a Saudi-driven oil price spike would bring pain for much of the world, it would ultimately backfire on itself."If this is something the Saudis were allowed to do, they'd be really shooting themselves in the foot," Warren Patterson, commodities analyst at ING, told CNBC's Squawk Box Europe on Tuesday. "In the short to medium term we'll definitely see an incremental amount of demand destruction, but the bigger issue is in the longer term." Any action in withholding oil from the market, he said, "would only quicken the pace of energy transition." The crisis began after Turkish officials alleged that Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and Washington Post contributor, was murdered on orders of the Saudi government after he was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. The Saudis have fiercely denied this claim, but have so far provided no evidence to the contrary, sparking furor in Congress, where momentum is building to impose sanctions on weapons imports to the kingdom. Media companies and corporate executives are pulling out of Saudi Arabia's annual investment conference, scheduled for late October, in droves.

Global Boycott Of Saudi Investment Summit Accelerates After Journalist's Disappearance -  What the mass slaughter of civilians and even bombing a school bus full of children in Yemen couldn't do, the murder of one of their own did: a growing list of major media companies have declared they are pulling out of a high profile investment summit in Riyadh set to start on October 23rd over the alleged Saudi state murder of Washington Post columnist and Saudi "insider" critic Jamal Khashoggi. So far the list of media sponsors declaring their withdrawal from the Saudi-hosted Future Investment Initiative (FII) event include the Financial Times, Bloomberg, CNN and CNBC, as well as president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, who indicated on Friday he would not be attending, according to The Guardian. Notably the event has been described as largely the brainchild of the kingdom's de facto ruler, crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is trying to draw international investments for his much-hyped and ambitious Vision 2030 project. But as of late Friday a burgeoning list of key names who say they will shun the summit are as follows: Arianna Huffington, Patrick Soon-Shiong (LA Times owner), CNBC anchor Andrew Ross Sorkin, Bob Bakish (Viacom chief executive), Dara Khosrowshahi (Uber’s chief executive), and the Economist’s editor-in-chief, Zanny Minton Beddoes, among others.

Ban Saudi Oil – Ilargi - According to Middle East Eye, Richard Branson, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Economist editor-In-chief Zanny Minton Beddoes, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, New York Times, Financial Times, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshah, Viacom CEO Bob Bakish and AOL founder Steve Case have all withdrawn from Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative conference, to be held this month in Riyadh. Branson also put a $1 billion investment plan on hold.Also, on Wednesday, former US energy secretary Ernest Moniz said that he had suspended his role on the board of Saudi Arabia’s planned mega business zone NEOM, to which he was named on Tuesday. The Harbour Group, a Washington firm that has been advising Saudi Arabia since April 2017, ended its $80,000 a month contract on Thursday. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon is still scheduled to speak at the conference, as is Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga, but they won’t risk the damage to their reputations. All this is due, obviously, to the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a former close aquaintance of the Saud family, who moved to the US and wrote for the Washington Post (how’s Amazon’s Saudi business, Jeff Bezos?) after falling out with the House of Saud. As the what someone actually labeled “unfolding diplomatic crisis” takes shape, there is really only one thing to say about these people and organizations: they are the worst group of hypocrites ever. And their reasons to boycott the conference must be questioned.Because before Khashoggi vanished they all apparently though it was quite okay to go feed at the Saud trough, despite the still ongoing slaughter of millions of people in the ‘war’ in Yemen. Which makes one suspect it’s not so much about their principles but about their public image. Donald Trump said he won’t stop weapons sales to the Saudi’s because they would just buy their arms from someone else, like Russia (it would be interesting to get Putin’s view on Khashoggi). And while Trump is completely wrong here, at least he’s not hypocritical about it. Not selling guns and tanks is by no means the most forceful action vs MBS and his dad, and not just because they can buy them elsewhere. What’s much stronger as a protest against what apparently happened to Khashoggi is to hit the Sauds where it hurts: in their wallet. That wallet is being filled by the sale of oil.Simply stop buying their oil. Tell Shell and Exxon and BP and Total to get the hell out of the country. It’s just that to top off the hypocrisy, the best -only?- replacement for Saudi oil is Russian oil, and the US and Europe are engaged in a long drawn out smear campaign to isolate Russia from their world order.

Khashoggi misinformation highlights a growing number of fake fact-checkers - Days after the reported murder of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, misinformation has ballooned.Saudi media outlets reported a conspiracy theory that Khashoggi’s fiancée is fake in an apparent effort to discredit Turkish and American intelligence. Reuters fell for a fake news story about the firing of a Saudi general consul. Some accounts are promoting a nonsensical video from a guy who wears a strainer on his head. And the Saudi government itself has threatened anyone who spreads “fake news” online with lengthy prison terms and heavy fines.But perhaps the most illuminating bit of misinformation about the situation was a bogus Saudi fact-checking account.Called Middle East Guardians, the fake outlet — whose Twitter account had only existed since September — built on prior media reports and published a photo that it claimed had been altered to add in Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, after the fact. BuzzFeed News reported that, since Cengiz told the media she waited outside the Saudi Consulate for hours and Khashoggi never returned, she’s become a target for people claiming the whole incident is a smokescreen to make Saudi Arabia look bad. A photo forensics expert analyzed Middle East Guardians’ work and concluded it was bogus and Twitter later suspended the account. Aside from the elements of classic, breaking news-related misinformation, the entire debacle is a good example of how misinformers are increasingly posing as fact-checkers to dupe online audiences.

Killing Jamal Khashoggi Was Easy. Explaining It Is Much Harder Philip Giraldi - Getting to the bottom of the Jamal Khashoggi disappearance is a bit like peeling an onion. It is known that Khashoggi entered the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd to get a document that would enable him to marry a Turkish woman. It is also known, from surveillance cameras situated outside the building, that he never came out walking the same way he entered.  The supposition is that the fifteen men, which may have included some members of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s bodyguard as well as a physician skilled in autopsies who was carrying a bone saw, constituted the execution party for Khashoggi. There are certain things that should be observed about the Turks, since they are the ones claiming that the disappearance of Khashoggi may have included a summary execution and dismemberment. The Turkish intelligence service, known by its acronym MIT, is very good, very active and very focused on monitoring the activities of foreign embassies and their employees throughout Turkey. They use electronic surveillance and, if the foreign mission has local employees, many of those individuals will be agents reporting to the Turkish government. In my own experience when I was in Istanbul, I had microphones concealed in various places in my residence and both my office and home phones were tapped. A number of local hire consulate employees were believed to be informants for MIT but they were not allowed anywhere near sensitive information. As Turkey and Saudi Arabia might be termed rivals if not something stronger, it is to be presumed that MIT had the Consulate General building covered with both cameras and microphones, possibly inside the building as well as outside, and may have had a Turkish employer inside who observed some of what was going on. Which is to say that the Turks certainly know exactly what occurred but are playing their cards closely to see what they can derive from that knowledge. The two countries have already initiated a joint investigation into what took place. Turkey’s economy is in free fall and would benefit from “investment” from the Saudis to create an incentive to close the book on Khashoggi. In other words, Turkey’s perspective on the disappearance could easily be influenced by Saudi money and the investigation might well turn up nothing that is definitive.

Audio Offers Gruesome Details of Jamal Khashoggi Killing, Turkish Official Says - NYT — Saudi agents were waiting when Jamal Khashoggi walked into their country’s consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago. Mr. Khashoggi was dead within minutes, beheaded, dismembered, his fingers severed, and within two hours the killers were gone, according to details from audio recordings described by a senior Turkish official on Wednesday.The government of Turkey let out these and other leaks about the recordings on Wednesday, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Ankara, in an escalation of pressure on both Saudi Arabia and the United States for answers about Mr. Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi dissident journalist who lived in Virginia and wrote for The Washington Post.The new leaks, which were also splashed in lurid detail across a pro-government newspaper, came a day after Mr. Pompeo and the Trump administration had appeared to accept at face value the promises of the Saudi rulers to conduct their own investigation into Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance — regardless of Turkish assertions that senior figures in the royal court had ordered his killing.As the Saudis and the Americans tried to put the crisis behind them, the brutality described in the leaks served as a reminder of why Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance has triggered an international backlash more severe than countless mass killings or rights violations. Mr. Trump, for his part, pushed back by questioning the Turkish claims, telling reporters on Wednesday that the United States had asked for copies of any audio or video evidence of Mr. Khashoggi’s killing that Turkish authorities may possess — “if it exists.” “I’m not sure yet that it exists, probably does, possibly does,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, adding: “I’ll have a full report on that” when Mr. Pompeo returned. “That’s going to be the first question I ask.”

‘Sawed while still alive’? Gruesome ‘taped’ details of Khashoggi’s alleged murder cause media stir - After a Turkish daily said it obtained a recording from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul related to journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a London-based outlet published an ultra-graphic description of his alleged murder and dismemberment. A three-minute audio recording of Khashoggi’s said to reveal what happened to him at the Saudi consulate has been leaked to the Turkish daily Sabah, but the paper has yet to release it. It is said to have been recorded by the journalist’s Apple Watch. But the London-based Middle East Eye claims to know what’s on the tape citing a source. It alleges the journalist was dragged into a study, where he was dismembered with a bone saw while he was still alive. The source also cites alleged witnesses hearing harrowing screams which only stopped, according to the claims, when the journalist was drugged with an unknown substance.  Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, the head of forensic evidence in the Saudi general security department, was singled out, as he can reportedly be heard in the recording urging his colleagues to listen to music while dismembering Khashoggi’s body with a bone saw.

Suspected member of Khashoggi ‘hit-team’ dies in mysterious ‘traffic accident’ in Saudi Arabia -- A member of the 15-man team suspected in the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has died in an accident back in Saudi Arabia, according to Turkish media, prompting suspicion of a cover up.  Meshal Saad al-Bostani, a 31-year-old lieutenant in the Saudi Royal Air Force, is believed to have died in a 'suspicious car accident' in the Saudi capital Riyadh, sources told the Turkish Yeni Safak - the one that earlier covered the shocking details of the murder.  A still taken from a Turkish police CCTV video, released by the Sabah newspaper, identified Bostani as he passed through Istanbul's Ataturk airport on October 2.He, along 14 other Saudi citizens allegedly arrived and left Turkey on the same day and are alleged by Turkish police to have tortured and murdered Khashoggi after he entered the Saudi consulate.The unconfirmed death of Bostani has already prompted accusations on social media that a cover up was underway by those who orchestrated Khashoggi's disappearance.In the Name of Allah, I posted about 2 days ago that members of that hit team would soon be killed. --They need to go to the Turkish consulate, local news media INTERPOL for safety (Then tell the truth about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman plot)— Muhammad (@jamiat33) October 18, 2018 Saudi Arabia isn't safe for anyone, not even their own citizens. I urge everyone to leave the country.

The greatest embarrassment’: Inside the kingdom, Saudis rattled by handling of Jamal Khashoggi case The dissident Saudi journalist who disappeared after entering his nation’s consulate in Istanbul may have run afoul of the Saudi leadership over family business dealings rather than his public criticism of the kingdom, sources have told The Independent.Jamal Khashoggi, scion of a powerful Saudi family, was caught up in the paranoid machinations of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, in his zeal to consolidate his power, eliminate rival royals, and seize the assets of his country’s billionaires to finance his ambitious vision for the kingdom, according to two sources.“It was decided that Jamal no longer had protection,” said one source, a businessperson based abroad who said he was told by a senior Saudi royal family member that the prince wanted to question Mr Khashoggi over whether he was collaborating with powerful royal factions seeking to weaken his rule. “There is no middle ground in the court now. You are either friend or enemy. For Jamal, he got caught in the middle.” A US-based analyst with extensive ties to the kingdom cited Saudi sources as saying that Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance was rooted not in what he had written or nuanced public criticism of the Saudi leadership but in his proximity to power. “It was not about his position as a journalist and what he was saying, but his position in broader Saudi society,” the analyst said, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to continue being able to travel to Saudi Arabia. The global uproar over the alleged Saudi operation against Mr Khashoggi has rattled the kingdom, insiders say, spurring talk of a leadership crisis within the upper echelons of power. Saudi authorities have denied involvement in any attempt to harm Mr Khashoggi, and many Saudis say they feel besieged, with both supporters and critics of the royal family suddenly fearful for the future and reputation of the kingdom.

Killing Jamal Khashoggi Was A Saudi Warning Shot - Long before Jamal Khashoggi disappeared, Saudi Arabia had a history of cracking down on dissidents. Little tolerance exists inside the kingdom for activism and dissent. Even abroad, critics have not been safe: Saudi princes critical of the regime have gone missing while living in Europe.But Khashoggi was not an ordinary dissident. He had started an advocacy group called Democracy for the Arab World Now, which aimed to bring together reformer intellectuals and political Islamists in pursuit of building democracy in the Arab world. Khashoggi also had links to Muslim Brotherhood, a transnational Islamist movement that has had tremendous influence in the region but one that Saudi Arabia regards as a regional threat and terrorist organization. His political engagement had become especially alarming for Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, given Khashoggi’s once very close relations to the royal family and his in-depth knowledge of issues and networks within the kingdom. Khashoggi had become a “dissident” only recently, but he did so with a level of ambition that triggered Mohammed bin Salman insecurity. The crown prince, known as MBS, tried and failed to bring Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia from the U.S. Khashoggi expressed his distrust of the Saudi authorities, and continued his activism. Khashoggi had become a 'dissident' only recently, but he did so with a level of ambition that triggered Mohammed bin Salman’s insecurity.So the crown prince, it seems, had him tortured and killed. The message was clear: Anyone who challenges the Saudi regime and tries to create alternatives to the current Saudi rule will be punished in the harshest way possible. It is a stark warning to dissident members of the Saudi diaspora and their supporters. Given the backlash from the business world ― which probably will intensify as gruesome details of the violence inflicted on Khashoggi trickle to the press ― MBS will likely be more cautious, at least in short-term. In long term, though, businesses and policymakers will need to signal consistently ― in public and in private ― that, despite the potential damage that sanctions on Saudi Arabia might do to the global economy, there are values that the international community is not ready to sacrifice. The challenge for the international community is to decide what those values are.” Indeed.

Saudi Journalist’s Disappearance Reshapes Mideast Power Balance —Just over two weeks since the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate, the fallout is threatening to reshape the balance of power in the Middle East and impair U.S. leverage in the region. Turkish officials say Mr. Khashoggi was killed and dismembered inside the consulate shortly after he entered on Oct. 2, stirring global revulsion and widespread condemnation of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis said the journalist left the compound unharmed the same day, but provided no evidence. The biggest geopolitical danger so far has been to the stability of the strategic alliance between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Trump administration officials have been careful to stress the importance of ties in recent days, but any lasting damage would be a serious setback for Saudi plans to lead the Middle East, and for U.S.-Saudi efforts to contain Iran. Israel’s strategic interests—such as weakening Iran—would also be under threat. The main winner appears to be Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has seized the moment to improve relations with Washington at a critical juncture, burnish his country’s international image—and challenge Saudi regional aspirations. Turkey “is the only country that can lead the Muslim world,” he declared this week. Iran, meanwhile, had the luxury of sitting back and enjoying how its main adversary appeared to sabotage itself just as international criticism has mounted over civilian casualties in the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. “Saudi Arabia is now on the back foot. The brewing criticism over Yemen has exploded with the Khashoggi tragedy,” “Riyadh now has to spend capital to recover from these crises instead of pursuing other goals, domestic and regional.” President Trump has stopped short of blaming the Saudis for Mr. Khashoggi’s death until an investigation is completed, and repeatedly highlighted the importance of U.S. weapons sales to the kingdom. Even if the weapons contracts survive the controversy, the image of Saudi Arabia and especially of its young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has taken a hit in Washington that could be irreparable. 

Saudi regime admits Khashoggi was killed in its Istanbul consulate --The Saudi Arabian monarchial regime finally admitted late Friday that dissident Saudi journalist and Washington Post correspondent Jamal Khashoggi was killed on October 2 inside its consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The acknowledgment comes after more than two weeks in which Saudi officials insisted that Khashoggi left the consulate unharmed and that they had no knowledge of his whereabouts.The admission that Khashoggi was in fact killed was presented by the country’s chief public prosecutor in a statement delivered on national television. It was made in the face of detailed reports by Turkish investigators that a 15-man team of Saudi intelligence agents, with close ties to the heir to the throne and de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was flown into Istanbul to assassinate Khashoggi. The journalist was viewed with hostility by the Saudi regime because of his criticisms of the crown prince and the murderous US-backed war being waged by Saudi Arabia in Yemen.Khashoggi had visited the consulate on September 28 to finalise divorce proceedings from his Saudi wife so he could marry his Turkish fiancée. He returned on October 2 to pick up documents.Turkish officials say that audio and video recordings in their possession show that the journalist was seized by the hit squad and brutally tortured and murdered, after which his body was dismembered and taken out of the building in suitcases by the Saudi operatives. The remains may have been flown to Saudi Arabia, though Turkish police have been conducting searches in forested areas on the outskirts of Istanbul. The alternative version of events advanced by the Saudi regime is a fantastic and brazen attempt to substantiate its absurd claim, echoed by the Trump administration, that “rogue killers” carried out the murder without the knowledge of the crown prince or other key figures in the Saudi ruling elite. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held meetings with Saudi King Salman and the crown prince on Tuesday, during which they agreed that an “accounting” of what had happened to Khashoggi would be presented.

Saudi Arabia fires 5 top officials, arrests 18 Saudis, saying Khashoggi was killed in fight at consulate — The Saudi government acknowledged early Saturday that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, saying he died during a fistfight, but the new account may do little to ease international demands for the kingdom to be held accountable. The announcement, which came in a tweet from the Saudi Foreign Ministry, said that an initial investigation by the government’s general prosecutor found that the Saudi journalist had been in discussions with people inside the consulate when a quarrel broke out and escalated to a fatal fistfight. The Saudi government said it fired five top officials and arrested 18 other Saudis as a result of the initial investigation. Those fired included Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s adviser Saud al-Qahtani and deputy intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri. The announcement marks the first time that Saudi officials have acknowledged that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate. Ever since he disappeared on Oct. 2 while visiting the mission, Saudi officials have repeatedly said that he left the consulate alive and that they had no information on his whereabouts or fate. He had gone to the consulate to obtain a document he needed for his upcoming marriage.

Saudi Royal Family Considering Replacement For Crown Prince bin Salman- Report - The major French daily Le Figaro on Thursday published a bombshell story which reports the Saudi royal family is actively considering a replacement to crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) as next in line to succeed his father King Salman as the kingdom finds itself under the greatest international pressure and scrutiny it's faced in its modern history over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi widely believed to have been killed on orders of MbS himself.  The Li Figaro report's unnamed diplomatic source says the Allegiance Council, which is historically the body responsible for approving the order of succession to the throne, is currently meeting in secret (translation from the French): For several days, the Allegiance Council for the ruling Saudi family is meeting in the utmost discretion, says a diplomatic source to Le Figaro in Paris. The information has been confirmed by a Saudi Arabian contacted in Riyadh. Composed of a delegate representing each of the clans — at least seven — of the royal family, this body, responsible for inheritance problems, examines the situation created by the disappearance, still unresolved, more than a fortnight ago, of the journalist dissident Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The report in France's oldest top three national newspapers further suggests the ruling family is seeking to replace the 33-year old MbS with his much less ambitious and more predictable brother, Prince Khalid bin Salman.

 New Saudi airstrike hits bus carrying civilians in Yemen - At least 17 people were killed and 20 injured in a Saudi-led airstrike on Yemen's Hodeida on Saturday. The attack presumably targeted a Houthi rebel checkpoint in the city's Jebel Ras area, but instead destroyed a bus full of civilians, medical sources said. Other reports said another bus was also hit during the bombing."The final toll is not determined yet because body parts of many victims are mixed with each other," said spokesman for the rebel-controlled Health Ministry Youssef al-Hadari.Many of the wounded were reported to be in critical condition. Witnesses cited by the DPA news agency said that the victims were attempting to flee the fighting in the port city, where the forces allied with the Saudi coalition have been trying to dislodge the rebels since June. Hodeida plays a key role for supplying food to Yemen civilians, as 80 percent of all imports and aid enter the country through its port.A coalition spokesman said that the Saudi-led forces would probe the incident. A similar Saudi-led airstrike in August killed 51 people, including 40 children who were taking a bus for a school trip. The attack triggered global outrage and accusations of a war crime. While Riyadh eventually acknowledged "mistakes" over the attack, coalition spokesman Turki al-Malki later denied it was a war crime and disputed numerous sources who stated the victims were children.

Yemen could be 'worst famine in 100 years' – BBC - The United Nations is warning that 13 million people in Yemen are facing starvation. It's calling on the military coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, to halt air strikes which are killing civilians, and contributing to what the UN says could become "the worst famine in the world in 100 years". Yemen's civil war began three years ago, when Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, seized much of the country, including the capital Sanaa. Saudi Arabia, backed by the US, the UK and France, is using air strikes and a blockade - in support of the internationally-recognised government. At least 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict and millions are displaced. Our international correspondent Orla Guerin, producer Nicola Careem and cameraman Lee Durant sent this report from Sanaa. It contains some distressing scenes.

After UAE 'Murder Squad' Revelations, How Many More Private US Hit Teams Are Under Gulf Regimes- “There was a targeted assassination program in Yemen. I was running it. We did it” confessed Hungarian Israeli security contractor Abraham Golan who heads the Delaware-based military contractor Spear Operations Group to BuzzFeed News as part of a lengthy new tell-all exposing an outrageous story of US covert ops gone wild. Except the bombshell report is not exactly about covert ops, but about the even less regulated underbelly and shady world of American special forces and intelligence operatives going "free agent" and contracted by uber-wealthy American Gulf allies who are building their own private armies to operate off the books assassination teams. "The revelations that a Middle East monarchy hired Americans to carry out assassinations comes at a moment when the world is focused on the alleged murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia." — BuzzFeedNow that the world is finally waking up to the truly ruthless and murderous machinations of America's favorite "oil and gas" Gulf autocratic sheikdoms, especially in light of the newly emerged grisly details of journalist Jamal Khashoggi's death and dismemberment by a Saudi assassination squad, we must ask: are the new BuzzFeed UAE 'kill team' revelations but the tip of the iceberg? Surely there are more such ex-Special Forces groups flush with Gulf cash and patronage out there with a license to kill? The stunning details of the BuzzFeed investigation suggest so this may not be an uncommon phenomenon. EXCLUSIVE: The United Arab Emirates has hired US ex-special ops soldiers to carry out targeted killings in war-torn Yemen https://t.co/rb6o8coP6S   Green Beret, Navy SEAL, and CIA paramilitary veterans were hired under the aegis of Spear Operations Group to become what BuzzFeed describes as the private "murder squad" for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ). Starting in 2015 the UAE sent a group of about a dozen mostly American private contractors to Yemen to conduct targeted killings of prominent clerics and political figures who had run afoul crown prince MBZ in the war-torn country, where the Emirati military has played a lead role in the ongoing Saudi coalition bombing campaign.

As Assad recovers, Syria is returning to stability  -- I escaped late last month to Syria, where children were returning to school after the summer holidays. Large tracts of the country have recently been liberated from the control of jihadi groups, meaning that in some places children are going back to school for the first time in five years. At Sinjar elementary school in Idlib province, I found the local headmaster painting the school sign. Five years ago rebels gave him the choice of closing down or being killed. He was confined to his house while the school buildings were converted into an arsenal. He took me into a room where an alert, motivated, mixed class of about 25 children spoke of their dreams of becoming doctors, engineers and teachers. Just 150 yards away, the jihadi emir, known as Al Yemeni, had forced people to watch public beheadings.  Locals said there had been 80 beheadings during half a decade of jihadi rule.  Schooling did not cease in all rebel areas. A 35-year-old headmistress in the south Damascus suburb of Douma told me her school had continued to operate under the control of the Saudi-backed rebel group Jaish al-Islam. However her students, girls between 13 and 16 years old, were forced to wear the hijab and banned from clapping their hands and taking public exams. Lessons in music, art and sport were banned. I was supplied with a press minder. Fadi was a travel guide before the war but had to close his business when it started. He went to work in the oilfields in Deir Ezzor, but was kidnapped by Free Syrian Army fighters. They had already beheaded three of his companions when he talked his way out of trouble, claiming a nonexistent acquaintance with a local al Qaeda warlord.  Fadi and I went to Mhardeh, a Christian town to the west of Idlib province. A car mechanic told us how his wife and three children had been killed by a rocket attack a few weeks ago. He was broken: ‘I have lost all my feelings.’ Mhardeh is surrounded by rebel villages which have pounded it with artillery fire for five years.  The devastation is unbelievable. Think Dresden, Stalingrad. Much worse than the Blitz. Miles of total destruction. In the old city centre of Homs, I find a family living deep among the ruins. They returned two months ago, six years after being driven out by a rebel attack in which their daughter was killed. Kemal, a security guard at the bus station, looked round his tiny home, walls smashed by shells and wide open to the elements, as his wife provided coffee. He said: ‘There is nothing sweeter than my own house. I am the most happy man in the world because I am back home.’

Israel orders immediate halt of fuel deliveries to Gaza - Israel's Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman has ordered an immediate halt to fuel deliveries headed to the besieged Gaza Strip in response to what he said were attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians, his office announced on Friday. The announcement on Friday follows the killing of six Palestinians by Israeli forces during the ongoing March of Return protests. "Israel will not tolerate a situation in which fuel tankers are allowed to enter Gaza on the one hand, while terror and violence are used against [Israeli] soldiers and Israeli citizens on the other," the statement from Lieberman's office read. Qatari-bought fuel began arriving on Tuesday in a bid to alleviate the humanitarian situation in the besieged enclave and prevent any escalation in Israeli-Palestinian violence. "The Qatari fuel to the Gaza strip's power plant today is aimed at partially improving electricity [supply] in Gaza," Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said at the time. The fuel deliveries were aimed at easing months of protests along the separation fence east of Gaza, which has been under a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade for more than a decade. Last week, Lieberman's office announced a further reduction to the Gaza's fishing zone, from nine nautical miles to six. Lieberman said the measure was in response to "riots" along the fence dividing Israel and Gaza and a midweek beach protest in which fishing boats and demonstrators gathered at the northwest end of the Gaza Strip. The United Nations has warned that Israel's 11-year blockade of the strip has resulted in a "catastrophic" humanitarian situation. Under the UN-brokered deal, Qatar pays for the fuel which is then delivered through Israel with UN monitoring, a diplomatic source said. A Qatari official, speaking to Reuters news agency on Sunday, said Doha planned to help with Gaza's power crisis "at the request of donor states in the UN, to prevent an escalation of the existing humanitarian disaster".

Israeli soldiers, bulldozers storm Khan Al-Ahmar – PNN: A large Israeli army force stormed the Khan Al-Ahmar on Monday morning, accompanied by three military bulldozers. The residents of the area and the Popular Resistance committee confronted the raid, during which IOF arrested one of the young men who stood up to the bulldozers of the occupation. The military vehicles of the occupation army were deployed on the main road between Jericho and Jerusalem, where the village is located, and intensified their presence in the area. This morning as well, settlers of Kfar Adumim flooded the village with sewage water. It is noteworthy that the settlers flooded the village’s land a few days ago with sewage as well, which caused great harm to citizens and their livestock.

Israeli forces hold 100 Palestinian athletes inside stadium -- Heavily armed Israeli forces held some 100 athletes, on Wednesday evening, at a Palestinian stadium in the al-Khader village in the southern occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem. Locals said that Israeli forces stormed the stadium and banned Palestinian players and administers, including coaches, who represent several sports teams, from leaving the premises after their training session ended. Israeli forces threatened players and administers at gunpoint, searched and interrogated some of the players.

Israel’s 50-Year Time Bomb The Trump White House and the Netanyahu government are fostering an extraordinary time bomb between Israel and Palestine in the name of “peace and progress,” warned a recent report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The report unsurprisingly said that “deepening rifts between key stakeholders and surging violence in Gaza further imperil prospects for peace.” While economic and strategic polarization is steadily deepening between the two sides, the “peace initiatives” of the Trump White House are undermining half a century of American diplomacy and pushing the region closer to an abyss. In the past, the Netanyahu government has vehemently opposed all parallels with South African apartheid. Unfortunately, new data suggests that under apartheid South African blacks had more to hope for than Palestinians today. Last year, Palestinian living standards were about 7.3 percent ($2,494) of the Israeli level ($34,135). After more than two decades of new wars and friction, terrorism and restrictions, the catch-up has amounted to less than a percentage point. Let’s set aside political debates about the causes and only focus on economic facts; i.e., changes in income polarization. And let’s compare the last two decades of apartheid South Africa with the past two decades between Israel and Palestinians. In the mid-70s, black South Africans’ annual per capita income relative to white levels was about 8.6 percent; that is, two percent higher relative to the Palestinian level vis-a-vis the Israelis. As the apartheid came to an end in a series of steps that led to the formation of a democratic government in 1994, black South Africans’ annual per capita income relative to the whites climbed to almost 14 percent whereas the comparable Palestinian level remained only half of that figure last year (Figure b).

Israel fines New Zealand women $18,000 for urging Lorde concert boycott - An Israel court has ordered two New Zealand women to pay damages for harming the “artistic welfare” of three Israeli teenagers after the pop star Lorde cancelled a planned performance in Tel Aviv.Judge Mirit Fohrer ruled that Justine Sachs and Nadia Abu-Shanab of New Zealand must pay damages to Israeli teenagers Shoshana Steinbach, Ayelet Wertzel and Ahuva Frogel totalling more than NZ$18,000 for writing a letter urging the singer to cancel her concert in Tel Aviv, the Jerusalem Post reports.It is believed to be the first effective use of a 2011 Israeli law allowing civil lawsuits of anyone who encourages a boycott of Israel. The Israeli teenagers claimed their “artistic welfare” was damaged because of the cancellation and that they suffered “damage to their good name as Israelis and Jews”.

All-Out War Coming- Record Number Of Israeli Tanks Amassed On Gaza Border - After months of violence and widespread protests along the Israeli-Gaza border fence, Israeli is quickly ramping up its military presence with a show of force a day after launching deadly airstrikes on Gaza in response to what officials say were two rockets fired from the strip earlier this week.   Reuters has reported some 60 Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers now stationed at a deployment area along the border as of Thursday, which is the largest reported mustering of forces since the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas.  Special UN envoy for the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, told the UN Security Council on Thursday that "we remain on the brink of another potentially devastating conflict, a conflict that nobody claims to want, but a conflict that needs much more than just words to prevent".One of the rockets launched Wednesday reportedly landed in the sea, however, Israeli officials said it came dangerously close to densely populated Tel Aviv. Hamas, for its part, denied responsibility for the rocket launches and said it would investigate. Meanwhile Israel retaliated in Wednesday airstrikes on Gaza, which reportedly killed at least one Palestinian while injuring several more. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu further convened his security cabinet on the same day of the Gaza rocket launches and promised to take "very strong action" if such attacks continued.

China Defends Mass Re-education Camps As Uighur Muslims Transformed For The Better - Two months after a United Nations human rights panel first accused China of holding up to one million ethnic Uighurs in what was described a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy,” Chinese officials have now admitted to the existence of the "re-education" camps focused on "preventing" religious extremism, and have mounted a fierce defense, going so far as to say former detainees have been "transformed for the better" and live happier lives as "citizens of the nation".  Though reports of the Orwellian mass internment camps where "brain washing" techniques are said to be routine have shocked Western audiences as details and testimony have emerged over the past weeks, China has now not only unashamedly admitted to the centers, but is positively boastful about the whole enterprise.  A new Reuters report details a bombshell interview with Beijing's number two Communist party official, who just happens to also be the most senior ethnic Uighur in Xinjiang province - the location and foremost concentration of government crackdowns and internment camps for the mintority group:Vocational training is being used “to the greatest extent” in China’s far-western Xinjiang region to ensure militant activities are “eliminated before they occur,” a senior Communist Party official said.The state media interview with Shohrat Zakir, the number two party official and most senior ethnic Uighur in Xinjiang, is China’s most detailed defense yet of its policies in the region, which is home to a large Muslim population. The minority ethno-religious group concentrated in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang has found itself under increased persecution and oversight by Chinese authorities of late as their collective Sunni Islamic identity and separatist political movements have resulted in historic tensions with the Communist government.   Beijing has in recent years been accused of practicing collective punishment and broad crackdowns on the Uighur population in Xinjiang, which is numbered in total at 11 million (with some estimates of up to 15 million; China's total Muslim population is at about 21 million). The minority ethnic group is also found in sizable numbers in neighboring Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan. Recent UN statements have blamed state authorities for prominent Uighur Chinese citizens and dissidents being "disappeared".

China’s Factory Heartland Braces for Trump’s Big Tariff Hit - In China’s manufacturing heartland around the Pearl River Delta, Donald Trump’s 10 percent tariffs are causing little concern. The 25 percent duties that loom next year are another matter. Ben Yang, a furniture maker producing contemporary designs out of his facility in Dongguan -- about 30 miles from Hong Kong -- says that if those higher charges materialize from January as planned, the U.S. share of exports from his Sunrise Furniture Co. could plunge from 90 percent to less than a third. “Our major rival is Vietnam and 10 percent tariffs aren’t enough to make the difference,” said Yang, 48, who supplies retailers including Rooms To Go Inc. “But 25 percent tariffs are a worry. There will definitely be a short-term impact; Americans may have to accept higher prices.” Yang’s situation mirrors that of the economy as a whole as it heads toward the close of 2018: The negative headlines that have dominated the year have not yet translated into a sharp contraction of output, but rather the gradual slowdown that had already been expected. It’s what comes next that’s preoccupying business owners, as interviews with about a dozen manufacturers in the Delta over the past ten days showed. The region serves as both China’s traditional hub for manufacturing everything from toys to chemicals, as well as a higher-tech location that now hosts the headquarters of companies like Tencent Holdings Ltd. Exporters there are now seeking ways to adjust by diversifying sales to other overseas markets and domestic consumers. “Going beyond 10 percent, the disruption increases exponentially,”

 China may have $5.8 trillion in hidden debt with 'titanic' risks - China’s local governments may have accumulated 40 trillion yuan ($5.8 trillion) of off-balance sheet debt, or even more, suggesting further defaults are in store, according to S&P Global Ratings.“The potential amount of debt is an iceberg with titanic credit risks,” S&P credit analysts led by Gloria Lu wrote in a report Tuesday. Much of the build-up relates to local government financing vehicles (LGFVs), which don’t necessarily mean local governments themselves are on the hook for paying off the obligations. With the national economy slowing, and a Beijing-set quota for issuance of local-government bonds not being enough to fund infrastructure projects to support regional growth rates, authorities across the country have resorted to LGFVs to raise financing, according to S&P. That’s left LGFVs “walking a tightrope” between deleveraging and transforming their businesses into more typical state-owned enterprises, the S&P analysts said. The continued focus on funding to sustain growth at the local level echoes a broader shift in the central government, which last year was focused on reducing leverage in the financial system. That phase is essentially over, thanks in part to an escalating trade war with the U.S., according to Citigroup Inc. analysts. “The markets are right, in our view, to feel more concerned about the sustainability of China’s debt and the increased financial risks,” said Liu Li-Gang, chief China economist at Citigroup in Hong Kong. He also saw “renewed pressure” on the yuan.

At IMF meetings, China's globalization agenda left behind in trade debate (Reuters) - Three days before U.S. President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping portrayed Beijing as the champion and defender of globalization at the Davos World Economic Forum amid rising fears of trade protectionism. A few months later, as Xi launched a forum on China’s vast Belt and Road effort, promising to spread Chinese investment and soft power through the world, it appeared his country’s global stature was rising. But now the lustre on Beijing’s trade and investment story has dulled amid rising U.S. tariffs, higher interest rates and capital flight from emerging markets, all of which threaten to erode global growth. At the International Monetary Fund and World Bank annual meetings on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, some of that sentiment spilled into the open. “I think there is a broad view growing in the West that China has in some ways taken advantage of the system,” “It reminds me of the view in the West of Japan in the 1980s, very much so.” Calls to fix global trading rules are tellingly coming not just from the Trump administration. IMF managing director Christine Lagarde this week laid out what needed to be done. “This means looking at the distortionary effects of state subsidies, improving the enforcement of intellectual property rights, and taking steps to ensure effective competition - to avoid the excesses of market-dominant positions,” she said at a trade conference during the Bali meetings. Lagarde did not mention China, but all those issues are charges frequently leveled by the Trump administration. Others were less restrained. “We absolutely need to address the issue of overcapacities in China. Nobody can say that this is not a problem. This has to be dealt with,” European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici said at the same event. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin struck a more confident tone at the Bali meetings compared with similar gatherings over the last year, when he was the target of near-universal criticism over Trump’s tariff plans. Fresh off a deal to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, and with trade talks coming soon with the European Union and Japan, the U.S. administration is trying to build a coalition of allies to revamp global trade rules to combat technology transfer and other trade policies it associates with China. Mnuchin said U.S. allies first viewed Trump’s trade views as simply protectionist but now have a better understanding of his desire for “free, fair and reciprocal trade.” “This is not a coalition to pressure China. This is a coalition of like-minded people who have very similar issues as it relates to China,” Mnuchin said. 

Recent developments surrounding the South China Sea -WaPo - China’s ambassador to the United States has defended the Chinese navy’s action in a close encounter with a U.S. destroyer in the South China Sea, saying America’s warships are “on the offensive” near Chinese territory. The U.S. Pacific Fleet said a Chinese destroyer came aggressively close to a U.S. Navy ship in the incident late last month, forcing it to maneuver to prevent a collision. Ambassador Cui Tiankai said on Fox News Sunday that the confrontation took place “on China’s doorstep.” “It’s not Chinese warships that are going to the coast of California, or to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s so close to the Chinese islands and it’s so close to the Chinese coast. So who is on the offensive? Who is on the defensive? This is very clear,” Cui said. U.S. Pacific Fleet Spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Tim Gorman said the Chinese warship approached the USS Decatur in an “unsafe and unprofessional maneuver” near Gaven Reefs in the South China Sea. The reefs lie about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) south of China’s southernmost province of Hainan in the Spratly Island group and are also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan. Gorman said the Chinese destroyer approached within 45 yards (41 meters) of the Decatur’s bow, forcing it to maneuver. China said the Luoyang, a Chinese missile destroyer, was immediately deployed to identify the U.S. warship and drive it away. China claims most of the strategic waterway and has built islands on reefs and equipped them with military facilities such as airstrips, radar domes and missile systems.

China’s trade war pain can be ASEAN’s gain: how Southeast Asia is reaping a windfall of shifting trade and investment The current trade war between the United States and China is causing considerable stress to businesses in the line of fire. Even after the US midterm elections next month, the tension will not go away. Anti-China sentiment is growing in the US. Peter Navarro, one of US President Donald Trump’s top trade advisers, described “death by China”. Manufacturers in China, both Chinese and non-Chinese, are reacting. Distribution centres for consumer products are shifting back to Hong Kong from China. Mainland electronics companies are relocating facilities to Taiwan so that final products exported to the US are not from China and therefore, subject to rules of origin, not liable to new US tariffs. As US Customs tightens compliance with rules of origin, trade diversion from China to Southeast Asia and other countries will be followed by investment diversion. China will instead supply components to countries exporting to the US. The trade war is accelerating a process already underway, which is the relocation of lower value-added manufacturing activities from China to Southeast and South Asia, and increasingly also to Africa. We can expect China to give greater emphasis to the Belt and Road Initiative as it girds itself for a prolonged trial of strength with the US. Chinese leaders do not want a fight with the US and are prepared to meet US demands more than halfway, but they cannot afford to be humiliated in the eyes of their own people. For decades to come, China’s growing economic, political and military weight is bound to create episodic instability in relations with the US, Europe, Russia, India and Japan.

S.Korea, DPRK agree to break ground for railway, road connection - Xinhua | English.news.cn: (Xinhua) -- South Korea and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) agreed Monday to hold a groundbreaking ceremony in late November or early December to modernize and eventually connect railways and roads across the inter-Korean border.The agreement was reached after the high-level dialogue held earlier in the day at the Peace House, a South Korean building in the truce village of Panmunjom, according to a pool report from South Korean media.Before the groundbreaking ceremony, the two Koreas agreed to do a field study on railways along the west corridor of the Korean Peninsula from late October and railways along the east corridor from early November.Detailed schedules for the field study would be fixed later through the exchange of letters.The senior-level talks were held to discuss ways to implement the Pyongyang Declaration, signed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and top DPRK leader Kim Jong Un after their third summit in Pyongyang in September.

Japan expands cheap infrastructure loans to third country projects -- Japan drafted a plan to offer greater assistance for infrastructure development overseas ahead of a key summit with China next week, as it prepares to pursue joint projects with Beijing in third countries. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to discuss cooperating on infrastructure investment in other countries when they meet on Oct. 26. In light of this, a Japanese government council on Wednesday drafted a basic strategy to promote infrastructure exports. Under the new strategy, the Japanese government will extend low-rate yen loans even to projects abroad in which Japanese companies have a relatively small stake. In addition, Japanese businesses will provide a certain portion of materials for projects undertaken by consortia led by overseas companies. The government-owned Japan Bank for International Cooperation and Nippon Export and Investment Insurance are also expected to offer more favorable financing terms for projects supplying liquefied natural gas to third countries. "There's plenty of room to expand and fortify our efforts to tie up with partners in projects carried out in third countries," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at the meeting. Suga pointed out that Japan has to pay close attention to potential problems with the projects. For example, an emerging economy or a company based in such countries may have weaker compliance regimes. Japan plans to demand transparency when pursuing infrastructure cooperation, including with China.

How the new US-China Cold War will play out for India - A new US-China Cold War is about to begin. Last week, US vice-president Mike Pence accused China of economic and political aggression to try and dominate the world, and pledged to combat this in every realm and continent. He listed Chinese military adventures, economic and political espionage, theft of technology, and massive aid programmes including debt-trap diplomacy. China aims to dominate the 21st century. Its 2025 Vision aims to put China at the cutting edge of all high technologies — robotics, artificial intelligence, space, energy. This was not taken seriously when announced ten years ago. Pence has now given notice that it will be battled fiercely. Donald Trump’s tweets and rants are so self-contradictory and arbitrary that analysts cannot spot policy coherence. What, for instance does Trump really want from China on trade? He keeps hammering China without chalking out a negotiating path that could clinch a deal. Trump’s approach suddenly begins to make sense if it is a Cold War tactic, and not simply a trade negotiation. The US will kick China in every way to prevent its rise, aiming ultimately for nothing less than regime change. China has combined authoritarianism and state control with privatisation and globalisation in a unique way to achieve the fastest economic growth in history. Trump says China was allowed to enter the global trading and financial system without becoming a true market economy, hoping it would become a liberal state in due course. Hence, China got the “special and differential” status that the WTO bestows on developing countries, allowing them to maintain high trade and investment barriers even as rich countries lower theirs. Trump says this status has been grossly misused by China, and that in future it must “follow the rules”, meaning China must become a regular market economy with the low entry barriers of other OECD countries. But China cannot agree, since this would end the stranglehold of the Communist Party on the economy. It hopes Trump is a temporary phenomenon that will fade away. But the anti-China mood now cuts across parties in the US. Even if the next US president is a Democrat, the new Cold War will at best weaken, not end. Europe and Japan also worry about, and want to curb, a dominant China.

India’s decision on buying oil from Iran, defence system from Russia not helpful: US India's decision to continue buying oil from Iran after November 4 and purchase the S-400 Triumf air defence system from Russia is "not helpful" and the US is reviewing it "very carefully", the State Department has said. The US is trying to cut off all oil imports from Iran following President Donald Trump's decision in May to pull out of the 2015 multilateral deal that eased global sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran's suspect nuclear programmes and malign activities. ..It has given a November 4 deadline to its allies to bring down their import of Iranian oil to zero. Responding to questions on reports that India will continue to purchase oil from Iran after November 4, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said this was not helpful. India's Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan on Monday said that two state refiners have placed orders for importing crude oil from Iran in November. "Overall with regard to those sanctions that will take effect on November 4th - and you're referring to the oil sanctions for Iran and countries that choose to continue purchasing oil from Iran - we have conversations with many partners and allies around the world about those sanctions," she said on Thursday.

Low Food Prices Are a Budget Problem for India’s Modi A low inflation spell in an election year should be good news for any government, right? Wrong. For Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the subdued inflation numbers, due largely to low food prices, may present a budget problem. His government may have to shell out more to compensate farmers for low market prices of some crops under a plan announced this year with a view to double farm incomes by 2022. “India’s falling food prices could become a bane for Modi,” said Soumya Kanti Ghosh, chief economic adviser at the nation’s largest lender State Bank of India. “A bumper harvest that’s led to crashing of food prices will increase the burden on the government to compensate farmers.” In July, the government raised support prices of crops such as cotton, soybeans and paddy rice to ensure farmers get at least 50 percent more than the estimated production costs. That means in the event of a crash in market prices, the government would have to chip in and ensure sale of the produce by farmers at guaranteed prices. The increase would cost the government an additional 150 billion rupees ($1.8 billion), Home Minister Rajnath Singh had said in July without elaborating. India aims to keep its budget gap at 3.3 percent of gross domestic product in the fiscal year to March 2019. But as the country gears up for a national election early next year, there are concerns that the government might not be able to stick to that target.

Cambodia construction boom built on ‘blood bricks’ and slavery – report - Cambodia's construction boom is built in part with "blood bricks" manufactured by modern-day slaves, including children, researchers said on Tuesday. Poverty fuelled partly by climate change has pushed tens of thousands of Cambodian families into bonded labour, making bricks for buildings in the capital, Phnom Penh, according to a report by researchers from London's Royal Holloway University. "Tens of thousands of debt-bonded families in Cambodia extract, mould and fire clay in hazardous conditions to meet Phnom Penh's insatiable appetite for bricks," researchers said. "Kiln owners repay farmers' debts and offer a consolidated loan. In return, farmers and their families are compelled to enter into debt bondage with the kiln owner until the loan is repaid." Families surveyed had agreed to pay back loans of between $100 and $4,000. The average was $712 - a fortune in a country where the average annual income is $1,230, according to the World Bank. Those pushed into debt bondage often earned far less than the average, with climate change hitting harvests and pushing farming families into debt. Cambodia is among the most vulnerable countries in the world to the effects of climate change, the report noted. The country is also one of Asia's fastest growing economies, but inequality remains stark - two-bedroom apartments in the capital were up for sale at prices of $260,000 and up, more than 200 years' wages for the average Cambodian, the report said. Workers reported "respiratory illnesses driven by the inhalation of kiln fumes and brick dust without protective equipment, and limb amputation resulting from unsafe brick-moulding machinery". When bonded labourers need to seek medical treatment or for other reasons, they must leave without their families to ensure they return, said the report, which was backed by the British government and the Economic and Social Research Council. "Kiln owners showed a preference for families over single workers as they were apparently less likely to run away," according to the researchers. Cambodia's labour minister released a statement last week warning businesses, including brick kilns, against using child labour and other forms of exploitation such as debt bondage.

Apple says ‘dangerous’ Australian encryption laws put ‘everyone at risk’ -Apple has come out with one of its strongest defences of encryption yet, saying it is the "single best tool we have to protect data and ultimately lives." The tech giant has made a submission to the Australian government in response to proposed encryption laws in the country that it says are "dangerously ambiguous" and have the potential to compromise security, safety and privacy for millions of people -- not just in Australia, but around the world. The Australian parliament is currently considering new encryption laws that would require tech giants such as Apple, Facebook, WhatsApp and more to provide access to encrypted communications to law enforcement for policing crime. The so-called "Assistance and Access Bill" sets out three levels of assistance that companies can be called on to provide to police and national security agencies. These range from "voluntary assistance" all the way up to a notice issued by the attorney general requiring tech companies to "build a new capability" in hardware or software to allow access to encrypted communications. Australia's conservative federal government has insisted that the laws would not require tech companies to build so-called "back doors" into encrypted communications. 'Dangerously ambiguous' But Apple has slammed the bill, saying it is too broad, that the wording is "dangerously ambiguous," and that it would create "unprecedented" powers for law enforcement without appropriate judicial oversight, including the ability to intercept encrypted communications and "eavesdrop" on people in real time.

Unprotected Pro Publica - One young American was at the center of it all.  She was a dervish of hugs, laughter, even tears. Her name was Katie Meyler. It was her 31st birthday and,  the More Than Me Academy was opening. The building had been a war-ruined shell people used as a toilet, festering so long a tree had grown through its walls. Now, with the Liberian president having given Meyler free use, it shone, improbably rebuilt into a school. A slogan ran step by step up a staircase: “I – promise – to – make – my – dream – come – true.” A sense of possibility infused the day, for Liberia and for the girls whose lives Meyler was transforming.   One, 15 years old, spoke of friends her age with multiple babies, friends forced to sell their bodies. “I could have been one of these girls, but I am not. I am not, because More Than Me believed in me.” Meyler wanted to save these girls from sexual exploitation. She wanted to educate them, empower them, keep them safe. That’s why she had founded a charity called More Than Me. When the Liberian president, who had won a Nobel Peace Prize for her fight for women’s safety, was asked that day what she wanted from those keen to help her country, she answered, “To expand Katie Meyler’s initiative to as many communities as possible. The charity would raise over $8 million, including almost $600,000 from the U.S. government. Meyler would enter a rarefied world of globe-trotting problem-solvers. She would rub shoulders with Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey, and even get invited to the Obama White House. MTM’s footprint in Liberia would multiply to 19 schools teaching 4,000 students. Yet some of the girls present that September day had a secret. Far from being saved from sexual exploitation, they were being raped by the man standing beside Meyler on the stage. His assaults went on for years and continued in the new school. He was protected by his position — he was presented as “co-founder” of MTM; he and Meyler had had an intimate relationship, and she kept him in place even after having reason to suspect his predilections. But he was also shielded from exposure in the community by everything that she had brought: a school, scholarships and, above all, hope.

Tens of millions fear losing homes and land in next five years – poll - Tens of millions of people around the world fear losing their homes and land in the next five years and young people feel particularly vulnerable, according to a survey of 15 countries released on Wednesday. A lack of formal documentation and poor implementation of land laws threaten tenure in many countries, researchers and policymakers said at a presentation of the Global Property Rights Index (PRIndex), which gauges citizens’ perceptions. “Around the world over 40 million people worry that their home or place of work will be taken from them,” said Anna Locke from the Overseas Development Institute, a British think tank that is involved in the index, at a launch event in Rome. “This will affect the way they behave, and their countries’ overall development prospects.” Overall, one in four respondents feared their property being taken away. Those aged 18-24 reported levels of insecurity 10.5 percentage points higher on average than than those aged 55 or older across the countries surveyed. People in Burkina Faso and Liberia reported the highest levels of concern, with more than two in five respondents from the West African nations fearing their homes could be taken away from them. In Rwanda, it was just 8 percent. In Africa alone, about 90 percent of rural land is undocumented, according to the World Bank. Respondents cited being asked by their landlord to leave the property as well as family disagreements as the main reasons for feeling insecure. In Burkina Faso, for example, 53 percent of women felt they might lose their property in the event of a divorce. “Measuring perceptions gives us a much more nuanced picture of property rights,” 

Brazil: the First Republic under threat - In the United States, it was not until the mid 1960s that the former slaves finally obtained the right to sit in the same buses as whites, to go to the same schools and, at the same time, accede to the right to vote. In Brazil, the right to vote for the poor dates from the 1988 constitution, just a few years before the first multi-racial elections in South Africa in 1994. The comparison may shock: the population in Brazil is much more mixed than the two other countries. In 2010, in the last census, 48% of the population declared themselves to be ‘white’, 43% ‘mixed’, 8% ‘black’ and 1% ‘Asian’ or ‘natives’. In reality, more than 90% of Brazilians are of mixed origin. The fact remains that social and racial divisions are closely linked. While Brazil is not a country devoid of racism, it is sometimes described as the country of « cordial racism ». This is also a country where democracy is recent and fragile and at the moment is faced with a very serious crisis. The first universal suffrage presidential election took place in 1989 and Lula, a former lathe operator, reached the second round and obtained 47% of the votes. His electoral success in 2002 with 61% of the votes in the second ballot, then his re-election in 2006 with the same score, – the candidate who had been ridiculed because of his lack of education and who was said not to be capable of representing the country abroad appropriately, marked the symbolic entry of Brazil into the era of universal suffrage. On the contrary, the election of Bolsonaro would signify a terrible regression and would go beyond the normal changeover following the new victories obtained by the Workers’ Party (PT) and Dilma Roussef (56% in 2010, 52% in 2014) with an electorate increasingly divided socially, racially and geographically. The representative from Rio is a militarist, a macho and homophobic; he is also anti-social and anti-poor, as witness his ultraliberal economic programme. He also rides the wave of nostalgia for the reign of the white man, in a country where the ‘whites’ have now ceased to be the majority (they still accounted for 54% in the 2000 census). Given the questionable circumstances of the deposition of Roussef in 2016 and the obstruction of Lula in 2018, this election runs the risk of leaving dreadful traces. .

Crimea attack- Gun attack at Kerch college kills 19 - At least 19 people have been killed and dozens more wounded in a shooting at a college in Russian-annexed Crimea. An 18-year-old student ran through the Kerch technical college firing at fellow pupils before killing himself, Russian investigators say. Witnesses have also spoken of at least one blast caused by an unidentified explosive. The motive is unclear. Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 in a move condemned by many Western powers. The annexation marked the start of a simmering conflict involving Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine that goes on to this day. There are contradictory reports about the chronology of Wednesday's attack. The alleged perpetrator, named Vladislav Roslyakov, is said to have run from room to room as he fired, starting in the area near the canteen. He then shot himself dead, Russia's investigative committee said. Photos later emerged in Russian media purportedly showing the body of the attacker in the college library. The investigative committee said initial examinations suggested all the victims died of gunshot wounds, but some reports speak of shrapnel injuries. At the same time, Russia's law enforcement sources are quoted by local media as saying that the attacker had detonated a bomb in the canteen before starting shooting. Soon after reports of a blast in the college, investigators released a statement saying an explosive device filled with "metal objects" had detonated in the dining area. Several witnesses maintain they heard one or more explosions. Investigators later said they found a second device among the personal possessions of the gunman and that it had been disarmed.

World Finance Leaders Scramble For A Solution To Escalating Trade War, Rising Rates -The main takeaway from the IMF and World Bank Group annual meeting in Bali, which hosted financial ministers and central bank governors from around the world this weekend, was that global trade tensions were having a profound effect on global growth and need to be solved.Most of the participants - save for China and Mexico - seemed united and in agreement that trade talks have to continue. Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda stated that it was essential to have dialogue on trade while at the same time, the president of Brazil's central bank, Ilan Goldfajn, noted that the trade wars were one of the biggest threats to emerging markets. Indonesia's president Jokowi Widodo said starkly that "winter is coming" for the global economy if there is no solution on trade. However, not everybody was prepared to find a solution at any cost. Bank of China governor Yi Gang stated that he was preparing for the worst, despite still seeking a constructive resolution to the problem. Gang stated at the meeting: "You see a lot of people in China now preparing for this trade tension to be a prolonged situation. The downside risks from trade tensions are significant."Mexico also stepped in to voice its support for China. Former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo told China that they should follow the example set by Mexico and Canada during their negotiations with the United States, because they both were able to secure the terms that they wanted, even though some may disagree violently with this hot take.Zedillo said, "Mexico and Canada made clear that they’d rather not have Nafta than having the deal that the U.S. wanted. In the end, Mexico and Canada got their way in every single issue that had been drawn as a red line. So I hope China doesn’t blink.” In any case, IMF managing director Christine Lagarde made it clear in an interview with Bloomberg following the meetings what the key priority is: "Our message was very clear: de-escalate the tensions."

The New Face of the Eurozone Bailout Fund - Der Spiegel - One of Europe's most promising startups can be found in an unassuming low-rise in Luxembourg City's Kirchberg district. Despite its rather pallid surroundings, it has all the characteristics of a promising new company: dynamic growth, international staff, bright prospects and tons of money. It even has its own gym. The startup operates under the acronym ESM, which stands for European Stability Mechanism: But it is more commonly referred to as the euro rescue fund.The finance ministers of the 19 eurozone member states, who make up the ESM's board of governors, have been discussing for months how the organization should be further developed. They have big plans. The board of governors would like to see the ESM become a European version of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). To achieve this, the ESM would have to be given new powers to better monitor euro countries' fiscal policies. The organization would also be expected to play a bigger role in bank bailouts -- not exactly an unimportant responsibility should a new financial crisis arise. And last but not least, the ESM would be empowered to better assist governments that find themselves in a tight spot. The board of governors hopes such reforms would bolster the rescue fund such that it could even handle a situation such as that developing in Italy, where the government is pursuing a heedless fiscal policy that has for the first time pushed a large European country to the brink of bankruptcy.

European Car Sales Plunge 23%, Dragging Market Lower -  The global carmageddon wave is spreading: just two weeks after the US reported its worst auto sales in years - now ex dealer incentives, and just days after the latest Chinese data showed passenger-car purchases by dealerships plunged 12% from a year earlier to just over 2 million units in September, the biggest drop on record.... the auto weakness has hit Europe, where passenger car registrations in Europe slumped 23% during September after new emissions test rules took hold, reversing August gains when automakers were hurrying vehicles out the door to beat the deadline.   Europe's tougher testing methods are designed to produce results more in line with real-world conditions, and come as the industry struggles to regain credibility after it emerged in recent years that virtually every German carmaker was gaming emissions tests.The new emission test methods in Europe are having an adverse effect on companies like (surprise) Volkswagen and Daimler AG. Both companies have stated that they are going to struggle to meet delivery targets this year because of the new rules, which are designed to produce emission results more in-line with real world conditions. VW hopes to have these emission struggles behind them by the fourth quarter. While BMW hasn’t seen trouble from these emission tests, it issued a profit warning last month regardless. The company blamed pricing pressure from competitors as a headwind.And while there is the temptation to assume the September slide is a one-time event, Bloomberg Intelligence warned that the emissions tests and tough annual comparisons would add further pressure in 4Q, while diesel and emission compliance continues to squeeze automakers' margins.Meanwhile, as Bloomberg notes, other headwinds remain:  BMW cited trade tensions in last month's profit forecast cut. The European car lobby is warning on Brexit. And don't forget the parts makers - Goldman sees a “challenging” 3Q for European automotive industry, with potential for downward earnings revisions by suppliers. A spate of positive 3Q results starting next week could help throw sinking valuations in reverse, but trade worries are going to take longer. Sentiment remains negative and investors more inclined to push the sell than buy button for now.

Italy's Government Endorses Draft Budget That Would Widen Deficit —Italy’s government late Monday approved a draft budget law for next year, confirming a set of expansionary measures that could lead to a fast-rising deficit and a conflict with the European Union. The government, a coalition of the antiestablishment 5 Star Movement and the far-right League, has rattled financial markets in the past month with its budget plans, with investors demanding significantly higher interest rates to buy the country’s bonds. The full draft budget law will be sent to the Italian parliament by Saturday. Lawmakers will need to approve it by the end of the year. The planned measures included in the draft law are set to widen the budget deficit to 2.4% of gross domestic product, in defiance of EU rules that require a shrinking deficit. EU officials fear the real deficit could be much higher than 2.4%, according to people familiar with the matter. Rome said it would raise welfare and pension spending and cut taxes, despite the negative reaction from investors and Brussels to its proposals. EU leaders had already warned that Italy’s budget plans represented a “significant deviation” from recommended fiscal policies, raising the prospect of a major clash between Rome and Brussels over the Italian coalition government’s plans. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the government on Monday would send its draft budgetary plan to the European Commission, which could reject the plan and demand changes.

Italian Cabinet Approves 2019 Budget, Sends Plan To Brussels - Italy's cabinet on approved the country's expansionary 2019 budget bill late on Monday, Prime Minister Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said. Conte told reporters the budget "keeps our promises while keeping public accounts in order", adding that the government had sent the budget framework to the European Commission in Brussels for its review.Commenting on the budget, Italy's Economy Minister Tria said the budget measures are all fully covered and budget allows "early retirement and basic income tools."Tria also said that a 2.4% budget is "normal" for a Western country (indicatively, today the US reported a 3.9% budget deficit), adding that the expansionary budget is necessary to counter the slowdown of the economy in the next year and said that concerns that the budget would spark a crisis in Europe are "totally unfounded."Tria said that he "thinks" he will be able to explain the budget to Brussels, which is expected to oppose the Italian proposal vocally, and also denied denies plans to resign after the budget is approved in Parliament.Meanwhile, Italy's deputy PM and interior minister Savlini said the budget does not include tax increases. He also said that he is "satisfied" with the 2019 budget and added that the early retirement bill will create some 400,000 jobs, while €500MM would be saved from lower migrant spending. Italy's other deputy PM Di Maio said the budget "cuts privileges" to fund income for the poor, adding that citizens income would start in Q1 2019. And now we await Brussels' response response: the question is whether the EU will reject the budget outright which could unleash another bout of Italian bond volatility, or if it will be a long, drawn out process of back and forth negotiations which eventually culminates in the departure of Italy's populist government as yields and "lo spread" blows out, as Brussels seeks to make another example of the upstart populist government.

Italy Declares War On Merkel And The EU - If there were ever any doubts that the leaders of the Euroskeptic coalition that now runs Italy has a plan to defy the European Union its proposed budget should quell them. Both Deputy Prime Ministers, Luigi Di Maio of Five Star Movement and Matteo Salvini of The League, were adamant about locking horns with European Union leadership over all issues of sovereignty between now and May’s European Parliamentary elections. Their budget proposal which included both tax cuts and universal income blew past the EU budget limit of 2.0% of GDP, coming in at 2.4%. It has put their Finance Minister, Giovanni Tria, in a difficult position because Tria doesn’t want to negotiate this budget with Brussels, preferring a less confrontational, read more pro-EU, approach. Salvini and Di Maio, however, have other plans. And since I began covering this story last year on my blog, I’ve said that it was imperative that Salvini force the issue of the Troika’s demands – the EU, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – back down their throats on debt restructuring/forgiveness. What I meant then, and I was focused on Salvini’s emergence as the leader of this fight, was that Salvini and Italy, because they are more than technically insolvent, have all the leverage in the negotiations. The size of their outstanding debt and the liabilities existent on the balance sheets of banks across Europe, most notably the nearly $1 trillion in TARGET 2 liabilities, are something Juncker, Draghi, Merkel and Christine LaGarde at the IMF simply cannot ignore. But, to do this Salvini and now Di Maio have to make a good faith effort to negotiate a good deal for Italy with Brussels, Berlin and the IMF. This is why the budget squeaked past the 2.0% limit and then they walked it back to 2.0% but with provisions they knew would anger the EU finance ministers. The point of this is to push Brussels and paint them as the bad guys to shift public sentiment back towards an Italeave position. Italy’s problems are not solvable with Germany holding the purse strings for all the EU countries.

Juncker Warns 'The EU Cannot Survive Without Italy'  - Ignoring warnings from the European Commission, the ECB and the European Commission (as well as practically every other supranational organization in Europe), the populist-led Italian government managed to submit their draft budget to the Commission before a midnight deadline - an outcome that was cheered by BTP traders, who bought back into Italian bonds, once again compressing the spread to bunds, which has blown out in recent months.But rather than representing a deescalation of tensions between Italy and Brussels, the game of fiscal chicken in which both sides are presently engaged is instead entering its most acute phase, as Brussels now has two weeks to review the budget proposal before it can either accept the plan, or send it back with requests for revisions. And anybody who has been paying even passing attention to the populist government's denigration of EU budgetary guidelines over the past few months should already understand that Brussels won't just sit back and accept the budget for what it is. In fact, European Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker hinted as much Tuesday morning when he told Italian reporters that accepting the budget would be tantamount to inviting an widespread revolt against the EU, per Italian newswire ANSA and the FT. Juncker also blasted Italy for abandoning the fiscal commitments it made when it joined the EU. However, though they have wavered from time to time, the Italians haven't kept their intentions to press for a budget deficit equivalent to 2.4% of GDP a secret. Even Giovanni Tria, Italy's economy minister, defended the draft budget, saying the deficit "would be considered normal in all Western democracies, not explosive."  Undeterred by the fact that there's absolutely no political will in the Italian government to back down from their budget stance, despite threats from the ECB to provoke a Greece-style banking crisis if the Italians don't yield to EU rules."There is a gap between what was promised and what is being presented today," said Mr Juncker."We are going to have a virtuous debate with our Italian friends who know that their level of public debt is too high and that the draft budget does not fully respect the recommendations of the eurozone ministers.""If we accepted the slip, some European countries would cover us with insults and tirades with the accusation we are being too flexible with Italy," Juncker told Italian media.Meanwhile, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, one of two party chiefs who are effectively running the country, said during a news conference that this budget "doesn’t accomplish miracles, it doesn’t multiply fish and bread, but it opens opportunities to work for hundreds of thousands of youths," Salvini said in Monday evening news conference flanked by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Di Maio, and Finance Minister Giovanni Tria. "After 137 days of governing, I think we can be satisfied with what we’ve done."

 EU slams Italy's 'unprecedented' deviation from budget rules - The European Commission on Thursday formally warned Italy that its budget plans for 2019 are a serious concern, demanding "clarifications" from Rome over its unprecedented deviation from EU rules. Italy's populist government on Monday submitted its draft 2019 budget to the European Commission in which it laid out plans to increase spending and end the austerity policies of recent years, despite deficit warnings. Italy's deficit is now projected at 2.4 per cent of GDP, far higher that the 0.8 per cent estimate given by the earlier centre right government. Brussels says Rome needs to cut the deficit in order to begin reducing its massive debt, which exceeds 130 per cent of annual economic output - way above the EU's 60 per cent ceiling. The budget drew stinging criticism from the EU's top economic affairs officials, who penned a letter to Rome describing its plans as "unprecedented" and warning that Brussels does not rule out rejecting the entire budget. In the letter, Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis and European Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said the 2019 budget was in "serious non-compliance" with EU law. Crucially, this means the Italian budget can be rejected by Brussels and sent back for revision - in what would be a first within the European Union. The commission gave the Italian government until 1000 GMT on Monday to respond. Underlining the sensitivity of the matter, Mr Moscovici delivered the letter in person to Italian finance minister Giovanni Tria.

European Commission Threatens to Reject Draft Italian Budget - Der Spiegel -  The next round has begun in the conflict between the European Commission and Italy's populist government. The European Union executive would have to reject Italy's draft budget for 2019 in its current form, Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger told DER SPIEGEL on Wednesday."The assumption has been confirmed that Italy's draft budget for 2019 is not consistent with existing EU obligations," Oettinger said. European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici is expected to lead talks on the issue in Rome this week. The commission is expected to send a formal letter with its assessment to the Italian government within the next two weeks. Italy submitted the draft budget at the last minute on Monday night. Italy's governing coalition pairing the right-wing nationalist Lega party with the left-populist Five Star Movement intends to allow the budget deficit to rise to 2.4 percent of annual gross domestic product (GDP) in order to finance its expensive campaign promises. That is three times the 0.8 percent that the previous Italian government agreed to with the European Commission. And it could grow even higher: The 2.4-percent figure is based on highly optimistic growth forecasts by the Italian government.Rome's deficit plan is lower than the 3-percent limit set by the Maastricht Treaty to guarantee the stability of the common currency. But EU rules also require Italy to pay down its sovereign debt load: Maastricht allows a debt load of 60 percent of GDP while Italy is currently carrying debt worth 130 percent of GDP, 70 percentage points above that limit. Within the eurozone, only Greece is carrying more sovereign debt relative to its annual economic output.The course currently being charted by Italy's new government is cause for concern both in other EU capitals and on the financial markets. The risk premium on Italian sovereign bonds is climbing, with Rome currently having to pledge a 3.5-percent annual interest rate on 10-year bonds. The rate on German bonds is just 0.5 percent. Meanwhile, the two large rating agencies Moody's and Standard & Poor's will likely issue their latest credit ratings for Italy on Oct. 26, a date that many are viewing with some trepidation.

Italy’s Debt Crisis Intensifies - Italy’s government bonds are sinking and their yields are spiking. There are plenty of reasons, including possible downgrades by Moody’s and/or Standard and Poor’s later this month. If it is a one-notch downgrade, Italy’s credit rating will be one notch above junk. If it is a two-notch down-grade, as some are fearing, Italy’s credit rating will be junk. That the Italian government remains stuck on its deficit-busting budget, which will almost certainly be rejected by the European Commission, is not helpful either. Today, the 10-year yield jumped nearly 20 basis points to 3.74%, the highest since February 2014. Note that the ECB’s policy rate is still negative -0.4%: But the current crisis has shown little sign of infecting other large Euro Zone economies. Greek banks may be sinking in unison, their shares down well over 50% since August despite being given a clean bill of health just months earlier by the ECB, but Greece is no longer systemically important and its banks have been zombies for years.Far more important are Germany, France and Spain — and their credit markets have resisted contagion. A good indicator of this is the spread between Spanish and Italian 10-year bonds, which climbed to 2.08 percentage points last week, its highest level since December 1997, before easing back to 1.88 percentage points this week.Much to the dismay of Italy’s struggling banks, the Italian government has also unveiled plans to tighten tax rules on banks’ sales of bad loans in a bid to raise additional revenues. The proposed measures would further erode the banks’ already flimsy capital buffers and hurt their already scarce cash reserves. And ominous signs are piling up that a run on large bank deposits in Italy may have already begun.It’s not just the banks that are panicking; so, too, are Italian insurers which could face having to shell out more in advance taxes on their premiums as a result of the new budget, assuming it is ever given the green light by Brussels. “We need to be very careful dealing with these issues … because we are one of the pillars of the national system,” the chairman of Italy’s biggest insurer, Generali, said on Tuesday. Global investors also have big reasons to worry. Italy’s government faces an eye-watering €270 billion worth of bond redemptions in 2019 alone. With interest on Italian government debt rising to its highest level in five years and its biggest margin buyer of the last three years, the ECB, exiting the market, it’s looking like a tall order.

 Italy Blinks- Rome Said To Consider Cutting Deficit Target To 2.1% - In what may be confirmation that the recent turmoil in Italian bonds has finally spooked Italy's coalition government into "blinking" in its standoff with the EU Commission, newspaper Il Foglio reports that "some economic advisers" are pushing coalition partners to reduce Italy’s deficit target for 2019 as a result of pressure from Brussels (and bond vigilantes).Specifically, the newspaper cites anonymous sources that some League and Five Star advisers would favor a reduction in the deficit target from the current 2.4% with 2.1% seen as possible compromise.As a reminder, yesterday the commission rejected Italy's proposed budget, saying it was excessive, and the deviation from EU guidelines was "unprecedented."Meanwhile, tensions within the ruling coalition are building up, Italian Deputy PM Salvini broke off from speaking events in northern Italy, where his party will fight a regional election Sunday, to return to Rome amid the standoff with Europe.Bloomberg reported that while Italian markets tumbled Friday with the European Union shaping up to reject Italy’s 2019 budget, Salvini was embroiled in a spat with his coalition partner, Luigi Di Maio of the Five Star Movement, over tax policy. Specifically, Di Maio accused Salvini’s pro-business party, the League, of secretly sweetening a tax amnesty proposal that he’d only grudgingly agreed to in the first place. Salvini has denied any such thing ever happened and is flying back from Trentino near the border with Austria to thrash out the issue at a cabinet meeting in Rome at 1 p.m. on Saturday."Our enemies are outside, not inside the government -- let’s talk about this as a family," Salvini said in a Facebook Live video. Some Five Star lawmakers are acting as if they were in opposition to the government, he added.The administration has been under fire from investors and the EU. With bond yields climbing, the 2019 spending program was attacked by several European leaders at a summit in Brussels this week as the European Commission warned that its budget draft won’t fly.

In Rome, Salvini and Le Pen launch campaign for a neo-fascist Europe -- Amid an intense crisis of the European Union’s (EU) principal member states, neo-fascist leaders Matteo Salvini and Marine Le Pen—the Italian interior minister and leader of France’s neo-fascist National Rally (RN, formerly the National Front), respectively—met last week in Rome. Their talks were widely covered in the press. At a press conference of the General Labor Union (UGL, close to Salvini’s Lega party), they presented a “common plan for Europe,” aiming to install a neo-fascist majority in the European parliament in next year’s elections. They declared that they would undermine the existing EU and demagogically pledged to reverse Brussels’ austerity policies.  Exploiting the reactionary austerity policies carried out by social-democratic and pseudo-left parties across Europe, they posed as the defenders of the European popular masses. Pledging to create a Europe that would not “be the slave of budgetary rigor that does not spare social rights,” Salvini said: “Le Pen and I are reviving the social heritage of the left, which has betrayed its values. We are defending the vulnerable whom the left has forgotten.” Claiming to defend working and poor people, the two leaders piled on promises to invest in jobs and the defense of social rights, which they noted are “trampled upon by Brussels.” Salvini insisted that “the true challenge is the struggle against misfortune and precariousness,” while Le Pen denounced the “social carnage” organized by the EU.  Le Pen added, “The EU has trampled upon the values of solidarity: now we are at a historic moment. In May, we will succeed in creating a union that bases itself on new values, against globalization. This is the struggle that we are waging together with Matteo Salvini, firmly convinced of the need for an alternative in Europe.” She denounced the EU Commission, saying it was “buried in a Brussels bunker.”If the political descendants of Italian fascism and French collaboration with Nazism falsely posture as the heirs of the left, it is above all due to the well-known treachery and hostility of the social democratic and pseudo-left parties against the working class. In 1991, the Stalinist bureaucracy dissolved the Soviet Union and restored capitalism, pillaging the workers and devastating the Soviet economy. Since then, the plundering of European workers and attacks on social and democratic rights they won in struggle in the course of the 20th century have continued unabated.

Hungarian Central Bank Stuns, Announces 10-Fold Jump In Gold Reserves - In one of the most profound developments in the central bank gold market for a long time, the Hungarian National Bank, Hungary's central bank, has just announced a 10 fold jump in its monetary gold holdings. The central bank, known as Magyar Nemzeti Bank (MNB) in Hungarian, made the announcement in Budapest, Hungary's capital.The details of Hungary's dramatic new gold purchase are as follows:

  • Before this month, Hungary's central bank held 3.10 tonnes of gold.
  • During the first two weeks of October, the Hungarian National Bank purchased 28.4 tonnes of gold.
  • This gold purchase raised the central bank's gold holdings from 3.1 tonnes to 31.5 tonnes, i.e. a 1000% or 10-fold increase.
  • The Hungarian central bank had not altered its gold reserves since 1986, i.e. 32 years ago.
  • The 28.4 tonnes of gold was purchased in 'physical form', and 'its repatriation has already taken place' to Hungary.
  • Interestingly, Hungary now holds the same amount of gold as it held 70 years ago.

F-16 Jets Explode After Mechanic Fires Cannon From Another Parked Jet In Bizarre Accident - An almost unbelievable accident occurred at a Belgian military air base days ago which involved one F-16 jet destroying two others all while stationary on the ground.  Stunning photos of the aftermath show a completely destroyed Belgian Air Force F-16 fighter and another severely damaged one after a third fired its M61A1 Vulcan 20mm cannon across the flight line while parked. “You can’t help thinking of what a disaster this could have been,” base commander Col. Didier Polome told a Belgian television news station in the aftermath.The incident happened last Friday at Florennes Air Base in Southern Belgium during routine maintenance of the jet that fired, and reportedly involved the crew servicing an F-16 accidentally triggering the heavy aircraft cannon.The Aviationist reports the following of what is being described as a "bizarre accident": Multiple reports indicate that a mechanic servicing the parked aircraft accidentally fired the six-barreled 20mm Vulcan cannon at close range to two other parked F-16s. Photos show one F-16AM completely destroyed on the ground at Florennes. Two maintenance personnel were reported injured and treated at the scene in the bizarre accident.The aircraft being serviced had just been refuelled and had its six barrel cannon loaded as it was being prepped for an afternoon training mission. The impact of the 20mm bullets on the other aircraft, which the crew said was just out of eyesight, caused the jet that was struck to explode instantly, according to reports.  According to a defense analysis source, Belgium currently has 60 active F-16 aircraft, including 48 on duty for NATO.The Aviationist describes the exceedingly bizarre nature of the incident, which sounds like something one would see in an over the top Hollywood movie scene:The accident is quite weird: it’s not clear why the technician was working on an armed aircraft that close to the flight line. Not even the type of inspection or work has been unveiled. For sure it must have been a check that activated the gun even though the aircraft was on the ground: the use of the onboard weapons (including the gun) is usually blocked by a fail-safe switch when the aircraft has the gear down with the purpose of preventing similar accidents. But clearly there were no fail-safes that prevented this strange incident involving a hail of ground fire across a runway.

Merkel’s Bavarian ally suffers historic loss in state vote - Handelsblatt - The Bavarian sister party of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats lost its majority in Germany’s wealthiest state. The election outcome will likely have repercussions for the chancellor’s coalition government. Bavaria’s Christian Social Union, the sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, suffered a historic loss in Germany’s wealthiest state, losing the majority it has held for much of the postwar period. Despite the ninth consecutive year of economic growth and record employment levels, the party lost votes to two rising parties on the left and right, the Greens and the Alternative for Germany.The CSU, led by controversial Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, won 37.2 percent of the votes, according to preliminary results. It was the party’s lowest rating since 1950. The CSU was expected to win 34 percent in the latest opinion polls surveys earlier this month. In 2013, it won 47.7 percent of the votes, but still won the majority in the state’s legislature due to a complicated system of awarding seats.While the writing has been on the wall for the conservative party for some time, the looming debacle is likely to have national repercussions. The CSU sits in the same group as the CDU in the national parliament, and also has three ministers in the current cabinet, including Mr. Seehofer.In Bavaria, home to many big-name companies from BMW to Allianz, Siemens to fintech Wirecard, Ms. Merkel’s national coalition partner, the Social Democrats, or SPD, lost half its support, falling to 9.6 percent from 20.6 percent five years ago. The results confirm a German and European trend of waning support for centrist parties.The winners are the pro-environment Greens and far-right Alternative for Germany, which became Bavaria’s second and fourth-largest parties with 17.5 percent and 10.2 percent of the votes respectively. Known by its German acronym AfD, the five-year old party has established a national presence since the backlash against Ms. Merkel’s open-door immigration policy in 2015. It did not participate in state elections in 2013, but did win 12.4 percent of the votes in Bavaria in last year’s federal vote. The AfD landed just behind the Free Voters of Bavaria, a local party which grabbed 11.6 percent of the votes.

Bavaria state election delivers major blow to Germany’s grand coalition - The result of the state election held in Bavaria on Sunday is a major blow to the grand coalition (Christian Democratic Union/CDU, Christian Social Union/CSU and Social Democratic Party/SPD) that rules Germany. After the conservative Union (CDU and CSU) and SPD achieved their worst results in the post-war period in the general election in September 2017, these parties suffered an even worse defeat in the first state election to be held this year, losing collectively more than 21 percent as the electorate registered opposition to the government’s right-wing policies.The CSU, which has governed the state of Bavaria since 1957, gained just 37.3 percent of the vote and failed to gain an absolute majority. It was its worst result since 1950. At the last state election in 2013 the party won 47.7 percent.The SPD lost even more votes than the CSU and received just 9.5 percent—a fall of 11.1 percent and its worst result in a state election in post-war history. At a federal level, the Social Democrats are now polling at 15 percent, a historic low.“We could not convince voters and that is bitter,” said the visibly aggrieved SPD chair Andrea Nahles on election night. One of the reasons for the miserable result was the “poor performance of the grand coalition” in Berlin. The SPD had been unable to “liberate itself from the political disputes between CDU and CSU.” The result in Bavaria confirms the deep-seated hatred on the part of workers and young people for the SPD—the party that introduced the anti-social Agenda 2010 policy, which has plunged millions into poverty and created Europe’s largest low-wage sector. The SPD’s “performance” in the grand coalition has consisted in intensifying the policy of militarism, the build-up of the police and intelligence agencies and social cuts, based on the support of the most right-wing forces.

Germany preparing for no deal on Brexit, says Merkel - Having been buffeted in recent weeks by domestic political difficulties, Angela Merkel was eager to appear confident and relaxed ahead of a crucial EU meeting on Brexit. Remarkably, the chancellor didn't mention Britain's impending departure from the European Union for 15 minutes in her official government address on that very topic.As has become her wont in parliamentary speeches, the chancellor began by listing the advantages of a united Europe. And, when she did turn to Britain, her words were moderately pessimistic."Both sides have shown good will and willingness to compromise," Merkel said. "Unfortunately there's been no deal on the question of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The devil is in the details."Negotiators are seeking a deal that would avoid any kind of hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Most consider this necessary in order to uphold terms of the 1999 Good Friday Agreement, which largely defused decades of conflict in Northern Ireland. Merkel reaffirmed her support for this position. British Prime Minister Theresa May has signaled willingness to entertain the idea of a "backstop"that would see Northern Ireland remaining in the EU customs union and abiding by the bloc's rules. But Brexit hard-liners have vowed to scuttle any deal that, in their eyes, creates a new border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Merkel said "the chance of achieving a good and sustainable withdrawal agreement in good time" was "still there," but added that Germany was already preparing for the eventuality of no deal and what it could mean for such issues as customs duties and the status of British citizens living in the European Union. And she re-emphasized that Brexit would not mean membership in all but the name for the United Kingdom.

U.S. Stalls U.K. Bid to Stay in $1.7 Trillion Market A U.K. bid to rejoin a $1.7 trillion public procurement alliance stalled because its application was missing key information, according to a U.S. official familiar with the proceedings. The U.K. failed to provide requested information and updates related to its proposal to become part of the World Trade Organization’s 46-nation Government Procurement Agreement, said the official, who asked not to be identified because discussions are ongoing. Despite the setback, there was broad support to find a way to keep the U.K. in the accord. Britain, which will lose its access to the group after leaving the European Union in March, will try again next month to reach an agreement. The U.S. was joined by New Zealand and Moldova in rejecting the bid, according to three other officials. The dilemma arises just as Prime Minister Theresa May tries to navigate a departure from the EU, which threatens to throw British trade relations into uncertainty. Failure to rejoin the pact could prevent U.K. companies from bidding on government contracts in member nations, including the $837 billion U.S. market. GPA members will consider a provisional agreement to the U.K.’s accession bid at the next WTO government procurement committee meeting on Nov. 27, three of the officials said. “We have made significant progress to get to this point and we will be working closely with other members in the coming weeks to ensure that an agreement can be reached in good time,” according to an emailed statement from the U.K.’s Department for International Trade. The U.K. government added that it welcomes the support of the “overwhelming majority” of GPA members that back its accession. The purpose of the GPA is to open up government procurement markets to foreign competition, and help make the process more transparent. British officials argue that the U.K. is a special case and should receive expedited approval because it’s already a member -- although it has never independently ratified the agreement -- and can simply replicate its current commitments, deriving from its EU-membership status.

Brexit: EU-UK Talks Collapse, Disorderly Exit Virtually Certain -  Yves Smith - A flurry of deal-making, with all sorts of rumors about an agreement being close, or even having already been sealed in secret, dominated UK reporting last week. It was all for naught. As the Financial Times reported in considerable detail, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab met for only an hour with Michel Barnier to reject the current draft of the Withdrawal Agreement. No further sessions are scheduled. This is fatal to the negotiations. Recall the EU had set down a firm timetable at Salzburg: May had to come back with something to be presented at the EU summit set to start this Wednesday, or else a special November session to complete the agreement would be off. The order of battle was that the text had to be presented to the sherpas by Tuesday at the latest so they could review it and brief their bosses. So there is no way for their to be panicked 11th hour regrets and a revival of the negotiations before the October meetings. That time has passed.Given how disruptive a UK crash out would be to the EU, the Guardian and others speculate the EU will hold an emergency summit in November for planning purposes. That would also give the UK one last chance, were it to try, to make a last-ditch effort at cinching an exit agreement. As the Guardian put it:The plan is likely to pile further pressure on the British prime minister by illustrating the EU’s seriousness about allowing the UK to crash out if the alternative were a deal that would undermine the integrity of the single market or prove unacceptable to the Republic of Ireland.But between Salzburg and now this breakdown, the human dynamics are also a big impediment. Despite Barnier being the personification of a calm and professional negotiator, EU leaders have had it with the UK’s arrogance and attempts to bully the EU despite having no leverage. That was what the outbursts at May in Salzburg were about. The disconcerting thing about the collapse of the talks was that the EU was blindsided. The EU thought the Raab meeting was to sign off on an agreement, not to nix it. This means at best the UK team got way ahead of its principals and was unable to bring them along. At worst, it means bad faith dealing, where the UK team had agreed to things that it had run by No. 10, only to renege. Did the threat by the DUP’s Arlene Foster to blow up the Government carry the day? From Politico:

DUP Brexit spokesman says no deal ‘probably inevitable’ (Reuters) - Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government depends on for support, believes a no-deal Brexit is “probably inevitable,” the party’s Brexit spokesman was quoted as saying on Monday. An anti-brexit protestor holds a flag naming the six counties of Northrn Ireland outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls “Given the way in which the EU has behaved and the corner they’ve put Theresa May into, there’s no deal which I can see at present which will command a majority in the House of Commons,” Sammy Wilson told the Belfast News Letter. “So it is probably inevitable that we will end up with a no deal scenario.” With less than six months before Britain leaves the EU in its biggest shift in trade and foreign policy in more than 40 years, the latest round of talks in Brussels failed to clinch a deal on Britain’s divorce terms, with negotiators pausing negotiations just days before a leaders’ summit. The latest round of Brexit talks faltered over the so-called backstop arrangement to prevent the return of a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland, which the DUP has objected to. Wilson said he believed the current offer from the EU was “far worse” than a no deal and that it would not secure a majority in the British parliament. He said, however, that a series of “mini deals” could avoid the worst effects of a no-deal Brexit. “No deal doesn’t mean there will be nothing agreed,” he said. “It probably means there will be a lot of mini agreements on things which are essential, to keep planes flying, lorries moving, that sort of thing,” he said. “It seems that the EU and the UK are both fairly far advanced in making preparations for that.”

EU negotiators ignoring Belfast Agreement, says UUP leader Swann Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann MLA last night hit out at EU negotiators and the Irish government, accusing both of "playing fast and loose" with the Belfast Agreement. His remarks came during a frantic day of negotiations which saw UK Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab head to Brussels for an unscheduled meeting with top EU negotiator Michel Barnier over the so-called 'Irish backstop' issue. Unionists are opposed to EU Brexit proposals, claiming they could see Northern Ireland cut adrift from the rest of the UK, becoming what Mr Swann described as an "EU Protectorate". He said the EU's 'Irish backstop' proposals - which would mean the whole UK staying in a customs union with the EU after Brexit, and Northern Ireland also remaining in the EU's single market - was an abuse of the Belfast Agreement. "The next few days will be pivotal in the history of Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom," he said. "Brussels cannot simply dismiss the potential constitutional consequences of Brexit as something that they don't have to be concerned about as part of negotiations," he stated. "That approach ignores the Belfast Agreement and the principle of consent which underpinned it. They are playing fast and loose with an agreement which underpinned the relative peace which we have today." Any border in the Irish Sea would be as bad for the Republic of Ireland as for Northern Ireland, the UUP leader said. "The EU negotiators, the Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney and their colleagues should be mindful of that. It certainly looks like the Belfast Agreement is being used and abused, twisted and contorted by those who are seeking to exploit the situation.

Brexit triggers unlikely civil service renaissance More than two years after Britons narrowly voted to leave the European Union, it’s still unclear what the outcome of Brexit negotiations will be.The prime minister’s authority is shaky, the cabinet is split, there is a multitude of complex problems to solve, and politics has become more polarised than ever.And amid all the populist talk of “elites”, some Brexiteers are convinced the civil service is working against them, with talk of “deep state retaliation” and accusations bureaucrats are “fiddling the figures” to stop Brexit. “If it’s an article of faith, you don’t ask atheists to run your church.” The Treasury in particular has come under fire for releasing a report predicting Brexit will cause a 6.2% fall in GDP after 15 years, with former foreign secretary Boris Johnson calling Treasury the “heart of remain”.The debate has become so bitter that Andrew Turnbull, who led the civil service under prime minister Tony Blair, has even argued Brexiteers are shaping a “stab-in-the-back” myth, comparing it to German nationalists in the 1930s blaming public servants and others for Germany’s defeat in World War I.The ordeal has discredited experts and economics in the eyes of many as the “immediate dire predictions” of some economists failed to materialise after the vote, says Jill Rutter, programme director at London-based public administration think-tank, the Institute for Government.But it also exposed a problem that’s much more difficult for the civil service to address — many who voted Brexit simply didn’t see GDP predictions as being important when compared to core questions of identity.

Brexit deal ‘DONE’ – Shock memo reveals UK exit to be ‘finalised TODAY’ : A memo has shown that senior EU negotiators requested to agree terms of the deal today, before Theresa May’s Cabinet have even seen them. The leaked document first appeared in German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung. The paperwork reads: “Deal made, nothing made public (in theory).” A deal is expected to be revealed to the British government next week. Brexiteers could VOTE DOWN Budget 'to BLOCK £39bn divorce bill' Jacob Rees-Mogg warns May she’s UNDERESTIMATING Brexiteers as MPs v... The news of a deal comes as pressure rises of the Prime Minister over the potential terms of the agreement, with Brexiteers fearing Mrs May will sign off on terms unacceptable to Leave voters. Concerns have been raised Mrs May has offered Brussels concessions on important issues such as the border between the north and Republic of Ireland in order to break the deadlock in negotiations. Speculation has spread of resignations from members of the Cabinet and wider Government, with MPs accusing the Prime Minister's team of striking a deal behind their backs. Andrea Leadsom, Penny Mordaunt and Esther McVey are all thought to be considering their positions.

DUP in position of power ahead of EU’s Brexit summit - A most recent manifestation of the pinch me, scratch my confused head everyday norm was the sight of Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, and the party’s sole member of the European Parliament on a diplomatic offensive in Brussels a week before the EU Summit. Do I wake or do I sleep? Even more so than in December 2017, when Theresa May took an angry phone call from Arlene Foster that forced her to take a break from Brexit discussions with EU leaders, the DUP is at its greatest position of influence in the party’s history. It has a Conservative Party minority government, dependent on the support of ten DUP MP’s to remain in power at Westminster. It has the European Commission wondering what sort of package might placate the group that provides one member in the 751-member European Parliament - and she, Diane Dodds, has already signed and submitted her own P45. And it has the Irish Government wondering what is the best it can do to limit the damage from the crock of trouble coming its way, courtesy of the next door neighbours. Truths stranger than fiction have brought the DUP to this centre stage position. A referendum result they and the prime minister (David Cameron) who called it did not expect. A Westminster election result they and the prime minister (Theresa May) who called it did not anticipate. A still voiceless, moribund power-sharing executive the DUP and the party that collapsed it (Sinn Féin) did not contemplate.

Brexit: David Davis calls for cabinet rebellion over PM’s plan Cabinet ministers should "exert their collective authority" and rebel against Theresa May's proposed Brexit deal, ex-Brexit Secretary David Davis has said. The prime minister has suggested a temporary arrangement for the whole UK to remain in the customs union while the Irish border issue is resolved. Brexiteers fear this may be indefinite, limiting the ability to do trade deals. But Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there were "different ways" to ensure any commitments were time-limited. Asked whether any deal would include a date at which the UK would no longer be bound by the rules of the customs union, he told the BBC's Andrew Marr show, "I certainly hope so". "There are different ways you can make sure something is credibly time-limited and that is what I want to see ", he said. There was "absolutely no reason" for cabinet ministers to quit over the issue, he suggested, urging them to "pull behind" Mrs May ahead of a crucial summit of EU leaders on Wednesday. The current Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab, went to Brussels on Sunday afternoon to meet with the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier ahead of the event. A Department for Exiting the European Union spokesman said: "With several big issues still to resolve, including the Northern Ireland backstop, it was jointly agreed that face-to-face talks were necessary."

No-deal Brexit scenario ‘more likely than ever before’ – Donald Tusk A no-deal scenario in Brexit negotiations is "more likely than ever before", EU President Donald Tusk has warned. His comments ahead of a crunch summit in Brussels billed as a crucial moment for planning Britain's exit from the European Union. In a letter to members of the European Council, Mr Tusk said that while he encouraged all involved to "remain hopeful and determined ... at the same time, responsible as we are, we must prepare the EU for a no-deal scenario, which is more likely than ever before". He added: "The fact that we are preparing for a no-deal scenario must not, under any circumstances, lead us away from making every effort to reach the best agreement possible, for all sides." Mr Tusk's comments are in contrast to those of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who said he still believed a no-deal scenario was "unlikely", as the consequences could be potentially catastrophic for the UK. Mr Varadkar said the talks were at a "sensitive phase" and he was "absolutely sure" that the British government "is motivated to ensure" we do not end up in a no-deal situation. It comes as British Prime Minister Theresa May said that a Brexit deal was still achievable, despite talks becoming deadlocked on the issue of the Irish border.

We won’t pull down government… buts there’s plenty we can do: DUP’s Dodds threatens to frustrate May’s government if Brexit deal cuts Northern Ireland off The DUP's Westminster leader Nigel Dodds has threatened to frustrate Theresa May's minority government should any Brexit deal "break up or fracture" the union. However, the North Belfast MP said they would not go as far to pull the government down. He was speaking to the BBC's Newsnight after the Prime Minister gave an update in parliament on the progress of the Brexit talks. She is pushing for a deal which would see the whole of the UK in a customs union with the EU in the event of a no-deal and for a time limited period. However, the EU has said that option as a backstop must be in addition to the original backstop which would see Northern Ireland only remain in the customs union and with no time limit attached. Dodds said there were "very encouraging noises" from the Prime Minister's statement in the Commons. However, he said in some of her answers she seemed not to be as clear "causing again some confusion". "We need to see exactly what it is Theresa May is going to put forward," he said. "We would certainly not want to pull the plug on the government and allow Jeremy Corbyn to get into Number 10. "But under the fixed term parliament act there is a lot we can not support in terms of the government's domestic, financial, welfare and other legislation which does not trigger Jeremy Corbyn getting into Number 10.

The short-term economic impact of a no deal Brexit matters too - The International Monetary Fund's (IMF) latest assessment of the UK economy echoes what Bank of England governor Mark Carney reportedly told the Cabinet: a no deal Brexit would seriously disrupt the UK economy. This contrasts markedly with Jacob Rees-Mogg’s statement – echoed in newspapers, such as the Express and the Telegraph – that there was “nothing to fear” from a no deal scenario. Rees-Mogg backed up his reassurance by presenting new research, which says UK economic output could be boosted by 7% (or £1.1 trillion over 15 years) by trading with the EU under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules rather than trying to reach a special agreement with the bloc.But like many other economic forecasts, the focus of that report – which was produced by the Economists for Free Trade group – was mainly on the long-term economic impact. Those projections have been criticised on many fronts and are out of line with other economic projections, which suggest trading on WTO terms or adopting unilateral free trade would reduce – not enhance – UK economic growth. But there are particular reasons for taking note of the IMF's warning. It all depends on what you mean by no deal. The forecasts from the Economists for Free Trade did not actually model the short-run impact of no deal – that is, walking away without any sort of agreement. In attempting to project what would happen to the economy if there was no “trade deal” between the EU and UK, the Economists for Free Trade assume that there would be no trade deal but that deals would be struck in other areas, such as aviation, customs co-operation and nuclear safety. The text of their document outlining a so-called World Trade Deal makes this clear: “Contrary to simplistic remarks from some government ministers and the Remainer media, a World Trade Deal only implies that there will not be an EU trade deal – not that there will be no deal on anything at all.” The Economists for Free Trade are right to point out that no major trading partner trades with the EU without such side deals – but agreeing such side deals requires cross-border co-operation and they take no account of the circumstances where talks on withdrawal break down.

British PM addresses EU summit as “no deal” Brexit threatened - UK Prime Minister Theresa May will address this evening’s European Union (EU) summit knowing that Britain’s terms for the transitional period preparing the UK’s exit have been rejected.EU leaders abandoned plans to issue a draft declaration on its future trading arrangements with the UK, prior to an extraordinary EU meeting scheduled for November 17 and 18 that was meant to finalise a deal, but which is now also in doubt.The EU is demanding an indefinite “backstop” arrangement that would keep Northern Ireland within the sphere of EU regulations—a situation that the hardline pro-Brexit Conservatives and the Democratic  Unionist Party (DUP) will not countenance.With May hamstrung in seeking a “soft Brexit,” maintaining tariff-free access to the Single European Market, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has shown that he will make no move that does not have the seal of approval of his party’s right-wing. His agenda is shaped solely by the political and economic concerns of British imperialism.May gave a statement to the House of Commons Monday, to placate her critics within the Tory party and its DUP allies, while still expressing a goal of a “soft” Brexit deal. Having given a wholly unconvincing account of the progress made in securing acceptance of her “Chequers” proposals outlined this July, she reassured the DUP, “We have been clear that we cannot agree to anything that threatens the integrity of our United Kingdom.”Turning to the Tory Brexiteers, who see any backstop arrangement, without a time-limit as May had indicated last week, as a mechanism for maintaining British membership of the EU, she said, “I am clear we are not going to be trapped permanently in a single customs territory unable to do meaningful trade deals.”May yesterday boasted she had secured cabinet unity prior to departing for Brussels, but the reaction in Parliament from several Tory MPs and the DUP’s first minister, Nigel Dodds, made clear this is purely a temporary ceasefire. Shortly after May’s speech, a meeting of eight Brexiteer ministers—Dominic Raab, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom, Chris Grayling, Geoffrey Cox, Liz Truss and Penny Mourdant—was held to discuss their own response. The DUP is still threatening to use its crucial votes to “paralyse” the Tories’ domestic agenda if Northern Ireland’s constitutional position within the UK is threatened and has said it believes a no-deal scenario is now “probably inevitable.”

Brexit: Things Are Always Darkest Before They Go Completely Black – Yves Smith - The UK press today appears to be trying to find happy potents in the entrails of the roadkill of this round of Brexit negotiations. May gave a speech to Parliament in which she didn’t blame the EU for the collapse of the talks, after a week of breathless “breakthrough” rumors. Since her man Dominic Raab was the one to reject the latest draft text, which had apparently been agreed at the negotiator level, it would be hard to pin this last minute deadlock on the EU, although I should not underestimate the willingness of Fleet Street to amplify jingoistic messaging from No. 10.  However, May, while insisting a deal could still be had, also maintained that an Irish border backstop could only be a temporary measure. This is yet another retrade of deal terms; it’s at odds with the Joint Agreement she signed last December. Moreover, it is hard to see how the EU can give ground. No backstop or one that becomes void as of a date certain means the UK could try to use it as a weapon in negotiations if it hits an impasse in its trade negotiations. The EU presumably recognizes this and wants to put the matter to bed, as it thought it had with the Joint Agreement.  We thought we had made a mistake on reading the “order of battle” issues, but perhaps in the end we hadn’t. We had initially read May after Salzburg as succeeding in getting the EU to drop its demand, which appeared to have been made in anger, that she hop to and show enough progress by October 18 or else. That interpretation looked all wet as the Government went into frantic negotiations mode, only to have Raab throw cold water on the UK presenting a final framework in October.  May is now apparently not only angling to have the EU keep negotiations open until November, but even hopes to have until December. From the Financial TimesThe prime minister sought to lower tensions on Monday ahead of an EU leaders’ summit on Brexit that starts on Wednesday. She told MPs that it was a time for “cool, calm heads” and insisted: “I don’t believe the UK and European Union are far apart.”Instead of confronting her cabinet by trying to force through agreement on a Brexit withdrawal treaty ahead of the European Council, originally billed as a key moment in the negotiations, Mrs May has left important issues unresolved.It’s not obvious why the EU should go along. Even if it were to plan only to go through the motions, it has seen May refuse to commit and even try to wriggle out of settled points too many times. The reason for the rough handling of May at Salzburg was likely not just a display of personal pique, but also collective frustration that she is not “agreement capable” and there’s no point in continuing this farce. Indeed, there are now large, looming costs. No one wanted to take a crash out as a serious possibility, so everyone is very far behind in preparation. The EU has deep enough bureaucracies that it has some hope of stitching up a lot of what it needs if it goes into overdrive now (that does not mean there still won’t be a very large amount of dislocation, but governments will have done much of what they can to reduce the pain). Continuing to talk to the UK if there really is no deal to be had sends all the wrong signals to EU officials and even more important, businesses. It’s hard to press them to get all hands on deck to prepare for a disorderly Brexit when talks are still underway. This may be one of the downsides of Barniers’ patience as a negotiator: he may not be willing or able to walk away from the table, yet some of his principals may want him to say things look unsolvable before they pull the plug.

EU’s Tusk to ask May for new ideas to break Brexit impasse (Reuters) - European Council President Donald Tusk said on Tuesday he will ask British Prime Minister Theresa May this week if she has new ideas on how to break the impasse in Brexit talks, adding that he has become less optimistic about an immediate breakthrough. Tusk told reporters his hopes for their meeting on Wednesday had been dampened by European Union Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, as well as events in the British parliament. “Unfortunately the report on the state of the negotiations that I got from Michel Barnier today, as well as yesterday’s debate in the House of Commons, give me no grounds for optimism before tomorrow’s European Council on Brexit,” said Tusk, who will chair the EU summit in Brussels. A breakthrough required more than just goodwill. “Tomorrow, I’m going to ask Prime Minister May whether she has concrete proposals on how to break the impasse. Only such proposals can determine if a breakthrough is possible,” he said. EU leaders, meeting from Wednesday evening, had hoped to reach a provisional deal over Britain’s exit from the EU in March before signing off on a withdrawal agreement at a special Brexit summit in November. Tusk said the November meeting would make sense only if there were a feeling of being really close to a breakthrough. The talks are stuck over the issue of the border between the British province of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, and have not resumed since Sunday. Tusk likened the issue to the Gordian Knot, cut in legend by Alexander the Great, saying “It is not so easy to find this kind of creative leader.”

Britain will face a £36 billion Brexit bill even if it fails to agree a trade deal with EU, warns Chancellor - Britain will still have to pay the EU up to £36 billion if it fails to agree a trade deal, Philip Hammond has claimed, as Brussels said no deal is now “more likely than ever”. The Chancellor told Cabinet ministers the UK would be unlikely to win any legal battle to withhold large chunks of the Brexit bill, despite previous Government promises that the payment was conditional on a deal. Mr Hammond’s comments angered Eurosceptics, who described his stance as “mystifying”. However, sources close to the Chancellor insisted he was as frustrated as his colleagues with the EU’s intransigence, and was merely setting out legal advice the Treasury had been given. It came as Theresa May was told to bring “new facts” to the negotiating table if she wants to make any progress when she attends a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Wednesday. She has already made it clear that she is not prepared to budge over the Irish border question, which has left talks deadlocked, meaning a crucial Brexit summit next month is likely to be cancelled. It means the already tight Brexit timetable looks set to slip further with the next meeting of EU leaders likely to be pushed back to December.During a three-hour Cabinet meeting on Tuesday that was dominated by Brexit, at least one minister is understood to have suggested to Mrs May that she should now threaten to walk away and keep the £39 billion “divorce bill” that is the price of a deal with the EU.But Mr Hammond told ministers that Britain will only save between £3 billion and £9 billion if it leaves without a trade deal, according to Cabinet sources.One said: “He said that the Treasury’s legal advice was that if we left without a deal we would still have to pay the EU £30-36 billion because we would be unlikely to win any case that went to international arbitration.”

Theresa May’s Kamikaze Brexit - The runway is in sight, the lights are on, but Theresa May has to wait for the last possible break in the storm clouds to try to land her juddering Brexit jumbo. Last weekend, negotiators from both sides identified the likely landing zone, pinning down key parameters of an agreement on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union and the first outlines of a long-term relationship.  Aboard the lurching airliner, sirens are screaming, the fuel gauge is on zero, vomit bags are at the ready, and oxygen masks are dangling. But the passengers will have to be far more scared before the British prime minister can risk a final approach to the narrow airstrip, praying the plane will not blow up on landing or overshoot the tarmac.When the details of her plan became clear, rebels in May’s Conservative Party and her Northern Ireland allies threatened to storm the cockpit, defenestrate the pilot and crash the plane if she dared go into the landing. So great was the political turbulence that May told the EU control tower she needed to circle a while longer before attempting another descent.May’s best hope of outmaneuvering her opponents is to move late, fast and ruthlessly. The real deadline is December.Whether or not we get a Brexit deal that permits a relatively gentle glide path toward a new economic and political partnership hinges on May’s ability to keep hold of the joystick and convince mutineers in her crew they will all die together if they force her to change course.We’re not quite there yet. This week was too soon for the final compromises needed to clinch a deal on the first phase of Britain’s complex withdrawal from the EU next March. Diplomats with decades of experience in such negotiations say the crucial concessions are only made deep into the endgame, then rushed through Cabinet and parliament with dire warnings that the last-gasp deal offers the only chance to avoid imminent disaster. Had May dared a landing, hard Brexiteers and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists would have had six weeks to unpick the accord and organize attempts to topple or blackmail the minority prime minister. May’s best hope of outmaneuvering her opponents is to move late, fast and ruthlessly. The real deadline is December.That requires some thunder and lightning in the meantime, provided May and European Council President Donald Tusk can keep it under control, which they failed to do at last month’s acrimonious Salzburg summit.

EU summit on hold as May fails to convince leaders of Brexit progress Theresa May has failed to persuade European Union leaders that Brexit negotiations have made enough progress to justify calling a summit next month to finalise an agreement. EU sources told The Irish Times that, after hearing a 15-minute presentation from the British prime minister, the leaders were not planning to organise a special summit. If decisive progress is made in the next few weeks, however, the leaders agreed that they would convene such a meeting. Addressing the 27 leaders at the start of a EU summit in Brussels, the British prime minister said she remained fully committed to a legally operable backstop to guarantee there would be no return of a hard border. Ms May said despite the failure of British and EU negotiators to reach a deal on the withdrawal agreement ahead of the summit, the two sides had defied expectations in the past. “We have shown that we can bring difficult deals together constructively. I remain confident of a good outcome,” she said. “The last stage will need courage, trust and leadership on both sides.” Earlier, during a half-hour meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, which was described as positive and friendly, Ms May expressed “a strong determination to do a deal”, Irish Government sources said.

Brexit: Knives Out for Theresa May (Again) Over Extending Transition Period -- Yves Smith - Theresa May has finally managed to unite the Tories. Sadly, it’s against her latest Brexit fudge-making idea, to extend the transition period to 2021 allow more time to negotiate a trade pact. Another year wouldn’t be enough additional time to achieve a trade agreement unless the UK capitulated to EU terms. And a big motivation for this idea seemed to be to try to kick the Irish border can down the road. As we’ll get to later in this post, the press has filed more detailed reports on the EU’s reactions to May’s “nothing new” speech at the European Council summit on Wednesday. The reactions seem to be more sober; recall the first takes were relief that nothing bad happened and at least everyone was trying to put their best foot forward. Merkel also pressed Ireland and the EU to be more flexible over the Irish border question but Marcon took issue with her position. However, they both then went to a outdoor cafe and had beers for two hours. May’s longer transition scheme vehemently criticized across Tory factions and by the DUP. Even pro-Remain Tories are opposed. The press had a field day. From the Telegraph: The move enraged Brexiteers who said it would cost billions, and angered members of the Cabinet who said they had not formally agreed the plan before she offered it up as a bargaining chip. Mrs May also faced a potential mutiny from Tory MPs north of the border, including David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, who said the proposal was “unacceptable” because it would delay the UK’s exit from the hated Common Fisheries Policy. From The Times, Revolt grows over Theresa May’s handling of Brexit talks: Theresa May is facing the most perilous week of her premiership after infuriating all sections of her party by making further concessions to Brussels. Her offer to extend the transition period after Brexit — made without cabinet approval — enraged Remain and Leave Tory MPs alike. And Politics Home, DUP reject moves to extend Brexit transition period in fresh blow for Theresa May Politics Home: DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds has rejected calls for the post-Brexit transition period to be extended, claiming it would cost the UK billions and not break the Irish border deadlock…. Former minister Nick Boles, who campaigned for Remain in the 2016 referendum, told the Today programme: “I’m afraid she’s losing the confidence now of colleagues of all shades of opinion – people who’ve been supportive of her throughout this process – they are close to despair at the state of this negotiation.” Brexiteer MP Andrea Jenkyns tweeted: “Back in July, myself and 36 colleagues signed a letter to the Prime Minister setting out our red lines – and that was one of them. It’s completely ridiculous.” And apparently the European Council didn’t take the extension idea seriously. City AM reported that European Council president Donald Tusk said it wasn’t discussed after May left.

Theresa May plays down idea of extending Brexit transition after fierce Tory backlash – as it happened Theresa May has got through what was supposed to be a “moment of truth” EU summit on Brexit without securing a breakthrough towards a deal but with a potential crisis averted and with her European counterparts talking up the prospects of an agreement being reached eventually. At one point it had been hoped that enough progress would be made by today to justify the EU scheduling a summit for November where the withdrawal agreement could be finalised. That did not happen. But, in what seemed a determined effort to avoid a repeat of Salzburg, where their blunt assessment of the problems facing both sides left May going home feeling weakened and humiliated, EU leaders made an effort to put a positive gloss on developments. Donald Tusk, president of the European council, said a deal was “closer” than before and Jean-Claude Juncker, the commission president, said he was convinced a deal would happen. (See 3.51pm.) Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, also struck an upbeat note. In her press conference at the end of the summit she said: All of the 27 said that we wish to bring about a solution, one that clearly expresses the fact that Britain is no longer a member of the EU, but also expresses what we all want politically speaking - namely that we establish a good relationship with Britain for the future. As long as we don’t have a satisfactory solution we cannot really explain in a satisfactory way how this is to come about but I think where there is a will there is a way. That is usually the way. May has played down the idea that she favours extending the Brexit transition. (See