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

Saturday, March 24, 2018

week ending Mar 24

The Fed Is Signaling More Than 3 Rate Hikes This Year – Duy - Market participants are preparing for the Federal Reserve to raise its forecasts for interest-rate hikes when it releases its Summary of Economic Projections this week. Rather than focus on the projections themselves, pay attention to the risks they imply. Is the Fed more likely to raise rate expectations further as the year progresses, or will policy makers back down to the three rate hikes projected last December? In recent weeks, the Fed has signaled that the former is more likely than the latter.The case for a gradual removal of financial accommodation remains largely intact. Firmer inflation in recent months gives the Fed confidence that it will meet its 2 percent target within the next year. And the Fed is also fulfilling the other part of its dual mandate: Unemployment is holding steady at 4.1 percent even as job growth picks up steam along with the broader economy. The additional workers arising from increasing prime-age labor force participation both prevent further unemployment declines and, with stagnant wages, undermine claims that the economy is at or beyond full employment.The economy is in something of a sweet spot for the Fed, but the central bank fears that may soon change. At a minimum, the bipartisan spending package signed into law Feb. 9 should boost growth forecasts for this year and next. Central bankers will nudge up their rate forecasts a notch, arguing that even a slightly faster pace of tightening is still “gradual.” Still, there are reasons for investors to be cautious about the Fed’s forecast. First, we don’t have much experience with a protracted period of unemployment at these levels. One really needs to go back to the late 1960s to experience an economy with joblessness persistently below 4 percent. That episode ended on a sour note with the beginning of the Great Inflation of the 1970s. Another cause for concern is that the economy faces more tailwinds the headwinds, as Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard recently pointed out. Stronger global growth, a weaker dollar, accommodative financial markets and rebounding business investment may give extra impetus to an economy already propelled by federal tax cuts and spending increases. The risk is that the economy accelerates markedly and quickly overheats.

 Fed raises key rate and foresees 2 more hikes this year - The Federal Reserve raised its key interest rate Wednesday in a vote of confidence in the U.S. economy's durability while signaling that it plans to continue a gradual approach to rate hikes for 2018 under its new chairman, Jerome Powell.The Fed said it expects to raise rates twice more this year. And it increased its estimate for rate hikes in 2019 from two to three, reflecting more optimistic expectations for growth and low unemployment.In a statement after its latest policy meeting, the Fed said it boosted its key short-term rate by a modest quarter-point to a still-low range of 1.5 percent to 1.75 percent. It also said it will keep shrinking its bond portfolio. The two moves mean that many consumers and businesses will face higher loan rates over time.Taken together, the Fed's actions and forecasts suggest a belief that the economy remains sturdy even nearly nine years after the Great Recession ended. The Fed's latest rate hike marks its sixth since it began tightening credit in December 2015, after having kept its benchmark rate at a record low near zero for seven years to help nurture the economy's recovery from the recession. Wednesday's action was approved 8-0, with the Fed avoiding any dissents at the first meeting Powell has presided over as chairman since succeeding Janet Yellen last month. Bond yields and stocks initially rose after the Fed's announcement. But after wobbling for much of the afternoon, both ended modestly lower. The Dow, having initially jumped as much as 250 points, ended down 44. The 10-year Treasury yield, a benchmark for mortgages and other loans, wound up at 2.88 percent, down from 2.90 percent a day earlier. It had traded as high as 2.93 percent after the Fed's statement came out.Economists said the decision to raise rates despite some recent sluggish data in areas like consumer spending showed that the Powell-led Fed has faith in the economy's resilience.

FOMC Statement: 25bps Rate Hike  --Powell press conference video here. Here are the updated projections. Forecasting more rate hikes in 2019.  FOMC Statement: Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in January indicates that the labor market has continued to strengthen and that economic activity has been rising at a moderate rate. Job gains have been strong in recent months, and the unemployment rate has stayed low. Recent data suggest that growth rates of household spending and business fixed investment have moderated from their strong fourth-quarter readings. On a 12-month basis, both overall inflation and inflation for items other than food and energy have continued to run below 2 percent. Market-based measures of inflation compensation have increased in recent months but remain low; survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations are little changed, on balance. Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. The economic outlook has strengthened in recent months. The Committee expects that, with further gradual adjustments in the stance of monetary policy, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace in the medium term and labor market conditions will remain strong. Inflation on a 12-month basis is expected to move up in coming months and to stabilize around the Committee's 2 percent objective over the medium term. Near-term risks to the economic outlook appear roughly balanced, but the Committee is monitoring inflation developments closely. In view of realized and expected labor market conditions and inflation, the Committee decided to raise the target range for the federal funds rate to 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 percent. The stance of monetary policy remains accommodative, thereby supporting strong labor market conditions and a sustained return to 2 percent inflation.

 Powell’s Fed Debut Shows Shift Away From Theory, Models -- Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell showed he will be guided by the U.S. economy’s performance rather than the theories and models relied upon by his predecessors to set monetary policy for the past three decades. Fresh from overseeing his first policy-setting meeting and its first interest rate hike of 2018, Powell signaled he won’t try to guess the limits of the labor market or the growth-boosting effects of Republican tax cuts. His message: He’ll know the economy is changing when he sees it. For now, his Fed is on track to raise rates at least twice more this year and possibly three times. “There is no sense in the data that we are on the cusp of an acceleration of inflation,” Powell told reporters on Wednesday in Washington. “We have seen moderate increases in wages and price inflation, and we seem to be seeing more of that.” Shortly before Powell spoke, the Federal Open Market Committee raised interest rates for the sixth time since December 2015. Financial markets largely took the move in stride. The target range for the federal funds rate was increased by a quarter percentage point to 1.5 percent to 1.75 percent, the highest since the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. froze credit markets worldwide. “This decision marks another step in the ongoing process of gradually scaling back monetary policy accommodation -- a process that has been under way for several years now,” Powell said in opening remarks to reporters that signaled policy continuity with his predecessor, Janet Yellen. Policy similarities aside, there were stylistic differences. In addition to keeping his remarks short -- the press conference was a scant 43 minutes compared to Yellen’s somewhat longer performances -- he also declined to be drawn deeply into professorial discussions about the economy.  Asked whether tax cuts will deliver supply-side benefits, he concluded, “the whole thing is very uncertain.”

Powell Explains Why The 2018 Inflation Forecast Was Unchanged -- One of the big dovish surprises, just like in the December FOMC meeting, was that even as the Fed raised its economic outlook by increasing its GDP and employment projections, it kept its PCE inflation projection flat for 2018 vs December, upgrading it only for 2019 and 2020 by 0.1% to 2.1%And, predictably, this was the first question asked. Powell's response was modestly elusive saying Inflation remains below 2% long-run objective and that the shortfall partly reflects unusual price declines, in other words he expects it to rise as one-time factors drop out of the calculation. Powell also confirmed the Fed's "symmetric" inflation target and repeated the Fed's core view that transitory factors - such as cell phone plans which will no longer have a Y/Y impact next month - explain inflation:"In coming months as those earlier declines drop out of the calculation, inflation should move up closer to 2 percent and stabilize around that level over the medium term. Various forces will continue to affect inflation, at times it may be above 2 percent, just as at times it may be below. Our inflation objective is symmetric in the sense that we are trying to prevent persistent deviations from 2 percent in either direction."Powell also warned against hiking too slowly or too fast, noting that the outcome in either case could be adverse, and in the former case would lead to aggressive tightening down the line.  The Fed chair also said that he wouldn't say he "tolerated an undershoot of the inflation goal" and that the Fed will always be seeking 2% inflation. And to nudge the dovish case, he noted that there is "no sense in the data" that inflation is about to run away.

Q1 GDP Forecasts - Here are few Q1 GDP forecast.From Merrill Lynch:  We continue to track 1.7% qoq saar for 1Q GDP [March 19 estimate]. And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNow The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the first quarter of 2018 is 1.8 percent on March 16, down from 1.9 percent on March 14.From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 2.7% for 2018:Q1 and 2.8% for 2018:Q2. [March 16 estimate]CR Note: It looks like another weak Q1, and there might still be some residual seasonality in the first quarter.

Real trade balance and 1st Q real GDP growth -- With the federal deficit jumping from 3.5% to 5% of GDP  the US will be expanding its current account deficit by a like amount.  You can see it in the January trade balance where the real trade balance has expanded from around $60,000 ( real 2009 ) to around $70,000 ( real 2009 )   or 16%.   The real trade deficit is the flip side of the federal budget deficit as the US turns to foreign capital inflows to finance the deficit.  We only have January real trade data reported so far, but it is obvious that the flip side of the Trump deficit is the plunging trade ( current account) deficit that was a major negative for 4th Q real GDP and is likely to have even a bigger negative impact on 1st Q real GDP growth than the -1.33 percentage point cut real trade had on 4th Q real GDP growth.  The Atlanta Fed has already cut it 1st Q growth forecast from  3% a month ago to 1.8% currently.

Government Shutdown Odds Hit 25% As GOP Unveils $1.2 Trillion Spending Bill - After passing its fifth continuing resolution since inauguration day early last month, Democratic and Republican lawmakers promised that this would be the last time - and that, when it came time to approve the next spending bill in late March, leaders had agreed to push for an omnibus package that would cover federal spending through the end of the fiscal year in September.Of course, rumblings about an omnibus bill had proceeded the last few short-term deals. But it appears that, this time, lawmakers are taking their promises seriously. To wit, Bloomberg reported that a $1.2 trillion omnibus spending bill would be presented at a Republican conference meeting set for 5:45 pm ET on Monday, according to a Republican aide.To be sure, the aide cautioned that the release time could be delayed until tomorrow due to last-minute haggling - but anybody who has been paying attention to the Trump administration's legislative trials and travails would've assumed that, anyway.Negotiations over the bill have been fraught with disagreements, and several key issues remain unresolved. While both Republicans and Democrats want to avoid another shutdown, one Congressional aide told Bloomberg that, as of today, there's a 25% chance a shutdown will happen at midnight Friday. Last week, Bloomberg reported that haggling over the omnibus bill had hit an impasse, meaning that final votes would likely be hastily held late Friday, March 23 - meaning the push to avert what would be the second Trump era federal government shutdown might go right down to the wire. That's a marked contrast with the negotiations for the fifth continuing resolution, which saw a bill passed with ample time to spare. According to BBG, Trump’s demand for border-wall funding is among the disputes that have held up negotiations. The White House has floated the idea of a deal on immigration, short-term protection from deportation for young immigrants in exchange for money to begin building the southern border wall, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Dem leaders pull back from hard-line immigration demand | TheHill: Democratic leaders are backing off of their demand that "Dreamer" protections be a part of the 2018 budget negotiations. While House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democratic leaders had hinged their support for last month’s budget caps deal on a commitment from Republicans to consider legislation salvaging the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, they’ve signaled they won’t hold a similar line heading into next week’s expected vote on an omnibus spending bill.  The apparent change in strategy has angered immigrant rights advocates in and out of Congress, who want the minority Democrats to use their rare leverage on the omnibus government funding package — among the last must-pass bills of the year — to secure protections for the hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who came to the country illegally as children.   “We need a budget or spending measure that includes the Dream Act. Punto,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said last week.  Democratic leaders have kept the rhetorical heat on Republicans to stage a DACA vote, using every opportunity to press Speaker Paul Ryan(R-Wis.) to bring the issue to the floor. But after Senate Democrats were blamed for a brief government shutdown over DACA in January — and with Republicans likely needing scores of Democratic votes to pass the omnibus — House leaders are not insisting that such a commitment accompany the 2018 spending package. Instead, Democratic leaders want appropriators in both parties to drop all contentious “riders” for the sake of easing passage of the omnibus and preventing a government shutdown ahead of March 23, when funding expires.

Democrats drop DACA recipients from budget talks - Congressional Democratic leaders have decided that there will be no protection for DACA recipients—the young undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children—in the omnibus budget bill that must pass the House and Senate by midnight Friday night.The budget bill, appropriating funds for all major federal agencies for the rest of the current fiscal year, which ends September 30, is the last piece of major legislation that Congress must pass before the November 6 election. It is widely expected that there will be no significant legislative action after that, as all members of the House of Representatives and one-third of the members of the Senate concentrate on their renomination and reelection campaigns.That means if no legal protection for DACA recipients is attached to the budget bill, the issue is likely dead until after the election. President Trump rescinded the executive order establishing the DACA program last year, with the action taking effect two weeks ago, on March 5. But two federal district courts, one in California and one in New York, have blocked this action at least temporarily, issuing orders to the US Customs and Immigration Services to continue renewing two-year work permits for DACA recipients.The Trump administration sought emergency review by the Supreme Court, but the court refused to take the matter up outside the normal appeals process. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is already taking up the California case, and an appeal of the New York decision is likely to be heard by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The delayed action on Trump’s rescinding of DACA has given the Democrats a certain political cover, as they can pretend that the issue no longer has the same urgency, since ICE agents are not currently rounding up DACA recipients and deporting them. But an unfavorable appeals court ruling or a change of mind by the Supreme Court could put hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients in immediate danger.

Congress may pass background check legislation in funding bill | TheHill: Congress is considering attaching a narrow background check bill for gun purchases to a must-pass government funding package before the end of the week, as thousands of high school students are set to congregate Saturday in Washington for the March for Our Lives calling for an end to gun violence. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Tuesday said leadership was actively talking to members about adding the background legislation, shortly after news broke of a new school shooting on Tuesday morning in Maryland. “That’s something we’re discussing with our colleagues," Ryan told reporters in the Capitol, referring to the bipartisan Fix NICS (National Instant Criminal Background System) Act. "I think we should do Fix NICS. I agree with Fix NICS,” Ryan added. “That’s something we’re discussing with our friends on the other side of the aisle.” The House already approved the background check bill in December, but paired the measure with controversial legislation that allows people with concealed weapons to take them across state lines. Gun rights supporters generally back the Fix NICS bill, but it would be a disappointment to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and conservatives if that bill was separated from the concealed carry legislation, which is a top NRA priority. The Senate’s stand-alone Fix NICS bill, backed by Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), now has more than 70 co-sponsors in the Senate. 

Trump Now Supports Omnibus Spending Bill After Meeting With Ryan - After GOP leaders announced that they would hold a House vote on their $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill on Monday, before postponing it to Tuesday (and then postponing it against to Thursday), Bloomberg is reporting that lawmakers remain deadlocked on several major issues that they'd hoped to resolve with what would be the first long-term spending bill of the Trump era.However, one encouraging breakthrough was reported early Wednesday morning when a source close to the leadership told CNBC that Democrats and Republicans had reached an agreement on several key issues, including $1.6 billion in border security spending, as well as funding for opioid abuse treatment, a tunnel under the Hudson River connecting New York City and New Jersey, and nearly $400 million for electronic voting security measures. While aides said a deal is near, the two parties have reached tentative "agreements" in the past, only to see them unravel, sometimes in the middle of a vote. Lawmakers are still fighting over DACA, provisions reinstating federal cost-sharing payments to insurance companies and other key issues. It's also unclear whether the President supports the border security package and funding for the NYC tunnel, something he vehemently opposes.A continuing resolution passed in February (the fifth of the Trump era) expires at the end of the day Friday. And given the delays, it's looking like the vote won't happen until late Friday evening, at the earliest - giving the Senate little time to react.According to Reuters, the measure will also include $10 billion in infrastructure spending for highways, airports and railroads, along with an increase of $2.8 billion to fund opioid addiction treatment, prevention and research. The bill will also include a fix to a "grain glitch" from last year's tax overall, according to Reuters.   The bill also reportedly includes billions of dollars for the FBI to fight election hacking, funding for a tunnel between New Jersey and New York City and $1.6 billion for "some fencing" along the Southern border, among other features. A Democratic proposal to expand a low-income housing tax credit also made it into the final bill.

    Congress Reportedly Reaches Budget Deal, Averting Weekend Shutdown -- After a third day of Republican and Democratic leaders emphatically insisting to any reporter who would listen that their long-promised $1.3 trillion "omnibus" budget deal would be ready by Monday night (then Tuesday night, then some time Wednesday) it appears that a compromise has finally been attained. The Washington Post  is reporting that the (tentative) deal does quite give President Trump everything he wanted on immigration (actually Republicans agreed to some major concessions on that front) but it does withhold funding for a tunnel connecting New York City and New Jersey - something that Trump had lobbied for out of what appeared to be pure spite for the inhabitants of his home town (and its suburbs), which have largely turned against him. The deal appeared in jeopardy for a brief moment Wednesday afternoon when it leaked that Trump was reportedly considering withdrawing his support for the bill. But after a midday meeting with Paul Ryan, the White House confirmed that POTUS had changed his mind.The text of the bill should be available early Thursday, lawmakers said. WaPo's story captures the excitement surrounding a deal - with lawmakers counting on Ryan to flip Trump back to a yes.Top congressional lawmakers huddled in Ryan’s office in the morning. Leaving the meeting, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) both said a deal was close.“We’re feeling very good about this,” Schumer said. “We’ve accomplished many, many, many of our goals. When it’s unveiled, you will see.”Later in the day, with no bill introduced, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) played down any drama over Trump’s support: “Last I heard is the president supports this package,” he said. A Ryan spokeswoman issued a statement saying Trump “is supportive of the bill” following their meeting.It is unclear how soon Congress might vote on the bill. The chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee said Wednesday that the House would vote Thursday, though the vote could move to Friday. It's also worth reminding readers that, during the Trump era, it's not done until the president signs. 

    House approves jam-packed $1.3 trillion spending bill - The House on Thursday passed a sweeping $1.3 trillion spending bill that doles out enormous increases to military and domestic programs alike, as Republicans and Democrats joined to block most of President Trump’s proposed budget cuts and place obstacles in the way of his immigration agenda. The 2,232-page bill abandons GOP claims of fiscal discipline in a stark reversal of the promises many Republicans ran on in capturing control of the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014 as they railed against what they described as a profligate president Barack Obama. And in another about-face, GOP leaders tossed aside their own rules and past complaints about Democrats to rush the legislation through the House ahead of a Friday night government shutdown deadline. Lawmakers of both parties seethed, saying they had scant time to read the mammoth bill, which was released less than 17 hours before they voted. Nonetheless, House leaders of both parties declared victory following the 256-to-167 vote, and at the White House, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said Trump would sign the bill. “Is it perfect? No. Is it exactly what we asked for in the budget? No. Were we ever going to get that? No. That’s not how the process works,” Mulvaney said. “This is what a bill looks like when you have 60 votes in the Senate and the Democrats get a chance to take their pound of flesh.” Negotiators in Congress on March 21 reached an agreement on a $1.3 trillion spending bill, keeping government agencies operating through September. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post) The legislation funds the federal government for the remainder of the 2018 budget year, through Sept. 30, directing $700 billion toward the military and $591 billion to domestic agencies. The military spending is a $66 billion increase over the 2017 level, and the nondefense spending is $52 billion more than last year. The spending bill is widely expected to be the last major legislation that Congress will pass before the November midterm elections, which had increased pressure to jam the bill full of odds and ends.

    25 House Republicans defy leadership in key spending bill vote | TheHill: Twenty-five House conservatives bucked Republican leadership on Thursday by opposing a procedural motion that was needed to bring a $1.3 trillion government funding package to the floor. Votes on what are known as rules in the House typically fall along party lines, with leaders viewing defections as a serious offense. But outraged by the speedy vote on the more than 2,000-page funding bill — the text of which wasn’t released until Thursday night — members of the House Freedom Caucus defied their leadership. Their stand almost took down the rule, which passed 211-207 after Republicans gaveled it to a close despite several Democrats not having voted. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said the group never took an official position against the rule. But had it done so, he said, more GOP members would have defected. “We purposely did not take a position in the Freedom Caucus on the rule,” he told The Hill Thursday. ”I think the number 25 is significant in that any majority in the House needs to make sure that they control the last 25 votes. And so I think that number is more of a statement than it is really anything else.” Conservatives voiced concerns about both the process used to craft the omnibus and its content, arguing it lacked conservative wins and failed to deliver on the party’s promises to voters. 

    Most Riders Removed From Omnibus, A Win for the Public - Public Citizen - With the finalization of the omnibus text, we return to straightforward budgeting for the first time since the beginning of this fiscal year last October, at long last ending the saga of continuing resolutions and shutdowns. This budget gives a big boost to programs in the non-defense arena, including an important win by allotting $307 million more than the Trump administration requested to combat midterm election cyber-meddling, plus another $380 million for desperately needed election security grants critical for 2018. Public Citizen also applauds the removal of many of the proposed poison pill policy riders and the hard work of the minority to remove unpopular and damaging policies from the final deal. While we are disappointed with the inclusion of a provision that makes it hard for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to finish its critically important political spending disclosure rule as well as two other anti-disclosure provisions, we are happy that so many of the hundreds of newly proposed poisonous provisions will not see the light of day. In particular, we celebrate the removal of the poison pill that would have blocked enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, which would have unleashed an additional $1 billion in secret political spending. Toxic riders that hurt our campaign finance system, our environmental safeguards and our financial regulations are inappropriate for an appropriations package, and we hope to build on today’s momentum and remove the remaining campaign finance poison pills in the next package in September.

    US House of Representatives approves record military budget - The US House of Representatives voted Thursday afternoon to approve the federal budget for the current fiscal year, including a record $695 billion for the Pentagon, the largest amount ever, and more than half the total. The budget passed by a bipartisan vote of 256-167, with majorities of both the Republican and the Democrats supporting it. The margin among Republicans was 145 for and 90 against, with opposition drawn mainly from ultra-right representatives opposed to increases in domestic spending. Given the considerable opposition from the right, final passage of the budget depended on the Democrats delivering at least 70 votes, a hurdle that was cleared easily.The margin among Democrats was 111 to 77, with nominal opposition largely based on the bill’s failure to address the plight of young immigrants protected from deportation under the DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which President Trump terminated last fall, effective March 5, 2018. Two federal judges have blocked Trump’s order, at least temporarily, giving the Democrats political cover, since the 700,000 youth and young adults protected by DACA can continue to work and go to school without threat of immediate deportation. That could quickly end, however, with further decisions by the courts, as all the judicial actions are being appealed.The budget bill, also known as the “omnibus” bill, is the last “must-pass” legislation for the current session of Congress. In the event that court decisions open the floodgates for mass roundups and deportations of DACA recipients, Congress has effectively decided to do nothing. That led one Democrat opposed to the bill, Representative Luis Gutierrez of Chicago, who is retiring, to declare, “Anyone who votes for the omnibus is voting for the deportation of Dreamers and other immigrants.”The House voted on the budget less than one day after final agreement between the Trump White House and the top four congressional leaders—Republicans Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, Democrats Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. No one in the House could possibly have read the entire 2,232-page bill, whose text was drafted by congressional and White House staff with extensive input from corporate lobbyists and the Pentagon. The Senate will take up the bill as early as Thursday night. Parliamentary procedure could delay a final vote until after the legal deadline of midnight Friday night, leading to a temporary partial shutdown of the federal government, but this would likely be only a matter of hours. The outcome of the final Senate vote is not in doubt. Minority Leader Schumer said Democrats would vote for the bill unanimously.

    In late-night drama, Senate passes $1.3 trillion spending bill, averting government shutdown - Congress cleared a sweeping $1.3 trillion spending bill early Friday that doles out enormous increases to military and domestic programs alike, as Republicans and Democrats joined to block most of President Trump’s proposed budget cuts and place obstacles in the way of his immigration agenda. The House passed the 2,232-page bill Thursday on a wide bipartisan vote. And after a day of maneuvering — including a bizarre dispute involving a senator upset about the renaming of a wilderness area after a deceased political rival — the Senate followed suit early Friday morning, passing the legislation 65 to 32. The bill abandons GOP claims of fiscal discipline in a stark reversal of the promises many Republicans ran on in capturing control of the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014 as they railed against what they described as a profligate President Barack Obama. And in another about-face, House GOP leaders tossed aside their own rules and past complaints about Democrats to rush the legislation through the House ahead of a Friday night government shutdown deadline. Lawmakers of both parties seethed, saying they had scant time to read the mammoth bill, which was released less than 17 hours before they voted. Nonetheless, House leaders of both parties declared victory following the 256-to-167 vote, and at the White House, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said Trump would sign the bill. Negotiators in Congress on March 21 reached an agreement on a $1.3 trillion spending bill, keeping government agencies operating through September. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post) “Is it perfect? No. Is it exactly what we asked for in the budget? No. Were we ever going to get that? No. That’s not how the process works,” Mulvaney said. “This is what a bill looks like when you have 60 votes in the Senate and the Democrats get a chance to take their pound of flesh.” The legislation funds the federal government for the remainder of the 2018 budget year, through Sept. 30, directing $700 billion toward the military and $591 billion to domestic agencies. The military spending is a $66 billion increase over the 2017 level, and the nondefense spending is $52 billion more than last year.

    Trump Says He Signed Spending Bill, Reversing His Veto Threat -  President Donald Trump said he has signed a spending bill funding the federal government for the next six months, reversing a veto threat he made earlier Friday that shocked Washington after his administration had previously said he would approve the legislation.  Trump’s turnabout came after a meeting with Defense Secretary James Mattis, who advocated for the bill’s increases in defense spending and wanted the relative certainty of six months of assured funding.  “My highest duty is to keep America safe. Nothing more important,” Trump said at the White House. “But I say to Congress: I will never sign another bill like this again.”    The spending bill appeared to only be waiting for Trump’s signature when he tweeted Friday morning that he was “considering a VETO” because the bill does not fully fund a wall on the Mexican border or create a solution for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a program protecting some undocumented immigrants from deportation that Trump chose last year to end.  The veto threat injected chaos into what appeared to be the end of a protracted struggle to settle on a funding plan for the federal government. A month of negotiations between Republicans and Democrats culminated in a deal to raise defense and domestic spending following a bruising fight that triggered a shutdown in January. Trump called it a “ridiculous situation” before handing over his podium to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to briefly discuss a trade deal with South Korea. Afterward, Trump said he wants the power to issue line-item vetoes on spending bills -- a power many presidents have demanded, and that Congress has never granted -- and that the Senate should eliminate the ability of a minority to filibuster legislation.  The federal fiscal year began Oct. 1. Trump said he had seriously considered vetoing the bill but “because of the incredible gains we’ve been able to make for the military that overrode any of our thinking.”  A veto would have almost certainly triggered a partial government shutdown, the third since the start of the year, since many lawmakers left Washington after the legislation won final passage. Funding for the federal government was set to run out at 12:01 a.m Saturday.  “We wanted to include DACA in this bill, but Democrats wouldn’t do that,” Trump said.

     US Doubles Down As Empire Declines - US empire is in decline. Reports of the end of the US being the unitary power in world affairs are common, as are predictions of the end of US empire. China surpassed the United States as the world economic leader according to Purchasing Power Parity Gross National Product, and Russia announced new weapons that can overcome the US’ defense systems.What is happening in the United States, in response, is to do more of what has been causing the decline. As the Pentagon outlined in its post-primacy report, the US’ plan is more money, more aggression and more surveillance. Congress voted nearly unanimously to give the Pentagon tens of billions more than it requested. Military spending will now consume 57% of federal discretionary spending, leaving less for basic necessities. The Trump administration’s new nominees to the State Department and CIA are a war hawk and a torturer. And the Democrat’s “Blue Wave” is composed of security state candidates.The US is escalating an arms race with Russia and China. This may create the mirror image of President Reagan forcing Russia to spend so much on its military that it aided in the break-up of the Soviet Union. The US economy cannot handle more military spending, worsening austerity when most people in the US are in financial distress. This is an urgent situation for all people in the world. In the US, we carry an extra burden as citizens of empire to do what we can to oppose US imperialism. We must be clear that it is time to end wars and other tools of regime change, to become a cooperative member of the world community and to prioritize the needs of people and protection of the planet.

    Donald Trump’s offer to talk to North Korea tests the “madman” theory to the limit - Is Donald Trump’s announcement of talks with North Korea leader Kim Jong-un his Nixon goes to China moment? As recently as last October, Trump publicly rebuked his (now former) secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, for leaving the door open to talks, concluding that he was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man”. This followed Kim’s promise “to tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire”. Now we are told that dotard and dictator are due to meet. As Trump continues to break all the rules of post-Cold War international relations – on anything from alliance management to trade and nuclear non-proliferation – it is worth remembering that the so-called madman theory of diplomacy at least has a distinguished heritage.  Machiavelli once wrote that “at times it is a very wise thing to simulate madness”. Richard Nixon was said to test the same proposition at the height of the Cold War, with the US embroiled in Vietnam. According to his chief of staff, HR Haldeman, Nixon had played up his unpredictability – supported by a back catalogue of ferocious Commie-bashing that stretched back two decades – in order to send a signal to Moscow, Beijing and Hanoi that he was prepared to countenance nuclear war. According to Haldeman’s account, this was a lesson he had learned at the feet of Dwight Eisenhower, who had sought a truce to the Korean War in 1953 by getting word to the Chinese that he was willing to drop the bomb to bring hostilities to a close. By 1972, the year that Nixon went to China, his secretary of state Henry Kissinger also reflected on the president’s tried and tested strategy to “‘push so many chips into the pot’ that the other side will think we might be ‘crazy’ and might really go much further”.

    The last 48 hours in rising US-North Korea tensions, explained - The past 48 hours suggests that the relative period of calm between the United States and North Korea may soon come to an end — and that’s as scary as it sounds.Here’s why: On Monday, Washington and Seoul announced they will hold an annual joint military drill next month. The exercise was previously delayed because of the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may have expected it would not happen ahead of his summit with President Donald Trump. The exercise will certainly annoy him — and may change how he feels about his diplomatic opening.Also on Monday, the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported that Germany’s foreign intelligence agency believes North Korea can strike Europe with a nuclear-tipped missile. The US already worries that Pyongyang could nuke its Asian allies. The US has promised to use massive force in defense of friends — but now the US may have to come to the defense of an even larger number of allies. That may necessitate more plans when thinking about war with North Korea.And finally, South Korea announced plans to deploy “artillery killer” missiles to the border with North Korea. These missiles could potentially destroy Pyongyang’s artillery force, which North Korea would use to kill thousands in South Korea should a conflict break out. These new missiles, in effect, aim to defend against that outcome.All of this comes about two months before Trump plans to meet with Kim Jong Un for a high-stakes summit to discuss the future of Kim’s nuclear program (though there’s no guarantee the meeting will actually happen), and while Trump is considering a broader national security team shake-up. The hope was for the leaders to meet face to face during a period of peace — but it looks like tensions may soon be on the rise.

    The Pig Empire Prepares For War - Nina Illingworth -- In today’s essay we return to a topic that keeps me wide awake at night in mortal terror; more ominous signs that the US and allied pig empire is about to enter another forever war: The hardest part about living through mind-fuckingly terrible moments of consequential history is grasping a handle on the scraps of truth that matter most; especially amid the hazy brushfires of a pig empire on the verge of an astronomically stupid and potentially catastrophic war. This is the witching hour for maggot NatSec ghouls, twisted think tank minions and bloodthirsty media propagandists on your idiot box; those “respected” experts, analysts and war hawks who dig graves for other people’s children from behind the safety of a desk. As the Cold War spy novel conspiracy theory that was “Russiagate” crystallizes into a very real global conflict with Russia and its allies, the western imperial war machine has seized on the chaos and confusion to ratchet up the xenophobic panic level to suffocating proportions. Everything old and Cold is new again; in the chaos and carnage of a massive paradigm shift towards open war, you can say damn near fucking anything about Russia on the nightly news because the poor stunned schmucks watching at home are primed to believe you. Make no mistake about it my friends; with news that four of the five most influential western imperial allies in NATO have all deemed Russia responsible for what amounts to a fucking chemical weapons attack on British soil, the defining conflict of our lives officially started this week. The New Cold War isn’t a theoretical possibility or rhetorical tool to describe US-backed warmongering towards Russian allies in the Middle East anymore. This is no longer about tiny proxy conflicts like the one America has been fighting against Russia in Ukraine for years; long before fascist swine emperor Trump oozed his way into the White House. With a reactionary Tory government drowning in Russian donations dragging its pliant European allies into an ill-conceived conflict with the Kremlin that most NATO partners have conveniently already paid for, only a willfully blind jackass can deny that the pig empire is openly preparing for a real-as-fuck war – probably against Russian-allied Iran if not Russia itself.

    A World War Might Sound Crazy, But It Could Be America's Last Act Of Desperation - Though some have been warning about the catastrophic potential for a third global conflict for years, it wasn’t until recently that these warnings became more mainstream. The calamitous nature of the violence in Syria - which has one nuclear power defending a government that has been the target of a regime change operation led by the world’s superpower - combined with 2017’s threats of “fire and fury” against another state intently pursuing a nuclear weapons supply of its own, has pushed the issue of a third world war directly into the public discourse. While certain hotspots throughout the Middle East, Asia, and Eastern Europe (i.e. Ukraine) have seen some notable escalations in the last few years, a direct conflict between Russia and the United States is still yet to emerge. That’s because the idea of a third world war in today’s world is completely insane. If the two countries that currently possess the world’s greatest supplies of nuclear weapons go to war, there may not be a world left for the victors to inhabit after the war is done, thereby making it an unthinkable proposal. Then again, the U.S. did just recently bomb a significant number of Russian-linked forces in Syria, reportedly killing scores of them. The targets of these air strikes were also predominantly Iranian-backed militias (just in case there weren’t enough state actors already involved in this ongoing conflict). Speaking of Iran, Donald Trump recently fired Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and immediately appointed CIA director Mike Pompeo to replace him. Pompeo is a notable anti-Iran hawk who will almost certainly go further than Tillerson was ever prepared to go with regard to the Iranian nuclear accord, a deal Pompeo believes is “disastrous.” One should bear in mind that when Donald Trump made the decision to strike the Syrian government in April of last year in what amounted to one of the year’s most important and over-publicized geopolitical events, it was McMaster who drew up the strike plan options and presented them to Trump to choose from. If this is a man not hawkish enough for Trump’s administration, his looming removal from the administration is a worrying sign of what’s to come.

    Calling for Arms Talks with Russia, is the U.S. Raising a White Flag? -- Vladimir Putin’s presentation of Russia’s new weapons systems during his address to the Federal Assembly on March 1 seems to have finally elicited the desired response from its target audience in Washington, D.C. In that presentation, Putin spoke about strategic weapons systems employing cutting-edge technology that, he claimed, is more than a decade ahead of U.S. and other competition. He scored a direct hit in the Pentagon, where senior generals were left dumbfounded. But, as is normally the case, when these gentlemen need time to collect their wits, we heard first only denial: that the Russians were bluffing, that they really have nothing ready, that these are only projects, and that the U.S. already has all of the same, but is holding it back in reserve. Of course, not everyone among the U.S. political elite bought into this stop-gap response. On March 8, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) wrote an open letter to then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging him to send a delegation to open arms control talks with the Russians “as soon as possible.”This was an improbable demarche that even their supporters in the progressive camp, let alone mainstream Democrats, found hard to believe. Feinstein and Sanders have been vocal critics of Russia and were actively promoting the Trump-Russia collusion fairy tale in recent months. They were among those who had hissed at the pictures of Jeff Sessions, not yet Attorney General, shaking hands and smiling with Russian Ambassador Kislyak.  Now they were calling for revival of arms control talks with… the Russians.  This was a story that died before publication everywhere except in Russia, where it had been a featured news item within hours of the letter’s release. The American and world public knew nothing about it, although the letter was there for the reading on the home pages of the Senate websites of the respective co-authors. The American and world public know nothing about that letter today, nearly two weeks after its release, apart from readers of Consortium who were properly informed at the time. In the meantime, the U.S. propaganda machine moved into high gear, producing diversionary issues to draw the attention of the U.S. public away from what had been the subject of Putin’s speech of March 1.

    Trump's foreign policy enters new uncertain phase | Asia Times: Who is the real Mike Pompeo and what does he really think about Russia, Iran, Afghanistan or Syria? Moscow has been noticeably reticent about US President Donald Trump’s dismissal last week of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his replacement with Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief Pompeo. This is curious considering how often Trump’s perceived missteps quickly become grist for Russian propaganda to highlight America’s stupor. Moscow, however, must be quietly pleased with Pompeo’s appointment. Pompeo was the one intriguing member in Trump’s previous cabinet that Moscow had been able to engage. Amidst persistent rumors that Pompeo was poised to replace Tillerson, the top intelligence czars in Moscow made a quiet trip to the US in late January. The team comprised Sergey Naryshkin, head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, Alexander Bortnikov, who runs the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, and Lieutenant General Igor Valentinovich Korobov, head of Russia’s military intelligence, or GRU, the country’s largest foreign intelligence outfit. Although these Russian officials figured on the US’ sanctions list, someone in Washington waived the visa ban and let them in. The State Department was reportedly not in the loop. Presumably, Pompeo wanted to hear them out and Trump obliged – or vice versa. Pompeo later confirmed that he met the Russian intelligence officials. Pompeo also summoned the CIA’s station chief in Moscow to be available at Langley Air Force Base when the Russian spy chiefs arrived. The discussions were most certainly substantive and of the highest importance to America’s national security and global strategies. But what actually transpired has remained strictly between Pompeo and Trump – and, of course, Russian President Vladimir Putin, to whom the returning Magi would have reported back. 

    Gina Haspel: As If Nuremberg Never Happened - Nothing will say more about who we are, across three American administrations—one that demanded torture, one that covered it up, and one that seeks to promote its bloody participants—than whether Gina Haspel becomes director of the CIA. Haspel oversaw the torture of human beings in Thailand as the chief of a CIA black site in 2002. Since then, she’s worked her way up to deputy director at the CIA. With current director Mike Pompeo slated to move to Foggy Bottom, President Donald Trump has proposed Haspel as the Agency’s new head. Haspel’s victims waiting for death in Guantanamo cannot speak to us, though they no doubt remember their own screams as they were waterboarded. And we can still hear former CIA officer John Kiriakou say: “We did call her Bloody Gina. Gina was always very quick and very willing to use force. Gina and people like Gina did it, I think, because they enjoyed doing it. They tortured just for the sake of torture, not for the sake of gathering information.” . The real purpose of torture conducted by those like Gina Haspel was to seek vengeance, humiliation, and power. We’re just slapping you now, she would have said in that Thai prison, but we control you, and who knows what will happen next, what we’re capable of? The torture victim is left to imagine what form the hurt will take and just how severe it will be, creating his own terror.

    Pompeo and Haspel are Symptoms of a Deeper Problem-  by Ron Paul - President Trump’s recent cabinet shake-up looks to be a real boost to hard-line militarism and neo-conservatism. If his nominees to head the State Department and CIA are confirmed, we may well have moved closer to war.  Before being chosen by Trump to head up the CIA, Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo was one of the most pro-war Members of Congress. He has been militantly hostile toward Iran, and many times has erroneously claimed that Iran is the world’s number one state sponsor of terror. The truth is, Iran neither attacks nor threatens the United States. At a time when President Trump appears set to make history by meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un face-to-face, Pompeo remains dedicated to a “regime change” policy that leads to war, not diplomacy and peace. He blames Iran – rather than the 2003 US invasion – for the ongoing disaster in Iraq. He enthusiastically embraced the Bush policy of “enhanced interrogation,” which the rest of us call “torture.” Speaking of torture, even if some of the details of Trump’s CIA nominee Gina Haspel’s involvement in the torture of Abu Zubaydah are disputed, the mere fact that she helped develop an interrogation regimen that our own government admitted was torture, that she oversaw an infamous “black site” where torture took place, and that she covered up the evidence of her crimes should automatically disqualify her for further government service. In a society that actually valued the rule of law, Haspel may be facing time in a much different kind of federal facility than CIA headquarters. We should be concerned, of course, but the real problem is not really Mike Pompeo or Gina Haspel. It is partly true that “personnel is policy,” but it’s more than just that. It matters less who fills the position of Secretary of State or CIA director when the real issue is that both federal agencies are routinely engaged in activities that are both unconstitutional and anti-American. It is the current Executive Branch over-reach that threatens our republic more than the individuals who fill positions in that Executive Branch. As long as Congress refuses to exercise its Constitutional authority and oversight obligations – especially in matters of war and peace – we will continue our slide toward authoritarianism, where the president becomes a kind of king who takes us to war whenever he wishes.

    The Untold Story of John Bolton’s Campaign for War With Iran  - The strong likelihood that Donald Trump will now choose John Bolton as his next national security advisor creates a prospect of war with Iran that is very real. Bolton is no ordinary neoconservative hawk. He has been obsessed for many years with going to war against the Islamic Republic, calling repeatedly for bombing Iran in his regular appearances on Fox News, without the slightest indication that he understands the consequences of such a policy.   His is not merely a rhetorical stance: Bolton actively conspired during his tenure as the Bush administration’s policymaker on Iran from 2002 through 2004 to establish the political conditions necessary for the administration to carry out military action.More than anyone else inside or outside the Trump administration, Bolton has already influenced Trump to tear up the Iran nuclear deal. Bolton parlayed his connection with the primary financier behind both Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump himself—the militantly Zionist casino magnate Sheldon Adelson—to get Trump’s ear last October, just as the president was preparing to announce his policy on the Iran nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). He spoke with Trump by phone from Las Vegas after meeting with Adelson.It was Bolton who persuaded Trump to commit to specific language pledging to pull out of the JCPOA if Congress and America’s European allies did not go along with demands for major changes that were clearly calculated to ensure the deal would fall apart.  Although Bolton was passed over for the job of secretary of state, he now appears to have had the inside track for national security advisor. Trump met with Bolton on March 6 and told him, “We need you here, John,” according to a Bolton associate. Bolton said he would only take secretary of state or national security advisor, whereupon Trump promised, “I’ll call you really soon.” Trump then replaced Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with former CIA director Mike Pompeo, after which White House sources leaked to the media Trump’s intention to replace H.R. McMaster within a matter of weeks.

    Trump names former ambassador John Bolton as his new national security adviser -  President Trump said Thursday that he was naming former ambassador John Bolton, a Fox News commentator and conservative firebrand, as his new national security adviser, replacing Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.The president announced the news in a tweet, saying that Bolton would take the job starting April 9, making him Trump’s third national security adviser in the first 14 months of his presidency. In dismissing McMaster from the job, Trump praised the Army general for his “outstanding job” and said he would “always remain my friend.”Despite the kind words, Trump and McMaster never clicked on a personal basis and often seemed at odds on matters of policy related to Iran and North Korea.The appointment of Bolton, which doesn’t require Senate confirmation, could lead to dramatic changes in the administration’s approach to crises around the world.His appointment is certain to scramble the White House’s preparations for a proposed summit by the end of May between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Bolton is a fierce North Korea hawk who, in his prolific writings and television commentary, has said that preemptive war would likely be the only way to stop North Korea from obtaining the capability to attack the United States with a nuclear missile.President Trump announced March 22 that former ambassador John Bolton would replace General H.R. McMaster as national security adviser. Here's what you need to know. (The Washington Post)  Bolton has touted “the legal case for striking North Korea first” in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal. In a subsequent interview with Breitbart News, Bolton warned that the North was on the cusp of being able to strike the continental United States and raised the specter of Pyongyang selling nuclear devices to other hostile actors such as Iran, the Islamic State or ­al-Qaeda. “We have to ask ourselves whether we’re prepared to take preemptive action, or live in a world where North Korea — and a lot of other people — have nuclear weapons,” he said.

    John Bolton: Bush-era war hawk makes comeback - BBC News: President Donald Trump has appointed John Bolton, the former US envoy to the UN, as his national security adviser, politically reanimating a strident Bush administration neo-conservative. The decision comes as a surprise, not least because Mr Trump was reported to have decided against naming Mr Bolton secretary of state last year as he disliked his walrus moustache. Mr Bolton's new role will prove controversial since he remains an unapologetic cheerleader of the 2003 Iraq war, which the US president himself once lambasted as "a big mistake". Known for that bushy facial hair, curmudgeonly manner and tousled appearance, Mr Bolton is praised by conservative admirers as a straight-talking foreign policy hawk. But the Republican was also once memorably branded by a cable television host as "a massive neocon on steroids". Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul described Mr Bolton last year in an op-ed as "hell-bent on repeating virtually every foreign policy mistake the US has made in the last 15 years". Mr Bolton has been a staunch conservative from his boyhood. At the age of 15 he took time off school to campaign for Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential campaign. Mr Bolton went on to serve in the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush and George W Bush. He ruffled feathers in the second Bush administration where he initially worked as US Department of State under-secretary for arms control. Mr Bolton was accused of trying to force out two intelligence analysts who disagreed with him and of seeking to undermine his boss, Colin Powell. He also helped build the case that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, which turned out to be wrong. 

    Trump rattles White House with Bolton shake-up | TheHill: President Trump is moving aggressively to reshape his team, and the unexpected moves are causing turmoil within his embattled staff. The president’s supporters are cheering his decision to replace national security adviser H.R. McMaster with former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, whose views are more in line with those of the president.That sudden move comes after Trump replaced his secretary of State and national economic adviser in recent weeks — long-anticipated changes that nonetheless happened abruptly and sent shockwaves through Washington. The staff shake-up reveals the president’s frustration with members of his old team who encouraged him to back away from or delay key policy decisions, which he frequently makes based on gut instinct. Bolton, the hawkish former Bush administration official, has pledged to implement Trump’s agenda, even on matters in which they might disagree. The president’s allies had grown frustrated with McMaster, believing he slow-walked the president’s agenda or sought to implement his own. “Bolton is coming in to prosecute the president’s agenda, which sets him apart from McMaster who tried to advance his own policies and beliefs,” said a former White House official. “If Bolton sticks to that plan, he will be a success. The president wants people in the administration who, when he makes a decision, will follow through on it.” Bolton will be Trump’s third national security adviser in just 14 months, adding to a level of turnover the White House not seen in decades. The reshuffle is far from over. The National Security Council is now bracing for a shake-up under Bolton’s leadership. There is hope among Trump's allies that Bolton will put an end to the damaging leaks from the National Security Council and rid the council of Obama-era holdovers — or anyone viewed as insufficiently loyal to the president. 

    It’s Time to Panic Now: John Bolton’s appointment as national security adviser puts us on a path to war. - It’s time to push the panic button.John Bolton’s appointment as national security adviser—a post that requires no Senate confirmation—puts the United States on a path to war. And it’s fair to say President Donald Trump wants us on that path.After all, Trump gave Bolton the job after the two held several conversations (despite White House chief of staff John Kelly’s orders barring Bolton from the building). And there was this remark that Trump made after firing Rex Tillerson and nominating the more hawkish Mike Pompeo to take his place: “We’re getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things I want.”  Bolton has repeatedly called for launching a first strike on North Korea, scuttling the nuclear arms deal with Iran, and then bombing that country too. He says and writes these things not as part of some clever “madman theory” to bring Kim Jong-un and the mullahs of Tehran to the bargaining table, but rather because he simply wants to destroy them and America’s other enemies too. His agenda is not “peace through strength,” the motto of more conventional Republican hawks that Trump included in a tweet on Wednesday, but rather regime change through war. He is a neocon without the moral fervor of some who wear that label—i.e., he is keen to topple oppressive regimes not in order to spread democracy but rather to expand American power.

    Trump’s new national security adviser really, really wants to bomb Iran and North Korea. - National security adviser H.R. McMaster is the latest Trump administration casualty. He will be replaced by former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, President Donald Trump announced in a tweet Thursday evening. “I am very thankful for the service of General H.R. McMaster who has done an outstanding job & will always remain my friend,” Trump said. McMaster will officially leave his job April 9.I am pleased to announce that, effective 4/9/18, @AmbJohnBolton will be my new National Security Advisor. I am very thankful for the service of General H.R. McMaster who has done an outstanding job & will always remain my friend. There will be an official contact handover on 4/9.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 22, 2018    Bolton, who helped cover up the Iran-Contra scandal, holds a number of extreme foreign policy positions, and represents a shift even among Trump administration officials. Here are some of his dangerous, hawkish foreign policy and national security stances. “The inescapable conclusion is that Iran will not negotiate away its nuclear program. Nor will sanctions block its building a broad and deep weapons infrastructure,” Bolton wrote in a 2015 New York Times column headlined, “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.”“The inconvenient truth is that only military action like Israel’s 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor in Iraq or its 2007 destruction of a Syrian reactor, designed and built by North Korea, can accomplish what is required. Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed.” “Pre-emption opponents argue that action is not justified because Pyongyang does not constitute an ‘imminent threat.’ They are wrong. The threat is imminent, and the case against pre-emption rests on the misinterpretation of a standard that derives from prenuclear, pre-ballistic-missile times,” Bolton wrote last month in a Wall Street Journal column headlined, “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First.”  “Given the gaps in U.S. intelligence about North Korea, we should not wait until the very last minute. That would risk striking after the North has deliverable nuclear weapons, a much more dangerous situation.” 

    Let’s call Bolton what he is, a War Criminal with Terrorist Ties, not just “Hawkish” - John Bolton helped lie our country into an illegal war of aggression that killed several hundred thousand Iraqis, wounded over a million, and displaced 4 million from their homes, helped deliver Baghdad into the hands of Iran, and helped create ISIL, which blew up Paris. In a just world, Bolton would be on trial at the Hague for war crimes. Instead, he has been promoted into a position to do to Iran what he did to Iraq. He is also in the back pocket of the MEK Iranian terrorist organization, which despite its violent and smelly past has proved so useful to those plotting the apocalyptic destruction of Iran that the Washington elite decided to take it off the list of terrorist organizations in 2012. The acceptable political spectrum inside the Beltway in Washington DC is a marvel to behold.  America’s corporations love the fascist side of the spectrum, which is obvious from the way they promoted Trump and Trumpism.  Television news also loves the maniacal side of the spectrum. You seldom see normal people as commentators on cable news, and much of the commentary is polarized and superficial and often simply incorrect on the facts of the matter. Sometimes it is even just a criminal conspiracy. During the Iraq War, the NYT revealed that the Pentagon successfully pressed on CNN a gaggle of former generals, many of them actively making money off of the Iraq War through contracting while they were promoting it on television. They presented an Alice in Wonderland view of the brutal US occupation of that country as a shining success. The fascination with the far right wing and with the maniacal dovetails in the person of Bolton, now Trump’s National Security Adviser. Jesus said that if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch. The ditch in this case could well be a ruinous war with Iran.   In an sane society, people like Bolton wouldn’t be allowed on television, much less put in charge of American security.

    Exclusive – European powers propose new Iran sanctions to meet Trump ultimatum (Reuters) - Britain, France and Germany have proposed fresh EU sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missiles and its role in Syria’s war, according to a confidential document, in a bid to persuade Washington to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran. The joint paper, seen by Reuters, was sent to European Union capitals on Friday, said two people familiar with the matter, to sound out support for such sanctions as they would need the support of all 28 EU member governments. The proposal is part of an EU strategy to save the accord signed by world powers that curbs Tehran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons, namely by showing U.S. President Donald Trump that there are other ways to counter Iranian power abroad. Trump delivered an ultimatum to the European signatories on Jan. 12. It said they must agree to “fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal” - which was sealed under his predecessor Barack Obama - or he would refuse to extend U.S. sanctions relief on Iran. U.S. sanctions will resume unless Trump issues fresh “waivers” to suspend them on May 12. “We will therefore be circulating in the coming days a list of persons and entities that we believe should be targeted in view of their publicly demonstrated roles,” the document said, referring to Iranian ballistic missile tests and Tehran’s role in backing Syria’s government in the seven-year-old civil war. The steps would go beyond what a U.S. State Department cable seen by Reuters last month outlined as a path to satisfy Trump: simply committing to improving the nuclear deal. It also reflects frustration with Tehran. “We’re getting irritated. We’ve been talking to them for 18 months and have had no progress on these issues,” a diplomat said. European Union foreign ministers will discuss the proposal at a closed-door meeting on Monday in Brussels, diplomats said. Analysts say the nuclear agreement, touted at the time as a breakthrough reducing the risk of a devastating wider war in the Middle East, could collapse if Washington pulls out. 

    Trump Boasts of Killer Arms Sales in Meeting with Saudi Dictator, Using Cartoonish Charts - Real News Network ,video and transcript - President Donald Trump has removed the mask on U.S. foreign policy and dispelled any illusions that it is based on human rights, rather than economic interests. Trump held a historic meeting in the White House with Saudi Arabia's crown prince on Tuesday, March 20. Immediately at the beginning of their Oval Office press briefing, Trump boasted of his arms sales to the Saudi regime, praising the repressive absolute monarchy as a "very great friend" and a "big purchaser of equipment." DONALD TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody. It's a great honor to have the crown prince with us. Saudi Arabia has been a very great friend and a big purchaser of equipment and lots of other things. And one of the biggest investments in the United States is their, I guess it's your big investment, is buying stock in companies and various other things in the United States and creating jobs. We've become very good friends over a fairly short period of time. I was in Saudi Arabia in May. And we are bringing back hundreds of billions of dollars into the United States.

    Trump Admin Approves $1BN Arms Deal With Saudi Arabia, Including 6,700 Missiles - After welcoming Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the White House for a series of meetings earlier this week (which provoked a mini-scandal when the New York Times reported that there were no women in the room) the Associated Press and Bloomberg reported that the Trump administration has officially approved a $1 billion arms sale to the Kingdom - complete with 6,700 Raytheon anti-tank missiles worth $670 million.The approval came just hours after former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivered his farewell remarks.Today's deal should not come as a surprise: during his trip to the Kingdom last year, President Trump touted business deals that he claimed to help facilitate - including the largest US arms-sale agreement ever, worth some $350 billion. Furthermore, over the past year Trump has repeatedly voiced his desire to consummate major arms deals with any willing buyer of US equipment, even Ukraine recently, a move which is sure to provoke escalation in hostilities between Ukraine and Russia.And since the missiles in today's arms sale will almost certainly be used by the Saudi government to support the government of Yemen, which is embroiled in a brutal years-long civil war with Houthi rebels aligned with Iran, the surest trade for the foreseeable future will be going short the lifespan of Yemen residents. Again.Someone has to arm terrorists. Might as well be us.— Sleve McDichael (@sweatpantsfun) March 22, 2018Ironically, the latest US arms sale to Riyadh happens a day after the Senate voted to kill a bipartisan bill intended to limit the scope of US support for the Saudi proxy war in Yemen as the situation there has snowballed into a devastating humanitarian crisis.

    Saudi Crown Prince Boasted That Jared Kushner Was “In His Pocket” -Until he was stripped of his top-secret security clearance in February, presidential adviser Jared Kushner was known around the White House as one of the most voracious readers of the President’s Daily Brief, a highly classified rundown of the latest intelligence intended only for the president and his closest advisers.Kushner, who had been tasked with bringing about a deal between Israel and Palestine, was particularly engaged by information about the Middle East, according to a former White House official and a former U.S. intelligence professional.In June, Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman ousted his cousin, then-Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, and took his place as next in line to the throne, upending the established line of succession. In the months that followed, the President’s Daily Brief contained information on Saudi Arabia’s evolving political situation, including a handful of names of royal family members opposed to the crown prince’s power grab, according to the former White House official and two U.S. government officials with knowledge of the report. Like many others interviewed for this story, they declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak about sensitive matters to the press.In late October, Jared Kushner made an unannounced trip to Riyadh, catching some intelligence officials off guard. “The two princes are said to have stayed up until nearly 4 a.m. several nights, swapping stories and planning strategy,” the Washington Post’s David Ignatius reported at the time. What exactly Kushner and the Saudi royal talked about in Riyadh may be known only to them, but after the meeting, Crown Prince Mohammed told confidants that Kushner had discussed the names of Saudis disloyal to the crown prince, according to three sources who have been in contact with members of the Saudi and Emirati royal families since the crackdown. Kushner, through his attorney’s spokesperson, denies having done so.

    Trump boasts of arms deals, backs Saudi slaughter in Yemen --US President Donald Trump welcomed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the Oval Office Tuesday, hailing the de facto autocratic ruler of Saudi Arabia as the number one purchaser of US arms and a key ally in Washington’s drive to war with Iran.The meeting delivered to the Saudi regime what amounted to a carte blanche from the White House to continue its near-genocidal war against the people of Yemen, which has left over 13,000 dead and brought over 8.5 million to the brink of starvation.The White House meeting marks the first stop in what is programmed as a two-and-a-half-week US tour by the Saudi prince. He went on to New York City on Wednesday for meetings aimed at reassuring the banks and finance houses, which were rattled by the purge initiated by bin Salman last November.In what was dubbed an anti-corruption campaign, hundreds of princes, former ministers and prominent businessmen were rounded up, detained at Riyadh’s Ritz Carlton hotel and, in many cases, subjected to beatings and torture until they agreed to turn over substantial assets to the Saudi regime. The shakedown reportedly netted the ruling faction over $105 billion.Bin Salman is also set to meet CEOs in Silicon Valley and the oil industry executives in Houston and to visit Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco.In the White House meeting, Trump welcomed the Saudi ruler as a prized cash cow, bizarrely holding up cardboard posters in front of the prince bearing photographs and price tags for US weapons systems purchased by Riyadh. Pointing to one contract worth $525 million, the US president turned to the prince and declared, “that’s peanuts for you.” “The relationship [with Riyadh] is probably as good as it’s really ever been, and I think will probably only get better,” Trump told reporters before the meeting. “We understand each other. Saudi Arabia is a very wealthy nation and they’re going to give the United States some of that wealth, hopefully, in the form of jobs, in the form of the purchase of the finest military equipment anywhere in the world, there’s nobody even close.”

    Ten Senate Democrats Help Pentagon Continue War Efforts In Yemen - Shadowproof - Seemingly unrelated events all point to a tectonic shift in which Israel has begun preparing the ground to annex the occupied Palestinian territories. Last week, during an address to students in New York, Israel’s education minister Naftali Bennett publicly disavowed even the notion of a Palestinian state. “We are done with that,” he said. “They have a Palestinian state in Gaza.” Later in Washington, Bennett, who heads Israel’s settler movement, said Israel would manage the fallout from annexing the West Bank, just as it had with its annexation of the Syrian Golan in 1980. International opposition would dissipate, he said. “After two months it fades away and 20 years later and 40 years later, [the territory is] still ours.” Back home, Israel has proven such words are not hollow. The parliament passed a law last month that brings three academic institutions, including Ariel University, all located in illegal West Bank settlements, under the authority of Israel’s Higher Education Council. Until now, they were overseen by a military body. The move marks a symbolic and legal sea change. Israel has effectively expanded its civilian sovereignty into the West Bank. It is a covert but tangible first step towards annexation. In a sign of how the idea of annexation is now entirely mainstream, Israeli university heads mutely accepted the change, even though it exposes them both to intensified action from the growing international boycott (BDS) movement and potentially to European sanctions on scientific co-operation. Additional bills extending Israeli law to the settlements are in the pipeline. In fact, far-right justice minister Ayelet Shaked has insisted that those drafting new legislation indicate how it can also be applied in the West Bank. According to Peace Now, she and Israeli law chiefs are devising new pretexts to seize Palestinian territory. She has called the separation between Israel and the occupied territories required by international law “an injustice that has lasted 50 years”. 

    Newly-Declassified U.S. Government Documents: The West Supported the Creation of ISIS - Judicial Watch has – for many years – obtained sensitive U.S. government documents through freedom of information requests and lawsuits. The government just produced documents to Judicial Watch in response to a freedom of information suit which show that the West has long supported ISIS.   The documents were written by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency on August 12, 2012 … years before ISIS burst onto the world stage. Here are screenshots from the documents. We have highlighted the relevant parts in yellow: Why is this important? It shows that extreme Muslim terrorists – salafists, Muslims Brotherhood, and AQI (i.e. Al Qaeda in Iraq) – have always been the “major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” This verifies what the alternative media has been saying for years: there aren’t any moderate rebels in Syria (and see this, this and this).

    US Smooths Israel’s Path to Annexing West Bank - The United States Senate killed a resolution introduced by Independent Senator Bernie Sanders and Republican Senator Mike Lee to withdraw U.S. military support for the Saudi war in Yemen. By a vote of 55-44, the resolution was tabled. A simple majority was required to kill the resolution. If ten Democrats who voted to kill the resolution had instead voted no, an extraordinary debate on Saudi Arabia and U.S. support for the war in Yemen would have taken place. Democratic Senators Christopher Coons, Catherine Cortez Masto, Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, Doug Jones, Joe Manchin, Robert Menendez, Bill Nelson, Jack Reed, and Sheldon Whitehouse each voted against debating whether to exercise Congress’s war powers under the Constitution. The outcome was similar to a vote on a resolution introduced by Republican Senator Rand Paul to oppose the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. It failed by four votes, and if five Democrats had not voted to preserve the arms deals, the effort to block $500 million worth of weapons would have prevailed. Republican Senator Bob Corker, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led the effort to stop the resolution from Sanders and Lee. He was livid that senators invoked the War Powers Act of 1973 to attempt to end U.S. military support for intervention by Saudi Arabia in a war against the Houthis, particularly because it circumvented his authority as the Foreign Relations Committee chair. 

    Al Jazeera did a hard-hitting investigation into US and Israeli lobbying – so why won’t they air it? - So when am I going to be able to watch Al Jazeera’s hard-hitting investigation into Israel’s powerful lobby in the United States? Remember Al Jazeera? The tough, no-holds-barred Middle East satellite channel that transformed Qatar into a media empire whose reports frightened dictators and infuriated potentates and presidents alike? Why, George W Bush once wanted to bomb its headquarters in Doha – so it must have been doing something right. It even has an office in Jerusalem.But something seems to be amiss. Not Al Jazeera’s disastrous American venture, which was supposed to break free of the dross on CNN and Fox News and ended up looking just like CNN or Fox. Nor the tragicomedy of its journalists’ imprisonment in Sissi’s Egypt, banged up by Cairo’s farcical laws and the stupidity of Al Jazeera’s own management in Qatar. No, I’m talking about a documentary called The Lobby, directed by one of Al Jazeera’s top journalists, Clayton Swisher, the man whose exclusive (and book) on the “Palestine Papers” blew open the secret and scandalous American-led negotiations between Israelis and the Palestinian authority between 2000 and 2010. But after months of postponement, The Lobby, which secretly filmed pro-Israeli US activists and Israeli government officials and was completed last autumn, is still no nearer to being shown – and Swisher himself has taken a paid leave of absence. He even chose to explain his frustration in an article for the progressive American Jewish magazine Forward, which has always maintained a liberal and often very critical view of Israel.In his published explanation, Swisher described how his award-winning investigative unit – which he says operates “without [Qatari] government interference” – sent an undercover reporter to look into “how Israel wields influence in America through the pro-Israeli American community. But when some right-wing American supporters of Israel found out about the documentary, there was a massive backlash. It was even labelled as antisemitic in a spate of articles.”

      "Nobody Is Interested In A Trade War" - US Demands EU Cap Steel Exports At 2017 Levels - As European Union leaders try to coax President Trump to consider the reopening of talks over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership - a work-in-progress trade agreement that was abandoned shortly after Trump took office - the US has delivered a spate of demands on topics ranging from trade to national security, as a newly emboldened President Trump pushes his agenda with little room for compromise.According to Bloomberg, which cited a report in German-language magazine Der Spiegel, the Trump administration demanded that European countries demonstrably boost defense spending. Other demands included capping EU steel exports to the US at the 2017 level, as well as demanding that the EU take action to combat Chinese dumping. The EU and US are in negotiations over potentially exempting the EU from some or all of the steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by Trump earlier this month.Meanwhile, in an interview with Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, a regional German newspaper, Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann cautioned against any "reflexive or emotional" retaliation to US tariffs, emphasizing that the policy would harm US consumers on its own.""In any case, we should not respond reflexively or emotionally, because that threatens to further escalate the situation," said Weidmann. Already it is clear that especially the US consumers are likely to suffer from the threatened tariffs. "Incidentally, even in the United States, the current trade policy of the government is indeed critically questioned," said Weidmann.Instead, he said the EU should sue the US before the World Trade Organization, the transnational body set up to resolve trade disputes.If a negotiated solution fails "and there are doubts that measures are not compatible with WTO rules, the WTO offers procedures to resolve such issues," Weidmann said. "You should also use that to not just accept a breach of the rules and create a precedent."Weidmann claimed that neither party is interested in a trade war... "Nobody is interested in a trade war; in the end, everyone loses," continued Weidmann. "Let us take the US at our word and put us together with the aim of reducing existing tariffs comprehensively," he called for negotiations.

      Europe fears Trump is out to kill the World Trade Organization - Europe is worried that U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum are just the beginning. The EU’s bigger fear is that Trump’s ultimate goal is to kill off the World Trade Organization and rip up the current rule book that underpins global trade networks. European trade officials argue that their American counterparts are sick of WTO judgments they think are too lenient toward China, and are now ready to take a sledgehammer to the whole system. America is well advanced in its plans to throttle the WTO’s appellate court, where countries resolve disputes over everything from subsidies to anti-dumping tariffs. Washington’s strategy is to block the appointment of judges, which should bring the system to a halt next year. To the Europeans, Trump is making a cynical calculation that the U.S. is the world’s No.1 economy and can outmuscle any opponent in a trade dispute, without the need for international arbitration. In a world that returns to the law of the jungle, Trump reckons he wins. Both Brussels and the WTO are moving into crisis mode over this attack on the appellate court. The EU reckons that America’s might-is-right approach will sap confidence in global trade and undermine economic growth. Even the normally highly diplomatic European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström reckons that Trump is planning to take a wrecking ball to the system, and that it’s time for the EU and its allies to draw up a “Plan B.”

      Trump on Our Trade Surplus/Deficit With Canada ---Menzie Chinn listens to the latest from Donald Trump so we don’t have to:And by the way, Canada? They negotiate tougher than Mexico. Trudeau came to see me, he’s a good man, he said we have no trade deficit with you, we have none. Donald, please. Nice guy, good looking guy. Comes in. Donald we have no trade deficit. He’s very tough. Everyone else, getting killed or whatever. But he’s tough. I said, well Justin, you do. I didn’t even know. Josh, I had no idea. I just said you’re wrong. You’re wrong. It was so stupid. [LAUGHTER]. I thought it was fine. I said, you’re wrong Justin. He said, nope we have no trade deficit. I said, well in that case I feel differently. I said but I don’t believe it. I sent one of our guys out. His guy, my guy. They said check because I can’t believe it. Well, sir you’re actually right, we have no deficit but that doesn’t include energy and timber. [LAUGHTER]. Well you don’t have timber, and when you do we’ll lost $17 billion. It’s incredible. Menzie provides this source on our 2016 bilateral trade surplus with Canada:U.S. goods and services trade with Canada totaled an estimated $627.8 billion in 2016. Exports were $320.1 billion; imports were $307.6 billion. The U.S. goods and services trade surplus with Canada was $12.5 billion in 2016. OK we had a trade surplus when measuring both goods and services. But wait: Goods exports totaled $266.0 billion; goods imports totaled $278.1 billion. The U.S. goods trade deficit with Canada was $12.1 billion in 2016. Trade in services with Canada (exports and imports) totaled an estimated $ 83.7 billion in 2016. Services exports were $54.2 billion; services imports were $ 26.9 billion. The U.S. services trade surplus with Canada was $24.6 billion in 2016.Trump has a propensity to ignore our service surpluses focusing on our goods deficit, which was $12.1 billion in 2016. Census notes for 2017, we exported $282 billion to Canada and imported almost $300 billion from Canada so we continue to have a modest goods trade deficit, which is likely what Trump was referring to.

      Import and export growth and an expanding trade deficit do not need a strong dollar. -  Spencer England - We have had some discussions about dollar weakness and questions for those of us who expected the federal deficit to lead to a larger current account deficit through a strong dollar.I’ve looked at the data in a different way and now wonder if we really need a change in the dollar to achieve a larger current account deficit.   If you look at real imports and exports you see that real imports are now 155% of real exports and the basic trend is for imports to grow much faster than exports.  Since 2013, real import growth has averaged some 3.4% annually while real exports only grew at about a 1.5% annual rate. If you project these trends out it implies that the real trade deficit would expand about 6% annually, or about a half a percentage point per month.Interestingly, over the past year or so non-petroleum import prices have grown some 1% to 2% annually, or about the same  rate as domestic prices. So  there has been no significant changes in import prices relative to domestic prices. So at least from this perspective I would expect  imports market penetration to continue expanding.   After all, in the overall trade balance, steel and aluminum tariffs — especially with major exceptions, like Canada — are not large enough to make much difference.

      European Union seeks tariff exemptions as US sets out demands - Talks beginning in Washington today between the European Union’s top trade representative and officials of the Trump administration will determine whether the EU can secure exclusion from the imposition of a 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent on aluminium, which are due to come into effect on Friday.The EU’s trade commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, will be holding discussions with US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer during her two-day visit. The outcome of the discussions will determine the response of EU leaders to the US tariffs when they meet in Brussels on Thursday.The EU last week issued a 10-page list of American products on which tariffs could be imposed if the Trump administration refuses to exclude it from the steel and aluminium measures. The list encompasses about $3.4 billion worth of American exports. Trump has responded to the threat by saying that the US will target the export of European cars to the American market if the EU retaliates.Speaking before her departure for Washington, Malmström struck a conciliatory tone, stating that the EU wanted to collaborate with the US to tackle “overproduction” by China. The EU is claiming that this is the main cause of the problem in the global steel market. “We want to work with the US and other partners in the world to address the root causes of this issue,” she said. “We have different tools to do that. We are willing to reinforce them and to look at others.”

      Trump temporarily excludes EU, six other allies from steel tariffs (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump has temporarily excluded six countries, including Canada and Mexico, and European Union states from higher U.S. import duties on steel and aluminum meant to come into effect on Friday. In a presidential proclamation published late on Thursday, Trump said he would suspend tariffs for Argentina, Australia, Brazil, South Korea, Canada, Mexico and the European Union, the U.S.’s biggest trading partner, until May 1, 2018 as discussions continue. After May 1, Trump would decide whether to permanently exempt the countries based on the status of talks, the White House said in a statement. The United States was set to begin imposing the higher import duties of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, mainly aimed at curbing imports from China, as of 12:01 a.m. EST on Friday. “I have determined that the necessary and appropriate means to address the threat to the national security posed by imports from steel articles from these countries is to continue these discussions and to exempt steel articles imports from these countries from the tariff, at least at this time,” according to Trump’s proclamation released by the White House. It said countries not on the list could discuss with Washington ways to address U.S. national security concerns caused by imports of steel from that country. Earlier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that the EU would respond firmly if the United States did not exempt European steel and aluminum. The European Commission had proposed that if U.S. tariffs were applied the bloc would challenge them at the World Trade Organization. Canada and Mexico are in the midst of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with the United States. Trump had said Canada and Mexico would only be excluded after the successful renegotiation of NAFTA. Trump said South Korea was listed because of its important security relationship with the United States, “including our shared commitment to eliminating the North Korean nuclear threat.” 

      Trump to boost exports of lethal drones to more U.S. allies (Reuters) - President Donald Trump will soon make it easier to export some types of lethal U.S.-made drones to potentially dozens more allies and partners, according to people familiar with the plan. Trump is expected to ease rules for such foreign sales under a long-delayed new policy on unmanned military aircraft due to be rolled out as early as this month, the first phase of a broader overhaul of arms export regulations. U.S. drone manufacturers, facing growing competition overseas especially from Chinese and Israeli rivals who often sell under lighter restrictions, have lobbied hard for the rule changes. The White House is expected to tout the move as part of Trump’s “Buy American” initiative to create jobs and reduce the U.S. trade deficit. Human rights and arms control advocates, however, warn it risks fueling violence and instability in regions such as the Middle East and South Asia. An announcement of the new policy has been held up for months amid deliberations on how far to go in unleashing drones exports. That delay prompted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to write to Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster to press him to expedite the policy shift to avoid losing out on sales to certain countries, an industry source and two U.S officials said. A key thrust of the policy will be to lower barriers to sales of smaller hunter-killer drones that carry fewer missiles and travel shorter distances than larger models such as the iconic Predator drone, the sources said. Export regulations will also be eased for surveillance drones of all sizes, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Even though Trump will stop short of completely opening up sales of top-of-the-line lethal drones, it will mark a major step toward overcoming a long-standing U.S. taboo against selling armed drones to countries other than a handful of Washington’s most trusted allies. 

      Trump to Ramp Up Trade Restraints on China —The White House is preparing to crack down on what it says are improper Chinese trade practices by making it significantly more difficult for Chinese firms to acquire advanced U.S. technology or invest in American companies, individuals involved in the planning said. The administration plans to release on Thursday a package of proposed punitive measures aimed at China that include tariffs on imports worth at least $30 billion. But the tariffs won’t be imposed immediately. Rather, U.S. industry will be given an opportunity to comment on which products should be subject to the duties. As part of the package, the White House will announce possible investment restrictions by Chinese firms in the U.S. and will direct the Treasury Department to outline rules governing investment from China. Final details of the plan, including the amount of imports to be hit by tariffs, remain in flux, those involved with the discussions said. While the rough amount and rationale for the tariffs are expected to be disclosed on Thursday, the final decisions will come once U.S. industry has had its say, they said. A White House spokeswoman declined to comment. The effort stems from a monthslong investigation by the administration into Chinese intellectual property practices that found the damage to U.S. companies from forced technology transfer is $30 billion annually. While the administration’s plans to put tariffs on China have received most of the attention, it is considering other significant penalties, especially those aimed at state-owned Chinese firms. It plans to argue that Chinese state-owned firms buy U.S. technology not for commercial purposes, but to apply for military use and otherwise gain an edge in the race for global technological dominance. The administration believes that Beijing, in requiring U.S. companies to form joint ventures to do business in China, then pressures them to transfer important technology to their Chinese partners. The U.S. also contends Beijing improperly subsidizes Chinese companies looking to overtake U.S. rivals in such advanced technologies as semiconductors, artificial intelligence and robotics.

      Trump signs Taiwan Travel Act in new provocation against China - President Donald Trump signed into law on Friday the Taiwan Travel Act, a calculated provocation that will only heighten tensions with China. The bill, which was passed unanimously by Congress, states that it should be US policy to encourage US officials at all levels to travel to Taiwan to meet their Taiwanese counterparts, and permit high-level Taiwanese officials to enter the US for talks with American officials, including from the Departments of State and Defence.By facilitating stronger ties with Taiwan, the legislation overturns decades of diplomatic protocol that maintained only low-level US contact with an island that China regards as an integral part of its territory. Beijing has threatened to take military action to bring the island under its control if the government in Taipei ever formally declared independence.In 1979, following the 1971 US rapprochement with China, Washington formally broke diplomatic relations with Taipei and supported the “One China” policy, indirectly acknowledging Taiwan as part of China. At the same time, it passed the Taiwan Relations Act, committing the US to defend the island against any attempt at forcible reunification by China. As it ramps up its confrontation with China over trade and the South China Sea, and threatens war with Beijing’s ally North Korea, the Trump administration is also ending the delicate balancing act over US policy toward Taiwan that sought to obscure the underlying contradiction—upholding a One China policy, while maintaining ties with Taipei.

      US to launch trade measures against China -- The Trump administration is set to announce tariff measures directed against China, possibly this afternoon, aimed at countering what it claims are malpractices on technology transfers and the state-subsidising of companies competing with hi-tech US firms.US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer set out the plan’s broad outlines in testimony to the US Congress House Ways and Means Committee yesterday. Lighthizer will speak to the US Senate today. Then, according to the Wall Street Journal, the measures will be announced. The actual implementation will follow after consultation with US business groups.The tariff measures have been the subject of a months-long discussion in the administration. Trump ordered an investigation into Chinese trade practices last year under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act, which allows the president to take action against any harm inflicted on US businesses.In his written statement, Lighthizer said action would be taken outside the framework of the global trade regulatory authority, the World Trade Organisation, because it “has proven to be wholly inadequate to deal with China’s version of a state-dominated economy that rejects market principles.”“Our view is that we have a very serious problem of losing our intellectual property, which is really the biggest single advantage of the American economy,” Lighthizer said. This advantage was being lost to China in a way that did not reflect economic fundamentals. The administration claims that in requiring US companies in China to form joint ventures, Beijing pressures them to transfer important technology to their Chinese partners. It also maintains that the Chinese government subsidises firms looking to compete with US rivals in hi-tech products, including semi-conductors, artificial intelligence and robotics.

      Trump’s Plan to Impose Stiff Tariffs on China Rattles Investors - President Donald Trump is set to announce about $50 billion of tariffs against China over intellectual-property violations on Thursday, opening a new front in an escalating global trade skirmish that is shaking financial markets. The president is considering targeting more than 100 different types of Chinese goods from shoes to electronics, according to a person familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The value of the tariffs was based on U.S. estimates of economic damage caused by intellectual-property theft by China, the person said. Stocks fell sharply in Europe and the U.S. on Thursday on concerns the American tariffs may provoke a stern Chinese response, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropping more than 300 points before recovering. It will be Trump’s first trade action directly aimed at China, which he has blamed for the hollowing out of the American manufacturing sector and the loss of U.S. jobs. The decision comes as policy makers including IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde warn of a global trade conflict that could undermine the broadest world recovery in years. On Thursday, China’s Ministry of Commerce cautioned against the U.S. taking measures "detrimental to both sides". The nation strongly opposes such unilateral and protectionist action, and will take "all necessary measures" to firmly defend its interests, the ministry said in a statement on its website. "If Trump really signs the order, that is a declaration of trade war with China,” said Wei Jianguo, former vice commerce minister and now an executive deputy director of the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, a government-linked think tank. "China is not afraid, nor will it dodge a trade war," Wei said. "We have plenty of measures to fight back, in areas of automobile imports, soybean, aircraft and chips. On the other hand, Trump should know that this is a very bad idea, and there will be no winner, and there will be no good outcome for both nations." 

      China Braces For Trade War With US, Accuses Washington Of "Repeatedly Abusing" WTO Rules -  The White House is preparing to unveil $50 billion worth of tariffs on more than 100 different types of Chinese goods Thursday at 12:30 pm ET - what President Trump has characterized as a response to China's larcenous Intellectual Property practices (and, quite possibly, a preemptive strike as China prepares to launch its petroyuan contracts next week). This is how UBS' Chief US Economic Paul Donovan summarized what is coming:US President Trump is expected to announce a tax increase for US consumers who have dared to purchase goods that have been partially made in China. There is likely to be a large US flag, suitably photogenic and smiling American workers and a dramatic signature. And selective tariffs, investment restrictions and visa limits.US Trade Representative Lighthizer said that an "algorithm" was used to maximize the pain to China and minimize the pain to US consumers (this acknowledges that there is pain for US consumers). Trade data (presumably the algorithm input) is complex and often out of date. Saying the word "algorithm" in an authoritative voice does not magically reduce the risks. The tariffs will be imposed under Section 301 of the 1974 US Trade Act and focus on Chinese high-tech goods. There will also be restrictions on Chinese investments in the US, said US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. Meanwhile, as China prepares for a full-fledged "trade war" with Washington, the leaders of the world's second-largest economy are seeking to shore up support for their position from other nations and world trade bodies. China has zeroed in on US export caps as one reason for the widening trade deficit between the world's two largest economies.Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said it was unfair to criticize China's trade practices if the United States won’t sell to China what it wants to buy, referring to US export controls on some high-tech products, per Reuters."How many soybeans should China buy that are equal to one Boeing aircraft? Or, if China buys a certain number of Boeing aircraft shReutersould the U.S. buy an equal number of C919s?" Hua said, mentioning China’s new self-developed passenger jet. However, China still hopes it can hold constructive talks with the United States in a spirit of mutual respect to seek a win-win solution, she added.

      Trump Orders Tariffs on Chinese Goods Over ‘Economic Aggression’ -- President Donald Trump intends to slap new tariffs and other penalties on Chinese goods in response to what U.S. officials contend is Beijing’s practice of stealing technology and companies’ information. Senior White House officials described Trump as giving Chinese leaders months to alter its practices, only to conclude they have no intention of doing so. Officials said the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations “worked very hard” to improve trade relations with Beijing, but ultimately had only “failed dialogues” to show for those efforts. “President Trump did his due diligence in inviting the Chinese to the Mar-a-Lago process and engaged,” one of the senior officials said Thursday morning. “We went all the way until August in trying to resolve these through dialogue. … The problem is with the Chinese, talk is not cheap. It’s been very expensive. … The president decided we needed to move forward.” U.S. and global markets were down ahead of Trump setting the tariffs process in motion. The administration is eager to use the coming penalties to try to force Chinese officials to cease alleged actions including acquiring all or shares of U.S. firms to obtain data about American technologies they then hand to Chinese firms that dominate the markets there that depend on those stolen technologies. The penalties will also target China’s alleged habit of crafting licensing terms for specific products to favor domestic firms over American companies.The coming tariffs and penalties, which could total $50 billion, could cool Trump’s relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping. He has lavished the Chinese president with praise, even breaking with U.S. tradition by endorsing Xi’s aggressive move to become, as Trump put it “president for life.”

      U.S. to Apply Tariffs on Chinese Imports, Restrict Tech Deals  —President Donald Trump sought to rewrite the rules of global trade on Thursday with a long-pledged trade offensive against China. The administration’s actions, including a threat of tariffs on $60 billion of imports and tighter restrictions on acquisitions and technology transfers, came in response to what it claimed were Chinese efforts to obtain U.S. technology through intimidation, state-financed acquisition and subterfuge. The move followed previously announced tariffs on global imports of steel and aluminum, which will take effect on Friday, although the administration is negotiating exemptions on those duties for many of its closest allies. At a White House ceremony, the president signed a memorandum, citing Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, instructing the government to respond to Chinese practices. Specific actions won’t occur for at least one month, which the administration hopes will push China to make concessions as it contemplates a substantial cut-off in trade. If China moves in the direction the administration seeks, it is possible the U.S. could ease potential restrictions. Mr. Trump said the U.S. and China were “in the midst of a very large negotiations.” The administration also released a report accusing Beijing of undermining U.S. companies operating in China through unfair licensing deals and other improper practices. “It’s out of control,” said Mr. Trump, adding that past efforts to negotiate with China had failed and that the World Trade Organization was a “disaster” and “very unfair” to the U.S. Mr. Trump sees confrontation as the way to get results, feeling that past administrations haven’t been tough enough, said senior White House officials. The White House is putting together a package of 25% tariffs on Chinese imports, and Mr. Trump’s advisers said they had targeted 1,300 product categories. The president said that action could affect imports of “about $60 billion,” but his advisers, speaking earlier, said that it was more likely to be $50 billion, or roughly 10% of the more than $500 billion the U.S. imports from China last year. The administration says it will publish a formal list of proposed tariffs in 15 days. U.S. industry would get 30 days to comment on which products should be selected for tariffs, said the office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

        Here Are All The Ways China Can Retaliate To Trump's Trade War - Picking up where the WSJ left off yesterday, Reuters reports that China is preparing a range of responses to the just announced $50BN in U.S. tariffs and will "stand up to protectionism", but that it still hopes for dialogue, according to Beijing’s WTO ambassador, Zhang Xiangchen. “Any Chinese response to new U.S. tariffs would be measured and proportional,” said a Chinese official involved in policy-making. Specifically, China is said to target U.S. exports of soybeans, sorghum and live hogs. However, as a first step Reuters notes that Zhang Xiangchen said China was considering a WTO complaint against the package of tariffs that President Donald Trump is expected to announce later on Thursday. “This is a legitimate right for China to do that. But I would not exclude other options, because if the flood approaches you have to bank up to keep it out,” he told Reuters. Meanwhile, as Trump just said moments ago, Thursday’s tariff announcement is the first in a string of U.S. trade restrictions aimed squarely at China and intended to curb alleged theft of U.S. technology. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said on Wednesday the tariffs would target China’s high-technology sector and could also include restrictions on Chinese investments in the United States. Other sectors like apparel could also be hit: full details are set to emerge over the next 2 weeks., Deutsche Bank has laid out several possible scenarios of how China will retaliate to the Trump tariffs.  Baseline: Under the baseline, we expect China would actively negotiate with the US to avoid an escalation of trade frictions. The US administration has reportedly asked China to reduce the bilateral trade deficit by $100bn. It is not clear what the time horizon for this goal is, though the number itself is too large to be achieved in a short time period (and definitely not before the US mid-term election). China nonetheless would be willing to offer to import more from the US in products such as automobiles, airplanes, and natural gas. China already announced that it will cut tariffs for automobiles and “some consumer goods.”

        China to Target Trump’s Base in Tariff Response – WSJ - China is preparing to hit back at trade offensives from Washington with tariffs aimed at President Donald Trump’s support base, including levies targeting U.S. agricultural exports from Farm Belt states, according to people familiar with the matter.The plans are part of a strategy that has taken shape in recent weeks as Beijing seeks to avert tariffs by warning of possible repercussions and offering incentives to the U.S., including better access to China’s markets, especially in the financial sector.China’s President Xi Jinping has taken this carrot-and-stick approach in an effort to avoid a trade war, these people said.“Any Chinese response to new U.S. tariffs would be measured and proportional,” said a Chinese official involved in policy-making. The White House plans to announce punitive measures against China on Thursday, including tariffs on at least $30 billion in imports. Those are in addition to the steel and aluminum tariffs taking effect Friday.In response, China is likely to target U.S. exports of soybeans, sorghum and live hogs, according to the people with knowledge of the matter. The U.S. is among the top suppliers of these products to China, which imports around a third of soybeans that the U.S. produces, data from the two countries show.  Any duties to be levied by China on those products would depend on how broad-based the U.S. tariffs are on Chinese imports, and plans could change based on what the Trump administration proposes, these people said.Beijing is also weighing concessions including easing restrictions on foreign investment in securities firms and insurance companies, they said. Plans for the retaliatory measures were laid out at a meeting last month convened by China’s Commerce Ministry with Chinese importers of U.S. farm products, including China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Corp., a state-owned food-processing giant. These measures were prepared in anticipation of Trump administration moves. At the meeting, Commerce Ministry officials sought the companies’ views on the effects of scaling back U.S. agricultural imports, the people said. Since then the companies have been lining up alternatives sources—for soybeans, for instance, countries including Brazil, Argentina and Poland. The potential retaliation is calibrated to hit states that helped elect Mr. Trump in 2016, the people said. Mr. Trump won eight of the top 10 soy and hog-producing states, and seven of the top 10 sorghum states.

        Here Are The 128 US Products Subject To Chinese Import Tariffs - As the WSJ previewed two days ago, China's retaliation to Trump's $50BN in tariffs was virtually instant, and while modest - at only $3 billion for now - based on the 128 product categories revealed by the Chinese commerce ministry, Beijing is clearly targeting the Trump agricultural base and manufacturers in swing states. In other words, Xi is sending a clear message: Stop provoking, or it will get worse."China’s response is surprisingly modest in light of the U.S. actions, suggesting there could be a good deal more to come," Stephen Roach, told Bloomberg. "As America’s third largest and most rapidly growing export market and as the largest foreign owner of Treasuries, China has considerably more leverage over the U.S. than Washington politicians care to admit."To be sure, economists have said that the impact of the tariffs announced until now may be quite limited. If the U.S. imposes a 25% duty on $50 billion of imported goods, the additional $12.5 billion tariff is equivalent to an additional 2.9 percent charge on all of China’s exports, according to JPMorgan economists led by Haibin Zhu in Hong Kong.“From a macro perspective the additional tariff is only equivalent to 0.1 percent of China’s GDP and affected exports only account for 2.2 percent of China’s total exports,” they wrote in a note. “The direct macro impact tends to be limited.”However, JPM also cautioned that there may be some confusion here, and whether the Trump administration plans to impose tariffs on 50 billion in Chinese imports, or aims to raise $50 billion in revenue (roughtly 10% of annual Chinese imports). If it's the latter case, US tariffs would apply to $200BN, or a whopping 40% of Chinese imports. For now however, and just hours after the US announced 25% duties on targeted Chinese products including items in aerospace, information and communication technology and machinery (the full proposed list will come in the next “several days,” according to the Trade Rep fact sheet), China was out with a list of 128 products split into seven groups and including U.S. pork, recycled aluminum, steel pipes, fruit and wine. Specifically, the ministry said it was considering implementing measures in two stages: first, a 15% tariff on 120 products including steel pipes, dried fruit and wine, and later, a 25% tariff on pork and recycled aluminum.  The full list of US imports targeted by China is below:

        John Mauldin: Trade Wars Could Trigger "The Next Great Recession” - Last week on Erik Townsend's Macrovoices podcast, Jim Grant, storied credit investor and founder of Grant's Interest Rate Observer, explained the reasoning behind his call that the great secular bond bear market actually began in the aftermath of the UK's Brexit vote during the summer of 2016 - when Treasury yields touched their all-time lows.Surprisingly, Grant's call isn't rooted in the bold-faced absurdity of Italian junk bonds trading with a zero-handle (although that's certainly part of it). Rather, Grant explained, a historical analysis reveals that bond yields fluctuate in broad-based multi-generation cycles of different lengths. And given the carte blanche allotted to economics PhDs to "put the cart of asset prices before the horse of enterprise", the fundamentals are indeed worrisome.But in this week's interview, John Mauldin offered a much more sanguine view of the landscape for markets and the global economy.Beginning with the stock market: The "volocaust" experienced by US markets wasn't unusual, Mauldin explained. It was the 15 straight months without a 2% correction that was unusual, Mauldin said. More corrections will almost certainly follow during the coming months. But absent any signs of a recession, these should be treated as buying opportunities by investors.  Now let’s remember something: The last drawdowns that we had – the corrections if you will – were not the unusual part. They weren’t the odd part. The odd part was 15 months in a row without a 2% correction. Never happened, ever, ever. So that was the odd part.That should have been what we were all looking at and going “this is scary.” It wasn’t a 5% or 6% correction. The type of correction we just went through was something that we normally get at least once every 12 to 18 months. You get a 5% correction every 90 days, every quarter.

        Mr. Market Has a Hissy Fit Over Trump’s “Coming Soon” China Tariffs   Yves Smith - In case you managed to miss it, the Dow was down over 700 points yesterday, which happened to be only the worst loss since February, on the Trump Administration’s formal announcement that it was going to levy 25% tariffs on as much as $60 billion of Chinese imports. In typical Trumpian fashion, since the list of goods to be targeted has yet to be sorted out, the total is expected to be in the $50 to $60 billion range. As Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel pointed out, Trump hadn’t committed to anything legally, so nothing is final. And earlier in the week, the Administration made it sound as if companies would have input on which goods would be targeted. From the Journal: But the tariffs won’t be imposed immediately. Rather, U.S. industry will be given an opportunity to comment on which products should be subject to the duties. As part of the package, the White House will announce possible investment restrictions by Chinese firms in the U.S. and will direct the Treasury Department to outline rules governing investment from China. Asia stocks also swooned overnight, with the Nikkei taking the worst of it by falling 4.5%. The Hang Seng closed down 3.3%. The reaction in Europe is more muted, with the Dax down 0.8% right now and the FTSE off 0.4%. The reason for the comparative calm may be due to the prospect that the EU will get waivers from the previously-announced aluminum and steel tariffs, plus the fact that China so far has opted for only a mild response. From the Financial Times: China’s ambassador, Cui Tiankai, called the US accusations of IP theft “totally groundless” and also warned that Beijing would stand up for itself.  “We don’t want a trade war,” he said. “But we are not afraid of it . . . We will certainly fight back and retaliate. If people want to play tough, we will play tough with them and see who will last longer.” China’s Ministry of Commerce said on Friday it was planning tariffs on 128 US products accounting for roughly $3bn in imports. Note that China has avenues for retaliation besides tariffs that it might deploy after the US decides what exactly it is doing, such as withholding shipments of strategically important goods and through unofficial channels, encouraging consumer boycotts of US goods. Too many pundits are reacting as if this move is a threat to global trade. In a rare show of common sense, a Bloomberg newcaster pointed out:We’re talking about 25% tariffs, we’re only talking about $12.5 billion lets’s say maximum of tariffs at this stage. I mean, if you compare that to even the notional size of the US-China deficit or the billions of dollars of theft that the President’s talking about, it feel pretty small fry. Now in fact, the maximum could be $15 billion, but the same general point applies.

        Why Goldman Sachs alums go into government - Regarding Gary Cohn, who recently quit the Trump administration, someone should constantly point out that one of the main reasons that many of these Goldman Sachs alumni do a brief stint in government after they retire from Goldman is that they are allowed to sell all their very concentrated positions in that company’s stock and do an asset allocation tax-free. There’s no need to pay capital gains taxes, saving approximately $150 million in Mr. Cohn’s case. Not bad after one year of work. There is no tax until the new asset is sold. With exchange traded funds (ETFs) as the major new investment, they can he held until the person’s death and then passed on with a new step-up basis, and taxes will never be paid! F.D. 

        Trump presses GOP to change Senate rules | TheHill: The Trump administration is putting pressure on Senate Republicans to crack down on Democratic efforts to delay its agenda, fueling talk about the need for rules reform among Republicans on Capitol Hill. Republicans are in discussions with Democrats about bipartisan changes to Senate rules to speed up consideration of President Trump’s judicial and executive branch nominees, but if that effort flounders — as similar ones have in the past — they’re not ruling out unilateral action.White House patience with the Senate’s backlog of nominees is wearing out, as Vice President Pence made clear during a private meeting with the Senate Republican Conference on Tuesday, according to lawmakers who attended the discussion. White House legislative affairs director Marc Short on Friday accused Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) of “weaponizing” the rules to keep executive and judicial branch positions vacant. Short noted that Democrats have required Republicans to hold 79 cloture votes on nominees during Trump’s first 14 months in office. “That’s roughly five times the number of the last four administrations combined,” he said. A cloture vote ends dilatory action on a bill or nominee and is often used to end filibusters. It requires 60 votes to pass. 

         Trump Overturns Obama-Era Law: Bans All Bump Stock Devices - Perhaps needing a distraction from the fiscal folly of today's $1.3 trillion monster spending bill... or perhaps looking to show progress ahead of tomorrow's expected-to-be-huge "march For Life" across America, President Trump has swung his Oval Office ax at another Obama-era law and followed through on his promise to ban bump stocks.  President Trump tweeted tonight...Obama Administration legalized bump stocks. BAD IDEA. As I promised, today the Department of Justice will issue the rule banning BUMP STOCKS with a mandated comment period. We will BAN all devices that turn legal weapons into illegal machine guns.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2018In February he ordered Sessions to "ban 'bump stocks'" and that is what has happened a month later... - Today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Department of Justice is proposing to amend the regulations of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, clarifying that bump stocks fall within the definition of "machinegun" under federal law, as such devices allow a shooter of a semiautomatic firearm to initiate a continuous firing cycle with a single pull of the trigger. In making the announcement, Attorney General Sessions made the following statement: "Since the day he took office, President Trump has had no higher priority than the safety of each and every American," said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. "That is why today the Department of Justice is publishing for public comment a proposed rulemaking that would define `machinegun' to include bump stock-type devices under federal law - effectively banning them. If the NPRM is made final, bump-stock-type devices would be effectively banned under federal law and current possessors of bump-stock-type devices would be required to surrender, destroy, or otherwise render the devices permanently inoperable. The comment period for the NPRM is 90 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register. As we noted previously, Gun Owners of America executive director Erich Pratt said in a statement... “That is a gross infringement of Second Amendment rights.” 

        Trump administration to seek stiffer penalties against drug dealers, reduce opioid prescribing - The Trump administration said it will seek stiffer penalties against drug dealers — including the death penalty where appropriate under current law — and it wants the number of prescriptions for powerful painkillers to be cut by one-third nationwide as part of a broad effort to combat the opioid crisis. Administration officials said Sunday that the measures are part of a three-pronged approach to fighting the opioid epidemic, which killed tens of thousands of people in 2016. The White House said it aims to reduce the demand for opioids by slowing overprescribing, cutting off the supply of illicit drugs and helping those who are addicted. “The opioid crisis is viewed by us at the White House as a nonpartisan problem searching for a bipartisan solution,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said. The White House said it wants people who deal fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that has caused deaths to skyrocket nationwide, to be prosecuted more aggressively. The administration had considered making trafficking large quantities of fentanyl a capital crime, because tiny amounts can kill many people, but it said Sunday that the Justice Department will seek capital punishment for drug traffickers under current federal law. The law allows for the death penalty to be applied in four types of drug-related cases, according to the Death Penalty Information Center: murder committed during a drug-related drive-by shooting, murder committed with the use of a firearm during a drug-trafficking crime, murder related to drug trafficking and murder of a law enforcement officer that relates to drugs. 

         Trump Calls for Death Penalty for Drug Traffickers to Combat Opioids - President Donald Trump called for drug dealers to receive the death penalty in some cases as part of his administration’s effort to address the opioid crisis. The Department of Justice “will seek the death penalty against drug traffickers, where appropriate under current law,’’ the White House said in a fact sheet released on Sunday.. The White House also floated several other initiatives to combat opioid overdoses that killed more than 40,000 people in the U.S. in 2016 -- five times higher than the rate in 1999. Trump has talked in the past about his desire to impose capital punishment for drug dealers, arguing that some are responsible for hundreds of deaths. It’s unclear if Trump’s directive will actually be implemented, as even routine death penalty judgments in murder cases often face years of litigation. “I don’t think we should play games,’’ Trump said earlier this month during a political rally in Pennsylvania. “These people are killing our kids and they’re killing our families, and we have to do something.’’ Trump travels to New Hampshire on Monday to roll out the new plan in one of the states hardest hit by opioid addiction and death. Also included in the initiative: tougher criminal penalties for trafficking in fentanyl, a frequently-abused pain medication; new public outreach efforts to deter drug use; and additional restrictions on federal funding for opioid treatments. 

        New Trump Transgender Military Policy Bars Those With Gender Dysphoria - A new policy memo from President Donald Trump concerning transgender service members may allow some to serve, but keep in place tight restrictions for many. The White House memo, released late Friday night, highlights recommendations from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that individuals with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria be barred from serving, saying these people "may require substantial medical treatment, including medications and surgery." With limited exceptions that are not spelled out in the memo, these people will be disqualified from military service, according to the policy."On the advice of ... experts, the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Homeland Security [Kirstjen Nielsen] have concluded that the accession or retention of individuals with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria -- those who may require substantial medical treatment, including through medical drugs or surgery -- presents considerable risk to military effectiveness and lethality," the White House said in a released statement.The new policy, the statement continued, would allow the military to apply health standards equally to all who serve.Earlier Friday, Mattis' full memo was made public in a filing by the U.S. Department of Justice in U.S. District Court in Seattle. In the three-page memo, Mattis also recommends that transgender persons who "require or have undergone" gender transition be disqualified.   Those with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria should be allowed to serve, he said, only if they have been "stable" in their biological sex for 36 months prior to entering the military or if they receive a diagnosis while currently serving but do not require a change of gender and remain deployable.

        Tons of food went to waste in Puerto Rico as stores’ pleas to FEMA went unanswered -  Walmart and other supermarkets in Puerto Rico were forced to throw out tons of perishable meat and produce after Hurricane Maria when their pleas for emergency fuel were ignored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to congressional investigators.The retail giant and others reached out to FEMA officials repeatedly after the storm, seeking fuel to keep food refrigerated. They enlisted the help of Gov. Ricard Rosselló and other island officials, as well as members of Congress, to deliver emails, texts and in-person messages to FEMA. In one instance, a Puerto Rico official received an urgent email from Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) on Sept. 22 while the official was sitting in a meeting with FEMA. “FYI I’m sitting with the FEMA rep right now so we are taking care of this,” the Puerto Rico official wrote minutes after receiving the Gutierrez email. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands) released details of the emails in a letter to the committee chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), on Tuesday. In the letter, they repeated a longstanding request for a subpoena to force the Department of Homeland Security to produce documents related to FEMA’s disaster response.

        Trump had senior staff sign nondisclosure agreements. They’re supposed to last beyond his presidency --In the early months of the administration, at the behest of now-President Trump, who was furious over leaks from within the White House, senior White House staff members were asked to, and did, sign nondisclosure agreements vowing not to reveal confidential information and exposing them to damages for any violation. Some balked at first but, pressed by then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and the White House Counsel’s Office, ultimately complied, concluding that the agreements would likely not be enforceable in any event.President Trump set a record for White House staff turnover in the first year. Here's an ongoing list of White House staff, Cabinet members, and federal appointees who quit or were fired under Trump. (Joyce Koh/Washington Post)The nondisclosure agreements, said a person who signed the document, “were meant to be very similar to the ones that some of us signed during the campaign and during the transition. I remember the president saying, ‘Has everybody signed a confidentiality agreement like they did during the campaign or we had at Trump Tower?’ ”Moreover, said the source, this confidentiality pledge would extend not only after an aide’s White House service but also beyond the Trump presidency. “It’s not meant to be constrained by the four years or eight years he’s president — or the four months or eight months somebody works there. It is meant to survive that.” This is extraordinary. Every president inveighs against leakers and bemoans the kiss-and-tell books; no president, to my knowledge, has attempted to impose such a pledge. And while White House staffers have various confidentiality obligations — maintaining the secrecy of classified information or attorney-client privilege, for instance — the notion of imposing a side agreement, supposedly enforceable even after the president leaves office, is not only oppressive but constitutionally repugnant.

        McCabe kept memos on Trump conversations - Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director fired on Friday night, kept memos detailing his interactions with President Donald Trump, according to a source familiar with the matter. McCabe was terminated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions ahead of a forthcoming inspector general's report that has found he lacked candor when speaking with investigators about his disclosures to the media. But McCabe has connected his firing to what he describes as a broader campaign to discredit him given his likely cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe of Russian electoral meddling and Trump's firing of former FBI Director James Comey. .The 49-year-old bureau veteran's move to memorialize his interactions with the president adds a new wrinkle to the circumstances behind his firing, which leaves McCabe's pension in jeopardy and raises the still-unanswered question of whether he will pursue legal action. The news was first reported by the Associated Press. McCabe has passed the memos on to Mueller’s team, according to a second source briefed on his decisionmaking. In an interview with POLITICO before his firing, McCabe recalled "a series of interactions with the president" in May — "the night that Director Comey was fired, the next morning on the phone, that afternoon in person, and then about a few days later when I was interviewed for the job of permanent director. In every one of those interactions, the president brought up my wife." 

        McCabe Gave Interview, Handed Over Trump Memos To Mueller - After former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was fired by the Justice Department late on Friday night just two days before his retirement, because he lied under oath or as AG Sessions said, McCabe "lacked candor - including under oath - on multiple occasions… all FBI employees know that lacking candor under oath results in dismissal", McCabe has decided he won't go down quietly in what he has dubbed the Trump administration's "war on the FBI."McCabe, who briefly led the agency after Director James Comey was fired, said his dismissal by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday night was the latest attack on his credibility. He has claimed he's being singled out because of what he witnessed in the aftermath of Comey's ouster. Of course, some - such as ethics officials belonging to the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility - beg to differ: after all it was they who recommended McCabe's dismissal on Thursday for lying to the Inspector General in the course of a government investigation. As CBS News  justice correspondent Paula Reid noted, McCabe's termination takes place just days before the highly anticipated release of the Inspector General's report which is expected to show that he leaked information with the media about the agency's investigation into the Clinton Foundation, and lied under oath.McCabe has pushed back hard, saying his firing is yet another attempt by the administration to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election process, and allegations that Mr. Trump's campaign colluded with those efforts. In a statement, McCabe wrote that he was, "being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey." McCabe said in his statement that the inspector general's report was fast-tracked after he told the House Intelligence Committee he would corroborate Comey's accounts of conversations he had with the president. Comey has testified that Trump asked if he would end an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. McCabe also spoke directly about the ongoing Russia investigation in his statement (full statement below):

        After McCabe firing, Trump attacks FBI, and his lawyer says Russia probe must end - President Trump escalated his assault on federal law enforcement agencies weekend while one of his attorneys argued that the controversial firing of a top FBI official was reason to end the Justice Department special counsel’s expansive Russia investigation.After Attorney General Jeff Sessions acted late Friday night on Trump’s publicly stated wishes to fire former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe — just hours before he was set to retire with full benefits — the president celebrated the ouster as a triumph that exposed “tremendous leaking, ­lying and corruption” throughout law enforcement. The move emboldened Mc­Cabe, who said in a public statement that his dismissal was a deliberate effort to slander him and part of an “ongoing war” against the FBI and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Like former FBI director James B. Comey, who was fired by Trump last year, McCabe kept contemporaneous memos detailing his fraught conversations with the president, according to two people familiar with the ­records. The danger for Trump is that those memos could help corroborate McCabe’s witness testimony and become damaging evidence in Mueller’s investigation of whether Trump has sought to obstruct justice. On Sunday morning, Trump commented on the memos in a tweet: “Spent very little time with Andrew McCabe, but he never took notes when he was with me. I don’t believe he made memos except to help his own agenda, probably at a later date. Same with lying James Comey. Can we call them Fake Memos?” McCabe’s firing — coupled with the comments from Trump and his personal attorney, John Dowd on Saturday — marked an extraordinary acceleration of the battle between the president and the special counsel, whose probe Trump has long dismissed as a politically motivated witch hunt. Trump said in a Saturday night tweet: “The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime. It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!”

          In Angry Tweetstorm, Trump Accuses Comey Of Perjury, Slams McCabe "Fake Memo", Assails Mueller Team - In one of his signature early morning tweetstorms, President Trump raged on Sunday about the political slant of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigative team and accused former FBI Director James Comey of lying under oath. The tweets followed an Axios report published late Saturday night claiming that former FBI Director Andrew McCabe - who was fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday and was stripped of his pension benefits - had met with Mueller, who asked him about Trump's firing of Comey nearly a year earlier, and also turned over "contemporaneous" memos that he'd taken detailing his conversations with the president. According to Axios, the memos contained a corroborating account of Comey's firing. Trump claimed that Comey lied during public Senate testimony last Spring, when he said he'd never been an anonymous source for the news media - then admitted that he had "authorized" a friend to leak one of his memos to the New York Times, which Comey said he did in hopes of sparking a special counsel investigation. In this particular case, Trump may be referencing what se discussed last night, namely that McCabe may himself have jeopardized Comey, a point underscored by constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley on CNN, who suggested that McCabe's statement following his firing "immediately" raised a flag, which may lead to serious consequences for his former boss. McCabe's statement reads in part:The OIG investigation has focused on information I chose to share with a reporter through my public affairs officer and a legal counselor. As Deputy Director, I was one of only a few people who had the authority to do that. It was not a secret, it took place over several days, and others, including the Director, were aware of the interaction with the reporter.Turley notes "There was one line in the case statement last night that I immediately flagged. Because he said that he had authority to do this and he conferred with the director - the director at the time was James Comey." "Now, the problem there is that James Comey said under oath that he never leaked information and never approved a leak," said Turley. "So, if the Inspector General believes this was a leak to the media, it raises serious questions about Comey’s previous testimony and could get him into serious trouble."

          Trump Steps Up Attacks on Mueller Investigation – WSJ —President Donald Trump and his legal team intensified attacks on the special counsel’s probe into possible Russian election interference, departing from a previously more cooperative posture and prompting more urgent warnings from senators not to undermine the investigation. In his first Twitter post to target the special counsel, Robert Mueller, by name, Mr. Trump on Saturday said the probe “should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime.” On Sunday, the president mentioned Mr. Mueller again, suggesting his team of prosecutors consisted of “hardened Democrats” intent on taking down the Republican president. On Monday morning, Mr. Trump tweeted: “A total WITCH HUNT with massive conflicts of interest!”  Mr. Trump for months has criticized the Russia probe, but his new comments showed a more confrontational tone toward Mr. Mueller and prompted senators from both parties to caution the president against taking steps to end the special counsel’s investigation. The warnings to Mr. Trump were also triggered by a statement Saturday by the president’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, calling for the Justice Department to step in to stop the Mueller investigation.  Such a step “would be the beginning of the end of his presidency, because we are a rule-of-law nation,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said on CNN. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.) said on Fox that Mr. Dowd’s remarks were “a disservice,” adding, “If you have an innocent client, Mr. Dowd, act like it.” Mr. Gowdy, who has said he isn’t seeking re-election, is a member of the House Intelligence Committee and a former federal prosecutor. The latest flare-up over the Russia probe came days after news that the special counsel had subpoenaed Mr. Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, for documents related to his investigation. It also came after the Justice Department fired a former top Federal Bureau of Investigation official whom Mr. Trump has repeatedly criticized publicly and who is a potential witness to the events surrounding Mr. Trump’s dismissal last year of James Comey as FBI director.

          Republicans fear disaster if Trump fires Mueller | TheHill: Republicans are almost unanimous in the view that any move by President Trump to fire special counsel Robert Mueller would be a political disaster. Even GOP figures loyal to Trump see any such move as hugely counterproductive, while more critical conservative voices — especially those looking toward November’s midterm elections — fear the president would make already-difficult terrain close to impossible. “I think it would be a really bad idea to fire him and exacerbate the situation,” said Barry Bennett, a senior adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign who remains supportive of the president.Doug Heye, a former communications director of the Republican National Committee and a more critical voice, said the president and his party should fight Democrats on the grounds of “how many jobs were created, what is the unemployment rate and who gets the credit for it?” Heye added dryly, “That is a much better place, as opposed to ‘did you or did you not obstruct justice?’ ” Speculation about a possible push against Mueller from Trump has been feverish since FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was fired late Friday. In the wake of the firing, the president took an even more combative tone than usual, name-checking Mueller in tweets for the first time and complaining that the special counsel’s team of investigators includes “13 hardened Democrats.” Mueller himself has been reported to be a registered Republican, and he was nominated to lead the FBI by former President George W. Bush in 2001. There is, in any case, no prohibition on investigators holding different political views from the targets of their investigations. 

          Trump Hires Lawyer Who Thinks the FBI Is Framing Him: On Monday afternoon, President Trump’s hired Joseph diGenova, a veteran Washington lawyer who has propagated the idea — shared by the president himself — that Trump is being framed by the FBI and Justice Department. The New York Times reports that diGenova will not play a lead role in the president’s already crowded legal team. But given diGenova’s aggressive views, and, importantly, his propensity for appearing on cable television to enunciate them, it’s not surprising that Trump took a liking to him. DiGenova, who has also represented former Trump campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis, said on Fox News in January that “there was a brazen plot to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton and, if she didn’t win the election, to then frame Donald Trump with a falsely created crime.” This make-believe view matches up nicely with the president’s. Trump has repeatedly called Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt.” DiGenova joins a team of lawyers that has sometimes been split about the administration’s approach to the Mueller investigation. On one side of the divide is Ty Cobb, who has tended to advocate full cooperation with the investigation while assuring/misleading the president that the probe is on the verge of wrapping up any day now. He has clashed with White House counsel Don McGahn, who has been more resistant to give up documents and information to Mueller.

          Trump's Lawyers Hand Over Documents To Limit Scope Of Mueller Interview -- Barely a day after President Trump outraged his political opponents by calling out Special Counsel Robert Mueller by name in a series of angry tweets, the Washington Post is reporting that the president's legal team has provided written descriptions of certain key moments to the Mueller probe as they push to limit the scope of a presidential interview, should they agree to one.  According to the report, Trump has reportedly told aides that he's "champing at the bit" to sit for an interview. But his lawyers, who are carefully negotiating terms, have sought to restrain the president, worried he might inadvertently perjure himself or - worse - accidentally walk into a perjury trap. Given the time-sensitive nature of the investigation (Trump and his allies would like it to end as swiftly as possible) Trump on Monday added storied Washington lawyer Joseph diGenova, the husband of former Reagan Justice Department official and former Senate Intelligence Committee chief counsel Victoria Toensing, to his legal team. While neither the special counsel nor the White House would comment on the report, lead attorney John Dowd said last week that the back-and-forth with Mueller had been "helpful."John Dowd, an attorney for the president, declined to comment on any records provided to the special counsel.“We have very constructive, productive communications with the special counsel and his colleagues,” he said in an interview Friday.“We’re blessed to have them,” Dowd said of the conversations with Mueller’s team. “I think it’s helpful to them and of course I think it’s very helpful to  us.”

          Dowd Resigns As Trump's Lead Lawyer In Mueller Probe: "He's Increasingly Ignoring Advice" - In a major development for Mueller's probe of Trump collusion with Russia collusion with Cambridge Analytics and/or obstruction of justice or whatever else is the scandal du jour, the NYT reported that on Thursday morning, Trump's lead lawyer for the special counsel investigation, John Dowd, resigned on Thursday, just days after the president called for an end to the inquiry.  Moments later, Dowd confirmed his departure to NBC News: "I love the president and wish him well," Dowd told NBC News.Dowd’s departure is the most prominent shake-up for the president’s legal team since he took over from the president’s longtime personal lawyer, Marc E. Kasowitz.As the NYT adds, Dowd, who took over the president’s legal team last summer, had considered leaving several times in recent months and ultimately concluded that Mr. Trump was increasingly ignoring his advice.Mr. Trump has insisted he should sit for an interview with the special counsel’s office, even though Mr. Dowd believed it was a bad idea.The NYT also notes that Trump was "said to be pleased with Mr. Dowd’s resignation, as he had grown frustrated with him", particularly over the weekend when Dowd called on the DOJ to end the special counsel investigation. Dowd said at first that he was speaking for the president, but later backtracked. The president was angered with Mr. Dowd’s handling of the episode, telling people it was ham-handed and Mr. Dowd should not have backed off his initial statement. Mr. Dowd has told people that the president has recently implored him to stay but was said to be considering quitting on Monday, which he denied in an interview that night.

          Lawyer’s exit signals harder line by Trump | TheHill: The resignation of the lead attorney on President Trump's personal legal team is the strongest sign yet that Trump wants to pursue a harder line in confronting special counsel Robert Mueller. John Dowd resigned on Thursday. Although he emphasized his “love” for Trump in comments to news outlets, his departure came after the president lost faith in him, according to several sources. “The president wants to be more aggressive,” one source within Trump’s orbit told The Hill. Dowd “wasn’t tough enough for the president,” this person added. Some Trump loyalists were even more critical.“Good riddance,” was the verdict of Sam Nunberg, the former Trump aide who recently made headlines with a flurry of television interviews in which he suggested he might defy a subpoena from the Mueller team to appear before a grand jury. (He later relented.) Referring to Ty Cobb, the in-house White House counsel for the probe into Russian election meddling, Nunberg added, “Cobb should be fired next. Their strategy has hurt the president.” Dowd and Cobb favor a broadly cooperative stance toward Mueller. Their argument, in essence, is that the president has done nothing wrong and therefore would benefit from the Mueller probe being concluded expeditiously. 

          Trump Legal-Team Shakeup Continues: White House Lawyer Don McGahn "Planning To Exit" - The White House legal-team shakeup that President Trump swore wasn't happening continues on Friday as Politico reports that White House lawyer Don McGahn is planning to step down later this year - though his resignation is reportedly contingent on the president finding a replacement, and several other factors.McGahn has signaled interest in returning to Jones Day - the law firm where he previously worked. He's also reportedly interested in reprising his role from the 2016 campaign by handling any legal matters pertaining to Trump's reelection.The exact timing of a McGahn departure is uncertain. He's told friends that he'd like to be out by the summer - but it's possible he could linger until after the 2018 midterms. The news comes a day after John Dowd, the leader of Trump's legal team, resigned amid reports the president had grown increasingly dissatisfied with Dowd's handling of the Mueller probe. The president reportedly believed that Dowd and his other attorneys were being too cooperative with the special counsel."I think it’s all up in the air," said a source close to McGahn. "I think he'd like to quit very much. The president doesn't want him to quit. The president wants him to stay. I don't think he knows who will replace him."McGahn, a former member of the Federal Election Commission, was one of Trump’s earliest political advisers, signing on even before the Republican announced his presidential campaign in the spring of 2015. Two of McGahn's confidants told Politico that the counsel - who reportedly threatened to resign last year as President Trump was reportedly looking for an excuse to fire Robert Mueller - might hang on if another seat on the Supreme Court opens up.

          How Trump Consultants Exploited the Facebook Data of Millions - As the upstart voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica prepared to wade into the 2014 American midterm elections, it had a problem. The firm had secured a $15 million investment from Robert Mercer, the wealthy Republican donor, and wooed his political adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, with the promise of tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior. But it did not have the data to make its new products work. So the firm harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission, according to former Cambridge employees, associates and documents, making it one of the largest data leaks in the social network’s history. The breach allowed the company to exploit the private social media activity of a huge swath of the American electorate, developing techniques that underpinned its work on President Trump’s campaign in 2016. An examination by The New York Times and The Observer of London reveals how Cambridge Analytica’s drive to bring to market a potentially powerful new weapon put the firm — and wealthy conservative investors seeking to reshape politics — under scrutiny from investigators and lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic.

          The Cambridge Analytica Files ‘I created Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare tool’: meet the data war whistleblower – Guardian - For more than a year we’ve been investigating Cambridge Analytica and its links to the Brexit Leave campaign in the UK and Team Trump in the US presidential election. Now, 28-year-old Christopher Wylie goes on the record to discuss his role in hijacking the profiles of millions of Facebook users in order to target the US electorate.

          Trump’s Rise to the White House: Cambridge Analytica Targeted “Inner Demons” –Pam Martens - According to news reports last Friday and over the weekend, Facebook has landed squarely in the middle of the next explosive leg of the Trump-Russia scandal. According to the Guardian’s Observer newspaper in the U.K., a digital data mining company known as Cambridge Analytica collected private information from approximately 50 million Facebook users in order to support Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016. Trump’s campaign hired Cambridge Analytica in the spring of 2016 and “paid it more than $6.2 million,” according to a Reuters report.A Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, told the Observer that “We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis that the entire company was built on.” In the YouTube video above from the Guardian explaining how the process worked, Wylie calls it a “Full service propaganda machine.” According to the reports, the “inner demons” were unleashed through personalized political advertisements after the personal information was collected through an app called “thisisyourdigitallife.” The app was built by a Cambridge University academic, Aleksandr Kogan, who is also reported to have been an “associate professor at St Petersburg State University, taking Russian government grants to fund other research into social media,” according to a report in the Guardian.

          Senate Judiciary Dem calls on Zuckerberg to testify before committee -- Sen. Amy Klobuchar(D-Minn.) on Saturday called on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee following reports that a data firm took Facebook users' private information for President Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. "Facebook breach: This is a major breach that must be investigated. It’s clear these platforms can’t police themselves. I've called for more transparency & accountability for online political ads. They say 'trust us.' Mark Zuckerberg needs to testify before Senate Judiciary," Klobuchar, a member of the committee, wrote on Twitter. Her comment came in response to the news that Cambridge Analytica, the data firm used by the Trump campaign, obtained the private information of more than 50 million people without their permission for campaign uses.  It was also reported that senior members of Cambridge Analytica met with Russian business executives ahead of the 2016 campaign.  Facebook suspended the group on Friday for not fully deleting all of the data it had obtained.

          Cambridge Analytica Denies Facebook Data Abuses: "This Isn't A Spy Movie" -  Facebook was once again caught flat-footed when on Saturday it hastily announced that it had banned data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica from its platform following twin reports in the New York Times and the Guardian that the company improperly accessed the Facebook data of 50 million Americans in its "information warfare" campaign meant to sway the 2016 election in President Trump's favor. And while Facebook does damage control as Senate Democrats threaten legislation to officially regulate social media companies and the Massachusetts Attorney General launches an investigation into the incident, Cambridge Analytica is fighting back against purported falsehoods contained in the NYT and Guardian reports - claiming that it had deleted the controversial Facebook data years ago, and that whoever told Facebook it had held on to these data had been grossly misinformed.

          Trump, Bannon and Cambridge Analytica: The Money Trail Leads to the Mercers -- Pam Martens - Last evening, the Washington Post reported that Steve Bannon was the individual overseeing the earliest collection of Facebook data for Cambridge Analytica in 2014. The company is under investigation in both the U.S. and U.K. for data mining private information on more than 50 million Facebook users to target voters for the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.   Bannon, with funding from billionaire hedge fund manager, Robert Mercer, was involved in the launch of Cambridge Analytica in 2013. Both Bannon and Mercer served on the Cambridge Analytica Board after its founding.    Essentially, whatever Bannon has been connected to since at least 2013, Mercer money has been involved in the effort.   Rebekah Mercer played a major role in the Trump campaign and served on the Trump Transition Team’s Executive Committee, which played a major role in selecting cabinet appointees.  According to publicly available records of the Mercer Family Foundation filed with the IRS, GAI received $5,750,000 from the Mercer Family Foundation from 2013 through 2016.   Schweizer, the co-founder and current President of GAI, authored the book, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How Foreign Governments and Businesses made Bill and Hillary Rich. The book was released in 2015 and dogged Hillary Clinton throughout her presidential run. A documentary, based on the book, was released in 2016 and lists Bannon as a Producer, with Schweizer and Rebekah Mercer as Executive Producers. The Mercer Family Foundation has also donated millions of dollars to Citizens United, the organization that brought the U.S. Supreme Court case that has unleashed unlimited corporate spending in elections and sent three of its top strategists to run the Donald Trump campaign in its floundering days of 2016.

          74% Of Americans Believe The "Deep State" Is Running The Country - For the past two years, the long-running narrative, at least that promulgated by the mainstream media which continues to "explain away" Hillary Clinton's loss to Donald Trump, is that Americans had fallen for a massive, long-running fake news scam (in part aided and abetted by the likes of Facebook), which boosted Trump's popularity at the expense of Hillary's as part of some giant "Russian collusion" conspiracy theory between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin (which Mueller was supposed to uncover, but has instead shifted to investigating obstruction, seemingly unable to find anything).But what if that entire narrative is dead wrong: what if Americans have become so skeptical in the government process and structure, they never needed a "fake news" boost to vote for an establishment outsider?According to a new poll, that's precisely the case because a supermajority of Americans believes the faction of unelected officials, known as the deep state, is orchestrating policy in Washington, D.C. and effectively running the nation.The Monmouth University Polling Institute found that no less than 74% of Americans believe in a "deep state" when it is described as a collection of unelected officials running policy. Only 21% do not believe this kind of group exists. As a result of countless "conspiracy theories" being proven as facts in recent years, chief among which the Edwards Snowden revelations which exposed the NSA as nothing short of "big brother", and the Wikileaks disclosures which revealed how the Democratic Party colluded against Bernie Sanders to promote Clinton's candidacy and countless more such examples, fully 8-in-10 believe that the U.S. government currently monitors or spies on the activities of American citizens, including a majority (53%) who say this activity is widespread and another 29% who say such monitoring happens but is not widespread. Just 14% say this monitoring does not happen at all. Shockinly, there were no substantial partisan differences in these results.

          Beware the Big Five - The big Silicon Valley technology companies have long been viewed by much of the American public as astonishingly successful capitalist enterprises operated by maverick geniuses. The largest among them—Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Google (the so-called Big Five)—were founded by youthful and charismatic male visionaries with signature casual wardrobes: the open-necked blue shirt, the black polo-neck, the marled gray T-shirt and hoodie. These founders have won immense public trust in their emergent technologies, from home computing to social media to the new frontier, artificial intelligence. The Big Five have at their disposal immense troves of personal data on their users, the most sophisticated tools of persuasion humans have ever devised, and few mechanisms for establishing the credibility of the information they distribute. The domestic use of their resources for political influence has received much attention from journalists but raised few concerns among policymakers and campaign officials. Both the Republicans and the Democrats have, in the last few election cycles, employed increasingly intricate data analytics to target voters. Private organizations, too, have exploited these online resources to influence campaigns: the Koch brothers’ data firm, i360, whose funding rivals that of both parties, has spent years developing detailed portraits of 250 million Americans and refining its capacities for influence operations through “message testing” to determine what kinds of advertisements will have traction with a given audience.  . Google’s DoubleClick and Facebook are listed as i360’s featured partners for digital marketing.  Only in recent months, with the news of the Russian hacks and trolls, have Americans begun to wonder whether the platforms they previously assumed to have facilitated free inquiry and communication are being used to manipulate them. The fact that Google, Facebook, and Twitter were successfully hijacked by Russian trolls and bots (fake accounts disguised as genuine users) to distribute disinformation intended to affect the US presidential election has finally raised questions in the public mind about whether these companies might compromise national security.

          John Bolton worked with Cambridge Analytica on YouTube voter experiment - Donald Trump’s new national security adviser John Bolton collaborated with the data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica on an experiment to target YouTube videos to different “psychographic” profiles of US voters, the Guardian can reveal. The project, to explore how different types of political campaign ads would resonate with an electorate divided into different personality types, involved Bolton appearing on-screen endorsing candidates in New Hampshire, North Carolina and Arkansas in the run-up to the 2014 midterms. Details of the project are contained in emails obtained by the Guardian. They shed light on an earlier report published on Friday in the New York Times, which identified Bolton, who was appointed by Trump on Thursday, as an early beneficiary of Cambridge Analytica’s controversial Facebook data.In an email about the 2014 collaboration with the John Bolton Super Pac, Robert Murtfeld, a Cambridge Analytica executive who left earlier this year, described the video project as having “used our psychographic data to create ads targeting people based on their personalities”. Bolton, a national security hawk, adopts significantly different tones in the videos, depending on the personalities of the voters the videos were targeted at. The voters were partitioned according to personality analysis conducted by Cambridge Analytica. “This was the first real results that we had, where you could say: this works,” one source with knowledge of the video-testing said. “You could see the difference between a control group and our targeted messaging, and the uplift was huge.”   The company has long claimed to be able to divide voters according to the “Big Five” psychological traits – openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism – and the experiment reveals how the company seeks to do that that.

          Obama Staffer: Facebook Let Us Seize Data - Facebook is embroiled in a political controversy over the manner its social data was utilized by the Trump campaign, but a former Obama campaign staffer argues the social media company has been allowing this type of behavior since at least 2012.The social media giant is being lambasted for failing to verify that data from an estimated 50 million users was deleted by the Steve Bannon-led firm, Cambridge Analytica.However, a former Obama campaign staffer has come forward to claim that Facebook turned a blind eye to the same issue in 2012.Carol Davidsen, former director of Obama for America’s Integration and Media Analytics, reveals the manner the Democratic presidential campaign was freely given access. Furthermore, she openly claims that Facebook gave the Obama campaigners a pass because of their political affiliation.“Facebook was surprised we were able to suck out the whole social graph, but they didn’t stop us once they realized that was what we were doing,” Davidsen wrote on Twitter.Facebook was surprised we were able to suck out the whole social graph, but they didn’t stop us once they realized that was what we were doing.— Carol Davidsen (@cld276) March 19, 2018 “They came to office in the days following election recruiting & were very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side,” she continued. They came to office in the days following election recruiting & were very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side. — Carol Davidsen (@cld276) March 19, 2018 Davidsen even showed an example of how the data sets were utilized. An example of how we used that data to append to our email lists. — Carol Davidsen (@cld276) March 19, 2018  The social media company’s attitude towards the Trump campaign’s use ​​of Facebook data, however, couldn’t be more different.

          What’s genius for Obama is scandal when it comes to Trump | TheHill: On Sunday, The Guardian reported on the supposedly nefarious workings of President Trump’s data-gathering team at Cambridge Analytica. The report suggested that Cambridge Analytica had essentially issued questionnaires through a third party; those questionnaires, which were personality quizzes, requested that you use your Facebook login. Cambridge Analytica then compiled data regarding those who completed the quiz and cross-referenced that data with political preferences in order to target potential voters. This isn’t particularly shocking. In 2012, The Guardian reported that President Obama’s reelection team was “building a vast digital data operation that for the first time combines a unified database on millions of Americans with the power of Facebook to target individual voters to a degree never achieved before.”What, exactly, would Obama be doing? According to The Guardian, Obama’s new database would be gathered by asking individual volunteers to log into Obama’s reelection site using their Facebook credentials. “Consciously or otherwise,” The Guardian states, “the individual volunteer will be injecting all the information they store publicly on their Facebook page — home location, date of birth, interests and, crucially, network of friends — directly into the central Obama database.”   Facebook had no problem with such activity then. They do now. There’s a reason for that. The former Obama director of integration and media analytics stated that, during the 2012 campaign, Facebook allowed the Obama team to “suck out the whole social graph”; Facebook “was surprised we were able to suck out the whole social graph, but they didn’t stop us once they realized that was what we were doing.” She added, “They came to [the] office in the days following election recruiting & were very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side.” Not so with Trump. As soon as Facebook realized that Cambridge Analytica had pursued a similar strategy, they suspended the firm.

          What to Know About Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and Online Privacy - On the afternoon of March 16, Facebook unexpectedly announced that it was suspending two data collection and research firms from its platform for violating the site's standards and policies. The announcement occurred shortly before the media went public with allegations that the firms had obtained unauthorized access to Facebook data for hundreds of thousands -- and possibly millions -- of users. These groups also reportedly leveraged that data during the contentious 2016 election, when the Trump campaign paid $6.2 million for their services. The data users voluntarily provide to Facebook is worth a lot of money -- especially in combination with secondary details the site collects about visitors. If you have a Facebook account, you've likely directly or indirectly provided information about your political affiliation, the issues you care about, where you live, what kinds of things you like to buy and more. This information represents a gold mine to Facebook. In fact, it's one way the service remains free despite the tremendous amount of resources involved -- because they can sell your data. And it's one reason that Facebook specifically marketed user data to interested campaigns and companies in 2015, knowing it would be lucrative information for election advertising targeting. When it comes to political advertising in particular, campaigns don't just want to target broad demographic groups. Ideally, they aim to reach specific voters -- especially swing voters in key districts.  Cambridge Analytica contracted with University of Cambridge psychologist Aleksandr Kogan to build an app called thisisyourdigitallife, inviting users to answer questions in exchange for a psychological profile. 270,000 users interacted with the app, which harvested not just their data, but also that of their friends.  Accessing user information via an app isn't a violation of Facebook policies, but the company does spell out rules for the information people collect and how it can be used, in the interest of protecting users. Kogan violated that policy by passing information on to a third party -- Cambridge Analytica -- and when Facebook found out in 2015, the company demanded that the data be destroyed. But according to Facebook, it wasn't. Meanwhile, Cambridge Analytica claims Facebook's charge is incorrect and the data actually was destroyed.

          Facebook’s rules for accessing user data lured more than just Cambridge Analytica - WaPo— Facebook last week suspended the Trump campaign’s data consultant, Cambridge Analytica, for scraping the data of potentially millions of users without their consent. But thousands of other developers, including the makers of games such as FarmVille and the dating app Tinder, as well as political consultants from President Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, also siphoned huge amounts of data about users and their friends, developing deep understandings of people’s relationships and preferences. Cambridge Analytica — unlike other firms that access Facebook’s user data — broke Facebook’s rules by obtaining the data under the pretense of academic use. But experts familiar with Facebook’s systems and policies say that the greater problem was that the rules for accessing the social network’s information trove were so loose in the first place. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg in 2007 invited outside developers to build their businesses off Facebook’s data, giving them ready access to the friend lists, “likes” and affinities that connect millions of Facebook users. Practically any engineer who could persuade a Facebook user to download an app or to sign into a website using Facebook’s popular “log-in through Facebook” feature would have been able to access not only the profile, behavior and location of that Facebook user but also that of all the user’s Facebook friends, developers said. Such information can be extremely valuable to marketers and political campaigns for tailoring messages, ads and fundraising pitches. As long as the developers didn’t misrepresent themselves, Facebook allowed the data to be stored on developers’ databases in perpetuity. Facebook changed its policy in 2015 after concerns about misuse of data by third parties and a shift in strategy tied to its relationships with developers. 

          Former Facebook-er: Cambridge Analytica-Style Data-Harvesting Was "Shockingly Routine" -- The Cambridge Analytica scandal that erupted over the weekend has snowballed into the biggest threat to CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg's rule since the company's 2012 IPO.  But, as we noted earlier, the manner in which Cambridge Analytica allegedly leveraged the data it purportedly "stole" from Facebook (or rather, refused to delete after receiving it from an intermediary who himself had improperly accessed it, according to the company) isn't all that unusual. Case in point, Carol Davidsen, Obama's director of integration and media analytics during his 2012 campaign, revealed that Facebook knowingly helped the Obama campaign collect as much user data as possible - even from the friends of users who may not have explicitly consented to the data collection.When Facebook found out about the data mining for political purposes - the same thing they just banned Cambridge Analytica for doing - they "didn't stop us," the Obama staffer said. Representatives from Facebook even traveled to Obama campaign headquarters and candidly told campaign workers, including Davidsen, that they were allowing the Obama campaign do things they wouldn't have allowed other developers to do.  And now, another former Facebook employee has come forward to reveal that, before the company started tightening its data security practices after its IPO, the type of "unauthorized" access that Facebook suspended Cambridge Analytica for was routinely carried out by app developers. The reason? Facebook's advertising business can increase profits by offering more data to advertisers and developers. And the more successful games like FarmVille and Candy Crush become, the more money Facebook - which takes a piece of developers' profits - stands to make.

          Facebook’s Role in Data Misuse Sets Off a Storm on Two Continents — Facebook on Sunday faced a backlash about how it protects user data, as American and British lawmakers demanded that it explain how a political data firm with links to President Trump’s 2016 campaign was able to harvest private information from more than 50 million Facebook profiles without the social network’s alerting users. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, went so far as to press for Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, to appear before the panel to explain what the social network knew about the misuse of its data “to target political advertising and manipulate voters.” The calls for greater scrutiny followed reports on Saturday in The New York Times and The Observer of London that Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm founded by Stephen K. Bannon and Robert Mercer, the wealthy Republican donor, had used the Facebook data to develop methods that it claimed could identify the personalities of individual American voters and influence their behavior. The firm’s so-called psychographic modeling underpinned its work for the Trump campaign in 2016, though many have questioned the effectiveness of its techniques. But Facebook did not inform users whose data had been harvested. The lack of disclosure could violate laws in Britain and in many American states. Damian Collins, a Conservative lawmaker in Britain who is leading a parliamentary inquiry into fake news and Russian meddling in the country’s referendum to leave the European Union, said this weekend that he, too, would call on Mr. Zuckerberg or another top executive to testify. The social network sent executives who handle policy matters to answer questions at an earlier hearing in February. The fallout from the reports added to questions Facebook was already confronting over the use of its platform by those seeking to spread Russian propaganda and fake news. The social media giant has grappled with the criticism over the issue for much of the past year, and struggled to keep public opinion on its side.

          Cambridge Analytica’s Ad Targeting Is the Reason Facebook Exists - Thousands of third party apps were designed solely to obtain and sell your data. It's no surprise that the data ended up being used again on Facebook, one of the biggest advertising platforms on Earth. Since creating a Facebook in 2006, I have associated my account with 100 separate third party apps. Besides common ones like Spotify, Venmo, and Uber, I have given access to my account to apps like “Typing Maniac,” “I bet I can guess your favorite color,” and “Crazy Cabbie,” among others. Many of these apps I remember only as a faint memory. According to these settings, however, lots of these apps still have access to the same information Cambridge Analytica used to target Facebook users with political ads that helped Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election. Typing Maniac—a game I vaguely remember from college—has access to my public profile, my friend list, my relationship status, my “relationship interests,” my birthday, my work history, my status updates, my education history, my events, my hometown, my current city, photos I’m tagged in and that I’ve uploaded, my religious and political views, my videos, my website, my personal description, and my “likes.”  The app was hosted by a company called MetroGames, whose privacy policy notes that the company “may also collect information about the User from other sources, such as newspapers, blogs, [and] instant messaging services.” The privacy policy says it shared identifying personal information with third parties only when “permitted by the User” but also said that it used anonymized data regardless of a user’s settings: “We do this primarily for personalizing advertisements and promotions. We regard this as a benefit for the User.” I do not know what MetroGames—which has gone out of business—ultimately did with my data. But between the hundred apps I’ve given access to my Facebook, there’s a good chance at least one of them has sold my information to data brokers and ultimately used to target me on Facebook and elsewhere.

          The Problem Is Facebook, Not Cambridge Analytica - Facebook is being hammered for allowing the data firm Cambridge Analytica to acquire 50 million user profiles in the U.S., which it may or may not have used 1  to help the Trump campaign. But the outrage misses the target: There's nothing Cambridge Analytica could have done that Facebook itself doesn't offer political clients.  Here, in a nutshell, is the CA scandal. In 2014, Aleksandr Kogan, an academic of Russian origin at Cambridge University in the U.K., built a Facebook app that paid hundreds of thousands of users to take a psychological test. Apart from their test results, the users also shared the data of their Facebook friends with the app. Kogan sold the resulting database to CA, which Facebook considers a violation of its policies: The app was not allowed to use the data for commercial purposes. Carol Cadwalladr and Emma Graham-Harrison, writing for the U.K. publication Observer, quoted former CA employee Christopher Wylie as saying the firm "broke Facebook" on behalf of Stephen Bannon, the ideologue and manager behind the Trump campaign.It didn't escape keen observers that if the Trump campaign used Facebook user data harvested through an app, it did no more than Barack Obama's 2012 data-heavy re-election campaign. It's not documented exactly how Obama's team gathered oodles of data on potential supporters, but a deep dive into the tech side of that campaign by Sasha Issenberg mentioned how "'targeted sharing' protocols mined an Obama backer’s Facebook network in search of friends the campaign wanted to register, mobilize, or persuade." To do this, the protocols would need to use the same feature of the Facebook platform for developers, discontinued in 2015, that allowed apps access to a user's friends' profiles -- with the user's consent, as Facebook invariably points out.   Let's face it: Users are routinely tricked to obtain such consent. Tech companies make giving it, or agreeing to complex terms of service, look like a low-engagement decision.

          Surveillance is the DNA of the Platform Economy -The current social mobilization against Facebook resembles the actions of activists who, in opposition to neoliberal globalization, smash a McDonald’s window during a demonstration. On March 17, The Observer of London and The New York Times announced that Cambridge Analytica, the London-based political and corporate consulting group, had harvested private data from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their consent. The data was collected through a Facebook-based quiz app called thisisyourdigitallife, created by Aleksandr Kogan, a University of Cambridge psychologist who had requested and gained access to information from 270,000 Facebook members after they had agreed to use the app to undergo a personality test, for which they were paid through Kogan’s company, Global Science Research.But as Christopher Wylie, a twenty-eight-year-old Canadian coder and data scientist and a former employee of Cambridge Analytica, stated in a video interview, the app could also collect all kinds of personal data from users, such as the content that they consulted, the information that they liked, and even the messages that they posted.In addition, the app provided access to information on the profiles of the friends of each of those users who agreed to take the test, which enabled the collection of data from more than 50 million. All this data was then shared by Kogan with Cambridge Analytica, which was working with Donald Trump’s election team and which allegedly used this data to target US voters with personalised political messages during the presidential campaign. As Wylie, told The Observer, “we built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons.”

          Dimon: Data privacy issues like the one at Facebook are ‘a big deal’ - – Jamie Dimon, chairman and chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, jumped into the growing debate Wednesday over how consumer data is collected and used. His comments came in response to a question about advice he’d give Facebook as it manages intense scrutiny over how its user data was used to create targeted political ads beginning in 2014. Reports surfaced earlier this week that the political data firm Cambridge Analytica allegedly gained access to personal data for more than 50 million Facebook users without their permission. The news has raised questions about what protections companies should have for user information as well as what informed consent should look like for consumers.   “This privacy issue is a big deal. I don’t buy this argument that millennials don’t care — millennials don’t know,” Dimon said at an event hosted by news site Axios. “All of that data, location, shopping, sites, places you visit — all of that information is being accumulated and sold and marketed around the world.”  “I think people have a right to know what it is and where it is and how it’s controlled and why it’s controlled,” he added.  Dimon also spoke at the event about efforts to create a diverse and inclusive workplace at his bank, noting that half of his ten direct reports are women and two are LBGT.

          Then Why Is Anyone STILL on Facebook? - Wolf Richter - Things at Facebook came to a head, following the disclosure that personal data from 50 million of its users had been given to a sordid outfit in the UK, Cambridge Analytica, whose business model is to manipulate elections by hook or crook around the world, and which is now getting vivisected by UK and US authorities.The infamous “person familiar with the matter” told Bloomberg that the Federal Trade Commission has opened an investigation into whether Facebook violated a consent decree dating back to 2011, when Facebook settled similar allegations – giving user data to third parties without user’s knowledge or consent. Bloomberg: If Facebook is found to be in violation of the consent decree, the FTC can extract a fine of $40,000 per day, per violation. Given the 50 million victims spread over so many days, this could be some real money, so to speak. Facebook said in a statement, cited by Bloomberg, that it rejected “any suggestion of violation of the consent decree.” It also said with tone-deaf Facebook hilarity, “Privacy and data protections are fundamental to every decision we make.” That Facebook is collecting every little bit of personal data it can from its users and their contacts and how they react to certain things, their preferences, their choices, physical appearance – photos, I mean come on  – clues about their personalities, and the like has been known from day one. That’s part of its business model. It’s not a secret.That third parties have access to this data has also been known at least since 2011. Advertisers also have had access to certain types of data to target their ads. And yet, Facebook’s user base has grown. More than ever, people put their entire lives on Facebook – maybe not the kids, as they’ve become enamored with other platforms, but their moms. Babies are on Facebook long before they have any idea what Facebook is. There’s a generation growing up that has been on Facebook since birth.

          Mark Zuckerberg says he’s ‘fundamentally uncomfortable’ making content decisions for Facebook - Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t want to be the content police. But he might not have a choice. For years, Facebook has argued that it’s a platform for all ideas. Outside of obvious ethical violations — child pornography or terrorist propaganda, for example — it doesn’t want to take responsibility for determining what’s appropriate or inappropriate, or even what’s fact or fiction. But as CEO of the world’s largest social network — a service he created — many believe that responsibility does fall to Zuckerberg. Who else should be making Facebook’s rules?  In an interview with Recode on Wednesday to discuss the company’s recent privacy scandal, Zuckerberg showed some frustration with the idea that as Facebook’s CEO, many expect him to create and enforce values for the service that are applicable to all of Facebook’s two billion users. Zuckerberg tried to explain why it’s a tough challenge by pointing out that it can be hard to walk the line between freedom of speech and hate speech. He mentioned that people don’t always agree on when or if something crosses that line. “What I would really like to do is find a way to get our policies set in a way that reflects the values of the community, so I am not the one making those decisions,” Zuckerberg said. “I feel fundamentally uncomfortable sitting here in California in an office making content policy decisions for people around the world.”But then Zuckerberg said something else we haven’t heard before, which is that even though making these kinds of policy decisions make him uncomfortable, he may no longer have a choice.  “Things like, ‘Where’s the line on hate speech?’ I mean, who chose me to be the person that did that?” Zuckerberg continued. “I guess I have to, because we’re here now, but I’d rather not.”

          Lobbyist says he was nearly killed by man he hired to investigate Seth Rich’s death -- As conspiracy theories swirled around the murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, lobbyist Jack Burkman took the unusual step of launching his own private investigation. A man with military and security experience stepped up to help. Now Burkman alleges that man, Kevin Doherty, nearly killed him. Burkman, a conservative lobbyist who has also raised money for Rick Gates, a former Trump campaign official who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, and protested gay athletes in the NFL, is used to controversy. But Doherty’s arrest Saturday by Arlington County police on charges of malicious wounding and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony caps a saga stranger than Burkman’s own conspiracy theories. “It’s a horror story,” Burkman, of Arlington, said in an interview Monday afternoon. He is still recovering after being shot several times and run over by an SUV last Tuesday. Doherty briefly worked for Burkman’s Profiling Project, which was formed to build a psychological portrait of Rich’s likely killer. While police have concluded Rich was likely shot during a random robbery, many conservatives have claimed he was killed as part of a political conspiracy. Burkman offered a six-figure reward for information on the shooting. Kevin Doherty, 46, of No Fixed Address, was arrested and charged with Use of a Firearm in the Commission of a Felony and two counts of Malicious Wounding. Burkman said Doherty presented an impressive resume — ex-Marine, ex-special agent — and did good work. But tension quickly developed. In Burkman’s view, Doherty began speaking to reporters out of turn and tried to take over the investigation. 

          Kushner Cos Accused Of Filing False Documents With NYC - Now that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has turned his attention to the business ties of President Trump and his family members, reporters and investigators have been scrutinizing the Trump Organization's business history, as well as that of the Kushner Companies, the real-estate firm once run by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.  And in what at first appears to be a bombshell report - but is later revealed to be much more mundane - the Associated Press is reporting that the Kushner Cos. lied about the number of rent stabilized tenants in three buildings it purchased in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Astoria - and more broadly in 34 buildings it owned across NYC.  While none of the fraudulent paperwork bore Jared Kushner's signature, he was in charge of the organization when the alleged abuses were happening. And while Jared was at least nominally in charge of the company during the period in which these false claims were made, the seriousness of the infractions is debatable.For the three Queens buildings in the borough's Astoria neighborhood, the Kushner Cos. checked a box on construction permit applications in 2015 that indicated the buildings had zero rent-regulated tenants. Tax records filed a few months later showed the company inherited as many as 94 rent-regulated units from the previous owner.In all, Housing Rights Initiative found the Kushner Cos. filed at least 80 false applications for construction permits in 34 buildings across New York City from 2013 to 2016, all of them indicating there were no rent-regulated tenants. Instead, tax documents show there were more than 300 rent-regulated units. Nearly all the permit applications were signed by a Kushner employee, including sometimes the chief operating officer. Had the Kushner Cos. disclosed those rent-regulated tenants, it could have triggered stricter oversight of construction crews by the city, including possibly unscheduled "sweeps" on site by inspectors to keep the company from harassing tenants and getting them to leave. Instead, current and former tenants of the Queens buildings told the AP that they were subjected to extensive construction, with banging, drilling, dust and leaking water that they believe were part of targeted harassment to get them to leave and clear the way for higher-paying renters. Housing advocates have a term for this type of behavior: They call it, "the weaponization of construction."

          Jared Kushner's Father Says Qataris Sought Investment In Family's Troubled Manhattan Tower  - Earlier this month, the Intercept reported that Charles Kushner, the father of White House senior advisor and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, had met with Qatari finance minister Ali Sharif al-Emadi in April 2017 about a possible investment by the Qatari sovereign wealth fund in the Kushner's troubled 666 Fifth Ave. property. The report included the stunning detail that, several months later, Kushner backed a decision by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain to cut ties with Qatar, ostensibly over its support of terrorism (read: ties with Iran).That report is credited with helping encourage Special Counsel Robert Mueller to scrutinize the Kushner's business ties. Since then, media reports suggest that the foreign business ties of the Kushners and the Trumps have come under intense scrutiny.The elder Kushner must be worried about his son's culpability: He has decided to go on-record to clear up a few misconceptions in the initial report, telling the Washington Post that, while he did meet with Emadi, the meeting was arranged at the behest of the Qatars, who were responsible for the initial overture. But instead of entertaining their offer, Kushner told WaPo he turned them down, saying he couldn't accept money from foreign sovereign wealth funds.Jared Kushner’s father met with Qatar’s finance minister three months after President Trump’s inauguration, a New York City session at which funding for a financially troubled real estate project was discussed, the company acknowledged Sunday.However, Charles Kushner said he turned down possible funding to avoid questions of a conflict of interest for his son, who had run the family company until he became Trump’s senior adviser. The elder Kushner said that the Qataris had asked for the meeting, and that he told them he couldn’t accept sovereign funds."I was invited to a meeting," he said in a statement to The Washington Post. "Before the meeting, Kushner Companies had decided that it was not going to accept sovereign wealth fund investments. We informed the Qatar representatives of our decision and they agreed. Even if they were there ready to wire the money, we would not have taken it."

          Jared Kushner, RIP: A Political Obituary for the President's Son-in-Law -  Nomi Prins -Here we are a little more than a year into the Trump presidency and his administration's body count is already, as The Donald might put it, "unbelievable, perhaps record-setting." Among the casualties are Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; my former boss at Goldman Sachs, economic policy chief Gary Cohn; National Security Advisor Michael Flynn; FBI Director James Comey; White House Press Secretary and Communications Director Sean Spicer; four other communications directors including Hope Hicks who, having been Ivanka Trump's confidante, was elevated to the status of the president's "real daughter" before her own White House exit; chief strategist Steve Bannon; Chief of Staff Reince Priebus; a bunch of other instant relics of Trumpian political history, and a partridge in a pear tree. (Actually, a 200-year-old magnolia uprooted from the White House grounds thanks to the first lady.) Responding to Hope Hicks' departure and, perhaps subliminally, the rumored future exile of son-in-law Jared Kushner, the president typically half-lamented and half-quipped, "So many people have been leaving the White House. It's invigorating, since you want turnover. I like chaos. It really is good. Who's going to be the next to leave? Steve Miller or Melania?" Melania has been unavailable for comment on her own possible future place among the fallen of the Trump era. Perhaps, though, she'll hang around and offer her husband a little comfort in Stormy weather, as rumors continue to circulate that his perfectly real daughter and her all-too-real husband may be ousted from the premises. However, with constant media conjectures about yet more departures including National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and possibly even White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, there seems to be a predisposition to move out of, not into, this Oval Office. In a remarkably short space of time, President Trump has already achieved a record 43% turnover rate for top-level staff members, some of whom may be jumping ship in hopes of emerging with reputations relatively untarred, while avoiding lengthy prison sentences. As collateral damage in his world mounts, it seems as if the only members of the Trump Empire, White House division, guaranteed job security are his lawyers and perhaps Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Even that most nuclear of families -- his -- seemed in peril of exploding, as the countdown to Kushner's exit approaches the zero hour. It looks as if we may all have scored front-row seats for the latest you're-fired episode in the White House reality show.

          The peculiarities of the US financial system make it ideal for money laundering --Charles Grassley, Sheldon Whitehouse - The lifeblood of criminal enterprises all over the world is revenue. Money fuels terrorists, transnational criminal organizations, and crooked kleptocrats. These criminals need to launder their ill-gotten gains. Although this dirty money often comes from the most corrupt, unstable countries in the world, it often ends up—ironically—in the United States. Why? Partly because we have the most stable financial system in the world, and these malefactors seek rule-of-law protection for their ill-gotten gains. But they also come because our system is so opaque. Currently, none of the fifty states requires the disclosure of the “beneficial owner” of companies, the real human beings who own them. Instead, corporate records can identify the “owner” as another faceless corporation or a professional agent paid to sign the needed forms. Behind this easy-to-establish veil of secrecy, criminals can—and do—use these shell corporations to open bank accounts, transfer funds, and hide the ownership of expensive assets. The shell companies serve no economic purpose and don’t conduct any real business.  Over the past few years, money has flooded into the United States as European countries have enacted laws and regulations to improve corporate ownership transparency. According to one analysis, the US is second—behind only Switzerland—as the most secret and nontransparent incorporation system in the world. In its 2015 National Money Laundering Risk Assessment (pdf), the Treasury Department estimated that about $300 billion in illegal proceeds is generated annually in the U.S. That money comes from many sources, including narco-trafficking, international organized crime, foreign corruption and kleptocracy, trade-based money laundering, and garden-variety fraud.

          Fifth Circuit Axes Fiduciary Rule: Over to the SEC - Jerri-lynn Scofield - Last week, on 15th March, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit struck down the Department of Labor’s (DoL) fiduciary rule in  a split 2-1 decision. The rule had been enacted in 2016, during the previous administration. On the campaign trail and as President, Trump had singled out the measure for criticism. In February 2017, he issued a Presidential Memorandum on Fiduciary Duty Rule, in which he directed the DoL to conduct an examination of the rule that was due to come into effect in April (as I wrote in Fourth Federal District Court Looks Likely to Uphold Fiduciary Rule). The Trump memo was mere bluster and had no legal effect, but in June 2017, the DoL delayed full implementation of the new rule, as well as enforcement, as it considered its next steps. Meanwhile, a coalition of business interests– including the Financial Services Institute, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce– had brought a lawsuit challenging the rule. Their arguments were rejected by a federal district court sitting in Dallas that upheld the original DOL rule.As MarketWatch noted on 17th March in Is the fiduciary rule dead or alive? What its fate means to you: The U.S. rule was weaker than what other countries have in place to protect investors, such as in the U.K., where commissions are banned and advisers must pass harder tests, . “With the court undoing that, it means you have to ask really hard questions if you’re going to a financial adviser,” she said.It’s unclear what the Department of Labor– the ostensible loser in this lawsuit– will do next. The department could ask for review  by the entire Fifth Circuit, which could affirm or overturn the panel decision. Alternatively, the department could ask the United States Supreme Court to consider the case, and since a split in the appellate circuits is  developing– a factor the Court often weighs heavily in deciding whether to hear a case– the Court may very well decide to grant certiorari.

          Three Merrill Insiders To Split $83 Million In Largest-Ever Whistleblower Award - Who needs to work when you can just expose your boss' criminal ways and retire with the "whistelblower" proceeds?That's the question three former Merrill Lynch insiders will ask themselves after their tips led to both a successful enforcement against parent company Bank of America in a $415 million settlement for engaging in complex transactions which allowed the bank to reduce the amount of client funds that had to be set aside in reserve accounts and - more importantly - the largest ever whistleblower award amounting to $83 million.Two of the recipients will split a $50 million award, while a third person will receive $33 million for a tip in the same case.The previous record was $30 million in 2014 - all done under an award provision under the post-crisis Dodd-Frank law. Jordan Thomas, an attorney with Labaton Sucharow, said he represented the Merrill insiders but declined to name them or say whether they still worked for the Bank of America unit. The three provided information that helped the SEC win a $415 million settlement with the bank in 2016 for engaging in complex transactions to reduce the amount of client funds that had to be set aside in reserve accounts. –Bloomberg “By coming forward, these courageous executives protected millions of Merrill Lynch’s customers, but their impact is far greater than that,” Thomas said in a statement. “They are a shining example of integrity in action and will inspire others on Wall Street to break their silence.” A "substantial part" of the award will be donated to charities, said Thomas - who ironically helped develop the SEC's whistleblower program while employed in the agency's enforcement unit. Thomas then launched Labaton Sucharow's division representing tipsters in 2011. One almost wonders how much Thomas' legal fees will be as a result of a program developed by, well, Thomas.

          Whistleblower Woes: Retaliation - Jerri-lynn Scofield - Yesterday, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that it had awarded $83 million to three whistleblowers– the highest payout to date under provisions authorized under the 2010 Dodd-Frank legislation. The SEC is required by statute to protect the confidentiality of whistleblowers and thus not to release information that may directly or indirectly out a whistleblower, and the SEC press release didn’t identify the company concerned. Both the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal reported that the information provided by these whistleblowers had helped the SEC achieve a $415 million settlement with Bank of America– citing as their source the lawyer for the whistleblowers. According to the Journal (which, for those interested in further details about what Bank of America did, provides a far fuller account):  I have written elsewhere about failings of this program (see here and here). So I won’t repeat that analysis here, except to point out that a unanimous 9-0 February Supreme Court decision narrowed the scope of anti-retaliatory whistleblower provisions under Dodd-Frank, requiring that potential whistleblowers must report to the SEC in order to be protected from retaliation and cannot rely on making an internal complaint alone to trigger anti-retaliatory protection. As I wrote in Supreme Court Narrows Dodd-Frank SEC Whistleblower Protections, this makes it more likely that potential whistleblowers will head straight to the SEC rather than first exhausting their internal complaints procedures– rather than relying on the tender mercies of company management not to shoot the messenger. On Monday, the Ethics and Compliance Initiative (ECI) released a report, The State of Ethics & Compliance in the Workplace that addressed this issue. In 2017, 47% of the more than 5,000 randomly selected US employees surveyed said they had personally witnessed conduct that violated either organisational standards or the law– down from 51% in 2013.  That finding– that personally observed misconduct has apparently decreased– seems to represent a modest success.   Sixty-nine percent of employees surveyed said they reported the misconduct they observed, up from 64% in 2013. This increase, also appears to represent a positive development. The leading types of misconduct reported in 2017 were: misuse of confidential information (79% of those surveyed); giving accepting bribes or kickbacks (76%); stealing (74%); failed specifications (73%); and sexual harassment (70%).

          Wall Street Is Winning By Going Dark -  Pam Martens - As front page news focuses more and more on the Russia-Trump investigation, there is rarely an in-depth journalistic investigation into the dangerous risks building up on Wall Street that makes front page news. And yet, as we know from the epic financial crisis of 2008, an unreformed Wall Street presents the gravest threat to America’s long-term vitality and economic might.Take, for example, what happened this past Monday. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) awarded a record $83 million to three whistleblowers from one of America’s largest retail brokerage firms, Merrill Lynch, part of the sprawling Bank of America. That bank holds $1.4 trillion in deposits, much of which is FDIC insured and backstopped by the U.S. taxpayer — the same taxpayer that bailed out Bank of America in 2008.The SEC maintains the confidentiality of whistleblowers who come to it and does not name the company involved in the monetary awards to ensure that confidentiality. The public learned of the details in the case through a statement from the law firm representing the three whistleblowers, Labaton Sucharow.The statement, also released on Monday, explained why this unprecedented amount of money was paid by the SEC. It said: “The whistleblowers tipped the SEC to long-running misconduct at Merrill Lynch, which over numerous years, executed complex options trades that lacked economic substance and artificially reduced the required deposit of customer cash in the reserve account. Through the reckless conduct, Merrill Lynch violated the SEC’s Customer Protection Rules and put billions of dollars of customer funds at risk in order to finance its own trading activities.”

          Bank of America 'systematically' misled clients about stock trades -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch doctored paperwork on 16 million orders to fool institutional clients into thinking stock trades were taking place in-house when they were not, according to New York's Attorney General.  The bank admitted on Friday to "systematically misleading clients" between 2008 and 2013 about how orders were handled for more than 4 billion shares of stock.  New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Bank of America agreed to pay a record $42 million penalty for the "masking" scheme and violations of New York securities law. The settlement said Bank of America had "undisclosed agreements" with electronic market makers to "secretly" route them trades for five years. Market makers buy and sell securities to help markets function smoothly. "Bank of America Merrill Lynch went to astonishing lengths to defraud its own institutional clients about who was seeing and filling their orders," Schneiderman said in a statement. The investigation uncovered an email from a Bank of America executive that explained a desire to increase the volume of trades to electronic market makers "based on other revenue opportunities being discussed with them." It's not clear what those opportunities were.  Wall Street firms "cannot use new technology to exploit their clients in service of their business relationships with large industry players," Schneiderman said.   Authorities said Bank of America carried out the "fraud" by reprogramming its electronic trading system to "automatically doctor" trade confirmation messaging sent back to clients.  Employees referred to this as "masking" — replacing real information about where trades took place with a code to indicate it happened in-house.  Schneiderman's investigation revealed that Bank of America told clients that trades were taking place in-house when they were really going to electronic market makers such as Citadel Securities, Knight Capital and now-defunct Madoff Securities.  Knowledge of looming trade orders can be extremely valuable to these firms, allowing them to jump in front of large trades with ones of their own.

          U.S. Stocks End Worst Week in Years – WSJ - U.S. stocks suffered their worst week in more than two years, signaling mounting investor anxiety over whether factors from restrictive trade policies to rising interest rates could disrupt the nine-year bull market.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 1,400 points over five days, a 5.7% decline that marked the blue-chip index’s biggest weekly percentage loss since January 2016. Financial stocks in the S&P 500 dropped 3% Friday, with Bank of America and Morgan Stanleyfalling nearly 5% apiece. Tech stocks slid nearly as much, with Facebook posting its third-worst weekly fall on record.  Larger tech companies and banks had benefited for much of the past year from bets that the global economy would expand while interest rates rose gradually—the so-called Goldilocks scenario for stocks. Friday’s selling underscored the vulnerability of those bets, which investors had based on a number of assumptions that have come under question in recent weeks. While signs of growth persist, increasingly restrictive trade policies threaten to disrupt a global economic recovery that had helped lift major indexes from New York to Hong Kong to multiyear highs in January. And growing backlash over how technology firms handle their users’ data has driven some of the most popular names in the sector lower.. “Six months ago, everything was good and you couldn’t find a reason to sell stocks. Now you can’t find a reason to hold them,” he added.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 424.69 points, or 1.8%, to 23533.20 on Friday, deepening its declines for the year and closing at its lowest level since November. The S&P 500 fell 55.43 points, or 2.1%, to 2588.26 and the Nasdaq Composite shed 174.01 points, or 2.4%, to 6992.67.

          Hedge Funds Suffer Worst Month in Two Years   - Hedge Fund returns overall fell 2.19 percent in February, wiping out January gains and leaving them nearly unchanged for the year at up 0.07 percent, according to the latest numbers out of the Bloomberg Hedge Fund Database. That came as markets were roiled by a 47 percent jump in the VIX Index in the month, a 3.9 percent slide in the S&P 500 and as 10-year yields backed up to 2.86 percent, leading to the worst month for hedge funds since January 2016, when they slumped 2.57 percent. Commodity Trading Advisors/Managed Futures strategies had the steepest drop for both February and the year, falling 6.01 percent in the month and 3.02 year to date. Macro Funds saw the second-largest monthly drop, slipping 2.31 percent, underperforming the hedge fund database by 12 basis points. Fixed Income Relative Value Funds were the only group spared, ending the month up 0.06 percent. From a strategies perspective, Systematic and Discretionary CTA fell the most at 6.87 percent and 6.19 percent, respectively, as about 88 percent [23 of 26] of the strategies were down in February. Currency strategies posted the biggest gains for the month at an average 2.24 percent, below their 3-month average of 3.39 percent, putting them in the red for the year at 1.62 percent. Long-Short funds finished February down 1.47 percent, outperforming the S&P by 222 basis points. Emerging Markets, the third best style in 2017 and best YTD, fell 1.03 in February, as markets contracted outside the U.S. 

          Bernanke, Geithner & Paulson on the 2008 financial crisis -  This is pretty amazing:The three men who helped shepherd the U.S. through the 2008 Great Recession are worried that the country and Congress have not learned the right lessons from the last financial crisis — and may not have the tools to weather the next one.In a joint interview with Marketplace on March 13, former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, former president of the New York Federal Reserve and former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and former Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke stressed that while the financial system is stronger now than it was before the 2008 financial crisis, that could change if certain regulations are rolled back. Listen to the full audio

          Banks win break from Basel Committee on capital requirements -  Banks that spent years lobbying against billions of dollars of new capital requirements are being rewarded for their efforts. On Thursday, they won concessions from global regulators that may cut the amount of extra capital the industry's biggest companies will need in 2022, when the new market-risk rules are due to take effect. The proposed revisions will come as a relief to traders in swaps, bonds and other securities.  The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision acknowledged that without change, the rule would wind up costing the banking industry much more than the regulator had intended. The revisions will make it easier for lenders to rely on their own internal models to assess risk and reduce the burden on those that can't. The Basel Committee's decision to take a second look at the rule, known as the Fundamental Review of the Trading Book, follows an outpouring of industry opposition since it was published in 2016. At the time, the panel — which includes the U.S. Federal Reserve and European Central Bank — estimated that on a weighted average, banks would need to increase their trading-book capital levels by 40 percent.  Last year, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association — one of the main industry groups pressing for the rule to be amended — said instead that lenders would have needed anywhere from 1.6 times their current trading book capital to 2.5 times as much. That difference could translate into billions of dollars in additional risk-weighted assets for some banks with big trading arms. At the end of 2017, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. had about $87 billion in risk-weighted assets covered by the market-risk regulations, while Deutsche Bank AG had about 31 billion euros ($38 billion), according to regulatory reports.

           Fed ‘fully prepared’ to regulate banks under $250B: Powell -- Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday that the central bank is “fully prepared” to apply prudential rules to smaller banks even if Congress passes a bill raising the mandatory regulatory thresholds for systemically risky banks to $250 billion.Speaking during his first press conference since being sworn in as chairman in February, Powell said he could not comment in detail about the bank regulatory bill that passed the Senate last week, because it has not yet been passed. That bill would, among other things, raise the asset threshold for banks to be considered systemically important financial institutions, or SIFIs, from $50 billion to $250 billion, but would allow the Fed to apply macroprudential requirements on banks with assets of $100 billion to $250 billion.  But Powell said that the agency is prepared to apply additional prudential scrutiny on banks below the $250 billion threshold. He said the Fed has already designated one bank below that threshold as a global systemically important bank. State Street is the one G-SIB with less than $250 billion in assets.

          Today's Biggest Winner: Banks To Get An Extra $5 Billion In Interest From The Fed --Today's 25bps hike in rates to 1.75% will have little impact on how much interest is paid to the trillions of dollars held in checking and savings accounts across the US (simply because banks continue to drown in over $2 trillion in excess reserves and thus do not really need all those deposits). It will, however, have a notable impact on how much cash the Fed pays out to banks in the form of interest on excess reserves (just don't call it a subsidy).As the chart below shows, after today's rate hike, the Fed will be paying $37 billion in annualized interest to banks, an increase of $5 billion from the last rate hike. The chart above shows the monetary gift the Fed gives to banks for not lending out money to the system, and keeping the velocity of money at all time lows.And, assuming the Fed hikes another 2 times in 2018, the Federal Reserve is on track to pay out $47 billion in subsidies IOER to banks for the privilege of bailing them out a decade ago, as the following chart from Deutsche Bank shows.

          FBI investigates Wells Fargo’s wealth business - A federal investigation into Wells Fargo’s sales practices has extended into the bank’s wealth management business from the retail-banking unit where the problems started, according to The Wall Street Journal.FBI agents have interviewed wealth management employees in Phoenix, the Journal reported.This investigation comes a few months after the Justice Department spurred Wells Fargo to conduct its own internal investigation into its wealth management business after whistleblowers reported sales practice issues, according to another article from The Wall Street Journal earlier this month. The whistleblowers claimed that the bank's wealth management business was pushing particular products or services "with an eye toward earning more compensation rather than finding the best fit for the customer," the journal reported. The bank's wealth and investment management division has more than 14,500 financial advisors overseeing approximately $1.7 trillion in client assets, according to the company.

          Citigroup Sets Restrictions on Gun Sales by Business Partners - Citigroup is setting restrictions on the sale of firearms by its business customers, making it the first Wall Street bank to take a stance in the divisive nationwide gun control debate.The new policy, announced Thursday, prohibits the sale of firearms to customers who have not passed a background check or who are younger than 21. It also bars the sale of bump stocks and high-capacity magazines. It would apply to clients who offer credit cards backed by Citigroup or borrow money, use banking services or raise capital through the company.The rules, which the company described as “common-sense measures,” echo similar restrictions established by some major retailers, like Walmart. But they also represent the boldest such move to emerge from the banking sector.Since the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla., last month, renewed calls for remedies to firearms violence have led to sweeping consumer boycotts and unprecedented moves by corporate America to distance itself from the powerful gun lobby.But federal lawmakers have taken limited action, and President Trump quickly abandoned a promise to pursue gun control measures, instead promoting proposals backed by the National Rifle Association to arm teachers. The financial services and investment community was even less engaged, staying mostly quiet on suggestions that it wield its considerable influence over gun merchants to encourage firearms-related changes.

          Will rivals follow Citi in clamping down on gun sellers? - A month after the mass shooting at a high school in Florida, and days before a national march against gun violence, Citigroup became the first big bank to impose restrictions on what kinds of firearms sellers it will do business with.So the natural question is: Will other banks feel pressure to follow its lead on this divisive issue?In a policy announced Thursday, Citi said it would require all of its customers — from commercial borrowers to cobranded card clients — to adhere to a number of principles restricting gun sales, including banning the sale of bump stocks and ensuring background checks are performed before firearms are sold.The move shows Citi taking a bold step into the middle of an intense social debate over how to prevent gun violence — and how to stem the tragic string of school shootings. It is unclear how its peers will respond.After the announcement, American Banker reached out to a handful big banks. JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Capital One Financial did not respond. U.S. Bancorp declined to comment. Wells Fargo reiterated its position that gun reform should be led by elected officials. PNC Financial Services Group adopted guidance in 2013 that discourages new loans to gun manufacturers, a spokeswoman said. PNC "has very limited exposure to clients that manufacture AR-15-style rifles," she said. "We are continuing to consider these issues."

          Buyers acquire taste for deposit-rich banks --  A quest for low-cost deposits is starting to spur industry consolidation.Financial institutions that were once drowning in deposits after the financial crisis are finally sensing a need for more liquidity as the economy improves. Total loans at banks with less than $10 billion in assets rose by nearly 17% between 2012 and 2017, surpassing the roughly 5% increase in deposits over that time, according to data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.Rising interest rates and evidence that big banks are looking to stock up on deposits are putting even more pressure on some acquirers to target deposit-rich institutions. “Low-cost core funding is a priority for us,” Dennis Shaffer, president and CEO of Civista Bancshares in Sandusky, Ohio, said in a recent interview. “We can continue to invest and meet all the loan demand in the rural communities that we serve. We can then take the excess deposits from these markets and lend them out into the more robust urban markets that we operate in.”The $1.5 billion-asset Civista's recent deal to buy United Community Bancorp in Lawrenceburg, Ind., for $114 million would immediately bring in more liquidity. The $543 million-asset United Community's 62% loan-to-deposit ratio at Dec. 31 contrasts significantly with the Civista's 93% ratio, according to FDIC data. Obtaining United's sticky low-cost deposits was the "first and foremost” reason for the deal, Shaffer said. Five of United’s branches are in the Cincinnati area, rounding out Civista's access to Ohio's five biggest markets. A number of recently announced deals have involved the sale of deposit-rich banks, including Medina Savings and Loan in Medina, N.Y.; First Trust & Savings Bank in Marcus, Iowa; and First National Bank in Camdenton, Mo.

          DOJ pot crackdown has yet to hit banks | American Banker --Attorney General Jeff Sessions made headlines in January when he tightened federal marijuana enforcement. But the good news for financial institutions looking to service the pot industry is that the rest of the government has responded to Sessions' tough talk with a shrug.That was the case Friday when President Trump signed a spending bill that extends a four-year-old ban on the use of Justice Department funds to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. The Republican-led Congress maintained the existing policy despite a specific request from Sessions not to do so. “Attorney General Jeff Sessions is doubling down on the failed war on drugs” but "poll after poll shows that the majority of Americans, across every party, strongly favor the right to use medical marijuana,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, in a press release Thursday on the omnibus spending package considered in the House and Senate.

          The reasons U.S. blockchain adoption has stalled -   Enthusiasm for blockchain technology in the financial services industry seems to be ebbing.JPMorgan Chase, which developed its own open-source distributed ledger, Quorum, was rumored on Thursday to be spinning off the Quorum unit into a separate company. Unnamed sources told the Financial Times that “some rival banks may have been reluctant to use Quorum because it was so closely associated with JPMorgan, leading the U.S. bank to conclude that its chances of becoming the industry standard were greater as a standalone entity.” JPMorgan Chase declined requests for an interview. A spokeswoman did not deny the report but defended Quorum and reiterated JPMorgan's commitment to the underlying technology."We continue to believe distributed ledger technology will play a transformative role in business, which is why we are actively building multiple blockchain solutions," she said. “Quorum has become an extremely successful enterprise platform even beyond financial services, and we’re excited about its potential.”The bank shared a list of projects in the works based on the Quorum technology, including the Interbank Information Network it announced in October. This is an initiative in which it’s working with Royal Bank of Canada and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group to use blockchain technology to handle global payments.  In another example, ING is working with the global merchant Louis Dreyfus Co., ABN Amro and Societe Generale to create a Quorum-based blockchain for agricultural commodities. The companies say they have already handled a shipment of soybeans from Louis Dreyfus to the Chinese buyer Shandong Bohi with no paper contracts, certificates or manual checks — at five times the speed of a paper-based trade.

          Has the Cryptocoin Market Met Its Match in the SEC? -- Regulators looking into potentially widespread violations in cryptocurrency markets have taken a bite out of the once-soaring investor demand for token deals. While the pace of new proposed initial coin offerings has remained near record levels, there has been a marked deceleration in the amount of money being raised and a change in the source of the capital being provided.More than 180 coin offerings are expected to launch in March, according to an estimate from research firm Token Report. That would exceed January’s total of 175 and fall only a bit below February’s 197 offerings. But the March projects are expected to raise only $795 million, a 45% decline from February’s $1.44 billion.March’s ICO tally, which would be the lowest since August, would be the first data to reflect the state of the booming sector after The Wall Street Journal reported that the Securities and Exchange Commission had sent out dozens of subpoenas and information requests questioning whether investors were being harmed in the lightly regulated market. Among other claims, the regulators are probing whether companies and key advisers have breached rules that govern how middlemen such as brokers sell investments to the public, according to people familiar with the matter.In recent months, the SEC has sent at least 80 subpoenas and requests for information to various firms involved in the ICO space. These include not only the firms that are creating the new tokens, like Inc . ’s tZero, but firms that operate as advisers and investors as well. SEC Enforcement Director Stephanie Avakian confirmed at a conference last week that the regulator has “dozens” of investigations related to cryptocurrencies under way. The SEC is particularly concerned about misconduct related to ICOs that haven’t raised as much money as the top 20 in the market, said Melissa Hodgman, an associate director in the SEC’s enforcement division. “The minute we go beyond that we start to see problems in one way or another,” Ms. Hodgman told the SEC’s investor advisory committee earlier this month. Despite the March slowdown in completed deals, the first quarter is still on pace for roughly $3.6 billion in ICO fundraising, according to Token Report, which would be more than half of the $6.6 billion raised in 2017.

          NSA Has Been Tracking Bitcoin Users Since 2013, New Snowden Documents Reveal -  In a blockbuster report published Tuesday in the Intercept, reporter Sam Biddle cited several documents included in the massive cache of stolen NSA documents that showed that the agency has been tracking bitcoin users since 2013, and has potentially been funneling some of this information to other federal agencies. Or, as Biddle puts it, maybe the conspiracy theorists were right.It turns out the conspiracy theorists were onto something. Classified documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden show that the National Security Agency indeed worked urgently to target Bitcoin users around the world - and wielded at least one mysterious source of information to "help track down senders and receivers of Bitcoins," according to a top-secret passage in an internal NSA report dating to March 2013. The data source appears to have leveraged the NSA’s ability to harvest and analyze raw, global internet traffic while also exploiting an unnamed software program that purported to offer anonymity to users, according to other documents. Using its ability to siphon data directly from the fiber-optic cables, the NSA managed to develop a system for tracing transactions that went well beyond simple blockchain analysis. The agency relied on a program called MONKEYROCKET, a sham Internet-anonymizing service that, according to the documents, was primarily deployed in Asia, Africa and South America with the intention of thwarting terrorists.The documents indicate that "tracking down" Bitcoin users went well beyond closely examining Bitcoin’s public transaction ledger, known as the Blockchain, where users are typically referred to through anonymous identifiers; the tracking may also have involved gathering intimate details of these users’ computers.The NSA collected some Bitcoin users’ password information, internet activity, and a type of unique device identification number known as a MAC address, a March 29, 2013 NSA memo suggested. In the same document, analysts also discussed tracking internet users’ internet addresses, network ports, and timestamps to identify "BITCOIN Targets."

          A hands-off CFPB might cause trouble for fintechs  - Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has made it increasingly clear that the agency’s enforcement unit will be less aggressive going forward.   But that move could actually expose fintechs to more risk, not less.  Late last month, acting Director Mick Mulvaney told a conference of state attorneys general that the CFPB would no longer be “pushing the envelope” or “look[ing] to create law where there isn’t” through enforcement actions. Instead, the acting director said, the CFPB will be “looking to the state regulators and state attorneys general for a lot more leadership when it comes to enforcement.” This would amount to a considerable change that comes with its own set of risks for companies that deal with consumers or the public.  For the emerging fintech space, one key area of concern in the pre-Mulvaney regime was the CFPB’s enforcement of the Dodd-Frank Act’s prohibition on unfair, deceptive, or abusive trade practices. Since many fintech companies rely heavily on the collection and analysis of consumer data — think payment companies and marketplace lenders — those companies’ practices and disclosures around protecting that data risked possible CFPB action.

          OCC once wanted payday lenders to 'stay the hell away' from banks. No longer -- More than a decade has passed since federal regulators cracked down on partnerships between payday lenders and banks that had been designed to circumvent state interest rate caps. Now the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, operating under newly installed leadership, has taken a notable step in the opposite direction. The agency said Friday that it has terminated a 2002 consent order with Ace Cash Express. The decision, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, frees the Irving, Texas-based payday loan chain from a regulatory prohibition on partnerships with national banks. While the action involves only one company, its implications could be substantial, according to observers on both sides of the debate over payday lending. “It’s a sea change in terms of the atmosphere on small-dollar lending,” said Richard Eckman, a lawyer at Pepper Hamilton who structured numerous partnerships between banks and payday lenders in the early 2000s. 

          House GOP wants small-dollar loan bill pinned to reg relief  — Just as promised, Republican lawmakers went to work Wednesday considering regulatory reform ideas that would go further than the Senate's tweaks of the Dodd-Frank Act.A case in point was a bill introduced by Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, R-Ind., to strike down regulatory guidance discouraging banks from offering small-dollar loans.That legislation, which passed the House Financial Services Committee by 34 to 26, would roll back 2013 guidance issued by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. that effectively banned banks from offering deposit advance products. Supporters said regulatory oversight has closed a once-popular avenue for consumers to get short-term credit. “Do we not want these people to be banked? Do we not want them using bank products? Where are they going to go and in what shadow are they going to find this funding,” said House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling.The legislation appeared to be another provision that Republicans would like to advance as part of a regulatory relief package — sponsored by Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho — that the Senate approved last week with bipartisan support. Hensarling previously outlined a list of roughly 30 separate provisions that have bipartisan support that could be tacked onto the package.But it is still unclear how much the House GOP can expand the bill passed by the Senate, where moderate Democrats have threatened to abandon the bipartisan deal if the regulatory relief package is expanded. Democratic opposition to the deposit advance bill in the House committee's debate signaled that weakening restrictions on deposit advance may be a bridge too far.  Deposit advance is “just a fancy name for payday lenders,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. She cited a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau study that found that deposit advance loans could be just as harmful to a consumer as a payday loan.

          Trump official quietly drops payday loan case, mulls others (Reuters) - The top cop for U.S. consumer finance has decided not to sue a payday loan collector and is weighing whether to drop cases against three payday lenders, said five people with direct knowledge of the matter. The move shows how Mick Mulvaney, named interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) by U.S. President Donald Trump, is putting his mark on an agency conceived to stamp out abusive lending. The payday loan cases are among about a dozen that Richard Cordray, the former agency chief, approved for litigation before he resigned in November. Cordray was the first to lead the agency that Congress created in 2010 after the financial crisis. The four previously unreported cases aimed to return more than $60 million to consumers, the people said. Three are part of routine CFPB work to police storefront lenders. The fourth case concerns who has a right to collect payday loans offered from tribal land. Cordray was ready to sue Kansas-based National Credit Adjusters (NCA), which primarily collects debt for online lenders operating on tribal land. Such lenders charge triple-digit interest rates prohibited in many states. The companies have argued such loans are permitted when they are originated on tribal land. The CFPB under Cordray concluded that NCA had no right to collect on such online loans, no matter where they were made. Mulvaney has dropped the matter and the case is “dead,” Sarah Auchterlonie, a lawyer for NCA, told Reuters this week. She noted the agency appeared to be backing off issues involving tribal sovereignty. “(Cordray) had a theory that was really out there and I think everything related to it is being pulled back,” Auchterlonie said. Consumers have complained that NCA threatened to have them jailed and sue family members, CFPB’s public database shows. A CFPB investigation found NCA wrongly collected roughly $50 million, of which the agency’s lawyers wanted to return about $45 million, sources said.

          Mulvaney's revamp of CFPB should include its innovation hub -  As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau seeks to reinvent itself, the bureau should prioritize strengthening its fintech innovation initiative as part of its overhaul.  Launched in 2012, the CFPB’s Project Catalyst was designed to “support the creation and growth of innovative consumer financial products and services.” In other words, it was created to serve as an opportunity for the fintech industry and government regulators to work together on behalf of consumers.  In the last six years, however, not enough of those opportunities have been realized. In fact, a similar initiative launched by the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority years later is proving more useful to fintech companies. The U.K.’s so-called regulatory sandbox gives fintech firms access to a dedicated team who can help startups understand the regulatory framework, and how it applies to them, while they test their products in real-life situations to demonstrate what users need and manage potential risks. The sandbox is proving popular and the U.K. regulator is now exploring whether it should expand it to include letting fintech companies test their ideas with regulators from around the world. We understand that the needs of U.S. consumers and the regulatory regime that governs our system are different from our European counterparts, but that doesn’t mean that our version of the sandbox has to fail.

          A CFPB commission will never fly--  Critics of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have long pinned their hopes on converting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's leadership structure from a single director to a five-member commission. But with the recently passed Senate regulatory relief bill excluding such a measure, and that bill's fate resting in the hands of moderate Democrats opposed to changes in the CFPB's structure, such a measure is now dead on arrival.   "We are a long way away from seeing any change in this regard," said Carrie Hunt, executive vice president of government affairs and general counsel for the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions.

          Will court ruling on robo-calling help or hurt consumers - A recent federal appeals court decision to ease restrictions on robo-calling highlights the divide between banks and their account holders over where customer service ends and nuisance begins.  The banking industry argues that last week’s ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court will make it easier for banks and credit unions to use automated calls to communicate important information to customers, such as warning them that loans are on the verge of becoming delinquent or that accounts have been exposed to fraud. But consumer groups say that the decision gives financial firms license to more aggressively market their products and services and could lead to more harassing phone calls over unpaid debts.   The ruling, handed down on Friday, struck down some interpretations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) made in 2015 by the Federal Communications Commission.  The FCC’s guidance was designed to protect consumers from unwanted calls, but the debt collection industry, with support from banks and credit unions, filed suit, arguing that it allowed telephone service providers to block far too many legitimate calls.  Nearly any device, from smartphones to web browsing software, was deemed automated dialing equipment and thus violated the TCPA. The court said the FCC’s interpretation was too broad and essentially threw out the rules on the types of equipment companies can use to initiate robocalls.

          Critics of FHLB membership rule aren’t thrilled with prospect of repeal -— A bill to allow captive insurance companies to be reinstated as members of the Federal Home Loan Bank System appears to be dividing the Home Loan bank community.  The bill, sponsored by Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., would reverse a 2016 rule by the Federal Housing Finance Agency that had expelled captive insurance companies from FHLB membership. Community banks and the Home Loan banks had opposed the FHFA proposal, particularly the restrictions on existing Home Loan Bank System members. Small banks objected to a proposed mortgage loan asset test for retaining FHLB membership, but that test was removed in the final rule.

          CRE bridge lending is white hot. What could go wrong? - There’s an abundance of capital available to finance lending to fix up or repurpose commercial property, and that has some people wondering how long the party will last.  More and more nonbank lenders are taking advantage of the strong appetite for short-term, floating-rate debt to bundle bridge loans into collateral for vehicles called commercial real estate collateralized loan obligations, or CRE CLOs. This funding is an attractive complement to bank lines of credit because it is matched term. And it is becoming less and less expensive.  “We have banks we’ve never done business with looking to extend us lines [of credit] in order to warehouse product for a CLO,”  “Underwriters are calling us to push us to do another issuance, — they are being pulled by investors to find more product,” Baevsky said “We’re trying to take advantage of this situation. We see [the demand], we feel it.” This once small corner of the commercial real estate market is growing rapidly. Through February, there were four deals totaling $2.3 billion, which is already about 30% of the volume for all of last year, according to Kroll Bond Rating Agency. In a March 6 report, Kroll said it expects to see six additional CRE CLOs announced over the next two months, several of which may be from new issuers. “This is the most interest I’ve seen since 2005 or 2006,”   “Deals are pricing well, and everyone [issuers] is trying to strike” while they can. “We’re advising clients to go to market now.” As issuance picks up, the buyer base for CRE CLOs is expanding, creating a positive feedback loop for issuers as their funding costs continue to fall.  “This may be the most liquid and well-bid part of the [commercial mortgage-backed securities] market,”   J.P. Morgan underwrote nine of the 18 deals issued in 2017, and on average it placed 50%-60% of each deal with money managers, 20%-25% with banks, and 10%-15% with credit hedge funds, Singh said at one of the conference panels.  Most issuers of CRE CLOs are real estate investment trusts and other specialty lenders, but the cheaper funding is attracting some new issuers that are not necessarily associated with bridge lending, such as the private-equity and real estate giants Blackstone Group, TPG Capital, Värde Partners and Silverpeak Argentic.

          FHA is making progress on False Claims Act concerns: Carson - — The Department of Housing and Urban Development's efforts with the Justice Department to address lenders' fears of being sued under the False Claims Act are having a positive impact, Secretary Ben Carson said Tuesday. "I think some in the lending community are recognizing that and starting to come back" to the Federal Housing Administration program, Carson said before a House Appropriations subcommittee. At the hearing focused on HUD's budget, where Carson faced tough questioning over lavish spending by Carson and his wife to decorate his office, the secretary also weighed in on FHA participation, the state of the housing agency's technology infrastructure and funding for the Community Development Block program.

          Senate Dems criticize Carson over HUD enforcement practices — Senate Democrats sharply criticized Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson on Thursday, accusing his agency of failing to enforce fair housing laws.  "HUD is responsible for combating housing discrimination," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., told Carson at a Senate Banking Committee hearing. "I was hoping you" would follow the law.  Carson defended his record, saying HUD is involved in many pending lawsuits against wrongdoers. 

          FTC rules CoreLogic didn't comply with 2014 RealtyTrac agreement -  CoreLogic will have to provide property data to Attom Data Solution's RealtyTrac unit for three additional years to resolve allegations it did not adhere to a 2014 agreement with the Federal Trade Commission.In July 2013, CoreLogic agreed to purchase DataQuick and Marshall & Swift/Boeckh from the TPG Group for $611 million. But the FTC objected to the deal on antitrust grounds, saying it would substantially reduce competition among property data providers.So to be able to complete the transaction CoreLogic agreed to a settlement that required it to license to RealtyTrac national assessor and recorder bulk data as well as several ancillary data sets that DataQuick provided to its customers. The original order required CoreLogic to provide this information over a five-year period to end in March 2019. However, the agency alleged CoreLogic "did not provide all of the required data and information by the deadlines in the order."CoreLogic also did not adequately identify and provide to RealtyTrac the full scope of bulk data and information DataQuick used in the bulk data market," according to the FTC.  The revised order, which the FTC board approved on a vote of one in favor, one abstention and one recusal, extends the term of the agreement to March 2022. The order includes a service level addendum and technical transfer plan that clarifies CoreLogic's obligations to RealtyTrac.

          A home-equity tax deduction sees new life thanks to the IRS - President Donald Trump's new tax law set off a false alarm for homeowners planning to borrow against the equity in their houses. The legislation signed by Trump in December appeared to eliminate the deduction taxpayers get for the interest owed on home-equity loans, spooking the home remodeling industry whose customers often rely on the loans for projects. But after prodding from lobbying groups, the Internal Revenue Service clarified that borrowers could still use the deduction, as long as it's for home improvements. The IRS guidance on home-equity debt is just the latest example of the agency's cleanup effort in the wake of the hastily passed law. Various industries and tax professionals are still struggling to understand its provisions and interpret lawmakers' intentions on changes including the pass-through deduction and international tax measures. Since the end of last year, the agency has issued press releases specifying that hedge fund managers can't circumvent new carried interest rules with "S" corporations and that homeowners can deduct prepaid property taxes only in some instances. Until the IRS statement late last month about the home-equity deduction, some housing groups including executives at the National Association of Home Builders said they didn't think it was clear the home-equity deduction had survived, at least in part. The NAHB sent Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin a letter at the end of January arguing that the tax law, as written, should allow interest from home-equity loans and home-equity lines of credit to be deducted as long as the homeowner used the money for home improvements. They said their interpretation was backed up by long-accepted standards in the tax code. 

          Reverse mortgages surge at Ginnie Mae -- Issuance of Ginnie Mae securities backed by reverse mortgages rose above $1 billion for the second time in two years, according to the government agency's latest monthly report. Ginnie Mae mortgage-backed securities backed by Home Equity Conversion Mortgages totaled $1.47 billion during February, up from $869 million the previous month and up from $713 million in February 2017. HMBS issuance last rose above $1 billion in December 2017, when it totaled $1.35 billion.  The recent spikes in HMBS volume reflect a rush by lenders to originate HECMs prior to regulatory changes last fall, said Wendy Peel, a vice president at mortgage technology vendor ReverseVision.

          Delinquent mortgage issues persist in hurricane-affected states - There was a modest decline in hurricane-related delinquent mortgages in February, a sign that there are lingering problem in the affected markets.Nationwide, the 30-day delinquency rate was 4.3%, down 21 basis points from January but up 210 basis points from February 2017, according to the Black Knight First Look report. There were nearly 2.2 million homes where the borrower was 30 days or more late with their payments as of Feb. 28. That is a decline of 4,000 from January but an increase of 63,000 from February 2017.The driving factor for the year-over-year increase was Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Hurricane-related delinquencies fell by 5% from January, Black Knight said. But in January there was a 17% month-to-month decline in the percentage of hurricane-related defaults. Without the hurricanes, 30-day-plus delinquencies would have been down 76,000 from last year rather than up by 63,000, Black Knight said.  There are now 697,000 seriously delinquent properties, defined as 90 days or more past due but not yet in foreclosure, with 128,000 of them located in Texas, Florida and Georgia.Back in September, after Harvey struck Texas, a Black Knight analysis predicted 160,000 borrowers could become 90 days or more late on their mortgage payments as a result of the storm.In November, there were 666,000 seriously delinquent loans, of which 77,000 entered that status because of the storms. Florida has the highest percentage of loans 90 or more days delinquent, at 3.84%, followed by Mississippi at 3.35%, Louisiana at 2.6%, Texas at 2.27% and Alabama at 2.13%.

          Orlando mortgage delinquencies triple from year earlier - Increased numbers of homeowners in Orlando — and most of Florida — fell behind on mortgage payments late last year, bucking national trends, according to a new report by CoreLogic. Metro Orlando's rate of homeowners falling at least a month behind tripled in December from a year earlier. Orlando homeowners were almost twice as likely to be late on mortgage payments as homeowners nationally, according to the real estate data group. The news comes six months after Hurricane Irma ripped through the peninsula. Adobe Stock "The effect of the wildfires and hurricanes on delinquency transition rates was all too clear in our latest analysis," said Frank Martell, president of CoreLogic. "Neighborhoods affected by hurricanes have seen a jump in transition rates in the months immediately following. These natural disasters have stalled or reversed the decline in 30-to-119 day delinquency rates that we had seen previously." Measuring mortgage delinquencies can serve as a foreclosure predictor and help indicate the overall health of the home-loan market. Metro Orlando's spike in late payments was evident with a delinquency rate of 3% in December 2016 — rising to 9.5% a year later. Osceola County teacher Clare Sheaffer moved in November after her Kissimmee house was damaged by Irma flooding. It's a struggle, she said, to keep up mortgage payments to Chase now that her FEMA housing aid has ended. Until her contractor says her half-repaired home is habitable, she pays both her mortgage and $65 a night for an old hotel on U.S. Highway 192. Chase was among lenders that allowed Irma victims to delay mortgage payments for three months, although those borrowers still have to pay the full amount. 

          Don’t let the 30-year mortgage sway housing policy  - As policymakers take another crack at housing finance reform, federal leaders and the housing lobby are once again perpetuating the notion that ending government-backed, taxpayer-financed guarantees will cause the “gold standard” 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage product to vanish.Like clockwork, a recently released discussion draft of a Senate housing finance reform bill says the ongoing “guarantee backed by the full faith and credit of the Federal Government” will lead to the “continued availability of an affordable, fixed rate, pre-payable, long-term mortgage loan, such as the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage loan.”Unfortunately, the scare tactics that federal policymakers and affordable housing advocates repeatedly use to try to preserve the 30-year fixed mortgage and federal guarantees of the mortgage market rely on misleading narratives and not the experience of history. Despite the facade of a free market, the federal government has long been entrenched in the U.S. housing finance system, certainly including the persistence of taxpayer-financed government guarantees in the mortgage market. The U.S. is unique among developed international nations in the systematic involvement of the federal government in mortgage finance. Federal taxpayers cover the cost of direct government mortgage insurance agencies (the Federal Housing Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Rural Housing Service), a direct government mortgage guarantor (Ginnie Mae), and the housing finance government-sponsored enterprises (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Home Loan banks). The U.S. is also among just a handful of advanced nations with the preponderance of very long-term fixed-rate mortgages and broad federal subsidies, even though the overall homeownership rate in the U.S. remains comparable to nations that lack both. Combined with other taxpayer-financed subsidies such as the federal mortgage interest-rate tax deduction, these subsidies have had negligible impact on the actual rate of homeownership in the U.S. while encouraging American households to take on higher levels of mortgage debt in the purchase of larger and more expensive homes.

          As Storms Get Stronger, Building Codes Are Getting Weaker - The showdown in the Florida statehouse last year had all the drama of a knock-down political brawl: Powerful industries clashing. Warnings of death and destruction. And a surprise last-minute vote, delivering a sweeping reform bill to the governor’s desk.The battle wasn’t about gun control, immigration or healthcare, but about making it easier to ignore national guidelines on building codes. To the surprise of the insurers, engineers and safety advocates who opposed the change, the home builders won -- in a state that gets hit by more hurricanes than any other. A report being released on Monday shows Florida isn’t alone in easing up on building regulations even as the effects of global warming escalate. The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety examined building policies in 18 Atlantic and Gulf Coast states and found that despite the increasing severity of natural disasters, many of those states have relaxed their approach to codes -- or have yet to impose any whatsoever.  "There’s no longer the automatic assumption that codes are good," Julie Rochman, the head of the institute, said in an interview. "We just have an incredible capacity for amnesia and denial in this country."

          As Harvey raged, their homes were swamped on purpose--six months later, they face a terrible choice -  Cinco Ranch was designed to be flooded. So after Hurricane Harvey hit, the Texas suburb was sacrificed to save the city of Houston. We followed homeowners as they decided whether to cut their losses or rebuild, knowing it could happen again. After Hurricane Harvey swamped Houston in August, the residents of one suburban area were shocked to learn that the flooding in their neighborhood wasn’t an accident. The homes in Cinco Ranch sat on land that had been designed to flood, as part of a reservoir system built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to protect the downstream population of central Houston — a fact that wasn’t publicized when a developer was allowed to build on the land. In the six months since Harvey, The New York Times followed several families in one small part of Cinco Ranch, a gated community called Canyon Gate, as they struggled to rebuild their lives. Some residents chose to leave their ruined homes, others to stay and rebuild in a neighborhood that almost certainly will be flooded again. This video is the first in a series about the residents of Cinco Ranch. Their stories offer a look at how people are confronting an increasingly stark fact: many of the places we call home should never have been built in the first place.

          MBA: Purchase Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest Weekly Survey - From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey: Mortgage applications decreased 1.1 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending March 16, 2018. ... The Refinance Index decreased 5 percent from the previous week. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 1 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 2 percent compared with the previous week and was 6 percent higher than the same week one year ago. ...The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($453,100 or less) decreased to 4.68 percent from 4.69 percent, with points increasing to 0.46 from 0.45 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.The first graph shows the refinance index since 1990.

          Few homebuyers balk at higher mortgage rates - Only a small percentage of borrowers are deterred by the higher rates seen this year, even with the additional cost making it tough for first-time buyers to find affordable properties.  "Combining even slightly higher rates with price growth this strong will make it even more challenging for first-time buyers to find affordable homes to buy this year. The good news for sellers is modest rate increases are unlikely to curtail buyer demand," said Redfin Chief Economist Nela Richardson in a press release. "Just 6% of respondents to a survey commissioned by Redfin said they would cancel their home buying plans if rates rose above 5%," she said.

          FHFA House Price Index: Up 0.8% in January - The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has released its U.S. House Price Index (HPI) for December. Here is the opening of the report: – U.S. house prices rose in January, up 0.8 percent from the previous month, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) seasonally adjusted monthly House Price Index (HPI). The previously reported 0.3 percent increase in December was revised upward to 0.4 percent. The FHFA monthly HPI is calculated using home sales price information from mortgages sold to, or guaranteed by, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. From January 2017 to January 2018, house prices were up 7.3 percent.​ [Read more]  The chart below illustrates the monthly HPI series, which is not adjusted for inflation, along with a real (inflation-adjusted) series using the Consumer Price Index: All Items Less Shelter.

          NAR: "Existing-Home Sales Rebound 3.0 Percent in February" --From the NAR: Existing-Home Sales Rebound 3.0 Percent in FebruaryDespite consistently low inventory levels and faster price growth, existing-home sales bounced back in February after two straight months of declines, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Sizeable sales increases in the South and West offset declines in the Northeast and Midwest. Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, grew 3.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.54 million in February from 5.38 million in January. After last month’s increase, sales are now 1.1 percent above a year ago.... Total housing inventory at the end of February rose 4.6 percent to 1.59 million existing homes available for sale, but is still 8.1 percent lower than a year ago (1.73 million) and has fallen year-over-year for 33 consecutive months. Unsold inventory is at a 3.4-month supply at the current sales pace (3.8 months a year ago). This graph shows existing home sales, on a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) basis since 1993. Sales in January (5.54 million SAAR) were 3.0% higher than last month, and were 1.1% above the February 2017 rate. The second graph shows nationwide inventory for existing homes. According to the NAR, inventory increased to 1.59 million in February from 1.52 million in January. 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.

          Existing-Home Sales Bounce Back in February  --This morning's release of the February Existing-Home Sales increased from the previous month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.54 million units. The consensus was for 5.41 million. The latest number represents a 3.0% increase from the previous month and a 1.1% increase year-over-year.Here is an excerpt from today's report from the National Association of Realtors.Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says sales were uneven across the country in February but did increase nicely overall. “A big jump in existing sales in the South and West last month helped the housing market recover from a two-month sales slump,” he said. “The very healthy U.S. economy and labor market are creating a sizeable interest in buying a home in early 2018. However, even as seasonal inventory gains helped boost sales last month, home prices – especially in the West – shot up considerably. Affordability continues to be a pressing issue because new and existing housing supply is still severely subpar.” Added Yun, “The unseasonably cold weather to start the year muted pending sales in the Northeast and Midwest in January and ultimately led to their sales retreat last month. Looking ahead, several markets in the Northeast will likely see even more temporary disruptions from the large winter storms that have occurred in March.” [Full ReportFor a longer-term perspective, here is a snapshot of the data series, which comes from the National Association of Realtors. The data since January 1999 was previously available in the St. Louis Fed's FRED repository and is now only available from January 2014. It can be found here.

          A Few Comments on February Existing Home Sales -  Earlier: NAR: "Existing-Home Sales Rebound 3.0 Percent in February" A few key points:
          1) As usual, housing economist Tom Lawler's forecast was closer to the NAR report than the consensus (although only slightly closer this month). See: Lawler: Early Read on Existing Home Sales in January.
          2) Inventory is still very low and falling year-over-year (down 8.1% year-over-year in February). More inventory would probably mean smaller price increases, and less inventory somewhat larger price increases.    This was the 33rd consecutive month with a year-over-year decline in inventory.
          The following graph shows existing home sales Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA). Sales NSA in February (319,000, red column) were above sales in February 2017 (315,000, NSA). Sales NSA are always low in January and February, and we will have to wait until March - at the earliest - to draw any conclusions about the impact of higher interest rates and the new tax law on home sales.

          Rise in home inventory won't necessarily help first-time buyers - Housing inventory hit positive territory for the first time since 2015, but starter home volume is at a low for recent years, according to Trulia.  Home inventory rose 3.3% year-over-year in the first quarter of 2018, but entry-level home supply hit a six-year low, signifying the rise in inventory may not be as helpful for first-time home buyers.Starter home inventory fell 14.2% to 217,717 in the first quarter, while the median list price for the home type increased 9.6% to $180,931. "First-time home buyers face a perfect storm this spring. Affordable, move-in-ready starter homes have become harder to find amid rising home prices and mortgage rates. While new home construction hit a 10-year high in 2017, these units have not translated into starter home inventory just yet," Cheryl Young, senior economist at Trulia, said in a press release.The quality of entry-level homes has diminished as rising home prices and growing mortgage rates push move-in-ready homes out of reach for first-time buyers. In this year's first quarter, entry-level home buyers had to spend 41.2% of their annual income to buy an average starter home. In certain housing markets, starter homes have even become unattainable for average buyers. In San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Jose, Calif., entry-level home buyers would need to spend more than 100% of their income to afford a median-priced starter home.

          New Home Sales at 618,000 Annual Rate in February - The Census Bureau reports New Home Sales in February were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 618 thousand.  The previous three months were revised up."Sales of new single-family houses in February 2018 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 618,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 0.6 percent below the revised January rate of 622,000, but is 0.5 percent above the February 2017 estimate of 615,000. "  The first graph shows New Home Sales vs. recessions since 1963. The dashed line is the current sales rate. Even with the increase in sales over the last several years, new home sales are still somewhat low historically. The second graph shows New Home Months of Supply.  The months of supply increased in February to 5.9 months from 5.8 months in January. The all time record was 12.1 months of supply in January 2009. This is at the top end of the normal range (less than 6 months supply is normal). "The seasonally-adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of February was 305,000. This represents a supply of 5.9 months at the current sales rate." Starting in 1973 the Census Bureau broke inventory down into three categories: Not Started, Under Construction, and Completed.The third graph shows the three categories of inventory starting in 1973.  The inventory of completed homes for sale is still low, and the combined total of completed and under construction is also low. The last graph shows sales NSA (monthly sales, not seasonally adjusted annual rate). In February 2018 (red column), 51 thousand new homes were sold (NSA). Last year, 51 thousand homes were sold in February.  The all time high for February was 109 thousand in 2005, and the all time low for February was 22 thousand in 2011. This was below expectations of 626,000 sales SAAR, however the previous months were revised up..

          A few Comments on February New Home Sales – McBride - New home sales for January were reported at 618,000 on a seasonally adjusted annual rate basis (SAAR). This was below the consensus forecast, however the three previous months were revised up. I'd like to see data for a few more months before blaming higher interest rates, or a negative impact from the new tax law, as the cause of sluggish new home sales.. This graph shows new home sales for 2017 and 2018 by month (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate).  Sales are up 2% through February compared to the same period in 2017.  Disappointing growth, but no worries - yet!And here is another update to the "distressing gap" graph that I first started posting a number of years ago to show the emerging gap caused by distressed sales.  Now I'm looking for the gap to close over the next several years. The "distressing gap" graph shows existing home sales (left axis) and new home sales (right axis) through February 2018. This graph starts in 1994, but the relationship had been fairly steady back to the '60s. Following the housing bubble and bust, the "distressing gap" appeared mostly because of distressed sales.   The gap has persisted even though distressed sales are down significantly, since new home builders focused on more expensive homes. I expect existing home sales to move more sideways, and I expect this gap to slowly close, mostly from an increase in new home sales.  However, this assumes that the builders will offer some smaller, less expensive homes. If not, then the gap will persist. Note: Existing home sales are counted when transactions are closed, and new home sales are counted when contracts are signed. So the timing of sales is different.

          AIA: "Architecture billings continue to hold positive in 2018" -- Note: This index is a leading indicator primarily for new Commercial Real Estate (CRE) investment.
          From the AIA: Architecture billings continue to hold positive in 2018The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is reporting an increase in architecture firm billings for February from its Architecture Billings Index (ABI), with several key segments showing an encouraging outlook for 2018.“We remain optimistic about the trends we’re seeing at architecture firms this year with the ABI continuing to show growth in February,” said AIA Chief Economist, Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA, PhD. “We saw several major bright spots reflected in February’s data, as billings remained particularly strong at firms located in the West and Midwest.”While the pace of growth in design activity slowed a bit in February for an ABI score of 52.0 (any score over 50 indicates billings growth), it still reflects a healthy business environment. In particular, firms with a multifamily residential or an institutional specialization continued to report extremely strong billings.
          • Regional averages: West (57.6), Midwest (54.5), South (54.4), Northeast (47.5)
          • Sector index breakdown: multi-family residential (56.6), institutional (53.8), commercial/industrial (51.0), mixed practice (49.7)

          Mortgage Equity Withdrawal slightly positive in Q4 -- The following data is calculated from the Fed's Flow of Funds data (released yesterday) and the BEA supplement data on single family structure investment. This is an aggregate number, and is a combination of homeowners extracting equity - hence the name "MEW" - and normal principal payments and debt cancellation (modifications, short sales, and foreclosures). For Q4 2017, the Net Equity Extraction was a positive $13 billion, or a positive 0.4% of Disposable Personal Income (DPI) .This graph shows the net equity extraction, or mortgage equity withdrawal (MEW), results, using the Flow of Funds (and BEA data) compared to the Kennedy-Greenspan method. Note: This data is impacted by debt cancellation and foreclosures, but much less than a few years ago. MEW has been positive for 7 consecutive quarters, and 9 of the last 10 quarters. With a slower rate of debt cancellation, MEW will likely be mostly positive going forward. The Fed's Flow of Funds report showed that the amount of mortgage debt outstanding increased by $68 billion in Q4. The Flow of Funds report also showed that Mortgage debt has declined by $0.6 trillion since the peak. This decline is mostly because of debt cancellation per foreclosures and short sales, and some from modifications. There has also been some reduction in mortgage debt as homeowners paid down their mortgages so they could refinance.

          65% of Americans save little or nothing—and half could end up struggling in retirement - Despite a low unemployment rate and increasing wage growth, Americans still aren't saving much. That's according to a new survey from, which found that 20 percent of Americans don't save any of their annual income at all and even those who do save aren't putting away a lot. Only 16 percent of survey respondents say that they save more than 15 percent of what they make, which is what experts generally recommend. A quarter of respondents report saving between 6 and 10 percent of their income and 21 percent say they sock away 5 percent or less. At this rate, many people could be setting themselves up to fall short in retirement, Bankrate warns."With a steady, significant share of the working population saving nothing or relatively little, it's virtually guaranteed that they'll be unable to afford a modest emergency expense or finance retirement," says Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate. "That amounts to a financial fail."The economy might be prospering now, but that won't last forever: "The party has to stop sometime, and when it does, employers will lay off workers," the study says.In fact, Bankrate estimates that half of the American population won't be able to maintain their standard of living once they stop working. Areport from GoBankingRates found similar results: Over 40 percent of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for when they retire. What's keeping Americans from saving? "Expenses" was the No. 1 answer of 39 percent of respondents. Another 16 percent say they don't have a "good enough job" to be able to save, which presumably means they aren't earning enough.

          Hotels: Occupancy Rate Up Year-over-Year -- From STR: US hotel results for week ending 10 March

          The U.S. hotel industry reported positive year-over-year results in the three key performance metrics during the week of 4-10 March 2018, according to data from STR.
          In comparison with the week of 5-11 March 2017, the industry recorded the following:
          • Occupancy: +1.1 at 68.1%
          • Average daily rate (ADR): +2.0% to US$131.46
          • Revenue per available room (RevPAR): +3.1% to US$89.53

          The following graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average.  The red line is for 2018, dash light blue is 2017 (record year due to hurricanes), blue is the median, and black is for 2009 (the worst year since the Great Depression for hotels).  Currently the occupancy rate, to date, is fifth overall - and slightly ahead of the record year in 2017 (2017 finished strong due to the impact of the hurricanes).  Data Source: STR, Courtesy of

          Toys R Us announces liquidation amidst “Retail Apocalypse” - Retail chain Toys R Us announced earlier this month that it is in the process of liquidating all of its some 1,700 stores worldwide. Once one of the largest retail giants for toys and games, the company had already filed for bankruptcy and reduced the number of its US retail locations to less than 800.Founded in 1948, Toys R Us was acquired by Bain Capital Partners LLC, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) and Vornado Realty Trust in a $6.6 billion leveraged buyout in 2005. The company had recently filed for bankruptcy, hoping to restructure and pay off its more than $5 billion in long term debt.Toys R Us accounts for about 15 percent of the sales in the toy industry. Its demise will particularly hit smaller companies, whose new products were often promoted by the toy chain. Stocks of major toy makers fell sharply on the news of the Toys R Us liquidation.In the US alone, the liquidation of Toys R Us will leave over 31,000 workers jobless, who will receive no severance under terms of US bankruptcy law. Meanwhile, company executives have reported pocketing bonuses as high as $14 million. The liquidation of the retail chain takes place alongside the closure of major retailers across the country, with over 101,000 retail jobs eliminated this year alone. The announcement of the Toys R Us liquidation comes a little over a decade after the company was acquired by asset stripper Bain Capital, which recently oversaw the liquidation of iHeartMedia, the largest radio broadcaster in the US.

          Freight Costs and Volumes Surge, Inflation Fears Heat Up - “We are seeing an unprecedented rise in logistics costs,” General Mills CEO Jeff Harmening told the Wall Street Journal after the company reported earnings. Shares dropped 9% on Wednesday and another 2% on Thursday. They’re down nearly 40% from their peak in July 2016.  The Maker of cereals said that freight costs have surged to near 20-year highs in February. Other packaged food and snack makers, including Campbell, Hershey, Mondelez International (Oreos, Newtons, Premium and Ritz crackers), Sysco, Tyson Foods, Hormel Foods and others have all warned about rising transportation costs. And they said they’d try to pass these transportation cost increases on to their customers.And this is what has been happening in the transportation sector in the US: Shipment volumes by all modes of transportation combined — truck, rail, air freight, and barge — surged 11.4% year-over-year in February according to the Cass Freight Index. The index, which is not seasonally adjusted, hit its highest level for any February since 2006: February is in the slow part of the year, and yet it was nearly on par with June 2014, at the seasonal peak, and the peak month since the Financial Crisis!In the chart above, note how the red line (2017) outpaced the black line (2016) as the year went on. In December 2017, shipments had been up 7.2% year-over-year. In January 2018 (short black line), shipments dropped from December, as they always do at the end of shipping season; but year-over-year, shipments surged 12.5%, and in February 11.4%.The report by Cass also pointed out the consequences of this type of shipment volume growth: Volume has continued to grow at such a pace that capacity in most modes has become extraordinarily tight. Pricing power has erupted in those modes to levels that spark overall inflationary concerns in the broader economy.The index, which is based on $25 billion in annual freight transactions, according to Cass Information Systems, covers all modes of transportation and is focused on consumer packaged goods, food, automotive, chemical, OEM, and heavy equipment. But it does not cover bulk commodities. The chart below shows the year-over-year percentage changes in the index for shipment volumes. Note the transportation recession in 2015 and 2016, the surge since, and the spikes in January and February:

          U.S. Capital-Equipment Orders Rebound by More Than Forecast After Two Month Decline Orders placed with U.S. factories for business equipment snapped back in February after two months of declines, consistent with steady manufacturing growth, a Commerce Department report showed Friday. Highlights of Durable Goods (February)

          • Non-military capital goods orders excluding aircraft rose 1.8% (est. up 0.9%), the biggest advance since September, after falling a downwardly revised 0.4% in Jan.; figure is proxy for business investment
          • Shipments of those goods, which are used to calculate gross domestic product, increased 1.4% (est. up 0.5%); Jan. revised up to a 0.1% increase (prev. down 0.1%)
          • Bookings for all durable goods, items meant to last at least three years, rose 3.1% (est. 1.6% gain) following a 3.5% decrease

          Key Takeaways: The bigger-than-expected rebound in the data suggests corporate outlays for equipment will remain strong in the first three months of 2018 after accelerating for five straight quarters, and some analysts may upgrade tracking estimates for first-quarter figures. While there still may be a tempering in the pace of investment, spending continues to be supported by firmer global economic growth and lower tax rates. The sizable jump in February’s figures reflected increases in categories including primary metals, fabricated metal products, machinery and electrical equipment and appliances. That could also reflect possible efforts by businesses to place orders before Trump administration tariffs on imported steel and aluminum took effect. Investors and economists will watch data including durable goods and trade closely in coming months for any indications of an impact from the tariffs and other trade and retaliatory measures.

          Equipment finance surge shows no signs of letup - Equipment finance is becoming increasingly popular. Total new-business volume between October and February rose by 11.5% from a year earlier, surpassing $43 billion over that five-month period, according to data from the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association. Year-over-year volume jumped by 31% in February alone. Recently enacted tax reform, along with continued economic momentum, seems to be the main reason for the increase, said Ralph Petta, the association's president and CEO. Demand is coming from "large and small" businesses, Petta added. At the same time, the rising interest rate environment has made equipment finance more appealing for lenders. Such loans typically have an average term of three to seven years, which is helpful at a time when banks prefer shorter-duration loans, industry experts said.

          Chemical Activity Barometer Increased in March - Note: This appears to be a leading indicator for industrial production. From the American Chemistry Council: In Like a Lion: Leading Economic Indicator Logs Strong Year Over Year Growth; Marks Sixth Consecutive Gain The Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB), a leading economic indicator created by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), expanded 0.2 percent in March on a three-month moving average (3MMA) basis, its sixth consecutive gain following the 2017 hurricanes. The barometer remains up 3.8 percent on a 3MMA compared to a year earlier. ... Applying the CAB back to 1912, it has been shown to provide a lead of two to fourteen months, with an average lead of eight months at cycle peaks as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The median lead was also eight months. At business cycle troughs, the CAB leads by one to seven months, with an average lead of four months. The median lead was three months. The CAB is rebased to the average lead (in months) of an average 100 in the base year (the year 2012 was used) of a reference time series. The latter is the Federal Reserve’s Industrial Production Index. This graph shows the year-over-year change in the 3-month moving average for the Chemical Activity Barometer compared to Industrial Production.  It does appear that CAB (red) generally leads Industrial Production (blue).

          Self-driving Uber kills Arizona woman in first fatal crash involving pedestrian An autonomous Uber car killed a woman in the street in Arizona, police said, in what appears to be the first reported fatal crash involving a self-driving vehicle and a pedestrian in the US.Tempe police said the self-driving car was in autonomous mode at the time of the crash and that the vehicle hit a woman, who was walking outside of the crosswalk and later died at a hospital. There was a vehicle operator inside the car at the time of the crash.Uber said in a statement on Twitter: “Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident.” A spokesman declined to comment further on the crash. The company said it was pausing its self-driving car operations in Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto. Uber has been testing its self-driving cars in numerous states and temporarily suspended its vehicles in Arizona last year after a crash involving one of its vehicles, a Volvo SUV. When the company first began testing its self-driving cars in California in 2016, the vehicles were caught running red lights, leading to a high-profile dispute between state regulators and the San Francisco-based corporation. Police identified the victim as 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg and said she was walking outside of the crosswalk with a bicycle when she was hit at around 10pm on Sunday. Images from the scene showed a damaged bike. The 2017 Volvo SUV was traveling at roughly 40 miles an hour, and it did not appear that the car slowed down as it approached the woman, said Tempe sergeant Ronald Elcock.

          Tempe Police Release Disturbing Footage Of Fatal Self-Driving Uber Accident -  The Tempe Police Department appears to have gotten over its initial reluctance and released video footage that was taken into evidence of the fatal accident involving one of Uber's self-driving cars and a woman who was crossing the road with her bicycle...Tempe Police Vehicular Crimes Unit is actively investigating the details of this incident that occurred on March 18th. We will provide updated information regarding the investigation once it is available.  — Tempe Police (@TempePolice) March 21, 2018  The video depicts the final moments before the accident from two angles: One showing the view from the driver's seat into the roadway, and the other showing a view of the inside of the car. The footage stops a split-second before the collision - but it's disturbing nonetheless. Tempe police have said the initial investigation determined that the Uber wasn't at fault, and that the victim abruptly stepped from the shadows into the road. Police also revealed that the victim, 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, was believed to be homeless. The collision occurred within 100 yards of the nearest crosswalk.

          Video Shows Uber Robot Car Rammed Into Pedestrian - A newly released video of the fatal accident involving a pedestrian and an Uber Technologies Inc. self-driving car appears to show the vehicle heading straight into a woman walking her bike across the road without slowing down or swerving to avoid her. The video, collected by Tempe, Ariz., police from cameras inside and outside the Uber vehicle, appears to also show the human safety operator at the wheel was looking down for approximately five seconds before the moment of impact. This person’s role is to take over controls to help prevent accidents or erratic driving from the robot vehicle. “The video is disturbing and heartbreaking to watch, and our thoughts continue to be with Elaine’s loved ones,” an Uber spokeswoman said in a statement on Wednesday.   The vehicle was traveling at about 40 miles an hour when it struck Ms. Herzberg as she crossed the road with her bicycle carrying bags, according to Tempe police and a review of the video. The police said the posted speed limit was 35 miles per hour, however a visit to the location showed the nearest sign post was 45 mph.   The first four seconds of the video released by police Wednesday show the view from external cameras looking forward at the road as the Uber vehicle drives northbound on North Mill Avenue. Right at three seconds, Ms. Herzberg’s shoes become visible in the street light as she walks her bike across the street from left to right in the same lane as the car, approaching a bike path and the sidewalk. She is not at a crosswalk and is roughly 400 feet from the closest intersection, according to a review of the video and measurements using Google Maps. As she comes closer into view, the Uber car shows no signs of slowing down or veering. Police edited the video to stop just at the moment of impact as Ms. Herzberg walks the bike on the dividing line between the car lane and the bike path. A photo from the National Transportation Safety Board shows damage to the grille and bumper of the car’s passenger side.

          Facebook, Uber and the end of the Great American Tech Delusion -- The crown jewel of Artificial Intelligence shattered when Uber’s autonomous SUV ran over Ms. Elaine Herzberg at the corner of Curry and Mill Street in Tempe, Arizona. And the concept of Internet community vaporized when news reports alleged that Cambridge Analytica improperly retained Facebook profiles of 50 million users. Facebook promptly lost 7% of its stock market value in yesterday’s trading, and other big tech names fell by 3% to 4%.All the hype in the world can’t stand up to the ugly fact of a dead human body on the road. A few skeptics, including the distinguished physicist and venture capitalist Dr. Henry Kressel, have warned that AI in general and self-driving cars, in particular, are mainly hype. As Kressel wrote last year in Asia Times:In a well-controlled environment (like driving on a track), the computer can be expected to respond to situations consistent with programmed information. The problematic situations are the accidental ones when something happens on the track that requires a quick response different from the programmed actions. This is where the awareness and quick response of a human driver come into play and where the response of a computer making the decisions is quite another matter. And this is the skill that differentiates race-car drivers from the rest of us – and computers from all of us.  A glance at the intersection where Uber’s vehicle killed Ms. Herzberg tells the whole story. It is one of those massive, amorphous, ill-designed and opaque suburban crossings that human drivers traverse in fear of their lives. One makes eye contact with other drivers and pedestrians, taps the breaks, and proceeds with extreme caution. To ask a computer to navigate through this sort of mess is foolish. We do not know the precise circumstances of Ms. Herzberg’s death; we only are surprised that it did not happen before. If that seems complex, try fighting the yellow cabs in Manhattan with a self-driving car.

          ‘Uber should be shut down’: friends of self-driving car crash victim seek justice - Friends of the first known pedestrian to be killed by a self-driving car have called for Uber to be held accountable as questions mount about how the autonomous technology failed to stop the vehicle from hitting a human in its path.  Two days after an Uber SUV fatally struck the 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, Arizona, while traveling in autonomous mode, friends of the victim have argued that the ride-share company should face consequences and criticized government officials for encouraging car companies to test the vehicles on the state’s public roads.  “This shouldn’t have ever happened,” said Carole Kimmerle, a Mesa resident who said she had been friends with Herzberg for more than 10 years and had previously lived with her. “I think this should be a negligent homicide … and the government should also be held accountable.”   Herzberg’s loved ones said they were still in shock on Tuesday after police announced that the Uber car, an SUV Volvo, was driving roughly 40 miles per hour on its own and did not appear to slow down when it collided with the victim, who was walking her bicycle in front of the car at 10pm on Sunday. There was a human operator in the front seat, but police said the car was in autonomous mode, which meant the radar technology may not have detected the pedestrian or the vehicle did not stop for another reason. Tempe police said Herzberg was not in a crosswalk when she was hit, though some have argued that the car still should have stopped. “Uber should be shut down for it,” one friend, Deniel Klapthor, told the Guardian. “There has to be a bigger punishment than not allowing them to drive it on the street.” Kimmerle added, “She was not in anyway unsafe. She rode a bike everywhere. She was very cautious of the laws.”  Herzberg had struggled with homelessness, according to her friends, who said she had recently turned her life around and was in the process of starting a new job.

          Uber crash shows ‘catastrophic failure’ of self-driving technology, experts say - Video of the first self-driving car crash that killed a pedestrian suggests a “catastrophic failure” by Uber’s technology, according to experts in the field, who said the footage showed the autonomous system erring on one of its most basic functions.  Days after a self-driving Uber SUV struck a 49-year-old pedestrian while she was crossing the street with her bicycle in Tempe, Arizona, footage released by police revealed that the vehicle was moving in autonomous mode and did not appear to slow down or detect the woman even though she was visible in front of the car prior to the collision. Multiple experts have raised questions about Uber’s Lidar technology, which is the system of lasers that the autonomous cars uses to “see” the world around them. “This is exactly the type of situation that Lidar and radar are supposed to pick up,” said David King, an Arizona State University professor and transportation planning expert. “This is a catastrophic failure that happened with Uber’s technology.”The videos of the car hitting Elaine Herzberg also demonstrated that the “safety driver” inside the car did not seem to be monitoring the road, raising concerns about the testing systems Uber and other self-driving car companies have deployed in cities across the US. “This safety driver was not doing any safety monitoring,” said Missy Cummings, a Duke University engineering professor who has testified about the dangers of self-driving technology. Research has shown that humans monitoring an automated system are likely to become bored and disengaged, she said, which makes this current phase of semi-autonomous testing particularly dangerous. The footage “strongly suggests a failure by Uber’s automated driving system and a lack of due care by Uber’s driver”, Bryant Walker Smith, a University of South Carolina law school professor and autonomous vehicle expert, said in an email. He noted that the victim is visible about two seconds before the collision, saying: “This is similar to the average reaction time for a driver. That means an alert driver may have at least attempted to swerve or brake.”

          Human Driver Could Have Avoided Fatal Uber Crash, Experts Say - The pedestrian killed Sunday by a self-driving Uber Technologies Inc. SUV had crossed at least one open lane of road before being hit, according to a video of the crash that raises new questions about autonomous-vehicle technology. Forensic crash analysts who reviewed the video said a human driver could have responded more quickly to the situation, potentially saving the life of the victim, 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg. Other experts said Uber’s self-driving sensors should have detected the pedestrian as she walked a bicycle across the open road at 10 p.m., despite the dark conditions. Herzberg’s death is the first major test of a nascent autonomous vehicle industry that has presented the technology as safer than humans who often get distracted while driving.  Zachary Moore, a senior forensic engineer at Wexco International Corp. who has reconstructed vehicle accidents and other incidents for more than a decade, analyzed the video footage and concluded that a typical driver on a dry asphalt road would have perceived, reacted, and activated their brakes in time to stop about eight feet short of Herzberg.    Other experts questioned the technology. The Uber SUV’s "lidar and radar absolutely should have detected her and classified her as something other than a stationary object," Bryant Walker Smith, a University of South Carolina law professor who studies self-driving cars, wrote in an email.Smith said the video doesn’t fully explain the incident but "strongly suggests a failure by Uber’s automated driving system and a lack of due care by Uber’s driver (as well as by the victim)." The video shows the vehicle driving for about four seconds before ending just as Herzberg is about to be hit by the SUV’s front, right bumper. The woman can be seen taking several steps while visible and appeared to be moving at a normal walking pace as she’s crossing the road outside of a crosswalk and does not look up at the SUV. Police have said the car didn’t slow or swerve to avoid the impact. She later died at a hospital.

          The fate of the steering wheel hangs in the balance -- There was fierce lobbying in Washington, DC this week over a Senate bill that, if passed, could unleash a swarm of self-driving cars without typical controls onto public roads. The bill pits some of the biggest car and technology companies in the world against consumer and safety advocates who argue that driverless cars aren’t ready for primetime.  The bill, AV START, is being held up by five Democratic senators. Their objections range from a lack of safeguards allowing a human to retake control of an autonomous vehicle in an emergency to concerns over hacking, privacy, and cybersecurity. Proponents of the bill have concentrated most of their efforts on swaying California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who is also facing a difficult re-election this year.   The bill would loosen federal regulations for the development of self-driving vehicles and speed up the process for getting them on the road. Companies would be allowed to test autonomous vehicles — and even market them to consumers — before new federal safety regulations on the technology are written. Meanwhile, states would be blocked from adopting tougher rules on self-driving cars.  Simply put, the bill will determine the fate of traditional controls, like steering wheels and gas and brake pedals. Companies like GM and Ford have announced plans to manufacture and market fully autonomous vehicles without these controls, but to do so they would need exemptions from Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). These regulations prohibit automakers from producing vehicles that don’t include such controls, in addition to common-sense safety features like seat belts and airbags.

          Cars That Parent Us- One of the reasons for liking old cars is they don’t try to parent you. The new stuff won’t quit trying to. The 2018 VW Golf GTI I am reviewing this week, for instance. When you put the transmission in Reverse, the radio’s volume’s is peremptorily turned down – apparently because someone decided it wasn’t saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafe to back up while listening to the radio. One can almost see the liver-spotted hand of your mother-in-law adjusting the volume control knob. Many new cars have this “feature” – not just new VWs. It’s incredibly obnoxious. More so because it’s not your mother-in-law and you can’t slap her liver-spotted hand down or – better – hit the unlock button and tell the old bag to get out now if she can’t mind her own business. Speaking of door locks... They are just as peremptory. Some can be programmed not to be – but the default is uber peremptory. As soon as you get in and close the door, it locks. All locks. Some cars are incredibly aggressive about allowing access to the car, denying the owner access to the trunk or rear cargo area unless he very deliberately unlocks the locks, which the car slammed shut without him having asked it to. Again, for saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety. The latest BMW vehicles will countermand your decision to inch the car backward with the door open – by taking the transmission out of gear and pestering you with a cloying chime that sounds kind of like this: Brrrrring! Brrrrring! Brrrrring! Sometimes, backing up with the door open makes sound sense. You get a better idea of where the curb is and also the distance remaining between the back of your car and the car your backing up toward using your own two eyes – which have greater depth perception and peripheral vision than any fish-eye camera. But BMW wants you to use the camera instead. No, check that. BMW insists you use the camera. The car will not let you back up with the door cracked. The nanny cannot be told off. There is no Off button. And that’s the rub. 

          Kansas City Fed: Regional Manufacturing Activity "Continued at a Solid Pace" in March - From the Kansas City Fed: Tenth District Manufacturing Activity Continued at a Solid Pace The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City released the March Manufacturing Survey today. According to Chad Wilkerson, vice president and economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, the survey revealed that Tenth District manufacturing activity continued at a solid pace, and optimism remained high for future activity. “Factory activity continued to grow steadily in March,” said Wilkerson. “Firms continued to report high input and selling prices and many are concerned about higher steel and aluminum tariffs.”...The month-over-month composite index was 17 in March, equal to 17 in February and higher than 16 in January. The composite index is an average of the production, new orders, employment, supplier delivery time, and raw materials inventory indexes. Factory activity grew modestly at durable goods plants, particularly for machinery and aircraft, while production of nondurable goods moderated slightly. Month-over-month indexes were mixed. The shipments and new orders indexes decreased moderately, while the production, order backlog, and new orders for exports indexes where basically unchanged. In contrast, the employment index edged up from 23 to 26 and the supplier delivery time index jumped from 16 to 30, both at their highest levels in survey history. The raw materials inventory index increased from 8 to 11, and the finished goods inventory index also rose modestly. So far all of the regional Fed surveys have been solid in March.

          Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims increase to 229,000 --The DOL reported:In the week ending March 17, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 229,000, an increase of 3,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 226,000. The 4-week moving average was 223,750, an increase of 2,250 from the previous week's unrevised average of 221,500. Claims taking procedures in Puerto Rico and in the Virgin Islands have still not returned to normal. The previous week was unrevised.
          The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

          JOLTS revisions paint brighter labor market picture --Last Friday's JOLTS report for January included some important revisions, particularly with regard to hiring.  So let's take a closer look. As a refresher, unlike the jobs report, which tabulates the net gain or loss of hiring over firing, the JOLTS report breaks the labor market down into openings, hirings, firings, quits, and total separations.  I concentrate on the hard data of hiring, firing, quits and layoffs.  The first important reltionship in the data is that historically, hiring leads firing.  While the one big shortcoming of this report is that it has only covered one full business cycle, during that time hires have peaked and troughed before separations. And here, there has been an important revision.  Here is the historical relationship on a quarterly basis between hiring (red) and total separations (blue) as it existed through the end of the third quarter of 2017: Note that hiring had just gotten around to equalling its peak from late 2015. Now here is the same data, with revisions, through the fourth quarter of 2017: Our update graph shows hiring exceeding its prior peak in the third quarter and clearly establishing a new high in Q4 2017. That is unequivocal good news, since in the last expansion, hiring was the first metric to peak. Further, in the previous cycle, after hires stagnated, shortly thereafter involuntary separations began to rise, even as quits continued to rise for a short period of time as well:

          Congress is trying to use appropriations expand the H-2B temporary worker program—where migrants are exploitable and have few rights—by 73 percent The GOP-led Congress is aiming to pass an omnibus appropriations bill to fund the federal government before the current temporary spending bill expires on March 23, 2018. Part of the negotiations include a major effort by legislators in both parties—who are being bombarded by corporate lobbyists in the hospitality, seafood, landscaping, and construction industries—to expand the H-2B temporary migrant worker program. We estimate the proposal would increase the number of H-2B workers that employers can hire in lesser-skilled occupations by at least 73 percent, from 66,000 per year to 114,000.The H-2B program—like other temporary migrant worker programs—is not a work program that brings immigrants to the United States with equal rights and the option to stay permanently. Instead, it is used by employers carve out a lawless zone in the labor market where migrant workers have few workplace rights in practice, because they arrive indebted to labor recruiters and indentured to U.S. employers. Nevertheless, rather than focusing on the most urgent immigration issues at hand, including a path to citizenship for immigrants who are in danger of becoming undocumented, like DACA recipients, and those who have Temporary Protected Status, Congress is instead focusing on making changes to temporary worker programs via the appropriations process. Congress has done this a number of times in recent years, something that Republican Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley and Democratic Ranking Member Sen. Diane Feinstein came together last year to criticize for usurping the committee’s jurisdiction over immigration legislation. Other Senators have done the same, including Dick Durbin and Bernie Sanders. The New York Times editorial page and migrant worker advocates alike have also criticized this end-around the normal legislative process.

          BLS: Unemployment Rates Lower in 7 states in February; California, Maine, Mississippi and Wisconsin at New Series Lows -- Earlier from the BLS: Regional and State Employment and Unemployment Summary Unemployment rates were lower in February in 7 states and stable in 43 states and the District of Columbia, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Fifteen states had jobless rate decreases from a year earlier and 35 states and the District had little or no change. The national unemployment rate was unchanged from January at 4.1 percent but was 0.6 percentage point lower than in February 2017. Hawaii had the lowest unemployment rate in February, 2.1 percent. The rates in California (4.3 percent), Maine (2.9 percent), Mississippi (4.5 percent), and Wisconsin (2.9 percent) set new series lows. (All state series begin in 1976.) Alaska had the highest jobless rate, 7.3 percent. This graph shows the current unemployment rate for each state (red), and the max during the recession (blue). All states are well below the maximum unemployment rate for the recession. The size of the blue bar indicates the amount of improvement. The yellow squares are the lowest unemployment rate per state since 1976. Thirteen states have reached new all time lows since the end of the 2007 recession. These thirteen states are: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. The states are ranked by the highest current unemployment rate. Alaska, at 7.3%, had the highest state unemployment rate. The second graph shows the number of states (and D.C.) with unemployment rates at or above certain levels since January 2006. At the worst of the employment recession, there were 11 states with an unemployment rate at or above 11% (red). Currently one state, Alaska, has an unemployment rate at or above 7% (light blue); And only Alaska is above 6%

          In Appalachia, Coding Bootcamps That Aim To Retrain Coal Miners Increasingly Show Themselves To Be ‘New Collar’ Grifters - A recent class action lawsuit filed in West Virginia against a retraining program that promised unemployed coal miners a foothold in the tech industry offers a cautionary tale to those banking on the rise of a Silicon Holler. At least 60 plaintiffs in the suit allege that coding bootcamp operators Mined Minds, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit organization, provided inadequate training and failed to place trainees in paid apprenticeship programs, which many believed would be a cornerstone of the experience.The complaint, filed in Raleigh County, West Virginia, in December, argues that Mined Minds accepted substantial government funding and grants in West Virginia and Pennsylvania to recruit individuals in high-unemployment areas of Appalachia but did little to deliver hands-on tech experience and mentorship. The plaintiffs’ attorney, Stephen New, told the Register-Herald that he found no evidence that any graduate of the Mined Minds program had ever found a job in the tech industry, apart from two individuals who had been recycled back into the program as trainers. In communications with the press, Mined Minds placed the blame for its unconvincing results on students. Josh McNett, a graduate of the program who subsequently became a trainer, told KDKA-Pittsburgh that, “the problem is, miners don’t want to come to class because they think the coal mines are coming back. They don’t want retraining.” According to Mined Mines co-founder Amanda Laucher, many enrollees simply had unreasonable expectations for the program, which did not charge students for training. “The vast majority of Americans pay for their education. We are shocked and saddened that [the plaintiffs] would believe they deserve compensation in addition to retraining,” she said.

          Hackers are holding the city of Atlanta’s computer systems for ransom, causing massive outages — and anyone who has conducted business with the city is at risk - A ransomware attack on the city of Atlanta's government on Thursday morning led to outages of a number of internal and customer-facing applications, as reported by 11Alive.Senior officials have advised both businesses and consumers to monitor their bank accounts, saying anyone who has conducted business with the city is at risk.  Internally, the systems affected include the city's payroll application, according to an internal email from the city's information technology department that was shared with Atlanta's NBC affiliate WXIA. The email instructed employees to unplug their computers if anything seemed suspicious. In a ransomware attack, hackers place malware on a computer — or system of computers — that restricts access, and then demand payment to undo it. Petya in 2016 and WannaCry in 2017 were both examples of ransomware that happened at a global scale. The hacker of the Atlanta attack is reportedly demanding a bitcoin payment of $6,800 to unlock each computer, or $51,000 for the keys to fix the whole system, according to a message sent to a city employee who shared it with WXIA.  Paying the ransom doesn't necessarily mean the keys that the hackers give IT will fix the issue, in which case Atlanta would be forced to rebuild its systems.Mayor Keisha Bottoms held a press conference later that day, in which she admitted that officials weren't sure of the extent of the attack at the time, but ensured that they were doing what they could to address it. "My senior team essentially is here, so this should give you an idea of the importance of today's press conference," she said.

          Scott Walker Is Making It Harder to Receive Welfare in Wisconsin. Will This Become a Nationwide Blueprint? - In 2011, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proposed Act 10, an infamous piece of legislation that was later passed by the state's legislature. The bill effectively destroyed collective bargaining rights for most public workers, while slashing pay and benefits.It's impossible to deny the impact of Act 10, not just within Wisconsin -- where the median salary for teachers dropped almost 3 percent in 5 years, and where median benefits declined by almost 19 percent -- but throughout the entire country. Walker's attack on the public sector provided a blueprint for other right-wing states looking to bust their public unions. Seven years later, 15 states have passed legislation that cuts back collective bargaining. Walker is now set to sign a number of welfare reform bills. His administration calls the package of bills "Wisconsin Works For Everyone." Like Act 10, the bills could provide a model for other states with right-wing governments. The new laws, which have already made their way through Wisconsin's Republican-controlled legislature, would be the strictest in the country and make it harder for low-income individuals to acquire food stamps, child care subsidies, health insurance and housing assistance. Wisconsin wants to require all parents that it deems "able-bodied" to work in order to receive any benefits for more than three months. It also wants to bump the weekly work requirement for individuals using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from 20 hours a week to 30 hours a week. This flurry of state legislation comes on the heels of a much-maligned Trump administration proposal to replace over 40 percent of SNAP benefits with food boxes.

          Food Stamps Cuts Could Hit Rural America Hardest - In Owsley County, a 200-square-mile patch of eastern Kentucky, Trump’s victory was propelled by a full 80 percent of the vote—an unsurprising outcome, perhaps, for a county seated in a congressional district that has elected and re-elected Republican representative Hal Rogers by similar margins since 1980.  And it might have been equally unsurprising that, when President Trump unveiled his proposed budget for 2019, Rogers was silent on its 10-year $213 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps), if not for one thing: nearly half of Owsley County households, and well over a quarter of those in Rogers’ district at large, rely on SNAP to make ends meet.  Much attention has been devoted to rural America since the presidential election.  But we still don’t understand some basic facts about the people and the places that make up rural America. This is partially attributable to the destructive cultural and political narratives that tell us programs like SNAP are not a rural issue. The roots of the racist Reagan-era rhetoric on inner city “welfare queens” run deep, and despite being long debunked, one needs to look no further than President Trump’s welfare reform proposals or Speaker Paul Ryan’s comment about the tailspin of “inner-city culture” to know that its legacy lives on. This explains how someone like Hal Rogers can so casually and routinely dismiss the basic needs of such a large segment of his constituency without fear of political blowback or consequence: prevailing perceptions of who relies on America’s social safety net and why have rendered these needs largely invisible. But the data are unambiguous: SNAP benefits people of every race, zip code, and political persuasion, all across this country. And when we ran the numbers—using publicly-available, county-level data on SNAP participation rates by household—we uncovered the startling reality that rural areas are often struggling the most.

          Bernie Sanders’ Economic Inequality Town Hall Draws 1.7 Million Live Viewers - HuffPo (video) ― Sen. Bernie Sanders’ televised town hall on economic inequality drew about 1.7 million live viewers during an online broadcast Monday night.The panel-discussion-style event, called “Inequality in America: The Rise of Oligarchy and Collapse of the Middle Class,” exceeded the viewership of Sanders’ first live town hall on single-payer health care in January.The broadcast provided the Vermont independent with an opportunity to expand his new alternative media revue beyond “Medicare for all” to the broader issue of economic inequality, which he maintains that commercial media outlets frequently ignore.“What I would say to our friends in the corporate media: Start paying attention to the reality of how many people in our country are struggling economically every single day ― and talk about it,” Sanders declared at one point during the discussion.Not content to wait for the cable television channels and newspapers to take him up on his advice, Sanders partnered with The Guardian, The Young Turks, NowThis and to do just that for about an hour and a half on Monday night.Three co-hosts aided Sanders in his efforts: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), New School economist Darrick Hamilton and filmmaker Michael Moore.

          Libertarian US Senate Candidate Is Seeking To Arm The Homeless - A Michigan candidate for US Senate, Brian Ellison, who is expected to be the Libertarian party’s candidate in the November midterm election, set his sights on raising at least $10,000 to buy 20 pump-action shotguns and provide training for homeless people. Ellison is calling his fundraising campaign “Arm the Homeless,” and the drive has already made international news. Saying that homeless people are “constantly victims of violent crime,” Ellison believes that providing the homeless with firearms to defend themselves would serve to act as a deterrent. A 2014 study, entitled Violence and Victims, highlights the disparity in violent victimization of homeless individuals versus the general population: [...] When Ellison was asked by Michigan Radio if he trusted the homeless people with guns, he questioned why there was judgment and bias against homeless people. “I don’t know why the homeless are viewed as such a different type of people as the rest of us. I carry a gun with me all the time, and I don’t victimize anyone. I wouldn’t expect that the homeless would use their weapons to fight off the police who are asking them to leave. I think the homeless would use their weapons to protect themselves from being victims of violent crimes,” he said. “Not only are the homeless constantly under threat from would-be criminals,” said Ellison, “but they are also under threat from governments at various levels that criminalize activities that homeless people rely on for survival.”

          Raleigh cops are investigating crime by getting Google to reveal the identity of every mobile user within acres of the scene - Public records requests have revealed that on at least four occasions, the Raleigh-Durham police obtained warrants forcing Google to reveal the identities of every mobile user within acres of a crime scene, sweeping up the personal information of thousands of people in a quest to locate a single perp. The warrants came with gag orders that banned Google from disclosing their existence; in their requests for the warrants, local prosecutors say that they don't even believe that warrants are needed to get this information, but since Google insists, they're willing to get them. The cops insist that this approach balances the public's Fourth Amendment rights with their need to fight crimes. Only one of the crimes in which police used this dragnet technique has had an arrest; it's not clear if this arrest was the result of data from Google.

          Alabama Sheriff Legally Took $750,000 Meant To Feed Inmates, Bought Beach House -- A sheriff in Alabama took home as personal profit more than $750,000 that was budgeted to feed jail inmates — and then purchased a $740,000 beach house, a reporter at The Birmingham News found. And it's perfectly legal in Alabama, according to state law and local officials.Alabama has a Depression-era law that allows sheriffs to "keep and retain" unspent money from jail food-provision accounts. Sheriffs across the state take excess money as personal income — and, in the event of a shortfall, are personally liable for covering the gap.Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin told the News that he follows that practice of taking extra money from the fund, saying, "The law says it's a personal account and that's the way I've always done it."Sheriffs across the state do the same thing and have for decades. But the scale of the practice is not clear: "It is presently unknown how much money sheriffs across the state have taken because most do not report it as income on state financial disclosure forms," the Southern Center for Human Rights wrote in January. But in Etowah County, the News found the paper trail.The News discovered the eye-popping figures on ethics disclosures that Entrekin sent to the state: Over the course of three years, he received more than $750,000 in extra compensation from "Food Provisions." The exact amount over $750,000 is unclear, because Entrekin was not required to specify above a $250,000 a year threshold, the paper writes. The paper also found that Entrekin and his wife own several properties worth a combined $1.7 million, including a $740,000 four-bedroom house in Orange Beach, Ala., purchased in September.

          Sheriff defiant amid claims he turned jail into his personal piggy bank -- An Alabama sheriff was defiant on Friday as he defended his practice of pocketing leftover money from inmates' food budget. It's been legal since 1939. But some accuse the sheriff of turning the jail into his personal piggy bank. "Me, my family, my office, the citizens of Etowah County have been targets of miscellaneous fake news stories," Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin said.    He's proud of his jail food, the meal trays served to inmates every day. But critics say he has mostly fed himself. "This is a jail, this is not a bed and breakfast," Entrekin said. "If you're used to eating grandma's fried chicken, ordering pizza several times a week, you're not going to be happy."He told CBS News he "can't change the optics" of the scandal in Etowah County. In September, Entrekin and his wife bought this $740,000 beach house along Alabama's Gulf Coast.Because a Depression-era state law makes Alabama sheriffs personally responsible for feeding inmates, the performance bonus Entrekin gave himself is legal."I haven't done anything wrong," Entrekin said. "If it's wrong, then somebody needs to change the law." He could have donated it to charity so there would be no question about it, but Entrekin said "it's just like anybody else -- anybody else who gets out here at the end of the day, you make a profit, it's yours."

          Sacramento police shoot and kill unarmed man in his backyard -- Two Sacramento police officers shot and killed 22-year-old Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man, on Sunday evening. Clark, a father of two, was in the driveway of his grandparents’ house, where he also lived, when two officers approached from the street with guns drawn and chased him into the backyard.Body camera footage shows that as they rounded the corner they simultaneously unleashed a barrage of gunfire, firing 20 bullets and killing Clark. Police later claimed that Clark was holding a cell phone in his hand when he was killed, which the officers say they mistook for a gun.  Clark’s young sister was inside the house with his grandparents when police unleashed their hail of bullets. The footage that was released to the media shows that the two police officers did not identify themselves when they started chasing Clark into his backyard. The two officers both shouted “show me your hands” and, in the same breath, “gun” as they opened fire. They then continued to hold Clark’s body at gunpoint for six minutes as they waited for backup to arrive. No attempt was made by the officers to administer first aid until additional officers arrived on the scene where they then handcuffed his corpse before performing CPR. Clark was pronounced dead at the scene.The Sacramento Police Department released the body cam footage as well as infrared video from a helicopter overhead, in an effort to advance the narrative that Clark’s murder was justified. Instead, the footage clearly shows that Clark was unarmed at the time of the shooting, that the police made no attempt to identify themselves and allow him to surrender, and that he was not advancing toward them when they shot him.  Sacramento police claim that they were responding to a call regarding a suspect breaking into cars. Regardless of whether this is true or not, the footage released clearly shows that lethal force was not justified.

          Murders in US very concentrated: 54% of US counties in 2014 had zero murders, 2% of counties have 51% of the murders - The United States can really be divided up into three types of places. Places where there are no murders, places where there are a few murders, and places where murders are very common.In 2014, the most recent year that a county level breakdown is available, 54% of counties (with 11% of the population) have no murders.  69% of counties have no more than one murder, and about 20% of the population. These counties account for only 4% of all murders in the country. The worst 1% of counties have 19% of the population and 37% of the murders. The worst 5% of counties contain 47% of the population and account for 68% of murders. As shown in figure 2, over half of murders occurred in only 2% of counties.  Murders actually used to be even more concentrated.  From 1977 to 2000, on average 73 percent of counties in any give year had zero murders. Possibly, this change is a result of the opioid epidemic’s spread to more rural areas. But that question is beyond the scope of this study.  Lott’s book “More Guns, Less Crime” showed how dramatically counties within states vary dramatically with respect to murder and other violent crime rates. Breaking down the most dangerous counties in Figure 2 shows over half the murders occur in just 2% of the counties, 37% in just the worst 1% of the counties. Figure 1 illustrates how few counties have a significant number of murders. Figure 3 further illustrates that with a cumulative perspective. 54% of counties have zero murders, 69% have at most one murder, 76% have at most two murders, and so on. To put it differently, only the top four percent of the counties have 16 or more murders. In 2014, the murder rate was 4.4 per 100,000 people.  If the 1% of the counties with the worst number of murders somehow were to become a separate country, the murder rate in the rest of the US would have been only 3.4 in 2014. Removing the worst 2% or 5% would have reduced the US rate to just 3.06 or 2.56 per 100,000, respectively.

          Why Oklahoma Plans to Execute People With Nitrogen -- It looks like Oklahoma might be experimenting again. On Wednesday, the state’s Attorney General and director of corrections announced that a severe nationwide shortage of the drugs needed for lethal injection meant they would be switching to nitrogen inhalation for future executions.Executing prisoners by nitrogen “hypoxia,” which deprives the body of oxygen, has never been tried by any state or nation in the history of the world. But the gas is widely available for purchase from manufacturers (it has a host of uses from welding to inflating tires to carbonating beer), which can’t be said of the lethal injection drugs midazolam and pentobarbital. For humanitarian reasons, medical companies have largely stopped providing those chemicals to state governments.“I was calling all around the world, to the back streets of the Indian subcontinent, to procure drugs,” Joe M. Allbaugh, Oklahoma’s corrections director, said in his announcement of the switch to nitrogen.Allbaugh and state Attorney General Mike Hunter said Oklahoma could begin the nitrogen executions by the end of this year. They said there would first be a period of 90 to 120 days for developing the new method and allowing lawyers for death row prisoners to make their legal challenges in court. Below, a recap of everything Oklahoma knows about its latest proposed execution method (hint: very little).

          Assault Weapons Not Protected by Second Amendment, Federal Appeals Court Rules — Maryland's ban on 45 kinds of assault weapons and its 10-round limit on gun magazines were upheld Tuesday by a federal appeals court in a decision that met with a strongly worded dissent. In a 10-4 ruling, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, said the guns banned under Maryland's law aren't protected by the Second Amendment. "Put simply, we have no power to extend Second Amendment protections to weapons of war," Judge Robert King wrote for the court, adding that the Supreme Court's decision in District of Columbia v. Heller explicitly excluded such coverage. Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, who led the push for the law in 2013 as a state senator, said it's "unthinkable that these weapons of war, weapons that caused the carnage in Newtown and in other communities across the country, would be protected by the Second Amendment." "It's a very strong opinion, and it has national significance, both because it's en-banc and for the strength of its decision," Frosh said, noting that all of the court's judges participated. Judge William Traxler issued a dissent. By concluding the Second Amendment doesn't even apply, Traxler wrote, the majority "has gone to greater lengths than any other court to eviscerate the constitutionally guaranteed right to keep and bear arms." He also wrote that the court did not apply a strict enough review on the constitutionality of the law. "For a law-abiding citizen who, for whatever reason, chooses to protect his home with a semi-automatic rifle instead of a semi-automatic handgun, Maryland's law clearly imposes a significant burden on the exercise of the right to arm oneself at home, and it should at least be subject to strict scrutiny review before it is allowed to stand," Traxler wrote.

          YouTube Bans Firearms Demo Videos, Entering the Gun Control Debate - YouTube, a popular media site for firearms enthusiasts, this week quietly introduced tighter restrictions on videos involving weapons, becoming the latest battleground in the U.S. gun-control debate.  YouTube will ban videos that promote or link to websites selling firearms and accessories, including bump stocks, which allow a semi-automatic rifle to fire faster. Additionally, YouTube said it will prohibit videos with instructions on how to assemble firearms. The video site, owned by Alphabet Inc.’s Google, has faced intense criticism for hosting videos about guns, bombs and other deadly weapons. For many gun-rights supporters, YouTube has been a haven. A current search on the site for “how to build a gun” yields 25 million results, though that includes items such as toys. At least one producer of gun videos saw its page suspended on Tuesday. Another channel opted to move its videos to an adult-content site, saying that will offer more freedom than YouTube.  “We routinely make updates and adjustments to our enforcement guidelines across all of our policies,” a YouTube spokeswoman said in a statement. “While we’ve long prohibited the sale of firearms, we recently notified creators of updates we will be making around content promoting the sale or manufacture of firearms and their accessories.”   YouTube has placed greater restrictions on content several times in the past year, responding to a series of issues with inappropriate and offensive videos. Most of those changes involved pulling ads from categories of videos. Google is more reluctant to remove entire videos from YouTube, but has been willing to do so with terrorism-related content.  The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun industry lobbying group, called YouTube’s new policy “worrisome.”“We suspect it will be interpreted to block much more content than the stated goal of firearms and certain accessory sales,” the foundation said in a statement. “We see the real potential for the blocking of educational content that serves instructional, skill-building and even safety purposes. Much like Facebook, YouTube now acts as a virtual public square. The exercise of what amounts to censorship, then, can legitimately be viewed as the stifling of commercial free speech.”

          The YouTube Kids app has been suggesting a load of conspiracy videos to children -- YouTube's app specifically for children is meant to filter out adult content and provide a "world of learning and fun," but Business Insider found that YouTube Kids featured many conspiracy theory videos which make claims that the world is flat, that the moon landing was faked, and that the planet is ruled by reptile-human hybrids.YouTube Kids is a separate app from the main YouTube app, and it's meant to allow parents to let their children browse YouTube without being worried about any unsuitable content appearing. Children are encouraged to learn languages, read books, and watch educational videos.Search for "UFO" on YouTube Kids and you'll mostly find videos of toys that are clearly fine for children to watch. But one of the top videos claimed to show a UFO shooting at a chemtrail, and we found several videos by prominent conspiracy theorist David Icke in the suggested videos. YouTube removed the videos from YouTube Kids after we contacted it about the issue.  One suggested video was an hours-long lecture by Icke in which he claims that aliens built the pyramids, that the planet is run by reptile-human hybrids, that Freemasons engage in human sacrifice, that the assassination of President Kennedy was planned by the US government, and that humans would evolve in 2012.

          School turtle ‘that was fed a live puppy by a US biology teacher’ is euthanised | South China Morning Post: An Idaho junior school has become the nexus of a bizarre and horrifying animal rights storm after a biology teacher reportedly fed a live puppy to the school turtle – which has now been euthanised. Preston Junior High School biology teacher Robert Crosland was identified on Tuesday by East Idaho News as the man who fed a sick puppy to the turtle, which was put down by local authorities on Thursday. And now the school has been hit with threats from people furious about the entire debacle, local police have said. Crosland was alleged by some parents and students to have fed the “deformed” dog to the turtle in front of pupils – although the school said it occurred “well after students were dismissed”. Speaking to East Idaho News and Fox 13, current and former pupils at the school said that Crosland had previously fed guinea pigs and mice to the animals – including the turtle and snakes – in his classroom. “He is a cool teacher who really brought science to life,” an unnamed student told the News. “I loved his class because he had turtles and snakes and other cool things.” But the puppy was a step too far for some, such as local animal activist Jill Parrish, who filed the police report. However, some parents – such as Annette Salvesen and Julie Johnson – have defended Crosland. “If it was a deformed puppy that was going to die anyway, Cros[land] is very much circle of life,” Salveson told Fox 13. Things became even more complicated on Thursday when police raided the classroom to seize the turtle and euthanise it. The Idaho State Department of Agriculture in a statement Friday says snapping turtles are an invasive species in Idaho requiring a permit, and so it had to be put down. A prosecutor is investigating. In a statement on Tuesday, school district Superintendent Marc Gee said his administration became aware of “a regrettable circumstance involving some of the biological specimens” last week. “The event occurred well after students had been dismissed and was not a part of any school-directed programme,” he said. Crosland is still working at the school while an internal investigation is being conducted, Gee said. 

          How many children are affected by school gun violence in America -  Over the past two decades, a handful of massacres that have come to define school shootings in this country are almost always remembered for the students and educators slain. Death tolls are repeated so often that the numbers and places become permanently linked.What those figures fail to capture, though, is the collateral damage of this uniquely American crisis. Beginning with Columbine in 1999, more than 187,000 students attending at least 193 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus during school hours, according to a year-long Washington Post analysis. This means that the number of children who have been shaken by gunfire in the places they go to learn exceeds the population of Eugene, Ore., or Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Many are never the same.School shootings remain extremely rare, representing a tiny fraction of the gun violence epidemic that, on average, leaves a child bleeding or dead every hour in the United States. While few of those incidents happen on campuses, the ones that do have spread fear across the country, changing the culture of education and how kids grow up.   Every day, threats send classrooms into lockdowns that can frighten students, even when they turn out to be false alarms. Thousands of schools conduct active-shooter drills in which kids as young as 4 hide in darkened closets and bathrooms from imaginary murderers. “It’s no longer the default that going to school is going to make you feel safe,” said Bruce D. Perry, a psychiatrist and one of the country’s leading experts on childhood trauma. “Even kids who come from middle-class and upper-middle-class communities literally don’t feel safe in schools.” Mass shootings at predominantly white schools draw the most attention from journalists and lawmakers, but The Post has found that children of color are far more likely to experience campus gun violence — nearly twice as much for Hispanic students and three times as much for black students. In analyzing school shootings, The Post defined them far more narrowly than others who have compiled data over the past few years. Everytown for Gun Safety’s tally, for example, contains episodes of gunfire even on late nights and weekends, when no students or staff were present. The Gun Violence Archive disregards those events but does include others that occur at extracurricular activities, such as football games and dances. (Read more about our methodology.)

          Arkansas students punished with paddles for walking out: reports - Three students at an Arkansas high school were reportedly punished with paddles this week after leaving school to participate in the national walkout to protest gun violence.According to multiple reports, the Greenbrier, Ark., high school students were given the choice between in-school suspension or corporal punishment, meaning paddling.A parent of one of the students tweeted about the students' choice, adding in a follow-up tweet that the students were swatted "two times on the bum with [a] wooden paddle."My kid and two other students walked out of their rural, very conservative, public school for 17 minutes today. They were given two punishment options. They chose corporal punishment. This generation is not playing around. #walkout— Jerusalem Greer (@JerusalemGreer) March 14, 2018  District superintendent Scott Spainhour confirmed to local NBC affiliate KARK that three students had participated in the walkout.   The superintendent said the students were punished for breaking rules in the school handbook, and not for protesting. He declined to say how they were punished.  Paddling is allowed at the school but requires parental approval, according to KARK.

          Maryland high school shooting: Two students injured, gunman dead after incident at Great Mills High School - Baltimore Sun: Two students were injured and a third, the gunman, has died after a shooting at Great Mills High School in Southern Maryland on Tuesday morning, according to the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office. Officials identified the shooter as 17-year-old Austin Wyatt Rollins. The two students who were injured — a 14-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl — were being treated at local hospitals, officials said. The female victim is in critical condition and the male victim is in good condition. Sheriff Tim Cameron said said there is an “indication that a prior relationship existed between the shooter and the female victim.” Officers are working to determine if that was part of the motive. A school resource officer fired at Rollins, who almost simultaneously fired back with a handgun, Cameron said. The school resource officer, identified as Blaine Gaskill, was not injured during the incident, which unfolded in less than a minute."While it’s still tragic, he may have saved other people’s lives,” Gov. Larry Hogan said of Gaskill. The male victim is being treated at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital. The girl was taken to University of Maryland Prince George’s Hospital Center, and is battling life-threatening injuries, Cameron said. The shooting happened in a first-floor hallway just before 8 a.m. at the school at 21130 Great Mills Road, county spokesman Tony Jones said from the emergency operations center. The St. Mary’s County school was placed on lockdown and students were evacuated, Jones said. The shooter at Great Mills used a Glock 9-millimeter gun, according to the sheriff’s office.

          Officials call for more police in schools after shooting in suburban Maryland - A school shooting in suburban Maryland Tuesday morning has prompted renewed calls by local officials for increased police presence at schools. At 7:55 a.m. Tuesday, 17-year-old Austin Wyatt Rollins pulled out a Glock semiautomatic handgun and opened fire at students at Great Mills High School as classes began. Days earlier, students at Great Mills had walked out of classes in opposition to the continued spate of school shootings. The most recent school shooting, which injured two students—one critically—comes just days before Saturday’s scheduled “March for Our Lives” protest in Washington, DC, just an hour’s drive north from Great Mills High School. The demonstration and nationally coordinated sister marches are expected to draw hundreds of thousands of youth from across the country to protest gun violence.At the time of the shooting, school resource officer Blaine Gaskill, a member of the local SWAT team, confronted Rollins, ordering him to “Put the gun down!” before opening fire at him. Rollins reportedly had held his handgun to his head in the moment before shots were fired, suggesting that he may have shot himself. He died after being taken to a hospital.Local officials responded to the latest shooting and Gaskill’s reaction by heaping praise upon the officer for his “toughness” in the face of danger. According to St. Mary’s County Sheriff Timothy K. Cameron, there was “no question” Gaskill’s quick action had defused the situation. Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, declared of Gaskill: “This is a tough guy who closed in quickly and took the right action,” before promising to plow resources into expanding the school resource officer program in Maryland. “Having a trained, professional school resource officer made a difference ... armed school resource officers are available in our high schools and that’s important,” stated Democratic Senator for Maryland Benjamin L. Cardin to the Washington Post.

          The Trump Administration Is Using the Parkland Massacre as an Excuse to Roll Back Civil Rights - On Monday, the White House announced the creation of a Federal Commission on School Safety, chaired by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, to recommend proposals for school violence prevention. Included in the mandate of DeVos’ commission is a starkly worded objective: “Repeal of the Obama Administration’s ‘Rethink School Discipline’ policies.  ”It’s fair to wonder what this plan is doing on a list of items supposedly responding to school shootings. Prior school discipline history does not indicate that a youth will commit a school shooting. In Parkland, discipline policies did not thwart the district from taking action, and the attacker had been expelled from school. In fact, while most perpetrators of school shootings are white, children of color and students with disabilities are the ones disproportionately subject to school discipline. These race and disability-based disparities prompted the Obama-era Department of Education to issue school discipline guidance to combat this bias in the nation’s public schools. The guidance is based on a substantial body of research as well as the department’s own investigations, which included findings of “cases where African-American students were disciplined more harshly and more frequently because of their race than similarly situated white students.” The department’s final analysis: “Racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem.” . Educators across the country, including the Florida Department of Education, have recognized the benefits of reforming overly punitive and discriminatory school discipline practices. There is no reason to think that these policies conflict with the ability to respond to school shootings. The plain truth is that this has nothing to do with preventing school shootings — the administration has had its eye on repealing the Obama-era discipline guidance for some time already as part of its deregulation agenda. And while the guidance is still characterized as under review by the administration, Secretary DeVos tipped her hand on Sunday. In an appearance on 60 Minutes, she stated that racial disparities in school discipline come “down to individual kids.” To be clear about the implications of this statement, Ms. DeVos is saying that when Black students are disciplined more harshly than their white peers, the fault lies with Black youth. Secretary DeVos isn’t grappling with the right approach to disparate school discipline; she’s denying the problem exists.

          School district in Pennsylvania to arm students and teachers with rocks - A rural school district in Pennsylvania is arming teachers and students with buckets of rocks as a last resort should an armed intruder burst in, the superintendent has said. Every classroom in the district about 90 miles (145km) north-west of Philadelphia has a five-gallon bucket of river stones, said Blue Mountain school district superintendent David Helsel. “We always strive to find new ways to keep our students safe,” Helsel said, adding that the rocks are one small part of the district’s overall security plan. Throwing rocks is more effective than just crawling under desks and waiting, and it gives students and teachers a chance to defend themselves, he said. The district has about 2,700 students at three elementary schools, a middle school and a high school. Staff and students in the Blue Mountain district have been trained in a program called “ALICE” which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate. Helsel said the rocks are part of the “counter” portion of training, fighting back if the intruder makes his way into the classroom. The buckets are kept in classroom closets. Kenneth Trump, president of the Cleveland-based National School Safety and Security Services, a K-12 security consulting firm,said the idea was illogical and irrational and could possibly cost lives. He said the efforts filled an emotional security need, but would not actually enhance security. One high school senior said he supports the plan, adding that throwing rocks is better than throwing books or pencils. Parents also have been supportive of the measure, which was implemented in the fall. “At this point we have to get creative, we have to protect our kids first and foremost,” parent Dori Bornstein told WNEP-TV. “Throwing rocks, it’s an option.” The move comes after 17 students were killed in Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school last month, in the latest US high school shooting. 

          Some Students Won’t Settle for Gun Control. They Want Community Transformation - On Wednesday, thousands of students around the United States answered a national call to action by walking out of class. But while the initial ask from Women's March Youth EMPOWER called for students, teachers and school administrators to exit their school buildings for 17 minutes to demand "gun reform legislation, "yesterday's protesters did not rally behind a uniform message. While many students held to a general demand for more gun laws, others went different routes. For example, students with Juntos and the Philadelphia Student Union called for divestment from in-school policing, and greater investment in mental and emotional health services. They demanded the creation of restorative justice programs and measures aimed at protecting students and families from ICE, in addition to gun control measures that do not "result in targeted policing of black and brown bodies." Students at New York's Central Park East High School also called for the "decriminalization of black and brown students in our schools." And in Chicago, students at a number of schools refused to simplify the violence they face in their communities. While gun control was a major focus of Chicago's walkouts, some of the city's most spirited walkout organizing came from youth who were more concerned with the conditions that incubate intra-community violence, and how those conditions are maintained and enforced by the state. After participating in their respective walkouts, students from half a dozen Chicago high schools organized a small rally downtown to confront city officials and uplift their demands. In a statement, the group said that Chicago Public School students "are constantly faced with threats of budget cuts and school closings, while gun violence continues to threaten our communities." The students condemned Mayor Rahm Emanuel's efforts to build a new $95 million police academy in the city's Garfield Park neighborhood while their schools are threatened with budget cuts and closures. The students argued that greater investment in special education, ESL services and mental health services, rather than policing, metal detectors and further criminalization, would help create a "safe and welcoming environment for students." As one student declared, after the rallying students rushed into City Hall, "Don't arm our teachers! Arm us with books and resources!"

          Parkland students take over the Guardian - No one is better placed to tell the story of the burgeoning movement to change gun laws in America than the young survivors of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.That’s why the Guardian’s US colleagues are stepping aside today.They’ve invited student journalists from the Eagle Eye, the award-winning newspaper at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, to serve as our guest editors for the next 48 hours and oversee the Guardian’s coverage of March for Our Lives, the massive student-led protest unfolding in Washington and across America. We’re sending 11 students to the nation’s capital as Guardian correspondents, contributing to our live coverage all day on Saturday.  In addition, the students have assigned and commissioned more than 10 stories to be published on the Guardian over the next three days, including a manifesto to end gun violence, an exclusive interview with Bernie Sanders , and a harrowing feature about the impossible choices their teachers faced when an active shooter entered the school. They also wanted to make sure the project included the voices of students in urban communities struggling with high rates of gun violence. When the students – including the newspaper’s three female co-editors-in-chief –visited the Guardian’s New York newsroom last week, we were in awe of their resilience, intelligence and ability to turn their raw emotions into meaningful journalism to drive change and find common ground for reform.Just over a month ago, many of these students were locked in the closet of their newspaper classroom texting their parents; this week they are documenting a turning point in America. This project was made possible by support from Guardian readers who helped us raise more than $200,000 for Break the Cycle, the Guardian’s year-long series to challenge the orthodoxy in America that action on gun violence is hopeless.

          Parkland students interview Bernie Sanders: ‘Your generation has the power to change America’ - Guardian - Two student journalists from the Eagle Eye, Stoneman Douglas high school’s newspaper, interviewed the Vermont senator about the search for a breakthrough in the gun debate – and his own voting record.

          March for Our Lives Updates: Chants of 'Enough Is Enough' at Huge Rallies on Guns -- Hundreds of thousands of protesters, outraged by a recent massacre at a South Florida school and energized by the students who survived, thronged in streets across the globe in protests on Saturday, demanding action against gun violence in their most ambitious show of strength yet. In New York, marchers bundled in bright orange — the official color of a gun control advocacy group — charged toward Central Park. In Washington, protesters held signs with the messages “Arms Are for Hugging” and “Never Again.” And in Parkland, Fla., less than a mile from where the shooting took place, one protester’s eyes brimmed with tears, surrounded by the echoing chant, “Enough is enough!” By late morning, counterprotests were also gaining steam. In Salt Lake City, demonstrators carried pistols and flags. One of their signs read: “What can we do to stop mass shootings? SHOOT BACK.” In Boston, opposing groups of protesters shouted at one another before the police intervened. Here’s what we’re watching around the globe:

          Extensive Data Shows Punishing Reach of Racism for Black Boys - NYT - Black boys raised in America, even in the wealthiest families and living in some of the most well-to-do neighborhoods, still earn less in adulthood than white boys with similar backgrounds, according to a sweeping new study that traced the lives of millions of children.White boys who grow up rich are likely to remain that way. Black boys raised at the top, however, are more likely to become poor than to stay wealthy in their own adult households. Even when children grow up next to each other with parents who earn similar incomes, black boys fare worse than white boys in 99 percent of America. And the gaps only worsen in the kind of neighborhoods that promise low poverty and good schools. According to the study, led by researchers at Stanford, Harvard and the Census Bureau, income inequality between blacks and whites is driven entirely by what is happening among these boys and the men they become. Though black girls and women face deep inequality on many measures, black and white girls from families with comparable earnings attain similar individual incomes as adults.The study, based on anonymous earnings and demographic data for virtually all Americans now in their late 30s, debunks a number of other widely held hypotheses about income inequality. Gaps persisted even when black and white boys grew up in families with the same income, similar family structures, similar education levels and even similar levels of accumulated wealth.

          Union cuts deal to end Jersey City strike as teacher protests spread -- The Jersey City Education Association (JCEA) announced late Sunday night that it had reached a deal with the school district to end the strike by 4,000 teachers and school employees in the US state of New Jersey’s second largest school system. The union rushed to get the agreement as rank-and-file teachers prepared to defy a Hudson County judge’s back-to-work order, which could have quickly escalated into broader confrontation with the state’s Democratic and Republican politicians.With typical contempt for rank-and-file teachers, the JCEA issued a perfunctory statement on its Facebook page, announcing, “As of the time of posting, details of the settlement had not been released, but JCEA had long maintained that relief from the onerous health care contributions imposed by Ch. 78, but negotiable under state law, was a fundamental issue in the negotiations.” The union declared that schools would reopen as scheduled Monday morning without saying a word about strikers voting on the deal, let alone being forced to return to work without even seeing its details.“I think we reached a fair and equitable agreement with the district,” JCEA President Ron Greco told the Jersey Journal, adding that teachers would vote to ratify the agreement sometime “before April’s school board meeting.” Any agreement reached behind the backs of rank-and-file teachers to end the strike without a vote can be nothing but a sellout that betrays the fight to end soaring health care costs that erode teachers’ paychecks in one of the most expensive metropolitan areas in the nation. Jersey City teachers and school employees should reject this with the contempt it deserves and elect rank-and-file committees to mobilize the broadest support for a genuine fight to defend the right to a living wage, affordable health care and high-quality education.

          Numerous Kentucky schools to close Wednesday, as teachers’ protests mount -- On Wednesday, March 21, thousands of teachers are expected to converge at the Kentucky state capitol to fight Republican Governor Matt Bevin’s proposals for drastic cuts to pension benefits, and to demand affordable health care. With overwhelming support for the protests, at least five Kentucky school districts in the eastern region of the state announced they will close in Pike, Lawrence, Martin and Carter counties, with Ashland Independent schools in Boyd County also joining them. Reacting to the outpouring of support to the protest, superintendents in those counties have deemed Wednesday as a day selected “for staff members in our region to have a voice in Frankfort on educational issues.”  There are informal reports that the teachers may conduct their own strike vote at the Capitol. At school protest Monday morning in Louisville, teachers’ signs included the newly popular warning: “Bevin, don’t make us go WV on you!” in a reference to the nine-day strike by West Virginia teachers and school employees earlier this month.  “All of Pike County are going up Wednesday to protest. They haven’t called it a strike yet, but so many are going. I understand they will take a strike vote at 5 p.m.,” Kentucky resident BarbiAnn Maynard told the World Socialist Web Site. Maynard has been active in fighting for clean water in nearby Martin County.“Kentucky has been closely following West Virginia,” she continued. “We know there is power in numbers. When you fight hard enough, long enough and loud enough, it’s power. The bravery of West Virginia teachers gave encouragement to Kentucky teachers. It’s long overdue. They are robbing the little man to pay for the big man’s mistake. This is failing the teachers and the children.”

          Kentucky teachers leave school to rally against benefit cuts -  (AP) — Hundreds of Kentucky teachers flexed their political muscle with a rally Wednesday outside the state Capitol, seeking to bury a proposed pension overhaul and win more state education funding from the Republican-led legislature. Braving a late-season snow, about 1,000 teachers and other school employees marched from the Kentucky Education Association headquarters to the Capitol, chanting, "We'll Remember in November" — an election-year warning against efforts to reduce their retirement benefits. Some motorists honked in support as they drove past the marchers. Kentucky has one of the worst-funded public pension systems in the country and efforts to achieve reform are being closely watched nationwide by teachers and other public workers in other states.The show of force by Kentucky teachers comes amid growing unrest among public educators nationwide, led by thousands of West Virginia teachers who walked off the job and swarmed their Capitol for nine days earlier this year to secure a 5 percent pay raise. Kentucky teachers are not fighting for a pay raise but are loudly calling on lawmakers not to touch their retirement benefits. The state is at least $41 billion short of what it needs to pay the pension fund over the next 30 years. State officials say the pension bill would save taxpayers about $3.2 billion over the next 20 years and stabilize the situation. The teachers marched around the Capitol and then formed in front of the statehouse for a rally meant to ratchet up pressure on lawmakers in the final days of their legislative session.  At least seven eastern Kentucky districts closed schools Wednesday so teachers could attend. They were joined by employees from other districts, which either sent delegations or were closed due to the snow.

          Kentucky and Arizona teachers rally to defend public education - Thousands of teachers marched at their state capitols on Wednesday in Kentucky and Arizona, demanding funding for public education, teacher pensions, health care, and in opposition to the privatization of education. In Kentucky, despite the cold and snow, around a thousand educators rallied, as at least a dozen school superintendents shut schools for the day, allowing teachers to participate in the demonstration without penalty.  In Arizona, a single teacher in the Pendergast elementary school district triggered a shutdown of nine schools by organizing a “sickout” so the teachers could head for a demonstration in Phoenix, which drew a crowd of hundreds. Kayla Wilson, a 5th grade teacher at Pendergast Elementary with three years on the job, told the Arizona Capitol Times that she makes about $35,000 a year and owes more than $40,000 in student loans. At the rally in Frankfort, Kentucky, teachers carried handmade placards reading, “Fighting for the future of our kids,” “Our money, our pension, just Vote No,” “Kentucky Fried Us,” “You’ve stirred up a hornet’s nest,” “We can’t put students first if they put teachers last,” and “I don’t have Social Security or a hedge fund,” among others. Republican Governor Matt Bevin, a former hedge fund manager, is pressing for the passage of Senate Bill 1, which slashes retired teachers’ cost-of-living allowance by 33 percent. The budget currently under discussion in the state Senate includes millions of dollars in cuts to public education programs, but strengthens the charter school movement, which intends to begin operations by 2019 in the state.

          Global struggles by teachers mounting against austerity and attacks on public education - The movement of teachers throughout the United States is continuing to expand. Educators in Kentucky are converging on the state capitol in Frankfort today to protest pension cuts, and teachers in Arizona and Oklahoma are preparing for mass protests and statewide strikes on March 28 and April 2. On Monday, thousands of educators carried out a one-day strike in Puerto Rico to oppose plans, backed by Trump’s billionaire Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, to expand for-profit charter schools. The island’s governor, Ricardo Roselló, is proposing to close 300 public schools and wipe out 7,000 teachers’ jobs.   Teachers in Prince George’s County, Maryland began work-to-rule and sickout protests this week over pay; hundreds of students protested faculty cuts at Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, Oregon; adjunct professors and other non-tenured-track faculty at Loyola University in Chicago are threatening to strike on April 4. The struggles in the US are part of a global struggle of educators against the austerity demanded by the international banks and capitalist governments all over the world. There are ongoing struggles in Kenya, Nigeria and other African countries. In Latin America, after a two-day national strike by Argentinian teachers earlier this month, teachers in Mexico are planning an April 9-10 national strike to overturn the government’s free market “education reforms.” Last week, thousands of teachers on the Caribbean island of Jamaica held “sick-outs” to demand higher wages and allowances for books and software. In Europe, Dutch teachers from four provinces struck last week and protested in Amsterdam, while teachers in Slovenia walked out to demand higher wages and better working conditions. University lecturers in the United Kingdom have engaged in a month-long series of rolling strikes and rebelled last week against efforts by the unions to impose a sellout agreement that betrayed their fight against pension cuts and casualization. Over 850 administrative, technical, library, counseling and athletic staff are continuing a two-week strike at Carleton University in Canada’s capital city of Ottawa.

          South Butler, Pennsylvania teachers strike -- Teachers in the South Butler School District went on strike last Thursday, March 15, to demand pay raises, as well as lower contribution rates for health care costs. The district includes 168 teachers and approximately 2,400 students from Clinton, Jefferson, Penn, Winfield and Saxonburg in the southern part of Butler County. Located just north of Pittsburgh, Butler County is known for steelmaking and is the headquarters of AK Steel Corporation. The teachers have been ordered to return to work by April 3 or face fines and penalties. Under Pennsylvania law, students must be provided with 180 days of instruction by June 15. Known as Act 88, the law has been supported by both major teachers’ unions in the state and limits any teachers’ strikes to at most about two weeks.“We are returning when we expected to,” said Brooke Witt, the labor relations consultant for the South Butler County Education Association, the teachers’ union. The union has also limited picketing, but said it will picket Monday and Friday this week and hold a rally Wednesday night.The last contract with the teachers expired in 2014 and teachers have been working under an extended contract since then. The school board has refused the teachers’ demands that pay raises be retroactive to mid-2014 and have failed to move on health care.

          Mapping The 24 States Proposing Campus "Free Speech" Bills At least 24 states have now either introduced or passed legislation defending freedom of speech on public college campuses. A total of eight states - Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona - have already passed bills into law that designed to protect free expression in higher education, with lawmakers from 16 other states campaigning to pass similar legislation.Florida was the latest to pass such a measure, with Gov. Rick Scott signing a bill banning “free speech zones” on campuses last week. The legislation also included a "Cause of Action" mandate, allowing individuals to sue universities for violating their "expressive rights." Kentucky is the next state that could join the list, as the State Senate recently voted to pass a bill designed to protect the free speech of students and faculty alike.  “The problem with this free speech area is it’s not even close to a lot of activity on campus,” said Republican State Sen. Will Schroder, sponsor of the bill, according to WEKU. “It really restricts individuals to a certain location.” Not all of the free speech bills, however, have found the necessary support to successfully navigate the legislative process. According to the Kansas News Service, the Kansas freedom of expression measure fell just one vote short of passing the State Senate on Thursday, ultimately falling with a 20-20 vote.   The top Democrat and the Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley vocally opposed the legislation, arguing that he “cannot support a bill that softens punishment for hateful harassment.”

          The Disappearance of Books Threatens to Erode Fine Arts Libraries - Public libraries are experiencing a surge in use that few could have predicted even a decade ago. This renaissance has renewed interest in the library as a space for access to books, to technology, and to art. But libraries are no longer solely filled with books. Many are shifting to become multi-use and more digitally driven spaces. Yet as libraries create access to a digital future, the books that have traditionally inhabited them are being displaced at an alarming rate. This leaves many asking: Does acceptance of digital resources mean that the books must go? And what is at stake when artists, art historians, students, and the public can no longer engage in the act of browsing the stacks as part of the process of creating and researching art?While the philosophical debate over what a library should be rages across the country and beyond, some institutions are shifting from philosophy to action, removing books to make way for other initiatives. At the University of Texas at Austin, around 75,000 fine arts books, journals, and other materials have already been moved by the College of Fine Arts and the University of Texas Libraries, as Hyperallergic reported in December. Many of the removed materials now reside in an off-site location near UT’s J.J. Pickle Research Campus or the Texas A&M joint library storage facility. At many libraries, the prime real es tate occupied by books is being requisitioned to make way for new digital humanities initiatives like virtual reality experiences or “Makerspaces” cordoned off for 3D printing. In the case of UT-Austin’s Fine Arts Library, books and other analog materials were removed to accommodate a new space called The Foundry. As the mission page for the collaborative space notes, this is a joint initiative of the University of Texas Libraries and the College of Fine Arts meant to be available to all UT students, faculty, and staff. Yet the success of such 3D printing labs is often precarious and dubious. As many librarians and digital humanists have pointed out, installing a Makerspace in your library is not a panacea.

          Native American author Sherman Alexie taken down in #MeToo hysteria -- The career of one of the most prominent Native American authors, Sherman Alexie, is threatened with destruction based upon vague and unsubstantiated allegations of sexual harassment.Alexie (born 1966) is considered a significant contemporary American author, and has written children’s books, adult fiction and essays that draw heavily on his experiences as a Native American both on the rural lands of the Spokane Reservation and in Seattle’s urban sprawl. He has won numerous national literary awards over the past quarter-century and committed much of his life to non-profit arts education programs for Native youth. Due to the political and social content of his themes, his work was banned from Arizona schools in 2012 under the right-wing, anti-immigrant House Bill 2281, which prohibited ethnic studies. His acclaimed collection of short stories The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (1993) was adapted into the Canadian-American dark comedy film, Smoke Signals (1998). Despite the absence of any investigation or due process, Alexie’s career is now hanging in the balance. In the face of the controversy, he has made the decision not to accept the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction awarded by the American Library Association for You Don't Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir. His publisher has also delayed the release of the paperback edition of the book. Debbie Reese, the editor of American Indians in Children’s Literature, has removed his photos, name and works from all previous publications on their website, without producing a shred of evidence to back up her claims.

          Former Metropolitan Opera conductor James Levine files suit against “McCarthyite” sexual harassment charges and firing -- On March 15, former longtime Metropolitan Opera conductor James Levine filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court against the opera company and its general manager, Peter Gelb, for breach of contract and defamation.  The opera abruptly suspended the conductor from his position as musical director emeritus on December 3, 2017 after three articles appeared in the New York Times and New York Post reporting claims of sexual abuse or harassment allegedly committed by Levine from 30 to nearly 50 years ago. In a December 7 statement, Levine insisted that as “anyone who truly knows me will attest, I have not lived my life as an oppressor or an aggressor. I have devoted my energies to the development, growth, and nurturing of music and musicians all over the world particularly with the Metropolitan Opera where my work has been the lifeblood and passion of my artistic imagination.”Levine was then fired March 12. In the Met’s statement dismissing him after more than 45 years, it asserted that an investigation had “uncovered credible evidence that Mr. Levine engaged in sexually abusive and harassing conduct toward vulnerable artists in the early stages of their careers, over whom Mr. Levine had authority.” The opera had concluded “that it would be inappropriate and impossible for Mr. Levine to continue to work at the Met.”

           College students pay for spring break with student loans - Are American college students using their student loan dollars wisely? Mike Brown, research analyst at LendEDU, explains the findings of a recent study of student borrowers.

          Sen. Brian Schatz’s ambitious new plan for debt-free college, explained -- Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) will introduce a plan on Thursday that’s essentially Hillary Clinton’s and Bernie Sanders’s college affordability plans on steroids. Schatz’s bill, called the Debt Free College Act of 2018, aims for debt-free rather than tuition-free college (as Sanders offered). It also expands the no-debt promise from just tuition (as in Clinton’s plan) to include living expenses as well. Debt-free college plans like Schatz’s take the full cost of college into account, including living expenses, meal plans, and books. In these plans, help is often given through need-based grants to low-income students and families, while those who can afford the extra costs will still have to pay them.  In contrast, Sanders’s tuition-free plan would have made tuition free for everyone regardless of family income, but living expenses would not be covered.  Those extra costs add up. As Schatz estimates, the average annual cost of tuition at state schools is about $8,900. But the total annual cost of college including tuition, housing, food, and books is closer to $20,000.“Covering tuition for everybody is not a bad idea — it’s just that tuition is only 45 percent of the cost of college,” Schatz said. “And I also believe that we ought to cover the full cost of college for people who can’t afford it before we cover tuition for people who can.”The plan, which already has eight Senate Democrats and 14 House Democrats co-sponsoring, would set up a new voluntary partnership between states and the federal government with the goal of alleviating debt for students at two- and four-year public universities. Participating states would get a dollar-for-dollar match from the federal government for however much funding they appropriate for state schools. In exchange, those schools would have to commit to helping students pay for the full cost of college without taking on debt, through need-based grants to help students who can’t afford it cover costs. It also comes with a hefty price tag: $80.1 billion for the first year of federal-state partnership and $95.4 billion to meet the goal of debt-free college for all students.

          Bill Of The Month: For Toenail Fungus, A $1,500 Prescription - During Anne Soloviev’s semiannual visit to Braun Dermatology & Skin Cancer Center in Washington, D.C., in January, the physician assistant diagnosed fungus in two of her toenails. Soloviev is vigilant about getting skin checks, since she is at heightened risk for skin cancer, but she hadn’t complained about her toenails or even noticed a problem.  The assistant noted some unusual discoloration where the nail meets the skin. “They took a toenail clipping and said, yeah, you have a fungus,” Soloviev recalled. So the PA called a prescription into a specialty pharmacy with mail-order services, which would send medication to Soloviev’s Capitol Hill home. It seemed like an easy fix to an inconsequential health issue. “I did not ask how much it cost — it never crossed my mind, ever,” said Soloviev, a former French teacher, who still works part time.  Kerydin, the toenail medication, arrived by overnight mail, and an automatic refill came a few weeks later. She began swabbing it on the two toenails, as directed, having been told it would take about 11 months to treat the fungus. She thought little of it. But when Soloviev went to her local CVS to pick up another medication — a statin that is usually paid for by her HRA — she discovered her reserve was empty. Unbeknownst to her, Kerydin, which it turned out costs nearly $1,500 per monthly refill, had wiped out her entire reimbursement account.

          Hospitals are confronting a new opioid crisis: an alarming shortage of pain meds - Amid a nationwide crisis caused by too-easy access to medical painkillers, hospitals are now struggling to find enough of that same class of drugs to keep their patients’ pain controlled. That is the reality now facing Brigham and Women’s and other medical providers across the country. Production of injectable opioids has nearly ground to a halt due to manufacturing problems, creating a shortage of staple medications used to treat a wide array of patients. Alarms are now ringing at all kinds of medical providers, from sprawling academic hospitals to small hospice programs, and many are launching efforts to conserve injectable opioids and institute safeguards to prevent dosing errors that can result from rapid changes in medication regimens. These products, packaged in vials, patches, and syringes, are distinct from the prescription pills at the root of the nation’s opioid addiction crisis. They are distributed to hospitals and other medical providers that use them to treat patients undergoing major surgeries or those who are suffering from intense pain related to trauma or cancer. The severity of the shortage, which has been brewing since last summer, only became clear in recent weeks after Pfizer Inc., the dominant manufacturer of injectable opioids, began notifying customers that it has halted production of some medicines and will not be able to fully restore its capacity until the first quarter of 2019. Some hospice providers in Florida, Maryland, and Hawaii are already reporting they have run out of some opioid products and are struggling to replenish supplies needed to help patients,

          World’s Largest Animal Study On Cell Tower Radiation Confirms Cancer Link - Researchers with the renowned Ramazzini Institute (RI) in Italy announce that a large-scale, lifetime study (PDF) of lab animals exposed to environmental levels of cell tower radiation developed cancer. The RI study also found increases in malignant brain (glial) tumors in female rats and precancerous conditions including Schwann cells hyperplasia in both male and female rats. A study of much higher levels of cell phone radiofrequency (RF) radiation, from the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP), has also reported finding the same unusual cancer called Schwannoma of the heart in male rats treated at the highest dose.
          The Ramazzini study exposed 2448 Sprague-Dawley rats from prenatal life until their natural death to "environmental" cell tower radiation for 19 hours per day (1.8 GHz GSM radiofrequency radiation (RFR) of 5, 25 and 50 V/m). RI exposures mimicked base station emissions like those from cell tower antennas, and exposure levels were far less than those used in the NTP studies of cell phone radiation. "All of the exposures used in the Ramazzini study were below the U.S. FCC limits. These are permissible exposures according the FCC. In other words, a person can legally be exposed to this level of radiation. Yet cancers occurred in these animals at these legally permitted levels. The Ramazzini findings are consistent with the NTP study demonstrating these effects are a reproducible finding," explained Ronald Melnick PhD, formerly the Senior NIH toxicologist who led the design of the NTP study on cell phone radiation now a Senior Science Advisor to Environmental Health Trust (EHT). "Governments need to strengthen regulations to protect the public from these harmful non-thermal exposures."

          Need a CT scan? Here is why you should ask your doctor if it is absolutely necessary -- In 2001, two researchers from Columbia University in the United States published a paper that suggested that roughly one in 1,000 children exposed to radiation from computed tomography or CT scans would go on to develop cancer due to the exposure. This is a rate of cancer that is on average four times higher than those not exposed to radiation.The study triggered a debate about the safety and possible overuse of CT scans.A CT scan is generated by passing radiation through a specific part of the body to general a three-dimensional image. CT scans are life saving in trauma cases, especially those that involve injuries to the head. Cancer patients and those with TB also need regular CT scans to monitor their treatment. The radiation used in a CT scan is 100 times more than that in an X-ray. So while a CT scan can reveal abnormalities that an X-ray cannot pick up, it also increases the risk of cancer due to radiation exposure significantly.“Almost nothing in medicine is without risks,” said David Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University, who co-authored the paper, which was published in the American Journal of Roentgenology. “When a CT scan is medically justified then the risk-benefit balance changes dramatically in favor of conducting the scan.”  This research was followed by more studies in both the United Kingdom and Australia, that confirmed increased risk of cancer due to exposure to radiation from CT scans, more so among children. The US Food and Drug Administration has since then asked doctors to explain the radiation risk to patients beforehand and order a scan only when needed. Two decades on, India still lacks both guidelines and adequate data on the subject.

          Federal Agency Courted Alcohol Industry to Fund Study on Benefits of Moderate Drinking --Two prominent scientists and a senior federal health official pitched the project to recommend a daily alcoholic drink as part of a healthy lifestyle during a presentation at the luxurious Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Fla., in 2014. And the audience members who were being asked to help pay for the $100 million study seemed receptive: They were all liquor company executives. The 10-year government trial is now underway, and Anheuser Busch InBev, Heineken and other alcohol companies are picking up most of the tab, through donations to a private foundation that raises money for the National Institutes of Health. The N.I.H., a federal agency, is considered one of the world’s foremost medical research centers, investing over $30 billion of taxpayer money in biomedical research each year. The vast majority of the funding goes to scientists outside the N.I.H., which manages the grants and provides oversight. The alcohol study is overseen by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, one of 27 centers under the N.I.H. The lead investigator and N.I.H. officials have said repeatedly that they never discussed the planning of the study with the industry. But a different picture emerges from emails and travel vouchers obtained by The New York Times under the Freedom of Information Act, as well as from interviews with former federal officials. The documents and interviews show that the institute waged a vigorous campaign to court the alcohol industry, paying for scientists to travel to meetings with executives, where they gave talks strongly suggesting that the study’s results would endorse moderate drinking as healthy. An N.I.A.A.A. official, now retired, said she followed up after the presentations with appeals for money, telling industry executives the research could not be done without their support. 

           Netflix’s 'Rotten' Reveals the Perils of Global Food Production -- Netflix's recent documentary series, Rotten , tells the true and sometimes gruesome story of what goes on behind the scenes of global food production—and the pitfalls that accompany the widespread lack of awareness of how and where commonly consumed foods are sourced. The docuseries is produced by Zero Point Zero, the production company behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown , and consists of six hour-long episodes, each of which centers around a specific type of food. They feature those at the frontlines of food production (beekeepers, garlic sources, peanut farmers, etc.); those laboring to reduce the dangers of food-induced allergies (restaurant owners and hospital researchers); as well as lawyers, detectives and prosecutors, who explain exactly how food production gets entangled with the law. It is difficult to pin down a moral to the frankly appetite-suppressing series. While we recommend watching the show, know that it might trigger some panic around food consumption—episodes trigger dark queries (Should we stop dining out altogether considering restaurants lie about catering to food allergies? Are bottles of fake honey mixed in with the real ones at my grocery store? Am I aiding and abetting forced labor in Chinese prisons when I add garlic to my pasta sauce?). However, the experts and producers featured in this true crime-esque series leave many of the common and pressing questions unanswered. So, Sierra turned to food production experts. Read on to learn more about the issues presented in Rotten , and to glean some easy ways to stay informed, and combat potential food production pitfalls.

          U.S. Tries to Limit Junk Food Warning Labels —  Urged on by big American food and soft-drink companies, the Trump administration is using the trade talks with Mexico and Canada to try to limit the ability of the pact’s three members — including the United States — to warn consumers about the dangers of junk food, according to confidential documents outlining the American position.The American stance reflects an intensifying battle among trade officials, the food industry and governments across the hemisphere. The administration’s position could help insulate American manufacturers from pressure to include more explicit labels on their products, both abroad and in the United States. But health officials worry that it would also impede international efforts to contain a growing health crisis.Obesity has at least doubled in 73 countries since 1980. Many public health officials, worried about the rapid spread of highly processed foods, have found hope in a new tactic: the use of vivid warnings on foods with high levels of sugar, salt and fat. Officials in Mexico and Canada — along with governments in Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, Argentina and Colombia — are discussing options like the use of colors, shapes and other easy-to-understand symbols that warn consumers of health risks. They were inspired in large part by Chile’s introduction of stringent regulations in 2016 that include requirements for black stop-sign warnings on the front of some packages. But the Office of the United States Trade Representative, which is leading the Nafta talks on the American side, is trying to head off the momentum. It is pushing to limit the ability of any Nafta member to require consumer warnings on the front of sugary drinks and fatty packaged foods, according to a draft of the proposal reviewed by The New York Times. The American provision seeks to prevent any warning symbol, shape or color that “inappropriately denotes that a hazard exists from consumption of the food or nonalcoholic beverages.”

          A startup is pitching a mind-uploading service that is “100 percent fatal” -- The startup accelerator Y Combinator is known for supporting audacious companies in its popular three-month boot camp. There’s never been anything quite like Nectome, though. Next week, Nectome’s cofounder, Robert McIntyre, is going to describe his technology for exquisitely preserving brains in microscopic detail using a high-tech embalming process. Then the MIT graduate will make his business pitch. As it says on his website: “What if we told you we could back up your mind?”So yeah. Nectome is a preserve-your-brain-and-upload-it company. Its chemical solution can keep a body intact for hundreds of years, maybe thousands, as a statue of frozen glass. The idea is that someday in the future scientists will scan your bricked brain and turn it into a computer simulation. That way, someone a lot like you, though not exactly you, will smell the flowers again in a data server somewhere. This story has a grisly twist, though. For Nectome’s procedure to work, it’s essential that the brain be fresh. The company says its plan is to connect people with terminal illnesses to a heart-lung machine in order to pump its mix of scientific embalming chemicals into the big carotid arteries in their necks while they are still alive (though under general anesthesia). The company has consulted with lawyers familiar with California’s two-year-old End of Life Option Act, which permits doctor-assisted suicide for terminal patients, and believes its service will be legal. The product is “100 percent fatal,” says McIntyre. “That is why we are uniquely situated among the Y Combinator companies.”

           Lead is even deadlier than we feared as the full extent of its toxic effects are revealed - Bluntly put, we took a known poison and – for three quarters of a century – used it in machines that puffed it out in breathable form. Then we drove them millions of miles a day, all over the world, regularly dosing billions of people with the toxin.Now the full effects of using lead in petrol – surely the greatest ever mass poisoning experiment – are becoming clear, almost exactly 35 years after an award-winning Observer campaign caused it to be banned in Britain. They seem far worse than anyone imagined, and provide a stark warning against cutting pollution standards after Brexit. Last week, a massive new study concluded that lead is 10 times more dangerous than thought, and that past exposure now hastens one in every five US deaths.  The study, published in the Lancet Public Health journal and believed to be the first to research the effects of low levels of lead exposure on the general public, also concludes there is no safe level of the toxic metal: people with the lowest detectable amounts were still affected.  Researchers at four North American universities studied the fate of 14,289 people whose blood had been tested in an official US survey between 1988 and 1994. Four fifths of them had harboured levels of the toxic metal below what has, hitherto, been thought safe. The study found that deaths, especially from cardiovascular disease, increased markedly with exposure, even at the lowest levels. It concluded that lead kills 412,000 people a year – accounting for 18% of all US mortality, not much less than the 483,000 who perish as a result of smoking.

          EU Approves Controversial Bayer-Monsanto Merger -- The European Union approved Bayer's takeover of Monsanto , a major hurdle in the $66 billion merger that would create the world's largest integrated seed and pesticide conglomerate. The European Commission said the German chemical-maker's takeover of the St. Louis-based agribusiness giant is "conditional on an extensive remedy package, which addresses the parties' overlaps in seeds, pesticides and digital agriculture." The buyout was secured after Bayer offered to sell rival company BASF seeds, pesticides and digital agriculture technology, Bloomberg reported. European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement: "We have approved Bayer's plans to take over Monsanto because the parties' remedies, worth well over €6 billion, meet our competition concerns in full. Our decision ensures that there will be effective competition and innovation in seeds, pesticides and digital agriculture markets also after this merger."  Consolidation of Bayer and Monsanto—not to mention the deals between DuPont and Dow Chemical Co, and ChemChina and Syngenta—will completely reshape the global seed and pesticide markets. Farmers and concerned citizens have raised worries that the merged corporations will control data about farm practices, increase prices and diminish quality, choice and seed varieties.

           'Catastrophe' as France's bird population collapses due to pesticides -- Bird populations across the French countryside have fallen by a third over the last decade and a half, researchers have said. Dozens of species have seen their numbers decline, in some cases by two-thirds, the scientists said in a pair of studies – one national in scope and the other covering a large agricultural region in central France. “The situation is catastrophic,”   “Our countryside is in the process of becoming a veritable desert,”   The common white throat, the ortolan bunting, the Eurasian skylark and other once-ubiquitous species have all fallen off by at least a third, according a detailed, annual census initiated at the start of the century. A migratory song bird, the meadow pipit, has declined by nearly 70%. The museum described the pace and extent of the wipe-out as “a level approaching an ecological catastrophe”. The primary culprit, researchers speculate, is the intensive use of pesticides on vast tracts of monoculture crops, especially wheat and corn. The problem is not that birds are being poisoned, but that the insects on which they depend for food have disappeared. “There are hardly any insects left, that’s the number one problem,”  Recent research, he noted, has uncovered similar trends across Europe, estimating that flying insects have declined by 80%, and bird populations has dropped by more than 400m in 30 years. Despite a government plan to cut pesticide use in half by 2020, sales in France have climbed steadily, reaching more than 75,000 tonnes of active ingredient in 2014, according to European Union figures. “What is really alarming, is that all the birds in an agricultural setting are declining at the same speed, even ’generalist’ birds,” which also thrive in other settings such as wooded areas, said Bretagnolle. “That shows that the overall quality of the agricultural eco-system is deteriorating.”

          The Exterminators Have Asked -- The New York Times, leading propagandist for every form of Earth destruction, does it again: “Should Some Species Be Allowed to Die Out?” (Magazine cover story)  The only rational and moral answer is, yes, Homo sapiens evidently must die out if Gaia is to survive. Certainly the NYT would insist it’s an either-or. Actually, what needs to go extinct is not true humanity – free, leisure-loving, usufruct-based, part of the ecology – but the debased, depraved, “civilized” humanity, Homo civilis. Only this will save both humanity and Earth. Thankfully this infestation has almost depleted its food supply (its accessible fossil fuel energy and therefore its industrial food supply as well) and must imminently go the way of the dodo and the many other species it murdered.  As for the innumerable species being exterminated by civilization, for which the NYT and corporate environmentalists* cry such crocodile tears, even the lowest microbe is worth more than the entirety of this grinder “civilization”, which is worth nothing. That’s why the only way it can exist at all is by destroying humanity and the Earth. That’s why civilization feels such infinite hatred for the Earth and for free humanity and actively wants to wipe them out. *The purpose of mainstream environmentalism is at best to manage ecological destruction, negotiating how much is to be destroyed at what rate, in much the same way the Judenrate negotiated with the Nazis over how many Jews were to be killed how quickly. In both cases the conscious end goal is total destruction.

          World's Last Male Northern White Rhino Dies - The world's last male northern white rhino has died, leaving only two females left to save the subspecies fromextinction , the wildlife conservancy taking care of him announced Tuesday. The 45-year-old rhinoceros, named Sudan, was euthanized Monday at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.He was being treated for age-related complications that led to degenerative changes in his muscles and bones and also gave him extensive skin wounds."His condition worsened significantly in the last 24 hours; he was unable to stand up and was suffering a great deal," Ol Pejeta said in a statement . "The veterinary team from the Dvůr Králové Zoo, Ol Pejeta and Kenya Wildlife Service made the decision to euthanize him."Sudan previously lived at the Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic before being moved to Ol Pejeta Conservancy in 2009. "During his final years, Sudan came back to Africa and stole the heart of many with his dignity and strength," the conservancy said.

          Controversial Trump hunting group meets for first time | TheHill: The 16 members of the Interior Department's new Wildlife Conservation Council — many of whom have ties to pro-hunting organizations — met for the first time Friday and found little cause for disagreement. Members agreed that hunting is necessary for conserving endangered species and impoverished communities in Africa; that illegal hunting — largely done by organized crime communities — should not to be mistaken with legal paid hunting; and that the council needed to act fast. “I believe that everyone here today has a shared interest in wildlife conservation, both in America and around the world,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife (FWS) head Greg Sheehan said. “There are many ways to enhance and protect those populations. We believe that hunters and dollars that they bring to foreign nations contribute towards conservation efforts.” The group, which included a number of heads of hunting conservation groups, a professional bowhunter and a representative of the National Rifle Association, agreed that the committee would advise Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the administration on the importance of conservation and enforcement against poaching.Zinke, who was in Arizona for the conference of a pro-elk hunting group, didn't attend the meeting. The five-hour meeting didn't touch on big game hunting trophy imports — a controversial part of incentivizing hunting in foreign countries that has generated criticism for the administration. On March 1, FWS changed its policy regarding the imports of African elephant trophies from a blanket ban in some regions to a determination on a “case-by-case” basis. But the meeting Friday instead focused on highlighting the depleted elephant and rhino populations in various African countries, with the implication that hunting was key for sustaining that wildlife. 

          Concerned Ohionas Unite Against Bobcat Trapping Plan - Environmental activists, science educators and the Athens Ohio City Council are teaming up against a controversial new proposal by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife (ODNRDOW) to open a bobcat trapping season in the southeastern part of the state, The New Political reported Wednesday.  The Athens City Council passed a resolution opposing the measure Monday night, citing concerns that bobcats were taken off the state's threatened and endangered species list less than four years ago and that not enough research has been done to determine if the newly-growing populations can sustain a trapping season, according to a copy of the resolution obtained by EcoWatch. The city council also looked to prevent similar proposals in the future, urging "the State of Ohio to declare the bobcat a protected species and ban all hunting and trapping of this wonderful animal for all Ohioans now and in the future."  The resolution notes that bobcats do not overpopulate.  The resolution further notes that the trapping proposal contradicts the ODNRDOW's own research plans.  In an October 2017 report, the department wrote, "Little is known about the density and distribution of bobcats in Ohio, as well as the population trajectory, and which areas act as source populations. Such information is critical before decisions are taken on opening a trapping season and the maximum yearly take."  The ODNR entered into a contract with the Ohio University in August 2017 to conduct such a study, which will take four years to complete.  "So why the rush and sudden turn-around??," Heather Cantino, an environmental educator and vice chair of the Buckeye Forest Council board who drafted the council resolution, asked in The Athens' News Readers Forum . "Politics and pressure from the Ohio Trappers Association seem to be trumping the DOW's own recent science-based plan to protect Ohio's top native predator species," she wrote.  Chapter 1501:31-16 of the Ohio Revised Code values a bobcat at $500.

          Revealed: The worrying state of Earth's species in numbers as scientists warn the sixth mass extinction is here and wildlife is in a 'global crisis'  - Earth is enduring the sixth mass species extinction which is plunging the planet into 'global crisis', scientists have warned. Scientists warn humanity's voracious consumption and wanton destruction is to blame for the event, which is the first major extinction since the dinosaurs.Two species of vertebrate, animals with a backbone, have gone extinct every year, on average, for the past century. Currently around 41 per cent of amphibian species and more than a quarter of mammals are threatened with extinction.   There are an estimated 8.7 million plant and animal species on our planet and about 86 percent of land species and 91 percent of sea species remain undiscovered. Of the ones we do know, 1,204 mammal, 1,469 bird, 1,215 reptile, 2,100 amphibian, and 2,386 fish species are considered threatenedThere are an estimated 8.7 million plant and animal species on our planet and about 86 percent of land species and 91 percent of sea species remain undiscovered.Of the ones we do know, 1,204 mammal, 1,469 bird, 1,215 reptile, 2,100 amphibian, and 2,386 fish species are considered threatened. Also threatened are 1,414 insect, 2,187 mollusc, 732 crustacean, 237 coral, 12,505 plant, 33 mushroom, and six brown algae species.

          Time running out to save the Earth's plants and animals - Five new reports unveiled at a UN biodiversity summit in Colombia are sounding the alarm over the rapidly deteriorating state of biodiversity on our planet.  Delegates at a major international summit on biodiversity in Medellín, Colombia have been rattled after being presented with stark new evidence about the state of the world's biodiversity. The 750 delegates from 115 countries are meeting for the sixth plenary of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, often called the "IPCC for biodiversity." The platform was tasked by the United Nations in 2012 to provide the best-available evidence to inform better policy decisions on how to protect nature in the face of growing pressure on the planet.  The five reports, which were prepared over three years by 550 international experts, give regional assessments of biodiversity in Africa, the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe and Central Asia. A fifth report assesses the state of land degradation globally. The reports conclude that in the Americas, there are about about 31 percent fewer species than was the case at the time of European settlement. With the growing effects of climate change added to the other drivers, this loss is projected to reach 40 percent by 2050. In Africa, 500,000 square km of land is already estimated to have been degraded by overexploitation of natural resources, erosion, salinization and pollution. In the European Union, only 7 percent of marine species and 9 percent of marine habitat types show a ‘favourable conservation status’. 66 percent of habitat types' assessments show an ‘unfavourable conservation status’, with the others categorised as 'unknown'.  The reports found a significant lack of progress on various UN biodiversity plans, including the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its biodiversity targets, which were agreed by parties to the UN Convention on Biodiversity at their meeting in Aichi, Japan in 2010.

          Hundreds flee Australian bushfires that kill cattle, destroy homes - (Reuters) - Australian authorities urged people to remain alert on Monday as bushfires that have destroyed dozens of homes, killed cattle and forced hundreds of residents to flee continued to burn out of control in the southeast of the country. No deaths or serious injuries were reported on Monday but the bushfires have caused extensive damage in rural areas of Victoria and New South Wales (NSW), Australia’s two most populous states. More than 100 houses were damaged or destroyed, authorities said. “At this stage (there have been) no lives lost,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said at a news conference in the small NSW coastal town of Tathra. “It is just a great credit to the firefighters, to the volunteers, the emergency workers - all of the community has pulled together and provided such great support,” he said. The fires, believed to have been sparked by lightning on Saturday, were fanned by dry, hot winds as temperatures reached 41 degrees Celsius (106 Fahrenheit) on Sunday. Emergency officials said conditions should ease later on Monday but “watch and act” warnings remained in place for five locations. The fire also set off an argument among Australia’s politicians on whether climate change was a contributing factor to the blazes. “You can’t attribute any particular event, whether it’s a flood or fire or a drought climate change. We are the land of droughts and flooding rains, we’re the land of bushfires,” Turnbull said.  Authorities said some 69 houses were destroyed and a further 39 were damaged and 30 caravans or cabins were also wiped out in Tathra, where residents fled to the beach on Sunday to avoid the flames as flying embers quickly carried the firefront forward.  About 700 residents were evacuated to centers set up at the nearby town of Bega and several schools in affected areas were closed on Monday.

          Water shortages will put 5 billion people at risk by 2050, UN warns - Almost half of the world’s population — some 3.6 billion people — currently live in areas vulnerable to water scarcity. By 2050, this is expected to increase to around 5 billion people, a new United Nations report warns. Water quality issues and increased demand for water due to a growing global population will combine to put the world’s freshwater resources at risk, explains the World Water Development Report, released Monday. The report warns of risks of increased conflicts and threats to human civilization unless action is taken to reduce stress on lands and wetlands. These ecosystems are vital to managing water resources but have been steadily deteriorating with increased human activity. This ecosystem degradation is the main cause behind increased “water-related risks and extremes,” the report explains. Marshes, for instance, are an important buffer against storms. And soil plays a critical role in water storage and absorption — as soil quality deteriorates, more water evaporates, and more water simply runs off the land and contributes to erosion. “There is evidence that such ecosystem change has over the course of history contributed to the demise of several ancient civilizations,” the report states. “A pertinent question nowadays is whether we can avoid the same fate.” The demand for water is increasing by 1 percent each year due to population growth, economic development, and changing consumption patterns, according to the report. Global population numbers are expected to reach between 9.4 and 10.2 billion by 2050, up from 7.7 billion in 2017. Therefore, over the coming decades, the biggest expected growth in water demand will come from industry and domestic use. The majority of this demand will be in developing countries and emerging economies.

          Water Wars Loom: UN Warns 5 Billion People Will Face Civilizational Threat By 2050 - While residents of Cape Town, South Africa, brace for Day Zero (the day that the city of 4 million’s municipal water supply will be cut off for most households and businesses in order to preserve water after a severe drought that has emptied reservoirs), they are far from alone. As MarketWatch's Ciar Linnane notes, experts say this dystopian scene could be played out in other major cities in the coming years, as demand for water continues to increase with population growth and as climate change makes already-dry regions still dryer.More than 5 billion people could suffer water shortages by 2050 due to climate change, increased demand and polluted supplies, according to a UN report on the state of the world’s water. As The Guardian reports, the comprehensive annual study warns of conflict and civilizational threats unless actions are taken to reduce the stress on rivers, lakes, aquifers, wetlands and reservoirs. Demand for water is projected to rise fastest in developing countries. Meanwhile, climate change will put an added stress on supplies because it will make wet regions wetter and dry regions drier. “For too long, the world has turned first to human-built, or ‘grey’, infrastructure to improve water management. In doing so, it has often brushed aside traditional and indigenous knowledge that embraces greener approaches,” says Gilbert Houngbo, the chair of UN Water, in the preface of the 100-page assessment. “In the face of accelerated consumption, increasing environmental degradation and the multi-faceted impacts of climate change, we clearly need new ways of manage competing demands on our freshwater resources.” By 2050, the report predicts, between 4.8 billion and 5.7 billion people will live in areas that are water-scarce for at least one month each year, up from 3.6 billion today, while the number of people at risk of floods will increase to 1.6 billion, from 1.2 billion. Water quality is also deteriorating.

          Taps run dry in water summit city in world's wettest nation  -  Delegates to the World Water Forum that kicked off in Brasilia on Monday are unlikely to suffer from water shortages during their stay, unlike many of the city’s residents who’ve endured rationing for up to 2 days a week for over a year. And the rationing isn’t restricted to the nation’s capital. Last year at least a quarter of Brazilian municipalities faced water shortages. Even in Belem, a city nestled on the greater Amazon river system, water service is frequently interrupted, due in part to poor infrastructure. Brazil has the largest fresh water reserves in the world, including the massive underground Guarani aquifer it shares with Paraguay and Argentina. Yet a combination of droughts, population growth, and mismanagement have drained water reservoirs more frequently in recent years. In Sao Paulo in 2014 those reservoirs dwindled to little more than pools of mud. Brazil’s situation, which mirrors crises such as that in Cape Town only on a much bigger scale, is a warning to other countries that putting off water resource management means a massive bill down the line. Fixing Brazil’s water woes and ensuring supply even in years of drought will cost a staggering 300 billion reais ($93 billion) over 15 years, according to the World Water Council. That’s about 37 times what Brazil spent on soccer stadiums for the World Cup in 2014. The bill includes improving waste water treatment, which currently only 45 percent of the country’s 210 million citizens enjoy, according to government data. That means that raw sewage often flows directly into rivers and lakes, in turn contaminating fresh water supplies.

          America's dirty little secret': the Texas town that has been without running water for decades - It’s a sweltering Saturday in October and Pastor Eugene Keahey is becoming agitated. His flock live in a Texas town that hasn’t had running water in 30 years and the donated bottled water they rely upon is in short supply. “We got six cases of water from a donor but two have already gone in the last hour,” said Keahey, eyeing the line of people waiting for their weekly handout of food and water from the Mount Zion Baptist church in Sandbranch, a largely African American community that lies 20 minutes and a world away from Dallas. . “People come for donations from outside the town and it’s difficult to say, ‘No you can’t get water because you’ve got running water at home.’ My test is to say ‘What do you do with the bottled water?’ If they just say they drink it, I have to say no because people here shower, brush their teeth with it, everything.” Sandbranch has no water pipes, sewerage, trash collection or street lights. In an added dash of irony, the sprawling Dallas Southside water treatment plant is situated about 10 yards from Sandbranch, its rusting barbed wire fence running along the northern boundary of the town. “Everyone around us has water but not here,” said Detra Newhouse, a 46-year-old who grew up in Sandbranch with her grandparents. “For a while people didn’t even bathe. Some still don’t. There’s a man who lives nearby and I don’t think he’s had a proper bath in 20 years.   Many residents are at a loss as to why they have been forgotten. Officially, Sandbranch’s woes stem from being small, unincorporated and situated on a floodplain area that restricts new development.But the fact that low-income minority areas in the US are often blighted by environmental problems, whether it’s tainted water or toxic air from nearby industrial plants, is well understood here. Sandbranch is a jarring example of environmental injustices that have pockmarked the US for decades.

          Tribes come together for fight to bring back protections for Bears Ears national monument -- Members of the Native American tribes that once came together to petition for the creation of Bears Ears National Monument gathered near the site Sunday to share stories about their connections to the sprawling landscape that the Trump administration recently stripped of certain federal protections.Named after a pair of buttes, Bears Ears is home to thousands of Native American archeological and cultural sites and is considered sacred to many tribes. Tribal elders and other members of the Navajo Nation, Hopi, Zuni and Ute Mountain Ute tribes made it clear at the gathering that they are focused on ensuring the area is given the protections they believe it deserves: nothing less than the 1.35 million acres set aside by President Barack Obama in 2016.Malcolm Lehi, a member of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe who lives near White Mesa, said energy is building in indigenous communities, and lawmakers and government officials can’t turn a blind eye. “It’s a really strong movement,” he said. “I like what I see.” In December, on the recommendation of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, President Donald Trump reduced Bears Ears by 85 percent, cutting it to 201,876 acres, and divided it into two disconnected areas. The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, the group of tribes that petitioned for monument status, condemned the move — which opened the door for new mining claims — and filed a legal challenge.

           Drugs, plastics and flea killer: the unseen threats to UK’s rivers - Last year there were 317 serious pollution incidents on British rivers, a drop of two-thirds since 2001, but still enough for the Environment Agency to call for bigger fines for companies and farmers who pollute rivers. Yet a growing body of research indicates that many rivers are polluted by substances that are not systematically measured. Last week, researchers at the University of Manchester found “extraordinarily” high levels of microplastics in the river Tame in Denton, with 517,000 particles per square metre of river bed – levels not recorded anywhere else in the world. Microplastics are tiny particles that range from microbeads – used as exfoliants in skincare products, and banned in January by the government – to microscopic fragments small enough to cross the blood-brain barrier. A large proportion come from materials such as polyester and new synthetic fabrics, produced when clothes are washed, and from wet wipes and sanitary products. . But microplastics are just one issue,   Buglife, which campaigns to protect invertebrates, used Environment Agency data to highlight dangerous levels of neonicotinoids – a type of pesticide linked to bee population collapses – in several British rivers, particularly the Tame and the Great Ouse. Shardlow and other campaigners are also worried about insecticides used in flea treatments for pets, and pharmaceuticals. Antidepressants change the behaviour of freshwater snails, and antibiotic resistance is growing because microbes in water treatment plants are exposed to drugs present in human waste, and can then evolve into drug-resistant strains.

           Great Pacific Garbage Patch Is Now Twice the Size of Texas -- The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) floating off the coast of California now measures 1.6 million square kilometers (about 1 million square miles), according to a startling new study. To put that into perspective, the clump of trash is about the size of three Frances, or twice the size of Texas.  Not only that, the analysis , published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports, also revealed that the massive Pacific trash vortex contains up to 16 times more plastic than previous estimates— and could rapidly get worse .  The researchers estimated there are about 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic weighing 80,000 metric tons, the equivalent of 500 Jumbo Jets, are currently afloat in the area. That's largest accumulation zone for ocean plastics on Earth.  The study is the result of a three-year mapping effort conducted by an international team of scientists affiliated with Dutch non-profit The Ocean Cleanup Foundation , six universities and an aerial sensor company.  According to a press release provided to EcoWatch, to analyze the full extent of the GPGP, the team conducted a comprehensive sampling effort by crossing the debris field with 30 vessels simultaneously, supplemented by two aircraft surveys. The fleet collected a total of 1.2 million plastic samples, while the aerial sensors scanned more than 300 square kilometers of ocean surface.

          Great Pacific Garbage Patch plastic pollution dwarfs previous estimates and is ‘growing exponentially -- New findings show that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a rotating soup of plastic in the north Pacific Ocean, contains up to 16 times more waste than previous surveys were able to detect. A team of scientists has conducted what they say is the most comprehensive study to date of the patch's size and the debris floating in it.Using a combination of drag netting and visual surveys from boats and an aeroplane, they estimated the patch is 1.6 million square kilometres in area — almost the same size as Queensland.Packed into this area is more than 78,000 tonnes of plastic, the researchers report in the journal Scientific Reports Most of the mass was made up of pieces larger than 5 centimetres. While microplastics, which account for about 8 per cent of the mass, made up a bulk of the estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the patch. Researchers estimate there are about 1.8 trillion individual pieces of plastic in the patch. Lead researcher Laurent Lebreton said the garbage patch was growing exponentially and was boosted by debris washed out to sea during the Japanese tsunami in 2011."We show that plastic concentration has been increasing exponentially since the 1970s for different reasons," said Dr Lebreton, an oceanographer at the Ocean Cleanup Foundation in the Netherlands."We found about 30 per cent of the identifiable objects were likely coming from Japan. "We correlated that with our model and we looked at estimates from the Japanese Government in terms of how much they think was washed to sea that day… and we predict that about 10-20 per cent of the materials post-2011 in the larger size class came from the tsunami."

          Ocean Plastic Projected to Triple Within Seven Years - If we don't act now, plastic pollution in the world's oceans is projected to increase three-fold within seven years, according to a startling new report .The Future of the Sea report, released Wednesday for the UK government, found that human beings across the globe produce more than 300 million metric tons of plastic per year. Unfortunately, a lot of that material ends up in our waters, with the total amount of plastic debris in the sea predicted to increase from 50 million metric tons in 2015 to 150 million metric tons by 2025.Roughly 70 percent of all marine litter is plastic, and the effect of this non-biodegradable waste can be devastating for marine biodiversity ."There is extensive evidence that entanglement in, or ingestion of, plastics can cause injury and death to a wide range of marine organisms, including commercially important fish and shellfish," the report says. The report also warns about the prevalence of microplastics and other tiny plastic debris in the ocean. "Plastic does not decompose, instead breaking down into ever smaller pieces," it states. "The full effects are not understood, but there is growing evidence of plastic harming sea creatures and restricting their movement, as well as polluting beaches."

          More Than 140 Whales Dead After Mass Stranding in Western Australia - More than 150 short-finned pilot whales stranded en masse at Hamelin Bay on the west coast of Australia early Friday morning. Most of the whales did not survive after beaching themselves, according to Jeremy Chick, incident controller at Western Australia's Parks & Wildlife Service. Roughly 100 authorities and trained volunteers raced to save the 15 whales that were still alive after the stranding. Six of the survivors were returned to sea late in the afternoon. Chick said moving the surviving whales was difficult logistically due to the rocky beach terrain, the location of dead whales surrounding the live whales and rough seas. "The conditions are challenging but we are doing all we can to give these animals the best chance of survival without risking the safety of staff and volunteers," he said. "Once we have moved the whales out we will monitor the situation closely as it is possible the whales will come back into shore and re-strand. This has often been the case in previous mass strandings." Rescuers said the scene on the beach was distressing, ABC AU reported. UK visitor Barrie Brickle described how the whales repeatedly beached themselves after being pushed back to sea. "[Volunteers] seem to drag them up onto the beach, get them the right way up and then they seem to revive," Brickle said. "But the ones I've seen that are back in the water, they actually come back around and beach themselves again."  The Parks & Wildlife Service said the migrating mammals have stranded en masse before—nine whales were found dead after stranding at Albany's Ledge Point in November 1984 and 38 short-finned pilot whales stranded in April 1991 at Sandy Point, north of Broome.  However, Reuters reported that the large number this time is unusual.

          Native American, conservation groups sue Trump for failing to protect humpback whale habitat | TheHill: American Indian and conservation groups have filed a lawsuit against President Trump for failing to protect humpback whale habitats in the Pacific Ocean. The suit, filed Thursday in a San Francisco federal court, alleges that Trump's National Marine Fisheries Service failed to designate critical habitat for humpback whale populations after they were again listed as an endangered and threatened species in 2016, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The Center for Biological Diversity, Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation said the Trump administration is endangering the animals by expanding offshore oil and gas drilling, putting the animals at risk for ship strike and oil spills. “As cargo ships and crabbing gear slaughter West Coast humpbacks, the Trump administration won’t lift a finger to save these magnificent whales,” said Catherine Kilduff, an attorney for the Center of Biological Diversity. “The federal government needs to protect critical humpback habitat that’s prone to oil spills and dangerously dense with fishing gear and ship traffic. These whales need urgent action, not more delays.” As many as 54 humpback whales were found tangled in commercial fishing gear off the West Coast in 2016, the Center of Biological Diversity said. The groups attacked the Trump administration’s January decision to expand offshore oil and gas drilling despite risks, such as the 2015 Refugio oil spill that pumped more than 21,000 gallons of crude oil into the Pacific.

          70% of king penguins could ‘abruptly relocate or disappear’ by 2100 -- King penguins are well attuned to life in harsh Antarctic conditions. Breeding pairs raise their chicks on sub-Antarctic islands, including the Falklands and the Crozet Islands. In these spots, temperatures stay above freezing and predators, such as leopard seals, are kept at bay.  However, to find food for their chicks, adult penguins must venture to an ocean boundary known as the Antarctic Polar Front, where cold Antarctic waters meet and sink beneath warmer waters from mid-latitude regions. In these less frigid waters, a number of Antarctic fish species gather in large numbers. A typical journey to this ocean boundary, which is currently situated in between the penguins’ most northern and southern breeding islands, takes seven to ten days and stretches over 300-500km. However, future ocean warming could drive the Antarctic Polar Front to move polewards – further away from penguin breeding sites, according to Dr Robin Cristofari from the University of Turku, Finland, etal who jointly led the study published in Nature Climate Change. If climate change continues unabated, the journey to find food could become impossible from some breeding islands, they tell Carbon Brief in a joint interview:

           Part of the Great Barrier Reef exposed to more CO₂; results are grim - Coral reefs are not just pretty and cool—beyond tourism dollars and once-in-a-lifetime diving experiences, they provide real utility to human society. They provide homes to about a quarter of the world’s fish, which many people rely on as a food source. They can act as a barrier to rising sea levels, and they can protect coastlines from eroding.  But thanks to all the carbon we’ve pumped into the air, coral reefs are disappearing. Fast. Part of that is heat stress, but CO2 can also influence coral's ability to form reefs in the first place. A new experiment gives us our first look at how much this affects a complete reef ecosystem. When oceans take up atmospheric carbon dioxide, they acidify. This in turn depresses the concentration of carbonate ions in the water. When there is a dearth of carbonate ions in seawater, coral reefs, made of carbonates, dissolve to restore the balance. So it stands to reason that increasing carbon dioxide in the water would spell trouble for the corals.  A group of marine biologists took advantage of the structure of a reef at One Tree Island in the southern Great Barrier Reef to set up an experiment in an otherwise natural environment. CO2 enrichment lowered the coral reef’s net community calcification by 34 percent compared to background. Previous laboratory experiments had estimated the calcification sensitivity of corals to be between 15 and 28 percent. The researchers who conducted this study suggest that their new results might show a larger impact because of the presence of crustose coralline algae in the ecosystem, which can alter the balance of carbonate ions. Alternatively, the calcification rate may increase in sensitivity as the concentration of carbonate ions in the water decreases, and this experiment has revealed a snowball effect that we could eventually see in the wild.

          Marine heatwave set off 'carbon bomb' in world's largest seagrass meadow -  A marine heatwave in Western Australia in 2010 set off a massive “carbon bomb”, damaging the world’s largest seagrass meadow, releasing millions of tonnes of carbon that had been collected for thousands of years below the surface.Although Australia doesn’t currently count carbon released from damaged seagrass meadows in its official greenhouse gas emissions, if it did, the results mean those figures might need to be revised upwards by more than 20%.  Seagrass is a flowering grass-like plant that grows in shallow waters. It gathers carbon dissolved in the sea and buries it below the surface, often storing similar amounts of carbon in the top metre of sediment as is stored in tropical forests. But unlike forests that store carbon for about 60 years before releasing much of it, seagrass meadows often store the carbon for thousands of years until they are disturbed. That process is thought to offset up to 2% of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions. Oscar Serrano and colleagues from Edith Cowan University in Western Australia examined how much carbon was released when the world’s largest collection of seagrass meadows at Shark Bay were damaged by a marine heatwave in 2010 and 2011. Between 0.6% and 2.4% of the world’s seagrass coverage exists in that one location, where it has been growing for about 8,000 years.  “Despite seagrasses having thrived over millennia in Shark Bay, unprecedented widespread losses occurred in the austral summer of 2010/2011,” the authors wrote in their paper published in Nature Climate Change.The stored carbon is released when the dead seagrass allows oxygen to penetrate the layers of dead seagrass, changing the bacteria that live in it. Estimates vary as to how much oxygen can penetrate the dead seagrass, and therefore how much carbon is released after a disturbance.The researchers found 22% of the seagrass in Shark Bay was lost after the heatwave, compared with a 2002 baseline. Depending on how much oxygen that allowed to penetrate the layers of dead seagrass, the researchers found that caused the release of between 2m and 9m tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent, in just the three years following the heatwave.

          Last three years hottest on record, severe weather hits 2018: UN (Reuters) - The past three years were the hottest on record and heat waves in Australia, freak Arctic warmth and water shortages in Cape Town are extending harmful weather extremes in 2018, the United Nations said on Thursday.  Atlantic hurricanes and monsoon floods in India contributed to make 2017 the most costly year on record for severe weather and climate events, the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) wrote in its annual report on the global climate. “The start of 2018 has continued where 2017 left off – with extreme weather claiming lives and destroying livelihoods,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas wrote in the report. The study confirmed a provisional finding that 2016 was the warmest year in records dating back to the 19th century, with 2017 and 2015 tied for second place in a warming trend the WMO blames on man-made emissions of greenhouse gases. Last year was the hottest year without an extra boost from an El Nino event that releases heat from the Pacific Ocean.  Talaas said unusually high temperatures in the Arctic in 2018 contrasted with bitter winter storms in Europe and North America.  Also so far in 2018, “Australia and Argentina suffered extreme heat waves, whilst drought continued in Kenya and Somalia, and the South African city of Cape Town struggled with acute water shortages,” he said.  The report said that German reinsurer Munich Re estimated total disaster losses from weather and climate-related events in 2017 at $320 billion, a record after adjustment for inflation.

          Climates change faster in a warmer and wetter world – Climate change may still cause surprises, if simultaneously it means a warmer and wetter world. More heat and moisture together can unbalance ecosystems.Scientists have been warning for decades of shifts towards ever greater risks of flooding in some places, more intense and sustained droughts and potentially lethal heatwaves in others.But new research suggests an unexpected twist: temperate and subtropical zones could become both hotter and wetter during future summers.And this could create a whole suite of unexpected problems: farmers and city dwellers who have adapted to a pattern of cool wet summers or hot dry summers could face a new range of fungal or pest infections in crops, or pathogens in crowded communities, as insects and microbes seize a new set of opportunities. Canadian scientists report in Nature Communications that they considered what they call “departures from natural variability” that may follow as a consequence of continual rises in global average temperature, driven by ever greater combustion of fossil fuels that emit ever higher ratios of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

          First Category 5 Storm of 2018: Tropical Cyclone Marcus Northwest of Australia - The first Category 5 storm of 2018 is Tropical Cyclone Marcus, which intensified to a low-end Cat 5 with 160 mph winds at 18Z (2 pm EDT) March 21, with a central pressure estimated at 921 mb. Marcus is located well offshore of the northwest coast of Australia, and is not expected to bring any direct impacts to land areas as it curves southwards, roughly parallel to the west coast of Australia. Marcus took advantage of very low wind shear and warm ocean temperatures near 30°C (86°F)--near average temperatures for this time of year. Satellite loops show a large storm with impressive organization, an eyewall with very cold cloud tops, and a 19-mile diameter eye. The storm is now headed into cooler waters, and has probably peaked in strength.  If 2018 is an average year for Category 5 storms, we can expect four more Cat 5s this year. Earth averaged 5.1 Category 5 storms per year between 1990 - 2017, according to ratings made by NOAA's National Hurricane Center and the U.S. Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center. The record number of Cat 5s occurred in the El Niño year of 1997, which had twelve--ten of them in the Northwest Pacific, where most of Earth’s Cat 5s occur. In 2017, there were just three Cat 5s globally. This was the lowest total since 2012, and well below the unusually active years of 2014 - 2016, when eight or nine Category 5s appeared each year.  Surveying the damage around #Darwin: main drag of Mitchell St cut off; trees and powerlines down everywhere. Widespread power outages, including my place. #CycloneMarcus — Robert Baird (@rj_baird) March 17, 2018 On Sunday, Marcus hit the northern Australia city of Darwin as a tropical storm (see radar loop here), knocking out the power to over 20,000 customers. Marcus brought a wind gust of 81 mph (130 kph) to Darwin, which was the highest gust from a tropical cyclone measured there since Tropical Cyclone Tracy devastated the city on Christmas Day in 1974.

          Fourth Nor'Easter Of The Month Could Paralyze North East (Again) - Just when you thought it was the first day of spring... Ed Vallee, head meteorologist at Vallee Weather Consulting LLC., warns of the fourth nor’easter this month — expected to slam into the North East on Wednesday:“Another coastal storm will take shape Tuesday off the eastern seaboard. Intermittent snow and mixed precipitation will impact the Mid-Atlantic Tuesday then spread into New England Wednesday. Snow will be heavy at times Wednesday into Wednesday night, allowing it to periodically accumulate on roadways despite the higher March sun angle. Snow may impact morning commutes in Baltimore and DC, then impact evening commutes from Philadelphia to Boston Wednesday with low visibility and snow covered roads.Coastal flooding, gusty winds, and heavy, wet snow is expected which, in tandem, may lead to power outages in some locations. Snowfall will wind down from southwest to northeast Wednesday night.” The National Weather Service (NWS) issued winter storm advisories, warnings, and watches for most of the Ohio-Valley, Mid-Atlantic, and North East up to Boston, Massachusetts (as of Tue, Mar. 20, 2018 at 7:50:08 am EDT) for Wednesday into Thursday.

          Major snowstorm slams East Coast, to break records from D.C. to Boston - The fourth nor'easter in just three weeks is pummeling the East Coast, bringing heavy snow and sleet to the most populated part of the U.S., from Washington, D.C. northeastward to Boston on Wednesday. The storm formed overnight on Tuesday as a strong low pressure in the upper levels of the atmosphere approached the East Coast and helped spark a surface area of low pressure off the coast of the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic. The low pressure area is intensifying as it moves slowly northeastward, spreading areas of heavy snow inland.  This is likely to be the biggest snowstorm for so late in the season on record in Washington, D.C., and it could be the biggest March snowstorm in Philadelphia, where about a foot of snow is expected. More than a foot of snow could pile up in New York City if conditions come together just right, potentially making it one of the top storms for so late in the season.  Further north in Boston it will probably just rank as a moderate to heavy spring snowstorm, but not a historic event.. The storm is snarling travel across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, with most flights in and out of New York's airports and Philadelphia canceled on Wednesday, and significant disruptions at Washington area airports as well.

          Warm Arctic Means Colder, Snowier Winters in Northeastern U.S., Study Says -- Scientists from Rutgers University-New Brunswick and Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER) have linked the frequency of extreme winter weather in the United States to Arctic temperatures.Their research was published today in Nature Communications.  “Warm temperatures in the Arctic cause the jet stream to take these wild swings, and when it swings farther south, that causes cold air to reach farther south. These swings tend to hang around for awhile, so the weather we have in the eastern United States, whether it’s cold or warm, tends to stay with us longer.”   The research is timely given the extreme winter of 2017-2018, including record warm Arctic and low sea ice, record-breaking polar vortex disruption, record-breaking cold and disruptive snowfalls in the United States and Europe, severe “bomb cyclones” and costly nor’easters, said Judah Cohen, director of seasonal forecasting at AER and lead author of the study. In their study, Cohen, Francis and AER’s Karl Pfeiffer found that severe winter weather is two to four times more likely in the eastern United States when the Arctic is abnormally warm than when the Arctic is abnormally cold. Their findings also show that winters are colder in the northern latitudes of Europe and Asia when the Arctic is warm. Paradoxically, the study shows that severe winter weather in the western United States is more likely when the Arctic is colder than normal.The researchers found that when Arctic warming occurred near the surface, the connection to severe winter weather was weak. When the warming extended into the stratosphere, however, disruptions of the stratospheric polar vortex were likely. These disruptions usually cause severe winter weather in mid- to late winter and affect large metropolitan centers of the northeastern United States.

          Half a degree more global warming could flood out 5 million more people -- The 2015 Paris climate agreement sought to stabilize global temperatures by limiting warming to well below 2.0 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue limiting warming even further, to 1.5 C. To quantify what that would mean for people living in coastal areas, a group of researchers employed a global network of tide gauges and a local sea level projection framework to explore differences in the frequency of storm surges and other extreme sea-level events across three scenarios: global temperature increases of 1.5, 2.0 and 2.5 C. They concluded that by 2150, the seemingly small difference between an increase of 1.5 and 2.0 C would mean the permanent inundation of lands currently home to about 5 million people, including 60,000 who live on small island nations.  The study, conducted by researchers at Princeton University and colleagues at Rutgers and Tufts Universities, the independent scientific organization Climate Central, and ICF International, was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters on March 15, 2018. The researchers found that higher temperatures will make extreme sea level events much more common. They used long-term hourly tide gauge records and extreme value theory to estimate present and future return periods of extreme sea-level events through the 22nd century. Under the 1.5 C scenario, the frequency of extreme sea level events is still expected to increase. For example, by the end of the 21st century, New York City is expected to experience one Hurricane Sandy-like flood event every five years.

          Hurricane Harvey's toxic impact deeper than public told (AP) — A toxic onslaught from the nation's petrochemical hub was largely overshadowed by the record-shattering deluge of Hurricane Harvey as residents and first responders struggled to save lives and property. More than a half-year after floodwaters swamped America's fourth-largest city, the extent of this environmental assault is beginning to surface, while questions about the long-term consequences for human health remain unanswered. County, state and federal records pieced together by The Associated Press and The Houston Chronicle reveal a far more widespread toxic impact than authorities publicly reported after the storm slammed into the Texas coast in late August and then stalled over the Houston area. Some 500 chemical plants, 10 refineries and more than 6,670 miles of intertwined oil, gas and chemical pipelines line the nation's largest energy corridor. Nearly half a billion gallons of industrial wastewater mixed with storm water surged out of just one chemical plant in Baytown, east of Houston on the upper shores of Galveston Bay. Benzene, vinyl chloride, butadiene and other known human carcinogens were among the dozens of tons of industrial toxic substances released into surrounding neighborhoods and waterways following Harvey's torrential rains. In all, reporters catalogued more than 100 Harvey-related toxic releases — on land, in water and in the air. Most were never publicized, and in the case of two of the biggest ones, the extent or potential toxicity of the releases was initially understated. Only a handful of the industrial spills have been investigated by federal regulators, reporters found.  

          As Louisiana island shrinks, state paying to move residents (AP) — The effects of global warming can be seen and touched in Louisiana, where officials have begun buying higher ground to relocate an entire town in a bayou being swallowed by higher seas. The Louisiana Office of Community Development announced Tuesday that it will spend $11.7 million on a 515-acre (208-hectare) tract of high ground to house about 80 residents of Isle de Jean Charles, an island that has lost 98 percent of its land area since 1955 as sea levels rise due to climate change. Most are Native Americans, members of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians and the United Houma Nation.Groundbreaking is expected next year at the resettlement project near Schriever in northern Terrebonne Parish — the culmination of many years of planning for people who long survived in isolation along Lousiana's swampy coast.  Some in Isle de Jean Charles are concerned that 2019 may be too long a wait for homes to be built at the location, however. "We're going to have to go through another hurricane season, maybe two," Albert Naquin, chief of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians told Times-Picayune in December. "That makes us very, very edgy." Isle de Jean Charles has been the full-time home to the band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe for more than 170 years, since Native Americans were uprooted from better lands across the young United States during what became known as the Trail of Tears. Barred by law from buying land elsewhere, these families found swampland that the state considered uninhabitable and made it their home.

          Climate migration to surge by 2050 unless emissions are curbed - World Bank -- More than 140 million people in Africa, Latin America and South Asia could move to another part of their country by 2050 to escape the worsening impacts of climate change - unless urgent action is taken to curb global warming and help people adapt, the World Bank said Monday. Globally, the numbers of people forced to leave home because of water shortages, crop failures, sea-level rise, storm surges and other climate threats are likely to be much higher, researchers said. But if global warming is effectively kept to limits set in the Paris Agreement on climate change, and people are helped to adapt, then the numbers migrating in the three regions will drop to about 40 million people, the study predicted. "We have a small window now, before the effects of climate change deepen, to prepare the ground for this new reality," the head of the World Bank, Kristalina Georgieva, said in a statement. That preparation needs to include making economies less vulnerable to climate change, helping farmers adapt their growing techniques, and making city infrastructure more resilient to storms, rising sea levels, floods or drought, the study noted. Cities also need to create enough jobs, and boost health and education services, to meet the needs of the growing number of people migrating to urban areas. Without that preparation, cities could face serious repercussions, said Kanta Kumari Rigaud, who led creation of the World Bank report. "We could see increased tensions and conflict ... but that doesn't have to be the future," the environmental specialist said. "It won't be a crisis if we plan for it now." In the worst case scenario, more than 85 million people could leave home by 2050 in sub-Saharan Africa, 40 million in South Asia, and 17 million in Latin America, the report noted. And the number of climate migrants could accelerate after 2050, unless there is urgent action to hold global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the report noted. The most vulnerable people, however, will be unable to move and will remain trapped in increasingly unviable areas, it predicted. 

          What a century of climate change has done to France’s biggest glacier - Like a one-man Google Earth, Swiss aviation pioneer Eduard Spelterini flew a gas-filled balloon from the French town of Chamonix to Switzerland on August 8, 1909 – a distance of 100 miles over the Alps. While the flight was extraordinary for being the first aerial crossing of the central Alps from west to east, it now holds a special significance of which Spelterini was unaware. The balloonist was also a photographer who captured a series of glass-plate images of the Mer de Glace (“sea of ice”) glacier that descends from the Mont Blanc Massif in a dramatic sweep. Spelterini’s interest in recording the alpine landscape was both scientific and aesthetic, and the results are striking. This collection of images survives today as a record of the glacier that is unique in its detail and antiquity. But crucially, they can be used to measure how much this landscape has changed in the intervening years. In 1909, no one could have guessed how significant these glaciers would become to environmental science, or just how rapidly they would be affected by rising temperatures in the century that followed. By identifying common features in the photographs, which can in turn be linked to surveyed features in the landscape, a 3D representation of both the balloon flight and the historical topography can be reconstructed using photogrammetry – the science of taking measurements from photography. While the oblique angle of the photographs limits the measurable accuracy of the resulting data, compared to the vertical mapping photographs taken in the decades that followed, they still provide a unique and compelling glimpse into a past landscape.  In Spelterini’s image below, the oblique aerial view taken at a sideways angle towards the horizon gives a sense of place that is part way between the familiar ground level view and the high vertical perspective like that of a map. In the foreground the newly completed Montenvers cogwheel railway is visible, perched over the voluminous Mer de Glace glacier which leads the eye to the spires of the Mont Blanc Massif in the background.

          Global warming to date could ‘obliterate’ a third of glacier ice - The warming the world has already experienced could be enough to melt more than a third of the world’s glaciers outside Antarctica and Greenland – regardless of current efforts to reduce emissions.That is the stark conclusion of a new study, which analyses the lag between global temperature rise and the retreat of glaciers.The relatively slow response of glaciers to global warming means it will take to the end of the century – and beyond – to see the benefits of mitigation efforts in the coming decades, the study says. The “baked in” glacier loss from observed warming has largely been overlooked, another scientist tells Carbon Brief, meaning “we really are on course to obliterate many of these mountain landscapes”. As global temperatures have risen, many of the world’s glaciers have already started to shrink and retreat. Continued warming could see many iconic landscapes – from the Canadian Rockies to the Mount Everest region of the Himalayas – lose almost all their glaciers by the end of the century.But glacier retreat does not happen overnight. So if global temperature rise stopped immediately, how much of the world’s glacier ice could be saved? And for how much is its fate already sealed? This is what the new study, published in Nature Climate Change, aims to work out.

          The 2018 melting season has started -- Arctic Sea Ice by Neven - For a while it looked like the record for lowest maximum was going to be broken for the third year in a row, especially after an extreme warm event shook the Arctic. But this anomalous heat was followed by anomalous cold, which was just enough to nudge JAXA sea ice extent above last year's record low maximum. By 13 thousand km2, to be precise, which is around 0.1% of total sea ice this time of year.  I don't mind, as I correctly guessed both this maximum's date as well as the final number on Arctic Sea Ice Forum polls, probably for the first (and last) time in my life as an Arctic observer, as the maximum is incredibly difficult to pinpoint. Here's the best visual representation of maximums throughout the years, produced by ASIF member Hautbois, as it shows when the maximum of a given year was reached, as well as how high it got:  Not a record low maximum, but the fourth maximum in a row that has ended up (well) below 14 million km2. That's for JAXA sea ice extent data (formerly known as IJIS, now provided by ADS-NIPR).  The NSIDC has just reported that for their SIE product this year's maximum was also second lowest on record.  Here's the spectacular drop from anomalously warm to anomalously cold on the DMI 80N temperature graph, which normally isn't all that representative for the Arctic as a whole, but in this case it is: Now that's quite the roller coaster ride. Lots of extreme weather, not just in the Arctic weather, but all over the Northern Hemisphere, ever since that sudden stratospheric warming event caused the polar vortex to split and fall apart, back in February. It'll take a while longer for things to stabilize, if stable is the right word for an atmosphere that continues to warm due to an increase in greenhouse gas concentration. As can be seen on Wipneus' collection of regional graphs, it was Baffin Bay that was the largest contributor to ending the freezing season, and with Okhotsk about to join the party, it's downhill from now on:

          These climate pollutants don’t last long, but they’re wreaking havoc on the Arctic - people talk about climate change, the focus is often on carbon dioxide, and for good reason. The CO2 pumped into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels today will hang around for centuries, building up over time and continuing to warm the planet.It isn't the only culprit, though. Mixing in are other pollutants that only stick around for a few weeks or years but pack a powerful punch while they're there. And the Arctic, where the average temperature is rising twice as fast as the rest of the world, has become the unfortunate laboratory where researchers can best measure their impact. The role that short-lived climate pollutants play in the Arctic has repercussions, because what happens in the Arctic affects the entire planet. Tackling the problems raised by these potent pollutants—methane, black carbon, tropospheric ozone and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) chief among them—offers a glimmer of opportunity for saving the rapidly warming Arctic. If they can be significantly reduced, the impact will be felt almost immediately, giving countries much needed time to solve the trickier problem of CO2. "The hope is that we can buy time by reducing short-lived climate forcers," said Patricia Quinn, an atmospheric chemist researching these pollutants at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Ice that blankets the Arctic region reflects the sun's rays and helps regulate the Earth's climate. But as temperatures rise and sea ice levels drop to record lows, more of the dark ocean is exposed, and the sun's warmth is absorbed instead of reflected. The warming leads to more warming, which leads to more warming—and so on.

          5 reasons the Arctic’s extremely warm winter should alarm you - It’s often said that on this warming planet, nowhere is changing faster than the Arctic. But this winter is providing stunning new evidence of a region in extraordinary, worrying flux. It’s also a hint of the future to come: an Arctic Ocean that’s not permanently frozen and all the disastrous consequences that come with that. Here are five of the most alarming observations of the Arctic from the beginning of this year.

          • 1) It was the warmest Arctic winter on record. Overall, this winter (as measured by December, January, and February, the three coldest months) was the warmest on record. As the Associated Press reported, Arctic weather stations averaged 8.8 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.  These Arctic warm spells do occur due to natural variability, Alek Petty, a NASA polar scientist, says. “But the key is that they are happening more frequently, they are lasting longer, and they have been more intense than they used to be,” he says. Indeed, this was the third Arctic winter in a row that experienced an extreme heat wave.
          • 2) There’s new evidence that weird weather in the Arctic impacts our weather. This week, Nature Communications published a study looking at temperatures in the Arctic and in North America from 1950 to 2016. And it found a correlation: When the Arctic is weirdly warm, it tends to be weirdly cold and snowy down here in the continental United States, particularly on the East Coast. We saw this pattern on display this year. If you can think back to New Year’s Eve, it was well below 0 degrees Fahrenheit in some places on the US East Coast. Meanwhile, it was around 30 degrees in Alaska.
          • 3) There were record-low amounts of ice, continuing a decades-long downward trend. A new record for low sea ice extent was set last year. The second-lowest extent was recorded in 2015. The third-lowest extent? That was in 2016. Here’s NASA’s illustration of what the sea ice extent looked like in 2015 through the early months of 2016. It’s a beautiful reminder of how the seasons transform the land and life on it.
          • 4) Scientists saw unsettling signs that the remaining ice is getting thinner and less stable. A big conclusion from NOAA’s last Arctic Report Card was that not only is the Arctic’s ice sheet shrinking but what ice remains is growing less stable. In 1985, 45 percent of the ice in the Arctic was more than a year old. In 2017, that figure was down to 21 percent. Younger ice is thinner than older ice and more susceptible to changes in temperature, and to melting.
          • 5) An “ice-free Arctic” could come within decades. Arctic sea ice extent has been measured by satellites since the 1970s. So while climate scientist suspect we’re witnessing the greatest decline in Arctic sea ice in human history, it’s hard to prove conclusively.  Yet scientists can make some guesses about historical ice extent by sampling ice cores, permafrost records, and tree rings. In the latest Arctic Report Card, NOAA included this chart, which plots the estimated sea ice area for the past 1,500 years. And, well, it looks a little scary.

          The Arctic’s carbon bomb might be even more potent than we thought  - For some time, scientists fearing the mass release of greenhouse gases from the carbon-rich, frozen soils of the Arctic have had at least one morsel of good news in their forecasts: They predicted most of the gas released would be carbon dioxide, which, though a greenhouse gas, drives warming more slowly than some other gases. Scientists obviously weren’t excited about more carbon dioxide emissions, but it was better than the alternative: methane, a shorter-lived but far harder-hitting gas that could cause faster bursts of warming. Now even that silver lining is in doubt. Research released Monday suggests that methane releases could be considerably more prevalent as Arctic permafrost thaws. The research finds that in waterlogged wetland soils, where oxygen is not prevalent, tiny microorganisms will produce a considerable volume of methane, a gas that doesn’t last in the air much more than a decade but has a warming effect many times that of carbon dioxide over a period of 100 years. “What we can definitely say is that the importance of methane was underestimated until now in the carbon studies,” said Christian Knobloch, a researcher at Universität Hamburg in Germany and the lead author of the study, published in Nature Climate Change. The divergent finding came after Knoblauch and his colleagues conducted a lengthy experiment, more than seven years long, monitoring patches of submerged and artificially warmed soil from Siberia in the laboratory, and gradually seeing sensitive methane-producing microorganisms become more prevalent over time. Knoblauch contends that other studies have not examined waterlogged Arctic soils for as long, and he notes that in some cases it took three years or more for the methane-generating microorganisms to really get cranking. “What we saw is that it takes a very long time until methane starts being produced, and the study that we did is really the first one which is so long,” Knoblauch said

          Methane Meltdown: Thawing Permafrost Could Release More Potent Greenhouse Gas Than Expected -- A study published in Nature Climate Change Monday shows that thawing permafrost in the Arctic might produce more methane than previously thought. Methane has 28 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of carbon dioxide, so the findings indicate scientists might have to reassess how thawing permafrost will contribute to climate change . The research contradicts previous studies that suggested dry permafrost would contribute more to global warming than water-saturated permafrost, and it would do so mostly by releasing carbon dioxide. By studying samples of water-saturated permafrost in the laboratory over a seven-year period, the study's authors found that the samples produced equal amounts of carbon dioxide and methane. They were then able to derive models that predicted water-saturated permafrost would release about 2.4 times the greenhouse gases that dry permafrost would."What we can definitely say is that the importance of methane was underestimated until now in the carbon studies," the study's lead author and Universität Hamburg researcher Christian Knobloch, told The Washington Post .The reason this study found different results is likely due to its length. Permafrost releases carbon as it melts due to microbial decomposition; previous studies did not pick up on the production of methane in water-saturated soils because they only lasted days or weeks. The laboratory observations, however, found that methane-producing communities of microorganisms did not activate in the permafrost samples until weeks to years had passed.More methane release has been observed in field studies of the Arctic. Last summer, for example, EcoWatch reported that scientists found 7,000 methane-filled mounds in thawing permafrost in Siberia that bounced when researchers pressed on them.

          Billion-dollar polar engineering ‘needed to slow melting glaciers’ - Scientists have outlined plans to build a series of mammoth engineering projects in Greenland and Antarctica to help slow down the disintegration of the planet’s main glaciers. The controversial proposals include underwater walls, artificial islands and huge pumping stations that would channel cold water into the bases of glaciers to stop them from melting and sliding into the sea.The researchers say the work – costing tens of billions of dollars a time – is urgently needed to prevent polar glaciers melting and raising sea levels. That would lead to major inundations of low-lying, densely populated areas, such as parts of Bangladesh, Japan and the Netherlands. Flooding in these areas is likely to cost tens of trillions of dollars a year if global warming continues at its present rate, and vast sea-wall defences will need to be built to limit the devastation. Such costs make glacier engineering in polar regions a competitive alternative, according to the team, which is led by John Moore, professor of climate change at the University of Lapland. “We think that geoengineering of glaciers could delay much of Greenland and Antarctica’s grounded ice from reaching the sea for centuries, buying time to address global warming,” the scientists write in the current issue of Nature. “Geoengineering of glaciers has received little attention in journals. Most people assume that it is unfeasible and environmentally undesirable. We disagree.”Ideas put forward by the group specifically target the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctic because these will contribute more to sea rise this century than any other source, they say. Their proposals include:

          • • Building a 100-metre high wall on the seabed across a 5km wide fjord at the end of the Jakobshavn glacier in western Greenland. This would reduce influxes of warming sea water which are eroding the glacier’s base;
          • • Constructing artificial islands in front of glaciers in Antarctica in order to buttress them and limit their collapse as their ice melts due to global warming;
          • • Circulating cooled brine underneath glaciers such as the Pine Island glacier in Antarctica – in order to prevent their bases from melting and sliding towards the sea.

           How Air Pollution Has Put a Brake on Global Warming -- Pollution particles emitted by diesel cars and trucks, coal-fired power plants, factories, rudimentary cook stoves, and the burning of forests are major contributors to the unhealthy pall of smog that blankets many cities and regions, particularly in the developing world. Scientists have long known that these aerosols serve to block incoming solar radiation and temporarily cool the planet, but now an international team of scientists has quantified that cooling effect, saying the earth would be 0.5 to 1.1 degree C (0.9 to 2 degrees F) warmer if that pollution were to suddenly disappear.  In an interview with Yale Environment 360, lead author Bjørn H. Samset of Norway’s Center for International Climate Research discusses the implications of this research. As countries like China make progress in reducing air pollution, regional planners should be prepared for the cleaner air to cause a jump in temperatures even above those expected under global warming scenarios. At the same time, Samset says, rising temperatures will likely lead to an increase in precipitation as more water evaporates from oceans, lakes, and rivers.  In Samset’s view, the recent findings should not be taken as a green light to ramp up controversial geoengineering efforts to spray aerosols into the atmosphere, a prospect he likens to Russian roulette. “In Russian roulette, you know there’s a bullet in there,” Samset told Yale 360. In the case of geoengineering, “there might not be a bullet, you might be lucky. But would you count on it? The precautionary principle argues against it.” (interview transcript)

          Why Climate Activists Must Include Supply-Side Restrictions in Their Recommended Policy Mix -  Gaius Publius - Climate policy recommendations, to date, cluster around a very small number of recommendations, all designed to discourage demand for fossil fuels and encourage demand for renewable energy sources. Few policy recommendations address the plentiful, cheap and growing supply of fossil fuels.This is a major mistake. It may even prove fatal to the great task ahead. And only the climate activist and policy community can fix this error. Consider the following six points.

          • 1. Note the graph above. If it’s not already clear that global warming has not just reached truly dangerous proportions, but is accelerating, what’s shown in graphs like that should dispel all doubt. Here’s another, from the same series of tweets by climate writer Bill McKibben: The Chukchi Sea is the region of the Arctic north of the Bering Strait. As you can see, the extent of sea ice is declining precipitously. (See also here and here.)  If this isn’t an emergency, what is? .
          • 2. If there’s no time to waste in addressing the climate crisis, it’s necessary not just to restrict the demand for fossil fuels — for example, via carbon taxes and mandatory emissions standards — but also the supply. This means, in turn, putting the squeeze on the economy to force a conversion to renewable energy supply, rather than simply put pressure on the economy via more gentle restrictions and encouragements that allow the economy to adjust, if it wishes, in a way that’s “comfortable.”
          • 3. Restrictions on supply, when coupled with constrictions on demand, work very well in other areas where public policy intervention is needed to create a positive social change. Consider the attempt to limit tobacco use in Australia, from a recent academic study (“Cutting with both arms of the scissors: the economic and political case for restrictive supply-side climate policies” by Fergus Green & Richard Denniss) that looks at the utility of supply-side restriction in the battle to mitigate climate change (emphasis added):
          • 4. Restrictions on demand for fossil fuels alone aren’t doing the job, certainly not fast enough. The march to a far less human-friendly climate — what I’ve been calling the Next New Stone Age — is relentless and accelerating. Again, we are now seeing zero degree Celsius days in February in the Arctic. In plain English, that means this: air, warm enough to melt ice, in the Arctic, in winter.  Can counter-arguments that point to “discomfort” as a reason not to address climate change via fossil fuel supply restrictions be overcome?
          • 5. The surprising answer is yes, those arguments can be overcome. The paper cited above notes both economic and political benefits of restricting the supply of fossil fuels, and shows that, controlling for other factors, those arguments can be popular and effective. To my knowledge, it’s the first paper to do so.
          • 6. The bottom line is: This is the first study that controls for other factors in determining support for supply-side climate policies vs. demand-side policies by themselves, and finds much to be encouraged about.The authors conclude:In our experience, the climate policy community has for too long been excessively narrow in its preference for certain kinds of policy instruments (carbon taxes, cap-and trade), largely ignoring the characteristics of such instruments that affect their political feasibility and feedback effects. At the very least, then, we hope we have shown that supply-side policies should be in the toolkit, ready to be wielded when circumstances favour.Better, we think, to cut with both arms of the scissors.

           China’s CO2 emissions grew less than expected in 2017 - China’s CO2 emissions grew by 1.4% in 2017 after three years of staying flat or falling slightly, according to our analysis of preliminary government statistics released last month.  Although this shows emissions in China are growing again, it is a better outcome than expected. Some analysts – including ourselves – initially projected that the growth would be as much as 3-4%. This was based on mid-year data, which showed strong growth in coal-fired power generation and energy-intensive industries, balanced with expectations that the growth would taper off later in 2017.With a rebound in heavy industry and coal-fired power generation, Chinese coal consumption was expected to grow in 2017, after falling since 2014. Combined with continued strong growth in oil and natural gas consumption, an uptick in CO2 emissions was expected.However, the newly released official statistics report much lower estimated growth in both coal consumption and CO2 emissions than we originally expected. As is often the case with Chinese data, the numbers pose as many questions as they answer. The newly released data is part of the 2017 Statistical Communiqué, a collection of preliminary statistics for 2017 from the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) that contains data on everything from industrial production to water resources. The communiqué also contains preliminary estimates of total energy consumption and the growth rate of each fossil fuel, which allows us to calculate CO2 emissions.

          Global carbon emissions hit record high in 2017 (Reuters) - Global energy-related carbon emissions rose to a historic high of 32.5 gigatons last year, after three years of being flat, due to higher energy demand and the slowing of energy efficiency improvements, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said. Global energy demand rose by 2.1 percent last year to 14,050 million tonnes of oil equivalent, more than twice the previous year’s rate, boosted by strong economic growth, according to preliminary estimates from the IEA. Energy demand rose by 0.9 percent in 2016 and 0.9 percent on average over the previous five years. Over 70 percent of global energy demand growth was met by oil, natural gas and coal, while renewables accounted for almost all of the rest, the IEA said in a report. Improvements in energy efficiency slowed last year. As a result of these trends, global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions increased by 1.4 percent in 2017 to 32.5 gigatons, a record high. “The significant growth in global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2017 tells us that current efforts to combat climate change are far from sufficient,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director. “For example, there has been a dramatic slowdown in the rate of improvement in global energy efficiency as policy makers have put less focus in this area.” Carbon dioxide emissions are the primary cause of global average temperature rise, which countries are seeking to curb to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change. At talks in Germany late last year among almost 200 nations about details of a global climate accord, scientists presented data showing that world carbon emissions were set to rise 2 percent in 2017 to a new record. 

          Global C02 Emissions Rise for the First Time in 3 Years --In a worrying development, global CO2 emissions from energy jumped by 1.4 percent in 2017, the first increase in three years. The trend indicates that global efforts to reduce emissions are “insufficient,” according to a new report from the International Energy Agency. Total energy-related emissions jumped by 1.4 percent to 32.5 gigatonnes (Gt), the equivalent of 170 million additional cars. The prior three years, energy-related emissions were flat, raising hopes that the curve might bend down. Still, emissions did not rise everywhere. Notably, the U.S., Mexico, Japan and the UK saw emissions decline. In fact, the U.S. posted the largest single-country decline in emissions in 2017, dropping 25 megatonnes (Mt). It was the third consecutive year of declining emissions, which may surprise some given the Trump administration’s efforts – he withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement, he has actively promoted coal, oil and gas production, and his EPA has done all it can to roll back Obama-era climate policies.Despite the trend in federal policy, the transition to cleaner energy is, at this point, driven more so by market forces than by the whims of Washington. Renewable energy outcompetes coal and even natural gas in many places.Indeed, the IEA noted that in years past, the cut in U.S. CO2 emissions was largely the result of utilities shutting down dirty coal plants and switching over to natural gas. However, in 2017, the 0.5 percent drop in U.S. energy-related emissions was the result of more renewable energy, rather than natural gas. A decline in electricity demand also chipped in. The proportion of electricity coming from renewables jumped to 17 percent in 2017, while nuclear power accounts for 20 percent.Similar trends played out in the UK and Mexico, where coal also took a hit. In Japan, some nuclear power came back, helping it to displace imported oil, coal and gas.  But strong economic growth (GDP jumped by 3.7 percent) and low prices for oil and gas led to a lot more consumption. Meanwhile, the IEA said that weaker energy efficiency efforts also contributed to the uptick in emissions.

          Global Carbon Emissions Rise for First Time Since 2014 - Global carbon dioxide emissions from energy increased for the first time in 2017 after three years of remaining flat, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said Thursday, meaning the world remains far off course in curbingplanet warming emissions. Carbon emissions reached a record-high of 32.5 gigatonnes in 2017 due to global economic growth and increased energy demands that was met mostly by fossil fuels. As the Financial Times noted, that growth—an increase of 460 million tonnes—is the equivalent to the emissions of an additional 170 million cars. These findings are part of the Paris-based IEA's " Global Energy and CO2 Status Report " released today. The report shows that global energy demand rose by 2.1 percent last year (or 14,050 million tonnes of oil equivalent), more than twice the rate in 2016. Oil, natural gas and coal met more than 70 percent of additional need, while renewable energy met just about the rest.  Global energy-related CO2 emissions grew by 1.4 percent in 2017, reaching a historic high of 32.5 gigatonnes, a resumption of growth after three years of global emissions remaining flat. Global Energy & CO2 Status Report "The significant growth in global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2017 tells us that current efforts to combat climate change are far from sufficient," said Fatih Birol, IEA executive director, in a statement. "For example, there has been a dramatic slowdown in the rate of improvement in global energy efficiency as policy makers have put less focus in this area."The IEA's findings "demonstrates that current efforts are insufficient to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement," the report says. The 2015 Paris agreement set a primary goal to limit global warming well below 2°C to avoid dangerous climate tipping points. "Global emissions need to peak soon and decline steeply to 2020; this decline will now need to be even greater given the increase in emissions in 2017," the report says.

          Pruitt to restrict the use of data to craft EPA regulations | TheHill: The Trump administration is planning to put new restrictions on the kind of scientific studies and data that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can use to craft its regulations. The EPA wants to stop using scientific findings whose data and methodologies are not public or cannot be replicated, the Daily Caller reported Tuesday. It aligns in part with a years-long effort by House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar SmithLamar Seeligson SmithOvernight Regulation: FTC to probe Facebook over user data | FDA takes step to regulating flavors in tobacco products | Congress may include background check measure in funding bill Overnight Energy: EPA plans to restrict use of science data for regs | Pruitt's Italy trip cost more than K | Perry insists he's staying at Energy Pruitt to restrict the use of data to craft EPA regulations MORE (R-Texas) to stop the use of “secret science” at the EPA.

          Climate science on trial as high-profile US case takes on fossil fuel industry -- The science of climate change was on trial on Wednesday when leading experts testified about the threats of global warming in a US court while a fossil fuel industry lawyer fighting a high-profile lawsuit sought to deflect blame for rising sea levels. The hearing was part of a courtroom showdown between liberal California cities and powerful oil corporations, including Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell and BP. San Francisco and Oakland have sued the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies, arguing that they are responsible for damages related to global warming. While climate change-related cases have entered courtrooms throughout the US, the judge in the California case, William Alsup, took the unusual step of convening a formal “tutorial” on the subject “so that the poor judge can learn some science”, allowing renowned experts and some of the biggest oil companies to answer key questions.   “From Chevron’s perspective, there’s no debate about climate science,” said Theodore Boutrous Jr, the attorney for the US oil giant, which chose not to have scientists or experts testify on its behalf. While he repeatedly referred to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) conclusion that it is “extremely likely” humans have been the dominant cause of warming since the mid-20th century, he also worked to paint the problem as an international one for which individual corporations are not liable.  “Climate change is a global issue that requires global engagement and global action,” he said, later saying “production and extraction” are not responsible for increases in emissions, but rather “economic and population growth” are, adding: “It’s the way people are living their lives.”  The communities in California, known as a leader in climate activism, have argued that greenhouse gas emissions from the companies’ activities over time will cause billions of dollars’ worth of damage, have locked in significant rises in sea level, and are endangering lives. The defendants are accused of long knowing the environmental impact of their emissions and working to deny and conceal this knowledge.

           Chevron’s lawyer, speaking for major oil companies, says climate change is real and it’s your fault - In a federal court in San Francisco on Wednesday, major oil companies concurred with the “scientific consensus,” saying it was “extremely likely” that human activity has been driving global warming since the middle of the 20th century. They just don’t think they can be sued for it. “Chevron accepts what the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] has reached consensus on concerning science and climate change,” said Theodore Boutrous, who represents Chevron and is heading up the assorted legal team for the five oil companies that are defendants in this lawsuit. But, he said, that didn’t mean that a civil lawsuit was the right way to address climate change. “It’s a global issue that requires global action,” he said. Over the course of two hours, Boutrous ran through the findings of the most recent IPCC report (released in 2013), acknowledging that global temperatures were rising due to carbon dioxide caused by human activity, that other factors were negligible, and that as a result, sea levels were rising. No time was given to any denials of climate science, with Boutrous sticking closely to the substance of the IPCC report. Even his attempt at implying that his client was not at fault was framed within the substance of the IPCC report; he said that the report never said “extraction or production” of oil was the cause of carbon dioxide emissions, but rather the “economic activity” that burned fossil fuels. Judge William Alsup, who is presiding over the lawsuit, is giving the other oil companies — ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell, and BP — a week to quibble with anything Boutrous said in court about climate change. Wednesday’s session was not a trial, or really even a hearing in the typical sense of the word. It was, in Judge Alsup’s terminology, a “tutorial” — a session in which the legal teams for both sides present background facts for his edification.. Nonetheless, the hearing marked a moment in which major oil companies went on the record to say that human-caused climate change is real. At this point, the science is so undeniable that it no longer makes sense for oil companies to try and refute it.

          Trump Signs $1.3 Trillion Spending Bill With No Clean Energy Cuts - President Donald Trump signed a $1.3 trillion spending bill on Friday that will prevent a government shutdown without the funding cuts to the Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency and other federal clean energy programs his administration had been seeking."There are a lot of things I'm unhappy about in this bill, there are a lot of things that we shouldn't have had in this bill, but we were in a sense forced if we want to build our military," Trump said regarding the signing.The spending bill even increased funding to certain renewable energy programs."I said to Congress, I will never sign another bill like this again," Trump reiterated.The bill was put together very quickly, without giving lawmakers adequate time to look over its contents. Trump asked Congress to allow him a “line item veto” in the future, and suggested the Senate remove the filibuster rule and make 51 votes the measure of bill’s success.Trump’s notorious border wall was also not fully funded.The EPA’s budget stayed the same in size, despite the White House’s effort to cut it by 31 percent. The agency will also get another $760 million for water infrastructure management.The DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy was slated to be cut by 65 percent, according to the president's Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 budget request. Instead, the spending package increases the office's budget by 14 percent to $2.32 billion. Trump had proposed a 25-cent gas tax hike several times during a closed-door meeting in February, but it’s unclear if Americans should expect their gasoline bills to rise. Before the meeting, Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners – both Koch-funded groups – had announced their opposition to the tax hike, which would have funded $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending.

          SUVs and Trucks Nullify Car Efficiency Gains - When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency increased safety and environmental standards for cars in the 1970s, automakers responded. Although they had to adhere to the new rules, they didn't base their entire response on safety or pollution concerns. Instead, they looked for loopholes.Under the U.S. Clean Air Act , vehicle manufacturers were required to more than double fuel efficiency for cars over the following decade. Canada and other countries followed suit. But trucks, vans and SUVs weren't subject to the same regulations, so automakers started marketing them as family vehicles.In many countries, greenhouse gas emissions have been falling in some sectors, thanks largely to a shift from coal-fired power . But they've been rising in the transportation sector. That's bad news. Transportation accounts for about 14 percent of global emissions and is now the largest source of CO2 emissions in the U.S., mostly from cars and trucks.  In Canada, the largest share of emissions is from the oil and gas industry, at 26 percent, but transportation, at 24 percent, is a close second. While emissions from electricity generation and heavy industry have been declining in Canada since 1990, emissions from oil and gas and transportation have been rising, by 76 percent for oil and gas between 1990 and 2015, and 42 percent for transportation. According to the Government of Canada, car emissions went down by 23 percent over that period, but "emissions from light trucks (including trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles) doubled."Fuel efficiency, hybrid and electric vehicles and cleaner transportation options such as car-share programs, transit and cycling infrastructure are necessary to reduce pollution and climate change . But the growing worldwide market for trucks, SUVs and "crossover vehicles," which combine car and SUV design, are negating advances in those areas. As the New York Times points out , "For the first time, S.U.V.s and their lighter, more carlike cousins known as 'crossovers' made up more than one in three cars sold globally last year, almost tripling their share from just a decade ago, according to new figures from the auto research firm JATO Dynamics." In the U.S., low gas prices spurred a boom in "light-duty" vehicles like SUVs, which accounted for 63 percent of 2017 vehicle sales.

          UK Spy Agencies Warn Power Companies To Brace For Crippling Russian Cyberattack - Millions of Americans believe that Russian agents tried to infiltrate the voting systems of individual states - even though the Department of Homeland Security clarified that it was unable to verify who or what organized the attacks. Despite this, UK intelligence agencies are warning the National Grid (a major utility company), the National Health Service, the Sellafield nuclear power plant and Whitehall Departments to brace for a potentially crippling cyberattack organized by Russia that could trigger a widespread blackout, following its decision to blame Russia for the nerve-agent poisoning of a former Russian spy, per the Sunday Times  (an attack that's increasingly looking like a false flag). Spy chiefs have warned the bosses of Britain’s key power companies to boost their security amid fears of a Russian cyber-attack that could put the lights out. The National Grid was put on alert last week by officials from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) - a branch of the signals intelligence agency GCHQ - and given advice on how to improve its defences to prevent power cuts. ... NCSC officials, working with the National Crime Agency and MI5’s Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure, have told key organisations that they could face attempts to steal the data of taxpayers and patients or "denial of service" attacks that could shut down their websites. A Whitehall security source said: "They’re contacting all the critical national infrastructure operators. They’ve been in touch with National Grid with guidance." Paul Chichester, the NCSC director of operations, said: "It is absolutely right that we give advice to sectors on defending themselves from cyber-attacks."  On Monday, Prime Minister Theresa May revealed that former Russian spy, Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia, were poisoned with "a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia" known as 'Novichok'.

          Britain 'four meals away from anarchy' if cyber attack takes out power grid -- British cities would be uninhabitable within days and the country is only a few meals from anarchy if the National Grid was taken down in a cyber attack or solar storm, disaster and security experts have warned.  Modern life is so reliant on electricity that a prolonged blackout would quickly lead to a loss of water, fuel, banking, transport and communications that would leave the country “in the Stone Age”.The warning comes weeks after the Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, said Russia had been spying on the UK’s energy infrastructure and could cause “thousands and thousands and thousands” of deaths if it crippled the power supply.America this week blamed the Russian government for a campaign of cyber attacks stretching back at least two years that targeted the US power grid.Energy and security experts say a cyber attack is one of a number of so-called “black sky hazards” that have the potential to knock out power for days, weeks or even longer across large parts of a country, or even continent. “I think that is a risk that is very real in the UK and it’s also neglected and that sort of scenario could happen anytime, it could happen tomorrow,” said Julius Weitzdörfe, who studies the problem at Cambridge University’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk.  He said: “A lot of people, including in the Government are absolutely unaware what it means, even if we lose electricity for only seven days.” He said a previous study by the UK’s security services had estimated the country is “four meals away from anarchy” because looting would erupt and civil order would start to break down as soon as people had eaten what they had in their cupboards and fridges.

          The Harsh Reality Of A Global Energy Transition - I recently asked a group gathered to hear me speak what percentage of the world's energy is provided by these six renewable sources: solar, wind, geothermal, wave, tidal, and ocean energy.Then came the guesses: To my left, 25 percent; straight ahead, 30 percent; on my right, 20 percent and 15 percent; a pessimist sitting to the far right, 7 percent.The group was astonished when I related the actual figure: 1.5 percent. The figure comes from the Paris-based International Energy Agency, a consortium of 30 countries that monitors energy developments worldwide. The audience that evening had been under the gravely mistaken impression that human society was much further along in its transition to renewable energy. Even the pessimist in the audience was off by more than a factor of four.I hadn't included hydroelectricity in my list, I told the group, which would add another 2.5 percent to the renewable energy category. But hydro, I explained, would be growing only very slowly since most of the world's best dam sites have been taken.The category "Biofuels and waste," which makes up 9.7 percent of the world total, includes small slivers of what we Americans call biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel), I said, but mostly represents the deforestation of the planet through the use of wood for daily fuel in many poor countries, hardly a sustainable practice that warrants vast expansion. (This percentage has been roughly the same since 1973 though the absolute consumption has more than doubled as population has climbed sharply.) The burden for renewable energy expansion, I concluded, would therefore remain on the six categories I mentioned at the outset of my presentation.As if to underline this worrisome state of affairs, the MIT Technology Review just days later published a piece with a rather longish title: "At this rate, it’s going to take nearly 400 years to transform the energy system."  In my presentation I had explained to my listeners that renewable energy is not currently displacing fossil fuel capacity, but rather supplementing it. In fact, I related, the U.S. government's own Department of Energy with no sense of alarm whatsoever projects that world fossil fuel consumption will actually rise through 2050. This would represent a climate catastrophe, I told my audience, and cannot be allowed to happen. And yet, the MIT piece affirms that this is our destination on our current trajectory. The author writes that "even after decades of warnings, policy debates, and clean-energy campaigns—the world has barely even begun to confront the problem."

          Paul Ehrlich: "Collapse Of Civilization Is A Near Certainty Within Decades" - A shattering collapse of civilisation is a “near certainty” in the next few decades due to humanity’s continuing destruction of the natural world that sustains all life on Earth, according to biologist Prof Paul Ehrlich.In May, it will be 50 years since the eminent biologist published his most famous and controversial book, The Population Bomb. But Ehrlich remains as outspoken as ever. The world’s optimum population is less than two billion people – 5.6 billion fewer than on the planet today, he argues, and there is an increasing toxification of the entire planet by synthetic chemicals that may be more dangerous to people and wildlife than climate change.   Ehrlich also says an unprecedented redistribution of wealth is needed to end the over-consumption of resources, but “the rich who now run the global system – that hold the annual ‘world destroyer’ meetings in Davos – are unlikely to let it happen”. The Population Bomb, written with his wife Anne Ehrlich in 1968, predicted “hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death” in the 1970s – a fate that was avoided by the green revolution in intensive agriculture.   Many details and timings of events were wrong, Paul Ehrlich acknowledges today, but he says the book was correct overall.  “Population growth, along with over-consumption per capita, is driving civilization over the edge: billions of people are now hungry or micronutrient malnourished, and climate disruption is killing people.” Make modern contraception and back-up abortion available to all and give women full equal rights, pay and opportunities Ehrlich has been at Stanford University since 1959 and is also president of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere, which works “to reduce the threat of a shattering collapse of civilization”.  “It is a near certainty in the next few decades, and the risk is increasing continually as long as perpetual growth of the human enterprise remains the goal of economic and political systems,” he says. “As I’ve said many times, ‘perpetual growth is the creed of the cancer cell’.” It is the combination of high population and high consumption by the rich that is destroying the natural world, he says. Research published by Ehrlich and colleagues in 2017 concluded that this is driving a sixth mass extinction of biodiversity, upon which civilisation depends for clean air, water and food.

          Needs go unmet 6 months after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico - Generators are still humming. Candles are still flickering. Homes are still being repaired. Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria exactly six months ago, and the U.S. territory is still struggling to recover from the strongest storm to hit the island in nearly a century. "There are a lot of people with needs," said Levid Ortiz, operating director of PR4PR, a local nonprofit that helps impoverished communities across the island. "It shouldn't be like this. We should already be back on our feet." About 250 Puerto Ricans formed a line around him on a recent weekday, standing for more than two hours to receive bottles of water and boxes of food at a public basketball court in the mountain town of Corozal. Many of those waiting were still without power, including 23-year-old Keishla Quiles, a single mother with a 4-year-old son who still buys ice every day to fill a cooler to keep milk and other goods cold amid rising temperatures. "Since we're a family of few resources, we have not been able to afford a generator," she said. "It's been hard living like this." Crews have restored water to 99% of clients and power to 93% of customers, but more than 100,000 of them still remain in the dark and there are frequent power outages. Justo Gonzalez, interim director for Puerto Rico's Electric Power Authority, said he expects the entire island to have power by May, eight months after the Category 4 storm destroyed two-thirds of the island's power distribution system — and just as the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season is about to start. 

          Six months since Maria hit, frustrating progress on restoring Puerto Rico's power -    Six months after Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico, approximately 121,000 residents remain without power.  Progress has been slow and frustrating for those who live in Maria's path. Throughout the island, the nearly Category 5 hurricane caused widespread destruction, flooding and mudslides that destroyed crops, wiped out telecommunications systems and decimated the island's antiquated power grid. On some fronts, there has been improvement. Power has been restored to nearly 92 percent of customers, and about 95 percent of cell sites are back in service, according to the most recent Department of Energy and FCC reports. Aida Alicea, 71, lives in the southeastern coastal resort town of Humacao, Puerto Rico, after moving there from New York 17 years ago to be closer to her parents. Alicea's brother, 70, and sister, 69, also live in the same neighborhood.Alicea and her siblings have been trying to take care of their father, who is 95 and has Alzheimer's, and their mother, 92, who has health issues. Over the last six months, the family has battled sporadic water service, a pinkeye outbreak that required a one-hour drive to see a doctor, and issues with filling daily medications. They've had no electricity since the hurricane.They rotate a set of power generators every two hours to provide power to their parents' home. About a month ago, Alicea's generator had a massive malfunction that burned out all of the electrical outlets in use at the time. Repairs took four days, and now the generator is only being run twice a day. "We have tried to stay positive but it's been very, very difficult to stay positive," Alicea told CNBC. "Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would live without power for six months. It has taken a toll psychologically on the people here," she said.

          'The Battle for Paradise': Naomi Klein on Disaster Capitalism & the Fight for Puerto Rico’s Future -  Democracy Now! -  Six months since Hurricane Maria battered the island of Puerto Rico, the island is the site of a pitched battle between wealthy investors—particularly from the technology industry—and everyday Puerto Ricans fighting for a place in their island's future.  The Puerto Rican government has pushed for a series of privatization schemes, including privatizing PREPA , one of the largest public power providers in the U.S., and increasing the number of privately run charter schools and private school vouchers.  For more, we speak with best-selling author and journalist Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism . Her latest piece for The Intercept, where she is a senior correspondent, is The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Ricans and Ultrarich 'Puertopians' Are Locked in a Pitched Struggle over How to Remake the Island.

          New Zealand: No end in sight for Christchurch earthquake rebuild - Last month marked seven years since the 2011 earthquake which devastated the city of Christchurch and the surrounding Canterbury region. Over 150,000 homes and buildings were destroyed or damaged and 185 people killed. Entire suburbs in the city’s east were demolished.The working class has not recovered from the disaster. Hundreds of infrastructure projects are yet to be started and will likely take decades to complete. Hundreds, if not thousands of people still live in damaged and unsafe houses, caught in an interminable battle with insurance companies and government agencies. The working class is suffering from soaring housing costs and underfunded services such as healthcare.No one has been charged over the collapse of the poorly-designed CTV building, which killed 115 people, despite warnings that it was unsafe. Labour Party Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern met with the families on February 15 and declared that the government could not intervene to reverse a decision by police not to prosecute those responsible for the shoddy construction. The families have vowed to continue fighting for justice.During her visit to Christchurch, Ardern was confronted by about 100 protesters, angry over the conduct of the state-owned Earthquake Commission (EQC), the government-owned insurer Southern Response, and private companies such as IAG and Tower. One protester demanded legislation so that insurance companies “can’t drag their feet [and] push us to the brink of bloody financial collapse.” Another protest on February 21 drew about 1,000 people.The EQC is responsible for repairs costing below $100,000, while larger claims have been passed on to insurance companies. A total of 2,600 EQC claims and 2,500 private claims remain unsettled.

           Arsenic in groundwater? Virginia coal ash case before court -  Virginia’s largest electric utility asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to overturn a judge’s ruling that the company is violating federal law by discharging arsenic through groundwater into surrounding waters from a coal ash storage site. Richmond-based Dominion Energy argued before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the judge’s ruling was incorrect because groundwater contamination from solid waste such as coal ash is not regulated by the U.S. Clean Water Act. The utility said that’s left largely to individual states to regulate. But a lawyer for the Sierra Club argued that the discharge of arsenic from Dominion’s retired power plant in Chesapeake violates the Clean Water Act and Dominion’s permit to operate a wastewater treatment plant. The arguments came nearly a year after U.S. District Judge John Gibney Jr. found that arsenic is illegally flowing from a landfill and ponds where Dominion stores coal ash, the heavy metal-laden byproduct of burning coal to produce electricity. Gibney said the arsenic is leaking into groundwater, which flows to surface water. The judge did not impose civil penalties on Dominion, saying the discharge does not pose a threat to public health or the environment. The case is being closely watched as major utilities are finding evidence of groundwater contamination at coal-burning power plants across the U.S. where landfills and man-made ponds have been used for decades as dumping grounds for coal ash. Data the utilities were required to make public recently shows heightened levels of pollutants — including arsenic and radium in some cases — at plants in numerous states. The pollution reports were intended as a first step toward cleaning up the contamination from ash pits. Utility representatives have generally cautioned that further studies are needed to confirm the plants as the source of the pollutants and determine if public drinking water supplies are at risk. 

           The ex-con coal baron running for Senate in West Virginia - On a cold, rainy night in West Virginia coal country this winter, Don Blankenship glares out at a half-empty conference room at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington. For almost an hour, the ex-coal executive and ex-con reads off a teleprompter, doing his best impression of a political candidate. For a big man, Blankenship has a surprisingly soft voice. His message is anything but. He talks of his years of union-busting, the twin evils of illegal immigration and opioid addiction—blaming the first for causing the second—and the folly of environmental regulation.  Throughout, he never strays far from the true target of his ire: Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. Blankenship blames Manchin not only for much of what’s wrong with West Virginia, but also for helping put him behind bars.   In 2016, the former hard-charging chief executive officer of Massey Energy Co. went to federal prison for conspiring to evade safety laws in the lead-up to the worst coal mine disaster in a generation—a 2010 explosion at Upper Big Branch Mine that killed 29 miners. Manchin, the governor at the time, commissioned an independent probe that reached blistering conclusions about Blankenship’s tight grip over Massey and did a lot to seal public opinion about his role in the disaster.  Years later, as federal prosecutors zeroed in on Blankenship, Manchin, by then a senator, said on national TV that the ex-coal boss had “blood on his hands.”  During his year in prison, Blankenship maintained his innocence, even issuing a press release blaming the federal government for the explosion and referring to himself as a political prisoner. The day he got out in May 2017, he began tweeting insults at Manchin, accusing him of lying about the causes of the explosion and challenging him to a debate. Manchin said he hoped Blankenship would disappear from the public eye. Instead, Blankenship declared his candidacy for Manchin’s seat.

          New coal plants falling but not enough to meet Paris target: study - The number of coal-fired power plants built worldwide fell steeply over the past two years, but emissions are too high to keep global warming within relatively safe levels, campaigners said on Thursday. The start of new builds dropped by 73 percent between 2015 and 2017, as China tightened restrictions on coal and a loss of private finance froze 17 construction sites in India, according to a report by Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and CoalSwarm. Newly completed coal plants also fell 41 percent, and the number of plants in planning dropped by 59 percent, it said. “From a climate and health perspective, the trend toward a declining coal power fleet is encouraging, but not happening fast enough,” said Ted Nace, the San Francisco-based director of CoalSwarm, a network of researchers on fossil fuels. To meet the 2015 Paris climate agreement target of keeping global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, construction must end and existing plants must retire faster, the report said. But global coal capacity is still growing, rising by 2 percent in the last 12 months, according to the World Coal Association, an industry network. Ageing coal plants in Europe and the United States are being replaced by highly efficient plants in China and Asia, it said. With continued global reliance on coal, carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies must be developed to reduce fossil fuel emissions, he said. “We ... need to be resolute in our efforts to accelerate the deployment of CCS technologies which will be critical to achieving global climate objectives,” he said. The campaign groups said global coal capacity is likely to start shrinking in 2022, when the number of plants retired is expected to outstrip those being built. About 100 gigawatts of coal power - equivalent to double Germany’s coal capacity - needs to be retired every year between 2020 and 2040, Nace said.

          Could A Fracking Byproduct Help Defrost Roads? Ohio Legislators Think So – WOSU - The first day of spring is bringing a Winter Weather Advisory in Central Ohio. And while the snow begins to come down, legislators in an Ohio House committee will be considering a new way to remove ice from the roads - using the byproduct of fracking. HB 393, which was introduced in October, would allow for the sale of fracking brine for surface applications, like deicing roadways during Ohio's slick winters. The bipartisan bill is co-sponsored by Republican state Rep. Anthony Devitis and Democrat state Rep. Michael O'Brien.O'Brien says a particular company, Aquasalina, processes brine from hydraulic fracturing wells to make it usable."Whether it be residential deicing, for something as simple as one sidewalk," he says, "or sell to road departments for the county road departments, the city street departments and such, for the deicing method for the winter months."O'Brien says the method is environmentally sound. But some environmental groups, like the Sierra Club of Ohio, disagree."There’s been some great research on this, showing it does not matter what kind of oil and gas well this fluid comes from, it has hazards in it," says Cheryl Johncox, an organizer with the group. "We’re opposed to this bill opening up for additional broader use on roads in the state of Ohio." Her group believes more regulatory oversight is needed to ensure the product is safe for use on roadways.

          Complaints About Falsified Pipeline Endorsements Draw No Response - Dozens of people haven’t heard back from U.S. regulators nearly two years after their names were falsely used in letters supporting approval of a gas pipeline from Ohio to Canada, lawyers for the complainants said.  An energy-lobbying group that was backing the pipeline, which hasn’t been built, generated the comments falsely attributed to the Ohio residents—and later said it had happened inadvertently. Twenty-three people said in sworn affidavits to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2016 that they never submitted letters to the agency in support of the pipeline that were sent in their names. Fifteen other expressions of support for the pipeline were identified separately as fakes and sent to FERC, according to documents filed with the agency.“Nothing has come of it—yet,” said Debby Christy, a retired draftsperson for a manufacturing firm who first identified the fakes. Ms. Christy lives outside Medina, Ohio, near the proposed pipeline’s route, and opposes the project.FERC has approved the pipeline project, but the decision is being appealed at FERC and in federal court.A FERC spokeswoman, Mary O’Driscoll, said the agency received and entered into the record the affidavits saying an earlier filing was fraudulent. “We tell complainants that they should file with the U.S. Postal Service,” Ms. O’Driscoll said. She didn’t explain why she recommended the Postal Service and wouldn’t answer whether the comments came in via U.S. mail or over the internet. The Postal Inspection Service​ public-affairs office wouldn’t say whether it is looking into the matter any further, per usual policy. The people who filed complaints said they haven’t received any response from postal inspectors.Statements of support or in opposition to a policy change by FERC or other regulatory agencies can influence outcomes of regulatory decisions that affect millions. A Wall Street Journal investigation last year uncovered thousands of people whose names and email or address were used to post bogus comments—a federal crime—on websites of agencies including the Federal Communications Commission and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

          Anti-frackers in Y'town keep tilting at windmills - Youngstown Vindicator -- A group of self-appointed guardians of Youngstown are at it again, pushing an amendment to the city’s home-rule charter that is clearly unconstitutional. Sensible Youngstown voters rejected the issue six times, and the Ohio Supreme Court made sure the so-called Community Bill of Rights wasn’t on the ballot last year. But the anti-frackers, led by Ray and Susie Beiersdorfer, won’t take “no” for an answer. They’re going back to the high & transcripis nothing more than an exercise in futility, we urge the court to issue an unequivocal opinion. It’s time to send the anti-frackers a clear message that their effort to ban hydraulic fracturing in the city of Youngstown is misguided and unconstitutional. The Ohio Constitution gives the Ohio Department of Natural Resources exclusive authority to oversee the fracking process to extract oil and gas from beneath the earth’s surface. Organized opposition from the business and labor communities has centered on the practical aspect of the so-called bill of rights. Jobs tied to the drilling industry in the city, including hundreds at Vallourec Star, would be threatened. The amendment is also without foundation because there are no companies with serious plans to drill for oil and gas within the city limits. That’s why we have dismissed the committee’s numerous attempts to win over the electorate as nothing more than self-aggrandizing.

          Lawmaker Seeks Ban On Fracking In Public Parks – WVXU - A central Ohio lawmaker is seeking a ban on fracking in certain parts of the state. The proposal comes as a commission that regulates this types of drilling prepares for its first meeting.  Democratic Representative David Leland wants to prevent oil and gas companies from drilling in public parks and nature preserves.Leland says he understands the economic value of fracking for natural gas in Ohio, but…“We’ve got to have little spots of land in the state of Ohio that don’t have to be subjected to fracking. We can run an economy, we can get our energy needs in the state of Ohio and still preserve the state parks and nature preserves for people to use not only now but in the future,” said Leland.The practice of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on public lands must be approved by the Ohio Oil and Gas Commission. For years Gov. John Kasich didn’t appoint members to the commission, but last year’s budget fight forced his hand.

          Feds Auction Fracking Leases That Threaten Ohio's Only National Forest - Center for Biological Diversity (press release) - For Immediate Release, March 22, 2018 — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management today will auction 345 acres of Ohio’s only national forest, the Wayne National Forest, for oil and gas fracking despite a recently filed protest showing fracking could endanger drinking water and wildlife. The leases would lock in dangerous fracking in the Wayne. Despite known threats from fracking pointed out by the conservation groups’ protest, the BLM planned the auction using only a cursory review that avoids site-specific analysis of potential harm. That means the public will have no information about pollution risks to streams, eradication of endangered species habitat and harm to nearby communities, which is required under the National Environmental Policy Act. “The Bureau of Land Management is unlawfully cutting corners in its push to develop the Wayne. Our protest filing is intended to rein in the agency,” said Nathan Johnson, attorney for the Ohio Environmental Council. “The Wayne is one of Ohio's finest natural treasures, plain and simple. It deserves to be protected from heavy industrial development.”The auction comes after the U.S. Forest Service announced plans to revise its 2006 forest plan governing land management in the Wayne. Conservation groups last year sued the Forest Service and the BLM, which oversees drilling and fracking of federal oil and gas. The lawsuit says federal officials relied on the outdated plan and failed to analyze threats to public health, water, endangered species and the climate before opening 40,000 acres of the Wayne to fracking.“This wild forest is being sacrificed for fracking based on a dangerously outdated plan that ignores major risks to public health and wildlife,” said Wendy Park, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The lack of transparency in this process is disturbing. The Forest Service needs to listen to the public and spare Ohio’s only national forest from fracking industrialization and contamination.”

          Gubernatorial candidate tours southeastern Ohio fracking and mining sites - The Columbus Dispatch --A March 9 fossil fuel extraction tour of Southeastern Ohio, guided by area residents included Dennis Kucinich, candidate for governor, who requested the tour to gain a firsthand look at oil and gas development in the area. The tour also offered the candidate an opportunity to speak with local residents who have been affected by fracking. Many fracking and coal mining sites were visited in Belmont, Noble, Monroe and Guernsey Counties including the Exxon-owned XTO Schnegg well site near Powhatan Point that exploded February 15th and was recently capped after leaking for 23 days.  The tour was led by Jill Hunkler of the Barnesville area and Kerri Bond of the Senecaville area. Both have been negatively affected by the oil and gas infrastructure near their homes and were glad to share their stories with those on the tour. Kucinich said, "I talked to a woman who lives in this area and she told me there was a chemical film on their homes, cars, and on their land. They don’t want to grow any food this year because they’re worried there could be poison in the soil." Residents also expressed their concern to Kucinich regarding the potentially negative health impacts from the lengthy exposure of toxins from the leaking well.Witnessing the many water lines servicing frack pads throughout the countryside, Kucinich stated: "Fracking uses enormous amounts of water. On average, it takes 11,000,000 gallons of water to frack one well. When you consider that in some of these counties they’re building thousands of wells, that means not millions, but billions of gallons of fresh water will be permanently contaminated and removed from the hydrologic cycle.""This is happening right at the time when our water resources are increasingly scarce globally. It is time for us be asking the question: What do we want, water or oil and gas? Why are we being put in a situation with energy policies, where we are told we have to sacrifice water?""The oil and gas industry is syphoning water out of reservoirs, rivers and streams and often paying a minimum, if anything at all, for the water. This water is the basis of life, but our lives are being put at risk for oil and gas here in southeastern Ohio." Kucinich added.

          Dennis Kucinich Finds Fracking Facts in Southeast Ohio: A Horror Story - By the time you hit Cambridge, Ohio, driving south from Cleveland on interstate 77, your eyes will likely have begun to itch. Your insides will likely have been subject to a nettling discomfort, a weird, sourceless pressure. It will feel, inexplicably, as if your lungs are nauseous. Such is the density of chemicals in the Southeastern Ohio air that you'll experience these physical sensations inside your vehicle. At least I did, when I joined a handful of environmental and community activists, plus Dennis and Elizabeth Kucinich, a documentarian and a college professor on an "Environmental Devastation Tour" earlier this month. Others in our tour van were likewise afflicted by the elements. In Noble County, where fracking pads dotted the hills like lesions, Elizabeth Kucinich asked if someone might open a window. The air in the van had become not only warm, but thick. The air outside was colder, thankfully, but provided little relief.  There was no "fresh air" to be gotten for miles, I realized, an epiphany belied by the region's forests, hills and streams in view. This sylvan quadrant of Ohio had once been among the state's most naturally beautiful areas, one of its most "precious" areas, in the words of Kucinich. But the land — the atmosphere itself — had been poisoned. "Look at the trees," Kucinich remarked more than once, pointing at the gnarled and dead branches that lined the state routes as often as not. "The trees!" Kucinich is the former Cleveland Mayor, U.S. Congressman and current Democratic gubernatorial candidate for Ohio. He has made "clean air and water" a campaign pillar. Along with a full ban on assault weapons and healthcare for all, the quest for clean air and water has been as central to his agenda and his talking points as anything. But the quest is Quixotic. He has said that if elected, he would move to ban fracking, high-pressure drilling for natural gas in the shale formations deep below the earth's surface. He told the Intercept that he would block all new drilling permits and would ban injection wells too.

          Ohio Officials Mount Investigation Into Gas Well Explosion – WOSU - Just over a month ago, an explosion at a Utica shale drilling site in Southeast Ohio's Belmont County forced evacuation of nearby homes. It took nearly three weeks to cap the well. Investigators are now sorting out what happened, and how to keep it from happening somewhere else.Dave Ivan, director of Belmont County Emergency Management, says one thing was clear in the February 15 emergency: the coordinated state and local response plan works. “The State of Ohio had devised a ‘one call,’” Ivan says. “When something happens on one of these pads the producer makes one phone call and notifies a bunch of different agencies at just about the same time.” That includes the Ohio EPA and the state’s Department of Natural Resources.  “With that one call, this was reported right around 9:30, and by 11:00-11:30, we had state folks over here already in the area,” Ivan says.“We were able to secure the well,” says Karen Matusic, a spokesperson for XTO Energy, which owns the well pad. “And we reinforced the well, so that we are able to undergo our investigation. And then, once the investigation is over and we are able to very closely check the integrity of the well, we’ll determine what we are going to be doing with that well.”The well that blew out was one of four on a pad near Powhatan Point on the Ohio River, about 20 miles downstream from Wheeling, W.Va.  It was being readied to go into service when the explosion occurred.  XTO has more than 40 horizontal shale wells in Belmont County. In total, Eastern Ohio has 2,317 shale wells, and 495 more permitted for drilling.

          Appalachian Basin remains active for shale producers – The Appalachian Basin remains a very busy place.Nearly 2,300 drilling permits were issued in 2017 in the three-state basin, with 1,036 of those wells being spud, said energy consultant Timothy Knobloch.That includes 1,377 Pennsylvania permits, 462 Ohio permits and 459 West Virginia permits, said Knobloch, president of James Knobloch Petroleum Consultants, of Marietta, Ohio.In comparison, there were 1,178 Pennsylvania permits, 267 Ohio permits and 246 West Virginia permits issued in 2016, and only 771 wells were spud, he said. The wells spud in 2017 jumped 34.3% from 2016, Kallanish Energy has learned.The Appalachian Basin has spud nearly 15,0000 wells: 10,123 in Pennsylvania; 2,750 in West Virginia; and 2,229 in Ohio, he said.Final figures are not yet available, but it appears between 700 and 1,000 wells were drilled in the Appalachian Basin in 2017, Knobloch said. There are 11,600 horizontal wells in the basin that are producing, he said.Drilling is picking up as oil and gas prices rise and pipelines are completed to get Appalacvhian Basin natural gas to markets, he said. The Marcellus and Utica shales in the basin are expected to produce 35% of the natural gas in the U.S. by 2020.

          Ohio tops Gulf Coast for oil, gas in study - If you are an energy company with a few billion dollars to spend, Ohio is a much more profitable place to invest than the Gulf Coast, according to a new report that would have seemed audacious just a few years ago.The report, by IHS Markit, was financed by an Ohio economic-development group and is part of a broader campaign to attract the petrochemical industry to the parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia that sit atop the Utica and Marcellus shale formations.By taking on the Gulf Coast, the economic center of the U.S. oil and gas industry, backers of Ohio energy efforts hope to call attention to the rapid growth of the Utica and Marcellus as a producer of natural gas and natural-gas liquids. The liquids, such as ethane, propane and others, are used in making plastics and chemicals. The Utica and Marcellus regions accounted for about 30 percent of U.S. gas production last year, based on December figures from the Energy information Administration.Shale Crescent is seeking to appeal to companies such as PTT Global Chemical of Thailand, which is considering whether to move forward with a $5 billion to $10 billion petrochemical project it is contemplating in Belmont County. Last week, the company announced it has a new partner for the project, Daelim Industrial Co. of South Korea, which increases the chances of development. IHS found that a large petrochemical plant in the Shale Crescent region, which includes parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, would earn $3.6 billion more in profit than a similar plant in the Gulf Coast from 2020 to 2040. The difference is because of Ohio’s plentiful water and natural-gas liquids, which leads to lower costs, and because the region is closer to ultimate customers than the Gulf Coast, which reduces transportation costs.

          Region could lead North America in natural gas production - Marcellus and Utica shale natural gas deposits throughout Appalachia have the potential to change the natural gas industry in North America, officials said today. Representatives of Shale Crescent USA are at the World Petrochemical Conference this week in Houston, Texas. Shale Crescent USA has been involved with natural gas development efforts in West Virginia, Southeastern Ohio and Southwestern Pennsylvania and the Mid-Ohio Valley. Shale Crescent USA, IHS Markit and Solvay spoke today in a telephone press conference about a report prepared by IHS that will be presented Wednesday at the conference as for industry executives. “Benefits, Risks, and Estimated Project Cash Flows: Ethylene Project Located in the Shale Crescent USA versus the U.S. Gulf Coast” is a report by IHS Markit commissioned by Shale Crescent USA to evaluate and compare the financial returns and risks of a major petrochemical and plastics investment in the region with an identical investment in the U.S. Gulf Coast, which currently leads the world in petrochemical manufacturing expansion. “The Marcellus and Utica shale plays are some of the largest natural gas resources in the world and underlay the Shale Crescent USA region of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia,” the introduction of the report stated. “IHS Markit forecasts that this region will supply 37 percent of the nation’s natural gas production by 2040.”

          Could Shale Gas Lead To A Manufacturing Boom In Appalachia? - Coal’s downfall has exacerbated Appalachia’s economic struggles. But the emergence of shale gas has the potential to help liberate the region, although critics are concerned that such production would also leave an indelible environmental footprint that could do more harm than good. A new study says that the Utica and Marcellus Shale basins will provide 37% of the nation’s natural gas production by 2040, making it the best place nationally for manufacturers to invest — even better than the Gulf Coast. IHS Markit concludes that the region, which is made up of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and which it calls Shale Crescent USA, will “provide a significant financial advantage” when compared to the Gulf Coast. It specifically refers to chemical plants, which would use “wet” natural gas as a feedstock to manufacture end products like plastics. Those so-called natural gas liquids are comprised of such chemicals as butane, ethane, methane and propane. “The IHS Markit Analysis predicts that an ethylene project in the Shale Crescent USA region will produce a net present value in 2020 … of $930 million over the life of the project compared to a net present value of $217 million for a similar projects on the US Gulf Coast,” the study says, which was commissioned by Shale Crescent USA. The analysis adds that Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia have an advantage because their supplies are closer to where the shale gas would be consumed, and because of abundant fresh water supplies — a region that holds an estimated 141 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas. It further notes that 900 chemical plants are already in the region, with most of those in Ohio.In 2000, shale gas accounted for 5% of all gas production in the United States and today it is about 60%, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration. Steel, chemical and fertilizer manufacturers are among the beneficiaries. Those industrials were paying as much as $14 per million Btus in 2005 and now it is about $2.70 for the same unit, which IHS Markit says will lead to an additional $328 billion in new manufacturing output by 2025.

          Shale Crescent USA could challenge Gulf Coast petrochemical industry, study says — A new study says the Shale Crescent — Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania — has the potential to supplant the Gulf Coast as the nation’s petrochemical hub. IHS Markit’s study, commissioned by Shale Crescent USA, looked at the risk-reward of developing cracker plants and downstream opportunities in the crescent vs. the Gulf Coast. The study predicts substantial cost savings for companies investing in the Shale Crescent — 32 percent on ethane prices, and cash cost savings of 23 percent on ethylene and 16 percent on polyethylene, with a 23 percent savings on polyethylene delivered costs — primarily because it’s located virtually on top of the gas fields, is within a day’s drive of customers throughout the Midwest and Northeast and has an abundant supply of fresh water.The conclusion: Investing $3 billion in an ethylene facility would bring $3.6 billion in pre-tax profit advantage over 20 years.“The Shale Crescent is more profitable than the Gulf Coast under all three scenarios, primarily driven by feedstock advantages and transportation costs associated with having a plant right on top of the gas fields and close to customers,” Whitfield said.  Jerry James, a volunteer director for Shale Crescent USA, said feedstock prices are a key driver. “In the petroleum business, that’s the supply of natural gas and natural gas liquids, particularly ethane.“We think that this will be a very good opportunity for investors to look at Shale Crescent USA for locating ethane and polyethylene cracker and downstream units,” he said. IHS predicts the tri-state region will supply 37 percent of the nation’s natural gas production by 2040 and notes the U.S. has become the No. 1 natural gas producer.

          Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Locals Take Over Pipeline Office, Then Occupy Drill Rig - Something extraordinary happened in Lancaster County yesterday.  A busload of fifty local residents took over the field offices of Williams/Transco at 805 Estelle Drive, Suite 101, in Lancaster. We dropped a 12 foot stretch of pipeline in Williams’s meeting room, sang songs through the hallways, and slapped a Condemnation Notice on the door before leaving. When a Williams employee complained about our visit, one of our residents deadpanned: “Sucks to be invaded, doesn’t it?”   Our message was simple and direct: we the people, whose lives and land are under assault by this toxic piepline, openly defy the “right” of dirty energy giants to profit at the expense of our health, safety, water, and land.From there, the bus headed down to southern Lancaster County where Williams is drilling under the Conestoga River and desecrating federally recognized indigenous graves. The HDD process they’re using is the same one now contaminating drinking water along the Mariner East 2 pipeline.We walked off the bus and sang our way straight onto the worksite, right past the workers, and up onto the drill rig itself. After police arrived, five bold residents locked arms and stood atop that monstrous machinery for another three hours, shutting down operations for the rest of the day. By day’s end, the Drill Rig Five were arrested while defending our community. It’s a perversion of justice that law enforcement are sued to protect the financial interests of energy giants in Oklahoma over the health and safety of local residents. We look forward to the day when fossil fuel billionaires are stuffed into police cruisers for sabotaging our children’s future, rather than those of us peacefully working to protect that future.

          Sunoco, regulators get a withering review at Pa. Senate hearing on Mariner East pipeline problems -  Pennsylvania environmental regulators were aware for days that collapsed soil along the path of the Mariner East pipeline construction project had exposed a parallel pipeline in Chester County this month before they informed safety regulators at another agency, according to testimony at a state Senate hearing on Tuesday.Instead, safety inspectors with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissionfirst learned about the sinkholes from local residents on March 3.Four days later, the commission ordered an emergency shutdown of the exposed pipeline, known as Mariner East 1, to avoid potentially “catastrophic results” until the ethane, butane and propane pipeline’s stability can be confirmed.Domenic Rocco, who runs the state Department of Environmental Protection’s regional permit coordination office, acknowledged that department officials did not notify the PUC when they first recognized subsidences related to Sunoco Pipeline’s Mariner East pipeline expansion project in November and only belatedly communicated with the PUC when more sinkholes appeared this month.  . “If you’ve been in better contact since November, it certainly wasn’t shown in this situation.”If any entity received more critical attention than the DEP during the joint committee hearing in Harrisburg, it was Sunoco Pipeline — the Energy Transfer Partners subsidiary whose cross-state Mariner East expansion project is designed to ferry vastly more natural gas liquids from western to eastern Pennsylvania. State senators and residents along the pipeline’s path repeatedly rebuked the company, arguing that the project’s mounting environmental and communication failures have created a backlash that is making it difficult for other companies to build natural gas infrastructure in Pennsylvania.

          Pennsylvania says bankrupt refiner owes $3.8 billion in taxes: filing (Reuters) - The state of Pennsylvania wants a federal judge to halt the bankruptcy of Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES), arguing the refiner owes an estimated $3.8 billion in fuel taxes, according to a court filing on Friday. The state’s Department of Revenue said the refiner must make several changes to the proposed restructuring plan to ensure the taxes are paid before it can support the plan. The $3.8 billion figure is significant for a refiner that had just $43 million in cash on hand when it filed for bankruptcy protection in January. The tax liability stems from a pending audit of the company’s books, the state says, and could be adjusted pending the outcome. “The Commonwealth believes, however, the final audit may produce a substantial liability which could impact the feasibility of the Debtors’ Plan,” state attorneys wrote. The tax issue stems from unpaid fuels taxes, interest and penalties from 2015 to January of this year, court documents show. A state spokesman on Monday said it could not provide any more details beyond the filing because of taxpayer confidentiality. The state needed to file a claim to ensure the tax liability is not forgiven as part of the bankruptcy, and the high figure was likely a bargaining tactic, Chris Ward, chair of the Polsinelli law firm’s bankruptcy group, said.

          Letter: With coal's rise, gas boom, WV again in pact with Devil (Gazette) - Charleston Gazette-Mail -- Coal production is up; fracked gas prices are up; pipelines crawl across the tri-state region like eels racing for prey; a cracking plant finds life in nearby Potters Township, Pennsylvania, and hope for a new multi-billion dollar plant abounds for Dilles Bottom, Ohio. Empty coffers and politicians’ pockets are being filled. Life is promising in the tri-state area. Unfortunately, West Virginians, Eastern Ohioans, and Western Pennsylvanians once again find themselves locked into pacts with the Devil. The handshake: Jobs traded for long-suffering sickness and early deaths. Thrown into the bargain is a hell on earth for those nonparticipants within proximity of the fossil fuels seizures. Coal production is on the upswing, thanks to the president’s trashing of environmental regulations; therefore, the Devil’s acolyte, coal, has been pulled from its dark existence to once again hover over the Appalachian landscape.Thanks to China, a proposed investment of $78 billion in West Virginia emerges. The Devil’s Minotaurs, gas and oil, will receive carte blanche to pray on Appalachian health.Thanks to a cracking plant conquering the landscape in Potters Township and a future possibly in Dillies Bottom, centaurs — Shell — must be fed humans; PTT Global awaits its chance to seduce Appalachia farther south on the Ohio River and reap environmental chaos.  In those three states, sacrificing one’s health and, inadvertently, the health of one’s relatives and neighbors for jobs has been a practice as venerable as reading Greek mythology. The jobs, albeit not many in fracking and cracking, will pay a living wage until the resources are exhausted, and then it’s back to gloom and financial doom. Residents’ sickness will once again creep from generation to generation: The culprits are kidney and liver disease from well water; asthma from surface mining particles assaulting the air; chemical-treated waste from coal slurries, gas fracking methane and covert chemicals seeping into groundwater; these life-threatening diseases take decades to destroy their host.

          U.S. Fourth Circuit of Appeals says Mountain Valley Pipeline project can continue - — EQT's Mountain Valley Pipeline project can continue, the U.S. Fourth Circuit of Appeals ruled Wednesday. Appalachian Mountain Advocates, which represents several environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, brought a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that claimed the corps had improperly issued a permit for the 303-mile pipeline. The lawsuit sought an order to halt construction on the project.  Judges in the Fourth Circuit responded to the lawsuit with one sentence: “Upon consideration of submissions relative to petitioners’ motion for preliminary relief, the court denies the motion.”Natalie Cox, an EQT spokeswoman, said the company understands the position of Appalachian Mountain Advocates, but applauds the court's ruling. "While we appreciate the support we have received across the region, we understand that the efforts and progress we have made to plan and design a pipeline route that will protect cultural and historic resources, as well as preserve sensitive and environmental species, may not satisfy those opposed to underground, natural gas infrastructure," she said. "We are pleased with the court’s decision and look forward to continuing the MVP construction activities and working with landowners and stakeholders on this important infrastructure project." On Tuesday, Monroe County Circuit Judge Robert Irons issued an order lifting a restraining order against protesters who have been sitting in trees along the pipeline route. Irons issued the ruling less than two weeks after granting the Mountain Valley Pipeline a 10-day restraining order against the protesters. Mountain Valley Pipeline had sought the restraining order, saying the protesters could prevent cutting trees along the pipeline's path in time to meet a March 31 federal wildlife protection deadline.

          Pipeline Leaks 42,000 Gallons Into Indiana Stream -- Forty-two thousand gallons of diesel spilled from a Marathon Petroleum Corporation pipeline into Big Creek in Posey Creek, Indiana before the leak was detected Tuesday evening, U.S. News & World Report reported Wednesday.  The pipeline was immediately shut off, and workers contained the spill with two booms before it reached the Wabash River. Kevin Turner, the on-the-scene coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), told The Indianapolis Star that it was "considered a large spill."   Fortunately, Turner told The Star that he did not think the spill would impact wildlife. No fish deaths have yet been reported, and it is too early in the year for migratory songbirds to have arrived, he said.  The spill traveled four miles before it was stopped by the booms. "If the product had made it to the Wabash, then we would not be able to collect any of it," Turner told The Star.  Marathon was moving the fuel from its refinery in Robinson, Illinois to its terminal on the Ohio River in Mount Vernon, Indiana.  Turner told The Star that efforts were now underway to recover the fuel, a process that should take about a week. He expected 60 percent of the diesel to be skimmed. According to The Star, this is not the first time that a Marathon pipeline has leaked. In April 2016, 48,300 gallons of oil spilled into the Wabash River from a pipeline near Mount Carmel, Illinois near the Indiana border. That leak was caused by the fact that erosion had exposed the pipeline, which had been buried beneath the river, to the river bottom itself.

          Health Professionals: Fracking Can’t Be Done Without Threatening Public Health - Fracking for oil and gas poses an impending health crisis in the U.S., two leading groups of health professionals warn in a new report. Not only do existing fracking regulations fail to protect Americans from increased risk of cancer, asthma and birth defects, but there is no evidence fracking can ever be done without threatening public health, according to the authors.  The report, by Concerned Health Professionals of New York and Physicians for Social Responsibility, pulls together studies, data and news reports on the health and environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing of natural gas and oil wells. In fracking, a slurry of water, chemicals and sand is injected deep underground at drilling sites. The chemicals and chemical-laced wastewater can contaminate drinking water and send hazardous emissions into the air, endangering people who live nearby, as well as workers at drilling sites. One of the report’s authors, Dr. Sandra Steingraber, told Rolling Stone that in her long career as a biologist, environmental writer and advocate, “Fracking is the worst thing I’ve ever seen.” She continued:Those of us in the public health sector started to realize years ago that there were potential risks, then the industry rolled out faster than we could do our science. Now we see those risks have turned into human harms and people are getting sick. And we in this field have a moral imperative to raise the alarm. The report is the fifth edition of a yearly compendium that details extensive studies on increased risks of cancer, asthma and birth defects for people who live near fracking sites. For example:

          Fracking Report Finds Unacceptable Risks / Public News Service -- The fifth Fracking Health Compendium finds that the oil and gas drilling technique poses high risks to food, water and the climate, and cannot be done safely. The report is a compilation of the rapidly growing body of scientific research into the process that injects heavily treated water into deep shale formations to free trapped natural gas and oil. According to Sandra Steingraber, a biologist and co-founder of Concerned Health Professionals of New York, much of the research into the health and safety concerns of fracking comes from here in Pennsylvania. "What it shows is that fracking is not safe and cannot be made safe through any regulatory framework,” she says. “And the risks that we had concerns about in the early days, now we have evidence for actual harm." Proponents of fracking say 250,000 fracked wells in operation around the country have proved that the process is environmentally safe. But Steingraber – currently the distinguished scholar in residence in the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences at Ithaca College – points out that in areas close to fracked wells and infrastructure, there are increased rates of asthma and other respiratory ailments – and among infants, various impacts such as lower birth weight, birth defects, and lower scores on infant development. "We know from previous research that early life and prenatal exposure to chemicals like we know are coming out of fracking operations are indeed related to these kinds of outcomes," says Steingraber.

          Oil, gas, and the effects of environmental racism (video) Jamali Maddix talks with an environmentalist about how drilling for fuel usually means pushing contamination into the places where lower-class people live.

          Proposed Norwalk fracking ban moves to public hearing -   — The Ordinance Committee voted to hold a public hearing about proposed regulations banning fracking waste from being stored, processed or used in any products within Norwalk. The hearing will take place in City Hall on April 17 at 7 p.m.If such regulations are passed, Norwalk would join over three dozen cities and towns in Connecticut that have already prohibited fracking waste using very similar language.Fracking is a practice in which water is forced deep in the ground to create cracks, releasing natural gas and oil. The water is mixed with chemicals that aid the process — for example, dissolving minerals or reducing frictions — and within the ground, that water can be exposed to radioactive deposits occurring naturally in the earth. Once the fluid serves its function and finds its way back to the surface, companies are faced with the question of what to do with the waste.Companies in Pennsylvania, the closest state to Connecticut that allows fracking, have taken to shipping that waste to other states, such as Ohio and New Jersey, said State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, who has pushed for state regulation of fracking waste. However, to his knowledge, fracking waste has never been shipped to Connecticut.The state voted to pause fracking waste within the state until July 1, 2018, when regulation would be deferred to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Residents afraid that the new regulation may allow fracking waste urged the city to pass its own laws against it. At the last Ordinance Committee meeting, the room overflowed with people there to hear the council members’ thoughts and express their own opinions on the matter. All those who spoke were in favor of a ban of the waste in Norwalk.

          Opposition to offshore drilling hardening in Massachusetts (AP)— Opposition to a Trump administration proposal to allow oil and gas drilling in coastal waters, including those off the Atlantic coast of Massachusetts, continues to grow on Beacon Hill. Just this week, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced she's considering taking legal action against the administration to protect "the people, economy and natural resources of Massachusetts from the grave risks posed by unprecedented oil and gas leasing." "Despite concerns from the fishing industry, clean energy developers, marine scientists and thousands of residents up and down the coast that depend on a healthy ocean, this administration has repeatedly ignored the serious economic and environmental risks of offshore drilling," Healey said as she filed comments with the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management opposing the plan. Healey isn't alone. Fellow Democratic attorneys general from a dozen coastal states, including neighboring Rhode Island and Connecticut, have also written Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke protesting the drilling plan. Other critics include Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, Democratic U.S. Sen. Edward Markey and the state's entire Democratic congressional delegation as well as members of the fishing and tourism industries and environmental groups. Zinke continues to defend the plan, which faces fierce opposition in states along the entire West Coast and much of the East Coast. Florida was dropped from the plan after the state's Republican governor and lawmakers pointed to risks to the state's tourism business. 

          Back-door ban: States fight Trump drill plan with local bans — Some coastal states opposed to President Donald Trump’s plan to allow oil and gas drilling off most of the nation’s coastline are fighting back with proposed state laws designed to thwart the proposal. The drilling Trump proposes would take place in federal waters offshore in an area called the Outer Continental Shelf. But states control the 3 miles of ocean closest to shore and are proposing laws designed to make it difficult, or impossible, to bring the oil or gas ashore in their areas. States including New Jersey, New York, California, South Carolina and Rhode Island have introduced bills prohibiting any infrastructure related to offshore oil or gas production from being built in or crossing their state waters. Washington state is threatening such a bill. Maryland has introduced a bill imposing strict liability on anyone who causes a spill while engaged in offshore drilling or oil or gas extraction. “We started thinking about how we control the first three miles of ocean, and there are state rights that we have,” said New Jersey state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, a Democrat who represents the state’s southern coast. “Even if we don’t succeed in banning it outright, we can still make it a lot more expensive to do it in this area. It’s a back-door, ingenious way to block this.” California Democratic state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson said a ban on pipelines and docks could force the industry to rely on ships that would then have to sail to the waters of a different state to bring their cargo ashore. “What we can do is make drilling for offshore oil and gas so prohibitively expensive that it won’t pencil out,” she said.

          Natural Gas – New England: LNG-by-rail to the rescue? - The Massachusetts legislature has adopted a very green agenda in recent months, which has resulted in a stance against fossil fuels that some critics are pointing to as counterproductive, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.  The State has opposed gas pipeline expansion in the region, one of the most energy dependent parts of the US for winter supplies of gas and LNG for both heating and electricity generation.  Some have pointed at the recent import of gas originating from the new Yamal LNG export facility in Russia (of which the second arrived just this week) as a negative and unwanted consequence of the lack of pipeline capacity.  Electric generators in New England are also having to consider oil-fired peaking generators as a result of potential gas shortages, with double the carbon of the equivalent gas-fired plant. Another possible consequence of the “anti-gas pipeline” stance being taken is that novel technologies are being looked at to move gas around, some of which GCA has been following in less developed jurisdictions.  For example, LNG-by-rail, which has only been permitted so far for the Alaska Railroad Company (since 2015) appears to be emerging as one way to alleviate the winter gas shortages in New England.  Based on ISO containers placed on flatbed trucks, the technology represents a potentially viable and cost-effective way of shipping LNG over land.  At sufficient scale, LNG-by-rail has a number of advantages over trucking by road, where GCA estimates the cost penalty is of the order of US$1/MMBtu for every one hundred miles, an order of magnitude costlier than a high-pressure transmission line.

          How Climate Activists Failed to Make Clear the Problem with Natural Gas - Bill McKibben - Last week, the New Orleans City Council — all Democrats — voted 6-1 to approve a big new gas-fired power plant. Sometime in the coming weeks, in Orange County in upstate New York, another vast new gas power plant is expected to go on line — as soon as it’s hooked up to a new pipeline, one of literally dozens planned across the country. Local opponents — environmentalists, community activists — are fighting hard, but somewhere, almost every day, a new piece of natural gas infrastructure goes up. When I think about my greatest failing as a communicator — and one of the greatest failings of the climate movement — it’s not that global warming still continues. Stopping it cold was always too high an order: The fossil fuel industry is so rich and powerful, and hydrocarbons so central to our economy, that this battle was always going to be uphill. At best we can limit the damage, and in that we’ve made at least some progress. No, the single most annoying failing is a more technical one, but with huge consequence: Public opinion — and especially elite opinion — still accepts natural gas as a cleaner replacement for other fossil fuels. And this acceptance — nearly as strong among Democrats as Republicans — has meant that we’ve seen huge increases in the use of natural gas. In fact, our essential global warming strategy in America has been to replace coal-fired power plants with ones that run on fracked gas.  The idea that natural gas combats climate change is a sleight of hand. But explaining why appears to be just slightly too technical for it ever to get across, in the media or on Capitol Hill, in statehouses or city halls. Still, I’ll try one more time.

          Natural gas under assault in some states after brief reign at the top - Natural gas overtook coal as the top fuel for making electricity in the U.S. two years ago. But its brief reign is under assault in some parts of the country. State regulators, renewable-energy advocates and environmental groups are arguing that some existing and proposed gas plants aren’t needed or should be replaced by renewable energy. In states including Arizona, Michigan and Massachusetts, the future of gas plants is being questioned. But nowhere is gas under more fire than in California, where regulators are saying no to new gas plants and looking to get rid of older ones. Earlier this year, the California Public Utilities Commission directed the state’s largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric , to solicit bids for renewable energy and storage projects to replace three costly gas plants.   Power companies in California also recently abandoned plans to build two gas plants, a result of the state’s preference for batteries, wind farms and solar panels. California’s move away from natural gas is driven by aggressive environmental goals, including getting 50% of its power from renewables by 2030. Currently, 30% of California’s power comes from renewables, according to the state.  “It is fair to say it will be very challenging to see new natural gas resources being built in California.”  Gas is under pressure in other areas, including Arizona, where regulators last week voted for a nine-month pause on any new large gas-powered plants. The Arizona Corporation Commission told the state’s largest investor-owned utilities that their future plans relied too heavily on natural gas and should include more renewables, electricity storage and energy efficiency. Natural gas accounted for nearly 32% of U.S. power generation in 2017, up from about 22% a decade earlier, according to federal data. Coal is now 30%, after falling from 49% over the same time span. Nuclear accounted for 20% in 2017, and wind and solar combined totaled 8%, rising from less than 1% a decade ago.  Gas is projected to remain the top electricity-maker in the U.S. over the long term, according to federal forecasts, but its growth could be limited by increased use of renewable energy.

          FERC's move on MLPs and cost-of-service rates puts Wall Street in a tizzy - The aftershocks are still being felt from last Thursday’s decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that interstate gas and liquids pipelines’ cost-based tariff rates can’t include anything for income taxes if the pipelines are owned by master limited partnerships (MLPs) — and most are. Many investors did freak out — no other phrase sums it up better — when they heard that news. Share prices for midstream companies plummeted in midday trading, and we imagine that many angry calls were made by investors to their financial advisers. “Why didn’t we know about this?!” In fact, although this proceeding had been simmering for a while, FERC’s action was harsher than expected by most experts. But the impact of the change is likely to be less far-reaching than the Wall Street frenzy would have you believe, at least for most MLPs. And, by the way, the issue at hand — whether and how to factor in taxes in calculating MLPs’ cost-of-service-based rates for interstate pipelines –– has been around for decades. Today, we discuss FERC’s new policy statement on the treatment of income taxes and what it means for natural gas, crude oil, natural gas liquid (NGL) and refined product pipeline rates; and for investors in MLPs that own and operate the systems.

          Maryland regulators approve Potomac River gas pipeline - Maryland regulators will allow a Canadian energy company to route a controversial natural gas pipeline through the state and beneath the Potomac River, but will subject the project to safeguards they say will protect the river and groundwater.The state’s decision was announced Friday, the deadline for acting on the environmental permit application that Columbia Gas, a subsidiary of TransCanada, submitted a year ago.Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles said the state is holding the project to almost two dozen environmental conditions that he said “go above and beyond” requirements already imposed by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. They include monitoring of wells, limitations on the types of fluids used in drilling and notifications of any pollution events.“After a year of robust, public review, the state is insisting on extra precautions and safeguards,” Grumbles said in a statement. “The bottom line is that this pipeline will not get built if the applicant doesn’t comply with our many requirements, regardless of what the federal agencies ultimately decide.” Environmental groups that have been protesting the project were not appeased. They have called on Gov. Larry Hogan to order a more extensive environmental impact study to ensure that Potomac River drinking water and groundwater aren’t contaminated.

          Protester Arrested At State House: Gov. Hogan Would Not Drink Water Contaminated by Fracking: Jean Cushman is one of five woman who were arrested on the steps of the Maryland State House last week. After standing in the cold and singing “We Shall Overcome” for two hours, they were handcuffed and driven to a nearby police station. “It was pretty cold out and we saw some snow. The wind was blowing quite a lot - it was not comfortable,” she said. The five expected to be arrested sooner. “We think the reason that it took so long to arrest us is because Governor Hogan didn’t like the optics of arresting women with gray hair who have children and/or grandchildren,” Cushman said. The women were protesting the routing of a natural gas pipeline through western Maryland, beneath the Potomac River. Despite this action and others on the part of environmental advocates, two days later, Maryland officials issued a permit for the Columbia Pipeline to TransCanada, the company known for its Keystone XL Pipeline. Cushman said this news came as no surprise. “I don’t think we’d expect a lot of concern about safety from [Maryland Department of Energy Secretary] Ben Grumbles.” The Maryland Department of Energy has said it will subject the pipeline to “special environmental conditions” to protect land and drinking water.

          Atlantic Coast Pipeline can't enter some private properties, federal judge says   -- As the Atlantic Coast Pipeline doubles down on slashing trees on hundreds of private properties in North Carolina, a federal judge has taken the unusual step of barring the energy consortium from clearing trees on two rural homesteads.  U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle said the interstate pipeline developer must first pay the two landowners before its chainsaw crews can enter their properties.  The ruling comes as the planned 600-mile natural gas project, which is already more than a year behind schedule, is running up against deadlines that could add months to the construction timeline. Led by Charlotte's Duke Energy and Richmond's Dominion Energy, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline plans to bring vast supplies of natural gas to North Carolina from fracking operations in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  The pipeline developers say they face a March 31 deadline to cut down trees before the start of the nesting season for migratory birds in Eastern North Carolina. Anticipating delays, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline last Thursday asked for a six-week federal extension, until May 15, to buy time and get the tree-cutting out of the way so workers can spend the summer and autumn trenching and laying pipe. If granted an extension, the pipeline company has vowed to visually survey every tree for nests and eggs, promising to avoid chopping down bird-occupied trees until the newly hatched fledgelings have flown away.In last week's private property dispute, Boyle rejected the Atlantic Coast Pipeline's arguments that its schedules and corporate priorities are in the public interest and should take precedence over the concerns of the local landowners. In his decision Friday, the judge was unmoved by the pipeline developers' urgent plea that they must begin cutting trees as soon as possible, or risk blowing the deadline and being forced to delay construction on the $6 billion project until next winter.  Boyle ruled that Enfield township fire chief Ronnnie Locke and Marvin Winstead Jr., a 67-year-old Nash County farmer, presented a compelling case that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline's landmen were uncommunicative or deceptive in their dealings, and the facts will need to be sorted out at trial, if Locke and Winstead don't choose to settle with the company.

          Gasoline Traders Are Paying One Another for Line Space Again  - The rent is rising on America’s largest gasoline pipeline as traders send excess Gulf Coast supplies east. Traders with gasoline to spare in the U.S. Gulf Coast have paid as much as 2 cents a gallon to get their barrels a ticket to the East Coast this week, according to Moataz Elmasry, quantitative oil trader at Castleton Commodities. Oil-market price reporting agency Argus Media Ltd. assessed the value as high as 3 cents last week. The price is on the uptick after refineries in Texas and Louisiana cut back their spring maintenance this year, softening fuel prices in the region. “Line space has been negative until recently,” Elmasry said from London. “It’s now positive due to weakness in the Gulf Coast, which is driven by a reduction in refinery outages.” Despite the recent enthusiasm to ship gasoline east, market intelligence service Genscape is reporting New York Harbor stockpiles sank by 1.1 million barrels last week, according to people familiar with the matter. The dip gave the front-month gasoline futures spread a jolt higher in morning trade on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Colonial declined to comment.  Colonial is the biggest single supplier of gasoline to the New York market,  “Rather interestingly and somewhat amazingly, in the last two years there’s been a number of times that Colonial Pipeline has gone slack,”  “It has consistently been over-nominated over history. It’s gone slack. Why? Because the trade flows on occasion change.” 

          Bill to ban fracking for oil and gas dies in Florida Legislature again - Florida lawmakers again wrapped up a legislative session without writing regulations for fracking and stimulated oil-drilling techniques.  A bill to ban such practices, filed by state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, died in a Senate subcommittee after progressing through another. It did not get a hearing in the House.  "We're disappointed, but we're hopeful about next year when the leadership is likely to change in the House," said Amber Crooks, environmental policy manager at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. "We hope the next speaker will let the bills be heard and come to a vote."  The next House speaker is expected to be state Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, if Republicans maintain their majority in the chamber.

          ‘Keep it in the ground' activists optimistic despite oil boom (NPR) - The United States oil business is booming and the country could soon be the largest crude oil producer in the world. Despite this record-breaking production, climate change activists campaigning to move away from fossil fuels say they are making progress. Here's the idea underpinning the "keep it in the ground" movement: To address climate change, activists say known reserves of fossil fuels will have to be left untouched instead of burned. In the meantime, they want countries to transition to renewable forms of energy such as solar and wind. For oil, activists figure that if they can stop pipelines and other infrastructure from being built, it's more likely crude will be left in the ground, because there won't be a way to transport it to where it can be sold. One tactic used to block pipeline construction is protests like those against the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana. Last month organizer Cherri Foytlin led cheers of "L'eau est la vie"—"water is life" in French — near Belle Rose, Louisiana. Environmental groups sued to stop construction of the pipeline, but if building continues, Foytlin says she's prepared to physically block it. "We're poor people. We don't have a lot of money like they do. All I have is this old body. ... So I'll use this old body now to do what I have to do to stop it," she says 

          Judge rules Bayou Bridge pipeline can continue building through Acadia Parish property - A state judge on Monday ruled against an Acadia Parish landowner who wanted to halt construction of a 163-mile oil pipeline until resolution of a federal lawsuit aimed at shutting down the project. The 163-mile pipeline crosses 11 south Louisiana parishes, including Acadia Parish, where Hope Rosinski owns 6 acres on which Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC last year obtained rights to build after initiating expropriation action. Rosinski came to terms with Bayou Bridge in August for undisclosed compensation, and the company acquired an easement to access the property. Judge Kristian Earles on Monday granted a preliminary injunction in favor of Bayou Bridge, effectively extending an initial restraining order to prevent Rosinski from interfering with construction. The company is ultimately seeking a permanent injunction to uphold the easement agreement.  Rosinski had asserted in a March 4 email to Bayou Bridge that construction within her property was prohibited because of U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick’s Feb. 23 ruling that pipeline construction in the Atchafalaya Basin must stop while a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is pending.That suit, brought by environmental groups, claims the federal government erred in its permitting of the pipeline, and Rosinski’s easement agreement with Bayou Bridge allows construction through her land only once the company has obtained all necessary permits. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeal last week overruled Dick, allowing construction to move forward. Rosinski’s attorney, Matthew Long, argued Monday in 15th Judicial District Court in Lafayette that the appellate court had merely stayed Dick’s ruling, without vacating or overturning it. Bayou Bridge contends Dick’s ruling didn’t invalidate its permits in the first place.

          LNG and pipeline reversals turn Louisiana gas market upside down, part 2. The supply-demand dynamic in Louisiana — and around the national benchmark pricing location Henry Hub — is rapidly changing, with LNG exports providing a new demand source in the state and both producers and midstreamers in high gear to push more supply there. These factors will disrupt existing flow patterns and pricing relationships in the region over the next two or three years, eventually turning the market entirely on its head. Today, we continue our series on the Louisiana market transformation with a detailed look at the infrastructure and gas flow trends already underway, starting with what’s going on in the eastern half of the state. As we laid out in Part 1 of this series, the Louisiana market is in the midst of a significant transformation. What used to be primarily a supply market is becoming the epicenter of demand growth from LNG exports, which in turn are making the state the most desirable destination market for U.S. gas supply. Offshore gas production from the federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico has been rapidly receding. There is a slew of Marcellus/Utica takeaway projects in the works to reverse existing pipes or build new pipeline capacity in order to access the Gulf Coast market (seeFill Me Up Buttercup). These pipes are expected to bring a deluge of supply to the Louisiana market. And, after years of decline, Louisiana’s own Haynesville Shale is also in growth mode again. These shifts will alter the Louisiana market balance and the traditional understanding of gas flows and pricing relationships in the region. That’s a big deal considering that Louisiana is the home state of the Henry Hub — the national benchmark pricing location for the U.S. spot gas market and the physical delivery point underlying the CME/NYMEX natural gas futures contract. Another location — the Perryville Hub — will also play an increasingly critical role as an axis point for distributing interstate supply targeting Gulf Coast demand.

          The United States exported more natural gas than it imported in 2017 – EIA - The United States exported more natural gas than it imported in 2017, marking the first time since 1957 that the United States has been a net natural gas exporter. The transition to net exporter occurred as natural gas production in the United States continued to grow, reducing pipeline imports from Canada and increasing exports, both by pipeline and as liquefied natural gas (LNG).  Natural gas production in the United States increased significantly over the past decade. The United States surpassed Russia in 2009 as the world’s largest natural gas producer as shale gas production drove overall increases in natural gas production. Most recently, production increases have been concentrated in the Appalachia region—primarily the Marcellus and Utica shales. Natural gas production reached an average of 73.6 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2017, a 1% increase from the 2016 level and just slightly lower than the 2015 record level.  As the United States has produced more natural gas, particularly from the Appalachia region, pipeline imports from Canada have decreased. As new pipeline capacity comes online in the region, more natural gas can be delivered to regions in the Midwest and Northeast, displacing Canadian imports and increasing U.S. pipeline exports to Canada.  U.S. natural gas pipeline capacity into Mexico has also increased over the past few years, driven by growth in demand for natural gas from Mexico’s power sector and favorable prices compared with natural gas supplied by LNG shipments. U.S.-Mexico natural gas pipeline capacity is currently 11.2 Bcf/d, with another 3.2 Bcf/d of capacity scheduled to be added later in 2018. Pipeline exports to Mexico have grown along with pipeline capacity, more than doubling since 2014 and averaging 4.2 Bcf/d in 2017.

          NYMEX Apr natural gas a touch higher in early activity - NYMEX April natural gas futures were a touch higher early Monday, having seesawed overnight as moderate weather associated with spring looked to keep demand subdued and allow for a changeover from weekly storage withdrawals to injections.At 7:20 am ET (1120 GMT), the contract was 0.7 cent higher at $2.688/MMBtu, having traded in a range from $2.675/MMBtu to $2.697/MMBtu.Although below-average temperature readings linger in midrange forecasts, the arrival of the spring shoulder season spells higher low temperatures likely to keep a lid on heating demand ahead of the onset of significant cooling load. The National Weather Service 6-10 day outlook showed below-average temperatures enveloping the bulk of the West, a few parts of the Midwest, nearly the entire Northeast and much of the mid-Atlantic into a corner of North Carolina.

          NYMEX April gas futures little changed at $2.656/MMBtu -- NYMEX April natural gas futures traded on either side of unchanged in the US overnight, managing to drift fractionally higher ahead of Tuesday's open. At 7:10 am ET (1110 GMT) the contract was 0.5 cent higher at $2.656/MMBtu, trading in a range of $2.650-$2.667/MMBtu. While participants are eyeing weather outlooks and anticipated warmth as spring officially begins at 12:15 pm ET on Tuesday, cold weather in the mid-range period continues to drive modest upside support amid lingering demand that should keep natural gas inventories eroding. As spring takes hold, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is projecting warmer-than-normal weather for much of the country from April through June. Providing upside support, however, the market will have to contend with the implications of the current and mid-range cold as storage withdrawals are expected to continue. 

          NYMEX Apr natural gas rises 1.0 cent to $2.648/MMBtu on storage expectations - NYMEX April natural gas futures retraced higher overnight ahead of Thursday's open. At 6:55 a.m. ET (1055 GMT) the contract was 1.0 cent higher at $2.648/MMBtu. Weather that generated 4.6% more heating degrees days than normal in the week to March 17 is expected to have encouraged a substantial inventory withdrawal in the storage report due out Thursday. Analysts looking to the data covering the week ended March 16 anticipate withdrawals spanning 85-93 Bcf, with consensus formed at 90 Bcf. While a storage data within the range of outlooks would trail the 137 Bcf year-ago draw, it would exceed the 53 Bcf five-year average pull. Working gas in storage is currently 1,532 Bcf, or 718 Bcf below the year-ago level and 296 Bcf below the five-year average, after the Energy Information Administration outlined a 93 Bcf drawdown in the week ended March 9. 

          Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report: April Is Starting Out On A Bullish Note - The EIA reported a -86 Bcf change in storage, bringing the total storage number to 1.446 Tcf. This compares to the -150 Bcf change last year and -53 Bcf change for the five-year average. Going into this storage report, a Reuters survey of traders and analysts pegged the average at -87 Bcf with a range of -77 Bcf to -99 Bcf. We expected -88 Bcf and were 1 Bcf above the consensus. We were off by 2 Bcf on this storage report. The first week of April is projected to be colder than normal with HDDs higher for the first five days. The end result is that storage is now expected to be 1.324 Tcf by April 6. We wrote in our last week's weekly natural gas recap that traders shouldn't count out a cold April. With the first week now expected to be colder than normal, the latest long-range forecast also shows the bullish weather pattern to continue. While natural gas prices will increasingly react less to weather model changes and more to fundamental variables such as production, the rangebound trading opportunity presented will still be very attractive. In our view, with winter weather volatility ending, knowledgeable natural gas traders can take higher conviction positions because weather will no longer be the only variable that matters.  For now, however, we don't see an attractive trade set-up. Overall, weather is expected to start April on a bullish note. Traders shouldn't ignore what a bullish April could do to gas storage, and the trading opportunity will present itself. 

          Natural Gas Storage Math - How Much Supply Do We Need In 2018 -- Just how much Lower 48 production do we need for the 2018 injection season? Answer - ~80 to ~80.5 Bcf/d average from April to November 2018.  This is the mathematical breakdown of why this is the case. First, we are exiting 2018 withdrawal season at ~1.405 Tcf (latest EOS).  If we exit this year at 1.405 Tcf, this leaves a storage deficit of 2.424 Tcf to the five-year average end of injection season storage level - 3.829 Tcf.In 2017, we exited withdrawal season at 2.060 Tcf, and saw a total build of 1.728 Tcf.The five-year average shows a build of 2.119 Tcf during injection season.  So taking the delta needed in 2018 for storage to reach the 5-year average by November to the difference we saw in 2017, we get a difference of 696 Bcf (2.424 Tcf needed vs 1.728 Tcf last year). What's changed in fundamentals since 2017?

          • First, 696 Bcf over 31-weeks (injection period) is 22.45 Bcf per week or 3.2 Bcf/d.  In 2017's injection period, Lower 48 production averaged ~72.7 Bcf/d. 3.2 Bcf/d + 72.7 Bcf/d = 75.9 Bcf/d
          • LNG and Mexico exports in 2017 average ~6.2 Bcf/d in 2017. In 2018, we are forecasting this to average ~8.2 Bcf/d or +2 Bcf/d y-o-y.  75.9 Bcf/d (previous needed supply) + 2 Bcf/d = 77.9 Bcf/d
          • At current STRIP pricing, power burn demand will be 1.5 to 2 Bcf/d higher y-o-y assuming summer is normal.  77.9 Bcf/d + 1.75 Bcf/d = 79.65 Bcf/d
          • Industrial demand to add ~0.3 to ~0.5 Bcf/d of demand in 2018.  79.65 Bcf/d + 0.4 Bcf/d = 80.05 Bcf/d

          Of course, this calculation doesn't make a preliminary assumption on what weather will be over the summer, so the supplies needed could be either higher or lower than this baseline figure, but you can see the math.

          Wilbur Ross to China: Import More U.S. Gas to Cut Trade Deficit -- What would it take for China to reduce its trade gap with the U.S.? Buy more natural gas, for a start, says Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. Diverting its purchases from other countries to America would be the “simplest” solution, Ross said during an interview with Bloomberg TV after President Donald Trump ordered tariffs on at least $50 billion in Chinese imports. Buying more U.S. liquefied natural gas would be a step in that direction, he said.“China needs to import very, very large amounts of LNG and from their point it would be very logical to import more of it from us, if for no reason other than to diversify their sources of supply,” Ross said. “It would also have the side effect of reducing the deficit.”Though LNG imports may help the deficit, which reached $375 billion last year, they are unlikely to put a big dent in it, Anastacia Dialynas, analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said in a research note. Chinese LNG imports may grow to 82 million tons by 2030; if the country bought all of that from the U.S., it could contribute almost $28 billion to the trade balance.But that’s unlikely because China already has commitments for most of their gas with other suppliers. Only 40 million tons of China’s 2030 imports aren’t already under contract, amounting to just $13.5 billion in revenue at current prices, according to BNEF.“So can LNG shipments solve the U.S.-China trade deficit? No. Could they help? Yes. Will they increase? Probably,” Dialynas said. “U.S. exporters are already courting Chinese buyers, and China is looking to diversify from Australia and Qatar, its current primary suppliers.” China is already the third-biggest importer of U.S. LNG, behind only Mexico and South Korea. In February, Cheniere Energy Inc. became the first U.S. gas exporter to sign a long-term deal with China, agreeing to supply China National Petroleum Corp. with 1.2 million metric tons a year through 2043.

          Trump Administration Offers 77 Million Acres in Gulf of Mexico to Oil Industry - The Trump administration is holding the biggest offshore oil and gas lease auction in U.S. history Wednesday, offering all 77 million acres of unleased, available federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico.The sale comes as administration officials seek to rescind drilling safety rules approved after the BPDeepwater Horizon disaster, reduce royalties paid by oil companies, and expand offshore drilling into everyocean in the country."Trump is selling off our oceans and selling out coastal communities and marine life to the oil industry," said Kristen Monsell, oceans program legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity . " Whales , dolphins and Gulf seafood are already marinating in oil spills and industry wastewater. More drilling and less regulation will make the next Deepwater Horizon disaster only a matter of time."The Center for Biological Diversity last month sued the Trump administration for failing to evaluate how oilwastewater dumping in the Gulf harms wildlife . Oil companies have drilled more than 52,000 wells in the Gulf of Mexico and installed more than 7,000 platforms, many of which are inactive and still littering the Gulf. A recent New York Times investigation found dangerous conditions on Gulf platforms and taxpayers being left to cover the costs of cleanups and decommissioning of old drilling infrastructure.Whales, sea turtles and other imperiled wildlife are being harmed by offshore oil drilling and exploration. A federal study conducted as part of the settlement of a lawsuit involving the Center for Biological Diversity found more than 30 million marine mammals in the Gulf would be harmed by seismic oil and gas exploration.

          US offshore industry downplays importance of 'bellwether' Gulf sale -- The Trump administration has dubbed Wednesday's Gulf of Mexico oil and natural gas lease sale as the largest in US history and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has called it a "bellwether" for America's offshore energy future. But on Tuesday, US offshore representatives downplayed the market and policy significance of the Gulf lease sale, known as Lease Sale 250, which will be held in New Orleans Wednesday. "Industry's views on the tracts available tomorrow do not necessarily say much, if anything, about industry's interest in [the eastern Gulf of Mexico] or Atlantic one to six years from now," said Christopher Guith, a senior vice president for policy at the US Chamber of Commerce's Global Energy Institute. "Economics will still be a major factor in tomorrow's sale," said Nicolette Nye, a spokeswoman for the National Ocean Industries Association. "While overall commodity prices have shown improvement, companies are still likely to take a conservative approach to locking up exploration capital. They may look first to purchase leases close to current producing fields in order to more efficiently use infrastructure currently in place." Wednesday's sale will offer 14,776 unleased blocks across about 77.3 million acres, the largest amount of blocks offered in at least 35 years.  Zinke said the sale would be a "bellwether" for the offshore industry as US onshore production continued to climb. But Guith said Zinke meant that the sale Wednesday would be a "status check" on how the industry views the economics of offshore blocks currently available compared to acreage available onshore.  

          Offshore Drilling Companies Want Less Regulation. But Safety Problems Persist. - NYT - Faced with questions about its commitment to safety, the Interior Department sent teams to the Gulf of Mexico last week to inspect giant cranes used in offshore oil and gas operations that are a significant source of accidents.More than 50 inspectors, traveling on helicopters, conducted surprise inspections on about 40 offshore platforms and drilling rigs, said Jason Mathews, the head of offshore safety management for the Gulf of Mexico at the department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.The results were still being compiled, he said, but the inspectors found serious problems, including some that were potentially life threatening. “There are still some major incidents that are occurring, and we need to figure out why,” Mr. Mathews said Friday.Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had discussed plans for the inspection push this month after the safety bureau issued an alert to offshore oil and gas operators in the Gulf. It warned about a series of “potentially catastrophic crane and lifting incidents” that occurred late last year on platforms and drilling rigs.No one was killed or injured in those crane incidents, but lifting-related accidents are the second-largest cause of offshore fatalities, outnumbered only by fires and explosions, agency records show. The cranes are used to move workers and supplies from the Gulf up to the decks of the platforms. The Interior Department and its offshore safety bureau have been under a spotlight since the agency was ordered by President Trump to re-evaluate regulations enacted during the Obama administration in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010, which killed 11 offshore workers and created the largest marine oil spill in drilling history. Many offshore oil and gas operators, and other Gulf Coast businesses that serve them, complained that the regulatory response to the accident had been excessive.

          US omnibus bill mandates sale of 10 million barrels of government-owned crude -- A proposed bill to fund the federal government through September calls for selling off an additional 10 million barrels of crude oil from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Congress needs to pass the $1.3 trillion spending bill, known as the omnibus, by Friday in order to avoid a government shutdown. The bill calls for the US energy department to sell a total of 10 million barrels of crude from the SPR in fiscal years 2020 and 2021. The text of the bill was released late Wednesday. The bill also calls for lowering the threshold where the US government can drawdown crude from its emergency stocks. Under the threshold, set in the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975, the Department of Energy cannot take or sell crude from the SPR "if there are fewer than 350,000,000 barrels of petroleum product stored in the reserve." The proposed bill unveiled Wednesday would lower that threshold to 340 million barrels. The proposed bill also authorizes sales of up to $350 million worth of SPR crude in fiscal 2018, a provision included in a 2015 budget bill, which allows DOE to sell up to $2 billion of SPR crude from fiscal 2017 through 2020 to modernize the SPR. Since late in the Obama administration, Congress has authorized sales to both upgrade the SPR and to offset spending for unrelated legislative initiatives. All of the SPR sales mandated by Congress are expected to drop the SPR's total volume to about 386 million barrels by 2028. 

          Exxon's Gulf Cost refinery investments underpin US expansion - ExxonMobil earlier this month told analysts in New York that the company expects to add a total of 400 Mb/d of capacity to its three giant Gulf Coast refineries by 2025. Exxon plans to upgrade existing refineries in Houston (Baytown) and Baton Rouge, LA, to increase production of higher-value products and to add a new crude distillation unit to its 362-Mb/d Beaumont, TX, plant after 2020. A final investment decision on the Beaumont expansion — which reportedly would double the refinery’s throughput capacity and make it the largest refinery in the U.S. — is expected later this year and follows a $6 billion investment by Exxon to triple crude output from its Permian Basin production assets in West Texas. Today, we discuss the existing Beaumont operation, its feedstock sources, and the refined-product demand that supports the plant’s expansion.  Doubling the Beaumont refinery’s capacity by adding a new crude distillation unit to process an additional 300-400 Mb/d would make Beaumont the largest refinery in the U.S.; it would overtake the nearby Saudi Aramco-owned 635 Mb/d Motiva refinery in Port Arthur, TX (that itself underwent a $10 billion expansion in 2013 to add 325 Mb/d of capacity). The proposed Beaumont expansion would represent significant new investment in the domestic refining sector by a firm that sold its interest in two refineries in Louisiana and California to PBF Energy in 2015 and 2016, respectively. It’s yet another indication of how rapidly expanding shale production is changing the U.S. energy landscape. Less than a year ago, in June 2017, we described how refinery capacity additions in the next five years are mostly expected to be in Asia and the Middle East, where product demand is expanding rapidly (see Can’t You Hear Me Knocking). Now, growing Permian crude production and a thriving export market for refined products from the Gulf Coast have persuaded at least one major oil company to consider changing that mindset.

          Exxon Mobil considers building new Gulf Coast plastics plant --- Exxon Mobil said Tuesday that it has started engineering work on a new Gulf Coast plastics plant that would substantially expand its petrochemicals production as demand increases worldwide. It would expand production of polypropylene, a lightweight, durable plastic, by as much as 450,000 tons a year. The company will make a final decision on the project later this year. It's anticipated to cost several hundred million dollars and employ more than 60 people when production starts. The announcement comes amid a petrochemicals boom throughout the Gulf Coast region as producers capitalize on a steady flow of natural gas from West Texas shale fields. The surge in production there has created a cheap supply of ethane and other natural gas liquids to be converted into feedstocks for plastics, building materials and consumer goods. The International Energy Agency anticipates that petrochemicals will account for a quarter of the growth in global oil consumption during the next five years. Major companies including LyondellBasell, Chevron Phillips Chemical and DowDupont have collectively invested billions of dollars in expanding their facilities here to meet growing demand for plastics in emerging middle-class markets in China, India and elsewhere. Exxon Mobil said its new polypropylene plant would produce advanced materials for use in automobiles, appliances and packaging. In the automotive industry, the lightweight plastics could replace certain steel components to reduce vehicle weight and improve fuel efficiency.

          Even Without Trump-Brokered Deal, Refiners Get Biofuel Relief  - Despite a series of White House meetings in recent months, U.S. oil refiners haven’t seen any change in the federal mandate requiring them to blend biofuels. Yet the market in biofuel credits shows they’re getting some of what they want anyway. The complaint among some refiners is that the cost of complying with the Renewable Fuel Standard is too high. Refiners without the capability to blend ethanol or biodiesel have to buy the credits, so-called Renewable Identification Numbers, or RINs. Prices for RINs have slumped amid the Trump administration meetings, indicating that refiners are increasingly confident they’ll get some kind of relief. “The conversation has already been helpful in that area of driving RIN prices down,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a speech in Washington on Tuesday. The RFS is a complicated policy that crosses political lines and reverberates in markets for corn and crude oil. Two of President Donald Trump’s most valued constituencies -- blue-collar workers and farmers in the rural Midwest -- are locked in a fight over compliance costs. The debate has gotten more heated since the recent bankruptcy of Philadelphia Energy Solutions Inc., the largest U.S. East Coast refiner. But farmers of corn and soybeans -- used to make ethanol and biodiesel -- support the RFS. Although Trump had pledged to support the program during his presidential campaign, he has personally waded into the debate, holding meetings in an attempt to broker a deal between the two sides. 

          Some Oil Refineries Are Getting a License to Print Money -- The world’s most sophisticated refineries are about to enjoy great times thanks to what might seem like a minor tweak in rules for the type of fuel ships consume.From 2020, vessels must buy fuel with less sulfur, or alternatively be fitted with equipment to curb emissions of the pollutant. One thing is clear: only a tiny fraction of the merchant fleet will have such gear when the rules enter force, since many shipowners argue it’s the responsibility of refineries to sell the right fuel.That’s fantastic news for complex plants, including some of the biggest on the U.S. Gulf Coast, in Europe and in Asia. Unlike simpler refineries, they can already make marine gasoil -- a distillate fuel similar to diesel that ships are going to need -- without churning out leftover, non-compliant fuel oil, according to Alan Gelder, vice president for refining, chemicals and oil markets at Wood Mackenzie Ltd. in London.“They’ll print money,” The new sulfur standards, established by the International Maritime Organization in 2016, aim to cut the presence of a pollutant that has been blamed as a contributor to human health conditions like asthma and environmental damage like acid rain. Some shippers say that in an extreme scenario, the changes could upend world trade if the cost of compliance is too high. The existing global standard is generally 3.5 percent sulfur in fuel oil -- normally the residue when refineries make higher-value products like gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

          China slaps tariff on U.S. oil pipe, potential hit to Texas industry - Texas manufacturers who produce steel oil and gas pipelines and drill pipe are expected to see a relatively modest impact from China's announcement it was slapping a 15 percent tariff on steel pipe from the United States.  Last year the United States exported 832,000 metric tons of steel pipe, according to the U.S. International Trade Administration. More than 80 percent of that pipe went to Canada and Mexico, with China coming in a distant third. "Bottom line, if the retaliation is on pipelines, Houston will not see much impact. However, if the trade war escalates to broader energy related machinery classes, then Houston will be more exposed," said Praveen Kumar, executive director of the University of Houston's Gutierrez Energy Management Institute. The steel pipe tariff is part of a sprawling $3 billion tariff imposed by the Chinese early Friday, in response to President Donald Trump's announcement he would enact tariffs targeting $50 billion in Chinese goods. Among the U.S. goods targeted by the Chinese are pork, apples and steel pipe, but officials in Beijing are believed to be considering further action depending on the economic impact of Trump's tariffs.

          Radar images show large swath of West Texas oil patch is heaving and sinking at alarming rates --Analysis indicates decades of oil production activity have destabilized localities in an area of about 4,000 square miles populated by small towns, roadways and a vast network of oil and gas pipelines and storage tanks.  That’s the finding of a geophysical team from Southern Methodist University, Dallas that previously reported the rapid rate at which the sinkholes are expanding and new ones forming.  Radar satellite images show significant movement of the ground across localities in a 4000-square-mile area — in one place as much as 40 inches over the past two-and-a-half years, say the geophysicists.“The ground movement we’re seeing is not normal. The ground doesn’t typically do this without some cause,” said geophysicist Zhong Lu, a professor in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences at SMU and a global expert in satellite radar imagery analysis. “These hazards represent a danger to residents, roads, railroads, levees, dams, and oil and gas pipelines, as well as potential pollution of ground water,” Lu said. “Proactive, continuous detailed monitoring from space is critical to secure the safety of people and property.”The scientists made the discovery with analysis of medium-resolution (15 feet to 65 feet) radar imagery taken between November 2014 and April 2017. The images cover portions of four oil-patch counties where there’s heavy production of hydrocarbons from the oil-rich West Texas Permian Basin. The imagery, coupled with oil-well production data from the Railroad Commission of Texas, suggests the area’s unstable ground is associated with decades of oil activity and its effect on rocks below the surface of the earth.

          Large Swath of Texas Oil Patch Rapidly Sinking and Uplifting, Study Finds - West Texas is already home to two giant sinkholes near the town of Wink caused by intensive oil and gas operations. Now, according to an unprecedented study, the "Wink Sinks" might not remain the last in the region. Geophysicists at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas have found rapid rates of ground movement at various locations across a 4,000-square-mile swath around the two sinkholes. This area is known for processing extractions from the oil-rich Permian Basin . The scientists made the discovery after analyzing radar satellite imagery taken between November 2014 and April 2017. Combined with oil-well production data from the Railroad Commission of Texas, the researchers concluded that the area's sinking and uplifting ground is associated with decades of oil activity and its effect on rocks below Earth's surface.  "Based on our observations and analyses, human activities of fluid (saltwater, CO2) injection for stimulation of hydrocarbon production, salt dissolution in abandoned oil facilities, and hydrocarbon extraction each have negative impacts on the ground surface and infrastructures, including possible induced seismicity," the study , published in the journal Scientific Reports, says.  One location saw as much as 40 inches of movement over the past two-and-a-half years, the geophysical team found.   The latest findings build on the team's 2016 report that revealed the existing "Wink Sinks" are expanding and new ones are forming.

          Study Finds Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals Near Fracking Wells - West Virginia Public Broadcasting - Radio piece on study and interview with author. Dozens of chemicals that can affect the fertility of humans and animals are being found in the air near unconventional oil and gas development, according to a new study. More than 200 chemicals have been found near unconventionally drilled sites, most-commonly fracked wells, according to a paper published today in the journal Environmental Health.Carol Kwiatkowski, executive director of a nonprofit called the Endocrine Disruption Exchange, said that of those chemicals, 34 are known to be endocrine disruptors, or chemicals that interfere with hormone systems in mammals.“Well-known hazardous air pollutants are being found near fracking sites and may be contributing to health outcomes that are being experienced by people living near fracking sites,” said Kwiatkowski, a co-author of the study. “The endocrine disrupting chemicals that are found at these sites may be contributing to health outcomes that won’t be realized for decades.”Researchers reviewed more than 4,000 peer-reviewed papers. In total, they found 48 air sampling studies were conducted between 2003 and 2016. Texas’ Barnett Shale formation was studied the most. The Marcellus Shale formation in the Ohio Valley, was the fourth-most-studied area.Chemicals known to cause cancer, and heavy metals such as mercury, were also found near oil and gas development. Researchers said more information is needed to know what the long-term health impacts of these chemicals are. An estimated 17.6 million Americans live near unconventional oil and gas wells.For this paper, the researchers did not do any original experiments, rather they looked only at the already-published science. The study also does not draw a direct link between hormone-disrupting chemicals and oil and gas development. Instead, it shows studies have found these chemicals are often found near oil and gas development.

          Community fights massive drilling site planned near public school in low-income area -  Residents of a city along Colorado’s Front Range are fighting the construction of a major oil and gas drilling site set to be completed next year near a public school attended mostly by low-income students of color. Denver-headquartered Extraction Oil and Gas was originally awarded a permit in 2013 to drill up to 67 wells a few hundred feet away from Frontier Academy in Greeley, Colorado, a city with a population of over 100,000. The school is composed of children that come largely from white, middle-class families.  In the face of the parents’ resistance, Extraction Oil and Gas opted to abandon the Frontier Academy site, in southern Greeley. The company instead turned its attention to a different site on the eastern side of the city. In May 2016, the company filed an application with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) for the project. This new location also was within a thousand feet of a school. The school, Bella Romero Academy, serves mostly working-class Latinx families. Nearly 90 percent of its children qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. In June 2016, the Weld County board of commissioners unanimously approved a special use permit that would allow Extraction Oil and Gas to build a 24-well pad project, known as the Vetting site, near the Bella Romero Academy campus. The industrial project will be located about 1,350 feet from the school building but about 500 feet from the school’s playground and ball fields. With all of its necessary permits, the company hopes to complete the project sometime in 2019. Last spring, a group of residents joined environmental groups to file a lawsuit in Denver County (Colorado) District Court against the COGCC for approving the project. “It is this stark disparity that raises concerns of environmental justice at Bella Romero Academy,” the plaintiffs stated in the lawsuit. “The commission and operators generally experience the least amount of pushback when siting major oil and gas development in predominantly minority communities since these communities do not have the same resources as more affluent communities.” 

          Lafayette elementary school sees tensions over fracking - Boulder Daily Camera - Fracking tensions have seeped down to the elementary school level in Lafayette, where a meeting is set this week after a principal took steps to limit bannering activities relating to oil and gas issues. East Boulder County United, which has been vocal in opposing plans for large-scale expansion of oil and gas development across broad sections of the area along the U.S. 287 corridor, has drawn attention to the school's stance and is contesting the school's actions.The school community's interest in the subject is more than just academic. One example of the drive to dot the eastern county with hundreds of wells is theapplication by Extraction under its subsidiary 8 North for a state drilling and spacing order on a 1,280-acre area between Arapahoe and Baseline roads in the Lafayette-Erie area, which encompasses at its southwest corner the Escuela Bilingue Pioneer Elementary property. Emily Love, who is a member of the Parent-Teachers Association and has a son in the fourth grade at Pioneer, said, "My son and I are very involved in planning a lot of the bannering at the school."It is a youth-led effort. The kids come out after school and they hand out signs to friends and parents, and from 3:20 to 4 p.m. every Friday after school, they meet and they walk to Baseline (Road) and they hold up signs and they share the chants that they have made up." In recent days, however, Principal Guillermo Medina sent an email that school community members in opposition to fracking see as an effort to quash their activities. "He said that a parent emailed and said they were scared of the picketing, and he wants to keep the school neutral. He asked that the bannering happen a half step outside of school property."

          Physician Groups Publish One Stop Shop for Fracking Science / Public News Service  — Physicians' groups are sounding the alarm on the health risks posed by hydraulic fracturing, and have published a compendium of scientific evidence that they say confirms the damage caused by fracking operations. Joel Minor, associate attorney with the group Earthjustice, said mounting evidence shows that Wyoming families in the Upper Green River Basin are exposed to harmful volatile organic compounds released into the air, which can lead to increased asthma attacks, heart attacks and even premature death."This compendium really puts that all in one place, and shows people who live near unconventional oil and gas wells that they are at a higher risk for a number of health impacts,” Minor said, “most likely caused by exposure to things like benzene, that are leaked into the air during the hydraulic fracturing process."More than 17 million Americans currently live within a mile of an active oil or gas well - including more than 2 million children and older adults, groups especially vulnerable to air pollution and contaminated water. Proponents of fracking say when done correctly, the process is environmentally safe, and claim any spills or leaks are essentially the same as gasoline spilled when people fill up their tanks.Minor admits that any single spill may not be significant on its own. But he warned pollution, which largely occurs when transporting chemicals and wastewater - especially near watersheds and farmlands - can be cause for concern. "I think it's important to look at all of those spills together - and think about the total volume of chemicals, and fluids, and waste products that are being spilled - and look at those cumulative impacts over time,” he said.

          Criminalizing Peaceful Pipeline Protests: Are Oil Billionaires Trying to Undermine Our First Amendment Rights? – (interview & transcript) RNN interview discussing oil funding of state measures to criminalize peaceful pipeline protest as ‘eco-terrorism’.. Wyoming is the third state, along with Iowa and Ohio, to introduce such measures. Others to follow?

          Drillers snap up federal leases near Utah's wilderness monuments (Reuters) - The U.S. Bureau of Land Management on Tuesday auctioned off more than 51,000 acres (21,000 hectares) in southeastern Utah for oil and gas development, a sign of strong industry demand in a region conservationists have vowed to protect. The Utah lease sale included terrain near the former boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument, whose size was scaled back by the Trump administration last year, as well as the Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients monuments, according to the bureau. Results of the online auction, posted on Tuesday afternoon, showed that all 43 parcels up for sale received winning bids, which averaged $28.68 per acre and ranged between $2 and $93 per acre. Total proceeds from the auction were $1.56 million, according to the BLM. “This means drilling in these parcels poses a more serious and immediate threat to the landscape and archaeological resources,” Aaron Weiss, media director for the Center for Western Priorities, said about the apparent strong demand. The Monticello area received some of the highest bids, with Context Energy LLC bidding $145,600 for a 1,600-acre parcel, according to the BLM. Other bidders included Ayers Energy LLC, Wasatch Energy LLC and Kirkwood Oil and Gas Inc, according to the data. The auction comes as the administration of President Donald Trump seeks to boost domestic energy production by expanding federal leasing and rolling back land protections.  

          Could Wastewater From Oil And Gas Production Help Solve Our Water Crisis? Not Without Better Science -  Climate change is drastically raising demands on the world’s fresh water supplies, and as a result, governments, scientists, and others are actively searching for new ways to manage and preserve our water resources.One consideration includes repurposing wastewater generated from on-shore oil and gas development, which produces a whopping 900 billion gallons of water annually in the U.S. alone. Some proponents of this option believe produced water may be a massive opportunity for water-scarce regions. Researchers at the University of Texas suggest recycling produced water for hydraulic fracturing operations could help address anticipated water shortage problems in the Permian Basin. Recycling wastewater within the oilfield is a viable option – as long as the spill and leaks, which can have significant and long-lasting negative impacts on soil and water resources, are minimized. However, uses beyond the oilfield are much riskier if we don’t answer some critical questions first.  Oil and gas wastewater contains a range of constituents including organics, inorganics, and potentially radionuclides. According to data reported to FracFocus and other current literature, there are more than 2,500 different chemicals that could be a found in this wastewater — from hydrochloric acid to ethylene glycol (antifreeze). Recent literature suggests there is still a lot we don’t know about these chemicals. For those 2,500 chemicals, we lack key toxicity data and only have standard analytical methods for less than 20% — and even those don’t always work. Produced water can be 10 times saltier than seawater or more, and testing technologies do not always perform accurately in such high salt content. Determining what is in the wastewater and whether or not it is hazardous is critical. Policy makers can’t develop effective standards for treated wastewater if they don’t know what water quality targets should be or what tools are needed for effective chemical detection.

          Mandated study of Dakota Access line to miss completion goal (AP) — More time is needed to finish additional court-ordered environmental study of the Dakota Access oil pipeline due to difficulties in getting needed information from American Indian tribes fighting the project in court, according to federal officials. The delay won't impact the $3.8 billion pipeline, which has been operating since last June, moving North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois. But it will delay resolution of a federal lawsuit that has lingered for nearly two years. U.S. District Judge James Boasberg last summer ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to further review the pipeline's impact on tribal interests, including how a spill under the Lake Oahe reservoir on the Missouri River in the Dakotas would impact the water supply of the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux. Those tribes are leading the lawsuit that was filed in July 2016. The Corps last October told Boasberg it would finish the mandated work by April 2, but the agency late last week informed him that won't happen "as a result of difficulties in obtaining requested information from the plaintiff tribes in a timely manner." Justice Department Attorney Reuben Schifman did not provide a new date, saying it depended on cooperation from the tribes. The tribes have accused the Corps and Texas-based developer Energy Transfer Partners of not giving them a meaningful role in the process. The tribes contend they also haven't been allowed adequate input in the completion of a Lake Oahe spill response plan or in the selection of an independent engineering company to review whether the project complies with federal laws and regulations, which Boasberg also ordered.

          Bakken frack sand provider expands through $15M acquisition - Texas-based Smart Sand has now acquired the rights to a unit train transloading terminal in the heart of the Bakken.Through a $15.5 million deal, Smart Sand has acquired the assets and formed a long-term lease agreement with Canadian Pacific for the terminal. By 2018, the terminal, which had been used for crude storage and shipment, will be converted to receive and distribute northern white frack sand.“Our new unit train capable terminal in Van Hook, North Dakota, allows us to continue growing our presence in the Williston Basin,” said Charles Young, CEO of Smart Sand. According to Young, operators in the Bakken are now pursuing higher-intensity finer mesh frack designs. The Oakdale facility has ramped up from 3.3 million tons to 5.5 million tons.“Working with Smart Sand to repurpose this existing rail facility into a high0-efficinecy sand terminal is well-aligned with our commercial strategy to maximize capacity and asset utilization,” said Coby Bullard, vice president of sales and marketing, merchandise, energy, chemicals and plastics for CP. The new terminal will capitalize on CP’s high-capacity corridor between the nation’s premier proppant-producing region and North Dakota’s Williston Basin. According to Smart Sand data on frack sand demand, since 2016 the amount of proppant demand per new horizontal well has been on a sharp increase. In 2016, the horizontal wells market was roughly 50 million ton of proppant. Today, the market for horizontal wells has created a proppant market that demands more than 140 million tons of sand. On a per well basis, wells in 2016 required just more than 8 million pounds of sand per well. But in Q1 2018, horizontal wells are using, on average, nearly 16 million tons of proppant per well.

          Montana Pipeline Protester Avoids Jail, Must Pay Restitution (AP) — An Oregon climate change activist has avoided jail time and been ordered to pay $3,775 after he was convicted of illegally shutting down a crude oil pipeline in Montana.State District Judge Daniel Boucher (boo-SHAY) sentenced Leonard Higgins on Tuesday to a three-year deferred sentence and restitution for damages.Court clerk Rick Cook says Higgins' record will be cleared of a felony criminal mischief conviction if he doesn't violate the terms of his sentence.He faced a maximum of 10 years in prison. Higgins entered a fenced site near Big Sandy, Montana, in October 2016 and closed a valve on pipeline operated by Spectra Energy.The pipeline carries oil from Canada's tar sands region. Activists simultaneously targeted other pipelines in Washington state, North Dakota and Minnesota.

          California Public Utilities Commission directs SoCalGas to maximize storage injections for summer reliability – EIA - On March 13, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued a letter to the Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas)—owner and operator of Southern California’s four underground storage facilities—directing them to maximize injections into their natural gas storage facilities to avoid possible future service disruptions. According to the CPUC, SoCalGas’s inventory is critically low after winter withdrawals, and storage is needed for summer reliability.As of March 18, SoCalGas reported 48 billion cubic feet (Bcf) in working gas inventory for all four of their storage facilities (64% of 75.5 Bcf of total working gas capacity). SoCalGas’s Aliso Canyon storage facility, California’s largest, has been heavily restricted since experiencing a leak from October 2015–February 2016, which reduced its working gas capacity to 24.6 Bcf from 86 Bcf. In early March, SoCalGas reported that storage at its three smaller facilities was close to 28 Bcf, or 53% of unrestricted capacity. Heating degree days in the Pacific Region since the week of February 18, 2018, have been 29% higher than normal on average for this time of year. To respond to this heightened demand, CPUC granted permission for SoCalGas to withdraw 1.1 Bcf of natural gas from Aliso Canyon in six intervals between February 19–March 6. Since reaching $19.58 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) on February 20—the highest recorded price at the SoCal Citygate—natural gas prices have remained elevated relative to the Henry Hub spot price, averaging $3.34/MMBtu. The Henry Hub spot price has averaged $2.65/MMBtu during this same period. Inventory in SoCalGas’s four storage facilities has been down significantly since a peak of 125 Bcf at the time the Aliso Canyon leak was discovered in October 2015. SoCalGas inventories had reached their lowest levels—18.5 Bcf in March 2014—prior to the leak and after a particularly cold winter. At the time, Aliso Canyon had its full storage capacity available, and CPUC did not intervene. Although storage levels last year at this time were lower (39.2 Bcf in working gas capacity) than this year, CPUC did not issue a letter of concern about last year’s levels until last July. In addition to critically low storage levels and cold weather this year, ongoing unplanned maintenance and outages on two major pipelines (Line 3000 and Line 235-2) is continuing to cause supply constraints.

          Inslee questions whether Canadian pipeline should expand  (AP) — The governor of Washington says his state is "allied" with British Columbia in questioning whether the Trans Mountain pipeline should be expanded. Gov. Jay Inslee says the project poses a threat to waters off the West Coast, which Washington residents view as a treasure. He says the state is looking at marine safety laws that would help mitigate the impact of a tanker spill. Inslee is in Vancouver Friday for a meeting with British Columbia Premier John Horgan and officials from Oregon and California, which make up the Pacific Coast Collaborative. Inslee says residents in his state recently rejected proposals for both coal and oil ports. Inslee commended British Columbia for leadership on climate protection. But he says Trans Mountain may be a federal policy that "shoots Canada in the foot" and reverses some of the work done by the province. Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna acknowledged at an event in Victoria today that there are differences over the pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby, British Columbia. But she says it was approved after extensive reviews and it will be built. 

          28 Activists Arrested at Kinder Morgan Pipeline Construction Site - Despite a court-ordered injunction barring anyone from coming within 5 meters (approximately 16.4 feet) of two of its BC construction sites, opponents of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion sent a clear message Saturday that they would not back down. Twenty-eight demonstrators were arrested March 17 after blocking the front gate to Kinder Morgan's tank farm in Burnaby, BC for four hours, according to a press release put out by Protect the Inlet , the group leading the protest. According to the release, the protesters were a mixed group of indigenous people, families, retired teachers and other community members. "We're going to do whatever it takes, and by any means necessary, and we'll show up day after day until we win this fight," Treaty-6-Mathias Colomb-Cree-Nation member Clayton Thomas-Muller said in the release. Saturday's action was an intentional show of civil disobedience. "Everyone was very aware of the situation, of the possibility of arrest. And everyone was given the chance at any time during the day to leave that zone and not be arrested," 

          Kinder Morgan Pipeline Protest Grows: Arrests Include a Greenpeace Founder, Juno-Nominated Grandfather - Just because you get older, it doesn't mean you cannot stop taking action for what you believe in. And Monday was a case in point. Two seventy-year-olds, still putting their bodies on the line for environmental justice and indigenous rights.Early Monday morning, the first seventy-year-old, a grandfather of two, and former nominee for Canada's Juno musical award, slipped into Kinder Morgan's compound at one of its sites for the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline and scaled a tree and then erected a mid-air platform with a hammock up in the air.  Terry Christenson had taken food and water with him and said he had no intention of coming down. His non-violent direct action was in protest of Kinder Morgan's tree clearing through Burnaby Mountain for the company's highly contentious pipeline to the BC coast. It was part of a week of direct action designed to slow construction and clearing that has to be undertaken by the company before March 26, when migratory birds start flying north for the summer.  Christenson was arrested around 8 p.m. last night. He was not the only one arrested. Fifteen more people were arrested by blocking the gates to Kinder Morgan's compound. This brings the total to about fifty people arrested in the past few days, with opposition against the pipeline growing daily. Yesterday, one of the first to be arrested at the gates was another seventy-year-old, Rex Weyler, who co-founded Greenpeace International in 1979 and is one of the founders of theHollyhock retreat center in BC.  "Forty-six years ago, Greenpeace got its start right here in Vancouver protecting this coastline, and the world, from the sorts of ecological disasters and social disruption that Kinder Morgan's pipeline threatens," he said. "Like then, we stand now for protection of the natural bounty that keeps our communities alive and prosperous.

          Aggressive Police Tactics Escalate Against TransMountain Pipeline Protests in Canada - Real News Network (video & transcript) In Burnaby, British Columbia, it's the fourth day of resistance in what has been dubbed the Standing Rock of the North. The target of this resistance is the proposed seven billion dollar doubling of the Trans Mountain Kinder Morgan pipeline to carry dirty tar sands oil from Alberta to the British Columbia coast to the Burrard inlet of North Vancouver. More than 60 people have now been arrested, including a former Trans Mountain environmental engineer Romilly Cavanaugh, during similar actions conducted Saturday through Tuesday. The arrests are ongoing. These actions follow the March 10th Protect the Inlet march, where thousands of people rallied against the pipeline and tanker project. Resistance is growing. In Canada a national day of action has been called for this Friday against the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.  Now here to discuss the resistance with us is Clayton Thomas-Muller. Clayton is a member of the Treaty Six-based Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, also known as Pukatawagan, located in northern Manitoba, Canada, and based in Winnipeg Clayton is the Stop It At the Source campaigner with He joins us today from Winnipeg. Thanks very much for coming back on the Real News, Clayton.

          Risky Move: Canada Shipping More Tar Sands Oil by Rail -- The Motley Fool has been advising investors on " How to Profit From the Re-Emergence of Canada's Crude-by-Rail Strategy ." But what makes transporting Canadian crude oil by rail attractive to investors?According to the Motley Fool, the reason is "… right now, there is so much excess oil being pumped out of Canada's oil sands that the pipelines simply don't have the capacity to handle it all."The International Energy Agency recently reached the same conclusion in its Oil 2018 market report ."Crude by rail exports are likely to enjoy a renaissance, growing from their current 150,000 bpd [barrels per day] to an implied 250,000 bpd on average in 2018 and to 390,000 bpd in 2019. At their peak in 2019, rail exports of crude oil could be as high as 590,000 bpd—though this calculation assumes producers do not resort to crude storage in peak months," the International Energy Agency said, as reported by the Financial Post . To put that in perspective, however, the industry was moving 1.3 million barrels per day at the peak of the U.S. oil-by-rail boom in 2014.   And Canada has plenty of capacity to load oil on more trains, which means if a producer is willing to pay the premium to move oil by rail, it can find a customer to do it. The infrastructure is in place to load approximately1.2 million barrels per day .

          IEA says Canadian crude-by-rail shipments to more than double to 390,000 barrels a day - Crude-by-rail shipments could more than double over the next two years from historic highs as a lack of pipeline capacity forces producers to look to alternatives, said the International Energy Agency Monday. The Paris-based IEA forecasts in its latest oil markets report that crude-by-rail exports will grow from 150,000 barrels a day in late 2017 to 250,000 barrels a day this year and then to 390,000 barrels a day in 2019. “Crude by rail exports are likely to enjoy a renaissance,” said the IEA, as at the end of 2017 oil available for export was 310,000 barrels a day higher than the take away pipeline capacity. With oilsands production expected to keep growing, crude-by-rail shipments could peak as high as 590,000 barrels a day in 2019 if producers don’t resort to crude storage in peak months, the IEA said. The shipments are significantly higher than the current record of 179,000 barrels a day reached in September 2014 before oil prices collapsed. The increase in shipments comes after an increase in railway incidents in 2017, including a 21 per cent jump in accidents from a year earlier and the number of dangerous goods leaks increasing from two to five. The IEA says rail shipments are expected to return to around the 170,000-barrel-a-day level in 2020 assuming Enbridge Inc. replaces its Line 3 pipeline and adds capacity elsewhere on its Mainline pipeline system.

           Why the big spread between WCS (Canadian) and WTI (US) crude oil will stick around. --Western Canadian Select (WCS), a heavy crude oil blend, has been selling for about $25/bbl less than West Texas Intermediate (WTI) at the Cushing, OK, hub — a hard-to-bear experience for oil sands producers that have made big investments over the past few years to ratchet up their output. And the WCS/WTI spread is unlikely to improve much any time soon. Pipeline takeaway capacity out of Alberta has not kept pace with oil sands production growth, and existing pipes are running so full that some owners have been forced to apportion access to them. Crude-by-rail (CBR) is a relief valve, but it can be costly. Worse yet, production continues to increase and the addition of new pipeline capacity is two years away — maybe more — so deep discounts for WCS are likely to stick around. Today, we discuss highlights from our new Drill Down Report on Western Canadian crude markets. It hasn’t been an easy winter in Western Canada’s oil patch, and we’re not talking about the weather. Sure, production in the oil sands continues to ramp up as new projects — large and small — come online after years of development. Output from the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (WCSB), which includes the Alberta oil sands, now stands at about 4.0 MMb/d, and the consensus among Canadian forecasters is that production will increase to 5.0 MMb/d by 2025.

          'Kayaktivists' Board Rig Set to Drill Arctic - Peaceful "kayaktivists" from Greenpeace Norway boarded a Statoil -contracted rig set to drill two Arctic wells this year. Two people boarded the rig at the Skipavik yard on Norway's west coast Thursday morning and have requested a meeting with the rig's captain. Another 10 activists are in the water with signs that say, "Same shit, new wrapping," in reference to Statoil, Norway's biggest petroleum company, that wants to change its name to "Equinor." The protesters are there "to ensure the rig does not leave port," Truls Gulowsen, the head of Greenpeace in Norway, told Reuters . "We are prepared to stay as long as necessary," he added.  Statoil contracted the West Hercules semisubmersible rig set to drill two exploration wells in the Barents Sea this summer.  Earlier this year, Greenpeace and other groups lost a climate case against the Norwegian government for granting new oil drilling licenses in the Arctic ocean, claiming that such activity violates people's right to a healthy environment and breaches the Paris agreement .

          Report says WA fracking would blow Australia's whole carbon budget -- Carbon pollution from fracking all Western Australia’s potential unconventional gas reserves would blow Australia’s entire carbon budget under the Paris Agreement three times over, new research shows.  Unconventional gas exploration in WA is focused on shale and tight rocks, only accessible through hydraulic fracturing: injecting a water-chemical mix into the ground to fracture the rocks and release the methane.  Environmental activists protest against fracking outside the WA Labor State Conference in Perth in 2017. German-based researcher Climate Analytics last week released Western Australia's Gas Gamble - Implications of natural gas extraction in WA. The report says if all WA’s conventional gas reserves were exploited carbon emissions would be 40-75 per cent above what WA’s energy sector could emit to comply with the Paris Agreement. The countries that signed the 2015 Agreement set carbon “budgets” to limit climate change to a maximum of two degrees above pre-industrial levels, a level of warming predicted to cause major droughts, food shortages and damaging sea level rises.

          UK oil output seen rising 9% this year: industry group - UK oil production is expected to rise by 9% this year, to nearly 1.1 million b/d, while gas output will remain flat and the longer term looks less positive, industry group Oil & Gas UK said Tuesday.Higher oil output will be supported by 12 projects that came on stream last year, among them the BP-led revamp of the Schiehallion field, and two large projects due on stream this year: the Clair Ridge expansion project, led by BP, and the start of production from Statoil's Mariner heavy oil field, Oil & Gas UK said in its annual "Business Outlook" report. UK oil output had been expected to rise for a third year in a row last year, but instead dropped by around 1% due to the shutdown of the Forties pipeline in December, caused by a hairline crack. Also positive for the sector this year will be the expected approval of 12-16 large oil and projects, some being new field developments and others being extensions to existing assets, compared with just two approvals in each of the last two years, the report said.  With a total investment price tag of over GBP5 billion ($7.0 billion), it said these projects could yield 450 million barrels of oil equivalent, including both gas and liquids.

          Groningen natural gas field production cut decision by Mar 31: minister - Dutch economy minister Eric Wiebes will send a letter to the country's Cabinet containing details of a major cut to extraction levels at the Groningen gas field by March 31 at the latest, a government representative said Friday. Last Thursday, when Wiebes visited the damage claims desk in Groningen, he told local media he would send a letter about the future of gas extraction at Groningen by the end of March. The current production quota for the 2017-18 Gas Year ending September 30 is 21.6 Bcm. Following a 3.4-magnitude earthquake in the northern Dutch province of Groningen on January 8, with reports saying the quake was related to gas extraction, Wiebes said Groningen gas production could be cut by up to 2 Bcm in the current gas year, depending on temperatures. Dutch gas regulator SodM also recommended a 12 Bcm/year cap on gas output from Groningen be introduced. However, the final decision is up to Wiebes and he was expected to announce a production cut for the current gas year by March. Dutch gas production has been falling since February, with Groningen operator NAM seeking a fairly flat output profile amid pressure from public and political debates on further output cuts. All five Loppersum areas at the giant onshore field were closed on February 2 in response to a request from Wiebes on the heels of the January 8 quake. Even with the arrival of the cold blast in Week 9 that triggered spikes in gas consumption, Dutch gas production averaged 135 million cu m/d, data from S&P Global Platts Analytics showed. 

          Germany’s Pivot From Russian Gas Will Be Costly -- More problems are mounting for Russia’s oil and gas sector. This time it’s coming from Germany, which until recently usually gave Russia’s energy sector more lead way than the U.S. or other allies. But now it seems that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also had enough. On Monday, Bloombergreported that Merkel’s government is seeking to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry in Germany basically from scratch to reduce the nation’s dependence on supplies arriving by pipeline from Russia and Norway.Merkel backs “all initiatives supporting further diversification of gas supply — whether from different regions or means of transporting gas,” said German Economy and Energy Ministry spokeswoman Beate Baron. The move comes as natural gas resources from the UK and the Netherlands are depleting, and Germany is forced to rely more on Russian gas. Merkel’s newly formed coalition has a “coalition contract” that among other policies sets out energy agenda including LNG for the next four years, the Bloomberg reported added.Germany, for its part, is Europe’s largest gas consumer. In 2015, the country consumed 7.2 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) of natural gas, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data. According to the German energy research group, AG Energiebilanzen, imports account for about 90 percent of Germany’s total natural gas supply, while most imports come from three countries: Russia (40 percent of total imports in 2015), Norway (21 percent) and the Netherlands (29 percent).Moreover, German companies are participating in Russia’s controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline, an expansion of an existing route for gas to flow from Russia to Europe under the Baltic Sea. The U.S., Poland and others have recently condemned the pipeline as a threat to European security.

          EU, Russian regulators favor blockchain efficiency in energy projects (Platts podcast & transcript) EU and Russian regulators seem happy to support blockchain, smart contracts and other digital technologies that can make existing energy sector processes cheaper and more efficient, but are more cautious about true innovations like peer-to- peer trading. S&P Global Platts editors Siobhan Hall, Rosemary Griffin and Henry Edwardes-Evans look at some of the pilot energy blockchain projects popping up in Europe and Russia, including for oil production logistics and wholesale gas and power trading, and how regulators are reacting. Platts also has its own blockchain project, which is helping to make oil stocks in the UAE’s Fujairah Oil Industry Zone more transparent.

           Attack Against Nord Stream 2 Renewed with Vigor: Whose Interests Does It Meet? - Economics dictate national interests. Foreign policy is the tool used to advance it.  Gas exports to Europe present exciting opportunities but supplies from Russia are cheaper and more reliable. So the US needs to get rid of the obstacle in its way - the Nord Stream 2 (NS2) pipeline, which will carry natural gas from Russia to Germany.   Washington will do anything to achieve this cherished goal. On March 15, a bipartisan group of 39 senators led by John Barrasso (R-WY) sent a letter to the Treasury Department. They oppose NS2 and are calling on the administration to bury it. Why? They don’t want Russia to be in a position to influence Europe, which would be “detrimental,” as they put it. Their preferred tool to implement this obstructionist policy is the use of sanctions. Thirty-nine out of 100 is a number no president can ignore. Powerful pressure is being put on the administration. Even before the senators wrote their letter, Kurt Volker, the US envoy to Ukraine, had claimed that NS2 was a purely political, not commercial, project. No doubt other steps to ratchet up the pressure will follow. Their loyal friends in Europe chimed in almost simultaneously with the US lawmakers. Polish Foreign Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has proven himself to be a master at telling horror stories about the scariest things that might happen once the pipeline is up and running. On March 2, the speakers of parliament in Ukraine and Moldova signed a letter addressed to the chairs of the parliaments of the EU countries, warning about the repercussions. This is “a destabilizing factor” that will weaken Europe, they exclaim. Of course it is. Paying more for gas brought in on ships that can change course to head for a new destination if the price of gas elsewhere becomes more alluring will naturally make Europe stronger. Good reasoning! On March 11, the leaders of the parliaments of Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania signed another open letter to the parliaments of the EU states to warn them against the construction of NS2.  It’s not a commercial project, they say, it’ll make you dependent on Russia. Europe needs this commodity and Russia sells it. What makes this “not a commercial deal”? Dependence? From this perspective, any customer who makes a choice then becomes “dependent” on the vendor. Who is keeping them from getting gas from other sources? The sea lanes are all open, if they need to use them. Poland and Lithuania have already built terminals for liquefied gas. But it’s more expensive and the prices in the Asia Pacific region make that market more attractive. To woo US shale-gas exporters Europeans will have to pay more. Don’t they have the right to choose what suits them best?

          US Threatens Sanctions For European Firms Participating In Russian Gas Pipeline Project - As previewed overnight, the U.S. State Department is warning European corporations that they will likely face penalties if they participate in the construction of Russia's Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, on the grounds that "the project undermines energy security in Europe", when in reality Russia has for decades been a quasi-monopolist on European energy supplies and thus has unprecedented leverage over European politics, at least behind the scenes.  “As many people know, we oppose the Nord Stream 2 project, the US government does,” said State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert at a Tuesday press briefing. “We believe that the Nord Stream 2 project would undermine Europe's overall energy security and stability. It would provide Russia [with] another tool to pressure European countries, especially countries such as Ukraine.”  And speaking of Ukraine, recall that in 2014, shortly after the US State Department facilitated the presidential coup in Ukraine, Joe Biden's son Hunter joined the board of directors of Burisma, Ukraine's largest oil and gas company. Surely that was merely a coincidence. The project which began in 2015 is a joint venture between Russia's Gazprom and European partners, including German Uniper, Austria's OMV, France's Engie, Wintershall and the British-Dutch multinational Royal Dutch Shell. The pipeline is set to run from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea - doubling the existing pipeline's capacity of 55 cubic meters per year.  Nauert said that Washington may introduce punitive measures against participants in the pipeline project - which could be implemented using a provision in the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

          Turkey to send drill ship to contested gas field off Cyprus - A showdown over natural gas and oil deposits in the seas off Cyprus is set to intensify, with Turkey announcing it is to send a drilling ship to the region days after ExxonMobil dispatched its own survey vessels to the area. As tensions flare over the potential spoils off the divided island, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has declared he will not tolerate the prospect of reserves being exploited by Greek Cypriots at a time when his country is engaged in conflicts elsewhere. Last month, Turkish warships were ordered to prevent drilling operations by ENI, an Italian energy company commissioned by Cyprus’s government, in what was seen as a brazen act of brinkmanship. Turkey argues the self-proclaimed Turkish republic of Northern Cyprus should also be allowed to exploit the offshore wealth, claiming that areas designated for drilling fall under Ankara’s maritime jurisdiction or that of the Turkish Cypriots. The sabre-rattling is causing growing concern. Optimism had mounted over the east Mediterranean’s potential as a gas-producing hub after geological surveys pointed to vast reserves around Cyprus. If unlocked, the resources could reshape energy geopolitics, transforming the region economically and lessening Europe’s – and Turkey’s – dependence on Russia for gas.

          Chinese diesel to be shipped to 'west' in VLCC: sources (Reuters) - In a rare shipment, a diesel cargo will be loaded into a very large crude carrier (VLCC) from a refinery at China’s Tianjin port next month before heading to Europe or West Africa. The newly-built ‘Maran Aphrodite’, which can carry about 285,000 tonnes of diesel, has been chartered by oil major Total to load from Chinese state-run giant Sinopec’s refinery in the northern port to head “west”, two people familiar with the matter said. This is the second time a VLCC will load with diesel from the Chinese refinery, one of the people said. The first cargo was shipped late last year as part of a plan by Unipec - the trading arm of Sinopec - to expand in Europe. Total and Unipec could not immediately be reached for comment. The ‘Maran Aphrodite’ could either head to West Africa or Europe depending on economics and is yet to secure a buyer for the cargo, the people said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with media. The vessel is currently doing sea trials at South Korea’s Okpo port, Thomson Reuters Eikon shiptracking data showed on Tuesday. Unipec, which markets most of the refinery’s diesel cargoes, will load the VLCC with 10 parts per million (ppm) sulphur, which will meet Europe’s summer specifications, the sources said. With Chinese refineries maximizing production of 10ppm sulphur diesel to meet newly introduced domestic fuel quality standards, exports of diesel are increasingly also becoming higher-grade. This could potentially mean more Chinese cargoes could be shipped to Europe, which typically has more stringent fuel standards compared with Asia, traders said. 

          Azerbaijan discussing possible membership with OPEC - sources (Reuters) - The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and Azerbaijan are discussing deepening cooperation, including possible Azeri membership of OPEC, two sources familiar with the talks told Reuters on Monday. Azerbaijan, along with some other non-OPEC nations led by Russia, and OPEC are cutting oil production jointly by 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) in an effort to stabilise oil markets and boost the price of crude. The arrangement is due to run until the end of this year. OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo visited Baku from March 17-19, holding talks with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev on Sunday and with Energy Minister Parviz Shahbazov on Monday. “Barkindo and the energy minister discussed prospects of future cooperation between Azerbaijan and OPEC,” one of the sources said. “There are three options. First - OPEC membership, the second - to become an associate member and the third - to continue cooperation the way it is now.” OPEC’s   At a briefing on Monday in Baku, Barkindo said OPEC and Azerbaijan were thinking about how to upgrade relations beyond rebalancing the oil market. “All options, including membership, are under consideration,” the second source told Reuters. Azeri oil production stood at 806,000 bpd in February, compared to 814,600 bpd in January.

          Angola's oil industry close to tipping point - A lack of enthusiasm in Angola's upstream prospects, coupled with a steady decline in oil output, means the country's boom days could be numbered unless it can stimulate activity in more deepwater projects. The new government led by President Joao Lourenco will have to take some bold and gutsy steps to reform its oil industry, on which it so heavily depends. Angola's oil production has been on the wane in the past few years, with a plethora of fields that are mature and in decline and a lack of new upstream investments and incentives. Technical and operational issues, especially at its offshore fields, as well as a lack of upstream investment have dragged output down by 250,000 b/d in the past two years. Production is expected to average 1.58 million b/d in the first four months of this year, according to S&P Global Platts estimates, down from a peak of around 1.9 million b/d in 2008. State-owned Sonangol has been holding active discussions with international oil companies in the past few months as it makes tweaks to the fiscal terms of its upstream contracts in its efforts to revive the deep offshore sector, sources active in the Angolan oil sector told S&P Global Platts. Angola remains a keen prospect for deepwater exploration for oil companies but without any new fiscal or regulatory changes investment isn't likely to increase, they added.

          Russia Will Stick To The OPEC Deal - Russia will continue to comply with the OPEC oil production cut deal until the deadline set in the extension agreement last November and even into 2019 if need be, Russia’s Energy Minister Alexander Novak said. Novak added, however, that Russia is also on board with an earlier end to the deal, should its partners decide it was the best course of action to follow. In an interview with Bloomberg, the official also reiterated that the best approach to ending the deal would be a gradual withdrawal, which could begin in the second half of this year, so discussions of the exit strategy of the partners in the deal could take place at their meeting in June. For the umpteenth time, Novak said he was not bothered by the growing shale oil production in the United States, or the increasingly likely possibility that the United States would become the largest oil producer in the world, overtaking Russia. Novak’s remarks come amid growing doubts that OPEC will have the patience to see the deal through its original end in December this year. With U.S. production consistently rising and predictions that it will hit 11 million bpd before the year’s end, it must be hard for rival producers to see a growing portion of this production go into markets where they hold a significant share.

          Eighteen years, five wells, output zero: Zion's long quest for oil in Israel - For John Brown, the start of an odyssey began in Clawson, Michigan, when an evangelist with a book to promote walked into his local church. It was 1981, the former marketing executive had been born again, and Jim Spillman arrived with the message that oil had to be found in Israel.Two-years later Mr Brown's first visit to the country produced, as he told it, a Damascene revelation:God gave me a scripture (I Kings 8: 41- 43), avision (Oil for Israel) and, as a Christian Zionist and New Covenant believer (Isaiah 65:1), the calling to render assistance to the Jewish people and Nation of Israel, and to aid them in the Restoration of the Land by providing the oil and gas necessary to maintain their political and economic independence (Leviticus 19:33-34; Exodus 6:6-8).The divine mission would eventually lead to the founding of a company, Zion Oil & Gas, and win over thousands of converts who, for hopes of profit and purpose, would back Mr Brown's vision with more than $168m of hard cash.Three and a half decades later the visionary has been well rewarded, and may even have succeeded: in February Zion finally announced it had struck black gold.  Yet look a little closer, and the story starts to sound more like a penny dreadful than a redemptive Old Testament tale.

          The Perfect Oil Field  - Burgan Oil Field in Kuwait is not the biggest oil field in the world but it is arguably the best example of reservoir "perfection" the world has ever known.  From 1948 thru 2016 the Burgan complex has produced something in the order of 32.5G BO. Development has required a minimal number of very low maintenance wells (est. 573);  it produces little to no water except on the down structure flanks, and its production costs are by far the lowest of any oil field in the world.     Burgan Field was discovered on 23 February 1938 by the Kuwait Oil Company (KOC), formerly a partnership between Gulf Oil Corporation of the United States the Anglo-Persian Oil Company;  its discovery was based partially on a topographical high mapped on the surface with plane tables, magnetics and oil seeps.  The BG-1 discovery well  encountered over-pressured, Cretaceous age 'Wara' clastic sandstones at a depth of 3,800 feet and blew out at the rate of 4000 BOPD of 32 API oil. Eight other delineation wells were drilled in the field thru 1942, all of which found new pay zones, the most prolific being  clastic sandstones of the 'Burgan' formation containing 35% porosities and permeability of over 4000 millidarcies. For you shaley minded folks that is an oil reservoir that one could almost drive a pickup thru. Wells producing today in Burgan Field still flow, 70 years  after discovery.  Information about Burgan is scarce; some pressure maintenance may currently be underway. The reservoir is "managed" by limiting withdrawal rates and monitoring oil/water contacts. Burgan produced  1.29 million BOPD in 2015. KOC says the optimum production rate that can be achieved without harm to the reservoir is something in the order of 1.5-1.7 million BOPD. In 1991, following the end of the Persian Gulf War, 511 of Burgan's oil wells, including 113 in the Magwa sector, were blown completely up or damaged  by Suddam Hussein and a retreating Iraqi army. An estimated 1.4G BO was lost during the seven month campaign to regain control of those wells. Numerous wells in the Burgan complex, particularly in the Amhadi sector, were thought to be blowing at the rate of 100,000 BOPD or more up 3 1/2 in. OD production tubing. In spite of this enormous amount of uncontrolled blowout flow, no measurable drop in bottom hole pressure occurred in any of the six producing reservoirs.

          Our Latest Oil Predicament  - Gail Tverberg -  It is impossible to tell the whole oil story, but perhaps I can offer a few insights regarding where we are today.

          • [1] We already seem to be back to the falling oil prices and refilling storage tanks scenario. US crude oil stocks hit their low point on January 19, 2018 and have started to rise again. The amount of crude oil fill has averaged about 365,000 barrels per day since then. At the same time, prices of both Brent and WTI oil have fallen from their high points.  Many people believe that the oil problem, when it hits, will be running out of oil. People with such a belief interpret a glut of oil to mean that we are still very far from any limit.
          • [2] An alternative story to running out of oil is that the economy is a self-organized system, operating under the laws of physics. With this story, too little demand for oil is as likely an outcome as a shortage of oil. Oil and energy products are used to create everything, even jobs. If all humans have is energy from the sun, plus the energy that all animals have, then humans would be much more like chimpanzees. All humans would be able to do is gather plant food and catch a few easy-to-catch animals (earthworms and crickets, for example). They certainly could not extract oil or find uses for it. It takes a self-organized economy to support the extraction and sale of energy products.
          • [3] It is possible that a recent rapid increase in oil supply is contributing to the current mismatch between supply and demand.  Data of the US Energy Information Administration indicates that US oil supply has recently begun to surge. It is not just crude oil production that is higher. Natural gas liquid production is higher as well. As a result, Total Liquids production is reported to have been more than 16 million barrels per day in November 2017.
          • [4] The percentage of US residents who can afford to buy a new automobile or light truck seems to be falling over time.  If we look at the number of autos and trucks sold in the US, per 1000 population, we see a pattern of falling humps, as a smaller and smaller share of the population can afford a new car or light truck, each year. The big drops occur during the gray recessionary periods marked on the chart.
          • [5] There was a steep rise in the cost of auto ownership in the 1995- 2008 period. This has since fallen back, but the cost is still high relative to the wages of many workers. One estimate of the cost of auto ownership is the reimbursement rate that the US government allows businesses to pay workers who use their own cars for company business.  Auto reimbursement rates as compiled on this list. Amounts shown on “As Stated” basis, and also at the 2017 cost level, based on CPI Urban.
          • [6] Building homes also requires oil. There has been a sharp drop in US home building, both on an absolute basis, and on a per capita basis, since 2008.
          • [7] There is no longer an oil price at which both oil exporters and oil importers are satisfied. Oil prices today are too low for oil exporters.
          • [8] If we analyze vehicle purchases by country, we can see that low oil prices since 2014 seem to be helping major oil importers but are hurting Tier 2 countries that are commodity-dependent.
          • [11] Conclusion. My expectation is that the general direction of oil prices is likely downward, especially if interest rates rise. A major financial disruption of any kind would have a similar effect. Gluts of oil can be expected with lower prices.

          Funds trim bullish oil positions, but no rush for exit: Kemp (Reuters) - Hedge funds continue to turn more cautious on the outlook for oil prices, but the liquidation of former bullish positions is very gradual, suggesting most see price risks close to balance.Hedge funds and other money managers cut their net long position in the six most important futures and options contracts linked to petroleum prices by 23 million barrels in the week to March 13.Funds have trimmed their net long position in six of the last seven weeks by a total of 268 million barrels, according to position records published by regulators and exchanges.But managers still hold a net long position across the petroleum complex that is 906 million barrels higher than at the end of June 2017 ( entire adjustment has come from the bullish side of the market, with long positions cut by 277 million barrels since Jan. 23. Bearish short positions have actually declined by 10 million barrels in the same period.Long positions in Brent, NYMEX and ICE WTI, U.S. gasoline, U.S. heating oil and European gasoil total 1,347 million barrels compared with just 131 million barrels of short positions.As a result, long positions outnumber short ones by a ratio of more than 10:1, not far below the record ratio of 12:1 set almost two months ago.The liquidation of bullish positions shows no sign of accelerating. There are no signs of significant fresh short selling. And the hedge fund positioning remains exceptionally lopsided.Fund managers have become slightly more cautious about the prospect of a further increase in oil prices following the strong rally between June and January, but few are willing to bet prices will drop back much.The fund community still expects oil prices to rise further, but it has inevitably and logically become slightly less bullish given prices have risen by more than $20 (almost 50 percent) already. Fund positioning in the oil market continues to look stretched and remains a source of considerable downside price risk if and when portfolio managers try to realise more of their profits.

          Oil dips as Wall Street dives; tensions over Iran support crude (Reuters) - Oil prices slipped on Monday as Wall Street slid more than 1 percent and energy market investors remained wary of growing crude supply, although tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran gave prices some support. Brent crude futures LCOc1 dropped 16 cents, or 0.2 percent, to settle at $66.05 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures CLc1 fell 28 cents, or 0.5 percent, to end at $62.06 a barrel. “The equity markets are certainly a driving factor behind this slide today,” said Brian LaRose, technical analyst at United-ICAP in Jersey City. “Since the open, they have been hit pretty hard,” he said. Wall Street’s main indexes fell more than 1.5 percent as investors worried about a potential trade war and as Facebook shares dragged down the tech sector. Oil prices have been increasingly moving in tandem with equities. Strong demand, however, prevented oil from sliding further, said Phil Flynn, analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. “We keep talking about all this shale oil production, but it’s not really showing up that much in global inventories; they continue to be tight,” Flynn said. Still, last week’s rise in the U.S. rig count remains a potential headwind for oil bulls. U.S. drillers added four oil rigs last week, bringing the total count to 800, Baker Hughes said on Friday. “At the current oil price level, drilling activity – and thus output – in the U.S. is likely to increase further,” analysts at Commerzbank said in a note. 

          Oil prices rise on Middle East tension, but soaring U.S. output caps gains (Reuters) - Oil prices edged up on Tuesday, lifted by tensions in the Middle East, although rising output in the United States and shaky stock markets put a lid on further gains. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $62.31 a barrel at 0128 GMT, up 25 cents, or 0.4 percent, from their previous close. Brent crude futures were at $66.26 per barrel, up 21 cents, or 0.3 percent. Traders pointed to concerns in the Middle East, where the United States may reimpose sanctions on Iran, as well as tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Worries about Venezuela’s tumbling crude production also supported oil markets. The International Energy Agency said last week that Venezuela, where an economic crisis has cut oil production by almost half since early 2005 to well below 2 million bpd, was “clearly vulnerable to an accelerated decline”, and that such a disruption could tip global markets into deficit. Falls on global share markets helped cap gains. Markets are under pressure from concerns over a possible trade war between the United States and other major economies, as well as from fears of stiffer regulation as Facebook came under fire following reports it allowed improper access to user data. Also looming over oil markets has been surging U.S. crude oil production, which has risen by more than a fifth since mid-2016, to 10.38 million barrels per day (bpd), pushing it past top exporter Saudi Arabia. Only Russia produces more, at around 11 million bpd, although U.S. output is expected to overtake Russia’s later this year as well. Soaring U.S. output, as well as rising output in Canada and Brazil, is undermining efforts by the Middle East dominated Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to curb supplies and bolster prices.

          WTI/RBOB Extend Gains After Surprise Crude Inventory Draw -  WTI/RBOB prices spiked today on OPEC chatter about how well they are doing, and extended those gains after API data showed a surprise crude draw (3.25mm build expected) and bond gasoline and distillates saw draws. API

          • Crude -2.739mm (+3.25mm exp)
          • Cushing +1.644mm (-200k exp)
          • Gasoline -1.063mm
          • Distillates -1.926mm

          After 6 of the last 7 weeks showing builds, crude inventories fell notably on the week “The bottom line is, with oil at these prices, it’s hard to slow down the shale in the U.S.,” said Michael Corcelli, chief investment officer of hedge fund Alexander Alternative Capital in Miami. Activity in the oil patch is “out of control and you can see it in the output that we’re actually generating.” The reaction was a swift rebound to the day's earlier highs...

           Oil prices rise on Middle East tensions, healthy demand (Reuters) - Oil prices rose on Wednesday, supported by tensions in the Middle East and healthy global demand, although rising U.S. output from the United States continued to weigh on markets. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $63.82 a barrel at 0027 GMT, up 28 cents, or 0.4 percent, from their previous close. Brent crude futures were at $67.66 per barrel, up 24 cents, or 0.4 percent. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in to Washington for a state visit, raising market speculation the United States could reimpose sanctions on Iran, following rewnewed criticism of the 2015 nuclear deal. “The presence of the Saudi Crown Prince MBS in Washington and his clear agenda to ramp up pressure on Iran, has for me, been the key driver... of oil, which rose strongly,” said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at futures brokerage AxiTrader. Energy consultancy FGE said it was likely that the United States would reimpose sanctions on Iran soon, resulting in a 250,000 to 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) drop in its exports by year-end. Analysts also pointed to healthy economic growth and a weak dollar as oil price drivers.   In a sign of healthy demand, U.S. crude stocks fell by 2.7 million barrels in the week ended March 16 to 425.3 million, as refineries boosted output, the American Petroleum Institute said on Tuesday.  “The global economy is humming, and robust demand solidly underpins commodity prices. The soft dollar and a bullish market mood have been equally supportive elements,” said Norbert Ruecker, head of macro and commodity Research at Swiss bank Julius Baer.  A weaker greenback makes imports of dollar-denominated crude cheaper for countries using other currencies at home, potentially spurring demand.

          WTI/RBOB Extend Gains After 'Surprise' Crude Draw; Production New Record High - WTI/RBOB extended yesterday's gains this morning, after bullish API data, and continued higher after DOE data confirmed the surprise crude build and decent sized product draws. Production rose to a new record high. A “tidal wave” of bullish news - including falling oil stockpiles following winter and after seasonal refinery maintenance, possible U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela, as well as sustained OPEC-led output curbs - is seen hitting the market in the not-so-distant future, Bloomberg reports that FGE said in a note. Bloomberg Intelligence Energy Analyst Fernando Valle noted that domestic demand for refined petroleum products has been well above expectations for 2018, confounding fears of macroeconomic headwinds. Inventories should continue to decline, supporting higher crack spreads ahead of the peak summer season. DOE:

          • Crude -2.62mm (+3.25mm exp)
          • Cushing +905k (-200k exp) - biggest build since Oct 2017
          • Gasoline -1.69mm (-2.5mm exp)
          • Distillates -2.02mm (-2.3mm exp)

          Cushing stocks rose 905k barrels - the biggest weekly rise since Oct 17 but crude's surprise build (confirming API) and product draws were seen as bullish...

          Oil prices end near 7-week high on surprise declines in U.S. crude supplies - Oil futures climbed Wednesday to end at their highest level in nearly seven weeks, as a surprise weekly decline in U.S. crude inventories added further support to prices, which had already been bolstered by renewed geopolitical risk to global output. Prices had posted a sharp return a day earlier as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s meeting with President Donald Trump in Washington raised the specter of a harder U.S. line against Iran and amid continuing concerns over declines in Venezuelan production.  May West Texas Intermediate crude jumped $1.63, or 2.6%, to settle at $65.17 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. May Brent crude LCOK8, -0.50% gained $2.05, or 3%, to $69.47 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe.The settlements for both WTI and Brent were the highest since early February. Further losses for a benchmark U.S. dollar index also helped oil prices, which are traded in the greenback, finish near session highs after the U.S. Federal Reserve lifted a key U.S. interest rate, as expected.The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported Wednesday that crude supplies fell by 2.6 million barrels for the week ended March 16. Analysts surveyed by S&P Global Platts had forecast a climb of 2.6 million barrels, while the American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday reported a decline of 2.7 million barrels.

          Crude oil futures ease back on bullish US stocks reports -- Crude oil futures were lower in European morning trading Thursday, easing back as the market digested the surprisingly bullish US stocks reports this week. At 1220 GMT, ICE May Brent crude futures were at $68.89/b, down 56 cents from Wednesday's settle, while the NYMEX April light sweet crude contract was down 40 cents at $64.77/b. The US Energy Information Administration Wednesday reported crude stockpiles had fallen 2.622 million barrels to 428.306 million barrels in the week ended March 16. The news was in line with the American Petroleum Institute's stocks report late Tuesday, surprising analysts who had largely been expecting a build. In a widely expected move, the US Federal Reserve Wednesday announced a hike in its benchmark interest rate by 25 basis points to 1.75%. "This contributed to the 5% build we've seen in price over the past few days of trading," Eugen Weinberg, head of commodities research at Commerzbank, said. A weaker US dollar was also underpinning prices, analysts said. The weakened dollar made it less expensive for holders of other currencies to import dollar-denominated crude. "The move had been already baked into the dollar and the currency actually weakened amid anxiety over the fallout of imminent US import tariffs against China," said Vandana Hari of Vanda Insights. Crude oil prices also found some support as market participants expect a further production constraint by OPEC as it reassesses its inventory target by considering shifting from a five-year stock average to a seven-year average, meaning cuts will be maintained for a longer period of time. 

          Oil retreats from a 7-week high as trade war risks weigh on stock market - Oil prices retreated from a seven-week high Thursday, pressured by gains in U.S. production, as the risk of a global trade war weighed on the stock market. May West Texas Intermediate crude fell 87 cents, or 1.3%, to settle at $64.30 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange—giving back roughly half of the 2.6% rise seen a day earlier. May Brent crude shed 56 cents, or 0.8%, to $68.91 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe. Prices for WTI and Brent had both finished Wednesday at their highest levels since early February. President Donald Trump announced tariffs Thursday on several billions of dollars of goods from China, sparking concerns over an increased risk for a global trade war. “Tariff fears that caused a selloff in the stock market caused some profit-taking” in oil after the commodity’s run-up in the wake of the surprise decline in U.S. crude stocks reported by the Energy Information Administration on Wednesday, said Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at Price Futures Group. Crude inventories fell 2.6 million barrels in the week ended March 16 according to data published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration on Wednesday.  “With an oil market that already had upward momentum from rising Saudi/Iran tensions and a negative outlook for Venezuela production, the bullish inventory data provided a spark that sent oil to multiweek highs,” Wednesday, said Tyler Richey, co-editor for the Sevens Report. But the EIA also reported that U.S. production edged up by 26,000 barrels a day to 10.407 million barrels a day—a fresh weekly record.

          Oil Rebounds Despite Trade War Fears -- Oil prices fell sharply on Thursday on news of $60 billion worth of tariffs on China. China followed up on Friday with an initial announcement of $3 billion worth of tariffs on U.S. pork, fruit and recycled aluminum and steel pipes. Wall Street fell sharply over fears of a brewing trade war. That dragged down oil prices, although benchmark prices rebounded in early trading on Friday.   Oil prices rose by 1 percent on Friday morning after Saudi Arabia said that the OPEC production curbs could be extended into 2019. "We still have some time to go before we bring inventories down to the level we consider normal," Saudi oil minister Khalid al-Falih told Reuters. "We will hopefully by year-end identify the mechanism by which we will work in 2019."   President Trump tapped former U.S. Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton to replace H.R. McMaster as National Security Adviser. The reshuffling is widely seen as a major shift towards a hawkish foreign policy, raising the odds of conflict with Iran and North Korea, in particular. As the year wears on, U.S. confrontation with those two countries could be incredibly bullish for oil.   The Trump administration announced plans for a variety of tariffs targeting an estimated $60 billion worth of Chinese goods. The move was met with a stock market selloff, which also dragged down crude oil. The risk of a trade war is rising sharply, as China has vowed retaliation. The IMF, along with a long line of economists, governments and business groups, have warned that protectionism poses a grave risk to the global economy. Meanwhile, the Trump administration exempted a series of parties from the previously announced steel and aluminum tariffs, including the EU, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico and Canada.

          Texas adds 7 rigs as US rig count increases to 995 - The number of rigs exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. increased by five this week to 995.That exceeds the 809 rigs that were active this time a year ago.Houston oilfield services company Baker Hughes reported Friday that 804 rigs drilled for oil this week and 190 for gas. One was listed as miscellaneous. Among major oil- and gas-producing states, Texas increased by seven rigs and Alaska and Colorado each gained two. A group of engineers from the 2018 Ford Mustang team did a little after-hours work to develop some new go-fast equipment that turned out so good, they convinced management to put it on sale.Oklahoma lost four rigs, Utah decreased by two and Ohio lost one.Arkansas, California, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wyoming were unchanged. The U.S. rig count peaked at 4,530 in 1981. It bottomed out in May of 2016 at 404.

          US Rig Count Continues To Rise As Canadian Rig Count Plunges - Baker Hughes reported another 5-rig increase to the number of oil and gas rigs this week. The total number of oil and gas rigs now stands at 995, which is an addition of 186 rigs year over year. The number of oil rigs in the United States increased by 4 this week, for a total of 804 active oil wells in the U.S.—a figure that is 152 more rigs than this time last year. The number of gas rigs rose by 1 this week, and now stands at 190; 35 rigs above this week last year.  The oil and gas rig count in the United States has increased by 71 in 2018.Canada continued its severe losing streak, with a decrease of 58 oil and gas rigs, after losing 54 rigs on top last week, and a 29-rig loss the week before. At 161 total rigs, Canada now has 84 fewer rigs than it did a year ago.  Oil prices managed to climb substantially this week and were up again today prior to data release as the Saudi Energy Minister, Khalid al-Falih, said that he expected the production cuts to last into 2019. Other factors buoying prices are tensions in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia insisted that it would pursue nuclear power plans with or without the support of the United States, and would even work on developing nuclear weapons should Iran do the same. Weighing on prices this week is U.S. crude oil production, which continued its uptick in the week ending March 16, reaching 10.407 million bpd. At 12:28 pm EST, the price of a WTI barrel was trading up $1.11 (+1.73%) to $65.41—a ~$4.00 increase over last week’s prices. The Brent barrel was also trading up on the day, by $0.93 (+1.36%) at $69.31 $65.78. Meanwhile, WCS was trading at $35.80. At 1:09pm EST, WTI was trading at $65.39 (+$1.09) and Brent was trading at $69.31 (+$0.93).

          Crude Oil Prices Settle at 8-Week Highs on Prospect of Further Output Cuts -- WTI crude oil prices settled at eight-week highs as the prospect of an extension to OPEC-led production cuts into 2019 overshadowed data showing the number of U.S. oil rigs rose to a three-year year.On the New York Mercantile Exchange crude futures for May delivery rose 2.46% to settle at $65.88 a barrel, while on London's Intercontinental Exchange, Brent rose 2.22% to trade at $70.44 a barrel.The number of oil rigs operating in the US rose by four to 804, the highest level since March 27, 2015, according to data from energy services firm Baker Hughes.Yet upbeat comments from Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih stoked demand for crude after he said OPEC members would need to work with Russia and other non-OPEC oil-producing countries on production cuts into 2019 to reduce global oil inventories . That comes as Goldman Sachs earlier this week upped its forecast for Brent prices, citing strong emerging market demand and OPEC likely overshooting their inventory rebalancing targets.“Given continued robust demand growth, particularly in emerging markets and, in our view, OPEC likely to overshoot on the inventory rebalancing, we see spot Brent reaching $82.50 per barrel by mid-year, Goldman Sachs said”OPEC and Russia agreed in November to extend the 1.8 million barrels per day output cuts through 2018, to rid the market of excess supplies.  The 5.5% rally in crude oil prices this week comes despite data showing U.S. output rose to a record of 10.4 million barrels per day last week. Offsetting that, however, was an unexpected draw in U.S. crude oil supplies.

          OPEC to Discuss Changing Measure of Success for Supply Cuts -- OPEC and its allies held further discussions about changing the way they measure the impact of their production cuts, including proposals that would affect how quickly they hit their target, according to delegates from the group.One option that OPEC and non-OPEC delegates discussed in Vienna on Monday is to continue measuring commercial oil inventories in developed economies against the five-year average, but without counting years of high stockpiles, the delegates said. Another option is to use a seven-year inventory average, they said. This would move their goal of reducing stockpiles to normal levels further from reach, potentially requiring a longer period of cuts to achieve it. Delegates also considered a period of more than seven years.While the people said no final decision has been taken and the ultimate choice rests with ministers -- who didn’t attend the Vienna meeting -- the talks underscore the lingering uncertainty as the producers’ agreement enters a second year. They are going beyond their pledged cuts and crude has rallied above $60 a barrel, but there are signs that Saudi Arabia would like to go further.When the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and their allies struck a deal in 2016 to end the price slump and re-balance an oversupplied market, they set a target of bringing oil inventories held by members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development back in line with the five-year average. After more than a year of supply curbs, they’ve made significant progress.

          Aramco Scales Back IPO Plan, Eyes Saudi-Only Listing - Saudi Arabia is scaling back its ambitions for a public offering for oil giant Aramco, moving ahead with a listing next year solely on the Saudi stock exchange while taking more time to decide if an international venue is worth it, government officials and others close to the process say. The decision has come in part because of concerns about legal risks and also because the need for a bigger listing has been negated by rising oil prices. Aramco’s listing was expected to raise as much as $100 billion on an international arena like New York—a move that also got the support of President Donald Trump, who publicly called for Aramco to list in the U.S. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who runs the day-to-day affairs of the oil-rich kingdom has become resigned to the idea that the legal risks of a U.S. listing could be insurmountable, said Saudi officials and people close to the process.  Saudi officials added that an international IPO for Aramco has become much more complicated than they initially believed. Oil prices, around $65 a barrel, have shored up the kingdom’s budget and bought them more time to determine whether an international offering remains a good idea. Prince Mohammed first floated the idea of an IPO in early 2016, when oil prices had fallen below $30 a barrel. A listing on the Tadawul, as the Saudi bourse is called, gives the government a chance to follow through on Prince Mohammed’s promise to publicly list the company without the litigation and disclosure risks that are likely to crop up on larger exchanges such as New York, London or Hong Kong. In recent weeks, Saudi officials have publicly made a nationalist case for a Tadawul listing, saying it would boost the local market and allow regular Saudis to have a stake in the nation’s crown jewel. 

          Saudi Prince’s Nuclear Bomb Comment May Scuttle Reactor Deal - Opposition to a deal for the U.S. to provide nuclear power technology to Saudi Arabia is growing after Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said the kingdom would develop a nuclear weapon if Iran did. The potential for U.S. companies to participate in the construction of as many as 16 nuclear reactors sought by the kingdom has been seen as a potential lifeline to Westinghouse Electric Co. and others suffering from the flagging nuclear industry at home.  To further that effort, the Trump administration is said to be considering allowing the Saudis the right to enrich uranium, a break from the so-called "gold standard" included in the nuclear-sharing agreement with the United Arab Emirates, which allows power generation but prohibits the enrichment and reprocessing of uranium. But that idea ran into a buzzsaw during a House hearing on Wednesday, with lawmakers from both parties saying prince’s admission that his country might seek to build nuclear weapons was cause to halt negotiations between the two nations.

          Caught On Video: Houthi Rebels Shoot Down Another Saudi F-15 Fighter Over Yemen - On March 21, the Houthi insurgency in Yemen, also known as the Houthi rebellion, reportedly shot down a Saudi Arabian McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle, in the northwestern region of war-torn Yemen, cited Sputnik. A source within the Yemeni air defenses told Saba News Agency that Houthi rebels launched a surface-to-air missile (SAM), and “managed to hit an F-15 aircraft belonging to the aggression [Saudi Arabia], carrying out criminal and hostile raids over the city of Saada.”The source confirmed to Saba that Houthi rebels carried out “monitoring and targeting of the aircraft [F-15] with the latest defense technology developed locally successfully.”This alleged footage had surfaced on social media of the moment when Houthi rebels launched a surface-to-air missile (SAM) — striking the F-15 fighter jet, which caused the warplane to erupt in flames at high altitudes.FOOTAGE: #Yemen|i army & resistance shoots down a #Saudi F-15 over Sa’dah governorate by SAM. (21 march 2018)— 24 Resistance Axis (@Syria_Hezb_Iran) March 21, 2018  #Yemen#Houthi rebels have damaged a Saudi F-15 warplane near Sa'da.— Mr. Revinsky (@MrKyruer) March 21, 2018  Meanwhile, the spokesman of the Saudi Arabian-led coalition forces, Colonel Turki al-Maliki said the warplane was struck at 15:48 local time (1248 GMT) by a surface-to-air missile (SAM) launched from Saada airport camp in Yemen. Al-Maliki noted that the plane received minimal damage from the strike and managed to return to a Saudi Arabian airbase.  Al-Maliki stressed that the surface-to-air missile (SAM) was “not included in the Yemeni government arms arsenal…and that this is another proof of Iranian weapons smuggling to the Shiite rebels in Yemen.”

          Tillerson’s Departure Will Embolden Saudi Adventurism -- Last week, when US President Donald Trump announced he was firing secretary of state Rex Tillerson, he cited the former’s wish to stay on course with the “terrible” Iranian nuclear deal as the main reason. Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, said in comments publicised by an Iranian state news agency that the change showed that Washington was set on quitting the nuclear deal between Tehran and the world powers.According to Araghchi, “the United States is determined to leave the nuclear deal, and changes at the State Department were made with that goal in mind – or at least it was one of the reasons.”As such, from the Iranian point of view, things seem very clear: the US exit will kill the pact between Iran, Germany and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. And as Araghchi added, “If the US quits the nuclear deal, we will also quit it, we have told the Europeans that if they can’t keep the US in the deal, Iran will also leave it.” Therefore, things do not look very bright for the 2015 Iran deal.  Despite Tillerson’s determination to stick with the deal, Trump has incessantly slammed the door on any negotiations with Iran, dismissing the fact that the Iranian authorities had accepted to freeze the nuclear programme in return for relief from international sanctions. But as it happens, what Trump calls “the rolling back of a disastrous deal” also has consequences for the Arab world and the Middle East in general. It is a general view in Qatar, for example, that more than Israel or any other lobby in Washington, the Saudis and Emiratis are behind the firing of Tillerson. Some believe that the reason for this is simply the tweet of Abdul Khaliq Abdullah, a political analyst who is close to the ruling family in the UAE, saying that Tillerson was “the worst secretary of state ever.” Others point to the leaked emails showing the UAE-backed efforts to get Tillerson out of the Trump administration because of his support for Qatar.

          Trump Asked Saudi King For $4 Billion So US Troops Can Leave Syria - The Washington Post has revealed that President Trump attempted to extricate US troops from Syria by asking ally Saudi Arabia to foot the bill for postwar reconstruction and "stabilization" projects in the area of northeast Syria currently occupied by US coalition forces, to the tune of $4 billion. The deal would involve US allies like Saudi Arabia moving into a lead position regarding coalition policy in Syria, while hastening a US exit.Though the coalition continues to claim that its occupation of Syrian soil is toward anti-terror and humanitarian efforts, including the reestablishment of civilian infrastructure in a region previously controlled by ISIS, America's top general, CENTCOM chief Gen. Joseph Votel, admitted in congressional testimony this week that the Syrian government along with its Russian and Iranian allies have effectively won the war. General Votel's very frank admissions on Syria stunned hawks like Senator Graham, who were looking for more muscular policy goals. However, US policy does remain fundamentally aimed at preventing Assad and his allies from reasserting control over oil and resource rich northeast Syria, and this is where Trump reportedly envisions the Saudis as having a greater role to play, taking the pressure off US forces.According to the Washington Post the deal was articulated by Trump directly to Saudi Arabia's King Salman in a December phone call. The Post reports:In a December phone call with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, President Trump had an idea he thought could hasten a U.S. exit from Syria: Ask the king for $4 billion. By the end of the call, according to U.S. officials, the president believed he had a deal.The White House wants money from the kingdom and other nations to help rebuild and stabilize the parts of Syria that the U.S. military and its local allies have liberated from the Islamic State. The postwar goal is to prevent Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian partners from claiming the areas, or the Islamic State from regrouping, while U.S. forces finish mopping up the militants.

          Turkish Army Seizes US Weapons Left By YPG "Terrorists" In Afrin - There are many reasons why US interventions abroad tend to backfire spectacularly and usually without fail, but the most embarrassing of all is when US weapons meant for one side end up in the hands of their enemies, and eventually used against the US itself. Most recently, this happened in the 2014-2016 period when ISIS steamrolled countless Iraqi towns, collecting Humvees, SAM missiles, guns and ammo in the process. Today, it happened again in the Syrian-Kurdish town of Afrin, where the "victorious" Turkish army seized an unknown number of weapons provided by the Pentagon to the (formerly) US-allied Kurdish YPG "terrorists" as they are called by Turkey. One day after the Turkish president declared victory in the Turkish campaign against the Kurdish outpost, on Monday Erdogan said that the Turkish army and FSA units entered Afrin and established full control over the settlement. And while he failed to thank the US taxpayers for providing him with brand new, barely used, ultramodern weapons, initially meant for the YPG which less than bravely scattered as soon as the Turkish army approached, the delighted Turkish Deputy PM revealed Turkey's plans concerning the ongoing Syria offensive, saying that the country's forces would not remain in Afrin, instead leaving the city to its "real owners."

          Erdogan Declares Victory As Turkish Flag Flies Over Afrin; Reports Of Ethnic Cleansing - After a bloody, two month cross-border campaign of Turkish forces to dislodge Kurdish YPG "terrorists" from the Syrian city of Afrin, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared complete victory on Sunday as Turkish and allied FSA flags have been raised for the first time over Afrin's city center. Kurdish YPG forces (or "People's Protection Units") were widely reported to have withdrawn before pro-Turkish forces entered the city before dawn on Sunday, allowing invading forces to secure the city while facing no resistance. In a televised speech Erdogan claimed to have "saved" the city through the "heroic" actions of his military while also framing the operation which took place entirely on Syrian soil as humanitarian in nature. He said, "This operation has shown the whole world that Turkey sides with the oppressed," as reported by Rudaw. Kurdish authorities of Afrin canton, for the their part, condemned Russia for allowing Turkey to use airspace to dislodge Kurdish protection units. At a Kurdish press conference, an Afrin canton official leveled the charge that "Russia actively participated in opening airspace for Turkey to 'exterminate our people with all kinds of weapons and sacrificed our people for their interests in Syria, and under international silence, of the coalition, and EU'". The spokesperson added that, "We decided to remove civilians from the city to avoid a more terrible humanitarian catastrophe."

          After my recent trip to Syria, I knew Afrin’s fall was inevitable – now we must concern ourselves with the next phase of war - The fall of Afrin city to the Turkish army and Syrian rebel forces was inevitable, but the situation remains full of dangers. A central question now is whether or not the takeover of this Kurdish enclave will lead to the ethnic cleansing of the Kurdish majority there. The first act of the fighters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters, an overwhelmingly Arab force, was to bulldoze the statue of a Kurdish mythological hero in the centre of Afrin. Videos taken by FSA fighters suggest that many are former Isis or al-Qaeda fighters who see the Kurds and non-Muslim minorities as enemies to be expelled or eradicated. Some 200,000 Kurds have fled from Afrin over the past few days, many suspecting that they will never be permitted to return. If they are right, they will join the six million Syrians displaced since 2011 and a similar number who have become refugees outside the country. Given that the Syrian population in that year was about 23 million people, more than half have lost their homes in seven years of violence. Afrin was easy pickings for Turkey: it is on the Turkish border and cut off from the main body of Kurdish-held territory east of the Euphrates. The only supply route south to Aleppo was controlled by the Syrian army, which would allow civilians to pass but not arms and ammunition. YPG commanders said that they had 10,000 men in the enclave, but there was never much sign of their presence. The commanders of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) were evidently convinced that Afrin was indefensible and pulled out because they had no alternative. If this was the case, then they were wise not to fight to the finish in a battle they were bound to lose with heavy loss of life. The outcome of the struggle for Afrin was evident from the moment the Turkish invasion began on 20 January. The occasion of it was a provocative statement by the then US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that US forces were going to stay in Syria, thereby guaranteeing the security of the de facto Kurdish state created by the YPG-US military alliance against Isis. By the time Isis was defeated when Raqqa fell last October, the Kurds had gained control of about a quarter of Syrian territory.

          Syrian "Rebels" Massacre Civilians In Rocket Attack Days After Assad Drives Himself To Ghouta - On Tuesday evening anti-government fighters in the embattled East Ghouta suburb of Damascus launched a major attack, firing several missiles and artillery shells into a crowded shopping district of government-held Jaramana area, resulting in a civilian massacre. The Guardian has described the attack as "one of the deadliest rebel attacks on the Syrian capital" which according to early reports took the lives of 38 civilians, including women and children. Local reporters say that number may climb higher.  And according to Middle East based Al-Masdar News, which has a correspondent on the ground close to the scene, a near simultaneous attack on the Mezzeh District of Damascus resulted in the deaths of a woman and five children.  The Guardian reports that the particular shopping area in Jaramana hit by a volley of rockets was particularly busy as Mother's Day - celebrated in Syria on March 21 - brought throngs of families into crowded markets: State media said the opposition fire had hit the area of Jaramana, which residents said was full of shoppers – many buying presents before Mother’s Day. A taxi driver, who asked not to give his name, said he had been nearby when the rocket hit a street known for its cheap clothes and food shops. “The place was full of people buying presents for Mother’s Day,” the 41-year-old said. A nurse in her 30s, who asked not to be named, said the projectile had hit a shopping area “next to a security checkpoint”. “The intensity of the blast was terrifying,” she said.Though given scant attention in international media since the start of the now 7-year long war, Damascenes have had to endure living under the constant threat of mortar attack from al-Qaeda linked groups operating in the suburbs and Damascus countryside as "the new normal".

          The Syrian war could still be raging in four years’ time unless the US and Russia agree to end it -- “Will the war in Syria ever end?” After seven years of conflict, the same question is being asked by politicians, diplomats, fighters in the front line, and families cowering in unlit basements to escape devastating bombardments from Ghouta to Afrin.When I asked Aldar Khalil, a top Syrian Kurdish leader whose forces control a quarter of Syria, about the chances of peace in an interview in north-east Syria, he grimly but confidently predicted that the war would go on “for another four years, until a new balance of forces becomes clear”.We must speak of multiple armed conflicts in Syria rather than a single war so that when one military confrontation gets close to its final chapter, it is swiftly replaced by another. Isis, the greatest threat of 2014 to 2017, is largely eliminated, but the new focus of violence is the escalating struggle between Turkey and the two or three million Syrian Kurds. The Syrian Army is advancing into Eastern Ghouta and the likelihood is that President Bashar al-Assad will soon have almost complete control of the capital for the first time since 2012. One outcome could be for the rebel fighters to leave with light weapons for opposition or Turkish-held territory in southern and northern Syria, while the bulk of the civilian population would be amnestied and stay where they are. But the Syrian war is littered with compromise solutions which never quite came about because there were too many players to agree on a common course of action.  One siege may be ending in Eastern Ghouta, but another is beginning 200 miles to the north in the Kurdish enclave of Afrin. The Turkish army and its Arab auxiliaries describing themselves as the Free Syrian Army, but, going by their own videos much closer to Isis and al-Qaeda, say they have surrounded the city. It will ultimately fall but it is unclear if the 10,000 Kurdish fighters there will fight to the death. If they do make a last stand, then Afrin will join the many other Syrian cities which have been reduced to rubble.

          Russia Claims US Deploys Warships For Imminent Attack On Syria, Trains Militants For False Flag Attack - Last April, in one of the Trump administration's first "diplomatic" ventures, the US fired 59 Tomahawk missiles on Syria, in stated retaliation for the latest alleged chemical attack by the Assad regime, the same "false flag" excuse which was used by the US to officially enter the conflict back in 2013 when military tensions between the US and Russia nearly resulted in a regional war. Well, it appears that Assad is a relentless glutton for punishment, because not even a year later, the WaPo reported two weeks ago that the US is considering a new military action against Syria for - what else - retaliation against Assad's latest chemical attack, which took place several weeks earlier. How do we know Assad (and apparently, Russia) was behind the attack? We don't: in fact, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in a moment of bizarre honesty, admitted that he really doesn't know much at all about "whoever conducted the attacks." But hey: just like it is "highly likely" that Russia poisoned the former Russian double agent in the UK - with no proof yet - so it is "highly likely" that a clearly irrational Assad was once again behind an attack which he knew would provoke violent and aggressive retaliation by the US, and once again destabilize his regime. And so we now wait for that flashing, red headline saying that US ships in the Mediterranean have launched a missile attack on Syria, just like a year ago. Only this time Russia - which is allied with the Assad regime - is not planning to be on the defensive, and according to Russia’s Defense Ministry, "US instructors" are currently training militants to stage false flag chemical attacks in south Syria, i.e., the catalyst that will be used to justify the US attack on Assad. The incidents, the ministry said, will be used a pretext for airstrikes on Syrian government troops and infrastructure. "They are preparing a series of chemical munitions explosions. This fact will be used to blame the government forces. The components to produce chemical munitions have been already delivered to the southern de-escalation zone under the guise of humanitarian convoys of a number of NGOs."

          US Building Military Garrison To Control Largest Syrian Oilfield - The US is reportedly establishing an at-Tanf-like military garrison in the Omar oil fields area in the province of Deir Ezzor. Considering the US attempt to maintain a military presence in Syria for as long as possible, Washington may see the Syrian oil and gas resources as useful tool to gain an additional financial revenue from its occupation of the eastern part of the country.A video has also appeared allegedly showing two US-led coalition Blackhawk helicopters landing in the area.On March 19, the Syrian state-run news agency SANA accused the US-led coalition of evacuating four ISIS members from the area between the villages of al-Jissi and Kalu in southeastern countryside of Qamishli.SANA also recalled that on February 26 the US allegedly evacuated a number of ISIS members to the Sabah al-Kheir center, 20 km south of Hasaka, which the US forces are using as center for training militant groups.According to one version, the US is going to use the evacuated ISIS members to create “security threats” in Central Asia. In late 2017 and early 2018 reports appeared that the US had already redeployed some ISIS members from Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan. The ISIS threat will serve as justification for a continued US military presence in the country.Following the military success of the Turkish Army and the Free Syrian Army in Afrin, Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan vowed to clear the entire Syrian north, from Manbij to Qamishli, of Kurdish militias, mostly the People’s Protection Units (YPG). He also hinted that the Turkish Army may conduct a large-scale military operation against the PKK in northern Iraq.The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is a Kurdish militant separatist organization operating in southern Turkey, northern Syria and northern Iraq. The PKK has for a long time been involved in militancy against the Turkish government and de-facto seeks to establish an independent Kurdish state, which would include territories from Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

          Top US General Says American Troops Should Be Ready To Die For Israel -  Earlier this month, in the midst of the 9th annual 12-day massive joint exercise named "Juniper Cobra" which was hailed in Israeli media as the largest of its kind, simulating a "battle on three fronts" (namely, Syria-Lebanon-Gaza Strip) US Third Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Richard Clark spelled out just such a scenario wherein US troops could be asked to fight and to die for defense of America Israel - even to the point of being placed under Israeli commanders responsible for battlefield decision making.  While major joint military exercises involving significant troop deployments are nothing new for the US and its allies (Juniper Cobra itself has been conducted annually for nearly a decade), Lt. Gen. Clark's words to Israeli media are truly precedent setting and shocking, especially as he is among the highest ranking military officers in the US armed forces. It is well worth reading the alarming scenario Gen. Clark laid out while speaking to the Jerusalem Post in its entirety: But this is where Clark pushes far across the normative "military-to-military partnership" characteristic of joint drills with other allied nations. He says that US troops should be prepared to die for the Jewish State:“As far as decision-making, it is a partnership,” he continued, stressing nonetheless that “at the end of the day it is about the protection of Israel – and if there is a question in regards to how we will operate, the last vote will probably go to Zvika [Brig.-Gen. Zvika Haimovitch, head of the IDF's Aerial Defense Division].”Washington and Israel have signed an agreement which would see the US come to assist Israel with missile defense in times of war and, according to [Israeli commander] Haimovitch, "I am sure once the order comes we will find here US troops on the ground to be part of our deployment team to defend the State of Israel." And those US troops who would be deployed to Israel, are prepared to die for the Jewish state, Clark said. "We are ready to commit to the defense of Israel anytime we get involved in a kinetic fight there is always the risk that there will be casualties. But we accept that - as every conflict we train for and enter, there is always that possibility," he said.

          Israel Jails Ahed Tamimi’s Mother for Facebook Live Video of Palestinian Teen Slapping Soldier - An Israeli military court sentenced Ahed Tamimi, a teenage Palestinian activist, to eight months in jail on Wednesday for slapping an Israeli soldier during a confrontation outside her family home in the occupied West Bank that was streamed live on Facebook. The girl’s mother, Nariman, was convicted of incitement for sharing the recording online, and also sentenced to eight months in prison.The video, viewed millions of times on social networks, prompted an outcry from the Israeli public at the supposed humiliation of a heavily armed soldier, tasked with enforcing his nation’s military rule over Palestinian civilians in the occupied West Bank, backing away from a physical confrontation with a 16-year-old girl.The mother and daughter have both been held in pretrial detention since December.  Gaby Lasky, the Tamimis’s lawyer, told the Israeli magazine +972 in January that even charging Ahed’s mother with incitement for her live video broadcast was “very dangerous for freedom of the press.” Nariman had begun filming the soldier and a colleague standing in her family’s backyard several minutes before her daughter and a cousin approached them and tried to shove the Israelis off the property. The ruling could have a chilling effect not just on journalists, but also on Palestinian activists who routinely record their encounters with Israeli troops, both to document abuses and to provide a measure of accountability. Several years ago, the Israeli rights group B’Tselem, which works to monitor the day-to-day reality of the occupation many Israelis ignore, provided cameras to Nariman Tamimi and another relative in the village of Nabi Saleh.

          The Iran-Pakistan Corridor Is A Geopolitical Powder-Keg - The Iran-Pakistan border contains all the ingredients for a geopolitical explosion – regional rivalries, Sunni-Shia conflicts, ethnic insurgents, espionage, drug smuggling and human trafficking. China considers the stability of the region so important that it brokered a series of border security meetings between Iran and Pakistan over the past year.Much of China’s multi-billion-dollar investment in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) hinges on the commercial viability of the Pakistani port of Gwadar, near the Iranian border, for which it has a 40-year operational lease. Moreover,  CPEC is the regional linchpin of the Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious plan to connect Eurasia, the Middle East and Africa to China through a series of land-based and maritime economic zones. Additionally, the planned Chinese naval base on Pakistan’s Jiwani peninsula, even closer to the Iranian border and located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, is a critical military node in China’s “String of Pearls” facilities designed to dominate the strategic sea lanes in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. Such ambitions present a direct economic and military threat to India. Commercially, Gwadar competes with joint Iranian-Indian development of the port of Chabahar, just 150 miles to its west.  According to numerous reports, Saudi Arabia contributes to the instability of the border region by sponsoring virulently anti-Shia Sunni militant groups, such as Jaish al-Adl, who launch attacks on Iran from safe havens in Pakistan.  Iran retaliates by supporting the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), an ethnic separatist group, whose sanctuaries and leader, Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch, are claimed to be inside Iranian territory and routinely conduct cross-border operations against Pakistani government targets. Members of the BLF are suspected to be in contact with Iranian intelligence, often through drug lords acting as intermediaries. BLF members are occasionally confused with their anti-Shia counterparts.  There are also narco-terrorists groups on the Pakistani side of the border with indirect links to the government in Islamabad. Lashkar-e-Khorasan, a alleged Islamic State affiliate, has been reportedly involved in “cleansing” western Balochistan of Sufi Zikris, Shia Hazaras, Hindus, Christians, Ahahmadis, Sikhs or anyone else who refuses to convert to the extreme form of Sunni Islam.

          China Says US Warship Sailing Near Spratly Islands Is "Severe Provocation" After carrying out no fewer than four "Freedom of Navigation" operations last year and one in January, The US sent a Navy Destroyer to sail within 12 nautical miles of the Spratly Islands - a move that China condemned as a "severe provocation" just as the two countries are on the verge of an all-out trade war. The operation was the US's latest attempt to push back against an expanding Chinese military presence in the Pacific that at least one US military leader has characterized as an ominous national security threat that could lead to all-out war. Admiral Harry Harris said last month that the US should be "prepared for war" with China due to its increasingly aggressive posture, which he said was a veiled attempt by Beijing to undermine the national world order. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the US destroyer Mustin traveled close to Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands and "carried out maneuvering operations." The Spratly Islands, located in the South China Sea, are the epicenter of a territorial dispute between China and several of its neighbors, per Reuters. Twelve nautical miles is the internationally recognized territorial limit. When asked about the operation, the U.S. military said its activities are carried out under international law and American forces operate in the region on a daily bases."We conduct routine and regular freedom of navigation operations, as we have done in the past and will continue to do in the future," said Lieutenant Commander Nicole Schwegman, a spokeswoman for US Pacific Fleet.China’s Defense Ministry said two Chinese naval ships had been sent to identify the US ship and warn it to leave the area immediately. In a separate statement, China’s Foreign Ministry said the country would continue to take all necessary steps to protect its sovereignty and peace and stability in the South China Sea, where it said the situation was developing for the better with the hard work of China and Southeast Asian nations.

          STRATCOM General Warns: US Is Powerless Against Hypersonic Missile Attacks From China, Russia - The United States is extremely vulnerable to future attack via hypersonic missiles and is falling behind in the technological know-how to defend the homeland from the threat, the commander of the United States Strategic Command told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. “The first, most important message I want to deliver today is that the forces under my command are fully ready to deter our adversaries and respond decisively, should deterrence ever fail. We are ready for all threats. No one should doubt this,” Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command said in his opening statement. However, in a follow-on conversation with Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, Hyten cautioned:“we [U.S.] don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon [hypersonic missiles] against us.”What Hyten suggests, as of today, the U.S. is powerless against hypersonic weapon threats and has to rely on deterrence against these so-called hypersonic weapons.Hyten added, “so our response would be our deterrent force which would be the triad and the nuclear capabilities that we have to respond to such a threat.” In other words, if Russia or China launches a hypersonic missile attack on the U.S., the Pentagon will respond with nuclear war.Sen. Inhofe then asked America’s top nuclear commander to describe what a hypersonic weapon is and what it does. “A hypersonic threat is a system that starts out ballistic, so you will see it like a ballistic missile, but then it depresses the trajectory and flies more like a cruise missile or airplane,” Hyten said.“It goes up into the low reaches of space and then turns immediately back down and then levels out and flies at a very high level of speed. That’s a hypersonic weapon,” he said.

          Yi Gang Picked to Take Helm of People’s Bank of China - President Xi Jinping has picked an American-trained economist known for pushing pro-market overhauls to run the central bank, adding to an economic team strong on proponents of liberalization. Yi Gang, a long-serving vice governor at the central bank, is being slated to take over from his mentor Zhou Xiaochuan, who has run the People’s Bank of China for a decade and a half. Mr. Yi’s nomination was approved Monday morning by the nearly 3,000 delegates to the National People’s Congress, the rubber-stamp legislature. The changing of the guard at the central bank is part of a broad reshuffle of government positions following on from a new Communist Party leadership installed last fall. Mr. Xi has seized the opportunity to shape an economic team, which now mostly consists of his trusted allies. Liu He, the president’s top economic adviser and an advocate for making greater use of market forces in the state-directed economy, was promoted Monday to vice premier. Part of Mr. Liu’s remit will include oversight of the central bank and other financial regulators, effectively becoming the nation’s economic czar. Chief among the team’s priorities is untangling the financial risks that have piled up from debt binges, trying to reinvigorate a lumbering financial sector dominated by big state banks, opening up financial markets and preventing trade friction with the U.S. from buffeting the economy. “Liu and Yi have a shared understanding of the need for financial market reforms and liberalization, coupled with more effective regulation,” said Eswar Prasad, a Cornell University professor and former China head for the International Monetary Fund.

          China to bar people with bad 'social credit' from planes, trains (Reuters) - China said it will begin applying its so-called social credit system to flights and trains and stop people who have committed misdeeds from taking such transport for up to a year.   People who would be put on the restricted lists included those found to have committed acts like spreading false information about terrorism and causing trouble on flights, as well as those who used expired tickets or smoked on trains, according to two statements issued on the National Development and Reform Commission’s website on Friday. Those found to have committed financial wrongdoings, such as employers who failed to pay social insurance or people who have failed to pay fines, would also face these restrictions, said the statements which were dated March 2. It added that the rules would come into effect on May 1. The move is in line with President’s Xi Jinping’s plan to construct a social credit system based on the principle of “once untrustworthy, always restricted”, said one of the notices which was signed by eight ministries, including the country’s aviation regulator and the Supreme People’s Court. China has flagged plans to roll out a system that will allow government bodies to share information on its citizens’ trustworthiness and issue penalties based on a so-called social credit score. However, there are signs that the use of social credit scoring on domestic transport could have started years ago. In early 2017, the country’s Supreme People’s Court said during a press conference that 6.15 million Chinese citizens had been banned from taking flights for social misdeeds. 

          Big Brother Arrives: China Bans People With "Bad Social Credit" From Planes, Trains -Two years ago, we reported that various cities throughout China are currently piloting a "social-credit system" that will assign a "personal citizen score" to every single person based on behavior such as spending habits, turnstile violations and filial piety. We warned at the time that this 'score' could be used to blacklist citizens from loans, jobs, or travel, for example.Algorithms would use a range of data to calculate a citizen’s rating, which could then be used to determine all manner of activities, such as who gets loans, or faster treatment at government offices or access to luxury hotels.So, imagine our shock, following China's massive censorship efforts over the last few weeks surrounding Xi's successful push to become emperor for life, when China said this week it will begin applying its so-called social credit system to flights and trains and stop people who have committed misdeeds from taking such transport for up to a year. As Reuters reports,  people who would be put on the restricted lists included those found to have committed acts like spreading false information about terrorism and causing trouble on flights, as well as those who used expired tickets or smoked on trains, according to two statements issued on the National Development and Reform Commission’s website on Friday.China has flagged plans to roll out a system that will allow government bodies to share information on its citizens’ trustworthiness and issue penalties based on a so-called social credit score.However, there are signs that the use of social credit scoring on domestic transport could have started years ago.In early 2017, the country’s Supreme People’s Court said during a press conference that 6.15 million Chinese citizens had been banned from taking flights for social misdeeds. President Xi Jinping's plan, based on the principle 'once untrustworthy, always restricted', will come into effect on 1 May... The system is designed to automatically provide "green lanes" for faster access to government services for "well-behaved" citizens while levying travel bans and other punishments on those who get out of line.

          Xi warns Taiwan will face 'punishment of history' for separatism  (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping told self-ruled Taiwan on Tuesday that it would face the “punishment of history” for any attempt at separatism, offering his strongest warning yet to the island claimed by China as its sacred territory. The government of Taiwan, one of China’s most sensitive issues and a potentially dangerous military flashpoint, responded that it hoped China could “break free” of the old clichés of threats and force. China’s hostility towards Taiwan has risen since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen, a member of the island’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party. China suspects Tsai wants to push for formal independence, which would cross a red line for Communist Party leaders in Beijing, though Tsai has said she wants to maintain the status quo and is committed to ensuring peace. China has been infuriated by U.S. President Donald Trump’s signing into law last week legislation that encourages the United States to send senior officials to Taiwan to meet Taiwanese counterparts, and vice versa. The United States does not have formal ties with Taiwan but is required by law to help it with self-defence and is the island’s primary source of weapons. Xi told the 3,000-odd delegates at the annual session of parliament that China would push for the “peaceful reunification of the motherland” and work for more Taiwanese to enjoy the opportunities of its development. “It is a shared aspiration of all Chinese people and in their basic interests to safeguard China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and realise China’s complete reunification,” he said. “Any actions and tricks to split China are doomed to failure and will meet with the people’s condemnation and the punishment of history,” he added, to loud applause. China has the will, confidence and ability to defeat any separatist activity, Xi said. “The Chinese people share a common belief that it is never allowed and it is absolutely impossible to separate any inch of our great country’s territory from China,” he said. 

          China, US flex muscles at G20 meeting as trade war looms | South China Morning Post: Tensions over trade surfaced on the first day of a G20 meeting of finance ministers on Monday as the United States and China – whose differences are fuelling fears of a trade war – flexed their muscles in the Argentine capital. The meeting of the world’s leading economies in Buenos Aires comes days before US tariffs on steel and aluminium are due to come into force on Friday for all countries except Canada and Mexico. The main focus of the talks is the threat of a trade war between the US and its trading partners, particularly China and the European Union. And, as with every G20 meeting since US President Donald Trump’s arrival at the White House, the drafting of the meeting’s final statement has revealed differences between the world’s two biggest economies. “China and the United States are each flexing their muscles during the negotiations on the final text of the communique,” which will be released at the end of the meeting on Tuesday, a source close to the talks said. “The communique is likely to show that there are tensions over trade. The text won’t look to hide these tension, but it should however underline that a collective solution remains the best option.” The US tariffs are essentially aimed at China, whose steel-producing overcapacity has hampered US producers for years, but Washington’s European allies have also come under fire from Trump, who has particularly targeted German trade surpluses. Europeans have reaffirmed their unity in recent days amid a flurry of diplomatic moves to prevent steel and aluminium taxes leading to a trade war.

          Oh nuts! China shoppers lament tariffs  (Reuters) - As Beijing and Washington exchange barbs that threaten a potential trade war, health-conscious Chinese shoppers are beginning to fret over what this could mean for their pockets: a potential jump in prices for U.S.-grown cherries and pistachios.  Close to 80 fruit and nut products from the United States are at risk, after China declared plans to levy additional duties on up to $3 billion of U.S. imports in retaliation against U.S. President Donald Trump’s plans to slap tariffs on up to $60 billion in Chinese goods.  U.S. exports of fruits, frozen juices and nuts to China amounted to $669 million last year, and it was the top supplier of apples, cherries, walnuts and almonds, with much of the produce coming from growers in California, Florida and Michigan. “At the end of the day it’s us common people who will pay the bill because fruits will become pricier,” said one user on China’s Twitter-like Weibo service, where the potential U.S.-China trade war ranked as the most-read topic on Friday. “American pistachios will become even more expensive. I will need to switch to use domestic peanuts from pistachios in my meals,” said another user. Chinese imports of fresh fruit and nuts have surged in recent years thanks to the country’s rapidly growing middle class, which has given rise to a new generation of consumers willing to splurge on healthy food. In a demonstration of their buying power, Chinese shopping portal sold 57 million cherries to Chinese consumers in one day during a shopping event in June last year. These fruits and nuts are part of a list of 128 U.S. products that could be hit with tariffs i f the two countries fail to agree on trade issues, China’s Ministry of Commerce said.

          Koreas agree to talks ahead of leaders’ summit - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in plan to meet at a summit in April. It would be only the third meeting between leaders from both Koreas since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Officials from North and South Korea will meet on March 29 to lay the groundwork for an April summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Seoul said on Saturday. The Unification Ministry in Seoul said Minister Cho Myoung-gyon will lead the South's three-member delegation to the meeting in the village of Panmunjom on the North-South border. The chairman of the Pyongyang's Korean affairs agency, Ri Son Gwon, will lead the North's delegation. Both sides are to discuss the schedule and agenda of the leaders' summit, which is slated to take place in late April.

          India struggles to discipline its state-owned banks -- The crisis in India's state-owned banking sector is deepening, but the government may be preparing to give a key oversight body, set up two years ago to improve governance at bank boards, a quiet burial. The term of the Banks Board Bureau ends on March 31. "We have no clue if the BBB's term will be extended or it will be wound up," one member of the BBB told the Nikkei Asian Review. On March 19, the BBB issued a "Compendium of Recommendations" and requested a meeting with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to discuss its future. The document notes that it had sent suggestions on a Governance, Reward and Accountability Framework for state-owned banks to the government, adding: "The Bureau is not aware of the progress made in this regard and there has been no further engagement with Government." The BBB was one of the steps on improving governance at banks listed by a blue-ribbon commission. Set up by former Reserve Bank of India Gov. Raghuram Rajan, the committee headed by senior banker P.J. Nayak submitted a detailed road map on May 12, 2014 -- two weeks before Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office. The Modi government did not immediately act on Nayak's recommendations. It was only in August 2015, with bad loans rising dramatically at state-owned banks after an Asset Quality Review ordered by Rajan, that Jaitley unveiled a plan to recapitalize state-owned banks. He also announced the BBB would begin operating from April 1, 2016. 

          Could blockchain tech help prevent bank fraud? - A massive fraud that cost India's second-largest bank at least $2 billion is highlighting concerns about vulnerabilities in institutions' internal controls and spurring some to claim that blockchain could have prevented the crime.  In a recent incident at Punjab National Bank, a deputy branch manager and his subordinate allegedly falsified 150 letters of undertaking directing other banks to give loans to a group of jewelry companies, with PNB providing surety for those letters. Virtually all of them defaulted, causing PNB to be on the hook. What made the fraud so difficult to detect was that, as far as its internal systems were concerned, the transactions didn't exist. The letters of undertaking were sent using the Swift network, but none were recorded on PNB's internal record-keeping software, which wasn't linked to the Swift system. That's why some are arguing that bockchain, or distributed ledger technology, could have prevented the fraud. Because immutable records are kept on a decentralized database that multiple parties can view, it's possible that the fraud either wouldn't have happened or could have been detected sooner.   “The whole concept of a distributed ledger system is based on providing neutral validation of transactions among a number of parties, in order to have secure access to the distributed ledger,” said John Verver, a consultant and adviser to the anti-fraud software firm ACL.  PNB, the lending banks, and the jewelry companies could all be part of a chain, and each one could see part of the transactions and receive notifications about them. Swift and central banks could also be part of the validation chain.  “At that point, it’s harder to have gaps in the process,” Verver said. “Everyone’s got insight into what’s going on here.”

          Farmers' long march to Mumbai reflects India's agrarian crisis | Asia Times: The 50,000-strong farmers’ march to India’s financial capital ended well for the petitioners as the BJP government caved in and accepted all their demands on March 13. Their triumph may be illusory, however: India continues to stare at a massive agrarian crisis, and it has become worse in the last four years. Maharashtra, one of India’s most prosperous states, also has the dubious distinction of having some of the highest suicide rates by farmers. Matters have drawn into sharp focus thanks to failure of the state’s BJP-led coalition government to implement poll promises. Organized by a communist party affiliate, the farmers marched 200 kilometers in the blazing heat to be heard by in Mumbai.United under the banner of All India Kisan Sabha, a farmers’ outfit backed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), they won hearts and found a groundswell of support as they neared the city. People came out to feed them voluntarily, and their decision to march through the night so that commuters in Mumbai were not inconvenienced was greeted with massive cheers. As pictures of blisters, bleeding toes and broken slippers emerged on social media, support for their cause grew exponentially, forcing the state government to accept all their demands. That the BJP, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, also rules nationally, exacerbated the political implications of the protest. A key demand of the farmers was the waiving of crippling farm loans. The policy was promised by the BJP before state elections in 2014. However, up until now, only one-third of farmers in the state had been given waivers. The marchers also sought adequate compensation for failed crops; this had been pledged by the government in January but not delivered. They were also angry about forcible land acquisitions, and sought the immediate implementation of the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations of fair and remunerative prices. Moreover, they demanded individual and community land rights for forest dwellers. Over 100,000 applications are pending for disposal.

          India And Pakistan: Inching Toward Their Final War? - Both India and Pakistan have between 120 and 140 nuclear warheads, according to estimates provided by the Arms Control Association. However a report produced in 2015 by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Stimson Center asserts that Pakistan may be outpacing India in terms of its nuclear stockpile, and may possess 350 nuclear warheads in the next five to ten years. A 2016 SIPRI report confirmed the assessment that Pakistan has more nuclear warheads than India. However, what distinguishes the two neighbors’ nuclear-weapons programs from each other is not so much the pace of production or the size of the stockpiles, but their radically different nuclear doctrines. The major difference between the two countries’ nuclear doctrines is that while India has renounced first use of nuclear weapons, Pakistan has refused to do so by reserving its right to use nuclear weapons in the face of India’s conventional superiority. So far, uncertainty regarding Pakistan’s nuclear threshold is the principal factor preventing a major conflagration in South Asia. Pakistan’s refusal to disavow first use of nuclear weapons, and its emphasis on amassing tactical nuclear weapons and short-range missiles as a corollary of its nuclear doctrine, can be explained in light of its conventional-force inferiority vis-à-vis India. It is in fact a mirror image of the American nuclear doctrine as applied to central Europe during the Cold War. The United States refused to disavow first use of nuclear weapons, and deployed tactical nuclear weapons in central Europe on a large scale, because of NATO’s presumed inferiority in terms of conventional power vis-à-vis that deployed by the Warsaw Pact. But for Pakistan, the uncertainty introduced by its nuclear doctrine has achieved another major objective as well. It has provided Pakistan with the shield behind which terrorist groups armed and trained by Islamabad, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, can engage in acts of terror that create mayhem not only in Indian-administered Kashmir but also in other parts of India. The fear of escalating a conflict with Pakistan to the nuclear level has prevented India from retaliating to these provocations with the massive use of its superior conventional force.

          South African Politician Blasts "Racist" Australia For Harboring Fleeing White Farmers -   In perhaps the most Orwellian statement of the day, the head of South Africa’s radical Marxist opposition party - who declared his party was "cutting the throat of whiteness" - called Australia a "racist country" for offering fleeing white farmers a refuge.  As we have detailed previously, last month, South Africa’s parliament voted in favour of a motion, brought by the EFF and supported by the ruling African National Congress, to begin the process of expropriating white-owned land without compensation.  As Simon Black noted, this is likely to end badly.That’s exactly what Zimbabwe did.Seeking to correct similar colonial and Apartheid-era injustices in his country, Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe initiated a land redistribution program in 1999-2000.Thousands of white-owned farms were confiscated by the government, and the farmers were forced out.Bear in mind that Zimbabwe used to be known as the breadbasket of southern Africa. Zimbabwe’s world-class farmers were major food exporters to the rest of the region. But within a few years of Mugabe’s land distribution, food production plummeted. Without its professional, experienced farmers, the nation went from being an agricultural export powerhouse to having to rely on handouts from the United Nations’ World Food Programme. Hyperinflation and a multi-decade depression followed. If there’s an economic model in the world that you DON’T want to follow, it’s Zimbabwe.  And you’d think that the politicians in neighboring South Africa would know that. Yet this is precisely the policy that they want to adopt. The problem is - a 2017 government audit found white people owned 72 per cent of farmland in South Africa. According to the 2011 census, there are about 4.6 million white people in South Africa, accounting for 8.9 per cent of the population.

          Mass protests in Brazil against death squad assassination of Marielle Franco The brutal execution of Rio de Janeiro city councilor Marielle Franco on the night of Wednesday, March 14, by still unknown gunmen came as a shock for most Brazilians, but not as a surprise.Mass spontaneous demonstrations erupted on the following night, with those participating blaming the state as the perpetrator, or at least a direct accomplice.Franco was killed in a rain of 13 bullets in the context of the unprecedented federal takeover of Rio’s law enforcement, which on February 16 saw President Michel Temer remove the state’s law enforcement secretary and hand the Army’s Eastern Division commander, Gen. Walter Souza Braga Netto, absolute power to overrule security-related decisions by any elected official, up to and including changing internal regulations of law enforcement agencies. Rio expresses in a concentrated form all the dilemmas faced by the Brazilian bourgeoisie. Under the rule of the Workers Party (PT), it shifted its economy towards oil extraction, refining and transport, making it the hardest hit by the end of the commodity boom and the stalling of economic activity by companies caught in the Lava-Jato anti-corruption probe. The city underwent a massive “social cleansing” operation by the security forces against its most impoverished residents in preparation for hosting the 2014 Football World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. In 2016, the state of Rio de Janeiro declared bankruptcyThe military intervention was decreed by Temer after fraudulent, hysterical claims by the corporate media of a supposed crime wave during Rio’s world-famous Carnival. Later findings by major papers, such as Folha de S. Paulo, showed that the crime rate during Carnival was actually 35 percent lower than in 2016, at the height of Brazil’s worst economic crisis in a century.

          Just as U.S. Media Does With MLK, Brazil’s Media Is Trying to Whitewash and Exploit Marielle Franco’s Political Radicalism --Glenn Greenwald -- On Sunday night, Brazil’s most powerful television outlet, Rede Globo, devoted 45 minutes of its highly watched “Fantastico” program to the assassination of Rio City Council Member Marielle Franco and the killing of her driver, Anderson Gomes. This story has dominated headlines in Brazil for a full week, and, as protests proliferate around the country, it continues to be covered as a major story by news outlets around the world. This was not a case in which Globo has elevated a story to major prominence. This was the opposite: Globo trying to take hold of a story that has exploded through citizen-driven online activism and anger without any need for bolstering from major media outlets. For once, Brazil’s major media has been a bystander in this story, not its driver. Globo could see that the reaction to Marielle’s killing was growing, getting stronger, moving in directions that make many Brazilian elites extremely uncomfortable. Last night’s “Fantastico” coverage was Globo’s attempt to get this story under control — under its control. There were parts of “Fantastico’s” reporting that were genuinely informative and journalistically excellent — particularly Sonia Bridi’s detailed, evidence-based exposition of how this horrific crime was carried out with such chilling professionalism and competence, convincingly showing that whoever engineered the murders knew exactly how police would investigate and exactly how to prevent detection. That terrorizing fact is an important piece of the puzzle when understanding who ordered Marielle to be killed; whoever killed the activist who devoted herself to denouncing police abuses is intimately familiar with how the police function.

          Putin wins Russian presidential elections amid growing international and domestic instability - The Russian presidential elections on Sunday, March 18, ended, unsurprisingly, with a victory of the incumbent President Vladimir Putin in the first round of votes. With 82 percent of the vote counted, Putin was reelected for a fourth term with 75 percent of the vote. While Western media reports have indicated that irregularities at ballot offices occurred, there is little question that Putin won the election with a clear majority. He is thus set to be president of Russia for another 6 years.Despite extensive efforts by the Kremlin and regional authorities to get people to vote—including bombarding them with emails and text messages—with around 60 percent, the voter turnout was the lowest for any presidential election since 1991 and fell significantly short of the 70 percent which was proclaimed as the official target.The candidate of the Communist Party of Russia, the KPRF, Pavel Grudinin, received 12.26 percent of the vote and came in second. The leader of the far-right nationalist Liberal-Democratic Party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, received around 6 percent of the vote. Grudinin, a multimillionaire and owner of a major agricultural business, ran for the KPRF despite the fact the he is not a member of the party. For many years, he was a member of the ruling Kremlin party United Russia and even a confidant of Vladimir Putin during his first presidential election campaign. Two other nationalist candidates, the leader of the Stalinist party Communists of Russia, Maksim Suraikin, and the head of the Russian All-People’s Union, Sergei Baburin both received less than 0.7 percent of the votes. From the camp of the liberal opposition, Ksenia Sobchak received the highest number of votes with 1.5 percent. The head of the Yabloko party, Grigory Yavlinsky, received 0.9 percent of the votes, a bit more than the more moderate candidate of the Party of Growth, Boris Titov, who received around 0.7 percent.

          Child abuse imagery found within bitcoin’s blockchain - German researchers have discovered unknown persons are using bitcoin’s blockchain to store and link to child abuse imagery, potentially putting the cryptocurrency in jeopardy. The blockchain is the open-source, distributed ledger that records every bitcoin transaction, but can also store small bits of non-financial data. This data is typically notes about the trade of bitcoin, recording what it was for or other metadata. But it can also be used to store links and files. Researchers from the RWTH Aachen University, Germany found that around 1,600 files were currently stored in bitcoin’s blockchain. Of the files least eight were of sexual content, including one thought to be an image of child abuse and two that contain 274 links to child abuse content, 142 of which link to dark web services. “Our analysis shows that certain content, eg, illegal pornography, can render the mere possession of a blockchain illegal,” the researchers wrote. “Although court rulings do not yet exist, legislative texts from countries such as Germany, the UK, or the USA suggest that illegal content such as [child abuse imagery] can make the blockchain illegal to possess for all users.” “This especially endangers the multi-billion dollar markets powering cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.” While the spending of bitcoin does not necessarily require a copy of the blockchain to facilitate, some processes, such as some mining techniques, require the downloading of the full blockchain or chunks of it. “Since all blockchain data is downloaded and persistently stored by users, they are liable for any objectionable content added to the blockchain by others. Consequently, it would be illegal to participate in a blockchain-based systems as soon as it contains illegal content,” the researchers wrote. 

          German Interior Minister Calls For Suspension Of Schengen, National Border Controls -- Germany's populist, anti-immigrant AfD Party placed third in the recent elections, but judging by some recent by the newly-formed German government, they may as well have won. Last Friday Germany's new Interior Minister Horst Seehofer - a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CSU Bavarian allies who are further to the right than her own Christian Democrats - declared that "Islam does not belong to Germany", contradicting former German president Christian Wulff who fueled a debate over immigration in 2010 by saying "Islam was part of Germany" and also set out hardline immigration policies in his first major interview with Bild published last week. He also said that he would classify more states as "safe" countries of origin, which would make it easier to deport failed asylum seekers. The statements - an obvious attempt to court populist voters - come after Merkel’s conservatives, and their coalition allies - the Social Democrats - lost ground to the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in elections last year. As Reuters noted, Seehofer was particularly keen to show his party is tackling immigration ahead of Bavaria’s October regional election, when the AfD is expected to enter that state assembly. “Of course the Muslims living here do belong to Germany,” Seehofer said before going on to say Germany should not give up its own traditions or customs, which had Christianity at their heart. “My message is: Muslims need to live with us, not next to us or against us,” he said.  Seehofer again caused controversy by calling for national border controls, just as the EU wants them to be eased: "the EU was failing to control the external border" Germany's new interior minister said. "Not that many border points in Germany are permanently occupied," Seehofer told German weekly newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag, adding: "We will now discuss whether that needs to change."Seehofer also appealed for the suspension of the Schengen Agreement, which allows free movement within the EU bloc: "Internal border checks [between EU member states] must be in place so long as the EU fails to effectively control the external border," he said quoted by Deutsche Welle, adding: "I don't see it being able to do this in the near future."

          EU Unveils New Digital-Tax Proposal That Could Cost US Tech Firms Hundreds Of Millions -  US tech firms will no longer be able to choose the destination with the lowest tax rate for their European headquarters, if a widely expected European Commission proposal is approved. Beginning Wednesday, the European Commission has proposed new tax rules that would require US tech firms to pay taxes in the countries or regions where they generate value - not just where their headquarters are located, according to the Wall Street Journal.Per Bloomberg, firms including Alphabet Inc., Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc. could face a 3% tax on gross revenue gleaned from users in a given region. EU officials have been ratcheting up the pressure on US tech giants over the past few years. Late last year, EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager slapped Amazon with a 250 million euro fine after ruling that Luxembourg, where Amazon's European headquarters is based, failed to tax the company on three-quarters of its revenue, in accordance with state-aid rules. A year earlier, Vestager scored another victory, this time against Apple, by accusing Ireland of under-taxing the consumer electronics maker.  US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has warned European leaders that the US "firmly opposes" legislative proposals that target digital companies, though he didn't specifically name the EU."Imposing new and redundant tax burdens would inhibit growth and ultimately harm workers and consumers," Mnuchin said. According to WSJ, officials had debated postponing the proposals so as not to appear like they were meant in retaliation. Officials clarified that the rules are meant to target all tech companies, though the provisions of the proposals suggest US tech firms are likely to be the worst hit.

          French Voters Turn On Macron: Violence Erupts On Paris Streets As Workers Protest Labor Reforms -  Less than a year after French President Emmanuel Macron rode a wave of reformist optimism to the Elysee Palace, France's vast body of public-sector workers have turned against the country's youngest-ever president as his attempts to loosen France's restrictive labor laws have met with an outraged response from France's 5.4 million civil servants and workers on its state-run rail system.Rail workers are using Thursday's demonstrations as the start of a prolonged strike that could last until June. Specifically, rail workers are protesting Macron's plan to cut some of the special employment rights for rail workers. From April 3 until June 28, rail unions have planned strikes for two days out of every five. Macron famously prevailed in a runoff election last Spring, where he defeated National Front candidate Marine Le Pen after founding his own centrist, reform-oriented political movement called En Marche - or "Forward!" in English.   For his part, Macron is hoping the public will respect him for standing firm, and maybe even that the broader public will find the strikes exasperating.The strike was expected to lead to the cancellation of 60% of fast trains, 75% of inter-city trains and about 30% of Paris airports' flights throughout the day. A Les Echos poll showed just over half of French people backed Thursday’s strike - but an even larger majority are pushing for the reforms, including cutting the number of public sector workers, what the Express described as a "paradox."  As the Guardian explains, Thursday’s strike date was deliberately chosen to echo the start of nationwide protests in 1968 that led to the country’s biggest ever strikes and the notorious street battles between police and students of May 1968. As Express reported, students clashed with riot police on Thursday, who fired tear gas to disperse the crowds.  Unions had previously struggled to unite crowds against Macron's reforms. But Thursday was the first protest that brought together both public sector workers, students and railway workers.

          Things Must Be Serious, Everyone's Lying - European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had a moment of clarity once.  He famously said, When things get serious, you have to lie.” Given the state of affairs in his beloved European Union right now Mr. Juncker and company are doing a lot of lying.It is rare in politics to get that kind of honesty from a politician, especially one currently in office.  But, Juncker’s statement shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who is even a semi-serious political observer. It’s why I find it funny that the Democrats and Antifa-Left get so bent out of shape when Donald Trump exaggerates or outright lies. To him it’s a tactic.  Catching Donald Trump in a falsehood is like trying to ladle water with a sieve.So, by the Juncker Maxim, things must be getting very serious because the amount and type of lies being thrown around by people who are supposed to know better have been staggering.To the point that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, “I simply don’t have any normal terms left to describe all this.” Lavrov has been the world’s most effective diplomat over the past few years, effectively talking to and cutting deals with people who should hate him and Russia’s policies.  What it highlights is that Lavrov and his boss, Vladimir Putin, have been effective simply because they make a deal and keep to it. They are the opposite of Mr. Juncker.  When things get serious they become honest, speaking with one voice.Part of that comes from having a single administration in power for the past 17 years.  It’s easy to keep to agreements when those in power don’t change.  The U.S.’s diplomatic history with North Korea, for example, highlights the problems of shifting domestic political winds in Washington.But, that part stems from the way these men comport themselves on international stage.So, watching the hyperventilations of of Theresa “Gypsum Lady” May and her Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson over the poisoning of Former Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia means there is a lot more going on here than anyone cares to admit. The quick reversals from European leaders as well as Donald Trump from their initial skepticism of May and Johnson’s bloviating tells me that not only are they lying but they are being forced to lie by some vaguely unseen hand.

          Brexit: a gap too great to bridge - - As he was incautious enough to say it to camera, we saw our foreign secretary on TV last night declare that it was "overwhelmingly likely" that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, personally took the decision to use a nerve agent to attempt to kill the former double agent Sergei Skripal on UK soil."We think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his [Putin's] decision to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the UK, on the streets of Europe, for the first time since the second world war. That is why we are at odds with Russia", Johnson said. This means that a UK cabinet minister has personally accused the president of another sovereign state of attempted murder, "attempted" only in the sense that no one has yet died. It is not in any way possible that Johnson can have any evidence to support such a claim and, should he have had it, the place to make such a charge was not in the centre of a Battle of Britain museum display, as he played with the artefacts. This lacked the necessary gravitas and was wholly inappropriate. Should good evidence exist, then the proper place to air it would have been the despatch box in the House of Commons. A far better person to have made any charges would have been the prime minister.  In that Mrs May has not moved swiftly to disown her foreign minister's statement, we must assume she supports his action, demonstrating that, with Mr Johnson, she is not fit for office. One need not refer to the Russian response. Such an action on the part of senior officers of the Crown displays an unacceptable lack of judgement.

          Boris Johnson accuses Russia of stockpiling nerve agent | South China Morning Post: Britain’s foreign secretary said on Sunday that he has evidence Russia has been stockpiling a nerve agent in violation of international law “very likely for the purposes of assassination”. Boris Johnson said the trail of blame for the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury “leads inexorably to the Kremlin”.His comment came after a Russian envoy suggested the toxin used to poison the Skripals could have come from a UK lab. Johnson told reporters that Britain has information that within the last 10 years, “the Russian state has been engaged in investigating the delivery of such agents, Novichok agents … very likely for the purposes of assassination”. He claimed that “they have been producing and stockpiling Novichok, contrary to what they have been saying”. Johnson said he will brief European Union foreign ministers on the case Monday before meeting Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. He also said officials from the Netherlands-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) would arrive on Monday in Britain to take samples of the nerve agent said to have been used to poison the Skripals. 

          Did British Police Find Putin’s Passport at Scene of Salisbury Poison Attack? - On 12 March 2018, UK’s prime minister Theresa May announced that it is “highly likely” that the nerve agent with which former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned on British soil earlier that month came from Russia. Four days later, the self-styled “honest news” web site reported a shocking development in the case — namely, that investigators had found Russian president Vladimir Putin’s passport at the scene of the crime:Salisbury (dpo) – Last doubts over Russia’s guilt in poisoning former spy Sergei Skripal have been eliminated. As the British government announced today, the passport of Russian president Vladimir Putin was found at the scene in Salisbury.According to Prime Minister Theresa May, the passport was only now found in another search of the scene, as it had been hidden under a fallen leaf.The article closed with the claim that the British government gave the Russian Federation 24 hours to extradite their president to London. But although it is true that the governments of England, France, Germany, and the United States have all pointed the finger at Russia as the likely perpetrator of the 4 March 2018 attack, which left its intended victims in critical condition and harmed several others, including people who came to the aidof Skripal and his daughter, no physical evidence has come to light directly linking Putin to the crime. Russia has denied any involvement in the crime.

          Michael Gove threatens EU with ‘consequences’ if they pillage UK waters during ‘sub-optimal’ -- Michael Gove has publicly criticised Theresa May’s transition deal after the UK leaves the European Union, setting out his “disappointment” with a “sub-optimal” agreement for British fishermen.The Environment Secretary threatened Brussels bureaucrats with “consequences” if they allow EU trawlers to overfish UK waters during the transition deal after he was confronted by furious Tory MPs in the House of Commons. The MPs said they had put the Government "on notice" after they voiced concerns about the impact of the UK's Brexit transition deal on fishing directly with the Prime Minister. Fishermen had wanted the UK to regain full control over the country's fishing waters immediately after the UK formally leaves the EU in March 2019. However, the agreement - reached on Monday by Brexit Secretary David Davis and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier - states the UK will be "consulted" on the allocation of fishing quotas and access to waters during the transition period. Mrs May told her Cabinet on Tuesday that the deal reached in Brussels represented "another step forwards on the road to Brexit". Around the Cabinet table senior ministers discussed the "safeguards which are in the agreement to protect the interests of British fishermen". But asked when Mrs May would consider the UK to have taken back control of its waters, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "It's clear what is going to be happening going forward in the implementation period. "In December 2020 we will be negotiating fishing opportunities as a third country and an independent coastal state for the first time in over 40 years.”

          Report: The UK is considering opening its borders and abandoning all customs checks after Brexit— The UK government is reportedly considering making Britain's borders completely open to the European Union after Brexit if it crashes out of negotiations with no deal in place.Earlier this week it was reported the government had signed "many dozens" of non-disclosure agreements with firms which operate on Britain's borders, prohibiting them from disclosing how Brexit could impact cross-border trade.The greatest fear for British industries which export to the EU is a no-deal Brexit. In that scenario, Britain would leave the single market and customs union with no UK-EU free trade deal in place, and default to WTO trading rules.Experts have warned that this "hard" form of Brexit would unleash an array of costly tariff and non-tariff barriers on British businesses and lead to additional checks at Britain's borders.However, one of the options Theresa May's government is weighing up for a no-deal scenario is a 'Throw Open the Borders option," Sky News reports on Friday.This would involve Britain unilaterally deciding not to impose checks on the border and allow goods to continue moving into the country as freely as they do currently.The idea would hinge on the unlikely event of France, Belgium and Ireland — the EU member states with channel crossings to Britain - refusing to impose strict EU law which states third countries must be subject to tariffs and standard checks. "Disruption in Europe trying to get to Britain is just as much of a problem as disruption here,"

          Brexit: Michel Barnier says draft transition treaty mostly agreed - Chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has announced agreement on most of the issues that could allow the EU to offer Britain a transition deal. Some concerns about the Irish border still need to be resolved, though.The EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier announced on Monday that agreement had been reached on "a large part of what would constitute the orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom." He said that, after negotiators met at the weekend, there was broad agreement on a transition deal for the period after the UK leaves the bloc. "We have reached an agreement on the transition period," Barnier told a press conference in Brussels after talks with his British counterpart David Davis. "The transition will be of limited duration." The UK hopes to secure a transition period of two years that would maintain access to the single market while allowing more flexibility on issues such as forging trade deals with third-party countries. Agreement of a deal when EU leaders meet on Friday is vital for UK businesses. "The period of transition requested by the United Kingdom will be a time which is useful, very useful, for the United Kingdom administration and businesses in order to prepare themselves for the future," Barnier said. The agreement foresees keeping all EU rules in place in Britain until the end of 2020. During the period, Barnier said, Britain would no longer take part in setting rules.

          EU leaders accused of not protecting citizens’ rights in Brexit deal - Campaigners for the rights of British nationals and EU citizens after Brexit have criticised Donald Tusk and said the deal about to be signed in Brussels leaves them with a bleak future. In a strongly worded letter they accused Tusk, the European council president, of making a misleading statement to European political leaders when he told them the deal about to be signed in Brussels meant EU citizens “will be fully protected by the consequences of Brexit”.“The [European] council has not defended the rights of its citizens, be they British or from the other EU27 countries,” said the letter from the campaign groups the3million and British in Europe, which claim to represent 4.6 million citizens affected by Brexit. “You and the UK have negotiated away some of the most fundamental rights of over 4 million committed Europeans and at the end of the transition we will find ourselves in a far poorer position.”The groups said a litany of omissions in the withdrawal agreement on citizens’ rights “makes for a bleak, uncertain future”. They urged Tusk, who is meeting EU leaders this week to discuss the Brexit withdrawal agreement, not to sign off on “this wholescale withdrawal of our citizens’ rights”. To do so would be to build a new Europe “on the ashes of our rights”, they said.The campaign groups fired off their missive on Wednesday in response to a letter Tusk wrote to members of the European council on Tuesday claiming he had “achieved success when it comes to citizens’ rights”. They said: “This is simply not the case.” The letter comes as more than a dozen British MEPs have written to the Brexit secretary, David Davis, questioning the government’s commitment to UK citizens in Europe.

           Cambridge Analytica CEO Caught On Camera Offering Bribes And Sex Workers To Entrap Political Opponents - The CEO of a British political data firm which was hired and subsequently fired during course of the 2016 presidential election by Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and Donald Trump, was caught on hidden camera in offering a prospective client methods to entrap a political rival - including bribes, sex workers and even an offer "he can't refuse." That prospective client, however, was the UK's ITN Channel 4 news - which conducted a four-month undercover investigation of Cambridge Analytica (CA) while posing as potential clients interested in affecting the outcome of the Sri Lankan elections.  The results of Channel 4's investigation revealed that Cambridge Analytica - headed by CEO Alexander Nix, has secretly worked to influence over 200 elections around the world - in some cases using subcontractors or various front companies.  In one exchange, Nix suggests his firm could send "some girls around to the candidate's house" in ordder to obtain compromising information and create political leverage."It doesn't have to be true," Nix said. "It just has to be believed."In another segment, Nix discusses how Cambridge Analytica will "offer a large amount of money to the candidate, to finance his campaign in exchange for land for instance, and we'll have the whole thing recorded, we'll blank out the face of our guy and we post it on the internet." In order to maintain cover, Cambridge Analytica operatives would often pose as students or tourists.  Managing director Mark Turnbull was also recorded bay ITN news discussing his relationships with former UK spies now working at private companies which can be tapped for private intelligence gathering, along with Israeli intelligence companies.

          British authorities raid Cambridge Analytica offices in London - The raid is the latest event in an ongoing scandal surrounding the company's use of millions of Facebook users' private data. The warrant for the search had been delayed by 24 hours. Investigators from Britain's information regulatory agency on Friday raided the central London offices of Cambridge Analytica, the consulting company at the center of a Facebook data misuse scandal. A High Court judge had granted the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) a warrant for the search on Friday evening. "ICO granted warrant: We're pleased with the decision of the judge and we plan to execute the warrant shortly," the ICO tweeted shortly before the raid. "This is just one part of a larger investigation into the use of personal data for political purposes and we will now need time to collect and consider the evidence." ICO chief Elizabeth Denham had requested the warrant on Thursday after a whistleblower said Cambridge Analytica had illegally used private information of some 50 million Facebook users to support US President Donald Trump's 2016 electoral campaign.  The presiding judge, Anthony James Leonard, adjourned the request by 24 hours. His legal explanation for the approval is expected on Tuesday. Regulators in the US and Britain are also investigating whether Facebook, the world's largest social media platform, did enough to protect user data.

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