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

Saturday, May 26, 2018

week ending May 26

What Was The Real Purpose Of QE? - The story goes that quantitative easing was instituted to "bridge" the financial and economic systems across a "rough patch".  Via QE, the Federal Reserve conjured new "money" into existence (if we did this, its called forgery...not QE) & exchanged this new "money" to the largest banks for US Treasury bonds and financial assets (Mortgage backed securities).  Banks were left flush with cash, the Fed holding $4.5 trillion in Treasury's and MBS.  The suggested goal of this exercise was that QE would lower interest rates and this would settle the economic system and subsequently boost asset valuations. How'd it work out?  As far as asset prices, generally they have soared 300% to 400% but the part about lowering interest rates...not so much.  The chart below shows the Federal Reserve holdings of over 5yr to 10yr US Treasury debt versus the yield on the 10yr Treasury.  The Fed increased its holdings of 5 to 10yr US debt from $100 billion in early 2009 to nearly $900 billion by early 2013...and then lowered it back to just $290 billion currently.  And the correlation on the 10 year yields...essentially zero. (graph, table) Which is to say, there seems to have been no correlation or even a negative correlation of the Fed conjuring nearly $4 trillion with which to buy (and sell) unprecedented quantities of Treasury's (particularly the 5 to 10 year variety), and the direction of interest rates.  In fact, the lowest rates seen on the 10 year were while the Fed was systematically rolling off $450 billion in 5 to 10 year debt in mid 2016!  Which leaves a very uncomfortable the Fed filled with the dumbest smart people in America who just haven't seemed to realize this...or did they have a different goal all along? QE did have massive impacts, just not where it was "supposed to".  If the Fed's goal to was transfer power and wealth to an ever shrinking cohort, seems the Fed has achieved its goal.  My best guess of what QE was all about and who benefitted and continues to benefit...HERE and HERE.

FOMC Minutes: "A temporary period of inflation modestly above 2 percent would be consistent with inflation objective" - Still on pace for 3 or 4 rate hikes in 2018.  Some excerpts: From the Fed: Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, May 1-2, 2018With regard to the medium-term outlook for monetary policy, all participants reaffirmed that adjustments to the path for the policy rate would depend on their assessments of the evolution of the economic outlook and risks to the outlook relative to the Committee's statutory objectives. Participants generally agreed with the assessment that continuing to raise the target range for the federal funds rate gradually would likely be appropriate if the economy evolves about as expected. These participants commented that this gradual approach was most likely to be conducive to maintaining strong labor market conditions and achieving the symmetric 2 percent inflation objective on a sustained basis without resulting in conditions that would eventually require an abrupt policy tightening. A few participants commented that recent news on inflation, against a background of continued prospects for a solid pace of economic growth, supported the view that inflation on a 12-month basis would likely move slightly above the Committee's 2 percent objective for a time. It was also noted that a temporary period of inflation modestly above 2 percent would be consistent with the Committee's symmetric inflation objective and could be helpful in anchoring longer-run inflation expectations at a level consistent with that objective.

The Fed’s Been Lying to Us About Inflation - It’s Frighteningly High - Even by the deeply flawed and misleading Consumer Price Index (CPI), inflation is at the U.S. Federal Reserve’s target. By other measures that more accurately portray inflation, it is well above target.The Fed will not be deterred from continuing to tighten, continuing to remove money from the system, just because of the silliness that “CPI missed expectations.”It’s still at least 2%… and it’s heating up.Furthermore, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that, as the Fed raises the federal funds rate target, it will only stimulate more inflation. And the fact is that we really have more – much more – inflation than they’re telling us. This isn’t a mistake, it’s not a miscalculation. Rather, it's a deliberate obfuscation,  The CPI and the Fed's favorite measure, the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE), are hardly measures of the "general level of prices."The truth is, they measure only a tiny portion of all the things on this earth that, you know, have a price. For example: Do houses have prices?Why, yes. Yes they do.  Are house prices included in CPI or PCE? No. Economists and government statisticians measure inflation today by focusing only on a narrowly defined basket of consumption goods. The funny thing is that the basket changes over time, usually to exclude or underweight the goods and services that are rising fastest in price. The goal of these measures is to suppress official reported inflation. Here's Why They Lie.  The United States had a vast blue-collar middle class that thrived at that time. Generally, it became customary in labor-management contract negotiations to index wage rates to the "cost of living." These were known as cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs. And that, in fact, was the purpose of the CPI. It was the measurement used by the federal government to calculate COLAs for Social Security recipients and government workers. CPI was also used to adjust government contracts. And for many years, it was the basis for labor contracts in private industry. As a result, as housing prices surged in the late 1970s, CPI soared toward double digits. The captains of industry made it clear to the federal government that something had to be done.And so… something was done.In 1982, they replaced the housing component of CPI, which used actual home prices, with something today known as owner's equivalent rent (OER). The BLS yanked housing right clean out of the CPI, because it was costing the federal government – and, importantly, Big Business – too much. So in 1982, housing was out of the CPI, and Paul Volcker raised interest rates so high they began to crush the U.S. economy along with housing prices and consumer inflation.

Fed can’t be independent without being transparent: Jerome Powell -— Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell on Friday gave a shout-out both to central banks’ independence but also their need to be transparent.Speaking at an event hosted by the Swedish central bank in Stockholm, Powell said the Fed’s independence is important to both its monetary policy and regulatory missions.“Within our narrow mandates, to safeguard against political interference, central banks are afforded instrument independence — that is, we are given considerable freedom to choose the means to achieve legislatively assigned goals,” Powell said at the event, which was sponsored by the Riksbank and the Riksdag. “While the focus is often on monetary policy independence, research suggests that a degree of independence in regulatory and financial stability matters improves the stability of the banking system and leads to better outcomes,” he added. But with trust in public institutions “at historic lows,” Powell said, “the Fed and other central banks cannot take our measure of independence for granted.” Powell said the crisis showed the need for public awareness and understanding about what central banks do, and development of post-2008 regulatory tools such as stress tests and resolution planning “have placed special demands on transparency and accountability, and we have worked hard to explain them to the public.”In certain cases, such as the first round of U.S. bank stress tests carried out during the crisis, Powell said, “the case for enhanced transparency is not just about being accountable; it is also about providing credible information that can help restore and sustain public confidence in the financial system.”

Chicago Fed "Index Points to Little Change in Economic Growth in April" --From the Chicago Fed: Index Points to Little Change in Economic Growth in AprilThe Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) ticked up to +0.34 in April from +0.32 in March. Two of the four broad categories of indicators that make up the index increased from March, and three of the four categories made positive contributions to the index in April. The index’s three-month moving average, CFNAI-MA3, increased to +0.46 in April from +0.23 in March. This graph shows the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (three month moving average) since 1967. This suggests economic activity was above the historical trend in April (using the three-month average). According to the Chicago Fed:The index is a weighted average of 85 indicators of growth in national economic activity drawn from four broad categories of data: 1) production and income; 2) employment, unemployment, and hours; 3) personal consumption and housing; and 4) sales, orders, and inventories. A zero value for the monthly index has been associated with the national economy expanding at its historical trend (average) rate of growth; negative values with below-average growth (in standard deviation units); and positive values with above-average growth.

Q2 GDP Forecasts -- From Merrill Lynch:On balance, today's data added a tenth to 2Q GDP tracking, to 3.5% qoq saar [May 25 estimate].  From Goldman Sachs: [W]e are lowering our Q2 GDP tracking estimate by one tenth to +3.4% (qoq ar). [May 24 estimate] .  And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNow The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in thesecond quarter of 2018 is 4.0 percent on May 25, down from 4.1 percent on May 16. [May 25 estimate].  From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report  The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 3.0% for 2018:Q2. [May 25 estimate]CR Note: These early estimates suggest real annualized GDP in the 3% to 4% in Q2.

"The Outlook Is Not Good": Goldman Sees U.S. In Dire Straits As Deficit Hits $2 Trillion In 10 Years - Three months ago, Goldman first among the big banks warned that the US fiscal trajectory was dire, warning that "US fiscal policy is on an unusual course" with the budget deficit expected to widen over the next few years, as a result of prior imbalances and recently enacted policies - namely Trump's dramatic fiscal stimulus - which should lead to a federal debt/GDP ratio of around 85% of GDP by 2021. This, Goldman's economists warned, stands in contrast to the typical relationship between the economic cycle and the budget balance, as shown in Exhibit 2, which shows that the US deficit should be small and shrinking, not large and growing at this stage in the business cycle when the unemployment rate is near its cyclical lows. Fast forward to today when, three months after its original dire assessment, Goldman doubles down and in a note assessing "what's the worst that could happen" with the US budget deficit, writes that "the US fiscal outlook is not good" and among other things, predicts that the US fiscal deficit will double from $1 trillion over the next 12 months to $2 trillion by 2028, pr a near record 7% of GDP:We project the federal deficit will increase from $825bn (4.1% of GDP) to $1,250bn (5.5% of GDP) by 2021. By 2028, we expect it to rise to $2.05 trillion (7.0% of GDP) in our baseline scenario, which assumes that expiring tax provisions will be extended and that discretionary spending, which was recently increased, will increase only slightly further i nominal terms.All else equal, Goldman's distressing forecast sees US federal debt rising to 105% of GDP in ten years, a whopping 9% higher than CBO’s latest projections.Making matters worse, that is the baseline forecast, or as analysts on the sellside call it, the optimistic outlook. As a result, as Goldman warns, while surprises are clearly possible in both directions, the bank believes "the risks are tilted in the direction of larger deficits than projected" and presents four possible alternative, and adverse, scenarios:

  1. Congress keeps revenue and discretionary spending in line with historical averages;
  2. the interest rate-growth differential worsens due to slower than expected growth;
  3. a recession; and
  4. Congress agrees on a deficit reduction package similar to the major deals of the early 1990s.

Playing Trump for Peace: How the Korean Peninsula Could Become a Bright Spot in a World Gone Mad --When, in early March, Donald Trump agreed to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the Washington foreign policy elite nearly suffered a collective heart attack. For one thing, the announcement came as a complete surprise.  Trump had repeatedly insulted Kim Jong-un in his trademark style, calling him “Little Rocket Man” on Twitter and threatening at the U.N. in September 2017 to “totally destroy North Korea.” Official Washington was braced for war, not peace.You’d think, then, that an announcement of jaw-jaw, not war-war, would have met with universal acclaim in the nation’s capital. Instead, observers across the ideological spectrum found fault with Trump and his attempt to denuclearize North Korea through negotiations. They criticized his timing, his impulsiveness, even the fact that the announcement came from South Korean representatives visiting Washington and not the president himself.Experts on Korea promptly decried the president’s move because he hadn’t demanded any North Korean concessions first. “We’d expect such a highly symbolic meeting to happen after some concrete deliverables were in hand, not before,” tweeted New America Foundation fellow Suzanne DiMaggio. (In fact, the North Koreans had declared a moratorium on further testing of their nukes and missiles, but that apparently didn’t count.) Worse yet, the North Koreans were getting the summit of their dreams for nothing. “Kim will accomplish the dream of his father and grandfather by making North Korea a nuclear state,” tweeted Abraham Denmark, head of Asia programs at the Wilson Center, “and gain tremendous prestige and legitimacy by meeting with an American president as an equal. All without giving up a single warhead or missile.”

Trump offers North Korea “incremental” denuclearisation ahead of planned summit - Addressing journalists yesterday at the White House, President Donald Trump repeatedly appealed to the North Korean regime to meet his administration’s terms for a possible meeting with its leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore on June 12.Trump spoke to the media before a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who held highly-orchestrated “peace talks” with Kim on April 26.Questions were directed to Trump on the apparent breakdown of relations that occurred when North Korea suspended top-level meetings with South Korea on May 16 and threatened to pull out of the June 12 summit. Pyongyang alleged that an annual US-South Korean air force exercise was a “challenge” to the peace talks and a “provocation” stemming from the Trump’s administration’s policy of “maximum pressure”—meaning harsh economic sanctions and ongoing military threats—against North Korea.  Yesterday, however, both Trump and Moon exuded optimism that talks would ultimately proceed on US terms, even if they did not go ahead on June 12. The core US demand until now has been that North Korea commit to “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation”—understood to mean handing over its small arsenal of nuclear weapons and dismantling its nuclear weapons facilities and programs. Trump stated: “There are certain conditions that we want and I think we will get those conditions. And if we don’t, then we don’t have a meeting … If it doesn’t happen, maybe it will happen later. Maybe it will happen at a different time.”

Trump says June summit with Kim Jong Un may be postponed -- U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that his scheduled June 12 meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may happen at a different time, signaling that it will be postponed if conditions are not met. The president personally guaranteed the safety of Kim if a deal were to happen, but insisted that denuclearization must be a part of that. "Things are moving along with the North Korean summit," Trump told reporters at the White House ahead of a meeting with his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in. But he added, "There's a very substantial chance it won't work out," saying neither he nor Kim want to "waste a lot of time." "There are certain conditions that we want and I think we'll get those conditions, and if we don't, we don't have the meeting," the president said, although he declined to elaborate on what those conditions might be. He also declined to answer when asked if he had talked directly to Kim. Though he downplayed the chances of success and suggested that it would be "OK" if the meeting did not happen as planned, Trump has political capital resting on the success of the meeting, some experts have suggested. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters at a news briefing later on Tuesday that the U.S. is still aiming for a June 12 meeting. "We are working to make sure that there's a common understanding about the contents of what will be discussed, but I'm optimistic," Pompeo said. "But again, this could be something that comes right to the end and doesn't happen. As the president said, we'll see." "North Korea has a chance, really, to be a great country, and I think they should seize the opportunity and we'll soon find out whether or not they want to do that," the president said in his earlier remarks.

Nobel Prize On The Rocks: North Korea Calls Pence A "Political Dummy", Threatens To Call Off Summit - Trump's Nobel Peace Prize is suddenly in jeopardy. Just a few weeks after the US president seemed on the verge of a historic diplomatic breakthrough by getting North Korea to open its borders to the world and end its nuclear program, progress appears to have taken a sharp U-turn, and after several rounds of increasingly harsher verbal outbursts, a senior North Korean official called VP Mike Pence a "political dummy", repeated a threat to call off the planned summit with President Donald Trump and in a flashback to Pongyang's ICBM launch days, warned that Pyongyang could “make the U.S. taste an appalling tragedy it has neither experienced nor even imagined."As the WSJ reports, "in its most direct language aimed at Washington following a recent rapprochement between the two countries, Choe Son Hui, the North’s vice minister of foreign affairs, said if the June 12 talks were called off, the U.S. could instead face off with North Korea in a “nuclear-to-nuclear showdown." In other words, the US is almost back to square one in dealing with Kim. In the past few weeks, tensions between North Korea and the United States have once again been rising after Korea refused to meet the United States’ demand of denuclearization, while the reason why Choe called Mike Pence a "political dummy" is in refernce to his Fox News interview earlier this week in which the VP reiterated the administration's insistence on denuclearization for North Korea. She also criticized the vice president for bringing up Libya in the context of denuclearization—a sensitive subject for North Korea, after Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown and killed in 2011, eight years after giving up Libya’s nuclear weapons. Mr. Pence said the Libya model would only come about if North Korea failed to denuclearize. Choe’s statement followed "strongly worded statements" last week from other senior North Korean officials aimed at U.S. national security adviser John Bolton and at the South Korean government of Moon Jae-in, who has pushed for dialogue with Pyongyang to avoid a nuclear standoff. The latest outburst also follows yesterday's meeting at the White House between Trump and Moon, who as the WSJ puts it "have both staked their hopes—and their credibility" on a successful U.S.-North Korea summit, which has been planned for June 12 in Singapore.

Trump Cancels Summit With North Korea’s Kim, Citing 'Hostility' - President Donald Trump canceled his planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that had been scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, citing “tremendous anger and open hostility” in recent statements from Pyongyang.Trump communicated his decision in a letter Thursday to Kim released by the White House.North Korea hardened its rhetoric toward the U.S. earlier Thursday, lashing out after remarks by Vice President Mike Pence and the White House national security adviser, John Bolton, that had linked the country with Libya. Choe Son Hui, vice-minister of foreign affairs, called Pence a “political dummy” and his comments “unbridled and impudent,” according to an English-language statement from North Korea’s state-run KCNA.  Choe warned her nation was prepared for a “nuclear-to-nuclear” showdown if the U.S. didn’t follow through on the summit. “We can also make the U.S. taste an appalling tragedy it has neither experienced nor even imagined up to now,” she said, warning that she would recommend Kim cancel the summit if U.S. officials didn’t curb their language. Trump beat Kim to it, issuing his own threat. “You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used,” Trump wrote. . With the meeting abandoned -- at least temporarily -- the next steps are unclear. Trump had said that if the June 12 meeting were to fall through, the U.S. would continue exerting maximum economic pressure on Kim and his regime. Despite the breakdown, Trump left the door open to a future summit and signaled negotiations could resume.

Trump Warns US Military Ready If North Korea Takes Foolish Action -- Just a few hours after Donald Trump unexpectedly cancelled the planned June 12 summit with Kim Jong Un, which he called "a tremendous setback for North Korea and indeed a setback for the world", the president said the U.S. military is ready if necessary in the event of a conflict on the Korean peninsula.Speaking at the White House not long after releasing the "Dear John" letter to Kim, Trump said he had conferred with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (who continues to warn anyone who is listening of imminent war), the leaders of South Korea and Japan, and said that the U.S. military is "ready if necessary" and the two Asian allies "are not only ready should foolish or reckless acts be taken by North Korea, but they are willing to shoulder much of the cost of any financial burden" of a conflict.President Trump says he's spoken to Sec. Mattis and that the U.S. military is "ready if necessary" after cancelling North Korea summit: "We are more ready than we have ever been before."— NBC News (@NBCNews) May 24, 2018Trump's not so veiled threat came just hours after North Korea’s vice minister of foreign affairs, Choe Son Hui said that if the June 12 talks were called off, the U.S. could instead face off with North Korea in a "nuclear-to-nuclear showdown" threatening to "make the U.S. taste an appalling tragedy it has neither experienced nor even imagined up to now" and called VP Mike Pence a "political dummy" for threatening to use the "Libya Model" (which ended not so well for Muammar Gadaffi) if North Korea does not denuclearize. Trump also left the door slightly open for a last minute reconciliation, noting that the June 12 summit in Singapore could get back on track, or that he and Kim could meet in the future. However, as Bloomberg reports, the probability of that is virtually nil:

How John Bolton Sabotaged The North Korea Talks - U.S. President Trump just canceled the planned summit with North Korea's chairman Kim Jong-Un. The two were supposed to meet on June 12 in Singapore. In a letter to Kim Jong-un, released to the media, Trump accused North Korea of hostile statements which, according to him, make the summit impossible:Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I fell it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long planned meeting.Since the very first summit talk National Security Advisor John Bolton set impossibly high expectations for the results. Trump fell for it. The various 'hostile statements' go back to remarks by Bolton who has for some time compared disarmament of North Korea to Libya. On April 29 Bolton again asserted that the 'complete de-nuclearization' of North Korea would follow the 'Libya model'. North Korea never really offered to 'de-nuclearize'. It rejects the 'Libya model' for two reasons:

  • When Libya made peace with the U.S. it was not a nuclear capable state which North Korea is. North Korea demands to be seen as equal to other nuclear armed states.
  • Libya's transfer of the little nuclear production equipment it had was followed a few years later by a full fledged war waged by France, the U.K. and the U.S. against Libya and its government under Muhammad Ghaddafi. The war destroyed the country. North Korea has no intent to allow a repeat of such treason.

North Korea pushed back against the Bolton statement. On May 16 the White House made amends by not endorsing what Bolton said: But a day later Donald Trump was asked about the Libya comparison and he seemed to agree with it: “The model, if you look at that model with Gaddafi, that was a total decimation. We went in there to beat him. Now that model would take place if we don’t make a deal, most likely. But if we make a deal, I think Kim Jong-un is going to be very, very happy.” We called that the 'art of the mafia deal': "Sign here or we will kill you." Signing under threat is something North Korea will never do.

North Korea ready to talk 'at any time' with Donald Trump - BBC News: North Korea has said it is still willing to talk "at any time in any form" after US President Donald Trump abruptly cancelled his summit next month with Kim Jong-un. Vice-Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan said Mr Trump's decision was "extremely regrettable". President Trump blamed the North's "open hostility" for the cancellation. But he welcomed the latest statement from Pyongyang, describing it as "warm and productive". The summit would have been the first time a sitting US president had met a North Korean leader. The details of the meeting in Singapore on 12 June were unclear. But talks would have focused on ways of denuclearising the Korean peninsula and reducing tensions. Just hours before Mr Trump's announcement cancelling the summit on Thursday, North Korea said it carried out its promise to dismantle tunnels at its only nuclear test site.

North Korea Comes Crawling Back: Stresses "Desperate Need" For Summit "Whenever, However" -  It appears that Trump "jilted North Korean lover" approach may have been just what the doctor ordered.Literally minutes after we said that most experts expected a violent, angry outburst from North Korea's president in response to Trump's unexpected cancellation of the Singapore June 12 summit, such as this comment from Senator Jack Reed...Spoke w/ @BloombergTV’s @kevcirilli about Pres Trump pulling out of planned nuclear summit w/ North Korea & how if Pres Trump had taken a more considered approach to Mr. Kim’s initial offer for a summit, we wouldn’t be in this position.— Senator Jack Reed (@SenJackReed) May 24, 2018   ... a shocked North Korea is virtually begging for a meeting. In a statement issued by state-run Korean Central News Agency, citing Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, North Korea announced it was willing to sit with the U.S. "whenever, however" through any method to try to resolve the outstanding issues.Gwan said that whereas President Trump’s announcement to one-sidedly cancel the planned summit is unexpected and very regrettable, "North Korea's goal and will to do everything for peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and mankind remains unchanged, and we are always willing to give time and opportunity to the US side with a big and open mind,” according to the statement. He added that "We express our intent that there is a willingness to sit at any time, in any way to resolve issues" and noted that President Trump's decision to cancel the summit is "not what the world wants" and the summit is necessary to resolve the current hostile bilateral relationship. Furthermore, North Korea appears to be backtracking on the recent diplomatic escalation and has effectively apologized, stating that "its previous remarks regarding the U.S.-North Korea summit had been in protest against strong US remarks towards North."

Humiliation, surprise, opportunity after US cans North Korea summit - After-effects reverberated across the region on Friday after news broke, late on Thursday night in Asia, that the highly anticipated summit in Singapore between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump had been called off by the US President. There was bafflement and confusion in a humbled Seoul, a surprisingly measured response from Pyongyang, and likely a sense of opportunity in Beijing. Cancellation of the summit by Trump appears to be a victory for hardliners in Washington.There had been widespread fears in the United States that the president, who had invested massive political capital in what would have been the first-ever summit between North Korea and the US, would be “played” by the wily Kim. The underlying concern was that Pyongyang and Washington were too far apart on their basic positions for the negotiations to bear any fruit. There was also consternation at the tone of recent North Korean press statements, notably personal attacks on top US officials – John Bolton, the national security advisor, and Mike Pence, the vice president.  Moreover, North Korea had broken promises for working-level officials to meet in advance of the summit, a White House official told reporters in Washington, according to South Korea’s Yonhap newswire. “On Secretary Pompeo’s second trip to Pyongyang, North Korea promised that the two sides would meet in Singapore last week, to jointly work on the logistical preparations for the summit,” the official said. But a White House advance team “waited and waited and the North Koreans never showed up. The North Koreans didn’t tell us anything. They simply stood us up.”  The White House “leaks” began almost immediately after the surprise announcement.Trump opted to cancel the summit partly out of fear that North Korea would beat him to the punch, according to NBC News, quoting multiple unnamed officials in Washington. Trump’s decision to cancel was taken so quickly that neither Congress nor key allies were informed in advance of the decision being made public, NBC reported.

Trump teases that summit with Kim may be back on - President Donald Trump and his aides are hinting that his historic sit-down with Kim Jong Un may still happen, just one day after Trump sent a blunt letter to the North Korean leader calling it off. In showman style, Trump on Friday teased at the idea of another stunning reversal, saying, “We’re talking to them now,” and that “It could even be the twelfth," referring to the original plan for the summit — June 12 in Singapore. On Saturday, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met unexpectedly for the second time in a month, according to the Associated Press. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was also coy but suggested that summit planning is progressing. "We have got some, possibly some good news on the Korea summit, where it may, if our diplomats can pull it off, may have it back on even," Mattis told reporters. "Our president just sent out a note about that a few moments ago ... That is a usual give-and-take, you know, of trying to put together big summits and stuff."White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders added to the fodder, telling reporters Friday it's "certainly a possibility" the summit will take place as previously planned. And as of Friday morning, an advance team of about 30 White House staffers and State Department officials was still planning to leave for a logistics meeting Southeast Asia on Sunday, according to two people familiar with the planning.  But it remains unclear whether the president, who has yet to shore up a definitive commitment from North Korea to completely denuclearize, will live up to his self-touted reputation as deal-closer and finalize plans with Kim.

The US and Other Battle Hawks Are Taking a Big Risk in Iran - US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal was followed by a hard message for China, Russia and the European Union concerning sanctions against countries that continue their economic relations with Iran. But by obstructing European business ties with Iran, the White House is taking great risks of putting its trans-Atlantic alliances in danger. Furthermore, in a recent tweet, the newly appointed US ambassador to Germany has told German companies to immediately end their operations in Iran. This was followed promptly by the response of the German economy minister, Peter Altmaier, indicating that his government was “ready to talk to all the companies concerned about what we can do to minimise the negative consequences” of the US’s exit from the agreement. The EU and Iran have now entered a new phase in talks over how to develop special financial channels which can protect the Iranian economy from a sudden decline without obstructing European interests in Iran.   The attack against Iran’s most crucial financial institution represents an escalation in the economic warfare of the White House. However, this move by Trump and his collaborators to instigate instability in Iran might end with the ascendency of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), followed by the high risk of a regional conflict with Saudi Arabia and Israel. Considering the deep sectarian fault lines which exist between Iran and Saudi Arabia, any hasty moves from the Iranian military or paramilitary against Saudi interests in the Persian Gulf could end up in a new escalation of the Saudi-Iranian rivalry. Making the Islamic Republic of Iran the source of all the region’s ills plays well into the Saudi and Israeli official discourses. This narrative has also found its way into mainstream media in the US. That said, pursuing regime change in Iran is a big gamble for Trump and a risky affair for European and Middle Eastern countries. First and foremost, this is because the Islamic regime will fight back hard for survival. Second, in order to maintain its revolutionary image among its regional supporters, the IRGC will not withdraw from Syria, even at the cost of a confrontation with Israel. Third, the US’s withdrawal from the Iran deal has not only upset Washington’s European allies, but it has also cast uncertainty over global oil supplies and raised the risk of conflict in the Middle East.

Brussels Rises In Revolt Against Washington: A Turning Point In US-European Relations - The May 16-17 EU-Western Balkans summit did address the problems of integration, but it was eclipsed by another issue. The meeting turned out to be a landmark event that will go down in history as the day Europe united to openly defy the US. The EU will neither review the Iran nuclear deal (JPCOA) nor join the sanctions against Tehran that have been reintroduced and even intensified by America. Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from the JPCOA was the last straw, forcing the collapse of Western unity. The Europeans found themselves up against a wall. There is no point in discussing further integration or any other matter if the EU cannot protect its own members. But now it can. President Trump has his own reasons to shred the Iran deal, but he needs Europe to strong-arm Tehran into signing a “better” agreement. Were it to do so, the US administration would make it look like a big victory. Washington does not shy away from threatening its allies with punitive measures but the EU is standing tall, deepening the rift. As European Council President Donald Tusk put it, “With friends like Trump, who needs enemies?” According to him, the US president has “rid Europe of all illusions.” Mr. Tusk wants Europe to “stick to our guns” against new US policies. Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the EU Commission, believes that “Europe must take America's place as global leader” because Washington has turned its back on its allies. Washington “no longer wants to cooperate.” It is turning away from friendly relations “with ferocity.” Mr. Juncker thinks the time is ripe for Europe “to replace the United States, which as an international actor has lost vigor.” It would have been unthinkable not long ago for a top EU official to say such things and challenge the US global leadership. Now the unthinkable has become reality. The process of shifting away from America does not boil down to just words of indignation and open defiance. Plans are underway to take practical steps. For instance, the EU is to ditch the use of the US currency in its payments for Iranian oil. It can be done. Russia and Iran have already launched an oil-for-goods exchange program in order to leave the greenback behind. The bloc plans to activate a 1996 law (the blocking statute), which bans European businesses from compliance with US sanctions on Iran. The legislation protects "against the effects of the extra-territorial application of legislation adopted by a third country."

Letter from Iran: Mr. Trump, you have been served | Asia Times: Pepe Escobar - In a letter addressed to President Donald Trump, with copies to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the UN Security Council, four top former officials at the highest level of the US government have given him legal notice about his duty to advise the US Congress, the ICC and the UNSC, among others, about Israel’s actions coinciding with the “70th anniversary of the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes.” The letter is signed, among others, by former CIA operations officer Phil Giraldi; former Pentagon official Michael Maloof; former US Army officer and State Department coordinator for counterterrorism contractor Scott Bennett; and former diplomat and author of Visas For al-Qaeda: CIA Handouts That Rocked The World, Michael Springmann. Maloof, Bennett and Giraldi, as well as Springmann and this correspondent, were among guests at the 6th International New Horizon conference in the holy city of Mashhad, eastern Iran. The top themes of the conference’s debates were Palestine and the Trump administration’s unilateral exit from the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). As Maloof and Bennett separately confirmed to Asia Times, the letter was written by Giraldi and Maloof at an airport lounge as they were waiting for a flight from Mashhad to Tehran, where it was presented at a press conference this past Tuesday. This correspondent was on a reporting trip in Karaj. We all reunited on Thursday at Mashhad’s airport. The press conference in Tehran was virtually ignored by US corporate media.

U.S. Lays Out Demands for New Iran Deal – WSJ -- The Trump administration put Iran on notice that any new deal would require it to stop enriching all uranium and halt its support for militant groups in the region, sweeping demands that Tehran swiftly rejected. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday spelled out 12 requirements for a new agreement with Tehran that would require a wholesale change in Iran’s military posture in the Middle East. In return for agreeing to an accord on nuclear and regional issues to replace the 2015 Iran nuclear accord from which President Donald Trump withdrew this month, Mr. Pompeo said, the U.S. would lift the punishing economic sanctions it is now moving to impose, restore diplomatic and commercial ties and allow Iran to have access to advanced technology. In effect, the administration is planning to apply the same strategy of “maximum pressure” to the Iranian government that it has sought to use with North Korea—a comparison Mr. Pompeo invoked. “Our eyes are clear as to the nature of this regime, but our ears are open to what may be possible,” Mr. Pompeo said in a speech at the Heritage Foundation. “If anyone—especially the leaders of Iran—doubts the president’s sincerity or his vision, let them look at our diplomacy with North Korea.” Iran denounced the new demands. “The world of today doesn’t accept that the U.S. decides for the world,” said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. “Who are you to decide for Iran and the world?” In Europe, where leaders are working to preserve what they can of the existing deal, diplomats have been waiting to see what strategy Mr. Trump would put forward after withdrawing from the 2015 accord. Mr. Pompeo’s proposal for a new grand bargain with Tehran that would combine nuclear and regional issues was greeted skeptically. Boris Johnson, the British foreign secretary, said the U.S. decision to fold all of its disputes with Tehran into a “jumbo Iran treaty” would be very difficult to achieve “in anything like a reasonable timetable.” Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign-policy chief, insisted the Iran agreement Mr. Trump had abandoned remained the best way to contain Tehran’s nuclear efforts and said the EU would support it as long as Iran did.

US Lays Out 12 Demands For A New Nuclear Deal With Iran - The Trump administration escalated its demands on Iran on Monday while giving Tehran a possible loophole if it wants the US to return to the nuclear deal which President Trump unilaterally cancelled last month, laying out a list of demands that Iran has to satisfy for the deal to be restored, including a stop to all uranium enrichment and halt to Iran's support for militant groups in the region.The administration’s demands were outlined in a speech by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, which for the first time spelled out all of the administration’s requirements for a new agreement. Pompeo laid out an onerous list of 12 "basic requirements" on Iran which toughened the nuclear demands and called for a wholesale change to Iran’s military posture in the region, that he says should be included. Among the demands listed by Pompeo was that Iran must "stop enrichment" of uranium and never pre-process plutonium. Iran must also allow nuclear "unqualified access to all sites throughout the country."Pompeo also demanded that Iran must withdraw all of its forces from Syria, end its support for militant groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon, stop sending arms to the Houthi militia in Yemen, release all U.S. citizens, and cease its threats to destroy Israel.Some of the requests were a bit more... bizarre:  Pompeo calls on Iran to rejoin the “League of Nations” (which existed from 1920-1946) — Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) May 21, 2018    As the WSJ notes, the 12 asks mark a fundamental change from the 2015 agreement between Iran and six world powers that President Donald Trump abandoned earlier this month but which European leaders have sought to preserve. That agreement allowed Iran to enrich uranium under detailed arrangements in return for sanctions relief. Still, while the secretary of state said that the administration wouldn’t try to renegotiate the old Iran deal. Instead, he did just that by outlining the 12 basic requirements for the new deal.

US Secretary of State Pompeo presents war ultimatum to Iran - On Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo presented what was billed as Washington’s “Plan B” following the Trump administration’s scrapping of the nuclear agreement reached in 2015 between Iran and the so-called P5+1—the US, UK, France, Germany, China and Russia.   The thuggish and bellicose address, titled “After the Deal: A New Iran Strategy,” was delivered to the right-wing Heritage Foundation in Washington. It amounted to a war ultimatum to Tehran, demanding the complete capitulation of the Iranian government in the face of what Pompeo vowed would be “the strongest sanctions in history,” as well as military pressure on all fronts in the Middle East. The secretary of state’s address constituted a laundry list of lies and false accusations against Iran, beginning with praise for “Israel’s recent remarkable intelligence operation.” This referred to the absurd theatrical performance by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented on the eve of Trump’s May 8 decision to abrogate the nuclear agreement. Netanyahu failed to present any evidence that Iran had violated the terms of the nuclear accord. Pompeo placed the entire blame for the crisis in the Middle East on Iran. In reality, the region has been ravaged by a succession of US wars for regime-change—from Iraq to Libya and Syria. He placed responsibility for the war that has brought Yemen to the brink of starvation on Tehran, even as the US supplies the bombs and military support that enables its key regional ally Saudi Arabia to decimate the country. He added a list of charges that are grounded in fantasy and fabrication, claiming that Tehran is providing sanctuary for leaders of Al Qaeda—a movement based on fanatical anti-Shia elements—and attempted to pin the blame for the catastrophic situation in Afghanistan, where the US military has waged a 17-year war, on alleged Iranian support for the Taliban, something for which no evidence whatsoever has been presented. Making a phony and cynical appeal to the Iranian people, he accused Iran’s government of “corruption” and diverting “hundreds of millions of dollars to military operations.” This is from a government in Washington that is beset by innumerable corruption scandals, and which diverts roughly a trillion dollars annually into military spending. Pompeo then delivered a list of 12 demands on what Iran “must do.”  The demands amount to an ultimatum requiring Iran to cease any role as a regional power and submit to Washington’s unfettered neocolonial domination.

Plan B on Iran - Earlier today (Monday) new US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, presented this administration’s “Plan B” at the Heritage Foundation on how to deal with Iran following the US’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal, the  JCPOA.  Pompeo presented 12 demands and threatened to impose “the strongest economic sanctions in history.”  The Trump administration may wish to do the latter, but the  refusal of all the other parties to the JCPOA to go along with this effort will certainly guarantee that even if the sanctions are strong, they will not match what preceded the negotiation of the JCPOA.  As it is, Jeffrey Sachs (as reported by Juan Cole) has argued that if Trump tries to sanction European companies dealing with Iran through non-dollar currencies, the  EU should take the US to the WTO as well as the UN Security Council and General  Assembly. After all, this extraterritorial action would violate international trade agreements, and given that the JCPOA is an officially recognized agreement by the UN Security Council, the US is in fact in violation of international law with its withdrawal, not that those supporting this recognize this. As it is, the 12 demands are chock full of hypocrisy and nonsense, some of it unacceptable even to a government that would be secular and pro-US.  I shall not go through all of them, but will note just three that will not be accepted by Iran, to the extent the are even possible to be carried out. One is for Iran to “cease threatening its neighbors.”  Well, the problem with this is that it is largely in the minds of such neighbors as Saudi Arabia and UAE that Iran is “threatening” them.  KSA has the third highest level of military spending in the world, but somehow Iran is “threatening” it. KSA has called for the military overthrow of the Iranian government.  I am unaware of the Iranian government doing the same regarding KSA.   Another is for Iran to  stop  providing military aid to the “Huthis” in Yemen.  Yikes!  While KSA and US and UAE have loudly claimed Iran is arming the Houthis, most sources say that most of their arms are US ones.   Finally we have a demand to halt (forever) all uranium enrichment.  It is clearly the case that what uranium enrichment Iran is engaging in is for its civilian reactor program, which is allowed to Iran, not only under the JCPOA, but also the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which Iran is not only a signatory, but in good standing, with the  IAEA saying they are in conformance with it, as well as the JCPOA.  As it is, while pursuing nuclear weapons and various foreign activities are not popular in Iran, the civilian nuclear program is and has been highly popular in Iran.

Trump’s New Campaign Against Iran Will Not Achieve Its Aims - The Trump administration made it perfectly clear today that it wants regime change in Iran by whatever means it has.In a well promoted speech at the Heritage Foundation Secretary of State Pompeo laid out twelve demands towards Iran. He threatened the "strongest sanctions in history" if those demands were not fulfilled.But the demands do not make sense. They only demonstrate the incompetence of the Trump administration. The means the Trump administration laid out to achieve its aims are not realistic and, even if they were implementable, insufficient to achieve the desired results.Iran is asked to stop all uranium enrichment. Stopping enrichment is a no-go for Iran. The program has wide support in Iranian politics as it is seen as an attribute its sovereignty.Pompeo demands that Iran closes its heavy water reactor. Iran can not close its heavy water reactor. It does not have one. The one it was building in Arak was disabled under the nuclear agreement (JCPOA). Concrete was poured into its core under supervision of IAEA inspectors. How can the Secretary of State of the United States make such a fact-free demand in a prepared speech?Another demand is that Iran ends its support for the Palestinian resistance. This is also a no-go for Iran as long as the Zionist occupation of Palestine continues. There is a demand that Iran does not develop "nuclear capable" missiles. Iran had already committed to that under the JCPOA Trump killed. Another demand is that Iran pulls back all troops from Syria,and ends all interference in Iraq, Yemen,  Afghanistan and elsewhere. Together these demands ask for a wholesale change of Iran's national character and policies. It is apparently supposed to become Lichtenstein. The Trump administration has no way to achieve that goal.With painstaking work the Obama administration managed to get much of the world to agree to sanctions on Iran. It was possible because the other countries trusted Obama's assurances that he would keep his side of the deal and seriously negotiate. International unity and trust was necessary to achieve the nuclear agreement. Now Trump wants much more but he has no united international front behind him. No one trusts his word. The Europeans are enraged that Trump s threatens them with secondary sanctions if they stick to the agreement they signed and continue to deal with Iran. While they may eventually fold and to some extend stop dealing with Iran, they will also try to circumvent those unilateral U.S. sanctions.

 U.S. Iran strategy reinforces conservatives, endangers region: France (Reuters) - The U.S. decision to scrap the Iran nuclear deal and implement a tough strategy on the country will strengthen Tehran’s hardliners and endanger the region as a whole, France’s foreign minister said on Wednesday. Jean-Yves Le Drian was speaking two days after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington would impose “the strongest sanctions in history” if Iran did not curb its regional influence and limit its ballistic missile program. “We disagree with the method because this collection of sanctions, which will be set up against Iran, will not enable dialogue and on the contrary it will reinforce the conservatives and weaken President (Hassan) Rouhani. This posture risks endangering the region more,” Le Drian told France Inter radio. He said Paris shared Washington’s concerns over Iran’s ballistic missile “frenzy” and regional hegemonic ambitions, but that the 2015 nuclear deal was the best chance of stopping Tehran developing a nuclear bomb. Deputy foreign ministers of the remaining parties to the accord - Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia - will meet their Iranian counterpart on Friday in Vienna. The meeting will assess what can be done to keep the deal and circumvent extraterritorial American sanctions that are already impacting foreign business appetite for Iran. European companies say they are worried about getting caught up in the new U.S. sanctions, given the extent of Washington’s global reach, and some have already started pulling out. “We have another problem which is the security of our companies and the capacity to give Iran the economic benefits that it can expect in return for giving up on nuclear weapons,” Le Drian said. “These (U.S.) sanctions are not acceptable. We can’t allow them to become legitimate.” 

Iran’s Supreme Leader Fires Back at U.S. Demands – WSJ - Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday scoffed at American demands that his country curb its military ambitions and issued his own set of demands to Europe to remain in the nuclear deal.In his first speech since U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo laid out the U.S. strategy against Iran, the Islamic Republic’s most senior leader fired back, threatening to withdraw from the deal and scale up Iran’s nuclear work if Europe didn’t meet seven conditions.The demands came as Iranian officials engage in a flurry of talks with Europe to try to preserve the 2015 accord after President Donald Trump announced the U.S.’s withdrawal earlier this month. The U.K., Germany, France and the European Union were involved in the negotiation of the 2015 agreement, which also included the U.S., Russia and China.Mr. Khamenei’s conditions included a requirement that European countries not raise the issues of Iran’s ballistic missiles and regional presence—both central points of U.S. concern. He sought a European guarantee to buy Iranian crude to compensate for any lost Iranian oil sales due to American sanctions. And he asked that European banks guarantee they will transact with Iran.On top of that, Mr. Khamenei demanded that the Europeans take a resolution to the United Nations condemning the U.S. for violating the nuclear deal. Mr. Khamenei spoke Wednesday evening during a meeting with top officials, according to his official website. An EU spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Mr. Khamenei’s remarks late Wednesday. The EU has called Mr. Trump’s decision “deeply regrettable” and refused to renegotiate the Iran deal. Foreign ministers from the bloc’s member states will discuss the issue Monday.  At the same time, European leaders have wavered over how aggressively to challenge U.S. objections to the deal.  French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled out actions that could put the EU and the U.S. into a trade war over Iran sanctions. EU officials are also talking with Iranian counterparts to prevent a disruption to Iran’s oil exports, looking to establish the euro as the base currency for crude purchases and seeking to arrange direct cash transfers from European central banks to Tehran in a bid to circumvent the U.S.-dominated global financial system.

Palestinian official: Nikki Haley not 'the schoolmarm of the world' | TheHill: A senior Palestinian official on Wednesday rebuffed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley for her repeated threats to take down the names of countries that rejected Washington's demands, saying that she is not "the schoolmarm of the world." "She threatened and she pressured and she used coercion and so on at the U.N., particularly by taking down names. I don’t think people appointed her the schoolmarm of the world," Hanan Ashrawi, a top official in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said at the U.N., according to Reuters. Haley has repeatedly warned other U.N. members that the U.S. would take note of countries that opposed Washington at the U.N. In December, for example, as the U.N. General Assembly weighed a resolution urging the Trump administration to withdraw its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, Haley said the U.S. would "be taking names.""On Thurs there'll be a vote criticizing our choice. The US will be taking names," she tweeted Dec. 19. Ashrawi's comments came a day after Haley defended Israeli forces who opened fire on Palestinian protesters on the Israel-Gaza border on Monday during a meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

Congress to Consider Recognition of Israeli Sovereignty Over Golan Heights - Congress is set to consider a new measure to recognize Israel's sovereignty over the contested Golan Heights region that separates Israel from Syria, a key piece of territory that has become all the more important since the civil war in Syria brought scores of jihadist fighters, including those backed by Iran, into the region. Rep. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced on Thursday a resolution that could lead to an historic recognition by the United States that the contested area fully belongs to Israel, according to a copy of the amendment obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981 following the Six Day War in the late 60s with Arab nations in the region. The United States has declined for decades to take a position on the status of this territory, but following President Donald Trump's decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, DeSantis and others see an opportunity for the United States to recognize another territorial reality—that the Golan Heights will not be given back to Syria, particularly in light of the strife gripping the country. The amendment puts the United States on Israel's side in the land dispute and describes the Golan Heights as a key piece of territory that cannot fall into the hands of Iran, which has staked claims in Syria and continues to threaten Israel's northern border. "It is the sense of the Congress that the Golan Heights represent an integral part of the state of Israel and are crucial to the ability of Israel to safeguard its borders and maintain its existence," the measure states. 

Israel is at the height of its power after the embassy opening in Jerusalem – but uncritical support from the US will do it more damage than good - The Palestinian issue is back on the international agenda more than at any time over the last 15 years. If the move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was intended to demonstrate that the Palestinians were powerless and there was nothing they could do about it, then it has failed.  The embassy move, signaling that the US has abandoned even its previous modest restraint on Israeli actions, had exactly the opposite effect to the one intended. The protesting Palestinians and not the celebrating Israelis and Americans became the central feature of the event. Television split screens showed what looked like a Trump campaign rally in Jerusalem side by side with Israeli soldiers shooting dead 62 Palestinians and wounding a further 1,360 in Gaza.Israeli claims that they were defending the fence that surrounds Gaza from an attack by Hamas activists armed with stones and kites were contradicted both by the television pictures and the lack of any Israeli casualties. But such international outrage will dissipate, as it has in the past in Gaza when Israeli forces killed Palestinians in large numbers. The most important question now is how far the “Great March of Return” of Palestinian refugees from 1948, which has just ended, was a one-off event or the beginning of a campaign of Palestinian civil disobedience. If it is the latter, then we are at the start of what an Israeli paper described as “the first act of the Trump Intifada”.Israel, the US and Egypt have an interest in containing the aftermath of the killings on 14 May. Minor concessions easing the blockade of Gaza, which is similar to a medieval siege, were reportedly offered to Hamas by Israel, if the Islamic group would call off the protest. Egypt has announced that it will open its crossing with Gaza for Ramadan, which has just begun. Other gains for the Palestinians, aside from temporarily putting their fate back on the political and media map, include focusing attention on the miserable conditions of the 1.9 million people living in Gaza, who are “caged in a toxic slum” according to the UN Human Rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein. But greater visibility of their miseries does not mean that much will be done to improve matters. The balance of forces is too skewed away from the Palestinians and towards the Israelis for the latter not to feel that they can act with impunity.

Pentagon Is Speeding Up Arms Exports to Saudi Arabia, Other Allies The Pentagon is speeding up U.S. weapons deliveries to allied militaries such as Saudi Arabia, Romania, Japan, and South Korea through new “pilot authorities” that change how it can design and execute contracts.“We have a whole variety of specific programs where we are focused on applying these authorities: Patriot Missiles for Romania; Global Hawk for Japan, THAAD [high-altitude air defense missiles] for Saudi Arabia, and TOW [vehicle-launched missiles] for multiple foreign military sales partners,” Ellen Lord, defense undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, said Wednesday.These new authorities will allow the Pentagon to shave “years” off the time it takes to deliver weapons to friendly militaries, Lord said at the annual SOFIC event here.“The idea here is that we often have the same system that is being sold to multiple countries, or perhaps a small variant,” she said. “If we have just gone through certified cost in pricing and gone through all the [Defense Contracting Management Agency] and [Defense Cooperation in Armaments] work,  and we have current information, we can take that and leverage that to quickly go and sell to another country. That’s the basic idea. Then we’ll always follow up and verify, and so forth.”Saudi Arabia is a frequent target of missile strikes by Houthi rebels. Regional authorities routinely fret about Iran’s growing missile capabilities. Lord said there was no shortage of countries looking to do business with U.S. arms dealers so long as the government can move faster to approve the deals. Asked about Ukraine, which recently received U.S. anti-tank weapons it had been seekingsince 2015, she forecast faster sales. “We have quite a focus on Ukraine. I’ve been talking with policy [officials] just over the last week about trying to find an individual who can work directly with Ukraine to help them with their acquisition process on an intermittent basis,” she said.

 Chuck Schumer Is the Worst Possible Democratic Leader on Foreign Policy at the Worst Possible Time -- President Donald Trump chose Gina Haspel, who supervised torture during the George W. Bush administration, to run the Central Intelligence Agency. He violated and withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal. He bombed Syria. He moved America’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He’s continued the United States collaboration with Saudi Arabia on waging brutal war on Yemen. He first threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea with “fire and fury,” and then, last Thursday, spoke of North Korea being “totally decimated” by the U.S.Trump’s frightening and erratic approach to foreign policy has galvanized grassroots opposition, so Democrats desperately need a prominent leader who can both fuel and channel that energy, while motivating the Democratic Party’s base for the 2018 midterms with a vision of a starkly different foreign policy. Schumer, a New Yorker who was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1980 and then the Senate in 1998, is the upper chamber’s minority leader. He is thus, since both houses of Congress and the White House are held by Republicans, formally the highest ranking Democratic official in America.Schumer’s positions on domestic policy leave much to be desired, but not on every issue. By contrast, his views on foreign policy are largely indistinguishable from the Republican Party in general and Trump specifically. A look back at Schumer’s history demonstrates just why it has been so difficult for Democrats to “resist” Trump with him at the helm.

Mnuchin: US-China Trade War "On Hold", But NAFTA Still "Far Apart" -- In what looks to us like confirmation that the US has officially kicked the can down the road, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday that China and the US were putting a trade war "on hold" as the two sides work to hammer out a comprehensive trade agreement that will be acceptable to both sides. Mnuchin, who was in Beijing last week for trade talks with top Chinese officials, emphasized that Trump isn't giving up on holding China accountable - the process is just taking longer than some had hoped. "Right now Chris we're going to put the trade war on hold...we made very meaningful progress and we agreed on a framework. The framework includes their agreement to substantially reduce the trade deficit by increasing their purchases of goods," Mnuchin said, adding the two sides have agreed to numerical targets but the he didn’t want to disclose them. "We’re putting the trade war on hold, right now, we have agreed to put the tariffs on hold while we try to executive the framework," Mnuchin said. Mnuchin’s comments come after China and the US on Saturday released a joint statement in which China proposed to "significantly increase purchases" of US goods. Moving on to the subject of ZTE, which President Trump said he'd work to get ZTE "back into business" at the request of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Mnuchin said that "President Xi asked President Trump" to look into the situation at the Chinese telecoms giant, which isn't a surprise, he said. Still, Mnuchin insisted that Trump wants us to be "very tough" on ZTE. "The president wants us to be very tough on ZTE. And all he did was ask the secretary to look into this," Mnuchin said, referring to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Of course, while "no trade war with China" is the headline that the Trump administration wants investors to focus on, the real news is that there might not be a Nafta deal until next year as Mnuchin says we're still "far apart" on Nafta.

Trade war averted? China vows to buy more from US, but truce will take time | South China Morning Post: China has agreed to buy more US agricultural and energy products to help narrow a record bilateral trade deficit, addressing a key demand US President Donald Trump has pursued since announcing punitive tariffs threatening to push the two countries into an all-out trade war. “There was a consensus on taking effective measures to substantially reduce the United States’ trade deficit in goods with China,” the White House said in a joint announcement on Saturday, following two days of negotiations between teams led by Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.“To meet the growing consumption needs of the Chinese people and the need for high-quality economic development, China will significantly increase purchases of United States’ goods and services,” the White House said. “Both sides agreed on meaningful increases in United States’ agriculture and energy exports. The United States will send a team to China to work out the details” and will “continue to engage at high levels on these issues and to seek to resolve their economic and trade concerns in a proactive manner.” Liu was quoted by Xinhua as saying: “This is a positive, pragmatic, constructive and fruitful visit. Both sides have reached a lot of consensus on the healthy development of Sino-US trade relations.” He also pledged to deepen cooperation on bilateral investment and intellectual property protection, but said it would take time to solve the structural problems facing the Sino-US trade relationship. 

Domestic politics at heart of China-US trade talks | South China Morning Post: A report that China had offered to slash its trade imbalance with the United States by US$200 billion a year lacked essential detail, such as an agreed time frame. Beijing quickly issued a reality check by dismissing it as rumour. But it salvaged the upbeat tone by maintaining that the second round of trade talks with Washington was constructive. This seemed to be borne out later by a joint statement issued by the White House that the two sides had reached consensus on effective measures to substantially reduce the US deficit in goods trade with China. This included “meaningful increases” in China’s import of energy and agricultural products from the US, which addresses a key demand by US President Donald Trump since he triggered tit-for-tat punitive tariffs that threaten to unleash a trade war.That said, it does not dispel the threat. Fundamental problems in the relationship remain unresolved. But at least, rather than escalating tension, the outcome of the second round of talks appears to have narrowed differences and smoothed the way ahead in future talks. Officially the decision avoids increased costs for Chinese consumers, but politically it plays to Trump’s electoral heartland in the agricultural states of the Midwest, where his Republican Party will soon be defending congressional majorities in midterm elections. This is a reminder that the domestic politics of bilateral trade negotiations are paramount. 

China agrees to 'significantly increase purchases' of US goods -- The United States and China agreed to take measures to reduce the U.S. trade deficit in goods by having China purchase more American goods - particularly agriculture and energy products, according to a joint statement the two nations released on Saturday."There was a consensus on taking effective measures to substantially reduce the United States trade deficit in goods with China," the joint statement reads. "To meet the growing consumption needs of the Chinese people and the need for high-quality economic development, China will significantly increase purchases of United States goods and services. This will help support growth and employment in the United States."The statement concluded joint talks on Thursday and Friday between the two countries, which included several U.S. cabinet secretaries and China's State Council Vice Premier Liu He.President Donald Trump made reducing the trade deficit between the United States and China a key campaign promise. The statement says that China will "advance relevant amendments to its laws and regulations" to allow for more American imports, including changes to patent laws.

China, U.S. issue joint statement on economic, trade consultations -  (Xinhua) -- China and the United States issued a joint statement on Saturday on economic and trade consultations, vowing not to launch a trade war against each other.Based on the directions of Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump, the Chinese and U.S. delegations conducted constructive consultations on trade issues on Thursday and Friday, the statement said.The two sides agreed to take effective measures to substantially decrease the U.S. trade deficit in goods with China.China will significantly increase its purchase of U.S. goods and service to meet the consumption needs of the Chinese people and propel the high-quality economic development of China, which also helps support the U.S. economic development and employment, according to the statement.The two nations agreed to meaningfully increase the export of U.S. agriculture and energy products. The U.S. side will send a delegation to China for further consultations.The two sides talked about the expansion of trade on manufactured goods and service, and have reached consensuses to create favorable conditions to increase trade in those areas.The statement said that the two sides highly valued intellectual property protection and agreed to promote cooperation in this regard.China will promote revision of related laws and regulations including the Patent Law, according to the statement.The two sides also agreed to encourage the two-way investment, and committed to creating a business environment for fair competition.

How energy factors into the breakthrough in US-China trade talks -- Energy will play a major role in a breakthrough in trade talks between the Trump administration and its Chinese counterparts, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC on Monday.U.S. and Chinese trade negotiators agreed this weekend to put on hold tariffs that they have threatened against one another, after China agreed to purchase more American goods. The concession could move the needle on one of President Donald Trump's major goals: reducing the U.S. trade deficit with China.To be sure, some economists have flagged challenges to increasing exports to China, from Beijing's ability to facilitate the imports to American farmers and manufacturers producing at or near full capacity. However, oil and natural gas production is one area of the U.S. economy that is indeed booming. Meanwhile, China, the engine of the global economy, is hungry for more fossil fuels as more drivers take to the nation's roads and the government seeks to generate more electric power from cleaner-burning natural gas. "In energy, I think there's a massive opportunity for the U.S. to become a major supplier of energy to China," Mnuchin told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Monday. "They have incredible amounts of demand at these prices for our shale and our liquid natural gas.""I think we can easily get about $40 or $50 billion of energy, and if we can produce and send more with infrastructure, they can even take more," he said.

Treasury, USTR Send Mixed Messages Over Tariffs on Chinese Imports ​- Mixed signals from officials could further complicate the Trump administration’s trade agenda  - —The Treasury secretary and the administration’s top trade official took markedly different positions over whether the U.S. will move forward with tariffs on Chinese imports, punctuating several days of negotiations between the world’s two biggest economies with a question mark. Several hours after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Fox News on Sunday that the U.S. was “putting the trade war on hold” and wouldn’t assess tariffs on Beijing while the two sides talked, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer put out a statement saying that tariffs remained an important tool to “protect our technology.” Mr. Lighthizer didn’t say the U.S. would resort to tariffs any time soon, and Mr. Mnuchin didn’t rule out tariffs, and a U.S. trade official played down the disparity, but trade experts said the differences in tone and substance stood out. People familiar with the administration’s internal deliberations said Mr. Lighthizer was signaling that he wouldn’t accept a watered-down version of U.S. goals or tactics in the trade dispute with China. The U.S. has threatened to levy tariffs on as much as $150 billion in Chinese imports over Beijing’s alleged pressure on U.S. companies to transfer technology to Chinese partners, and Beijing has vowed to retaliate in kind. The procedural steps to apply tariffs on the first $50 billion tranche of Chinese imports are scheduled to be completed this week. “There is growing frustration with Secretary Mnuchin getting ahead of both the president and the trade team on the direction of the Chinese negotiations,” said a person familiar with the China negotiations. “His eagerness to do a deal significantly undercuts the U.S. negotiating position.”

China Unexpectedly Slashes Auto Tariffs After Trump Trade Truce - In an unexpected, but notable, victory for President Trump's aggressive trade agenda and exporters of cars around the globe, China's Ministry of Finance announced Tuesday morning that it would slash passenger car duties to 15%, further opening up the market that’s been a key target of the U.S. in its trade fight with Beijing. This comes less than a month after China decided to ease restrictions on foreign competition in its auto sector and also address some of the US's concerns about intellectual property theft. The reduction follows a truce that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced during a Sunday appearance on "Fox News Sunday". In response, the US has continued to reverse its policy of pressuring telecom giant ZTE, with Trump taking steps to rescue it.  But while the administration will no doubt rush to claim this as a victory, nobody expects the tariff cuts to be a gesture of good faith on China's part: The US is now also expected to make a concession, perhaps in addition to reducing pressure on ZTE. Though for Trump, caving on ZTE is still a pretty big deal, even as the administration has been adamant about framing it as a national security issue and not a trade issue."You can’t completely disregard the fact that there are certain imbalances in China’s favor. This could be a signal that if one side is making concessions, it could lead to the Americans easing some of their pressure as well.” Meanwhile, according to Bloomberg, the import duty on car parts will fall to 6%, from 25%. But Bloomberg warns that the cuts are largely symbolic, since they will only impact about 4.2% of car sales - at least for now (about 29 million cars were sold in China last year, and as tariffs fall, foreign car buying could become more commonplace).China's President Xi Jinping and his Vice Premier Liu He both advised that China would start implementing market liberalizations particularly in its automobile market in the coming months. The decision also comes after China announced over the weekend that China would end its anti-dumping investigation into sorghum. It has also signaled that there might be a review of Qualcomm's bid to acquire NXP Semiconductors, which would be tantamount to another olive branch.

In Trade War With U.S., China Gets the Upper Hand – WSJ - Among all the trade fights that President Donald Trump has picked, his hand against China is the strongest. That fight has economic, strategic and political logic that his confrontations with Canada, Mexico, Western Europe and Japan lack. Yet China, incredibly, appears to be winning; China has thus far escaped the bulk of threatened U.S. tariffs while giving up almost nothing of substance. Mr. Trump initially seemed to have more stomach for confrontation with China than his predecessors. Instead, China has shrewdly exploited his weak points: his hopes for a breakthrough with North Korea, a Chinese client; a low threshold for political pain, especially in Republican farm states; and a readiness to play China’s game of using legal proceedings as a commercial bargaining chip. Over the weekend, the U.S. agreed to suspend, for now, tariffs on up to $150 billion in Chinese imports. China in turn agreed to buy more energy and agricultural products. That is hardly a game changer. Since both are commodities traded on global markets, China buying more from the U.S. will likely just redirect some sales that would have happened anyway. A deal may over time prompt American farmers to change their mix of crops to garner better prices driven by Chinese demand for, say, sorghum, but total U.S. production will, as always, be largely determined by global conditions. Similarly, if U.S. shale producers export more oil to China, they will sell less elsewhere. China may buy more liquefied natural gas, but that was probably inevitable: it is set to become the world’s largest LNG importer anyway and the U.S. one of the three largest exporters. In February Cheniere Energy Inc. signed a long-term deal to ship LNG from the U.S. Gulf Coast to China National Petroleum Corp. The promised Chinese purchases might trim its trade surplus with the U.S., but not by anywhere near the $200 billion Mr. Trump has sought. More important, that deficit has always been less of a problem than the myriad ways China positions its own companies to grab market share from foreign rivals, for example by acquiring the latter’s intellectual property via compulsory licensing, joint ventures or theft, and limiting what foreign companies may do in China. The U.S. Treasury is exploring how to restrict Chinese investment in the U.S., and China has said it would allow foreign companies to manufacture cars there without joint ventures. Yet it still has countless, often subtle, ways to promote its domestic champions over foreign rivals.

Trump trade deal comes under anti-China fire -- Even before an American delegation departs for Beijing to flesh out the details, this week’s agreement between the US and China on trade, which led to the suspension of tariffs on up to $150 billion worth of Chinese goods, appears to be coming apart.In a tweet posted yesterday, President Donald Trump seemed to cast doubt on the prospects for the agreement. “Our trade deal with China is moving along nicely, but in the end we will probably have to use a different structure in that this will be too hard to get done and verify after completion,” he said.Asked by reporters if he was happy with the direction of the negotiations with China, Trump said “no, not really” and then added later “they’re a start.”Since Monday’s announcement that the threatened tariffs would be put on hold while negotiations take place on increased Chinese imports from the US, the deal has come under fire from critics on both sides of the US Congress on the basis that, in search of a quick deal, the administration has given in to Beijing.These criticisms are linked to Trump’s decision to search for some way of penalising the Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE other than the Commerce Department’s decision to ban the sales of US components to the firm, effectively putting it out of business. The ban was imposed after ZTE was found to have breached a deal struck over its trading with Iran and North Korea in defiance of US sanctions.Trump has been searching for an alternative after Chinese President Xi Jinping indicated that action to restore ZTE’s capacity to operate must be part of a broader trade agreement with the US. On Tuesday, 27 Democrat and Republican senators issued a letter to the Trump administration, insisting there must be no easing of controls on the export of technology to China as a means of reducing the US trade deficit. The letter, signed by Senate majority whip John Cornyn and Florida Republican Marco Rubio, along with leading Democrats Charles Schumer and Sherrod Brown, also attacked any deal on ZTE.

 Bannon Slams Mnuchin Over China Trade Truce; “You Might As Well Have Hank Paulson Doing This” Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon slammed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday over a weekend truce in the ongoing trade dispute with China. In comments to Bloomberg on Monday, Bannon said that Trump "changed the dynamic regarding China, but in one weekend Secretary Mnuchin has given it away." “We’re putting the trade war on hold,” said Mnuchin in a Joint statement with China on Sunday. “Right now, we have agreed to put the tariffs on hold while we execute the framework.”Bannon wasn't impressed - telling Bloomberg that Mnuchin "misses the central point" of the economic competition between the two nations. “They’re in a trade war with us and it hasn’t stopped,” Bannon said. “Mnuchin has completely misread the geopolitical, military, and historical precedence and what President Trump had done was finally put the Chinese on their back heels.”“You might as well have Hank Paulson doing this”   The Trump administration said it would back down from prior threats of new tariffs against China after the two nations agreed to “substantially” downsize the U.S. merchandise trade deficit, which hit a record $375 billion last year. In response, Beijing promised to “significantly” increase US purchases going forward - albeit with no dollar figure attached.  The White House, however, gave assurances that China would cave to its demand for a $200 billion annual trade-gap reduction. 

 Trump Says "No Deal On ZTE" As Senate Committee Blocks Him From Lifting Ban After China announced early Tuesday that it would slash its auto tariff, more terms of an as-yet-unfinished US-China trade deal are being revealed. Trade talks between the US and China are set to continue in Washington and Beijing, and a comprehensive deal remains elusive, but in a sign of the US's growing commitment to compromise, the Trump administration has agreed on the "broad outline" of a deal that would save imperiled Chinese telecom giant ZTE Corp., the Wall Street Journal reported. After Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin insisted this morning that there was no "quid pro quo" involved in the US's decision to take a second look at the sanctions it imposed on Chinese telecoms firm ZTE, President Trump reiterated this afternoon that the US and China have yet to reach a deal on trade, adding that he is "not pleased" with how the talks are progressing. While the talks with China were "a start", Trump said he's not yet satisfied.The news caused stocks to roll over as worries about a trade war - which had eased markedly on Mnuchin's "trade truce" claims - bubbled back to the surface.Trump added that he expects the US to levy a "very large fine" against ZTE and require new management and a new board of directors - all of which are reportedly conditions of a potential deal reported earlier.Meanwhile, Congress has decided to throw a wrench in the works after a Senate panel on Tuesday approved an amendment that would block Trump from easing sanctions on ZTE without first certifying that the company is complying with US law.Of course, Trump's direct contradiction of Mnuchin could be the latest sign that the Treasury Secretary, who was long seen as above the fray in Trump world, might be rising in the Trump administration dead pool.

 U.S. slaps heavy duties on Chinese steel shipped from Vietnam (Reuters) - The U.S. Commerce Department on Monday slapped steep import duties on steel products from Vietnam that originated in China after a final finding they evaded U.S. anti-dumping and anti-subsidy orders. The decision marked a victory for U.S. steelmakers, who won anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties against Chinese steel in 2015 and 2016 only to see shipments flood in from elsewhere. The industry has argued that Chinese products are being diverted to other countries to circumvent the duties. U.S. customs authorities will collect anti-dumping duties of 199.76 percent and countervailing duties of 256.44 percent on imports of cold-rolled steel produced in Vietnam using Chinese-origin substrate, the Commerce Department said in a statement. Corrosion-resistant steel from Vietnam faces anti-dumping duties of 199.43 percent and anti-subsidy duties of 39.05 percent, it said. The department has said it would apply the same Chinese anti-dumping and anti-subsidy rates on corrosion-resistant and cold-rolled steel from Vietnam that starts out as Chinese-made hot-rolled steel. The duties will come in addition to a 25 percent tariff on most steel imported into the United States that resulted from the Trump administration’s “Section 232” national security investigation into steel and aluminum imports. Although the steel subject to the latest anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties was processed in Vietnam to be made corrosion resistant or cold-rolled for use in autos or appliances, the Commerce Department agreed with the claims of American producers that as much as 90 percent of the product’s value originated from China. The global steel industry is struggling with a glut of excess production capacity, much of it located in China, that has pushed down prices. The decision followed a European Union finding in November that steel shipments from Vietnam into the EU also circumvented tariffs. The Commerce Department said that after anti-dumping duties were imposed on Chinese steel products in 2015, shipments of cold-rolled steel from Vietnam into the United States shot up to $215 million annually from $9 million, while corrosion-resistant steel imports rose to $80 million from $2 million. 

China signals to state giants: 'Buy American' oil and grains (Reuters) - China will import record volumes of U.S. oil and is likely to ship more U.S. soy after Beijing signalled to state-run refiners and grains purchasers they should buy more to help ease tensions between the two top economies, trade sources said on Wednesday. FILE PHOTO: Chinese and U.S. flags are set up for a meeting during a visit by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao at China's Ministry of Transport in Beijing, China April 27, 2018. REUTERS/Jason LeeChina pledged at the weekend to increase imports from its top trading partner to avert a trade war that could damage the global economy. Energy and commodities were high on Washington’s list of products for sale. The United States is also seeking better access for imports of genetically modified crops into China under the deal. As the two sides stepped back from a full-blown trade war, Washington neared a deal on Tuesday to lift its ban on U.S. firms supplying Chinese telecoms gear maker ZTE Corp (000063.SZ) (0763.HK), and Beijing announced tariff cuts on car imports. But U.S. President Donald Trump indicated on Wednesday that negotiations were still short of his objectives when he said any deal would need a “different structure”. China is the world’s top importer of both oil and soy, and already buys significant volumes of both from the United States. It is unclear how much more Chinese importers will buy from the United States than they would have otherwise, but any additional shipments would contribute to cutting the trade surplus, as demanded by Trump. Asia’s largest oil refiner, China’s Sinopec (600028.SS) will boost crude imports from the United States to an all-time high in June as part of Chinese efforts to cut the surplus, two sources with knowledge of the matter said on Wednesday. Sinopec’s trading arm Unipec has bought 16 million barrels, or about 533,000 barrels per day, of U.S. crude to load in June, they said, the largest volume ever to be lifted in a month by the company and worth about $1.1 billion. “The government has encouraged us to lift more U.S. crude,” one of the sources said. China has been one of the top buyers of U.S. crude exports since Washington lifted a 40-year ban on shipments in late 2015. Since then, U.S. crude exports have risen rapidly as output from shale fields hits record highs. Exports are straining U.S. pipeline and port capacity, and may be reaching a limit until capacity expansion underway are completed, one of the sources said. “We want to buy more but they might not be able to export more,” the source said.

Trump To Take "Much Harder Line On China" After Summit Collapse: Report -- It may have been the US that cancelled the North Korea peace summit, but China is ultimately responsible, at least according to veiled hints from President Trump. In his Thursday statement, Trump veered between threats of military action and entreaties to the North Korean dictator to schedule another summit after pulling the plug on their planned meeting. The president lamented that dialogue with Mr Kim had been “good until recently” when things abruptly changed. "I think I understand why that happened,” he said, but did not elaborate.And, as we noted last night, ahead of North Korea's conciliatory statement, Trump this week pointed a finger at Beijing saying that Kim’s attitude had shifted after a meeting with President Xi almost three weeks ago.“There was a difference when Kim Jong-un left China the second time,” Mr Trump said. “I can’t say that I’m happy about it.” On both occasions, Washington learned of Mr Kim’s visit only after the fact.And this morning, CNBC’s Eamon Javers said that the entire North Korean summit diversion may have simply been a prelude to something else entirely, namely Trump reverting to a "much harder line" on China trade talks after he canceled the summit.I’m told there is an expectation inside the White House that President Trump will take a much harder line on China trade now that the NK summit is off. Aides believed that Trump was soft pedaling his natural instincts until June 12. Now that is gone. I’m told there is an expectation inside the White House that President Trump will take a much harder line on China trade now that the NK summit is off. Aides believed that Trump was soft pedaling his natural instincts until June 12. Now that is gone.

Trump-Xi Agree "Tentative" Deal On ZTE Including $1.3 Billion Fine, Fox News Reports = Just hours after North Korea came creeping back to the negotiating table with President Trump - following his cancellation of the Kim Summit talks, comments that he suspected China was behind Kim's change of heart, and chatter that Trump "would take a much harder line on China" - Fox News reports that a "tentative" deal has been reached with China's President Xi over the giant Chinese telecoms company ZTE.JUST IN: Fox News reports @POTUS reaches tentative deal with China on ZTE.— FOX Business (@FoxBusiness) May 25, 2018Trump reportedly got another call from Xi, who reiterated that many jobs would be lost if the U.S. refused to sell parts to ZTE.Fox News reports that Trump and Xi have agreed that ZTE will pay a $1.3 billion fine...Xi offered $500m fine and to change ZTE’s management...and Trump countered with a demand for management changes, security guarantees, and a guarantee ZTE will buy parts via U.S. companies.  It is tough to discern which of the "good friends" Trump and Xi has the upper hand right now.. and what is motivating Trump.

Donald Trump proves trade wars with China are good and easy to win - Less than three months after eliciting utter incredulity with his promise that trade wars were good and easy to win, Donald Trump showed how such conflicts are won – at least with China. It requires a sense of restraint, respect for international law, recognition of the other party’s inherent rights and a willingness to bring in the heavy artillery not only for one’s advantage but also in the service of mutually beneficial goals. Many of these features were not hitherto known to be core Trumpian attributes. Over the third weekend of May, Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and President Xi Jinping’s economic tsar, Vice-Premier Liu He, deftly spearheaded and shepherded the two sides towards a win-win outcome that draws a red line under their recent trade, investment and intellectual property rights (IPR) quarrels. The trade row has now effectively been shelved indefinitely; the investment and IPR-related differences have been narrowed – indeed to the extent that the Trump administration now shares an important stake in the successful implementation of the international economic dimension of Xi’s third plenum reforms. The trade war that Donald Trump threatened against China in March has not just been placed on hold – although official statements suggest so – it is for all intents and purposes over. And not a moment too soon. As early as June 2018, an action-reaction cycle of tariff increases involving more than US$100 billion of bilateral trade and aggravated investment restrictions could have broken out that would have counted global economic victims far beyond America and China’s shores.

Trump Is Pushing For 10% Cut In Aluminum, Steel Imports From EU - While the US-China trade talks have dominated headlines in the financial press this week, the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday published details from the Trump administration's ongoing trade negotiations with the European Union, which increasingly look like they, too, have arrived at an impasse.According to WSJ, Trump is pushing the EU to reduce steel and aluminum exports to the US by about 10%, according to several high-ranking EU officials who have apparently chafed at the administration's demands. Officials have gone so far as to declare the measures illegal under World Trade Organization rules.  Negotiations are unfolding rapidly as the EU seeks to extend its temporary exemption from steel and aluminum tariffs that the Trump administration has said will expire June 1.The Trump proposal has offered two avenues for arriving at the US's desired result. One is a quota fixed at 90% of US imports from the EU in 2017. The other would impose tariffs on a certain quota of imports with the aim of achieving the same 10% reduction, according to Poland’s Entrepreneurship and Technology Minister Jadwiga Emilewicz, who added that EU governments discussed the matter on Tuesday. However, the exact scope and details of the quotas have not yet been made clear. "We are under the impression that somehow they want to limit steel imports to the U.S.," European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said of continuing negotiations with Washington before briefing EU governments. "Aluminum as well," she said, without providing details. European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom has reportedly been in regular contact with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross ever since the US surprised the world by announcing its steel and aluminum tariffs back in March. Still, despite their close cooperation, Malmstrom said that deciphering Trump's wants and needs has been by far the most frustrating aspect of the negotiations.  When it comes to setting a benchmark for their discussions with Trump, European countries have interpreted South Korea's trade concessions as a cautionary tale. Seoul agreed to cap its US steel exports at 70% of their average from the past three years - a decision that created daunting problems for Korean steelmakers.

Trump Administration Looks Into New Tariffs on Imported Vehicles - —The Trump administration is using national-security laws to consider imposing new tariffs on vehicle and auto-parts imports, the Commerce Department said Wednesday.President Donald Trump is asking for new tariffs of as much as 25% on automobile imports, according to those familiar with his request, after he repeatedly signaled his intention to impose such tariffs.Mr. Trump has asked his team to investigate using a legal provision of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act to find whether tariffs or other restrictions are needed on imported cars. It is the same legal justification the administration used to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports in March.In a Twitter message on Wednesday, he said, “There will be big news coming soon for our great American Autoworkers. After many decades of losing your jobs to other countries, you have waited long enough!”The move opens yet another front in the Trump administration’s trade battles with both allies and rivals, a confrontational approach that has yielded mixed results. The administration is locked in touchy negotiations over narrowing China’s $375 billion annual trade surplus with the U.S. So far, Beijing has refused to commit to much more than stepping up purchases of U.S.-produced commodities. Negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement, which the administration hoped to complete in time to push through Congress by year’s end, have been bogged down as Mexican and Canadian partners resist U.S. demands for new auto rules, sunset clauses and dispute-resolution mechanisms. Meanwhile, other trading partners are challenging the administration’s steel and aluminum tariffs, rejecting the U.S. national-security argument and planning retaliation.Tariffs based on national-security arguments generally take months to execute, because the administration is required to conduct detailed studies that provide the rationale for such moves. Applying tariffs or another remedy under Section 232 of the 1962 law would require a lengthy investigation and report from the U.S. Commerce Department.

Trump Trade Weapon of Choice Alarms GOP - President Donald Trump’s use of a national security law to threaten tariffs on imported cars drew widespread criticism Thursday, including sharp rebukes from senior members of his own Republican Party. Lawmakers, the auto industry and foreign trade partners were among those lambasting Mr. Trump’s move Wednesday to order a review of imported vehicles and auto parts under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act, the same law Mr. Trump used to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum in March.  “The president needs to use the national security waiver in ways that I think visibly meet the test,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R., Mo.). “I didn’t think aluminum and steel met the test. I certainly don’t think automobiles l meet the test.” The 1962 law gives the White House broad flexibility to impose and adjust tariffs, exempting some trade partners along the way, based on national security concerns. In the cases of steel and aluminum, it has already allowed the administration to gain concessions from countries seeking to avoid U.S. penalties on their products.The law gives the president wide latitude in defining a threat to national security. That, in turn, allows Mr. Trump to defend the tariffs politically, beat back legal challenges and, at least so far, avoid any major dispute at the World Trade Organization, which regulates global trade. The White House hasn’t provided details of how the U.S. will justify the tariffs on vehicle imports as a threat to national security.  “National security is broadly defined to include the economy, to include the impact on employment, to include a very big variety of things that one would not normally associate directly with military security,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Thursday in an interview on CNBC. Critics see the use of Section 232 as capricious and say the 12 million cars produced in the U.S. last year by American and foreign-owned operations makes the national security argument implausible. The Trump administration sees Section 232 as a “tool in their arsenal, but whether or not the trade act considers the import of cars as a matter of national security, I doubt it,” said Rep. Rick Larsen (D., Wash.).Republican lawmakers also are growing worried that employing tariffs based on national security grounds could alienate military allies, kick off trade wars, disrupt supply chains and boost consumer prices for a big-ticket item. Some worry Mr. Trump is usurping Congress’s constitutional role over taxes and tariffs, which most Republicans want kept low.

Trump taps vocal anti-illegal immigration advocate for State Dept's top refugee job | TheHill: President Trump has tapped a fierce critic of illegal immigration for the State Department's top position overseeing refugees and migration. The White House announced on Thursday that Ronald Mortensen, a former foreign service officer, has been nominated to serve as assistant secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration. Mortensen, who supported Trump on the campaign trail, is a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonprofit group that advocates for significantly reducing immigration in the U.S. If confirmed by the Senate, Mortensen would lead the State Department bureau responsible for providing assistance to some of the world's most vulnerable populations, including refugees and asylum seekers from Mexico and Central America. In addition to his fellowship at the Center for Immigration Studies, Mortensen also founded the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, a group that advocates for "concrete action" to address illegal immigration.   In a statement issued at the time of the group's founding, Mortensen said that the U.S. had a responsibility to admit immigrants who go through the proper legal channels, while blocking those who try to skirt the law.  Mortensen has also written dozens of op-eds for publications, including The Hill, decrying illegal immigration and claiming that most undocumented immigrants commit crimes by using fraudulent documents in the U.S.

White House press release on MS-13 backs Trump’s labeling immigrants as “violent animals” -- On Monday May 21st, the White House issued a press release ominously entitled “What you need to know about the violent animals of MS-13.” The release, issued in advance of Donald Trump’s visit to Long Island, uses the word “animals” ten times to describe members of the MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, gang, which has been presented by the Trump administration as the logical culmination of uncontrolled, undocumented migration across the border. The press release describes several violent acts committed by members of the gang, depicting MS-13 as a “transnational gang” that “commits shocking acts of violence to instill fear, including machete attacks, executions, gang rape, human trafficking, and more.”  It further makes the unsubstantiated claim that “MS-13 gang leaders based in El Salvador have been sending representatives into the United States illegally to connect the leaders with local gang members.” These illegal border crossings, the White House concludes, have been the source of increasingly violent turf battles. Going through the press release, one could be forgiven for thinking that the United States has been overrun by MS-13, portrayed as a virtual army of undocumented immigrants raping and murdering citizens across the country with impunity. The reality, however, is quite different. As the New York Times noted in March, MS-13 members are located predominantly in just three metropolitan areas near Los Angeles, California, Long Island, New York and Washington, DC. These cliques are comprised primarily of young men, many of whom grew up marginalized and poor within the United States, while others came to the US as children. The gang is not the product of hordes of criminal undocumented migrants pouring across the border, as conjured up by the administration.   Many of the gang’s members are youth between the ages of 15 and 17, and the majority of their victims are immigrant youth like themselves, whom the Trump administration also wants to deport. Gang members are so destitute that even their small time deals tend to fall through. Police intelligence officers interviewed for the New York Times story described one case in which the suspected leader of one of the largest MS-13 cliques in Maryland was forced to cancel a drug deal early in the year because he did not have enough money to pay for the gas to drive to the drop-off point.

ICE Is So Out Of Control, The Bush Appointees Are Benchslapping Them Now -- “Defendant USCIS is ENJOINED from asserting, adopting, or relying in any proceedings on any statement or record made as of this date purporting to allege or establish that Mr. Ramirez is a gang member, gang affiliated, or a threat to public safety.”— Chief Judge Ricardo Martinez of the Western District of Washington in a stunning opinion blasting ICE for its systematic efforts to deceive the court. The immigration officers wanted to deport a qualified DACA recipient and concocted a story about the man’s gang activity. So much for candor. Judge Martinez, a George W. Bush appointee, did not mince words in expressing his dismay that an organ of the United States government would perpetrate a fraud on the court. “Most troubling to the Court, is the continued assertion that Mr. Ramirez is gang-affiliated, despite providing no evidence specific to Mr. Ramirez to the Immigration Court in connection with his administrative proceedings, and offering no evidence to this Court to support its assertions four months later.”As we mentioned earlier this week, this is why threatening to call ICE on people is so scary… we have empirical examples of them trying to deport people they have no business deporting.Check out the full benchslap on the next page…)

Border Patrol union calls Trump’s National Guard deployment ‘colossal waste’ - A month after President Trump called for sending National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, the head of the national Border Patrol union called the deployment "a colossal waste of resources.""We have seen no benefit," said Brandon Judd, president of the union that represents 15,000 agents, the National Border Patrol Council. The criticism is a dramatic departure for the group, which endorsed Trump's candidacy for president and has praised his border security efforts, including National Guard deployments."When I found out the National Guard was going to be on the border I was extremely excited," Judd said, because previous deployments on the border helped alleviate the Border Patrol's workload.But this time, he said, "that has not happened at all."About 1,600 National Guard troops were deployed on the border. About 750 more troops may soon be added in support roles, and the total could reach 4,000 "based on requests for assistance and what they need," said Army Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. "We want to match the right number of troops to do the jobs that are needed, not just provide a certain number of troops,"

 Democrats join Koch group to revamp veterans programs - Democrats for years have seen the conservative Koch brothers as political enemies. Former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid even called them "un-American." But Wednesday, Senate Democrats teamed up with Republicans to pass major veterans health care legislation championed by the Kochs. The Koch-funded Concerned Veterans for America celebrated a big victory with the passage of the VA MISSION Act, a sweeping bill that overhauls how the Department of Veterans Affairs gives patients access to private-sector doctors. It's a big win for the once-obscure advocacy group backed by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch of Wichita. The group helped write the bill, which sailed through the Senate by a 92-5 vote after also passing the House overwhelmingly. It got broad support from politicians and veterans groups across the political spectrum, and President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill into law soon. The $52 billion package aims to make it easier for veterans to qualify for private sector care by requiring VA to publish clear standards. It allows veterans to appeal if VA denies their requests for care outside the agency. The bill also extends stipends for veterans' caretakers beyond the 9/11 generation of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. Now included would be veterans of other eras, who could get care at home instead of at institutions. The legislation would initiate a review of VA assets and infrastructure to determine if some facilities should be closed, or staffing plans restructured, based on documented need and usage. 

Republicans claw at each other over farm bill implosion - House Republicans are at each other’s throats after the Freedom Caucus delivered a shock to party leaders on Friday by killing a key GOP bill over an unrelated simmering feud over immigration.Speaker Paul Ryan and his leadership team were sure the group of three dozen rabble-rousers would cave. The partisan farm bill, after all, includes historic new work requirements for food stamp beneficiaries that conservatives have demanded for years. Plus, President Donald Trump leaned in, tweeting his support for the bill Thursday night to up the pressure on the far right. But Ryan’s team sorely miscalculated. In an embarrassing show of weakness, the bill went down on the floor after a last-minute leadership scramble to flip votes. Almost immediately, Republicans pointed fingers at each other. Freedom Caucus members said GOP leaders brought the matter on themselves by failing to pass a conservative immigration solution for Dreamers sooner. GOP leaders blamed the conservatives for upending a core Trump priority.And some Republicans even blamed Ryan, arguing they’re stuck with an outgoing speaker who couldn’t get the job done. “Obviously the House Freedom Caucus is to blame, but this is the problem when you have a lame duck speaker who announces he’s leaving eight months in advance,” said one senior Republican source. “He can make calls to members to urge them to vote for something, but who will care?” Ryan’s office put the blame on the Freedom Caucus. The group had been demanding a vote on a sharply conservative immigration bill, and Ryan’s team late Thursday offered such a vote — but not until June, incensing members of the caucus. It is unclear if the conference would get another shot at passing Trump’s work requirements for the food stamp program, though the White House in a statement encouraged the House to try again. Leaders could decide to write a bipartisan bill instead without the food stamp cuts, which would be much easier to pass.

  Mnuchin Urges Antitrust Probe of Tech After Google Report - Mnuchin wants the Justice Department to look into antitrust action against tech companies like Google Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin urged the Justice Department to review the power that large technology firms such as Google have over the American economy, the latest U.S. official to back antitrust scrutiny of the industry. A “60 Minutes” segment on Sunday devoted to assertions that Alphabet Inc.’s Google wields a destructive monopoly in online search hammered home the notion of the company’s dominance during a time of heightened public concern with technology giants. The report didn’t include new allegations about the company. “These issues deserve to be reviewed carefully,” Mnuchin said in a CNBC interview early Monday in response to a question about the CBS News report. “These are issues the Justice Department needs to look at seriously, not for any one company, but as these technology companies have a greater and greater impact on the economy.” Mnuchin adds to a chorus of concern in Washington about technology firms’ effects on competition in various markets. Last month, the head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, Makan Delrahim, said competition officials need to keep an eye on digital platform companies that may be abusing their market power to thwart rivals. And last week, Joe Simons, the new chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, which shares antitrust jurisdiction with the Justice Department, told senators he’s aware of the concerns raised about the size of technology firms, and he vowed that the agency would scrutinize mergers and conduct by the companies. 

Cotton jolts prison reform negotiations - Multiple law enforcement groups say Sen. Tom Cotton’s office approached them about opposing a bipartisan prison reform bill — a key legislative priority for President Donald Trump — according to emails reviewed by POLITICO. Cotton’s office says it made no direct request for groups to oppose the bill. But the outreach from the Arkansas Republican, one of Trump's closest allies in Congress, has left supporters of the prison reform effort suspicious that he is trying to tank the Trump-backed legislation before it reaches the Senate.  Cotton is a stalwart critic of broader criminal justice overhaul proposals but has yet to publicly come out against the narrower, prison-focused approach that Trump is backing. However, the emails reviewed by POLITICO show at least two leading law enforcement groups discussing a call by Cotton’s office this week for letters of opposition on prison reform ahead of a White House summit Friday on the issue. By signing up you agree to receive email newsletters or alerts from POLITICO. You can unsubscribe at any time.In one instance, the request from Cotton’s camp appears to have lost the prisons bill a supporter: The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which had declared its endorsement in February, wrote to House and Senate Republican leaders on Friday announcing it was reversing that position and would oppose the prison reform bill, citing changes made to the measure in recent weeks.

Trump takes aim at federal bureaucracy with new executive orders rolling back civil-service protections - President Trump moved Friday to roll back civil-service protections that federal employees have enjoyed for a generation, making it easier to fire poor performers, curtailing time employees can be paid for union work and directing agencies to negotiate tougher union contracts.In three executive orders the president signed before the holiday weekend, Trump took his first significant steps toward fulfilling a campaign promise he made to overhaul a federal bureaucracy he told voters was awash in “waste, fraud and abuse.”The changes have been championed by Republicans who have sought to rein in the size and reach of the federal bureaucracy of 2 million, which under Trump has been gradually shrinking through hiring freezes and unfilled vacancies. The trio of executive orders — which can be undone by the next president — could have a much more dramatic impact. They immediately drew polarized reactions, with public employee unions casting them as an attack on civil servants and conservatives praising the overhaul as a win for accountability. The orders limit federal employees to spending no more than a quarter of their workday on “official time” — paid time to do union business, a benefit Congress approved for federal unions four decades ago. Administration officials said the change could save $100 million a year.  They require agencies to negotiate union contracts in less than a year. And they direct managers to move more aggressively to fire poor performers or employees involved in misconduct, limiting to one month a last-chance grace period for improvement that now can last up to 120 days. Agencies must also disclose details about an employee’s record to other federal offices considering hiring someone who has been fired or disciplined.

Supreme Court Crushes Unions By Limiting Collective Action Bargaining - In what will likely be remembered as an epic middle finger to America's unions, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Monday - in a decision split along ideological lines - that businesses can force employees into individual arbitration to resolve disputes, virtually eliminating the threat of a class-action lawsuit.  The Washington Post described the ruling as "an important outcome for business interests."  The decision could make life much harder for unions fighting for better conditions and wages.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the decision "egregiously wrong". She argued that individual complaints can be very small in dollar terms, or "scarcely of a size warranting the expense of seeking redress alone." The justice read a summary of her dissent aloud in the court.In a comment that broke with the administration's official view, the National Labor Relations Board argued that requiring employees to waive their right to collective action conflicted with national labor laws. Bodies representing business were united in support of the ruling. Meanwhile, lower courts had been split over the issue. Two rulings had been issued - two in which appeals courts ruled that such agreements can’t be enforced and a third in which the appeals court said they are valid.

US Supreme Court eliminates workers’ right to collectively sue corporations - The United States Supreme Court’s 5–4 decision in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis eliminates the right of tens of millions of workers to bring class action lawsuits against their employers. With the bang of a gavel, the Supreme Court has effectively stripped workers of their legal rights and guaranteed the flow of even greater fortunes to the corporate and financial oligarchy, which controls America’s legal and political system.The majority opinion, written by Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch, upholds the legality of mandatory arbitration clauses that bar workers from filing lawsuits. This locks the courtroom doors for coal miners suffering from black lung, construction workers with mesothelioma, fast food workers cheated of overtime pay, farmworkers denied the minimum wage, waitresses sexually harassed by their bosses, and countless other workers suffering forms of workplace abuse and exploitation. It announces “open season” for intensified corporate exploitation at tens of thousands of workplaces across the country. The decision revives the legal doctrine of the Gilded Age elaborated by the Supreme Court’s 1905 decision Lochner v. New York, which overturned a state law limiting the workday to 10 hours on the absurd grounds that the regulations violated workers’ “right” to work as long as they want. In reality, that ruling safeguarded the power of corporations to exploit workers without recourse.Today’s Supreme Court followed a similar logic, justifying its decision to eliminate workers’ right to sue with the lie that workers are always free to negotiate better contracts with their corporate bosses. According to the Economic Policy Institute, roughly 60 million workers—56 percent of all private-sector nonunion workers—now no longer have access to the courts. Arbitration is a sham process set up by the corporations to deprive workers of even the minimal protections afforded by the courts and to spare businesses the cost of litigation.

Opinion analysis: Employers prevail in arbitration case -  SCOTUSblog -In 1925, Congress passed the Federal Arbitration Act, which (among other things) provides that an agreement to arbitrate a dispute “shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable.” Ten years later, Congress enacted the National Labor Relations Act, which makes clear that employees have the right to work together for “mutual aid and protection.” Today the Supreme Court ruled, by a vote of 5-4, that employers can include a clause in their employment contracts that requires employees to arbitrate their disputes individually, and to waive the right to resolve those disputes through joint legal proceedings instead. Although it likely won’t garner the attention that some of this term’s other cases will receive, the decision was a huge victory for employers, because it could significantly reduce the number of claims against them.Today’s opinion resolved three cases that were argued together on the first day of the term: Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, Ernst & Young LLP v. Morris and National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil USA. Each arose when an employee who had signed an employment agreement that contained an arbitration provision filed a lawsuit in federal court, seeking to bring both individual and collective claims. The employers argued that, under the terms of the arbitration agreements, the employees needed to go to individual arbitrations, and today the Supreme Court agreed.The ruling was perhaps the highest-profile opinion to date for the court’s newest justice, Neil Gorsuch. In an opinion that was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, Gorsuch began by observing that the idea of a conflict between the FAA and the NLRA is relatively recent. Although the laws date back to the early 20th century, respectively, he noted, it was only in 2012 that the NLRB – “for the first time in the 77 years since the NLRA’s adoption” – indicated that “the NLRA effectively nullifies the” FAA in cases like this one. That delay, Gorsuch’s majority opinion seemed to suggest, casts some doubt on the legitimacy of the NLRB’s interpretation.

Stephanie Kelton Has The Biggest Idea In Washington -- For most of her career, Stephanie Kelton was accustomed to being ridiculed. Conservatives have accused her of worshipping a “magic money tree,” and Paul Krugman dismissed her ideas in a 2011 New York Times column as a naive blueprint for hyperinflation that carried “a sort of eerie resemblance to John Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged” ― a ruthless insult among her left-leaning friends. Kelton’s core idea ― that the government can’t run out of money or go bankrupt, no matter how much it spends ― hasn’t really changed since the days when Buiter and Krugman were trashing her thinking. But it seems the world has. Today she is a full-fledged member of the American power elite, juggling television bookings with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and Bloomberg TV’s Joe Weisenthal, writing op-eds for The New York Times and being quoted in The Wall Street Journal.   Everybody wants a piece of Kelton these days because a simple, radical idea she has been workshopping her entire career is the next big thing in Democratic Party politics. She calls it the job guarantee ― a federal program offering a decent job to every American who wants to work, in every county in the country, at any phase of the business cycle. It’s a practical expression of her monetary thinking. To her, governments aren’t directly constrained by how much programs cost. The serious concern is inflation, and a job guarantee would revolutionize the way the United States manages the value of the dollar, forcing the Federal Reserve to stop creating unemployment when it wants to keep prices down.  Politicians like the job guarantee for a simpler reason: Everybody gets a decent job. The idea is getting traction in the Senate. Bernie Sanders’ office is writing a bill that would create  such a program, with help from Elizabeth Warren’s office and support from Kirsten Gillibrand. Even supercentrist Cory Booker has signed off on a pilot version. The Center for American Progress, a leading Democratic think tank, is subtly trying to take credit for the concept (while watering it down).

Like everything else, Congress is underfunding the Social Security Administration | TheHill: Americans contact the Social Security Administration at the most vulnerable points in their lives — upon the death of a loved one, retirement, or when facing a life-changing disability. The last thing they need is a hassle in securing benefits. After all, they paid for those benefits during their working years through Social Security payroll taxes. But thanks to draconian budget cuts to the Social Security Administration (SSA), too many applicants face long hold times and busy signals— or deadly-long waits for disability hearings. Literally thousands of disabled Americans die every year waiting for adjudication of claims. Meanwhile, some 10,000 Baby Boomers become eligible for Social Security retirement benefits every day. You don’t have to be an actuary to figure out: When workloads increase and funding is cut, service suffers. I was on Capitol Hill this past Thursday along with other advocates and U.S. Senators, demanding that Congress restore adequate funding for the Social Security Administration. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said that underfunding the SSA does a disservice to millions of disabled Americans, retirees, and children whose families depend on Social Security survivor benefits. “The government cannot be a good steward of Social Security without adequate support in the budget,” she insisted. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) says Congress is “making a very bad situation even worse” by considering cuts to the SSA operating budget. “This is not cost-saving,” he warned, “It’s an effort to destroy Social Security.” Sanders castigated lawmakers for allowing disabled Americans to languish while awaiting Social Security hearings. “You wait and wait and wait, and then you die,” he said. Thanks to a bad budget deal, the agency’s operating funding has suffered an 11 percent cut (adjusted for inflation) since 2010. The effects of those cuts have been starkly visible for Social Security claimants:

    1.The average wait time on Social Security’s toll-free phone line was 18 minutes (up from 3 minutes in 2010).
    2.Since 2010, SSA has closed more than 60 field offices and 500 mobile offices due to budget cuts. Some 16,000 claimants waited more than an hour for in-person service in August, 2017.
    3.SSA has severely cut back on the number of Social Security Statements mailed out to current and future beneficiaries, from 153 million in 2010 to ten million in 2017. Today, only workers over age 60 who do not have an online My Social Security account receive statements in the mail.
    4.The average national wait time for a Social Security disability insurance hearing is the highest ever. In August, 2017, claimants waited an average 627 days for the opportunity to appeal their cases to an administrative law judge. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that 10,000 disabled Americans died waiting for a hearing in fiscal 2017.

Trump’s Gag Rule Would Pressure Medical Providers to Withhold Information on Abortion and Birth Control -- The Trump administration launched its latest attack on women’s rights this week, introducing a so-called domestic gag rule for providers that receive Title X family planning funding. The rule would encourage providers to withhold potentially life-saving medical information from their patients and bar them from referring patients to an abortion provider. It also seeks to cut the single largest provider of Title X services, Planned Parenthood, from participating in the program altogether.“This is one of the largest-scale and most dangerous attacks we’ve seen on women’s rights and reproductive health care in this country,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “This policy is straight out of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ — yet it’s taking effect in America in 2018.”For years, conservative foes of legal abortion have been determined to bar Planned Parenthood from receiving any federal funding based on the fact that some of its clinics provide abortion care. So far, they’ve had little success. Courts have blocked attempts to cut the group off from reimbursement for care provided to Medicaid patients, and the rules that govern Title X funds — the only pot of federal money dedicated to family planning services — have long allowed participation by all qualified providers. No Title X money funds abortion services; no federal funds support abortion except in exceedingly rare circumstances.The new rule is specifically designed to disqualify Planned Parenthood from Title X participation, which would have immediate, serious, and likely long-lasting implications. Title X received nearly $300 million in funding in 2017. The safety net program serves roughly 4 million low-income patients — a majority of them people of color — providing access to basic health and cancer screenings, birth control, and sexually transmitted disease testing and treatments.

Scott Pruitt Twice Introduced Anti-Abortion Bills Giving Men ‘Property Rights’ Over Fetuses-- In 1999, Scott Pruitt, then an Oklahoma state senator, introduced a bill to grant men “property rights” over unborn fetuses, requiring women to obtain the would-be father’s permission before aborting a pregnancy.Pruitt, now the embattled administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, submitted the legislation again in 2005. The bill, which did not pass either time, faded from Pruitt’s political legacy. But the legislation merits new examination as the EPA chief faces down an avalanche of corruption accusations. As HuffPost previously reported, Pruitt’s support from right-wing evangelical Christians, a group that largely opposes abortion, has helped him keep his job amid calls from droves of Democrats and a handful of Republicans to fire the administrator.And while his current role atop the EPA does not give him any official control over abortion policy, he has appeared alongside President Donald Trump in meetings with evangelical leaders, and his draconian history on the issue is of a piece with the administration. In one of Trump’s first acts after taking office, he reinstated and expanded the Reagan-era “global gag rule,” withholding federal funding from charities and aid organizations that counsel women on family planning options that include abortion. Last week, the White House proposed a new “domestic gag rule” that would strip Planned Parenthood of funding.“It’s not surprising that another member of Trump’s inner circle is hostile to women,” said Dawn Huckelbridge, a senior director at the progressive super PAC American Bridge, which opposes Pruitt and supports abortion rights. “But framing a fetus as a man’s property is a new low.”

 And Now, For His Grand Finale, Paul Ryan Is Trying to Kick at Least a Million People Off of Food Stamps - Paul Ryan has had three overarching goals during his political career: to cut taxes on the wealthy, to cut government spending on the poor and old, and to make the needy work if they want government help. Last year, the House Speaker finally checked the taxesbit off his Congressional bucket list. But his dreams of clipping the safety net have proven more elusive. The Obamacare repeal bill Ryan jammed through his chamber would have made the historic reductions to Medicaid that Republicans have been chasing for decades. But that effort died with a thumbs down from John McCain.  At the end of 2017, Ryan made it clear he wanted Republicans to make one last effort at “welfare reform” before the midterms potentially swept them out of power. The point was not to save money, he insisted, but to do “workforce development.” This was his dry, bureaucratic euphemism for making more adults work in order to qualify for federal aid like food stamps. Some Republicans were skeptical of this “workforce development” plan—perhaps because literally taking lunch money from the poor seemed like a dubious election year strategy—but the White House said it was on board.  Now, Ryan, who is set to retire at the end of this year, is finally taking his shot. Congress is currently in the process of reauthorizing the farm bill, which per longstanding Washington tradition includes spending on both agricultural subsidies and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—aka food stamps— in order to attract support from all sides of the aisle. (Democrats get to help the poor; Republicans get to help farmers.)   The bill that House Republicans have written makes good on his welfare reform talk by attaching much stricter work requirements to the food stamp program. And President Trump is reportedly threatening to veto any bill that doesn’t include the reforms.

Making Excuses for Russiagate - The best evidence that Russia-gate is sinking beneath the waves is the way those pushing the pseudo-scandal are now busily covering their tracks.  The Guardian complains that “as the inquiry has expanded and dominated the news agenda over the last year, the real issues of people’s lives are in danger of being drowned out by obsessive cable television coverage of the Russia investigation” – as if The Guardian’s own coverage hasn’t been every bit as obsessive as anything CNN has come up with. The Washington Post, second to none when it comes to painting Putin as a real-life Lord Voldemort, now says that Special counsel Robert Mueller “faces a particular challenge maintaining the confidence of the citizenry” as his investigation enters its second year – although it’s sticking to its guns that the problem is not the inquiry itself, but “the regular attacks he faces from President Trump, who has decried the probe as a ‘witch hunt.’” And then there’s The New York Times, which this week devoted a 3,600-word front-page article to explain why the FBI had no choice but to launch an investigation into Trump’s alleged Russian links and how, if anything, the inquiry wasn’t aggressive enough.  As the article puts it, “Interviews with a dozen current and former government officials and a review of documents show that the FBI was even more circumspect in that case than has been previously known.” The result is a late-breaking media chorus to the effect that it’s not the fault of the FBI that the investigation has dragged on with so little to show for it; it’s not the fault of Mueller either, and, most of all, it’s not the fault of the corporate press, even though it’s done little over the last two years than scream about Russia.  It’s not anyone’s fault, evidently, but simply how the system works. This is nonsense, and the gaping holes in the Times article show why.

How The FBI And CIA Restarted The Cold War To Protect Themselves - On December 29, 2016, the Obama Administration – with three weeks remaining in its term – issued harsh sanctions against Russia over supposed election interference.  Two compounds in the United States were closed and 35 Russian diplomats were ordered to leave the country.  In the two years that have elapsed since, it has been learned that the “intelligence” that formed the basis for the sanctions was beyond dubious.   A single unverified “dossier” compiled by an ex-British spy with no discernable connections to Russia was shopped to FISA judges and the media as something real.The dossier was opposition research by the Hillary Clinton campaign, a fact that was not disclosed and actively hidden by off-the-book transactions through the law firm Perkins Coie.As a dog that chases its tail, the fake dossier was being used to cause the investigation which itself lent credibility to the notion of Russian interference.The FBI and CIA thumbed the eye of an armed nuclear state based on false intelligence.  Why?  The answer is now obvious: to cover up their own election year shenanigans they thought would remain forever hidden in the inevitable Hillary Clinton victory. Russian collusion had first come to the electorate’s attention in July.  The DNC had lost a cache of its emails either to a phishing scheme or to a hacker.  The emails showed the Clinton campaign and the DNC conspiring to fix primaries against Bernie Sanders. The outcry among Sanders supporters was sufficiently loud that DNC chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned on the eve of the democratic convention.    It was a huge scandal.  To squelch it for their expected future boss Hillary Clinton, the FBI and CIA constructed a Rube Goldberg machine of “Russian collusion” to blame Trump.

Donald Trump, Jr. held Trump Tower meeting with emissary for Arab princes seeking to swing US election - Donald Trump Jr. held a meeting at Trump Tower in August 2016 with an emissary for two wealthy Arab princes, who offered to help his father win the US presidential election, The New York Times reported on Saturday. The newspaper wrote that the two crown princes were from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Playing a role in setting up the encounter was businessman George Nader, who The Times said acted as an “emissary” between the parties. Nader, a Lebanese American is said to have close ties to the Emirates. Another meeting participant, Joel Zamel, a social media specialist, drew up a  “multi-million dollar proposal for a social media manipulation effort to help elect Mr. Trump,” The Times reported. In yet another Trump Tower meeting, Junior and other campaign aides met with Gulf emissary offering help to win election. — Jim Roberts (@nycjim) May 19, 2018   The meeting reportedly was arranged by Erik Prince, the former head of the Blackwater security company and brother to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Prince, a well-heeled Republican donor, also attended the meeting. When the idea of the gathering was floated, Donald Trump, Jr. eagerly agreed, according to The Times, which said ties between the participants continued “past the election and well into President Trump’s first year in office.” The Times wrote: “After Mr. Trump was elected, Mr. Nader paid Mr. Zamel a large sum of money, described by one associate as up to $2 million. There are conflicting accounts of the reason for the payment, but among other things, a company linked to Mr. Zamel provided Mr. Nader with an elaborate presentation about the significance of social media campaigning to Mr. Trump’s victory.” The meetings, which have not been reported previously, are the first indication that countries other than Russia may have offered assistance to the Trump campaign in the months before the presidential election.

Report Suggests Blackwater Founder Erik Prince May Have Lied to Congress - Blackwater founder Erik Prince appears to have a problem. The New York Times reported Saturday that Prince, the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, arranged and attended an August 3, 2016 Trump Tower meeting where George Nader, an adviser to the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, told Donald Trump Jr. that UAE and Saudi Arabia were eager to help his father win the election.Prince told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, under oath, that he had no formal communication or contact with the Trump campaign.That doesn’t reflect well on Prince, because on November 30, 2017, he told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, under oath, that he had no formal communication or contact with the Trump campaign, other than occasionally sending “papers” on foreign policy matters to Steve Bannon, who became head of the Trump campaign in August. “So there was no formal communication or contact with the campaign?” Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) asked Prince during his interview by the Intelligence Committee.“Correct,” Prince responded. The contradiction between the Times’ report and Prince’s testimony was flagged Saturday by Just Security: (embedded)

Crooked Trump? -- The investigation of Michael Cohen, a lawyer and sometime fixer for Donald Trump, marks the start of a new phase in the unraveling of Trump’s presidency. Until now, the only Justice Department investigation of Trump has been conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller’s appointment letter authorizes him to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election and crimes arising from it. Any wrongdoing that is not connected to this interference arguably falls outside Mueller’s scope. In contrast, the Cohen investigation is taking place not under Mueller, but under the authority of the US attorney for the Southern District of New York. The Southern District is not restricted by any appointment letter, and its career attorneys have a mandate to uncover any criminal activity within their jurisdiction, whenever it may have occurred and for whatever purpose. In the Cohen investigation, the FBI and federal prosecutors are seeking to break the confidentiality of Cohen and Trump’s attorney–client relationship. To do this, they must either show that Cohen was not genuinely acting as Trump’s attorney or that the two men’s communications were made with the intention of committing or covering up a crime or fraud. The fact that the Southern District prosecutors have already convinced a judge to issue a search warrant on one or both of these bases means they are likely to get access to much material that would otherwise have been unavailable because of attorney–client privilege.

Mnuchin says Cohen bank report release appears unauthorized - Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that banking records of President Donald Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen appear to have been leaked from a database maintained by his department. “Our inspector general is reviewing the issue of leaks. There is the appearance that some of the information may have gone out," Mnuchin told the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. "There is no excuse whatsoever for anybody who has access to these important systems to release information on an unauthorized basis. The New Yorker reported last week that a law enforcement official provided Suspicious Activity Reports on Cohen's accounts from Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network to several media organizations.Details of those transactions were also released by Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for the porn actress Stormy Daniels, who claims to have had an affair with Trump in 2006 and is in litigation with Cohen. The New Yorker said the official was alarmed that some records of Cohen's transactions didn't appear in a FinCEN database and he feared they were being withheld from law enforcement agencies.Avenatti published a dossier saying that a company Cohen controlled had received large payments in 2017 from a private equity firm with ties to the Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg and from corporate clients including Novartis and AT&T.The two companies confirmed the payments to Cohen and said they had employed the lawyer in mistaken efforts to learn more about Trump as he took office. Executives involved with Cohen at both companies departed after the payments were made public.Mnuchin said that "I personally have not been involved" with the matter. SARs reports, he said, can be suppressed "at the request of law enforcement agencies," but he didn't say whether that had been done in Cohen's case. The inspector general's office confirmed earlier this month that it was investigating "possible improper dissemination of Bank Secrecy Act information," according to a statement from Rich Delmar, a spokesman for the office.

Cohen Business Partner Reportedly Flips, Cooperates With Feds "To Avoid Jail Time" - In the latest sign that the FBI is closing in on former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen, one of the Brooklyn lawyer's business partners has reportedly agreed to cooperate with the Federal government to avoid jail time.Evgeny Freidman, who was disbarred earlier this month, had been Cohen's business partner for years, helping him manage an expansive taxi empire until he was banned by New York City regulators last year after he failed to pay more than $5 million in taxes.Freidman instead pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion t his week.Instead, he appeared in court in Albany on Tuesday and pleaded guilty to a single count of evading only $50,000 worth of taxes; he faces five years of probation if he fulfills the terms of his agreement, the judge, Patrick Lynch of Albany County court, said during the roughly 20-minute proceeding.“Do you understand the nature of the benefit your attorneys have accomplished on your behalf?” the judge asked Mr. Freidman during the proceeding on Tuesday."I greatly understand that and appreciate it," Mr. Freidman replied.After Mr. Freidman’s guilty plea, his lawyer, Patrick J. Egan of Fox Rothschild, declined to comment. But earlier this year, he said his client "considers Michael a very good friend and a great client."Freidman had been facing four counts of criminal tax fraud and one of grand larceny - all class B felonies that carried maximum prison sentences of up to 25 years in prison. Freidman will avoid jail time if he cooperates with state and federal prosecutors in their investigation of Cohen.

Trump Lawyer Received $400,000 "Secret Payment" To Arrange Meeting Between Ukraine President And Trump - The BBC claimed on Wednesday that President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, was paid $400,000 by Ukraine to arrange a meeting between Trump and Ukraine's billionaire oligarch President, Petro Poroshenko, an allegation Cohen and the Ukraine presidency denies. The payment was arranged by intermediaries acting for Ukraine's leader, Petro Poroshenko, the sources said, though Mr Cohen was not registered as a representative of Ukraine as required by US law. –BBC   The alleged payment occurred in advance of a White House meeting last June between Trump and Poroshenko, while the BBC notes that Ukraine's anti-corruption agency halted an investigation into Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort "shortly after" the meeting. A high-ranking Ukrainian intelligence officer in Mr Poroshenko's administration described what happened before the visit to the White House.Mr Cohen was brought in, he said, because Ukraine's registered lobbyists and embassy in Washington DC could get Mr Poroshenko little more than a brief photo-op with Mr Trump. Mr Poroshenko needed something that could be portrayed as "talks". –BBC  The report states that there is no indication that Trump knew about the alleged payment, while buried towards the end of the article the BBC admits: "None of our sources say that Mr Trump used the Oval Office meeting to ask Mr Poroshenko to kill the Manafort investigation." According to the senior official, Poroshenko tasked a former aide with establishing a backchannel - which occurred through a "loyal Ukrainian MP."  The MP then allegedly used his contacts within a Jewish charity in New York state, Chabad of Port Washington, which eventually led to Micahel Cohen. A second source in Kiev told the BBC a similar story, except that Cohen's payment for arranging the meeting was $600,000. Meanwhile, Stormy Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti - whose law firm was just ordered to pay $10 million to a former partner over a legal feud, said that Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) filed by Cohen's bank with the U.S. Treasury show that he received money from "Ukrainian interests."

Mueller Hopes Obstruction Inquiry Into Trump May Wrap Up by Sept. 1, Giuliani Says— The special counsel hopes to finish by Sept. 1 the investigation into whether President Trump obstructed the Russia inquiry, according to the president’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, who said on Sunday that waiting any longer would risk improperly influencing voters in November’s midterm elections.Mr. Giuliani said that the office of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, shared its timeline about two weeks ago amid negotiations over whether Mr. Trump will be questioned by investigators, adding that Mr. Mueller’s office said that the date was contingent on Mr. Trump’s sitting for an interview. A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment.Wrapping up the obstruction case would not signal the end of Mr. Mueller’s work. That is one piece of his broader inquiry, a counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and whether Trump associates coordinated with it. Counterintelligence investigations are used to gather information quietly about the activities of foreign powers and their agents — sometimes for years — and can result in criminal charges.Mr. Giuliani sought to frame the outcome of the obstruction investigation as pitting the credibility of one man against another: Mr. Trump vs. James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, whom the president asked to end the investigation into his first national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. The president’s request is one of the main episodes Mr. Mueller is examining to determine whether Mr. Trump had criminal intent to obstruct the Russia investigation.“We want the concentration of this to be on Comey versus the president’s credibility, and I think we win that and people get that,” Mr. Giuliani said, adding that he also hoped that the Justice Department would open a criminal investigation into Mr. Comey for perjury and his role in the disclosures to The New York Times last year about his encounters with the president that prompted Mr. Mueller’s appointment. Mr. Giuliani said Mr. Comey had damaged his credibility during his recent book tour and was an unreliable witness. Mr. Trump’s lawyers have long said that Mr. Comey’s accounts of their interactions, described in contemporaneous memos and congressional testimony, cannot be trusted. Mr. Comey declined to comment.

Justice Delayed Is Justice: Mueller Fights To Delay Russian Collusion Trial - The defense almost always benefits from the passage of time and it is the prosecution that often pushes for earlier trial debates to deny the defense enough time to absorb and address evidence. That is not the case with Special Counsel Robert Mueller who has asked federal Judge Dabney L. Friedrich to deny a speedy trial motion and delay any trial of 13 Russians and three Russian companies for efforts to influence the 2016 election. The effort reflects problems in Mueller’s matinee case, including the allegation that he has charged a company that did not exist at the time of the alleged offenses.Mueller previously tried to delay the trial despite the demand of Concord Management and Consulting for a speedy trial within 70 days of the indictment.  That is a right that protects the defendant and is meant to be honored by the court under The Speedy Trial Act absent a waiver or exceptional circumstances.  Often defendants waive the time period as a matter of course to allow more time to develop a case.  Here it is the prosecution that appears desperate for more time.One of the Russian companies — Concord Management and Consulting — entered the U.S., hired American lawyers, and demanded a speedy trial. The Speedy Trial Act is a 44-year old federal law that dictates that a federal criminal case must begin within 70 days from the date of the indictment.Mueller continuance motion — available here — cited the complexity of the case and the voluminous record as the basis for the delay.  He argues that “This case . . .  warrants a continuance and exclusion of time to accommodate the voluminous discovery at issue and to allow sufficient time for the Court to resolve certain outstanding procedural issues unique to discovery in this case.”  Mueller notes that the court has the authority to delay the trial “if ‘the ends of justice served by taking such action outweigh the best interest of the public and the defendant in a speedy trial.’”

Judge questions ex-Trump campaign chief's bid to suppress evidence (Reuters) - A federal judge expressed skepticism on Wednesday toward a request by lawyers for President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort to suppress evidence seized by FBI agents working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The hearing before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson gave Manafort another opportunity to hinder the criminal case against him. Jackson last week refused to dismiss the charges, which include conspiring to launder money, conspiring to defraud the United States and failing to register as a foreign agent. Two indictments against Manafort, this one in Washington and another in Virginia, arose from Mueller’s ongoing investigation into potential collusion between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia, a probe that could threaten his presidency. He is the most senior member of Trump’s campaign to be indicted, though the charges do not relate to campaign activities. Trump has denied collusion with Russia and called Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt.” Manafort, trying to deprive prosecutors of what could be pivotal evidence in his Washington trial scheduled for September, is asserting that his rights against unreasonable searches and seizures under the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment were violated in the 2017 FBI raids. Manafort’s lawyers told the judge the FBI conducted an illegal warrantless search in May 2017 on a storage unit by getting one of Manafort’s low-level employees to unlock it and let an agent look inside. The agent later obtained a warrant to seize business records stored there. Defense lawyers said the employee was permitted only to go inside the unit “as directed by Manafort” in the course of his employment, and could not give lawful consent for the search. Jackson seemed highly dubious about that claim. “The lease says on its face he’s the occupant,” the judge said. “He’s named as the occupant and he has a key.”

Jared Kushner Gets Security Clearance, Ending Swirl of Questions Over Delay - NYT — Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, has been granted his permanent security clearance, a person briefed on the matter said on Wednesday, ending a period of uncertainty that had fueled questions about whether Mr. Kushner was in peril in the special counsel investigation. Mr. Kushner is a senior presidential aide with a prominent role in Middle East diplomacy. But his F.B.I. background checks dragged on for a year and became one of many political distractions for the White House. Even some inside the administration suspected that Mr. Kushner’s delay reflected legal problems on the horizon.    White House officials were adamant that the lengthy process was not unusual for a government official who has a complicated financial history and many foreign contacts. But with the special counsel investigating some of Mr. Kushner’s meetings with Russian officials, it left open the question of whether investigators had uncovered evidence that made him a security threat. The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is investigating whether anyone around Mr. Trump conspired with the Russian government to help influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Mr. Kushner’s meetings with the Russian ambassador, a Kremlin-connected lawyer and a prominent Russian banker have all attracted scrutiny. The resolution of his clearances does not guarantee that Mr. Kushner faces no legal jeopardy. But Mark S. Zaid, a veteran Washington lawyer who handles security clearances, said it was highly unlikely that the special counsel would uncover evidence of improper foreign entanglements and not flag it for security officials.

Long-time CIA asset named as FBI’s spy on Trump campaign - The naming of Stefan Halper as the individual sent by the FBI to spy on the Trump campaign during the 2016 election campaign has further inflamed the political warfare raging within the US state apparatus and political establishment. Halper is a long-time CIA asset with deep ties to US and British intelligence.Published reports that the FBI had used a confidential informant to gather information on the Trump campaign led US President Donald Trump to announce via Twitter on Sunday, “I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes, and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!”Repeating his denunciation of the year-old probe by Robert Mueller, the special counsel who is investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign, as a “witch hunt,” Trump declared last week that the report of FBI spying on his campaign was a political scandal “bigger than Watergate.”A few hours after Trump’s latest tweet, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein issued a statement saying that the Department of Justice had referred the matter to its inspector general, who is already reviewing applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Rosenstein said the inspector general would determine “whether there was any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation of persons suspected of involvement with the Russian agents who interfered in the 2016 presidential election.”The identification of Halper—who was implicated as the leading figure in a conspiracy by intelligence agents to subvert then-President Jimmy Carter’s re-election campaign in 1980—as the covert FBI spy has been the subject of a heated debate in Washington and the media. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post, the two papers of record for the US political establishment, have studiously observed the demands of the FBI to conceal Halper’s identity.

 Doxxed FBI Trump Spy Also Spied On Carter Admin Under Reagan - Doxxed FBI Trump spy Stefan A. Halper also spied on the Jimmy Carter Administration while he was working as a Ronald Reagan Campaign aide, according to an archived 1983 report out of the New York Times. The report, titled Reagan aides describe operation to gather inside data on Carterexplains:An operation to collect inside information on Carter Administration foreign policy was run in Ronald Reagan’s campaign headquarters in the 1980 Presidential campaign, according to present and former Reagan Administration officials.Those sources said they did not know exactly what information the operation produced or whether it was anything beyond the usual grab bag of rumors and published news reports. But they said it involved a number of retired Central Intelligence Agency officials and was highly secretive.The sources identified Stefan A. Halper, a campaign aide involved in providing 24-hour news updates and policy ideas to the traveling Reagan party, as the person in charge. Mr. Halper, until recently deputy director of the State Department’s Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs and now chairman of the Palmer National Bank in Washington, was out of town today and could not be reached. But Ray S. Cline, his father-in-law, a former senior Central Intelligence official, rejected the account as a ”romantic fallacy.” Here is the actual article out of the newspaper.

The FBI Informant Who Monitored the Trump Campaign, Stefan Halper, Oversaw a CIA Spying Operation in the 1980 Presidential Election - Glenn Greenwald.  An extremely strange episode that has engulfed official Washington over the last two weeks came to a truly bizarre conclusion on Friday night. And it revolves around a long-time, highly sketchy CIA operative, Stefan Halper. Four decades ago, Halper was responsible for a long-forgotten spying scandal involving the 1980 election, in which the Reagan campaign – using CIA officials managed by Halper, reportedly under the direction of former CIA Director and then-Vice-Presidential candidate George H.W. Bush – got caught running a spying operation from inside the Carter administration. The plot involved CIA operatives passing classified information about Carter’s foreign policy to Reagan campaign officials in order to ensure the Reagan campaign knew of any foreign policy decisions that Carter was considering. Over the past several weeks, House Republicans have been claiming that the FBI during the 2016 election used an operative to spy on the Trump campaign, and they triggered outrage within the FBI by trying to learn his identity. The controversy escalated when President Trump joined the fray on Friday morning. “Reports are there was indeed at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president,” Trump tweeted, adding: “It took place very early on, and long before the phony Russia Hoax became a “hot” Fake News story. If true – all time biggest political scandal!” In response, the DOJ and the FBI’s various media spokespeople did not deny the core accusation, but quibbled with the language (the FBI used an “informant,” not a “spy”), and then began using increasingly strident language to warn that exposing his name would jeopardize his life and those of others, and also put American national security at grave risk. On May 8, the Washington Post described the informant as “a top-secret intelligence source” and cited DOJ officials as arguing that disclosure of his name “could risk lives by potentially exposing the source, a U.S. citizen who has provided intelligence to the CIA and FBI.”

Supreme Court Justice’s Wife Paid by Right-Wing Outlet that Outed FBI Informant Stefan Halper -  Pam Martens -  The name of a confidential FBI informant, Stefan A. Halper, was revealed by a right-wing news website known as the Daily Caller News Foundation on Saturday. Curiously, Virginia (Ginni) Thomas, wife of the sitting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, has been collecting an undisclosed amount of compensation from the same nonprofit and its anonymous right-wing donors for years. Trump’s narrative and that of the Daily Caller is to suggest that Halper was a “spy” inserted into the campaign by the Obama administration. Today’s Washington Post, however, characterizes Halper as “a well-connected veteran of past GOP administrations” who simply “assisted the Russian investigation.” Clarence Thomas and his wife have previously come under scrutiny for ties to billionaire Charles Koch. Justice Thomas had secretly dined with Charles Koch and his wife, Elizabeth, at their private club in Indian Wells, California in 2008. The trip came in the same year that the Supreme Court agreed to hear the Citizens United case, which opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate money in political campaigns. Charles Koch and his brother, David, are majority owners of Koch Industries, one of the largest private corporations in the world. As such, they had a keen interest in seeing that the Citizens United case was decided in favor of unlimited corporate spending. While the Citizens United case was pending before the Supreme Court, people tied to Charles Koch helped Ginni Thomas set up a nonprofit front group called Liberty Central which was operated out of a post office box in Virginia. Ginni Thomas was paid at least $120,000 by Liberty Central which eventually morphed into Liberty Consulting, which continues to pay Ms. Thomas $15,000 to $50,000 per year according to the financial disclosure forms filed by her husband. Those same financial disclosure forms, however, do not put a dollar amount on the compensation that Ms. Thomas is receiving from the Daily Caller News Foundation where she promotes a climate-science denying,  pro-Trump, pro-Scott Pruitt agenda.

Trump demands DOJ look into whether FBI ‘infiltrated or surveilled’ his campaign  --President Donald Trump on Sunday vowed to formally request that the Justice Department look into whether the FBI "infiltrated or surveilled" his campaign for political reasons, as he embarked on a Twitter tirade that also included slamming a report that his oldest son in 2016 sought favor with foreign countries besides Russia."I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes — and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!," the president wrote on Twitter.Trump was responding to reports that an FBI informant had talked to campaign advisers who investigators believed had suspicious contacts with Russia-linked people. Trump said Saturday after the reports emerged that it would be "a really big deal" if the FBI was "infiltrating" his team.A spokeswoman for the Justice Department said Sunday evening that the DOJ has asked the department's inspector general to expand its ongoing probe to include whether there was any "impropriety or political motivation" in the way the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation that became special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. The inspector general, who declined to comment, is investigating how the FBI obtained permission to conduct surveillance of former Trump adviser Carter Page, one of the people said to have been approached by the informant in 2016.

DoJ Confirms Inspector General Will Probe "Impropriety, Political Motivation" Of Obama FBI Spying On Trump - Just a few hours after President Trump "hereby demanded" that the DoJ investigate whether or not the "FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump campaign for Political Purposes," Axios' Jonathan Swan reports that Justice has confirmed a probe has begun. DoJ's Sarah Isgur Flores:"The Department has asked the Inspector General to expand the ongoing review of the FISA application process to include determining whether there was any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation of persons suspected of involvement with the Russian agents who interfered in the 2016 presidential election. As always, the Inspector General will consult with the appropriate U.S. Attorney if there is any evidence of potential criminal conduct."The Deputy Attorney General issued the following statement:“If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action.”The liberal media is in full panic, meltdown mode, exclaiming that Trump has "interfered" with the investigation...There it is. He has finally crossed the red line and ordered up a DOJ investigation of his political opponents, as well as career law enforcement agents. Moment of truth for Rosenstein and Sessions and moment of danger for the country.— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) May 20, 2018 ..   And The New York Times..." ordering up a new inquiry, Mr. Trump went beyond his usual tactics of suggesting wrongdoing and political bias by those investigating him, and crossed over into applying overt presidential pressure on the Justice Department to do his bidding, an extraordinary realm where past presidents have hesitated to tread... Legal experts said such a presidential intervention had little precedent, and could force a clash between the sitting president and his Justice Department that is reminiscent of the one surrounding Richard M. Nixon during Watergate, when a string of top officials resigned rather than carry out Nixon’s order to fire a special prosecutor investigating him."

    "The Stakes Here Go Beyond Trump's Future" WSJ Editors Demand Truth About FBI Spying - Amid all the liberal media's meltdown over President Trump's "interference" in the 'investigation' by "hereby demanding" that potential crimes by Obama's FBI be investigated - and The Deep State's insistence that any exposure of the already-leaked name of the Trump campaign spy would damage national security - The Wall Street Journal refuses to back off its intense pressure to get to the truth.President Trump dropped a three-tweet quote this morning...“John Brennan is panicking. He has disgraced himself, he has disgraced the Country, he has disgraced the entire Intelligence Community. He is the one man who is largely responsible for the destruction of American’s faith in the Intelligence Community and in some people at of the FBI. Brennan started this entire debacle about President Trump. We now know that Brennan had detailed knowledge of the (phony) Dossier...he knows about the Dossier, he denies knowledge of the Dossier, he briefs the Gang of 8 on the Hill about the Dossier, which......they then used to start an investigation about Trump. It is that simple. This guy is the genesis of this whole Debacle. This was a Political hit job, this was not an Intelligence Investigation. Brennan has disgraced himself, he’s worried about staying out of Jail.”- Dan Bongino   And WSJ appears to be doing just that - trying to get to the root of all this evil, which has time and again led to Brennan.

      Trump To Meet With Rosenstein, Wray To Discuss FBI Spy-Op On Campaign - President Trump will meet with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, FBI Director Chris Wray and the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats on Monday, where they will discuss the latest developments in the bombshell report that the Obama administration used a longtime FBI and CIA asset, identified as 73-year-old Cambridge professor Stefan Halper, to infiltrate and spy on his campaign. Halper was outed as the FBI's "informant" last Friday following weeks of speculation, after the New York Times and Washington Post published easily identifiable information about the U.S. citizen and Cambridge professor. Their reports matched a March 25 article by the Daily Caller detailing Halper's outreach to several low-level aides to the Trump campaign, including Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, and a cup of coffee with campaign co-chair Sam Clovis.  These contacts are notable, as Halper's infiltration of the Trump campaign corresponds with the two of the four targets of the FBI's Operation Crossfire Hurricane - in which the agency sent counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok and others to a London meeting in the Summer of 2016 with former Australian diplomat Alexander Downer - who says Papadopoulos drunkenly admitted to knowing that the Russians had Hillary Clinton's emails. As we detailed earlier Monday, Halper - who once reportedly ran a spy-operation on the Jimmy Carter administration, received a total of $1,058,161 from the Department of Defense for four annual contracts signed under the Obama administration, and paid through the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment (ONA).

        Sally Yates: Trump Has Taken "Shocking" Assault On Rule Of Law "To A New Level" - Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates defiantly proclaimed that President Trump has taken his "assault on the rule of law to a new level" after he demanded that the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigate allegations of severe misconduct and potential espionage during his 2016 presidential campaign. In a Sunday tweet, Trump said "I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes - and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!"  I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes - and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2018Yates, who was fired last year by Trump after she refused to back his controversial "travel ban" which would have temporarily restricted travel into the United States from seven countries with ties to terrorism. The former Deputy AG warned that Trump's demand to investigate the DOJ "crossed a line." “I think what we’re seeing here is the president has taken his all-out assault of the rule of law to a new level and this time he is ordering up an investigation of the investigators who are examining his own campaign. You know, that’s really shocking,” Yates said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." “I know it was just a tweet but he did say something to the effect of, if I recall correctly, ‘I hereby order.’ And we saw the Justice Department respond to that," added Yates. “I think [Deputy Attorney General] Rod Rosenstein is trying to strike a balance here between defusing the situation and also protecting the rule of law and the institutional integrity of the department.”

        White House meeting on probe of Trump campaign informant -- President Trump met Monday afternoon with three top Justice Department and intelligence officials to press his demand that the Department of Justice investigate the use of an FBI informant inside the Trump campaign during the 2016 election. FBI Director Christopher Wray, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats all attended the hour-long meeting and were seen leaving the White House at about 4 p.m.While no details of the discussion have been made public, Trump tweeted Sunday that on Monday he would officially demand that the Justice Department review the propriety of alleged FBI infiltration of the 2016 Republican presidential campaign, including whether it was ordered by the Obama White House in order to assist the Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.Rosenstein issued a statement Sunday afternoon promising to follow Trump’s request and referring it to the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, who is already conducting a series of investigations into FBI and Justice Department actions during the 2016 campaign. His purview already includes the FBI investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state in the Obama administration, as well as the actions of FBI officials during the fall campaign, when there were frequent leaks to the media about investigations into both the Trump and Clinton campaigns.  The initial Rosenstein statement was widely described as an effort to fob off the Trump request by adding it to Horowitz’s lengthy list of tasks, thus ensuring that any action would be delayed for many months, presumably well past the November mid-term elections.

        By Demanding an Investigation, Trump Challenged a Constraint on His Power — When President Trump publicly demanded that the Justice Department open an investigation into the F.B.I.’s scrutiny of his campaign contacts with Russia, he inched further toward breaching an established constraint on executive power: The White House does not make decisions about individual law enforcement investigations.“It’s an incredible historical moment,” said Rebecca Roiphe, a professor at New York Law School who helped write a coming scholarly article on the limits of presidential control over the Justice Department. Mr. Trump’s move, she said, “is the culmination of a lot of moments in which he has chipped away at prosecutorial independence, but this is a direct assault.” Almost since he took office, Mr. Trump has battered the Justice Department’s independence indirectly — lamenting its failure to reopen a criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton that found no wrongdoing, and openly complaining that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia inquiry. But he had also acknowledged that as president, “I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department,” as he told a radio interviewer with frustration last fall. As part of that pattern, he has also denied the account by James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director he abruptly fired, that the president privately urged him to drop an investigation into Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser.  But Mr. Trump has also been flirting with going further, as he hinted late last year when he claimed in a New York Times interview that “I have an absolute right to do what I want to with the Justice Department.” And now, by unabashedly ordering the department to open a particular investigation, Mr. Trump has ratcheted up his willingness to impose direct political control over the work of law enforcement officials.

        The constitutional crisis is here - Stop waiting for the constitutional crisis that President Trump is sure to provoke. It’s here. On Sunday, via Twitter, Trump demanded that the Justice Department concoct a transparently political investigation, with the aim of smearing veteran professionals at Justice and the FBI and also throwing mud at the previous administration. Trump’s only rational goal is casting doubt on the probe by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, which appears to be closing in.Trump’s power play is a gross misuse of his presidential authority and a dangerous departure from long-standing norms. Strongmen such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin use their justice systems to punish enemies and deflect attention from their own crimes. Presidents of the United States do not — or did not, until Sunday’s tweet:“I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes — and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!” Rather than push back and defend the rule of law, Justice tried to mollify the president by at least appearing to give him what he wants. The Republican leadership in Congress has been silent as a mouse. This is how uncrossable lines are crossed.

        FBI Informant Stefan Halper Paid Over $1 Million By Obama Admin; Spied On Trump Aide After Election -- Less than a week after Stefan Halper was outed as the FBI informant who infiltrated the Trump campaign, public records reveal that the 73-year-old Oxford University professor and former U.S. government official was paid handsomely by the Obama administration starting in 2012 for various research projects.  A longtime CIA and FBI asset who once reportedly ran a spy-operation on the Jimmy Carter administration, Halper was enlisted by the FBI to spy on several Trump campaign aides during the 2016 U.S. election. Meanwhile, a search of public records reveals that between 2012 and 2018, Halper received a total of $1,058,161 from the Department of Defense. Halper's contracts were funded through four annual awards paid directly out of the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment (ONA). Established as the DoD's "internal think tank" in 1973 by Richard Nixon (whose administration Halper worked for), the ONA was run by foreign policy strategist Andrew Marshall from its inception until his 2015 retirement at the age of 93, after which he was succeeded by current director James H. Baker.

        John Brennan's Plot To Infiltrate The Trump Campaign Exposed - As Trump won primary after primary in 2016, a rattled John Brennan started claiming to colleagues at the CIA that Estonia’s intelligence agency had alerted him to an intercepted phone call suggesting Putin was pouring money into the Trump campaign. The tip was bogus, but Brennan bit on it with opportunistic relish. Out of Brennan’s alarmist chatter about the bogus tip came an extraordinary leak to the BBC:that Brennan had used it, along with later half-baked tips from British intelligence, as the justification to form a multi-agency spy operation (given the Orwellian designation of an “inter-agency taskforce”) on the Trump campaign, which he was running right out of CIA headquarters.  The CIA was furious about the leak, but never denied the BBC’s story. To Congress earlier this year, Brennan acknowledged the existence of the group, but cast his role in it as the mere conduit of tips about Trump-Russia collusion: “It was well beyond my mandate as director of CIA to follow on any of those leads that involved U.S. persons. But I made sure that anything that was involving U.S. persons, including anything involving the individuals involved in the Trump campaign, was shared with the bureau.” But if his role had truly been passive, the “inter-agency taskforce” wouldn’t have been meeting at CIA headquarters. By keeping its discussions at Langley, Brennan could keep his finger wedged in the pie. Both before and after the FBI’s official probe began in late July 2016, Brennan was bringing together into the same room at CIA headquarters a cast of Trump haters across the Obama administration whose activities he could direct - from Peter Strzok, the FBI liaison to Brennan, to the doltish Jim Clapper, Brennan’s errand boy, to an assortment of Brennan’s buddies at the Treasury Department, Justice Department, and White House. Someone in the group must have proposed blasting a swampy old CIA source and Hillary supporter, Stefan Halper, into the Trump campaign orbit to see if he could catch a couple of minor campaign volunteers out in collusion. That Halper came out of the brainstorming of Brennan’s group is clear from the fact that his first known meeting with Carter Page preceded the formal opening of the FBI’s probe. The Washington Post hinted at the role of Brennan’s group in hatching Halper:

        Greenwald: Intel Uses Media To Report Informant’s Life In Danger, Turns Out They Are Just Covering Themselves (video & transcript) Investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald on the influence the FBI has on the media, a spy in the Trump campaign and why intel agencies say it is dangerous to talk about these people as it would "jeopardize" their life but then tell us there is nothing going on. Greenwald said Stefan Halper, reportedly an informant for the FBI within Donald Trump's presidential campaign, is a good example of this because he was already well-known as an intel asset. Greenwald said we know now intel agencies were "painting a fairy tale" since we know who the informant is and he's unhurt. "We all now know who the informant is and we know that that was just a fairy tale, that he's not some covert undercover agent, but somebody who is a well-known CIA operative whose name has been repeatedly published in newspapers as a CIA operative and as a Republican operative for decades, and so the whole claim that the media was circulating on behalf of the FBI that this was some sensitive covert asset turned out to be a lie and The New York Times, The Washington Post knew that, which is why they did everything but name him by publishing all of the details to let us know who it is," Greenwald told Tucker Carlson on Monday night.  "You have people like Mark Warner and inside of the FBI and the Justice Department who don't want us to know the name of the informant, not because they're worried about national security, but because they are worried about themselves," Greenwald said.

        Trump Gloats: "Look How Things Turned Around On The Criminal Deep State" -- Continuing his gloating from late Tuesday evening, President Trump taunted the FBI in an early Wednesday tweet musing "how things have turned around on the Criminal Deep State." Trump remarks on the irony of the FBI "getting caught in a major SPY scandal the likes of which this country may never have seen before" after they went after "Phony Collusion with Russia," which he called "a made up Scam".Look how things have turned around on the Criminal Deep State. They go after Phony Collusion with Russia, a made up Scam, and end up getting caught in a major SPY scandal the likes of which this country may never have seen before! What goes around, comes around!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 23, 2018Since the New York Times and Washington Post on Friday confirmed speculation that the FBI did, in fact, have a mole inside the Trump campaign, the president has repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of the Mueller probe, stating that if there was any evidence of collusion, the FBI's mole would've discovered it during the campaign. Instead, the Mueller probe has dragged on for more than a year, with the intelligence community insisting they never deliberately spied on Trump. But in an embarrassing revelation, we now know that the bureau FBI enlisted Stefan Halper, a US citizen, political veteran and longtime US Intelligence asset, to befriend and spy on three members of the Trump campaign during the 2016 US election. In another reference to the spying revelations, Trump quoted Fox's Andrew Napolitano saying "it's clear that they had eyes and ears all over the Trump Campaign," before reiterating that "SPYGATE...could be one of the biggest political scandals in history."

        Comey Responds To Trump Attack: "Our Country Is Led By Those Who Will Lie About Anything" - Former FBI Director James Comey won't allow President Trump's gloating from this morning to go unanswered. In a tweet that appears to be a direct response to Trump, Comey attempted to justify the FBI's use of a spy - or what Comey describes as a "Confidential Human Source" - to keep tabs on the Trump campaign. According to Comey, human sources are "tightly regulated and essential to protecting the country". Of course, Comey argues that the FBI was totally justified in using a human asset to spy on the Trump campaign, as it would any other target (though he completely ignores the notion that, if the spy didn't find evidence of collusion, then what is Mueller investigating?). In an attempt to shame Trump's backers, Comey declared that "attacks on the FBI and lying about work will do lasting damage to our country.""How will Republicans explain this to their grandchildren?" he asked.Facts matter. The FBI’s use of Confidential Human Sources (the actual term) is tightly regulated and essential to protecting the country. Attacks on the FBI and lying about its work will do lasting damage to our country. How will Republicans explain this to their grandchildren?— James Comey (@Comey) May 23, 2018   Comey added that it was a "dangerous time when our country is led by those who will lie about anything, backed by those who will believe anything, based on information from media sources that will say anything."  He then urged Americans to "break out of that bubble and seek truth."

        Bowing to pressure, White House to host bipartisan briefing on Russia investigation | TheHill: The White House is planning a separate meeting for bipartisan House and Senate leaders to receive classified information related to the Russia investigation, responding to pressure over a decision to exclude Democrats from a highly anticipated Thursday briefing. The group, known as the Gang of Eight, will huddle with officials representing the Justice Department, law enforcement and intelligence on Thursday afternoon — two hours after the same group of officials will hold a solo meeting with Republican lawmakers. Thursday’s planned meeting with only House Republicans “will proceed as previously scheduled,” White House spokesman Raj Shah said — with no Democrats present. It is set for noon on Thursday, according to the Justice Department (DOJ). That meeting is expected to cover the use of a confidential informant in the early months of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign. In a new development revealed by the DOJ on Wednesday night, White House chief of staff John Kelly will attend both meetings. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had previously said that he would not attend, although he was brokering the original meeting. White House officials threw together Thursday's briefing for GOP lawmakers after Trump demanded the Justice Department investigate unsubstantiated allegations that the FBI "planted" a "spy" on his 2016 campaign. 

        DOJ Briefs Congress On FBI Informant  -- The GOP is now "getting the cooperation necessary" to satisfy their demands for classified materials from the Department of Justice (DOJ) concerning the early stages of the FBI's counterintelligence operation against the Trump campaign, according to House Speaker Paul Ryan.  According to -Bloomberg, lawmakers met with DOJ officials twice on Thursday, acquiescing to demands from President Trump following revelations that the FBI enlisted confidential informant Stefan Halper to infiltrate the Trump campaign as part of an espionage operation. Ryan spoke as Justice Department officials held two meetings with lawmakers on Thursday, succumbing to demands from President Donald Trump after revelations that the FBI had a confidential informant make contact with officials on Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016.House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes has subpoenaed the Justice Department and FBI for secret information about the informant. Critics, including top congressional Democrats, argue that Republicans want to use the information to undercut the Russia investigation, which is now being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. –Bloomberg    Following the second briefing, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the top-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee told reporters that there is "no evidence to support any allegation the FBI or any intelligence agency planted a spy in the Trump campaign."  Perhaps that's because nobody is claiming they did...Halper, who was paid handsomely by the Obama Department of Defense, infiltrated the campaign from the outside, gaining the trust of aides George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, then conning them into believing he was interested in legitimate business - including offering Papadopoulos $3,000 to travel to London and work on a foreign policy paper. President Trump has referred to the scandal as "SPYGATE" - tweeting several times about the FBI's informant, Halper, and how much he was paid by the previous administration.

        The Real Constitutional Crisis – WSJ - Democrats and their media allies are again shouting “constitutional crisis,” this time claiming President Trump has waded too far into the Russia investigation. The howls are a diversion from the actual crisis: the Justice Department’s unprecedented contempt for duly elected representatives, and the lasting harm it is doing to law enforcement and to the department’s relationship with Congress. The conceit of those claiming Mr. Trump has crossed some line in ordering the Justice Department to comply with oversight is that “investigators” are beyond question. We are meant to take them at their word that they did everything appropriately. Never mind that the revelations of warrants and spies and dirty dossiers and biased text messages already show otherwise. We are told that Mr. Trump cannot be allowed to have any say over the Justice Department’s actions, since this might make him privy to sensitive details about an investigation into himself. We are also told that Congress - a separate branch of government, a primary duty of which is oversight - cannot be allowed to access Justice Department material. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes can’t be trusted to view classified information - something every intelligence chairman has done - since he might blow a source or method, or tip off the president. That’s a political judgment, but it holds no authority. The Constitution set up Congress to act as a check on the executive branch—and it’s got more than enough cause to do some checking here. Yet the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation have spent a year disrespecting Congress—flouting subpoenas, ignoring requests, hiding witnesses, blacking out information, and leaking accusations. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley has not been allowed to question a single current or former Justice or FBI official involved in this affair. Not one. He’s also more than a year into his demand for the transcript of former national security adviser Mike Flynn’s infamous call with the Russian ambassador, as well as reports from the FBI agents who interviewed Mr. Flynn. And still nothing.

        After Spying On Trump Campaign, Stefan Halper Tried To Infiltrate The State Department - FBI "infiltrator" Stefan Halper tried to worm his way into a senior role within the Trump administration, according to a Monday report by Jonathan Swan of Axios. During the transition following the 2016 election, while still being paid by the Department of Defense for "research" papers, Halper - nicknamed: "the walrus," allegedly approached Trump's top trade advisor, Peter Navarro for a job as an ambassador to an unnamed Asian country.   Halper, a Clinton supporter, former government official and longtime spook for the CIA and FBI, was outed as the FBI informant who infiltrated the Trump campaign after the Washington Post and the New York Times ran reports that corroborated a March report by the Daily Caller detailing Halper's outreach to several low-level aides to the Trump campaign, including Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, and a cup of coffee with campaign co-chair Sam Clovis. These contacts are notable, as Halper's infiltration of the Trump campaign corresponds with the two of the four targets of the FBI's Operation Crossfire Hurricane - in which the agency sent counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok and others to a London meeting in the Summer of 2016 with former Australian diplomat Alexander Downer - who says Papadopoulos drunkenly admitted to knowing that the Russians had Hillary Clinton's emails. The 73-year-old American who split his time between his Virginia farm and teaching at Cambridge, approached several Trump campaign aides during the 2016 US election for purposes of espionage - on behalf of the FBI, headed at the time by the recently very quiet James Comey. Halper continued to spy on Trump campaign aide Carter Page well after the election, and now we find that he was trying to infiltrate the Trump administration.

        "Flood Is Coming": New Comey-McCabe Emails Suggest CNN And FBI Coordination Over Steele Dossier -- Several new strings have been tacked across the corkboard in the rapidly unraveling 2016 election scandal. Recently obtained FBI emails shed light on what appears to have been high-level coordination between the FBI and CNN surrounding the release of the infamous "Steele" dossier.In an April leak of the Comey memos, we learned that the former FBI Director briefed then-President-Elect Donald Trump on the dossier on January 6, 2017 after he wrote in a memo that various news outlets - "CNN in particular" - were "looking for a news hook," and would soon be reporting on it. “I said media like CNN had [the dossier] and were looking for a news hook,” Comey wrote of his interaction with Trump. CNN, on the other hand, considered Comey's meeting with Trump to have legitimized the document - making it their journalistic responsibility to report on it. Thus - any coordination between the FBI and CNN surrounding its report on the Steele dossier is highly relevant, since the Jan. 10, 2017 release of the dossier by Buzzfeed immediately after CNN's report - along with the subsequent firing of James Comey on May 9, prompted the launch of special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing investigation. CNN's bombshell report on Jan. 10 of last year includes a claim that Comey gave Trump a two-page summary of the dossier - which Comey denies. Regardless, the fact that CNN knew about the Comey-Trump briefing and a specific claim about a two-page memo begs the question; who leaked to CNN? New FBI emails obtained by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) provide a look behind the scenes surrounding Comey's briefing of Trump, as well as what was discussed after the CNN report - suggesting that former Deputy director Andrew McCabe - who was fired for leaking to the press, had specific knowledge of CNN's plans to publish.

        Trump and Clarence Thomas Financial Disclosures Prove U.S. Is Officially a Kleptocracy -- Pam Martens -  Two men serving in the highest offices of the United States, one man black and one man white, are now the poster children for a government that more closely resembles a kleptocracy than a democracy. The two men also have three other things in common: they are both shameless in flaunting their disregard for conflicts of interest; their previous Federal financial disclosure reports contained serious falsehoods; and neither has been removed from their high office. Last week Donald Trump, the President of the United States, released his financial disclosure form for calendar year 2017.  Trump’s 2017 financial disclosure report indicates that the President of the United States still holds ownership interests in 565 corporations and LLCs, many of which benefit from foreign money.   At Trump International Hotels Management, revenues went from less than $3 million in 2016 to over $17 million in 2017 when Trump occupied the Oval Office. NBC reports that since Trump took office on January 20, 2017 “Kuwait has twice held its annual ‘National Day’ celebration” at the Trump International Hotel in D.C.; Bahrain has held a similar celebration at the hotel; a public relations firm working for Saudi Arabia has stayed there; and the government of the Philippines is planning an Independence Day celebration there in June as the country pushes for a free-trade agreement with the U.S.The conduct of sitting Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been equally kleptocratic. In 2011 the watchdog group, Protect our Elections (POE), filed a bar complaint with the Missouri Supreme Court (Thomas was admitted to practice law in the state). The complaint asked for the disbarment of Thomas on the following grounds:“Clarence Thomas breached his legal duty and violated the Rules of Professional Conduct by knowingly and willfully failing for 20 years to state truthfully on required AO 10 Financial Disclosure Forms that his wife Virginia earned non-investment income. Clarence Thomas further labored under a financial conflict of interest by failing to disclose $100,000 in support for his nomination by the Citizens United Foundation when he sat in judgment of a case involving Citizens United. Finally, he made rulings that his wife benefited from financially and professionally, and by extension, that benefited him. In short, this unethical and criminal conduct violates the Rules of Professional Conduct, and undermines the rule of law, respect for the law and confidence in the law.”

         Trump No Longer Allowed To Block Twitter Users, Judge Rules - President Trump's e-haters just won a major skirmish in the battle against his tough-talking tweets.Federal district court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, a Bill Clinton appointee, ruled on Wednesday that Trump is no longer allowed to block people from viewing his Twitter feed.  As we reported in July 2017, a free-speech group sued President Donald Trump for blocking Twitter users from his @realDonaldTrump account, arguing the practice violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.The lawsuit alleged that because Trump frequently turns to Twitter to make policy statements, his account qualifies as a public forum from which the government cannot exclude people on the basis of their views. Twitter users are unable to see or respond to tweets from accounts that block them, although there is nothing preventing Trump from simply muting any accounts that bother him without the knowledge of the counterparty.   “President Trump’s Twitter account has become an important source of news and information about the government, and an important forum for speech by, to, or about the president,” Jameel Jaffer, an executive director at the Knight Institute said in a statement. “The First Amendment applies to this digital forum in the same way it applies to town halls and open school board meetings. The White House acts unlawfully when it excludes people from this forum simply because they’ve disagreed with the president.”

        Very Few Voters Actually Read Trump’s Tweets -- President Trump’s tweets often dominate news coverage, particularly on cable news. But let’s be honest: We here at FiveThirtyEight have occasionally written about them too. What is more, well, newsworthy than the words of the chief executive of one of the world’s most powerful nations? And since politicians are known for boring, repetitive, long-winded speeches, what could be a better political platform than one that literally forbids using more than 280 characters at a time? Twitter seems good for Trump, too: As his allies often say, it gives the president a way to speak directly to the American electorate, getting around the media’s filter. Trump’s Twitter account is followed by 52 million people, not that far off from the nearly 63 million who voted for him in 2016. But some data released this week should give Trump and his supporters pause about the power of his Twitter account in directly reaching American voters — and push the media to think carefully about its coverage of Trump’s tweets. Only 8 percent of U.S. adults say they follow Trump’s Twitter account (@realDonaldTrump), and only 4 percent say they follow his account and regularly read the president’s tweets, according to a new Gallup poll. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 250 million Americans are age 18 or older. So Trump’s Twitter followers, based on the Gallup data, are about 20 million Americans of voting age. And the real consumers of his tweets are about 10 million. Twenty million people isn’t nothing. Neither is 10 million. It’s more people than read FiveThirtyEight most days or watch any of the network news programs. But it’s nowhere close to the 52 million followers Twitter says he has. And it’s a small share of the roughly 325 million people who live in the U.S. or even the more than 137 million people who voted in the 2016 presidential election.

        Trump 2020 Campaign Puts Facebook And Twitter On Notice Over Conservative Censorship - Donald Trump's 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, along with Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, have written a letter calling for the CEOs of Facebook and Twitter to address concerns over conservative censorship ahead of the 2020 election, as well as a call for transparency.The letter comes one day after a judge ruled that President Trump is no longer allowed to block Twitter users - deeming the platform a public forum, and that "the White House acts unlawfully when it excludes people from this forum." Consequently, will Twitter and Facebook be required to provide protections for conservatives whose voices are being muted? Parscale and McDaniel are now pushing for that, calling out the Silicon Valley behemoths for censorship. "We recognize that Facebook and Twitter operate in liberal corporate cultures," the letter reads. "However, rampant political bias is inappropriate for a widely used public forum."We won’t tolerate bias toward conservatives or @realDonaldTrump supporters. We’re standing up for you and demanding answers. @GOPChairwoman and I have sent the following letter to @facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and @Twitter’s @jack Dorsey. #StopTheBias— Brad Parscale (@parscale) May 24, 2018 The letter notes "In 2016, former Facebook workers reported that they manipulated the “trending” section to exclude news tailored to conservative users, despite those topics trending on their own," while "A former trending news curator admitted in an interview that nearly all members of the trending news teams identified as liberal... Moreover, some Facebook employees in 2016 reportedly pushed to ban then-candidate Donald Trump’s Facebook posts and label them as hate speech"

        Tax cut sparks record-setting $178 billion buyback boom - It's raining buybacks: Corporate America is throwing a record-setting party for shareholders. S&P 500 companies showered Wall Street with at least $178 billion of stock buybacks during the first three months of 2018, according to Howard Silverblatt of S&P Dow Jones Indices. That's a 34% bump from last year and tops the prior record of $172 billion set in 2007, just prior to the start of the Great Recession. Apple (AAPL) rewarded shareholders with $22.8 billion in buybacks -- the most of any company in any quarter ever. Total S&P 500 shareholder payouts -- buybacks plus dividends -- for the past 12 months could top $1 trillion for the first time ever, Silverblatt said. The buyback bonanza occurred during the first full quarter after President Donald Trump signed into law a massive corporate tax cut that was supposed to lift business spending on job-creating investments. The tax law reduced the corporate tax rate to 21% from 35% and gave companies a break on taxes owed when returning foreign profits. That one-two punch allowed companies to reap huge profits, a sizable chunk of which have been returned to shareholders. Profits had already been on the rise thanks to the accelerating economy. Buybacks are clearly booming, more than 5.5 million employees received a tax cut bonus, pay raises or 401(k) hikes, according to the White House. But business spending -- the stated goal of the tax law -- has not significantly accelerated, at least not yet.  One broad measure of business spending, real nonresidential fixed investment, rose by 6.1% during the first quarter. That's solid growth signaling a strong economy. However, it was roughly in-line with the past several quarters. It even marked a slight deceleration from the final three months of 2017.   That means companies have not significantly boosted spending on equipment, factories and other investments that create jobs and boost wages. Some economists aren't surprised that the early windfall of the tax cuts is going to Wall Street, instead of Main Street. They note that companies have long had access to tons of cash.

        Banks ride tax law to record $56B in profits — Higher operating revenue and a lower corporate tax rate helped drive a large earnings quarter for the banking industry at the start of 2018 as net income rose more than 27% from a year earlier to $56 billion. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s first-quarter report on the industry’s health painted a picture of better loan spreads thanks to higher net interest margins, and of growth in noninterest income as well. But according to the agency’s Quarterly Banking Profile, banks also benefited significantly from the recent tax reform law, which lowered the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%. Without the lower rate, the FDIC said, net income would have been below $50 billion. Less than 4% of institutions did not report a profit in the quarter, which was the lowest level since 1996, the agency said. Net interest income grew by 8.5% from a year earlier to $131.3 billion, and was higher for more than four out of five banks. The industry’s average net interest margin rose by 13 basis points to 3.32% and interest-bearing assets rose by 3.6%. Growth in noninterest income was also steady. Thanks to a nearly 15% spike in trading revenue from a year earlier, total noninterest income rose by nearly 8% to $67.4 billion. Compared with the first quarter of 2017, over 55% of all banks reported higher noninterest income. Yet in a statement, FDIC Chairman Martin Gruenberg warned that positive economic conditions and a higher interest rate environment should not lead banks down a path of taking excessive risks.

        Bankers Hate the Volcker Rule. Now, It Could Be Watered Down.- NYT - The Volcker Rule, named for the former chairman of the Federal Reserve and signed into law, prohibited banks from making their own risky bets with their customers’ deposits. Banks loathed the rule and Republicans vowed to undo it.  Now, a decade after the global financial meltdown, banks are on the brink of realizing their dream. The Fed and other federal banking regulators are poised to soften the Volcker Rule, making it easier for giant banks to engage in a wider range of trading that can be highly profitable, but also very risky. The changes, which are expected to be proposed later this month, are emblematic of the larger deregulatory effort underway in Washington.This week, Congress is expected to take a significant step toward rolling back parts of the Dodd-Frank law, with the House scheduled to vote Tuesday on a bill that would allow thousands of small and midsize banks to avoid tougher oversight. Similar bipartisan legislation passed the Senate earlier this year, clearing a path for President Trump to sign the bill into law.And Mr. Trump on Monday signed a law nullifying a consumer rule intended to prevent discrimination in auto lending.But the real action is at the financial regulatory agencies, like the Fed and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which have broad powers over the banking system. The agencies are now largely run by Trump appointees who are sympathetic to Wall Street institutions’ longstanding complaints that they have been hurt by overzealous regulations written after the financial crisis. Earlier this month, the Fed and the O.C.C. proposed easing limits on how much the largest banks can borrow. The change was opposed by Obama administration appointees at the Fed and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, who argued it was too soon to reduce capital requirements for the biggest banks.And the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is in the midst of a wholesale retreat.  The relaxation of the Volcker Rule — which was part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank act and was named for its chief proponent, former Fed chairman Paul Volcker — carries particular weight. The regulation, which has wrought sweeping changes on Wall Street since it took effect in July 2015, is probably the best-known part of the Dodd-Frank act — and the rare provision that people can remember the name of. Watering it down could serve as a valuable example of the Trump administration’s success in rolling back regulations.

        Regulators extend comment deadline for leverage ratio proposal — The Federal Reserve Board and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency are extending the comment deadline for a proposal to adjust a key capital measure for large banks. The Fed and OCC issued their proposal last month to change the enhanced Supplementary Leverage Ratio, or eSLR, from a fixed ratio applied to all global systemically important banks to a variable ratio based in part on banks’ G-SIB capital surcharge. The regulator extended the comment period from May 21 to June 25 amid concerns that stakeholders need more time.

        Regulate bank behavior, not capital, to prevent next crisis - Christopher Whalen - Since the financial crisis, bank capital has doubled at U.S. banks — and yet it’s unclear that the financial system is any safer as a result.  The Federal Reserve and other regulators are now deciding whether to slightly lower those capital levels, spurring debate among Washington policymakers and academics.  Yet first and foremost, it needs to be accepted that higher capital levels for banks have been embraced by regulators as a fix for a far more complex problem, namely financial fraud. None of the banks that failed in 2008 stumbled due to inadequate capital. Instead, banks such as Citigroup, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Washington Mutual, Countrywide and Wachovia all failed or were acquired because of a lack of liquidity tied to an equally large deficit of confidence.  When uncertainty regarding the liabilities of these banks caused investors to run, the banks died. Investors could no longer ascertain the noncapital liabilities of these large, market-facing financial institutions — as a result, liquidity disappeared and the banks collapsed. The fundamental truth of the 2008 crisis is that confidence is more important than capital, but you will never hear a regulator or member of Congress say that in public. Another one of the fallacies that drives the fixation on bank capital among regulators and policy analysts is the idea that large capital buffers absorb losses in times of economic weakness. In fact, income is the chief measure of whether a bank can absorb credit losses. Contrary to statements from former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. officials Sheila Bair and Tom Hoenig that U.S. banks consumed “double their equity and required trillions of dollars in liquidity and other assistance backed by taxpayers to bail them out and stabilize the economy,” the banking industry in fact consumed virtually no additional capital except among the banks that actually failed. Seen from the perspective of risk and liquidity, the Dodd-Frank Act provisions such as the Volcker Rule are far more important to moderating the risk-taking of large banks than are the mechanistic capital rules maintained by prudential regulators. If you understand that the 2008 crisis sprang from the ancient well of financial fraud, including the making of bad loans and the sale of bad securities by Wall Street, then the issue of capital falls into its appropriate, but secondary, place behind limits on the activities of banks, including their behavior in a professional and ethical sense.

        Congress Approves First Big Dodd-Frank Rollback - NYT— A decade after the global financial crisis tipped the United States into a recession, Congress agreed on Tuesday to free thousands of small and medium-sized banks from strict rules that had been enacted as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law to prevent another meltdown.In a rare demonstration of bipartisanship, the House voted 258-159 to approve a regulatory rollback that passed the Senate this year, handing a significant victory to President Trump, who has promised to “do a big number on Dodd-Frank.” The bill stops far short of unwinding the toughened regulatory regime put in place to prevent the nation’s biggest banks from engaging in risky behavior, but it represents a substantial watering down of Obama-era rules governing a large swath of the banking system. The legislation will leave fewer than 10 big banks in the United States subject to stricter federal oversight, freeing thousands of banks with less than $250 billion in assets from a post-crisis crackdown that they have long complained is too onerous. Republican lawmakers and the banking industry cheered a measure they said would help unshackle banks — and the economy — from regulatory burdens.Paul D. Ryan, the House Speaker and Wisconsin Republican, said the bill’s passage was a step toward “freeing our economy from overregulation.”  The push to alter even a portion of Dodd-Frank so soon after the crisis and just ahead of the midterm elections has pitted Democratic lawmakers against one another. Party leaders are eager to present a united front to voters in November and are wary of losing a signature issue — holding Wall Street accountable. “It’s a bad bill under the guise of helping community banks,” Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic minority leader, said during debate on the House floor on Tuesday. “The bill would take us back to the days when unchecked recklessness on Wall Street ignited an historic financial meltdown.”

        Congress seals deal on Dodd-Frank reforms | American Banker -  — The House on Tuesday passed an identical version of the Senate’s regulatory relief package, capping off years of negotiations between Republicans and moderate Democrats and enacting the first set of provisions to ease community banks and credit unions' burden since the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act.The bill, which passed the Senate in March, passed the House by a vote of 258 to 159. The legislation is expected to be signed by President Trump shortly. Thirty-three Democrats supported the legislation, while one Republican opposed it.Although the bill took a more cautious approach to relief than prior legislative proposals favored by House Republicans to repeal Dodd-Frank, banking industry groups at the state and national level hailed the legislation.  "For the first time in nearly a decade, lawmakers from both parties have chosen to right-size financial rules that were not working as intended and holding the economy back," said Rob Nichols, CEO of the American Bankers Association Some in the industry had warned House GOP leaders, such as Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, not to try to expand the Senate version out of fear that it would disturb the delicate deal negotiated by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and a contingent of moderate Senate Democrats.House Republicans ultimately agreed to let the Crapo bill through as is but the Senate will separately consider added reg relief proposals — independent of the bipartisan reg relief package — passed by the House. “I wish it did gut Dodd-Frank. It didn’t,” Hensarling said of the Senate legislation during the House debate Tuesday.The bill’s most significant provision raises the asset threshold for “systemically important financial institutions” from $50 billion to $250 billion, reducing the number of those banks from 38 to 12. Banks between $50 billion and $100 billion in assets will see immediate regulatory relief, as they will not be subject to the enhanced regulatory scrutiny from the Federal Reserve. For those between $100 billion and $250 billion in assets, the Fed has the discretion to determine if they must continue under the prudential regulatory regime.The bill also dials back the Volcker Rule’s restrictions on proprietary trading, exempting banks with less than $10 billion in assets and total trading assets and trading liabilities below 5% of total consolidated assets.

        The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act and How America's Banks Got Their Way -- With very little fanfare or attention from voters, the House has now passed S.2155, the misleadingly named "Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act" which is now headed to the President for a quick "pencil-whipping".  Most Americans have no idea that this legislation could have a very significant impact on the federal government debt/deficit situation and that, thanks to Congress and both sides of the political divide, the banking sector is far more vulnerable to a repetition of what happened at the dawn of the Great Recession and the home buying public is more vulnerable to abusive banking practices. While Congress likes to tout S.2155 as a "community bank bill", any benefits to Main Street America are far outweighed by the benefits to Big Banks.  This bill seeks to roll back some of the safeguards that were put in place with the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act aka the Dodd Frank Act.  The bill would alter the regulatory framework for two types of banks; banks will assets exceeding $50 billion and small community banks with assets under $10 billion.  Let's look at an analysis of S.2155 by Americans for  Financial Reform, looking at the sections of the bill that can best be described as a gift to America's banking sector and a negative for Main Street's homebuyers. Let's start by looking at the pluses to the America's banking sector.  Under Section 401, the bill eliminates most of the requirements for special risk controls that were put in place after the 2008 - 2009 crisis for banks that range in size from $50 billion to $250 billion.  These banks are among the largest banks in the United States and include 25 out of 38 of the biggest banks in America.  In case you've forgotten, Countrywide and Golden West, contributors to the 2008 - 2009 crisis, had assets that fell into this range, requiring nearly $50 billion in taxpayer-funded bailouts.  As well, the Trump Administration has announced that it will use S.2155 to deregulate the operations of giant foreign-based megabucks like Barclays, Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse, banks that also played a role in the 2008 - 2009 crisis.  Under Section 402, the bill would allow two of the largest and systemically significant banks to reduce their loss-absorbing capital levels.  BNY Mellon and State Street, banks that received $5 billion in taxpayer-funded bailout funds, would significantly reduce the level of their ability to protect themselves against insolvency.

        It's the law: Trump signs off on reg relief bill — The most significant regulatory relief legislation since the crisis made it to the finish line Thursday as President Trump signed targeted reforms of the Dodd-Frank Act into law.The new law, which originated in the Senate and was passed by the House Tuesday, did not go as far as the industry and many Republicans wanted. But banks and credit unions have still hailed the reforms that were negotiated by a key group of Senate Republicans and moderate Senate Democrats."This is all about the Dodd-Frank disaster and they’ve fixed it or at least have gone a long way toward fixing it," Trump, speaking at the bill-signing ceremony, said of the bill's supporters.The provision gaining the most attention is a significant hike in the asset threshold for “systemically important financial institutions,” from $50 billion to $250 billion. That reduces the number of banks automatically subject to Dodd-Frank’s enhanced supervisory regime from 38 to 12. Banks between $50 billion and $100 billion in assets are left out of the regime, while the Federal Reserve can decide if those between $100 billion and $250 billion still face enhanced supervision. Other measures mostly benefit smaller banks, although Trump indicated that policymakers may be interested in making further changes to how larger banks are regulated. Mortgages held in portfolio by banks with less than $10 billion in assets are automatically designated as “Qualified Mortgages,” exempting them from ability-to-repay underwriting requirements by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Smaller institutions also won some relief from escrow and appraisal requirements, as well as from certain measures of the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. The law also exempts banks with less than $10 billion in assets from the proprietary trading ban known as the Volcker Rule (named for former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker). Meanwhile, more community banks will be eligible for a longer 18-month examination cycle, short-form call reports and application of the Fed’s Small Bank Holding Company Policy Statement.

        9 provisions of reg relief law important to small banks - With the stroke of a pen, President Donald Trump enacted a regulatory relief bill on Thursday, a law that will make the most significant changes to the Dodd-Frank Act since it passed in 2010. For much of the media, the focus has been on the law's biggest measure, a provision that would raise the "systemically important financial institution" threshold for banks to $250 billion from $50 billion. (The law immediately raises it to $100 billion, and regulators will look at the next asset tier over the next 18 months to see if any of those institutions should be considered SIFIs.)Most of the bill, however, is aimed not at helping those large regional banks, but banks and credit unions with less than $10 billion of assets. Those provisions, which are far less controversial, have received much less press. But they may total up to a big impact for community banks. “This hard-fought, long-awaited community bank regulatory relief legislation will put community banks in an enhanced position to foster local economic growth and prosperity,” said Rebeca Romero Rainey, president of the Independent Community Bankers of America. “By unraveling some of the suffocating regulatory burdens community banks face, they are better able to unleash their full economic potential to the benefit of their customers and communities.” From tackling qualified mortgages to capital rules to the Volcker Rule, there are several measures of the law that may make a sizable difference. Following is a look at nine provisions of the new law that will help small banks. (Bloomberg NewsSlides)

         Regulators, Congress move to end all restraints on Wall Street speculation -- On Tuesday, the US House of Representatives passed a bill to exempt the vast majority of financial firms from the Dodd-Frank bank regulations passed after the 2008 Wall Street crash. This coincided with press reports that the Federal Reserve Board and other bank regulators will announce as soon as next week proposals to gut the provision of Dodd-Frank most hated by Wall Street—the so-called “Volcker Rule.” The accelerating offensive against even the most minimal restrictions on financial speculation takes place in the context of surging bank profits and CEO pay. On Tuesday, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, one of the agencies that is preparing to eviscerate the Volcker Rule, reported that US banks recorded record profits of $56 billion in the first quarter of 2018, a 28 percent increase over the same period last year. As the tenth anniversary of the September 2008 Wall Street crash approaches, the token restrictions on the banks that were passed during the Obama administration are being dismantled. These minimal measures, including increased capital reserve requirements, annual “stress tests” and limited restrictions on risky derivative trading, were mainly enacted to provide political cover for the administration’s multi-trillion-dollar bailout of the financial institutions responsible for the wholesale destruction of jobs, millions of home foreclosures and the wiping out of retirement savings. After eight years of the Dodd-Frank bank “reform,” the American financial oligarchy exercises its dictatorship over society and the government more firmly than ever. This unaccountable elite will not tolerate even the most minimal limits on its ability to plunder the economy for its own personal gain. The Volcker Rule ostensibly bars commercial banks, which benefit from federally guaranteed retail deposits and other government backstops, from speculating with bank funds, including customers’ deposits, on their own account—a practice known as proprietary trading. However, the rule incorporates huge loopholes allowing banks to speculate with their own funds under cover of hedging their investments and providing liquidity to the financial markets. No banks have been cited for violating the rule since it took effect.

         33 Democrats Voted to Deregulate Big Banks. Here’s How Much Money Banks Gave Each One. - The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives just voted to roll back financial regulations put in place following the 2008 financial crisis. 33 Democrats captive to big banks’ political donations helped. As the Los Angeles Times’ David Dayen explained, the bill — named the “Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act,” or, more simply, S.2155 — would roll back numerous consumer protections the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank) put in place after various big banks failed a decade ago, requiring bailouts from taxpayers to keep them afloat. Among some of the provisions of the bill include lowering the amount of reserves banks need to keep on hand in the event of a financial crisis and resulting withdrawals of assets from panicking customers, protections put in place to cut down on banks discriminating against customers applying for mortgages, and allowing banks to recategorize roughly $3.8 trillion in municipal bonds as “highly liquid assets,” while repealing several other important financial protections: The vote comes just months after an International Monetary Fund economist published a study showing that nearly every major financial collapse in both Europe and the United States, dating back to the 18th century, came after governments loosened regulations on the financial sector. The includes devastating financial meltdowns like the Panic of 1825 in Great Britain, all the way up to the subprime mortgage bubble’s burst in the late 2000s in the U.S. Republicans’ typical argument against regulations on businesses is that it cripples their ability to make a profit. However, according to data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Company (FDIC), banks are making record profits even with the current regulations in place. Banks made a quarterly net income of $56 billion in the first quarter of 2018, outpacing the last record of $48.1 billion set in the second quarter of 2017

        Banks to get another Volcker Rule win as hedging demands eased -- Banks have long complained that steep compliance burdens make it almost impossible to use an important break they got in the Volcker Rule to hedge against losses. In their coming overhaul, the Federal Reserve and other regulators are expected to address Wall Street’s grievance, another way the landmark post-crisis rule is shifting in the industry’s favor under President Donald Trump. At issue is what’s known as the hedging exemption included in Volcker, which stipulated that banks aren’t violating the rule’s restrictions on speculative trading as long as they can show transactions offset market risk.  To make it much easier to take advantage of the exemption, Trump-appointed regulators intend to eliminate some requirements that firms document their hedges and the market positions they’re tied to, said three people familiar with the proposal. Instead, regulators would allow more general assurances from banks that they’re keeping track of risks, said two of the people who asked not to be named because the proposal isn’t public. The revamp, known within agencies as Volcker 2.0, is the latest effort by financial regulators to soften rules that the Trump administration blames for holding back economic growth. Volcker, one of the most sweeping demands that followed the 2008 financial crisis, banned banks from trading purely for their own benefit. In another key change reported by Bloomberg News last week, regulators plan to scrap a presumption in Volcker that all short-term trading violates the rule. That revision would give banks more leeway to conclude that their buying and selling complies with Volcker, putting the onus on regulators to challenge such judgments. Federal agencies are also likely to make it easier for lenders to stockpile assets that their customers might want to buy in the near term. 

        Fed to vote next week on proposed changes to Volcker Rule   The Federal Reserve announced Wednesday that it will release a proposal that would modify a Dodd-Frank-mandated bar on proprietary trading or the ownership of hedge funds by banks, among the most contentious aspects of the 2010 law. The central bank is scheduled to hold an open session to review a proposal May 30 to “modify” the existing regulation, which was written jointly by the Fed, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Commodity Futures Trading Commission and Securities and Exchange Commission in 2013.  That regulation, known as the Volcker Rule, was mandated by Dodd-Frank after being proposed by former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker in an opinion article. The rule created exceptions for market making and certain funds, but banks have been bedeviled by compliance problems related to what activities and products qualify for those exceptions. Reducing that compliance burden on banks — particularly small banks — has been a regulatory goal of the Trump administration from its earliest days. The Treasury outlined potential changes to the regulation in its 2017 blueprint, including revising the definition of “covered funds” subject to the ban; the definition of “proprietary trading” activities barred by the law; and greater information sharing and compliance activities across agencies.

        Rollback of Wall Street Reforms Didn’t Just Happen Yesterday -  Pam Martens - Yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives voted 258-159 to approve a rollback of provisions in the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation that grew out of the epic financial collapse of 2008 – which ushered in the greatest economic bust since the Great Depression. The bill originated in the U.S. Senate and is now awaiting the signature of President Donald Trump, who is expected to quickly sign it.If you are thinking that Congress would never have approved this rollback of reforms if Wall Street was still as dangerous as it was in 2008, think again. Members of Congress approved this dangerous giveaway to Wall Street because they simply can’t say no to Wall Street’s political donations, its lobbyists, and those high-paying jobs that might await them if they play their cards right.The Washington Post called the rollback “the most significant scaling back of the rules to date.” The New York Times wrote in a front-page, above-the-fold headline that this was the “First Big Dodd-Frank Rollback.” Both of these inaccurate statements are evidence of the dark curtain that Wall Street bankers have drawn around their activities since crashing the U.S. financial system in 2008, receiving the largest taxpayer bailout in global history and then strolling away in their $5,000 Tom Ford suits with their get-out-of-jail-free cards from Eric Holder’s Justice Department tucked securely in their pocket. The first major rollback of Dodd-Frank reforms occurred in December 2014. What Citigroup did in December 2014 was to have one of its toadies in Congress attach an amendment to the must-pass spending bill that would keep the government running. That amendment effectively repealed one of the most important provisions of the Dodd-Frank legislation: the section that would “push out” hundreds of trillions of dollars in derivatives from the commercial banking units of  firms on Wall Street that are holding taxpayer-backstopped, Federally-insured deposits. By leaving the derivatives in the taxpayer-backstopped part of the Wall Street bank, the bank is still effectively allowed to continue gambling while using a taxpayer-subsidy to get a higher credit-rating for their risky derivative trades. Another much ballyhooed part of the Dodd-Frank reform legislation was the so-called Volcker Rule that was supposed to stop Wall Street from making high-stake gambles for the house (proprietary trading) and by restricting its ownership of hedge funds and private equity firms. But it was a wink and a nod to Wall Street from the start.  We know that the major players on Wall Street never seriously considered honoring the intent of the Volcker Rule because two years after the passage of Dodd-Frank, JPMorgan Chase, the largest bank on Wall Street, was caught gambling in its insured bank using exotic derivative trades in London to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars while losing at least $6.2 billion of depositors’ money in the process.

        Banks will find it hard to keep playing the underdog - Since the waning days of the financial crisis, banks have increasingly posited themselves as the underdog against the likes of federal regulators, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and many others.  The pitch was that the industry was being crushed by regulations and compliance costs, facing an indifferent Congress as they were unable to lend and their numbers steadily dwindled.But multiple news stories on Tuesday blow away that narrative.  First, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. announced that banks had earned an astounding $56 billion in the first quarter, more than 27% higher than the same point last year. That didn’t just break the earnings record — it shattered it.  The FDIC was quick to note that the recently enacted tax law, which slashed the corporate rate to 21%, was a big help in reaching those earnings. But even if that were taken out of the equation, banks still would have earned $49.4 billion — and that, too, would have been a record.  Those figures come just ahead of the enactment of a major regulatory relief package, a bill that is designed to help regional and community banks. Several regional banks currently labeled as systemically important, and thus subject to higher capital and liquidity requirements, will be free of that designation when the bill is enacted. Smaller institutions below that $50 billion threshold, meanwhile, will see other benefits, making it easier to comply with CFPB mortgage regulations and file call reports. The regulatory relief bill marks the end of a tortuous but long-held goal for banks, a significant achievement. And there’s still more deregulation to come: The final elements of the Trump administration’s deregulatory team are only just now being put in place.  That means that, going forward, there is likely to be more action in a range of areas, including the Volcker Rule, the Community Reinvestment Act, small-dollar lending, mortgage regulations, even anti-money-laundering requirements — all of it in banks’ direction.

        Banks strain to satisfy competing AML, data protection rules — Banks are grappling with a pair of competing regulatory deadlines that may leave them with intercontinental whiplash over the collection of customers' personal data. At the same time that U.S. regulators are pressing banks to comply with an anti-money-laundering rule requiring them to collect more customer information, any bank with European Union customers has just a week to meet a separate EU deadline to ramp up data protection. “It is like a regulatory nightmare with everything coming out,” said Jennifer Newton, director of risk advisory services at Kaufman Rossin’s Miami office, speaking specifically about the EU mandate. “From a financial perspective, not a lot of them are ready and they either don’t understand the implications or what applies to them based on their customers.” By May 25, some U.S. banks also must comply with the European Union's massive General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, if they have European account holders. Bloomberg News Since May 11, U.S. banks have already had to comply with pieces of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s Customer Due Diligence rule. The anti-money-laundering requirement, part of regulators' "know-your-customer" policy, requires banks to obtain customer information to report beneficial owners of business accounts. Banks' difficulty in complying with the rule led Fincen to delay a controversial component until August. But by May 25, some U.S. banks also must comply with the EU's massive General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, if they have European account holders. That rule requires banks to adopt measures to better safeguard client information and immediately report data breaches, or they could face hefty fines. U.S. financial firms are trying to figure out how to have separate and much more stringent data protection standards for their European customers under the GDPR, compared with U.S. standards. 

        CEO pay shrinks by $350,000 a year once activist hedge funds move in, study finds - Activist hedge funds such as those run by billionaires Carl Icahn, Bill Ackman and Daniel Loeb have more of an impact on a company than just forcing management to dance to their tune.They also shave more than $350,000 off a chief executive’s compensation within a year of taking a stake in his or her company. That’s according to new research from Warwick Business School at the U.K.’s University of Warwick, which compiled CEO compensation data from 244 listed U.S. companies and analyzed it over seven years. Researchers Jana Fidrmuc and Swati Kanoria looked at data for the three years before an activist showed up, the year it bought stock in the company and the three years after that.  They then compared the results with data on CEO pay from another 244 companies that were not the subject of activists but belonged to the same industry sector and were of a similar size and book-to-market value. The data showed that both base pay and stock awards fall drastically once activists moved on a company.  The study found that CEOs received on average $329,344 more than their peers in total pay, in the two years before an activist targeted their companies.  One year after, that difference had shrunk to $51,435 with CEO base pay now $27,704 lower than peers. The stock portion of total pay was reduced by $258,201 to just $63,090 more than peers, the study found.

        Banks might not have long to cheer for reg relief -- Recent data shows that commercial and industrial loans extended are at the highest point they have ever been since the Federal Reserve started tracking the data in the 1940s. Since 2009, corporate debt has been growing faster than consumer debt.   And there are additional worrying signs: The leveraged loan market has, for example, doubled in just five years to $1 trillion.   In April 2018, covenant-lite, first-lien institutional loans outstanding hit a record high of 77% of that market. Covenant-lite loans typically come with fewer periodic financial performance obligations for the borrower that other loans require. When an economic downturn begins, these covenant-lite loans are at higher risk of default than other similar loans because lenders have fewer protections. Not only are banks at risk when they hold these loans on their balance sheets, but so are a wide array of global investors in collateralized loan obligations, which are disproportionately backed by leveraged loans. Unsurprisingly, banks are big investors in CLOs. Additionally, since a court ruled in April that CLOs are exempt from the risk retention rule, which required CLO issuers to retain 5% of the risk on its books, there has been a glut of CLO issuance. On the consumer loan side, the rapidly growing student loan market is of greatest concern. College loan balances now stand at almost $1.5 trillion. The Brookings Institution calculated that by 2023 the default rate could reach 40%. Even if the default rate turns out to be half of that, that would still amount to billions of dollars in losses. Like with other loans, banks are exposed to student debt because they are packaged into securitizations.   Another trouble spot is in the auto loan market. While the big lenders in this market are auto financing companies, banks have been entering this market. Moreover, banks invest in auto loan asset-backed securities, in which issuances have been rising. Lenders in the U.S. $1.2T auto loan market are extending terms to borrowers for as long as eight years — 10 years ago the average auto loan maturity was five years.

        Deutsche Bank To Fire 10,000 Employees: 1 In Every 10 - Well that escalated fast: one month after Bloomberg reported that Deutsche Bank would cut 1,000 jobs in the US, roughly 10% of its total US labor force, as part of new CEO Christian Sewing's restructuring process, the WSJ this morning writes that executives at the biggest German lender have "zeroed in" on plans to eliminate close to 10,000 jobs, about one in 10 employees, as part of the bank's epic cost-cutting scramble.The latest plan, part of a process that has divided senior executives and left investors unconvinced, "would extend into 2019, follows months of thorny debate over how fast and deep job losses should be at the beleaguered German lender."So far investors remain unconvinced the plan will work, and as a result the bank’s shares have fallen by nearly a third this year, making DB stock one of the worst performing European stocks, and at its lowest since a crisis of confidence hit the bank in late 2016.Meanwhile, high-level clashes over staffing and budgets and conflicting opinions from outside investors and bank executives reveal the depth of Deutsche Bank’s continuing struggles.  As the WSJ adds, the bank's supervisory board and senior executives will confront investors Thursday in Frankfurt at its annual shareholder meeting. They will face a proposal to break up the company and probing questions about last month’s chief executive handoff and the tough choices the lender has to make.Separately, Bloomberg report that the bank is about to "retreat from a swathe of equities markets across the world, including some on its own doorstep in Europe."

        Sick of Shady Banks? Get a Loan from the Post Office! -- Millions of Americans live in “banking deserts,” without adequate access to brick and mortar banks and the services they provide. Rural and poor communities, where local banks left town thanks to the recession or the big banks buying them out, are especially affected.  Often it’s risky payday lenders who come along to fill the void.  They exploit America’s 88 million “underbanked” people, making ridiculous profits by charging sky-high interest rates on people just trying to survive paycheck to paycheck.  In some places, annual interest rates for these lenders average over 500 percent. That badly hamstrings low-income people with fees and interest payments, all because they lack simple banking services. The practice is especially predatory toward people of color. The recession shuttered around half of all black-owned banks, leaving black Americans over 100 percent more likely to use a payday lending service than white people, according to a Pew Charitable Trust survey.  One solution could come from your friendly neighborhood Post Office. What if you could get a low-interest loan there, rather than an extortionate payday loan from a for-profit payday loan company?  Postal banking used to be widespread. Now it could be coming back.  New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand recently announced a bill to reintroduce the practice, aiming to put the Post Offices scattered throughout the country for a broader use: providing banking to the unbanked. The bill would allow postal banks to make loans of up to $1,000 at low interest rates, cash people’s paychecks free of charge, and provide other basic services such as checking accounts.  It would also tackle the banking industry writ large. Big banks often refuse to open branches in poor or minority areas, and the few banks still around shutter thanks to industry consolidation and online banking. None of this is due to a lack of profits or money — banks are saving billions thanks to the Republican tax reform. Instead, it’s a larger, conscious choice by these banks. Postal banking would provide essential banking services throughout these banking deserts, reaching out to people who struggle to make it day-to-day without something as mundane as a debit card.

         Banks are sitting ducks for ADA lawsuits --  Fifty-one banks have been sued this year in federal court for operating websites that, consumers with disabilities say, are too difficult or impossible for them to use. And those suits may only be the beginning unless Congress adopts legislation that would make it harder to take businesses to court over violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The surge in lawsuits began last year after the Justice Department declined to issue ADA-related guidelines that could have clarified compliance rules. The 51 banks — including Fifth Third Bancorp, Bank of New York Mellon and Signature Bank — are among hundreds of companies that have been sued, according to a review of online federal court dockets. More banks could be the targets of litigation for two primary reasons. Most financial institutions have done little or nothing to upgrade their sites, nor have many of them approved corporate policies on the topic, said Matthew Triner, a director at User1st, a website remediation firm in Washington. Most bank executives simply have not yet realized the legal risk they face, he said. “A lot of people do slapdash efforts to get into compliance,” Triner said. “But if you don’t have a program in place to continuously work on it, you’re going to fall out of compliance. Websites are not static things. They’re always changing.”

         FDIC: Fewer Problem banks, Residential REO Declined in Q1 - The FDIC released the Quarterly Banking Profile for Q1 today: Aggregate net income for the 5,606 FDIC-insured commercial banks and savings institutions reporting first quarter performance totaled $56 billion in first quarter 2018, an increase of $12.1 billion (27.5 percent) from a year earlier. Improvement in net income was attributable to higher net operating revenue (the sum of net interest income and noninterest income) and a lower effective tax rate, but was offset in part by higher loan-loss provisions and noninterest expense.  The Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) balance increased by $2.3 billion, to $95.1 billion, during the first quarter. … No banks failed during the quarter. ... The DIF’s reserve ratio (the fund balance as a percent of estimated insured deposits) was 1.30 percent on March 31, 2018, unchanged from year-end 2017 due primarily to strong first quarter growth in estimated insured deposits. The reserve ratio increased by ten basis points from one year earlier. The FDIC reported the number of problem banks declined slightly. This graph from the FDIC shows the number of problem banks declined to 92 institutions from 95 at the end of 2017. Note: The number of assets for problem banks increased significantly, suggesting a fairly large bank was added to the list (more on this when we update the unofficial list at the end of the month). FDIC Insured Institution REOThe dollar value of 1-4 family residential Real Estate Owned (REOs, foreclosure houses) declined from $2.92 billion in Q4 2017 to $2.84 billion in Q1. This is the lowest level of REOs since Q3 2006. This graph shows the nominal dollar value of Residential REO for FDIC insured institutions. Note: The FDIC reports the dollar value and not the total number of REOs. Since REOs are reported in dollars, and house prices have increased, it is unlikely FDIC institution REOs will get back to the $2.0 to $2.5 billion range back that happened in 2003 to 2005. FDIC REOs will probably bottom close to the current level.

        Senate confirms McWilliams to FDIC, rounding out Trump bank team  -- The Senate voted 69-24 Thursday to confirm banking attorney Jelena McWilliams as chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. McWilliams, who was most recently chief legal officer at Fifth Third, previously served as a Senate GOP aide and an attorney at the Federal Reserve Board. The White House announced the nomination in November. The confirmation of McWilliams largely completes President Trump’s bank regulatory team, giving policymakers the opportunity to re-examine and potentially scale back existing rules, including the Dodd-Frank Act’s Volcker Rule.  The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the last agency without a permanent director, is run by acting Director Mick Mulvaney, a Trump appointee.  McWilliams built her career in law and banking after emigrating from the former Yugoslavia when she was 18. She's been widely praised by members of both political parties for her banking acumen.“She has many years’ experience with banking regulation, a compelling personal story, and deep relationships with influential members on the Hill,” said former FDIC chair Sheila Bair. “Articulate and assertive, she is well qualified to lead the FDIC.”She was also hailed by industry representatives. But not everyone is supportive. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., the sole vote against McWilliams when her nomination was reviewed by the Banking Committee, said she opposes President Trump's deregulatory agenda.  "Ms. McWilliams is the latest Trump appointee who thinks the biggest problem with our financial rules is that the government is just too darn hard on the banks," Warren said during debate on the nomination. "Most Americans don’t feel that way. They want tougher rules on Wall Street, not weaker ones. We should listen to them, because they’re the ones who pay the price when things go wrong on Wall Street."

        Reality check: Will crypto firms score a banking charter?  - The news that at least two cryptocurrency companies, Coinbase and ivyKoin, have talked to federal regulators about obtaining a bank charter, has prompted widespread interest — but it remains unclear if much will come of any discussions. Over the past year, several companies from other sectors, including heavyweights like Amazon and PayPal, have approached banking regulators, only for nothing to happen. Some predict a similar outcome here. “The same issues are always going to affect banking regulators deciding whether or not to give a bank license: how do they confirm the identity of everybody who holds a wallet?” said Christine Duhaime, attorney at Duhaime Law. In the case of cryptocurrency firms, the hurdles to acquiring a charter are daunting, including following know-your-customer rules and anti-money-laundering rules that require financial institutions to know exactly with whom they are dealing. “You can try to identify everyone on your exchange, but at the end of the day you really don’t know 100% of the time to whom they are transferring money or digital currency and from where that digital currency is coming to the exchange,” Duhaime said. “To get a banking license, to start to take deposits, is a whole different ballgame when it comes to anti-money-laundering and Bank Secrecy Act compliance. It will be an uphill battle.” But the firms themselves do not agree. Adam White, vice president and general manager of Coinbase, would not comment on an article by The Wall Street Journal that said the firm had met with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to discuss a banking charter.  But he did insist that the firm already complies with a rigorous KYC/AML program, signaling that it could handle the rigors of becoming a bank as well.

        Decision on fintech charter coming this summer: OCC’s Joseph Otting -— The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency plans to announce in July whether it will proceed with granting national bank charters to fintech firms, the head of the agency said Thursday. In comments accompanying the release of the OCC’s semiannual risk report, Comptroller Joseph Otting said “the honest answer is we haven’t decided” whether to use the agency’s authority to issue fintech charters, an idea that was first explored by former Comptroller Thomas Curry. Otting said the agency is still in an “internal review process” on a fintech charter and "we expect some time in July to release our decision on that.” But he noted that interest in a charter among fintech firms has dwindled since the agency first proposed the idea. “It’s important to point out how perhaps that market has changed. If you were sitting around here two years ago having a conversation, most of the fintechs thought that they wanted to be banks,” he said in a conference call with reporters. Since then, he added, when the process of becoming a bank has become clearer, some potential applicants have headed for the door. Instead, they seem more focused on partnering with banks, he said.

        Credit Card Delinquencies Spike Past Financial-Crisis Peak - In the first quarter, the delinquency rate on credit-card loan balances at commercial banks other than the largest 100 – so at the 4,788 smaller banks in the US – spiked in to 5.9%. This exceeds the peak during the Financial Crisis. The credit-card charge-off rate at these banks spiked to 8%. This is approaching the peak during the Financial Crisis.A sobering set of numbers the Federal Reserve Board of Governors releasedthis afternoon.But overall, across all commercial banks, including the largest banks with the largest credit-card loan balances outstanding, the delinquency rate was 2.54% (not seasonally adjusted). This overall rate was pushed down by the largest 100 banks, whose combined delinquency rate in Q1 was 2.48%.These large banks have been offering appealing incentives to consumers for years, and they’ve been going after consumers with the higher credit ratings, and they’ve been following good underwriting practices – having not yet forgotten the lesson from the last debacle – and this conservative approach is now helping to keep losses down. But the thousands of smaller banks couldn’t compete with those offers, and so they got deeply into subprime cloaked in sloppy underwriting. This way, they were able to reel in new credit-card customers that the big banks didn’t want, and those customers needed the money and charged up their new cards in no time, and the interest rates of 25% or 30% looked good on the banks’ income statement and helped maximize executive bonuses, yes even at smaller banks.But turns out, those banks had reeled in the most fragile customers and had eagerly doused them in irresponsible levels of debt at usurious interest rates – and now what? These customers won’t ever be able to pay off the balances or even pay the interest. For many of them, there’s only one way out. This caused the delinquency rate to spike from 3.81% to 5.90% in just three quarters. This chart shows delinquency rates for the largest 100 banks (blue line) and for the remaining 4,788 banks (red line):

        What’s behind rising delinquencies on private-label credit cards? -  Delinquency rates on private-label credit cards — such as the cards that Citigroup issues on behalf of Sears and other retailers — have soared to levels not seen in at least seven years, according to Equifax. The portion of private-label credit cards with accounts at least 60 days late climbed to 4.46% in April, up from 3.97% in April 2017. When compared with the same months last year, delinquencies have increased by at least 49 basis points in every month so far in 2018.Several factors have combined to drive past-due rates higher, including weaker underwriting on the part of card issuers, higher overall household debt levels and, perhaps most surprisingly, the bankruptcies of several high-profile retailers.  Amy Crews Cutts, the chief economist at Equifax, said that many consumers apparently think that when a retailer closes stores or goes out of business, they don’t have to pay that store’s credit card bill.“Consumers think they’re getting a free pass” when a retailer goes bankrupt, she said.  It’s a pitfall that retailers and banks have known about for some time. Once a store closes, consumers are less likely to pay off their existing debts because they’ve lost a physical connection to the retailer, according to a 2017 Moody’s Investors Service study.Sears, for example, closed more than 100 stores in March and April, including both its namesake stores and Kmart stores. The company also said this week that it will close another 40 stores this summer. Private-label delinquency rates have also spiked at bankrupt retailers, including Toys R Us and HHGregg, Cutts said. Still, the spike in delinquency rates can’t be attributed solely to the struggles of prominent retailers. Many card issuers have made the mistake in recent years of not only offering cards to more subprime consumers, but also boosting credit lines.

        Trump signs repeal of auto-loan policy that targeted racial bias | TheHill: President Trump has repealed auto-lending guidance from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), revoking a rule that was put in place to protect minority customers from predatory practices. Trump’s signature on a congressional resolution erases the CFPB’s 2013 guidance targeting “dealer markups,” the additional interest that is added to a customer’s third-party auto loan as compensation for the dealer. The president signed the resolution in a private White House signing ceremony. Auto dealers, banks and their allies in Congress said the CFPB policy was an unfair and unfounded attack on an essential and harmless financing tool. The move caps off an unprecedented use of congressional power, as lawmakers had never before passed such a resolution to revoke informal guidance from a federal agency.Republicans and a small group of Democrats voted to repeal the CFPB guidance under what is known as the Congressional Review Act (CRA). That law allows a simple majority of lawmakers in the House and Senate to vote to repeal a federal rule; it also bans the agency from replacing a rule with a similar measure in the future. The resolution cleared the House earlier this month after clearing the Senate in April. While Congress has used the CRA to repeal more than a dozen Obama-era federal rules since 2017, this is the first time that lawmakers have successfully overturned guidance from a federal agency that had not been finalized as a formal regulation. 

        Trump makes repeal of CFPB auto lending rule official  — The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s indirect auto lending guidance was officially repealed Monday at a White House signing ceremony. A Congressional Review Act resolution to block the 2013 guidance passed the Senate last month 51 to 47, with the support of one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. It passed the House earlier this month 234 to 175. The guidance was aimed at preventing discriminatory markups on indirect loans made by car dealers. Congress typically has only 60 legislative days to invoke the Congressional Review Act to block agency rules, but lawmakers were able to reverse the five-year-old policy after the Government Accountability Office had determined that the guidance was actually a rule that should have been under congressional review. The GAO decision effectively restarted the clock. The bureau's former leadership in the Obama administration had been concerned that indirect auto lenders enjoyed too much discretion to discriminate against borrowers in pricing. But current acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney, who was appointed by President Trump, said Monday the guidance "seemed like a solution in search of a problem." 

        CFPB signals pullback on discrimination cases -  The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is looking to rewrite Obama-era regulations that sought to punish banks and financial firms for unintentional discrimination. Acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney on Monday praised President Trump for signing a repeal of the CFPB's guidance on indirect auto lending, but added that the agency will now re-examine how it enforces the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which prohibits discrimination in lending. "Given a recent Supreme Court decision distinguishing between anti-discrimination statutes that refer to the consequences of actions and those that refer only to the intent of the actor, and in light of the fact that the Bureau is required by statute to enforce federal consumer financial laws consistently, the bureau will be reexamining the requirements of the ECOA," the CFPB said in a press release. Acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney also said that the agency is reviewing all previous guidance to determine if it should be submitted to Congress for review. Bloomberg News The ECOA is a 1974 law that protects consumers from discrimination based on race, sex, age and other variables that have historically been used to prevent certain buyers from obtaining home loans. The CFPB referred to a 2015 Supreme Court decision in Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, as its reason for re-examining disparate impact. The decision said that disparate impact claims, under which a lender can be cited for unintentional discrimination, require that a plaintiff prove a defendant's policies caused the alleged disparity. 

        CFPB faces tough questions over student loan moves - Senate Democrats are asking acting Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Mick Mulvaney to explain why the agency is no longer supervising student loan lenders and servicers. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, the ranking member on the Senate Banking committee, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the ranking member of Senate Education committee, called Friday for Mulvaney to turn over documents explaining how the agency's Office of Students and Young Consumers will meet its statutory obligations to oversee such firms. The letter asks Mulvaney to respond to 13 questions including whether he has a conflict of interest given that he also heads the Office of Management and Budget, which collects on student loan debt.  Lawmakers asked for "documents that describe policies and procedures you have put in place at the CFPB that ensure Mr. Mulvaney’s duty as OMB Director to protect taxpayers’ investments in federal debt collection contracts are not allowed to conflict with the CFPB’s obligation to fairly and independently administer consumer financial protection laws." Last week, Mulvaney stripped the student lending office of all functions except consumer education. He moved the student lending division and its ombudsman under his direct oversight in a reorganization to better align the CFPB with Republican priorities. The CFPB also dropped any reference in its spring agenda to potential rulemaking on student loans, a sign the agency is abandoning plans to develop regulations on student loan servicers.

        Payday Lending Rule Survives…For Now -- Jerri-lynn Scofield - Last week’s May 16 deadline for overturning the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) payday lending rule under Congressional Review Act (CRA) procedures passed– leaving the rule standing… for the time being. For a history of the rule, and see my October post, CFPB Issues Payday Lending Rule: Will it Hold, as the Empire Will Strike Back. Payday lending is a particularly sleazy part of the financial services swamp, preying on the poorest, most financially-stressed Americans,where effective interest rates can top hundred of points per annum. CRA procedures are only one way that the payday lending rule could have been unwound– but would have required on-the-record votes by a majority of Congresscritters. As I wrote in a subsequent December post,House Members Tee Up Bipartisan Bill to Kill CFPB Payday Lending Rule, the industry couldn’t rely on a full court press by the financial services industry to scupper the rule. Opponents of the rule, such as Ballard Spahr partner Alan Kaplinsky writing in the Consumer Finance Monitor agreed, that it unlikely sufficient Senate votes could be found: As rule proponent TruthOut noted in Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Payday Loan Rule Survives GOP Repeal — for Now: Only four Senators have cosponsored the CRA bill on the bureau’s payday rule — Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), and Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Does that mean that paltry Senate support for overturning the rule via CRA procedures man the rule survives? Unfortunately, no. Two immediate threats loom. First, the CFPB reopened its rule-making procedures on the rule in January 2018 and is expected to reconsider the rule in 2019. This is part and parcel of a more general effort to rein in the agency’s consumer protection efforts. As the WSJ reported earlier this month in Mulvaney to Prioritize Business Costs in CFPB Reorganization:  […] One major and immediate area affected by this reorganisation is student loan oversight. As for the payday loan rule,as the American Banker reported last week in The real fight over CFPB’s payday rule is just beginning: Consumer advocates note that there are a number of ways the agency could potentially narrow the rule, effectively watering it down. That might include altering provisions that require a lender to assess a borrower’s ability to repay and that limit a lender’s ability to make successive debits from a customer’s account when the transactions don’t process.

        OCC gives banks green light to compete with payday lenders -- The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is shaking up the world of short-term lending by encouraging banks to offer high-interest rate loans to subprime borrowers as an alternative to payday lenders.In a major break from past regulators, Comptroller Joseph Otting said Wednesday that he wants banks to originate loans of $300 to $5,000 to borrowers with FICO scores of 680 or below, with few other parameters beyond "sound underwriting." The new OCC guidelines could open a $90 billion market to financial institutions.  "This product is a vehicle to help people get back into mainstream banking and get them off of high-cost financial services products of check-cashing and payday lending, with a view toward getting them into the mainstream of financial activities where they can qualify for a credit card," Otting said on a conference call with reporters.

        Fannie-Freddie Overhaul Plan Is Dead for Now, Senators Say - Two U.S. senators who have played key roles in trying to advance housing-finance reform are acknowledging the legislative efforts to end government control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are dead, at least for now. Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee and Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia commented on the status of the two companies Wednesday at a Senate Banking Committee hearing with Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt. Corker and Warner tried to develop a bill that would have largely preserved the operations of Fannie and Freddie while opening the market to new competition. That effort foundered after failing to win support from progressives, who wanted to preserve the companies’ affordable-housing mandates, and Congress has little time left to consider major legislation before November’s mid-term elections. “My sense is that these institutions may well stay in conservatorship for some time,” Corker said, adding that he believed President Donald Trump’s administration might take some sort of action on Fannie and Freddie. The failure to pass legislation means that the two quasi-governmental companies at the center of the U.S. mortgage market will have spent more than a decade under federal control without an end in sight. The U.S. took control of Fannie and Freddie in 2008, injecting them with $187.5 billion in the wake of the financial crisis and then with another $4 billion to help them deal with an adverse effect of Trump’s tax cut. The companies have become profitable and paid taxpayers about $279 billion, which doesn’t count as repaying the bailout 

        FHFA's Watt plows ahead on housing finance fixes — With the clock ticking down on his term as head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Mel Watt made clear Wednesday that he will continue implementing administrative housing finance reforms as Congress fails to achieve legislative changes. Chief among them, Watt told members of the Senate Banking Committee, is a risk-based capital proposal for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to be unveiled "in the very near future."Such a framework, which would also include minimum leverage capital requirements, was in place under the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight — the FHFA's pre-crisis predecessor — but was suspended once the two government-sponsored enterprises were placed in conservatorship. A new FHFA framework would similarly be suspended as long as the conservatorships continue, but Watt said "it is important for our Agency, as a regulator, to articulate a view on prudential capital requirements for the Enterprises based on their current operations."  The proposal "will provide valuable transparency to the public about capital and will be a catalyst for serious and thoughtful discussions and opinions about the capital requirements that would be appropriate for the Enterprises and/or other entities playing similar roles in the housing finance system going forward," Watt said at the hearing. The plan could bring some certainty to Fannie and Freddie's capital situation at a time of continued unpredictability, but Watt cautioned that the proposal is not an endorsement of various ideas to release the companies from conservatorship without reforming them. The proposal would be another example of how Watt, whose term ends in January, has sought to make changes at the agency level in the absence of GSE reform legislation.

        Brian Montgomery confirmed by Senate to FHA — The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Brian Montgomery as Federal Housing Administration commissioner in a 74-23 vote.Montgomery, who most recently served as vice chairman of the business advisory firm Collingwood Group, was previously FHA commissioner from 2005 to 2009.   However, Montgomery’s nomination was opposed by several Democrats, including Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, over concerns that he is too close to the mortgage industry. Despite his having already run the agency in the George W. Bush administration, Montgomery's nomination had languished since the fall.

        CFPB retreat may only go so far to ease mortgage rules — Although the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is loosening certain mortgage rules, other types of industry regulation will likely persist as they are or even tighten, according to industry attorneys. LO comp rules are probably "here to stay," Wayne Watkinson, an attorney and partner at law firm Offit Kurman, told attendees at the New York Association of Mortgage Brokers conference here, when asked whether they are likely to be rolled back. In addition, states continue to "fear that there may be a void" as a result of the CFPB's rollback and are likely to continue to tighten regulation in response, said Bonnie Nachamie, an industry attorney in private practice. New York, which has some of the most detailed business continuity and cybersecurity rules in the nation, continues to take a particularly close look at industry websites, and the waiting time for website approval in the state can take up to six months, the two attorneys said. While mortgage companies continue to have to contend with such regulatory constraints, they may get some relief from CFPB reforms like the bureau's proposed loosening of QM standards. Continuing regulatory costs and lower volumes have helped ensure that mortgage brokers, which remain a low-cost means of sourcing loans compared to other origination channels, remain attractive to lenders.

        Mortgage lending restricted by regulatory burdens, bankers say -- The increased regulatory burden created by the Dodd-Frank Act restricted bank residential lending in 2017, especially when it came to non-qualified mortgages, according to an American Bankers Association survey. Slightly more than half of the banks, 52%, said they primarily originated loans that met the qualified mortgage standard, and whatever non-QM lending they did was to targeted markets, the ABA's Real Estate Lending Survey found. This was up from 45% in 2016.The qualified mortgage rule established under Dodd-Frank created a safe harbor for loans that met certain criteria; but no matter whether a loan meets that criteria or not, currently any loan that Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac will purchase is automatically QM. Many banks' mortgage lending strategy includes originating jumbo loans which are not agency eligible and keeping them in their portfolio. But many jumbo mortgages fall outside of the QM rule standards and thus don't fall under the safe harbor, making lenders reluctant to originate them.  "The survey shows how the current rules are making it difficult for banks to fully serve their communities," said Robert Davis, the ABA's executive vice president in charge of mortgage markets. "The good news is Congress is currently considering legislative changes that would allow a greater portion of creditworthy borrowers' access to mortgages."

         Tech, reg relief creating a 'nexus of change' in mortgage lending - Reducing unnecessary compliance burdens will pave the way for economic growth, larger job creation and wage increases, and re-evaluating technology will play an important role in doing so, according to Craig Phillips, counselor to the secretary at the Department of the Treasury.Phillips hosted a session at the Mortgage Bankers Association's National Secondary Conference in New York on Monday.To make businesses more competitive and create more opportunities for workers, the regulatory system needs to be more effective and efficient. And with regulatory technology being outdated, specifically in mortgage lending, Treasury finds it necessary to rethink digital approaches to compliance."Today is truly an exciting time to be working on financial services policy. In many ways it feels we're at the nexus of change in witnessing the industry evolve like some other industries from a brick-and-mortar branch focus to the imperative in having a strong digital footprint and vast technological capabilities," said Phillips."With these changes come many, many opportunities both for established players and many new entrants, but it also brings challenges. One of these challenges will be to navigate a regulatory system that was designed in and for a different era," he continued.

        Mortgage delinquencies show improvement but still face pressure -Late payments on single-family home mortgages improved on a consecutive quarter basis as more recovery from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma took hold, but more potential loan performance concerns lie ahead. Overall, seasonally adjusted delinquencies in the first quarter declined by 54 basis points from the previous quarter but were just 8 basis points lower than the same period in 2017, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association's latest National Delinquency Survey."Mortgage delinquencies decreased from the previous quarter across all loan types — conventional, VA, and in particular, FHA — as the effects of the September hurricanes dissipated," Marina Walsh, the MBA's vice president of industry analysis, said in a press release. "The strong economy, low unemployment rate, tax refunds and bonuses and home price appreciation were key factors that helped push delinquencies down in the first quarter.""Of course, there are offsetting factors that may put upward pressure on delinquency rates in future quarters, including a difficult recovery for some borrowers in hurricane-impacted states, the aging of loan portfolios, higher interest rates that limit a borrower's rate-term refinance options, higher energy prices, stretching of housing affordability given limited supply and the easing of credit overlays as mortgage market conditions have changed," Walsh added. But for the time being, even the later-term delinquencies and defaults that were up in fourth quarter of 2017 look to have improved on a consecutive quarter basis.

        Black Knight: National Mortgage Delinquency Rate Decreased in April, Foreclosure Inventory Lowest since August 2006 From Black Knight: Black Knight’s First Look: Mortgage Delinquencies Buck Upward Seasonal Trend in April, Fall to Second Lowest Point in 12 Years

        • Historically, mortgage delinquencies have risen 85 percent of the time in April; this month they declined 1.6 percent – about equal to the size of their average usual increase
        • April’s improvement halted a seven-month trend of annual increases in the national delinquency rate
        • Areas impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma led April’s delinquency improvement, but slight declines were seen in non-affected areas as well
        • Over 90,000 seriously delinquent mortgages (90 or more days past due) attributed to the 2017 hurricane season remain in affected areas of Texas, Florida and Georgia
        • The number of mortgages in active foreclosure hit its lowest point since August 2006
        According to Black Knight's First Look report for April, the percent of loans delinquent decreased 1.6% in April compared to March, and decreased 10.2% year-over-year.
        The percent of loans in the foreclosure process decreased 2.3% in April and were down 28.4% over the last year.  Black Knight reported the U.S. mortgage delinquency rate (loans 30 or more days past due, but not in foreclosure) was 3.67% in April, down from 3.73% in March. The percent of loans in the foreclosure process decreased in April to 0.61%.  The number of delinquent properties, but not in foreclosure, is down 187,000 properties year-over-year, and the number of properties in the foreclosure process is down 119,000 properties year-over-year.

        12 housing markets where foreclosures are picking back up -- While overall foreclosure activity continues to decline nationwide, the number of foreclosure starts in April increased over the previous year in 99 of the 219 metro areas tracked by Attom Data Solutions. Foreclosure activity — including starts, second notices and properties becoming real estate owned — fell 17% in April from the previous year. This marks 31 consecutive months where total activity fell from the previous year. The nationwide foreclosure rate is one filing for every 2,089 housing units. There were 64,183 properties with a foreclosure filing during April. But total foreclosure activity increased compared with April 2017 in 24% of the markets tracked by Attom. Meanwhile, foreclosure starts fell 1% nationwide in April compared with the previous year. Even with the small decline, that makes 34 consecutive months with fewer foreclosure starts on a year-over-year basis. Lenders came into possession of 14,233 properties during the month, down by 45% from March and by 45% from April 2017. This makes 15 consecutive months where the number of properties becoming real estate owned declined. Here's a look at 12 housing markets with a population over 1 million people where the number of foreclosure starts increased the most on a percentage basis from a year ago, based on data aggregated by Attom. A foreclosure start is measured as the first notice the borrower received from the servicer. Depending on the state, that could be a notice of default, a lis pendens (which is a written notice that states a lawsuit has been filed concerning real estate) or a notice of trustee sale. Foreclosure completion is where a property has become REO of the mortgage holder following a foreclosure sale.

         MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest Weekly Survey, Refi Index lowest since December 2000 - From the MBA: Mortgage Rates Increase, Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey Mortgage applications decreased 2.6 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending May 18, 2018. ... The Refinance Index decreased 4 percent from the previous week to its lowest level since December 2000. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 2 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 3 percent compared with the previous week and was 3 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 4.77 percent from 4.78 percent, with points remaining unchanged at 0.50 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The first graph shows the refinance index since 1990. Refinance activity will not pick up significantly unless mortgage rates fall 50 bps or more from the recent level.

        FHFA House Price Index: Up 1.7% in Q1 ---The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has released its U.S. House Price Index (HPI) for March. Here is the opening of the report:U.S. house prices rose 1.7 percent in the first quarter of 2018 according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) House Price Index (HPI). House prices rose 6.9 percent from the first quarter of 2017 to the first quarter of 2018. FHFA's seasonally adjusted monthly index for March was up 0.1 percent from February. [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.

        Existing-Home Sales Slide in April --This morning's release of the April Existing-Home Sales decreased from the previous month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.46 million units. The consensus was for 5.56 million. The latest number represents a 2.5% decrease from the previous month and a 1.4% decrease year-over-year.Here is an excerpt from today's report from the National Association of Realtors.Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says this spring’s staggeringly low inventory levels caused existing sales to slump in April. “The root cause of the underperforming sales activity in much of the country so far this year continues to be the utter lack of available listings on the market to meet the strong demand for buying a home,” he said. “Realtors® say the healthy economy and job market are keeping buyers in the market for now even as they face rising mortgage rates. However, inventory shortages are even worse than in recent years, and home prices keep climbing above what many home shoppers are able to afford.” [Full Report] For 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.

        NAR: "Existing-Home Sales Slide 2.5 Percent in April" --From the NAR: Existing-Home Sales Slide 2.5 Percent in April After moving upward for two straight months, existing-home sales retreated in April on both a monthly and annualized basis, according to the National Association of Realtors®. All four major regions saw no gain in sales activity last month.  Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, decreased 2.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.46 million in April from 5.60 million in March. With last month’s decline, sales are now 1.4 percent below a year ago and have fallen year-over-year for two straight months. Total housing inventory at the end of April increased 9.8 percent to 1.80 million existing homes available for sale, but is still 6.3 percent lower than a year ago (1.92 million) and has fallen year-over-year for 35 consecutive months. Unsold inventory is at a 4.0-month supply at the current sales pace (4.2 months a year ago). This graph shows existing home sales, on a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) basis since 1993. Sales in April (5.46 million SAAR) were 2.5% lower than last month, and were 1.4% below the April 2017 rate. The second graph shows nationwide inventory for existing homes. Existing Home InventoryAccording to the NAR, inventory increased to 1.80 million in April from 1.67 million in March. Headline inventory is not seasonally adjusted, and inventory usually decreases to the seasonal lows in December and January, and peaks in mid-to-late summer. The last graph shows the year-over-year (YoY) change in reported existing home inventory and months-of-supply. Since inventory is not seasonally adjusted, it really helps to look at the YoY change. Note: Months-of-supply is based on the seasonally adjusted sales and not seasonally adjusted inventory.

        A Few Comments on April Existing Home Sales -  Bill Mcbride -Earlier: NAR: "Existing-Home Sales Slide 2.5 Percent in April" . A few key points:
        1) As usual, housing economist Tom Lawler's forecast was closer to the NAR report than the consensus. See:Lawler: Early Read on Existing Home Sales in April.
        2) Inventory is still very low and falling year-over-year (YoY) with inventory down 6.3% year-over-year in March). This was the 35th consecutive month with a year-over-year decline in inventory, however the YoY declines have been getting smaller.   And some areas of the country are now reporting YoY increases in inventory.More inventory would probably mean smaller price increases, and less inventory somewhat larger price increases.   The following graph shows existing home sales Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA).Sales NSA in April (460,000, red column) were  above sales in April 2017 (447,000, NSA).Sales NSA through April are down about 1% from the same period in 2017.This is a small decline - and it is too early to tell if there is an impact from higher interest rates and / or the changes to the tax law on home sales.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.

        For $200K, You Can Buy A Mansion In Cleveland, Or A Closet In Manhattan - When it comes to housing, the median price per square foot can vary wildly depending on whether you're in a "hot" housing market like New York City or a less popular market like Cleveland. In a graphic created by PropertyShark, the research company puts these differences into perspective by showing, comparatively, how much home a person could buy for $200,000 - the median home price for the US.In Cleveland, where the median price per square foot is $53, one could buy a 3,700 square foot home - enough to fit a few spare rooms. But in Manhattan, where that number is nearly $1,600 per square foot, you'd barely be able to afford a closet (at that rate, $200,000 would only get you 126 square feet). San Francisco, Boston and San Jose are in a situation similar to Manhattan. The market is hot and prices are sky high.But cities like San Antonio and Memphis have an affordability that's closer to Cleveland. For $200,000, you could buy a 400 to 600 square foot home in Los Angeles and San Diego.Or you could buy a home as large as 2,000 square feet in Nashville or Orlando, the latter of which can be seen as a kind of alternative to LA.Or if you have your heart set on a major US city - but want something that's slightly more affordable than LA - you could find a decent living in Miami for $200,000 (it would get you 835 square feet), Portland 773 square feet) and Chicago (1,102 square feet).

        New Home Sales decrease to 662,000 Annual Rate in April -- The Census Bureau reports New Home Sales in April were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 662 thousand.
        The previous three months were revised down, combined."Sales of new single-family houses in April 2018 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 662,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 1.5 percent below the revised March rate of 672,000, but is 11.6 percent above the April 2017 estimate of 593,000." .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 April to 5.4 months from 5.3 months in March. The all time record was 12.1 months of supply in January 2009.This is in the normal range (less than 6 months supply is normal). 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 April 2018 (red column), 64 thousand new homes were sold (NSA). Last year, 56 thousand homes were sold in April. The all time high for April was 116 thousand in 2005, and the all time low for April was 30 thousand in 2011. This was below expectations of 677,000 sales SAAR, and the previous months were revised down.

        New Home Sales Down 1.5% in April -- This morning's release of the April New Home Sales from the Census Bureau came in at 662K, down 1.5% month-over-month from a revised 672K in March. The forecast was for 680K. Revisions were made going back to 2013 for seasonally adjusted figures. Here is the opening from the report:Sales of new single-family houses in April 2018 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 662,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 1.5 percent (±11.8 percent)* below the revised March rate of 672,000, but is 11.6 percent (±23.7 percent)* above the April 2017 estimate of 593,000. The median sales price of new houses sold in April 2018 was $312,400. The average sales price was $407,300. [Full Report] For a longer-term perspective, here is a snapshot of the data series, which is produced in conjunction with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The data since January 1963 is available in the St. Louis Fed's FRED repository here. We've included a six-month moving average to highlight the trend in this highly volatile series.

        A few Comments on April New Home Sales - Bill Mcbride - New home sales for April were reported at 662,000 on a seasonally adjusted annual rate basis (SAAR). This was below the consensus forecast, and the three previous months were revised down. Sales in April were up 11.6% year-over-year compared to April 2017, however, this was a fairly easy comparison.  Earlier: New Home Sales decrease to 662,000 Annual Rate in April. This graph shows new home sales for 2017 and 2018 by month (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate).  Sales are up 7.2% through April compared to the same period in 2017. Decent growth so far, and the next four months will also be an easy comparison to 2017. This is on track to be close to my forecast for 2018 of 650 thousand new home sales for the year; an increase of about 6% over 2017.   There are downside risks to that forecast, such as higher mortgage rates, higher costs (labor and material), and possible policy errors.

        April 2018 housing summary: Let's take a look at the very leading housing market, now that we have all of the major reports for April. To recap, the single most leading and least volatile housing report is single family permits. This last made an expansion high two months ago in February: but there has been no break in the underlying rising trend. So this is very potent evidence just by itself that the economy should continue to progress over the next 12 months. That being said, interest rates tend to lead permits by 6 to 9 months. Meanwhile, permits tend to lead house prices by about 9 to 12 months. Because there is a very potent demographic tailwind in the form of the large Millennial generation having reached home buying age, a bigger increase than usual in interest rates would be necessary to overcome that support. The next two graphs compare the YoY change in mortgage interest rates (blue, inverted) with single family permits (red), and median new single family home prices (green, quarterly) for the last 50+ years: Now here is a close-up of the last 5 years. All three series are averaged quarterly to cut down on the noise: The recent increase in the YoY% change in house prices (green) follows the YoY% increase in sales during early 2017, which in turn followed the YoY decrease in mortgage rates in late 2016. The 2017 increase in mortgage rates looks like it is feeding through into the YoY% change in sales early this year, and price increases may moderate later this year. 

         Do People Really Downsize? -- The question, or the assumption that older households downsize as they age is one that I’ve really struggled with trying to answer. Obviously it makes theoretical sense. As one’s children grow up, you no longer need as much space, and the love/hate relationship with the yard may become more physically taxing. I hear comments along these lines quite frequently. And many urbanists rightfully point out that one of the benefits of the missing middle housing — duplexes, quads, townhomes, etc — is it better allows aging in place. That is it would provide additional housing options within existing neighborhoods so if a household does sell/downsize, they do not have to leave their longtime friends and social networks. They can remain in the same area. An added benefit in this scenario would then be a larger, single family home coming back onto the market for another family to move into. We could adjust, or tailor our housing situation with our actual housing needs. Again, all of that makes sense. But do we actually see households downsize overall, let alone stay in the neighborhood? Turning to the data shows that it it kinda, sorta does happen on a small scale. ... Bottom Line: Moving rates and downsizing among households in their early retirement years is not very common. In fact it is less common today than in decades past. However, among those that do move in their 60s and 70s, they downsize. Given the large Baby Boomer generation continues to age into their retirement years, the absolute number of such moves is expected to rise, even if it remains a relatively small share of the housing market overall.

        How Baby Boomers Broke America - Lately, most Americans, regardless of their political leanings, have been asking themselves some version of the same question: How did we get here? How did the world’s greatest democracy and economy become a land of crumbling roads, galloping income inequality, bitter polarization and dysfunctional government?As I tried to find the answer over the past two years, I discovered a recurring irony. About five decades ago, the core values that make America great began to bring America down. The First Amendment became a tool for the wealthy to put a thumb on the scales of democracy. America’s rightly celebrated dedication to due process was used as an instrument to block government from enforcing job-safety rules, holding corporate criminals accountable and otherwise protecting the unprotected. Election reforms meant to enhance democracy wound up undercutting democracy. Ingenious financial and legal engineering turned our economy from an engine of long-term growth and shared prosperity into a casino with only a few big winners. These distinctly American ideas became the often unintended instruments for splitting the country into two classes: the protected and the unprotected. The protected overmatched, overran and paralyzed the government. The unprotected were left even further behind. And in many cases, the work was done by a generation of smart, hungry strivers who benefited from one of the most American values of all: meritocracy.  It is difficult to argue that the cynicism is misplaced. From matters small – there are an average of 657 water-main breaks a day, for example – to large, it is clear that the country has gone into a tailspin over the last half-century, when John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier was about seizing the future, not trying to survive the present.

        Fed Finds 22% Of American Adults Can't Pay Their Monthly Bills; 41% Have Less Than $400 In Cash -- The Fed's latest Annual Report on the Well-Being of U.S. Households is out, and there's both good news and bad... But first, a few of the high(or rather low)lights:

        • One-third of those with varying income, or 10 percent of all adults, say they struggled to pay their bills at least once in the past year due to varying income
        • Over three-fourths of whites were at least doing okay financially in 2017 versus less than two-thirds of blacks and Hispanics.
        • Over a quarter of young adults ages 25 to 29, and slightly more than 1 in 10 in their 30s, live with their parents.
        • Over two-fifths of young adults in their late 20s provide financial assistance to their parents
        • Nearly 25 percent of young adults under age 30, and 10 percent of all adults, receive some form of financial support from someone living outside their home.
        • While 8 in 10 adults living in middle- and upper-income neighborhoods are satisfied with the overall quality of their community, only 6 in 10 living in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods are satisfied
        • Seven in 10 low-income renters spend more than 30 percent of their monthly income on rent

        Now, the good news. The report, based on the Board's fifth annual Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking, provides a story of "overall improvement consistent with the national economic expansion." Overall, 74% of the more than 12,000 respondents reported that they were either "doing okay" or "living comfortably" in 2017, which is 4% better than last year's report, and 10% higher than the first survey conducted in 2013.  Broken down by race and education, 77% of whites say they are doing okay financially compared to 65% of blacks and 66% of hispanics. As expected, level of education attained is a factor as well - with higher educated respondents doing better than those with a high school degree or less. Similarly, fewer people are finding it difficult to get by vs. five years ago, with about 7% of adults reporting financial hardship vs. 13% in 2013. Broken down by income, the highest percentage - or 94% of those who responded that they are at least doing okay financially have more than $100,000 in household income - so hardly a surprise there - while only 56% of Americans making less than $40,000, which is roughly half the US population - can say the same. That also means 44% of Americans making under $40,000 are not doing OK financially.

        Fifty-one million US households cannot afford “survival budget” - Newly released data cast a revealing light on the state of income inequality in America a decade after the Great Recession. While CEO pay soars to unheard of heights, nearly 51 million US households cannot afford basic necessities like housing, food and health care. The figures show that a tiny oligarchy of the super-rich continues to tighten its grip over society, as more and more families struggle to get by.The New York Times on Friday published the Equilar 200 Highest-Paid CEO Rankings for 2017. The survey, conducted annually by the executive compensation consulting firm Equilar, lists the pay packages awarded to CEOs at US public companies with more than $1 billion in revenue. Entries regarding the 10 highest-paid CEOs in 2017 show not only massive compensation packages, but huge percentage increases over 2016.

        • No. 1: Hock E. Tan of Broadcom, total compensation of $103,211,163—a 318 percent increase over 2016
        • No. 2: Frank J. Bisignano of First Data, total compensation of $102,210,396—a 646 percent increase over 2016
        • No. 10: Stephen Kaufer of TripAdvisor, total compensation of $43,160,584—a 3,400 percent increase over 2016

        This year for the first time, as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank banking law, publicly traded US corporations must begin publishing comparisons between the pay of their chief executive and the median compensation of other employees. (Figures are not yet available for all of the highest-earning CEOs.) The following are just a few of the pay ratios for 2017:

        Michigan Consumer Sentiment: May Final Slips Slightly -- The University of Michigan Final Consumer Sentiment for May came in at 98.0, down 0.8 from the April Final reading. had forecast 98.8.Surveys of Consumers chief economist, Richard Curtin, makes the following comments:Consumer sentiment slipped by less than an Index-point from last month. Since Trump's election, the Sentiment Index has meandered in a tight eight-point range from 93.4 to 101.4, with the small month-to-month variations indicating no emerging trend. Consumers have remained focused on expected gains in jobs and incomes as well as anticipated increases in interest rates and inflation during the year ahead. As past expansions have shown, rising interest rates do not suppress spending gains as long as they are accompanied by more substantial increases in incomes. The May survey, however, found that consumers anticipated smaller income gains than a month or year ago, even though they anticipate the unemployment rate to stabilize at its current eighteen year low. Importantly, references to discounted prices for durables, vehicles, and homes fell to decade lows. Coupled with higher interest rates, it is likely that the pace of growth in personal consumption will remain at about 2.6% during the year ahead.When asked to explain how their personal finances had changed, the proportion that spontaneously cited higher prices worsening their financial situation has shown a close correspondence with actual trends in the year-over-year change in the CPI-see the chart. That close relationship ended about a decade ago, and in the past year or so, as the CPI has risen, complaints about inflation have fallen. While the reasons underlying the current divergence are unclear, it nonetheless signals a change in how consumers judge the impact of inflation on their personal finances. It may also suggest a change in their behavioral reaction to inflation. [More...] See the chart below for a long-term perspective on this widely watched indicator. Recessions and real GDP are included to help us evaluate the correlation between the Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index and the broader economy.

        Website leaked real-time location of most US cell phones to almost anyone -- A little-known service has been leaking the real-time locations of US cell phone users to anyone who takes the time to exploit an easily spotted bug in a free trial feature, security news site KrebsOnSecurity reported Thursday.LocationSmart, as the service is known, identifies the locations of phones connected to AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon, often to an accuracy of a few hundred yards, reporter Brian Krebs said. While the firm claims it provides the location lookup service only for legitimate and authorized purposes, Krebs reported that a demo tool on the LocationSmart website could be used by just about anyone to surreptitiously track the real-time whereabouts of just about anyone else.The tool was billed as a demonstration prospective customers could use to see the approximate location of their own mobile device. It required interested people to enter their name, email address, and phone number into a Web form. LocationSmart would then text the phone number and request permission to query the cellular network tower closest to the device. It didn’t take long for Robert Xiao, a security researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, to find a way to work around the authorization requirement. “I stumbled upon this almost by accident, and it wasn’t terribly hard to do,” Xiao said. “This is something anyone could discover with minimal effort. And the gist of it is I can track most people's cell phones without their consent.”

        FCC investigates site that let most US mobile phones’ location be exposed - The Federal Communications Commission has taken preliminary steps to examine the actions of LocationSmart, a southern California company that has suddenly found itself under intense public and government scrutiny for allowing most American cell phones’ locations to be easily accessed. As Ars reported Thursday, LocationSmart identifies the locations of phones connected to AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon, often to an accuracy of a few hundred yards, reporter Brian Krebs said. While the firm claims it provides the location-lookup service only for legitimate and authorized purposes, Krebs reported that a demo tool on the LocationSmart website could be used by just about anyone to surreptitiously track the real-time whereabouts of just about anyone else."I can confirm the matter has been referred to the Enforcement Bureau," wrote FCC spokesman Neil Grace in a Friday afternoon email to Ars.LocationSmart has not responded to Ars' direct questions, but it did send a statement saying that the company "strives to bring secure operational efficiencies to enterprise customers." The demo tool that was once available has been yanked from the company’s public website.

        The Changing Mix of Light Vehicle Sales -- I thought I'd look at the changing mix of vehicle sales over time (between passenger cars and light trucks / SUVs).
        The first graph below shows the mix of sales since 1976 (Blue is cars, Red is light trucks and SUVs). The mix has changed significantly. Back in 1976, most light vehicles were passenger cars - however car sales have trended down over time. Note that the big dips in sales are related to economic recessions (early '80s, early '90s, and the Great Recession of 2007 through mid-2009). The second graph shows the percent of light vehicle sales between passenger cars and trucks / SUVs. Over time the mix has changed toward more and more light trucks and SUVs. Only when oil prices are high, does the trend slow or reverse. Recently oil prices have been fairly low (now increasing), and the percent of light trucks and SUVs is almost up to 70%.

        Gas prices reach $5 per gallon in Manhattan - Gas prices have reached five dollars per gallon in New York City, Fox5NY reported on Tuesday. . One gas station in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood listed its gasoline for $4.999 per gallon, according to the news station. The current national average price for regular gas is $2.932 per gallon, while New York’s average is $3.076, according to AAA. Gas prices typically increase in the summer months. The U.S. Energy Information Administration in April predicted that gas prices in the summer of 2018 would be at their highest in four years due to the rising price of crude oil. The EIA projected the cost of regular gas for American motorists to be an average of $2.74 per gallon this summer, with the highest price of $2.79 per gallon in May. According to their projection, the two most common factors that alter gas prices are wholesale margins and the price of crude oil. Meanwhile, AAA said this week that the gasoline fees paid by drivers this upcoming Memorial Day holiday will be at their highest levels since 2014. 

        Trucking Growth Is Up Year-over-Year In April 2018: Headline data for truck shipments showed an improvement in April 2018. I tend to put heavier weight on the CASS index which continues to show strong rate of growth improvement year-over-year. Part of the problem with ATA data is its poor presentation and lack of transparency. It should be pointed out that the trucking movements are improving YoY. American Trucking Associations' advanced seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index increased 2.2% in April after easing 1% in March. In April, the index equaled 112.5 (2015=100), up from 110.1 in March. Said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello: Truck freight tonnage remains robust. And I don't think we've even seen the traditional spring freight season yet. People are just getting around to buying grills, lawn mowers, and yard tools. Plus, the produce season was also delayed due to a cold snap in early spring. Longer-term, strength in consumption, factory output, and construction should keep truck freight tonnage solid for the quarters ahead. Compared with April 2017, the SA index surged 9.5%, which was the largest year-over-year increase since October 2017. Year-to-date, compared with the same four months last year, tonnage increased 8%, far outpacing the annual gain of 3.8% in 2017. Econintersect tries to validate ATA truck data across data sources. It appears this month that jobs growth says the trucking industry employment levels were improved month-over-month. Please note using BLS employment data in real time is risky, as their data is normally backward adjusted (sometimes significantly). ATA revised the March decline slightly from the originally reported 1.1% to 1%. 

        Headline Durable Goods Orders Down 1.7% in April --The Advance Report on Manufacturers’ Shipments, Inventories, and Orders released today gives us a first look at the latest durable goods numbers. Here is the Bureau's summary on new orders:New orders for manufactured durable goods in April decreased $4.2 billion or 1.7 percent to $248.5 billion, the U.S. Census Bureau announced today. This decrease, down following two consecutive monthly increases, followed a 2.7 percent March increase. Excluding transportation, new orders increased 0.9 percent. Excluding defense, new orders decreased 1.9 percent. Transportation equipment, also down following two consecutive monthly increases, drove the decrease, $5.6 billion or 6.1 percent to $87.1 billion. Download full PDF  The latest new orders number at -1.7% month-over-month (MoM) was worse than the consensus of -1.4%. The series is up 7.6% year-over-year (YoY).If we exclude transportation, "core" durable goods came in at 0.9% MoM, which was better than consensus of 0.5%. The core measure is up 5.7% YoY.If we exclude both transportation and defense for an even more fundamental "core", the latest number is up 0.8% MoM and up 6.1% YoY.Core Capital Goods New Orders (nondefense capital goods used in the production of goods or services, excluding aircraft) is an important gauge of business spending, often referred to as Core Capex. It is up 1.0% MoM and up 6.8% YoY. For a look at the big picture and an understanding of the relative size of the major components, here is an area chart of Durable Goods New Orders minus Transportation and Defense with those two components stacked on top. We've also included a dotted line to show the relative size of Core Capex.

        Core Durable Goods Orders Bounce, But Aircraft Orders Tumble -  Following March's mixed bag of good orders improvement and shipments weakness, April's preliminary data showed durable goods orders tumbling more than expected (-1.7% MoM vs -1.3% exp, and down steeply from last month's 2.7% rise). Also notable was the much greater than expected drop in durables ex-defense, which plunged -1.9% in April, nearly double the -1.0% expected, and a big drop from last month's 4.3% increase. It may be time for the US to crank up the war machine once more... Aircraft orders weighed on total bookings: Boeing got only 78 orders for aircraft in April, down from 197 the prior month. Friday’s government report showed that orders for civilian aircraft and parts fell 29% in April after surging 60.7% in March. Outside of declines in machinery and civilian aircraft, the gain in orders was fairly broad-based, spanning computers, electrical equipment and metals. While the figures are typically volatile, the latest report indicates business spending continues to expand at a healthy pace. Orders placed with U.S. factories for business equipment rebounded in April even as the prior month’s figure was revised downward, indicating resilient demand at the start of the second quarter, Commerce Department figures showed Friday. However, core orders and the capex proxy both beat. The chart below demonstrates just how big the drop in capital goods new orders excluding defense was: tumbling -6.8% M/M this was the biggest drop going back nearly one year. Still, the actual Capital Goods shipments continue to rise: As Bloomberg notes, this suggests business investment continues to gather pace, joining consumer spending, helping to support a projected rebound in economic growth this quarter as demand gets a boost from lower taxes for companies and individuals.

        Richmond Fed: "Fifth District Manufacturing Firms Reported Robust Growth in May" -- From the Richmond Fed: Fifth District Manufacturing Firms Reported Robust Growth in May Fifth District manufacturing firms saw robust growth in May, according to survey results from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. The composite index swung from −3 in April to 16 in May, boosted by growth in the indexes for shipments, new orders, and employment. Local business conditions also moved back into expansionary territory, after weakening in April, and firms remained optimistic that growth would continue in coming months. Survey results indicate that both employment and wages rose among manufacturing firms in May [Index for number of employees increased from 12 to 18], however, firms still struggled to find the skills they needed. They expect this struggle to continue in the next six months and also expect employment and wages to increase further.Many manufacturing firms continued to increase spending in May. The growth rate of prices paid continued to rise, on average, but firms seemed able to pass some of change through to customers, as prices received also grew at a faster rate. All of the regional manufacturing reports for May have been solid so far.

        Kansas City Fed Survey: Growth Expanded in May The Kansas City Fed Manufacturing Survey business conditions indicator measures activity in the following states: Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wyoming, western Missouri, and northern New Mexico.Quarterly data for this indicator dates back to 1995, but monthly data is only available from 2001.Here is an excerpt from the latest report:KANSAS CITY, Mo. –The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City released the May 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 to expand at a rapid pace, and optimism remained high for future activity.“Our composite index rose to another record high in May, with continued optimism for future growth,” said Wilkerson. “Prices indexes were stable but remained at high levels.” [Full PDF release here] Here is a snapshot of the complete Kansas City Fed Manufacturing Survey.

        Kansas City Fed: Regional Manufacturing Activity "Continued to Expand Rapidly" in May - From the Kansas City Fed: Tenth District Manufacturing Activity Continued to Expand Rapidly: The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City released the May 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 to expand at a rapid pace, and optimism remained high for future activity.“Our composite index rose to another record high in May, with continued optimism for future growth,” said Wilkerson. “Prices indexes were stable but remained at high levels.” The month-over-month composite index was 29 in May, up from readings of 26 in April and 17 in March. The composite index is an average of the production, new orders, employment, supplier delivery time, and raw materials inventory indexes. Factory activity increased at both durable and nondurable goods plants, particularly at nondurable plants producing chemicals and food. Most month-over-month indexes continued to rise. The production index jumped from 33 to 41, and the shipments, new orders, and new orders for exports indexes also moved higher. In contrast, the order backlog and employment indexes eased somewhat. The raw materials inventory index edged up from 17 to 19, and the finished goods inventory index also increased. So far all of the regional Fed surveys have shown strong growth in May.

        Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims increase to 234,000 -- The DOL reported: In the week ending May 19, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 234,000, an increase of 11,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 from 222,000 to 223,000. The 4-week moving average was 219,750, an increase of 6,250 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 250 from 213,250 to 213,500. Claims taking procedures in Puerto Rico and in the Virgin Islands have still not returned to normal.  The previous week was revised up. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

        Economic Numbers Are Less Than Meet the Eye -  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that unemployment had dropped to 3.9%, the lowest in almost 20 years. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta reported that its widely followed GDP forecasting tool was showing projected growth for the second quarter of 2018 at 4%, exactly where Trump boosters like Larry Kudlow said it would be. The fact is that this good news hides more than it reveals. .Let’s start with the employment report. The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics report dated May 4, 2018, showed the official U.S. unemployment rate for April 2018 at 3.9%, with a separate unemployment rate for adult men of 4.1% and adult women of 3.7%.The 3.9% unemployment rate is based on a total workforce of 160 million people, of whom 153 million are employed and 6.3 million are unemployed. The 3.9% figure is the lowest unemployment rate since 2001, and before that, the early 1970s.The average rate of unemployment in the U.S. from 1948 to 2018 is 5.78%. By these superficial measures, unemployment is indeed low and the economy is arguably at full employment.Still, these statistics don’t tell the whole story.Of the 153 million with jobs, 5 million are working part time involuntarily; they would prefer full-time jobs but can’t find them or have had their hours cut by current employers. Another 1.4 million workers wanted jobs and had searched for a job in the prior year but are not included in the labor force because they had not searched in the prior four weeks.If their numbers were counted as unemployed, the unemployment rate would be 5%.Yet the real unemployment rate is far worse than that. The unemployment rate is calculated using a narrow definition of the workforce. But there are millions of able-bodied men and women between the ages of 25–54 capable of work who are not included in the workforce.These are not retirees or teenagers but adults in their prime working years. They are, in effect, “missing workers.” The number of these missing workers not included in the official unemployment rolls is measured by the Labor Force Participation Rate, LFPR. The LFPR measures the total number of workers divided by the total number of potential workers regardless of whether those potential workers are seeking work or not. The LFPR plunged from 67.3% in January 2000 to 62.8% in April 2018, a drop of 4.4 percentage points.

         Philly Fed: State Coincident Indexes increased in 45 states in April -- From the Philly Fed:The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has released the coincident indexes for the 50 states for April 2018. Over the past three months, the indexes increased in 49 states and decreased in one, for a three-month diffusion index of 96. In the past month, the indexes increased in 45 states, decreased in one, and remained stable in four, for a one-month diffusion index of 88. Note: These are coincident indexes constructed from state employment data. An explanation from the Philly Fed: The coincident indexes combine four state-level indicators to summarize current economic conditions in a single statistic. The four state-level variables in each coincident index are nonfarm payroll employment, average hours worked in manufacturing by production workers, the unemployment rate, and wage and salary disbursements deflated by the consumer price index (U.S. city average). The trend for each state’s index is set to the trend of its gross domestic product (GDP), so long-term growth in the state’s index matches long-term growth in its GDP.

        Vegas casino workers OK strike that may hobble famed resorts — Las Vegas casinos could watch tens of thousands of employees walk off the job for the first time in more than three decades after union members voted Tuesday to authorize a strike at any time starting June 1, a move that could cripple the city's world-famous resorts. About 25,000 members of the Culinary Union who work at 34 different casino-resorts across the tourist destination cast ballots in two sessions, showing the collective power of the largest labor organization in Nevada. The move hands union negotiators a huge bargaining chip as they work to solidify new five-year contracts. The union last voted for a strike in 2002 but reached a deal before employees walked out. The last strike, in 1984, spanned 67 days and cost the city and workers tens of millions of dollars. The latest strike would mean losing workers with roles critical to making a casino-hotel run: bartenders, housekeepers, cocktail and food servers, porters, bellmen, cooks and other kitchen workers. It would affect properties including Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, Bellagio, MGM Grand, Stratosphere, The D and El Cortez.  

        Who is the freeloader: the working poor on food stamps — or corporations that don’t pay them enough? -- Republicans in Congress just failed to pass a bill that would impose harsher work requirements for federal food stamps as part of the so-called farm bill, but there’s no sign they’re giving up on the idea anytime soon. Their argument is that, particularly with the Great Recession behind us, poorer Americans could and should be doing more to get into the workforce and off federal assistance. The GOP’s plan raises all sorts of bigger questions, but an alternative plan by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) asks a pretty straightforward one: Is the problem that people aren’t working enough? Or is it that they don’t receive a high enough wage or generous enough benefits from their employer? Brown thinks the latter is the real problem, and wants to charge corporations a “freeloader” fee if their employees depend on government aid like food stamps. His proposal implies that a big overarching problem in America isn’t that poor people aren’t working hard enough; it’s that their wages aren’t high enough, their jobs and hours can be unpredictable, and their employers don’t provide robust enough benefits for them to live without support. The bill has no chance of becoming law anytime soon. But it still underscores the divide between Democrats and Republicans over the real purpose of social welfare programs. Republicans see a workforce that could be doing more; Democrats see a system where the free market hasn’t done enough to lift up people who have the least. Brown, who is up for reelection in 2018, actually put forward his plan to tax companies whose workers depend on government programs last fall. He paired it with a plan to offer tax credits to companies that provide more generous benefits. It got a Senate floor vote while the GOP’s tax bill was under consideration and received support from every Senate Democrat.

        Poor America: 40% of Americans Can't Afford Middle-Class Lifestyle -- One of the primary objectives of the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy of this past decade was to generate the “wealth effect”: by artificially driving valuations of stocks and bonds to nosebleed valuations, American households would feel more prosperous, therefore, be more inclined to borrow and spend, even if some households did not own financial instruments.In other words, a Central-Bank-free-money-anything-goes-induced ‘economic recovery’ was supposed to trigger fast-paced economic growth, as households would reignite the service-based economy.While this perception management only worked for the wealthiest households who owned financial instruments, the reckless monetary policy of the Federal Reserve created a massive problem of wealth inequality among Americans.According to a new study obtained exclusively by Axios, more than 40 percent of households cannot afford the basics of a middle-class lifestyle, including rent, transportation, childcare and a cellphone. The study, conducted by the United Way ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) Project, a nationwide effort to quantify and describe the number of households that are struggling financially, discovered “a wide band of working U.S. households that live above the official poverty line, but below the cost of paying ordinary expenses,” said Axios. Stephanie Hoopes, Ph.D., Director, United Way ALICE Project told Axios, “based on 2016 data, there were 34.7 million households in that group — double the 16.1 million that are in actual poverty

        When 43% of Americans Can’t Pay for Food and Rent, We Can Safely Say the Economic Collapse Is Here - You know all those reports about how lots of Americans can’t afford a $1000 surprise expense like a medical bill or a car repair? Well, forget additional expenses. It turns out that nearly half of the families in America are struggling to pay for food and rent. And that means that the economic collapse isn’t just “coming.” It’s HERE.United Way has done a study on a group of Americans they call ALICE: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. The study found that this group does not make the money needed “to survive in the modern economy.”ALICE is your child care worker, your parent on Social Security, the cashier at your supermarket, the gas attendant, the salesperson at your big box store, your waitress, a home health aide, an office clerk. ALICE cannot always pay the bills, has little or nothing in savings, and is forced to make tough choices such as deciding between quality child care or paying the rent. One unexpected car repair or medical bill can push these financially strapped families over the edge.ALICE is a hardworking member of the community who is employed yet does not earn enough to afford the basic necessities of life.ALICE earns above the federal poverty level but does not earn enough to afford a bare-bones household budget of housing, child care, food, transportation, and healthcare. (source) Between families living below the poverty line due to unemployment or disability and ALICEs, the study discovered that 43% of Americans were struggling to cover basic necessities like rent and food. US primaries: Military-intelligence candidates win four Democratic congressional nominations - On Tuesday, candidates with links to the military or intelligence services won all four of the Democratic primary contests in which they were running. These results mark a significant advance in what amounts to the takeover of the Democratic Party by the national security apparatus.In the Sixth District of Kentucky and in three Texas runoff contests, in the 21st, 23rd and 31st Congressional Districts, candidates running on their records in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan defeated more traditional Democratic candidates, one backed by the party establishment and three linked to Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.The most high-profile contest came in Kentucky’s Sixth Congressional District, which includes the city of Lexington, the state’s second-largest, and a dozen nearby counties. Lexington Mayor Jim Gray had the backing of most of the party establishment after he entered the race, but he was defeated by former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath, the first woman to fly an F-18 fighter jet in combat, who was backed by veterans’ and women’s groups and raised more than $2 million through a series of Internet ads that focused on her military combat role. The incumbent Republican congressman, Andy Barr, won reelection in the district by 12 percentage points in 2016, but is considered one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the November election. The primary turnout was an indication, with 100,418 voting in the Democratic contest compared to 48,372 in the Republican. Both McGrath and Gray received more votes than Barr, who had only token opposition in the Republican primary.

        New DARPA Program Plans To Patrol Cities With AI Drones - On May 10, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) unveiled the Urban Reconnaissance through Supervised Autonomy (URSA) program, which addresses the issues of reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition within urban environments. The primary objective of the URSA program is to evaluate the feasibility and effectiveness of blending unmanned aerial systems, sensor technologies, and advanced machine learning algorithms to “enable improved techniques for rapidly discriminating hostile intent and filtering out threats in complex urban environments,” said FedBizOpps.In other words, the Pentagon is developing a program of high-tech cameras mounted on drones and other robots that monitor cities, which enable identification and discrimination between civilians and terrorists through machine learning computers. DARPA provides a simple scenario of what a URSA engagement would look like:  “A static sensor located near an overseas military installation detects an individual moving across an urban intersection and towards the installation outside of normal pedestrian pathways. An unmanned aerial system (UAS) equipped with a loudspeaker delivers a warning message. The person is then observed running into a neighboring building. Later, URSA detects an individual emerging from a different door at the opposite end of the building, but confirms it is the same person and sends a different UAS to investigate. This second UAS determines that the individual has resumed movement toward a restricted area. It releases a nonlethal flash-bang device at a safe distance to ensure the individual attends to the second message and delivers a sterner warning. This second UAS takes video of the subject and determines that the person’s gait and direction are unchanged even when a third UAS flies directly in front of the person and illuminates him with an eye-safe laser dot. URSA then alerts the human supervisor and provides a summary of these observations, warning actions, and the person’s responses and current location.”

        ACLU Demands Amazon Stop Selling "Affordable Mass Surveillance" To Police - Amazon has been marketing its facial recognition platform, called Rekognition, a deep learning-based image and video analysis, to law enforcement agencies in Oregon and Orlando, according to recent documents acquired by American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California.The ACLU alleges that Amazon is marching society towards a dystopian future in which corporations and governments can identify and track people in real time through the use of surveillance cameras. The ACLU and many other human rights organizations on Tuesday sent a damning letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos warning about the unpleasant future of mass surveillance in the hands of law enforcement. The letter urged Bezos to sever his business ties in providing surveillance products to the government.“We demand that Amazon stop powering a government surveillance infrastructure that poses a grave threat to customers and communities across the country. Amazon should not be in the business of providing surveillance systems like Rekognition to the government.”The letter said Amazon had promoted itself as a “customer-centric company,” but that seems not to be the case with Rekognition, as it is a powerful mass surveillance tool readily available to violate rights. “Amazon touts itself as a customer-centric company and directs its leadership to “work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust.” In the past, Amazon has opposed secret government surveillance. And you [Jeff Bezos] have personally supported First Amendment freedoms and spoken out against the discriminatory Muslim Ban. But Amazon’s Rekognition product runs counter to these values. As advertised, Rekognition is a powerful surveillance system readily available to violate rights and target communities of color.”

        Folks are shocked – shocked – that CIA-backed Amazon is selling face-recog tech to US snoops, cops - The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday expressed dismay that Amazon Web Services has been urging US government agencies to use its Rekognition API for state-sponsored facial recognition.The advocacy organization published emails obtained over a six-month investigation documenting marketing efforts by Amazon employees to convince officials in Orlando, Florida, and Washington County, Oregon, to deploy its cloud-based image analysis tech.Amazon, Google, and Microsoft all pitch assorted artificially intelligent image, facial, and data analysis services to paying customers in both the public and private sector, to say nothing of the other vendors that solicit government IT business for hosted or on-premises products. Amazon, for one, services the CIA, and its AWS cloud platform is backed by Uncle Sam's snoops.But rather than worry about all that, the ACLU singled out AWS's Rekognition for the rights-violating potential of the tech, and for Amazon's encouragement of such uses. "Rekognition marketing materials read like a user manual for authoritarian surveillance," said Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties director for the ACLU of California, in a statement. "Once a dangerous surveillance system like this is turned against the public, the harm can't be undone."In a letter sent to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the ACLU demanded that "Amazon stop powering a government surveillance infrastructure that poses a grave threat to customers and communities across the country."Beyond its claim that facial recognition threatens freedom, particularly among minority communities, the ACLU contends that facial recognition algorithms are prone to bias.

        Aided By Palantir, The LAPD Uses Predictive Policing To Monitor Specific People And Neighborhoods - Police stops in Los Angeles are highly concentrated within just a small portion of the population, and the Los Angeles Police Department has been using targeted predictive policing technology that may exacerbate that focused scrutiny. That’s according to a report put out this week by the research and activist organization Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, which draws from the testimony of city residents and newly released police documents to paint a picture of a “racist feedback loop” in which a “disproportionate amount of police resources are allocated to historically hyper-policed communities.”Survey results included in the report suggest that very few people in Los Angeles bear the brunt of most police interactions: Two percent of residents who responded to the survey reported being stopped by police between 11 and 30 times a week or more, while 76 percent of respondents reported never being stopped at all. The 300 survey respondents were distributed across geography, race, age, and gender. In focus groups, people who lived in areas heavily targeted by police described a state of constant surveillance. Asking “how often do I see police in my area is like asking me how many times do I see a bird in the day,” said one resident. What’s more, the LAPD has been using technology from the data-mining firm Palantir that may amplify that concentration, as part of a predictive policing program that targets and surveils specific individuals within select neighborhoods based off their recent history with the criminal justice system. Officers and analysts who work on Operation LASER, or Los Angeles Strategic Extraction and Restoration, are tasked with maintaining an ongoing list of community residents to monitor, by creating “Chronic Offender Bulletins” for so-called persons of interest. Each of the 16 department divisions that currently use the program is required to maintain a minimum of a dozen of these “bulletins,” which are intended to help officers “identify the most active violent chronic offenders” in a given geographical area.

        Hundreds of Apps Can Empower Stalkers to Track Their Victims - KidGuard is a phone app that markets itself as a tool for keeping tabs on children. But it has also promoted its surveillance for other purposes and run blog posts with headlines like “How to Read Deleted Texts on Your Lover’s Phone.”A similar app, mSpy, offered advice to a woman on secretly monitoring her husband. Still another, Spyzie, ran ads on Google alongside results for search terms like “catch cheating girlfriend iPhone.” As digital tools that gather cellphone data for tracking children, friends or lost phones have multiplied in recent years, so have the options for people who abuse the technology to track others without consent. More than 200 apps and services offer would-be stalkers a variety of capabilities, from basic location tracking to harvesting texts and even secretly recording video, according to a new academic study. More than two dozen services were promoted as surveillance tools for spying on romantic partners, according to the researchers and reporting by The New York Times. Most of the spying services required access to victims’ phones or knowledge of their passwords — both common in domestic relationships. Digital monitoring of a spouse or partner can constitute illegal stalking, wiretapping or hacking. But laws and law enforcement have struggled to keep up with technological changes, even though stalking is a top warning sign for attempted homicide in domestic violence cases. Statistics on electronic stalking are hard to find because victims may not know they are being watched, or they may not report it. Even if they believe they are being tracked, hidden software can make confirmation difficult. According to data published last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27 percent of women and 11 percent of men in the United States at some point endure stalking or sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner that has significant effects. While comprehensive numbers aren’t available on domestic abuse cases involving digital stalking in the United States, a small survey published in Australia in 2016 found that 17 percent of victims were tracked via GPS, including through such apps.

        Gaius Publius: Progressive Democrats Help Enshrine “Blue Lives Matter” Into Law - The Blue Lives Matter movement is a political counterattack against the Black Lives Matter movement. It doesn’t include the concept that black lives also matter (notice the catch phrase isn’t “blue lives matter too”), but enshrines a defiant, contrary opinion thinly disguised in a superficially innocuous phrase. In the same way, “America First” or “Make America Great Again” is a thinly disguised, pretend-innocuous phrase that delivers a defiant and contrary message, in this case against ideas like “immigrants have human rights.”“Blue lives matter” conceals its hatred beneath its language — barely conceals — but conceals it cleverly enough that arguments based on words alone lead nowhere. In many respects the “blue lives matter” slogan is like the American Flag when worn by cops but not nurses — an innocent-looking symbol with an angry, defiant, threatening meaning that’s been widely understood since hippie days.Affirming that “blue lives matter” is tantamount to saying “Yes, cops can kill.” Affirming the Blue Lives Matter movement, or in this case, voting for Blue Lives Matter laws, throws the Black Lives Matter effort to resist and criminalize police murder under the bus.Raúl Grijalva, Keith Ellison, Beto O’Rourke, Ro Khanna and other noted “progressives” did just that recently by voting yes on the “Protect and Serve Act of 2018” (roll call here). Anthony Rogers-Wright, writing atMediumThis Wednesday, with little attention, the House of Representative just passed the “Protect and Serve Act of 2018”sponsored by Representative John H. Rutherford (R-FL). The bill would make it a federal crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for “knowingly causing serious bodily injury to a law enforcement officer, or attempts to do so.” It joins a host of others deemed “Blue Lives Matter” laws, which have been introduced and passed, in part as a reaction to rising defiance to documented brutality and racism practiced by law enforcement in this county. This act encapsulates the essence of the “blue lives matter” movement. Why? Because cops lie when they commit their own violence, and resistance of any kind to police violence frequently spurs more police violence.

        Here is how the NRA made sure background checks will never prevent gun violence -- Since America’s instant check system for gun buyers went online in November 1998, the gun control movement and its allies in Congress have made the expansion of the system their  primary focus. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)  was designed to be fast and easy. Licensed dealers call in a prospective gun buyer’s information to an FBI call center in Clarksburg, West Virginia, where checkers run the name through three separate computer databases of past criminal offenders and those adjudicated for mental illness. The process takes only a few minutes. But the efficiency comes with a price. NICS has failed spectacularly in one high-profile shooting after another, allowing individuals with a history of violence and/or severe mental illness to legally purchase weapons later used in a slaughter. By ignoring this problem with NICS, gun control advocates seem to be forgetting the history of the Brady Bill and the method by which computer background checks came into being. The NRA, not the gun control movement, was the creator of the FBI call-in system. The system was designed to fail from the start.

        Publix halts political contributions in face of protestor “die-in” -  Publix is backing down in a standoff with survivors of this year's mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school, saying it has suspended political contributions.  The regional supermarket chain, which is based in Florida, announced its decision amid a "die-in" at several Publix stores in the state to protest the supermarket chain's financial support for a gubernatorial candidate who opposes gun control. Publix said Friday in a statement that it will "suspend corporate-funded political contributions as we reevaluate our giving processes."  The lead organizer of the demonstration, which took place Friday afternoon, was Florida teen David Hogg, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 people were shot to death and 17 others were injured in a Feb. 14 rampage by a former student.  After participating in the protest, Diego Pfeiffer, a senior at the high school, tweeted that Publix's suspension is "proof that peaceful protest really works." Just Died-in down with @davidhogg111 in front of @Publix and they suspended they political contributions.  Proof that peaceful protest really works. #noNRAmoney #disarmhate— Diego Pfeiffer #NEVERAGAIN (@firepfeiffer1) May 25, 2018 Over Twitter, Hogg said some local residents planned to lie down for 12 minutes at two local Publix stores. He also encouraged similar protests at the supermarket chain's other locations. Hogg said in a video posted to his feed that more students have been killed in school this year than U.S. soldiers serving abroad.

        The nightmare inside America’s child immigrant jails  -- A report published Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) details the systematic brutalization of unaccompanied immigrant children captured by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) from 2009 to 2014 at the US-Mexican border. Under the Obama administration, methods employed against these youth echoed those practiced by the CIA and US occupation forces at black site torture centers and Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.According to the report, “CBP officials regularly use force on children when such force is not objectively reasonable or necessary.” One agent told a 16-year-old he would “fuck him up” and then “threw him down and smashed his head into the ground with his boot.” Agents ran over another child in a truck and refused him treatment for a broken leg. Agents hit a 15-year-old with a thorny branch, smacked a child over the head with a metal flashlight, threw another child’s head against a rock and used Taser guns on children “for amusement.”Officers routinely rape and sexually assault children. CBP agents forced one 16-year-old girl to strip and “forcefully spread her legs and touched her private parts so hard that she screamed.”Agents put another child in a room and said, “right now, we close the door, we rape you and fuck you.” A male and female agent forced another child to get naked while they watched her for 15 minutes, threatening to lock her in a room with a large male inmate to force her to be “his wife.”Agents dehumanized the children with verbal abuse. Agents mocked one child for being “gay” and said, “these people just come here to get a sex change operation.” A pregnant young woman was told she was coming to the US to “contaminate this country.” Another agent asked a child why he “had come to fuck over this country.” Agents laughed when immigrants requested paperwork to file a complaint. The government keeps immigrant children in cages that have “body fluids on the walls and floors, along with used sanitary napkins and used toilet paper containing feces on the floors, all of which cause a strong offensive odor throughout the processing area,” according to an internal government report.

        Analysis | 2018 has been deadlier for schoolchildren than service members - The school shooting near Houston on Friday bolstered a stunning statistic: More people have been killed at schools this year than have been killed while serving in the military. Initial estimates put the number killed at Santa Fe High School at eight. (The death toll has since risen to 10.) We can compare that to figures for the military compiled from Defense Department news releases, including both combat and noncombat deaths. Even excluding non-students who died in school shootings (for example, teachers) the total still exceeds military casualties.  This is not usually the case. In 2017, the number of fatalities among service members was far higher than the number of people killed in school shootings, according to The Washington Post data. After this story was originally published, Jared Keller, a senior editor at the site Task & Purpose, noted that the Department of Defense releases offered an incomplete picture of service member fatalities. Separate data compiled by the Navy, including the Marines, adds another seven casualties to the total, excluding motor vehicle accidents. In May, an Air National Guard plane crashed in Georgia killing another nine — an incident not included in the Department of Defense’s reports.  Including those figures (and adjusting the revised figure in Texas), the comparison graph looks like this:

        Santa Fe High School Killer Wore ANTIFA and Columbine Hammer-and-Sickle Pin - At least 8 people are dead, several injured after a gunman opened fire at Santa Fe High School in Texas Friday morning.This is who is responsible for killing 8-10 people this morning at Santa Fe High School. Dimitrios Pagourtzis.  Dimitrios had a Facebook page but it is already deleted.  Students confirm that Dimitrios Pagourtzis is the Santa Fe school shooter….FB page deleted already. — Misty (@Itsraining2) May 18, 2018Dimitrios Pagourtzis was wearing a jacket with the ANTIFA terrorist hammer-and-sickle emblem.They sell these Antifa stars on Amazon.Mike Cernovich reported:Texas shooter shooter wore ANTIFA hammer-and-sickle gang logo— Mike Cernovich (@Cernovich) May 18, 2018 MORE— TGP contributor Cassandra Fairbanks noted that the killer’s pin was also worn at Columbine.Dimitrios Pagourtzis was a columbiner. He had the same button that Dylan Klebold wore on his shoe during the columbine massacre. Lots of columbiners wear this button.— Cassandra Fairbanks (@CassandraRules) May 18, 2018 UPDATE — TGP contributor Cassandra Fairbanks did some more research and has a different opinion on the crazed killer.

        These are the victims of Texas’ Santa Fe High School shooting -- Ten people were killed in Friday’s shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas. At least 13 others were wounded. All 10 of those killed have been identified, according to a statement from First Assistant District Attorney Kevin Petroff in Galveston County. Initially, authorities said nine students and one teacher were killed. They updated that information Saturday, saying two teachers and eight students were killed. Houston Texans defensive end JJ Watt has offered to pay for the funerals of the victims, according to a Houston Texans spokeswoman. Here’s what we know about those who died:

        Houston police chief says it's time to vote out those blocking gun restrictions -- Houston Chief of Police Art Acevedo warned Sunday that “inaction of elected officials” against gun violence means there will be more school shootings like the one that killed nine students and a teacher last week in Santa Fe, Texas.Two days after his Facebook post that he had “hit rock bottom” with respect to gun-rights supporters who claim that “guns aren’t the problem and there’s little we can do” went viral, Acevedo urged Americans to take action at the ballot box. “People at the state level and the federal level in too many places in our country are not doing anything other than offering prayers,” Acevedo said on Sunday’s Face the Nation program.The “vast majority” of gun owners in the United States “are pragmatic and actually support gun sense and gun reform in terms of keeping guns in the right hands,” Acevedo said.“We need to start using the ballot box and ballot initiatives to take the matters out of the hands of people that are doing nothing that are elected into the hands of the people to see that the will of the people in this country is actually carried out.”Asked what specific laws could have prevented the Santa Fe shooting, where the shooter apparently used guns legally obtained by his father and no semi-automatic rifle was used, Acevedo urged tougher criminal liability for those who do not adequately secure their firearms. A Texas law on “criminal negligence” making it illegal for a minor to access a firearm without supervision only applies if the child is “younger than 17 years of age.” The confessed shooter in Santa Fe this past week was 17 years old, rendering that law inapplicable in this case.

        You Think It's All About Guns? – Kunstler - Is it possible that we Americans only pretend not to notice the conditions that produce an epidemic of school shootings, or is the public just too dumbed-down to connect the dots? Look at the schools themselves. We called them “facilities” because they hardly qualify as buildings: sprawling, one-story, tilt-up, flat-roofed boxes isolated among the parking lagoons out on the six-lane highway strip, disconnected from anything civic, isolated archipelagoes where inchoate teenage emotion festers and rules while the few adults on the scene are regarded as impotent clowns representing a bewildering clown culture wrapped in a Potemkin economy that has nothing to offer young people except a lifetime of debt and “bullshit jobs” — to borrow a phrase from David Graeber. The world of teens has been exquisitely engineered to steal every opportunity for colonizing the chemical reward centers of their brains to provoke endorphin hits, especially the cell-phone realm of social media, which is almost entirely about status competition, much of which revolves around the wild hormonal promptings of teen sexual development — at the same time they are bombarded with commercial messages designed to prey on their fantasies, longings, and perceived inadequacies. All of this produces immersive and incessant melodrama along with untold grievance, envy, frustration, confusion, and rage.  I will venture to say — against the tide of current sexual politics — that adolescence is much tougher for boys these days than it is for girls. Every boy in one way or another faces his archetypal hero’s journey, the hard-wired seeking to become powerful in one way or another, to accomplish something, to prevail over adversaries, to win the goodies of life.  That has changed utterly in a couple of generations. Young men are being out-competed by young women who enjoy the advantage of being hard-wired to cooperate with others in the hive-like corporate workplaces that require tractable drones who will just follow instructions. For young men, beyond the repellent corporate world of work are only fantasies about triumphing in pro sports, show business, or the drug trade, with pornography and masturbation in place of the tension-filled process of mate-seeking. There is also plenty of opportunity these days for archetypal acting-out in warfare, but our wars lately are devoid of valorous story-lines, and instead of dying nobly for a cause, our soldiers are more likely to come home with shattered brains and bodies from campaigns of no discernable meaning. And so high school is the launching pad for all that, though in this era of protracted adolescence, mass murders also take place on college campuses. The part of the forebrain that regulates judgment generally doesn’t complete its development in young men until sometime in their early twenties.  It’s all part-and-parcel with an American way-of-life that is not what it advertises itself to be. It’s become a cruel hologram of a distant memory of a land that sold its soul for a few decades of comfort and convenience, and ended up in a wilderness of addiction to cheap hits of pleasure. Pleasure is not happiness and the constant seeking to satisfy pleasures is not a journey to meaning. The catch is that this toxic way of life has poor prospects for continuing as a practical matter. History is catching up with our foolishness and history will prove to be even more wrathful than a lonely, confused, seventeen-year-old boy with a pistol and shotgun.

        Police engaged in 25-minute shootout with Texas high school gunman -- It has been three days since a horrific school shooting took the lives of eight students and two teachers, and wounded 13 others, at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas. In a scene all too familiar in America, a lone gunman—student Dimitrios Pagourtzis—entered Santa Fe High School, about 35 miles southeast of Houston, and started shooting.  On Friday morning, Pagourtzis hid a shotgun and a .38-caliber handgun under his trench coat before opening fire in his first-period art class. Student Breanna Quintanilla, 17, who was wounded during the assault, said she was in the classroom on what she described as a “perfectly normal day” when she heard the shots ring out. She said that when Pagourtzis walked in, he pointed a weapon at one person and said, “I’m going to kill you.”Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset told CNN Sunday that the shooting lasted for a terrifying 30 minutes. The first shots were fired not long after classes began around 7:30 a.m. local time. Officers arrived at the high school art lab section about four minutes into the shooting and encountered the shooter, according to Trochesset. For the next 25 minutes, police officers and the gunman engaged in a gunfight. When asked by CNN whether all of the victims were shot by Pagourtzis, Trochesset said that authorities will need to determine that after the medical examiner completes the autopsies. His response leaves open the question of whether some of the victims were in fact shot by police officers responding to the shooting. Trochesset said that “a decent amount of cameras” were in the school, and that video would be examined.

        "Smart, Quiet, Sweet" Texas School Shooter Killed Female Who Rejected Him - The student who admitted to carrying out Friday's shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas is being held in isolation after confessing to the attack. He's facing 10 charges of capital murder, plus a charge of aggravated assault on a public servant for shooting a cop. And as police continue their search for a motive - disturbing images from the shooter's Facebook and Instagram accounts have already made the rounds in the media - the mother of one of Dimitrios Pagourtzis' 10 victims (a count that includes two teachers) - told the Los Angeles Times that her daughter spurned Pagourtzis' advances in the weeks before the shooting.  The woman, Sadie Rodriguez, said her daughter, Shana Fisher, one of the first students shot during the massacre, had "four months of problems with this boy." According to Rodriguez, Pagourtzis kept making advances toward her daughter, and she kept telling him no.Meanwhile, Pagourtzis' family described him as a sweet and quiet boy, adding that they're at a loss for what motivated him.The family of the 17-year-old suspect, junior Dimitrios Pagourtzis, is "as shocked and confused as anyone else by these events that occurred," according to a statement released to the media."We are gratified by the public comments made by other Santa Fe High School students that show Dimitri as we know him: a smart, quiet, sweet boy," the family statement said."While we remain mostly in the dark about the specifics of yesterday's tragedy, what we have learned from media reports seems incompatible with the boy we love."One of Pagourtzis' classmates who died in the attack, Shana Fisher, "had 4 months of problems from this boy," her mother, Sadie Rodriguez, wrote in a private message to the Los Angeles Times on Facebook. "He kept making advances on her and she repeatedly told him no."

        Let Dimitrios Pagourtzis go - Roger Gathman - The NYT has an editorial headlined, Congress has dithered on gun control. That isn't right. The correct headline should be: congress has abetted the mass killers of children. And they are proud of it. Cause of course that it what the "failure" to enact gun control comes down to. We all know the consequences by now. Gun control advocates, who are often Dems, have become crackers of jokes and rather cynical users of the gun issue, when it is hot, to accuse the GOP - while of course abetting centrist Dem candidates who, we are assured, are winning back white voters by opposing gun control laws. Like, in fact, the current Democrat running for Ohio governorship.
        And then there is the Governor of Texas, the lieutenant governor, the senators, the representatives, who were as much a part of Pagourtzis squeezing the trigger as he was. He killed ten. They've killed hundreds. And they will keep on doing so. So, if the decision is the blood of school children is no big deal, something we will headline about for a day and forget, let's let Pagourtzis go. He only did what Americans apparently don't mind him doing. Can a country come down with a sickness unto death? I guess that is the question we are all wrestling with every day.

        Indiana shooting: Noblesville school science teacher one of victims in hospital after shots fired - The teacher wounded in the Indiana school shooting this morning has been identified as Jason Seaman. The seventh-grade science educator has been at Noblesville West Middle School for four years and was administering a test to students when the suspected shooter entered the classroom and opened fire. Mr Seaman’s mother, Kristi J Hubly Seaman, posted about her son on Facebook. She wrote: “Please pray for my son Jason...He was hit 3 times & is undergoing surgery now. We are told he is in good condition but haven't gotten to see him yet. I thank God that no one was killed”. She later followed up with another post saying her son was out of surgery and “doing well”. He was shot once through the abdomen, once in the hip, and once in the forearm. Ms Seaman added: “please pray for the student that was also shot”.  Mr Seaman also served as an American football coach for the students for the past two years. “She kept saying, ‘I saw my teacher get shot,’” Jeremie Lovall told the IndyStar newspaper, whose daughter was in Mr Seaman’s classroom. A student in the class, Ethan Stonebaker, told ABC News that Mr Seaman immediately ran at him, swatted a gun out of his hand and tackled him to the ground," Stonebraker said. "If it weren't for him, more of us would have been injured for sure”.

        The latest school shooting in Noblesville, and we just move on - Washington Post editorial - THE NATIONAL cable-news shows didn’t air Friday’s media briefings about the latest school shooting. The attack in Noblesville, Ind., was the third in just the span of a week, after all. And only two people were shot. Good news, right?  Wrong. Wrong on so many levels. Wrong that we are becoming accustomed to a world in which our children are potential targets. Wrong that we should have to feel grateful only two people were shot. And wrong to believe those two people were the only victims Friday when a student at Noblesville West Middle School opened fire.  Asking for the public’s prayers, the Noblesville police public information officer powerfully made the point that collateral damage extended beyond the student and teacher who were wounded. The children who cowered in closets, tearfully texted their parents, raced down hallways — none of them should have to experience such a calamity. “A lot of kids . . . ” said Lt. Bruce Barnes, “are trying to make sense of this situation.”  The latest school shooting took place seven days after 10 people were killed in a shooting at a Santa Fe, Tex., high school and a 14-year-old boy was wounded by a classmate in Los Angeles. Details provided by authorities in Indiana were sketchy. A report of an active shooter at the middle school about 25 miles northeast of Indianapolis was received shortly after 9 a.m. A male student in a 7th-grade science class asked for permission to leave the room and returned armed with two handguns. A student and teacher were shot and taken to hospitals. The teacher, Jason Seaman, was credited by students with confronting and disarming the shooter, who was taken into custody. It’s unclear where the boy obtained the weapons.

        All Star Code Founder on the Value of Training Minority Teens to Code - Bloomberg video -  All Star Code founder and CEO Christina Lewis discusses prioritizing technology education for minority teens and how to keep pace with the growth in the tech sector.

        US Supreme Court Ordered Desegregation, then Conservatives Worked to Demolish Public Education (video and transcript) Welcome back to the Real News. I’m Jaisal Noor, bringing you Part 2 of our discussion with the award-winning author Nancy McLean about her book “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America.”   64 years ago, Brown vs. Board of Education found that separate and unequal education systems for African Americans was unconstitutional. You argue that many Virginians initially actually accepted this decision, but a public campaign was launched to sway public opinion against it. Can you talk about that? You start off the first chapter of your book with this history, talking about how students and teachers in Virginia, led by students, weren’t organized to be part of Brown. And then the public response against it.

        DeVos Demands Taxpayer Money For Religious Schools - Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wants to lift constitutional restrictions on taxpayer money being used for religious education. Last week DeVos was in New York, where she went on a two day tour of private religious schools, but refused to visit any public schools.  On her tour of private religious schools, Devos defended the use of public money for religious schools, telling the guests in attendance, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, that constitutional restrictions on spending tax dollars for religious schools should be overturned.  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:  Her speech doubled down on her belief that American parents should be free to use tax dollars to send her children to religious schools, a point she underscored by visiting two New York City schools, neither of which was a public school. DeVos visited two Orthodox Jewish schools.  Making her case for public money to be used in supporting private religious schools DeVos cited a recent Supreme Court decision:  As many of you know, the Supreme Court ruled in last year’s Trinity Lutheran case that it was unconstitutional for a playground restoration program funded by state-taxpayers to exclude a school ‘simply because of what it is – a church.’   These amendments should be assigned to the ash heap of history…The amendments DeVos is talking about are known as Blaine Amendments, “constitutional provisions in 38 of the 50 state constitutions in the United States that forbid direct government aid to educational institutions that have a religious affiliation.” So when the Secretary of Education says “these amendments should be assigned to the ash heap of history” she is in essence saying the separation of church and state should be assigned to the ash heap of history.

        US education secretary attacks separation of church and state  -- On Tuesday and Wednesday last week, US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos made her first official visit to New York City. She declined to visit the nation’s largest public school district and instead toured two Orthodox Jewish schools, the elite Manhattan School for Girls and the Yeshiva Darchei Torah for boys. She also spoke at the Albert E. Smith Foundation, meeting with Cardinal Timothy Dolan and other Catholic dignitaries.  New York yeshivas have been under investigation since 2015 in the wake of allegations that 39 Hasidic schools failed to teach math, science or English and conducted classes only in Yiddish. Young men are restricted to studying only religion after age 13 and allegedly many students struggle to write their names in English upon graduation.As these schools received millions in government funds, they are required by state law to teach an “equivalent” curriculum to public schools. Such matters did not appear to concern DeVos whose tours provided her an opportunity to “better understand Jewish education” and, more importantly, offer her strongest support yet for public funding of religious and other private schools.Speaking at the Smith Foundation, DeVos said, “I know there are powerful interests that want to deprive families their God-given freedom” to choose private schools. She failed to point out that the cost of attending the Manhattan School for Girls was $20,000 a year. DeVos’ tour followed the May 9 Department of Education (DOE) announcement that it would scrap or amend a number of rules that restrict faith-based entities from receiving federally-administered funding. The DOE said it will review any provisions that “unnecessarily restrict participation by religious entities” or could “eliminate unnecessary burdens” on religious activities. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had already mandated that “religious observance and practice” should be accommodated in all government activity.

        US education secretary pledges to escalate war on teachers -- In an appearance before the US House of Representatives’ Education and the Workforce Committee on Tuesday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said the Trump administration would help state governments accelerate school privatization schemes, standardized test-based performance pay for teachers and other attacks. The billionaire heiress also said it was up to individual schools to inform US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) if they suspect their students are undocumented. “That’s a school decision. It’s a local community decision,” DeVos said in comments that invite ICE raids in violation of constitutional protections guaranteeing all children, regardless of their immigration status, the right to a basic education. DeVos pushed the administration’s plans to funnel public money to private and parochial schools and further starve public education of vitally needed resources. She palmed off this naked transfer of public assets to private corporate interests as protecting the “rights of students” and “empowering parents, teachers and local leaders to identify the best ways to meet the unique needs of the students they serve.”  “Parent-choice schools in Florida are a prime example of the hard work of reforming education meaningfully,” she said. She praised “multi-pronged choice tax credit scholarship programs, grading schools and merit pay to award teachers doing an excellent job.” Indiana has the largest voucher program, with 35,000 low-income students enrolled in the Indiana Choice Scholarship program and 90 operating charter schools. “Indiana should be a model for all states,” DeVos said. “This Congress can continue to encourage state leadership to adopt and expand on these programs. There should be more support from the federal level for more choices and flexibility.” The Trump administration is escalating the war on teachers and public education, which has been carried out by both big business parties for decades.   Democrats, who currently control state governments in California, New York, Colorado, New Jersey and other states, are also spearheading corporate-backed “school reform” and attacks on teachers’ wages, health care and pensions.

        Teachers and public workers protest in South Carolina --Around 300 teachers and public employees gathered at the State House in Columbia, South Carolina on Saturday to protest low wages and attacks on working conditions. The protest takes place in the context of a wave of teacher strikes and demonstrations across the US and internationally since the beginning of the year, including a strike by 100,000 teachers in Mexico last Tuesday.Workers held signs that read, “Teachers need to eat too!”, “My income won’t pay my student loans!”, and “I went to college for 4 years and my paycheck is $1,600 per month!” Many teachers complained of having to work two or more jobs to make ends meet. The minimum starting salary for teachers in South Carolina is $30,113, among the lowest in the US. Low pay and poor working conditions have produced a shortage of teachers in the state. More than 4,900 teachers left the state's school system in the 2016-17 school year, including 22 percent of first-year teachers. The number of graduates from teacher colleges in the state dropped by 30 percent last year, according to the Center for Education, Recruitment, Retention and Advancement. Brian, a state employee at the Department of Health and Environmental Control, held a sign which read, “Ask me about my other job.” He told WSWS reporters, “I have several friends who are teachers. They have other jobs too. One who teaches in Gilbert is also a bookkeeper at a construction business.” “If you go down into the heavily fortified parking garage where all the assemblymen park their cars, you’ll see nothing but Lexuses and Infinitis. These people don’t know what it’s like for us.”

        Over 100,000 teachers march in Mexico, warn of “indefinite strike” --On May 15, about 100,000 teachers from the National Committee of Education Workers (CNTE), a faction of the government-affiliated National Union of Education Workers (SNTE), marched to commemorate National Teachers’ Day in Mexico City and six other states—Oaxaca, Chiapas, Puebla, Quintana Roo, Sonora, and Baja California.Teachers marched in opposition to the education reforms that were implemented in 2014 as part of the Pact for Mexico, a major legislative effort to privatize energy, public utilities, and education in the country. The right-wing reforms have established onerous teachers’ evaluations, increased standardized testing and created a system of standards for teacher hiring and promotion based on “merit,” similar to former US President Barack Obama’s anti-teacher “Race to the Top” program.Spanning from the Yucatan peninsula to northern Mexico, the protests represent another expression of the international struggle by teachers in 2018. These include protests by teachers in the United States, Colombia, Argentina, the United Kingdom, North Africa and Kenya, as well as strikes by workers in France, Germany, and Turkey. The legislation represents an effort to scapegoat teachers for social conditions facing students in Mexico, while paving the way for the establishment of more private schools and the further deterioration of the rights of all workers. The legislation has led to the firing of over 500 teachers, while hundreds of thousands have faced disciplinary actions for boycotting the government evaluations or for missing days to attend protests against the new laws. All three major Mexican political parties, including the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) and the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) supported the legislation.

        USC Under Federal Investigation For Anti-Male Discrimination - The U.S. Department of Education is officially investigating allegations that the University of Southern California excludes male students from certain educational opportunities. The Title IX investigation was launched in response to complaints submitted by a USC professor whose efforts have already instigated a similar investigation into Yale University.According a January 28 letter obtained by Campus Reform, the department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has agreed to investigate four USC initiatives, including the school’s Smart Women’s Securities chapter and the Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) chapter. Both of these programs allegedly discriminate “by excluding male students from participation and providing opportunities for female students only,” according to the OCR letter, which notes that many female-only scholarships at USC are also under investigation.The OCR agreed to launch an investigation after Kursat Christoff Pekgoz, a lecturer and Provost’s Fellow at USC, filed a Title IX complaint against the institution in October 2017. Though the OCR initially dismissed his complaint, Pekgoz filed an appeal, and the dismissal was overturned just two weeks after his January 18 interview with an OCR official.OCR’s agreement to consider an appeal is nearly unprecedented, Pekgoz told Campus Reform. “The attorney who initially dismissed it cited a Dear Colleague Letter from 2016 which apparently allowed sex-selective scholarships ‘for the underrepresented sex,’” Pekgoz explained, saying he won the appeal by pointing out that - unlike during the 1970s when Title IX was put into law - women are no longer underrepresented in higher education.  Men are now a slight minority at USC, constituting only 48 percent of the student body. Though data on the most recent batch of graduates has not yet been calculated, men were also in the minority of USC graduates in the 2016-2017 academic year, a school spokesman confirmed.

        Puerto Rican students at New York University ask to stay another semester -Twenty-seven Puerto Rican students, who are attending New York University (NYU) through a program to aid survivors of Hurricane Maria, have requested that the NYU administration extend the program, citing the poor recovery and continued economic instability on the island.The students were accepted for the spring 2018 semester as part of the NYU Hurricane Maria Assistance Program (HMAP), which allowed students at several universities in Puerto Rico to attend NYU for one semester. The program required that students continue to pay tuition to their home institution, while NYU would provide them with housing, food, health insurance and $200 worth of credit at the university bookstore.NYU President Andrew Hamilton, in November 2017, announced the HMAP, stating that the university was “pleased to make it possible for at least some of Puerto Rico’s college students to be able to carry on their studies here while their home institutions recover.” Similar programs were also implemented at Tulane University, Cornell University and Brown University.The HMAP recipients have noted in an open letter to Hamilton that the “program was established in order for us to continue our studies while our home institutions, and country, recovered from the destruction witnessed by the world after the passing of Hurricane María. Like you, we hoped our country and home institutions would have returned to their pre-natural-disaster state by this time. Unfortunately, the efforts to rebuild our Puerto Rico have been superficial at best and neglectful at worst.” The open letter goes on to request that the students accepted as part of the program be extended “from its original one-semester plan to a two-semester plan.”

        Bill Black: Trump Admin Halts Investigation of For-Profit Colleges - In this Real News Network interview, white-collar criminologist and associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, Bill Black discusses Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s decision to stop investigating for-profit colleges and educational institutions for fraudulent practices. (video & transcript)

        Women’s student debt will soon hit $1 trillion - Student debt is on its way to becoming a universally American problem, but there’s more evidence to indicate that it’s a particularly acute challenge for women.The gap between the amount of debt shouldered by male and female graduates has nearly doubled in the past four years, according to a report released Monday by the American Association for University Women. On average, female bachelor’s degree recipients graduated with $2,700 more in debt in 2016 than their male counterparts. That’s up from about a $1,400 gap in 2012.If trends continue on their current trajectory, Kevin Miller, a senior researcher at AAUW and the author of the report, estimates that the outstanding student debt held by women alone could reach $1 trillion over the next year. If the ratio of debt owed by women versus men stays the same, then men hold about $550 billion at that time. “We’ll be keeping a watch on it,” he said. The data adds to the growing body of evidence — much of which has been published by AAUW — that student debt is a women’s issue. Although they make up just 56% of American college students, women hold nearly two-thirds of America’s outstanding student debt, or about $890 billion, and take longer to pay it off.  There are a variety of reasons why this is the case, according to Miller. For one, women typically have to rely more on loans to finance college because they earn less from their work before they enter college (if they have a job before they start) and while they’re in school. And once women graduate college, the gender pay gap continues to play a role. Women working full-time with college degrees earn 26% less than their male colleagues, according to AAUW, delaying their efforts to repay their loans. On average, men paid off roughly 38% of their student between one and four years of graduating college, while women only paid off 31%.

        Milliman: Public pension funding falls back to 71.4% in 2018 Q1 -- Milliman, Inc., a premier global consulting and actuarial firm, today released the 2018 first quarter results of its Public Pension Funding Index (PPFI), which consists of the nation's 100 largest public defined benefit pension plans. In Q1, these plans experienced a $93 billion loss in funding, largely resulting from volatile equity markets that produced an aggregate -0.75% investment return for these plans. In comparison, the PPFI investment return for 2017 Q4 was 3.24%. From January 1, 2018 to March 31, 2018, the PPFI pensions saw their funded status drop from 73.1% to 71.4%.  "After more than a year of running smoothly, the market stubbed its toe in Q1," said Becky Sielman, author of the Milliman 100 Public Pension Funding Index. "As a result, much of last year's robust pension funding gains were washed away in early 2018." No plans in our index seem to have made it through the first quarter of 2018 unscathed, with estimated returns ranging from a low of -1.91% to a high of -0.03%; the Milliman 100 PPFI deficit grew from $1.332 trillion to $1.425 trillion during Q1. The losses resulted in six plans dropping below the 90% funded mark, with 15 plans now over 90% funded, down from 21 as of 2017 Q4. At the other end of the spectrum, 26 of the 100 plans now have funded ratios below 60%, with 10 plans that remain below 40% funded. To view the Milliman 100 Public Pension Funding Index, go to

          Feds reject Ohio’s request to nix Obamacare individual mandate - - The federal government has turned down Ohio's request to nix Obamacare's individual mandate, saying the Department of Insurance didn't provide necessary information in its application.The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, in a Thursday letter to Ohio Department of Insurance Director Jillian Froment, said Ohio needs to provide a state plan that "among other things, must provide coverage that is at least as comprehensive and affordable as that as provided under Title I of (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,) and must provide coverage to at least a comparable number of residents..."Ohio's application does not provide a description of any program, the letter states.Ohio also never provided a reason for its request to be exempted from the Obamacare requirements."For this reason and those described above, the Departments determined that the application is not complete," the letter stated.The letter ends by saying it would work with Ohio on a revision.The Department of Insurance is reviewing the federal government's response and is "currently reviewing it to determine potential next steps," agency spokesman Chris Brock said in a statement.  The individual mandate, quite simply, requires everyone to get health insurance and that larger companies cover their full-time employees. Ohio began working on the federal request last year and submitted the application this year. Under Ohio's request, state residents were to decide in January 2019 whether they wanted to get insurance.

        Doctor Featured In Videos Dancing to Hip Hop In Surgeries Accused Of Leaving Patient With Permanent Brain Damage -- Dr. Windell Davis Boutte loves to post videos of herself dancing around patients to hip-hop tunes like the video below.  Patients however are suing over what they say is her lack of attention and expertise in doing cosmetic surgeries once the dancing stops.  Indeed, one such tummy tuck left a bride with permanent brain damage.Boutte is accused of actually slicing open one patient with “Cut It” by O.T. Genasis blaring in the background.In the case of Icilma Cornelius, the 55-year-old bride wanted a tummy tuck and was on the table for eight hours in Boutte’s clinic in Lilburn, Georgia, in February 2016, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.Her heart stopped on the table and Boutte had to stitch her skin back to close her open wounds as emergency personnel tried to take her to a hospital.  Then the elevator in the building would not accommodate a stretcher — an obvious negligent barrier for a medical officer.Icilima would end up with permanent brain damage. Other patients have complained of being scarred or not given the agreed upon procedures.  One patient even claims that she woke up after surgery in a hotel room with a McDonald’s sandwich in her hand.Boutte has four malpractice cases pending and settled five others.  However, she is still working as a cosmetic surgeon.

        Men in their 30s hit by impotence epidemic as half suffer from erectile dysfunction - Half of men in their 30s struggle to get an erection, studies have shown.Surprise polling reveals this age group is most likely to struggle keeping it up, with 49% blaming stress and 24% blaming boozing too much.Almost a third have broken up with their partner as a result.Nearly half (43%) of men aged 18-60 across the UK are suffering impotence, with four in ten men blaming stress, followed by tiredness (36%), anxiety (29%) and boozing too heavily (26%). Researchers polled 2,000 men for Coop Pharmacy and found largest affected age group of men with erectile dysfunction is those in their thirties, with half (50%) reporting difficulties getting or maintaining an erection.This compares to 42% in their 40s, 41% in their 50s, and 35% of under 30s.TV doctor Hilary Jones said: “Erectile dysfunction is a taboo in our society that needs to be broken.“In an age when many people are happy to share intimate details of their lives on social media, it is a huge cause for concern that men today do not feel confident enough to discuss openly their struggles with impotence.”A third of men aged 18-60 surveyed say they have not told anyone about their erectile dysfunction.Only 28% have gone to their GP and just 9% have discussed it with another man in the family. Worryingly 43% of those affected by impotence say they could not discuss the issue with friends and 23% would feel uncomfortable discussing it with a GP.

        FDA calls out 39 drug companies for allegedly blocking access to generics - Johnson & Johnson’s Actelion Pharmaceuticals, Celgene, and Gilead Life Sciences are all potentially blocking generic drug makers from accessing samples of their products, along with three dozen other drug companies — according to new data out Thursday from the FDA intended topublicly shame them for what it calls “gaming tactics.” The new list, which also includes Novartis, Pfizer, Valeant, and a host of other companies, is part of the Trump administration’s efforts to lower prescription drug prices that kicked off with a presidential address Friday. While broader regulatory and legislative changes must go through a complex and often lengthy process, top health officials have used their bully pulpits this week to call out a number of companies for what they consider bad behavior. Thursday’s announcement from the FDA focuses on branded companies that may be trying to delay competition from a generic competitor by blocking access to product samples the other company needs to test its own version of the drug — “gaming tactics,” as FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Thursday. Generic companies need somewhere between 1,000 and 5,000 doses of a drug to complete the studies that prove their product is equivalent with the branded one.

        Do Fewer Settlements by Pharmaceutical Companies Mean Even Less Accountability for Their Execs? --We have long been discussing the legal settlements made by health care organizations of allegations likef raud, bribery, and kickbacks.  Despite the unsavory nature of the behaviors revealed by most settlements, which often appeared to risk patient harms, the companies involved usually have had to pay fines that were tiny relative to their multi-billion dollar revenues.  They companies only seldom have had to admit responsibility, and almost never did a settlement cause company managers and leaders to  suffer any negative consequences for enabling, authorizing, directing or implementing the bad behavior.So these settlements also provided a window onto the impunityof top leaders of health care organizations.  Lack of deterrence caused by such impunity appears to be a major cause of  the epidemic of continuing unethical behavior, crime and corruption on the part of large health care organizations.However, at least these settlements seemed to be useful markers of the such bad behavior apparently sanctioned by the leadership of these organizations.  But now even these markers seem to be fading away.We had an ongoing enterprise trying to discuss what appeared to be the most interesting and significant legal settlements by major health organizations.  This year, however, things have seemed slow. Our last major wrap-up of recent legal settlements appeared on October 1, 2017.  On December 3, 2017, we did comment on a significant but barely noticed settlement by Pfizer of allegations of fraud done to prevent generic competition.  But since then it has seemed very quiet.A new settlement by Pfizer was just announced yesterday.  This inspired me to review the files I had lying around, which did include a few US settlements by pharmaceutical companies from 2017 which I had not discussed.  However, I found nothing from 2018.  Fortuitously while I considered all this, I found a new article that corroborates my perception that things are changing, probably not for the better.  That I will discuss below.

         Worsening drug shortages leave providers scrambling for alternatives - Dr. James Augustine receives a daily report that shows which drugs are in short supply. Last week, 115 emergency medications were unavailable.   Augustine, an emergency physician who works at Mercy Health hospitals in Cincinnati, said some 40 injectable opiates, 50 IV solutions and a variety of other drugs peppered the report from the distributor Bound Tree Medical. These shortages of widely used treatments for heart surgery, dehydration, pain management, nausea and other ailments compromise nearly all types of care. It's a week-to-week guessing game on what drug shortage may surface next, Augustine said. "The very basic things hospitals need to do their business are unavailable for unexplainable reasons," said Augustine, who is also on the board of the American College of Emergency Physicians. Augustine's experience represents a troubling reality for nearly all providers—they must spend more time working around drug shortages. That means they spend less time with the patient, who may receive a more expensive but less effective treatment. Ninety-one percent of nearly 250 emergency physicians surveyed in a new ACEP poll said they had experienced a shortage or absence of critical medicine in their emergency department in the past month.More than one-third said patient outcomes have been negatively affected as a result. Nearly 90% said they have had to take time away from patients to deal with these shortages while 97% said they had to substitute medications."It is probably worse than it appears because the pharmacy deals with so much in the background that physicians don't even see," said Scott Knoer, Cleveland Clinic's chief pharmacy officer. "We are constantly scrambling behind the scenes."  Cleveland Clinic plans to build a 503B-compliant compounding facility that would allow it sell drugs to other hospitals, Knoer added.

        Nebraska Troopers Seize Enough Fentanyl To Kill 26 Million Americans - According to the Nebraska State Patrol, 118 pounds of narcotics were seized by troopers in April, which overnight were confirmed by the NSP Crime Lab as fentanyl. This is the not just the largest seizure of Fentanyl in Nebraska history, but, also the largest ever in the United States — enough to kill more than 26 million people.Breaking: The 118 pounds of opiates seized by troopers in April has been confirmed as the NSP Crime Lab as entirely fentanyl. The largest seizure of fentanyl in Nebraska history and one of the largest ever in the US.— NEStatePatrol (@NEStatePatrol) May 24, 2018On Thursday, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts publicly announced the record-breaking bust and praised the work of the troopers who were responsible for the seizure. Authorities seized the fentanyl during a traffic stop on Thursday, April 26, when troopers became suspicious of a 2013 Freightliner truck-tractor and semi-trailer driving on the shoulder near mile marker 280. Troopers searched the vehicle and discovered a secret compartment located in the empty trailer. On May 01, Nebraska State Patrol said, “the compartment contained 42 foil-wrapped packages containing 73 pounds of cocaine and 44 pounds of an unknown powder suspected to be fentanyl.”

        Lawler: "US Deaths Jumped in 2017" -- From housing economist Tom Lawler: US Deaths Jumped in 2017  -- Provisional estimates from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) indicate that the number of US deaths increased sharply last year, both in absolute terms and adjusted for age. According to the NCHS’ “mortality dashboard”, the “crude” US death rate (deaths per 100,000 of population) averaged 866.2 in 2017, up from 839.3 in 2016. The NCHS’ “age-adjusted” death rate (which adjusts for the changing age distribution of the population) for 2017 was 733.6, up from 728.8 in 2017 and the highest age-adjusted death rate since 2011. These data suggest that the total number of US deaths last year was around 2.821 million, compared to 2.744 million in 2016. While data on deaths by age (or full-year deaths by cause) are not yet available, these data suggest that the recent alarming trend of significantly higher death rates among teenagers and non-elderly adults (shown in the table below) continued last year.  What is especially striking about this table is the substantial increase in death rates for the 15-44 year old age groups from 2014 to 2016. While full-year provisional estimates of deaths by cause are not yet available, here are some death rates by selected causes for the four-quarters ending in the second quarter. With respect to drug overdose deaths, the “trending” quarterly data suggest that drug overdose deaths in 2017 were probably around 70,000. Here is a table showing recent history: For folks who rely on Census population projections to forecast other variables such as labor force growth, household growth, etc., these recent death statistics suggest that they should not do so. The latest Census long-term population projections not only did not reflect the increased death rates for certain age groups from 2014 to 2016, but also assumed that death rates for most age groups would decline from the assumed rates for 2017.

        Corporate Privilege: Premeditated Murders, Civil Fines and Miscarriages of Justice - You know they do it on purpose right? Corporations intentionally sell deadly products and introduce hazardous goods to the marketplace because they know they can get away by paying civil fines instead of facing jail time when dead bodies start being counted. They call it risk/benefit analysis in corporate jargon, what they are really doing is maliciously calculating whether the profits to be gained will be greater than the suffering they will unleash every time they release defective cars, unsafe toys, fatal medicine or toxic foodstuffs to the public.  Last evening, CNN reported that Johnson & Johnson was hit with a $25.75 million verdict for selling baby powder that has asbestos in it. This news was buried under an avalanche of Trump shenanigans, salacious tidbits and celebrity gossip. The headline made it seem like one of the leading pharmaceutical corporations in the world finally got their comeuppance and that justice was delivered. Alas, nowhere in the article does it mention that Johnson & Johnson has a market cap of over $327 billion dollars. Their fine for killing people with their cancer powder is an afterthought, this is not a punishment but an encouragement to keep putting profits above people. Of course CNN did not cover this aspect—Johnson & Johnson is one of CNN’s main advertisers and even sponsors some of their health related show—they were not about to upset their cash cow and risk losing their own profits. To appease their advertisers, CNN skipped over damning evidence of corporate depravity. The article doesn’t call out that internal memos revealed that Johnson & Johnson knew about their baby powder having asbestos in it nor does it mention the number of people who were harmed. Neither does the article give context to the suffering of the victims and the internal memos which show that Johnson & Johnson knew about the dangers their baby powders pose. Just think about this for a minute, a product laced with a deadly poison that causes cancer is being sold for use on babies and infants to this day around the world and it barely causes a ripple in mainstream media.

        CDC prepares to join Ebola fight in Africa | TheHill: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is preparing to deploy staffers to several cities and towns deep in the Congolese jungle amid a new Ebola outbreak that has claimed at least two dozen lives. The CDC maintains an office in Kinshasa, the capital of Congo, about 350 miles from the epicenter of the outbreak. The dozen or so staffers who work in that office are likely to deploy to the hot zone once they receive a formal invite from Congo’s health ministry. Pierre Rollin, one of CDC’s top Ebola experts, said the World Health Organization (WHO) is leading the response and coordinating among both governmental and nongovernmental organizations responding to the ongoing outbreak.   “We’re offering them a roster of 12 or 15 people that will be able to go there,” Rollin said. “They’re ready to go as soon as they’ve got an invitation. The invitation is from the Ministry of Health through the WHO.” The news comes one day after health officials reported the first Ebola case in a major Congolese city, a troubling shift for the outbreak.   Four years after an Ebola outbreak in West Africa killed more than 11,300 people, the groups that respond to a new outbreak practice familiar roles. WHO coordinates national and international efforts. UNICEF manages communications between the groups. Doctors Without Borders has taken the lead on patient care, opening Ebola treatment centers and isolation wards in the city of Mbandaka and the town of Bikoro.  The Red Cross is handling safe burials of those who succumb to the disease. Virus transmission through traditional burials accounted for the vast majority of Ebola’s spread through Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the West African countries hit hardest by the 2014-2015 outbreak.

        Escaped Ebola Patients Risked Spreading Virus At Packed Prayer Meeting -- Two Ebola patients who escaped from a quarantine in the Democratic Republic of Congo attended a prayer meeting with 50 other people, raising the possibility that those exposed could reignite the Ebola epidemic that was on the edge of spreading throughout the world back in 2014.According to the Daily Star, health agencies confirmed that two of the three fugitives from the quarantine may have spread the virus before dying. Government officials are now worried that the deadly and highly infectious disease could spread as victims fail to grasp the seriousness of being infected.The virus appears to be spreading despite 7,540 vaccines being distributed in the DRC by the World Health Organization. Another 8,000 doses are due to be provided in the coming days.One doctor said the world is "on the knife's edge" of another outbreak."We are on the epidemiological knife edge," Dr. Peter Salama, the World Health Organization's deputy director.

        Cellphones may be to blame for surge in deadly brain tumors - Mobile phones may be behind a surge in a deadly brain tumor, scientists say. Cases of glioblastoma in England soared from 983 to 2,531 between 1995 and 2015, figures from the Office of National Statistics reveal. The rise was across all age groups and came as cases of lower-grade tumors fell. Experts say “widespread environmental or lifestyle factors” are likely to be responsible for the trend, with mobile phones a potential suspect. The findings are published in the Journal of Public Health and Environment. Study leader Alasdair Philips, of Children with Cancer UK, said: “We found a sustained and highly significant increase in GBM throughout the 21 years and across all ages. “Interestingly, we found the highest rise in incidence in frontal and temporal regions of the brain. This raises the suspicion that mobile and cordless phone use may be promoting gliomas.” Professor Denis Henshaw said: “Our findings illustrate the need to look more carefully at the mechanisms behind these cancer trends instead of focusing only on cures.” Typically, only a third of patients are still alive two years after being diagnosed with glioblastoma. Most survive just 14.6 months.

        Scientists to grow 'mini-brains' using Neanderthal DNA -  Scientists are preparing to create “miniature brains” that have been genetically engineered to contain Neanderthal DNA, in an unprecedented attempt to understand how humans differ from our closest relatives.In the next few months the small blobs of tissue, known as brain organoids, will be grown from human stem cells that have been edited to contain “Neanderthalised” versions of several genes.The lentil-sized organoids, which are incapable of thoughts or feelings, replicate some of the basic structures of an adult brain. They could demonstrate for the first time if there were meaningful differences between human and Neanderthal brain biology.“Neanderthals are the closest relatives to everyday humans, so if we should define ourselves as a group or a species it is really them that we should compare ourselves to,” said Prof Svante Pääbo, director of the genetics department at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, where the experiments are being performed.Pääbo previously led the successful international effort to crack the Neanderthal genome, and his lab is now focused on bringing Neanderthal traits back to life in the laboratory through sophisticated gene-editing techniques.The lab has already inserted Neanderthal genes for craniofacial development into mice (heavy-browed rodents are not anticipated), and Neanderthal pain perception genes into frogs’ eggs, which could hint at whether they had a different pain threshold to humans. Now the lab is turning its attention to the brain.

        As D.I.Y. Gene Editing Gains Popularity, ‘Someone Is Going to Get Hurt’ — As a teenager, Keoni Gandall already was operating a cutting-edge research laboratory in his bedroom in Huntington Beach, Calif. While his friends were buying video games, he acquired more than a dozen pieces of equipment — a transilluminator, a centrifuge, two thermocyclers — in pursuit of a hobby that once was the province of white-coated Ph.D.’s in institutional labs. “I just wanted to clone DNA using my automated lab robot and feasibly make full genomes at home,” he said.  Mr. Gandall was far from alone. In the past few years, so-called biohackers across the country have taken gene editing into their own hands. As the equipment becomes cheaper and the expertise in gene-editing techniques, mostly Crispr-Cas9, more widely shared, citizen-scientists are attempting to re-engineer DNA in surprising ways.Until now, the work has amounted to little more than D.I.Y. misfires. A year ago, a biohacker famously injected himself at a conference with modified DNA that he hoped would make him more muscular. (It did not.) Earlier this year, at Body Hacking Con in Austin, Tex., a biotech executive injected himself with what he hoped would be a herpes treatment. (Verdict: No.) His company already had live-streamed a man injecting himself with a home-brewed treatment for H.I.V. (His viral load increased.) In a recent interview, Mr. Gandall, now 18 and a research fellow at Stanford, said he only wants to ensure open access to gene-editing technology, believing future biotech discoveries may come from the least expected minds.But he is quick to acknowledge that the do-it-yourself genetics revolution one day may go catastrophically wrong. “Even I would tell you, the level of DNA synthesis regulation, it simply isn’t good enough,” Mr. Gandall said. “These regulations aren’t going to work when everything is decentralized — when everybody has a DNA synthesizer on their smartphone.”

        As Landmark Glyphosate Case Moves to Trial, Man Dying of Cancer to Have Day in Court With Monsanto - A California man dying of cancer will soon become the first person ever to take agrochemical giant Monsanto to trial over allegations that the company has concealed findings that glyphosate , the active ingredient in the company's popular weedkiller Roundup, causes cancer.Before DeWayne Johnson, a 46-year-old father of three, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma at the age of 42, he worked for a school district in California, "where his responsibilities included direct application of Roundup and RangerPro, another Monsanto glyphosate product, to school properties," according to his "landmark " lawsuit ."Monsanto does not want the truth about Roundup and cancer to become public," Johnson's attorney, Michael Miller, told the Guardian. "We look forward to exposing how Monsanto hid the risk of cancer and polluted the science."Monsanto attempted to bar Johnson's experts from testifying and his legal team from using certain research to argue that Johnson's cancer is tied to his exposure to Monsanto's products. In an order issued last week, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtin Karnow granted some of Monsanto's requests, but will still allow Johnson's lawyers to use numerous peer-reviewed studies and expert testimonies during the trial, which begins June 18. Glyphosate has been classified as a probable human carcinogen by the state of a California and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization (WHO). However, U.S. and European regulators have continued to allow its widespread use in agriculture, despite concerns raised by scientists and anti-pesticide activists.

        Landmark lawsuit claims Monsanto hid cancer danger of weedkiller for decades -- At the age of 46, DeWayne Johnson is not ready to die. But with cancer spread through most of his body, doctors say he probably has just months to live. Now Johnson, a husband and father of three in California, hopes to survive long enough to make Monsanto take the blame for his fate.On 18 June, Johnson will become the first person to take the global seed and chemical company to trial on allegations that it has spent decades hiding the cancer-causing dangers of its popular Roundup herbicide products – and his case has just received a major boost. Last week Judge Curtis Karnow issued an order clearing the way for jurors to consider not just scientific evidence related to what caused Johnson’s cancer, but allegations that Monsanto suppressed evidence of the risks of its weed killing products. Karnow ruled that the trial will proceed and a jury would be allowed to consider possible punitive damages. “The internal correspondence noted by Johnson could support a jury finding that Monsanto has long been aware of the risk that its glyphosate-based herbicides are carcinogenic … but has continuously sought to influence the scientific literature to prevent its internal concerns from reaching the public sphere and to bolster its defenses in products liability actions,” Karnow wrote. “Thus there are triable issues of material fact.”Johnson’s case, filed in San Francisco county superior court in California, is at the forefront of a legal fight against Monsanto. Some 4,000 plaintiffs have sued Monsanto alleging exposure to Roundup caused them, or their loved ones, to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Another case is scheduled for trial in October, in Monsanto’s home town of St Louis, Missouri. The lawsuits challenge Monsanto’s position that its herbicides are proven safe and assert that the company has known about the dangers and hidden them from regulators and the public. The litigants cite an assortment of research studies indicating that the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicides, a chemical called glyphosate, can lead to NHL and other ailments. They also cite research showing glyphosate formulations in its commercial-end products are more toxic than glyphosate alone. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen in 2015.

        What All Parents Need to Know About Pesticides in Produce -- Every spring the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases our Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ . The guide can be used by anyone trying to avoid pesticides, but it's especially important for parents to limit their children's exposures to these toxic chemicals.The idea is simple: Parents can buy organic versions of the items on the Dirty Dozen™ list of produce with the most pesticide residues to limit the amount of pesticides their kids ingest. On the flip side, families can save money by buying conventional versions of the items on the Clean Fifteen ™ list of produce with the least pesticide residues. This year marks the 25th anniversary of a landmark study by the National Academy of Sciences that warned children's exposure to toxic pesticides through food could harm their health. The study is just as important today. Although many toxic pesticides have been removed from the marketplace, we now also know much more about how pesticide intake negatively affects kids' developing bodies. The American Academy of Pediatrics , which represents tens of thousands of children's doctors, recommends the Shopper's Guide to pediatricians when consulting with parents about reducing pesticide exposures in their children's diets. Here's some key information that every parent or expecting parent should know:

        • Children eat many more fruits and vegetables relative to their body weights than adults do, which can increase their pesticide exposures. This is especially true if they're eating conventionally grown produce that lands on our Dirty Dozen list.
        • Several long-term studies of U.S. children, in both farming and urban communities, found exposure to organophosphate pesticides caused subtle but lasting damages to their brains and nervous systems. But last year, the Environmental Protection Agency cancelled a scheduled ban of a dangerous organophosphate called chlorpyrifos .
        • Non-organic strawberries have topped the Dirty Dozen list for the third year running. This year, EWG found conventionally grown strawberries contained an average of 7.8 different pesticides per sample, almost four times the average of all other produce. According to the University of Illinois Extension , over 53 percent of 7- to 9-year-olds picked strawberries as their favorite fruit. And 94 percent of U.S. households consume strawberries.
        • Seventy-six percent of conventionally grown spinach samples in this year's guide contained permethrin, a pyrethroid insecticide.
        • Conventional apples and pears remained on the Dirty Dozen this year. Some samples of these fruits contained pesticides that have been banned in Europe.

        Rice, staple food of billions, could become less nutritious because of climate change - Human-caused greenhouse gas emissions threaten to make rice less nutritious, scientists said in a study released Wednesday, raising a worrying possibility about the staple food item for billions of humans. Rice, the scientists found, contains lower levels of key vitamins when grown amid high concentrations of carbon dioxide, the most common of the greenhouse gases driving climate change. “If we do nothing, then yes, there is this potential for profound negative impacts on human health,” said Kristie Ebi, a public health researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle and one of the authors of the study, which also involved researchers at institutions in China, Japan, Australia and the United States, including at the US Agriculture Department.The research, conducted in Japan and China, examined 18 rice varieties in outdoor experiments in which the plants were subjected to atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations of 568 to 590 parts per million. Current concentrations are about 410 parts per million, but they’re growing at about 2 parts per million every year – and could reach the study’s levels in the later part of this century. Rice accounts for “approximately 25 per cent of all global calories,” according to the study, which was published in the journal Science Advances. It was led by Chunwu Zhu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The study found that at the high concentrations, the crop’s content of the vitamins B1, B2, B5 and B9 all declined, including by as much as 30 per cent for B9 (folate). The research also confirmed previously discovered declines in protein, iron and zinc. 

        Climate change on track to cause major insect wipeout, scientists warn - Global warming is on track to cause a major wipeout of insects, compounding already severe losses, according to a new analysis. Insects are vital to most ecosystems and a widespread collapse would cause extremely far-reaching disruption to life on Earth, the scientists warn. Their research shows that, even with all the carbon cuts already pledged by nations so far, climate change would make almost half of insect habitat unsuitable by the end of the century, with pollinators like bees particularly affected. However, if climate change could be limited to a temperature rise of 1.5C - the very ambitious goal included in the global Paris agreement - the losses of insects are far lower. The new research is the most comprehensive to date, analysing the impact of different levels of climate change on the ranges of 115,000 species. It found plants are also heavily affected but that mammals and birds, which can more easily migrate as climate changes, suffered less. “We showed insects are the most sensitive group,” said Prof Rachel Warren, at the University of East Anglia, who led the new work. “They are important because ecosystems cannot function without insects. They play an absolutely critical role in the food chain.” “The disruption to our ecosystems if we were to lose that high proportion of our insects would be extremely far-reaching and widespread,” she said. “People should be concerned - humans depend on ecosystems functioning.” Pollination, fertile soils, clean water and more all depend on healthy ecosystems, Warren said. 

        Urgent Climate Action Required to Protect Tens of Thousands of Species Worldwide, New Research Shows - Humanity can powerfully improve the survival odds of tens of thousands of species, but only if nations dramatically raise their ambitions in the fight against climate change, according to new research published on Thursday in the journal Science. One key to salvaging plant and vertebrate habitat and protecting the world's biodiversity is to limit warming to the most challenging benchmark established under the 2015 Paris treaty—1.5 degrees Celsius of warming—not to the treaty's less stringent 2 degree guardrail, the study found. The study assessed, in more detail than ever before, a key measure of extinction risk: the shrinking size of each species' current geographical range, or natural habitat. It projected that for an alarming number of species, their range size would shrink by at least half as temperatures rise past the Paris goals. If nations do no more than they have pledged so far to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions—and warming consequently shoots past 3 degrees by the end of this century—6 percent of all vertebrates would be at risk. So would 44 percent of plants and a whopping 49 percent of insects. But the dangers would be greatly reduced if warming can be limited to 1.5 degrees. That might protect the overwhelming majority of the 115,000 species assessed by the researchers.  Until now, these problems have been studied in relatively few species, notably tropical coral reefs, which are already dying off under the approximately 1 degree of warming that's been observed so far. They may be partly saved if emissions are reduced aggressively enough to stay below 1.5 degrees. This time, the researchers examined 115,000 species, including 34,000 insects and other invertebrates that previously have not been included in global studies of climate and biodiversity. (Roughly a million species of insects have been named, and there may be many more.)

        Clipped Wings: Trump Weakens Law That Protected Birds For A Century –   Migratory birds are important ecological and economic drivers. Each year, birders spend an estimated $41 billion on trips and equipment. Birds are the proverbial ‘canary in the coal mine,’ and also literal ones. As ecological indicator species they inform us when environmental conditions have changed.  And for the last 100 years, their status as creatures worth protecting has been enshrined by a U.S. law called the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The law makes it illegal to hunt, capture, kill, possess, import or export any migratory bird, or its feathers, nests or eggs without a permit.  In December, the Interior Department announced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would no longer enforce “incidental take.” That provision of the law refers to when birds are unintentionally killed by something such as a building, power lines, wind turbines or oil and gas ponds. These open pits near and oil and gas operations often contain toxic drilling fluids and trace amounts of oil.  Birds are important indicators of an ecosystem’s health. In the past, the agency has, in select cases, issued fines to industry operators, when actions that fall under incidental take kills birds. Often, the agency works with companies to change practices. That may involve installing netting over waste ponds or changing lights on wind turbines so as not to attract as many birds. Many industry groups support Interior’s decision on incidental take. In a statement, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, which represents thousands of independent oil and natural gas producers, said the agency’s previous interpretation of incidental take expanded the law beyond its original intent and placed blame on lawful industries and activities.

        Humans and Big Ag Livestock Now Account for 96 Percent of Mammal Biomass - A first-of-its-kind study published Monday shows that, when it comes to impacting life on Earth, humans are punching well above our weight.The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , is the first ever comprehensive census of the distribution of the biomass, or weight of living creatures, across classification type and environment. It found that, while humans account for 0.01 percent of the planet's biomass, our activity has reduced the biomass of wild marine and terrestrial mammals by six times and the biomass of plant matter by half."I would hope this gives people a perspective on the very dominant role that humanity now plays on Earth," lead researcher and Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel professor Ron Milo told The Guardian .According to the study, human impacts are due to the combined effects of the agricultural and industrial revolutions. In particular, the domestication of livestock has caused a shift in the relative biomass of different species of mammals.Humans account for about 36 percent of the biomass of all mammals. Domesticated livestock, mostly cows and pigs, account for 60 percent, and wild mammals for only 4 percent. The same holds true for birds. The biomass of poultry is about three times higher than that of wild birds.

        Humans just 0.01% of all life but have destroyed 83% of wild mammals – study - Humankind is revealed as simultaneously insignificant and utterly dominant in the grand scheme of life on Earth by a groundbreaking new assessment of all life on the planet. The world’s 7.6 billion people represent just 0.01% of all living things, according to the study. Yet since the dawn of civilisation, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants, while livestock kept by humans abounds. The new work is the first comprehensive estimate of the weight of every class of living creature and overturns some long-held assumptions. Bacteria are indeed a major life form – 13% of everything – but plants overshadow everything, representing 82% of all living matter. All other creatures, from insects to fungi, to fish and animals, make up just 5% of the world’s biomass.  Another surprise is that the teeming life revealed in the oceans by the recent BBC television series Blue Planet II turns out to represent just 1% of all biomass. The vast majority of life is land-based and a large chunk – an eighth – is bacteria buried deep below the surface. “I was shocked to find there wasn’t already a comprehensive, holistic estimate of all the different components of biomass,” said Prof Ron Milo, at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, who led the work, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “I would hope this gives people a perspective on the very dominant role that humanity now plays on Earth,” The transformation of the planet by human activity has led scientists to the brink of declaring a new geological era – the Anthropocene. One suggested marker for this change are the bones of the domestic chicken, now ubiquitous across the globe. The new work reveals that farmed poultry today makes up 70% of all birds on the planet, with just 30% being wild. The picture is even more stark for mammals – 60% of all mammals on Earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, 36% are human and just 4% are wild animals.

        'Wolf-like' creature shot near Montana ranch puzzles experts - BBC News: US wildlife experts are baffled by a "wolf-like" animal that was killed by a Montana farmer. The rancher near the town of Denton shot the creature last week when it came within several hundred metres of his livestock, said officials. State wildlife experts said they have been unable to pinpoint its species. After inspecting the creature, they said they doubt it's a wolf as its teeth were too short, front paws abnormally small and claws too large. Bizarre theories have circulated online that it could be a werewolf, a young grizzly bear or a relative of Bigfoot. In a news release, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) said it was a "young, non-lactating female and a canid, a member of the dog family that includes dogs, foxes, coyotes and wolves". "We have no idea what this was until we get a DNA report back," a spokesman for the agency, Bruce Auchly, told the Great Falls Tribune.  He added that it may be up to a week before results come in, which should help identify the cryptid.

        Inside the Barbaric U.S. Industry of Dog Experimentation - There is a largely hidden, poorly regulated, and highly profitable industry in the United States that has a gruesome function: breeding dogs for the sole purpose of often torturous experimentation, after which the dogs are killed because they are no longer of use. Americans frequently express horror at festivals in countries such as China and South Korea where dogs are killed, cooked, and eaten. Mainstream media outlets in the U.S. routinely report, with a tone of disgust, on the use of dogs in those countries for food consumption.  But in the U.S. itself, corporations and academic institutions exploit dogs (as well as cats and rabbits) for excruciating experiments that are completely trivial, even useless, and are just as abusive as the practices in Asia that have produced so much moral indignation in the West. These dogs are frequently bred into life for the sole purpose of being laboratory objects, and spend their entire, often short, existence locked in a small cage, subjected to procedures that impose extreme pain and suffering. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s aptly named the Animal Usage report, 60,979 dogs were used in the U.S. for experimentation in 2016 alone. The reported number of all animals used for experimentation, whose reporting was required, was 820,812. Often, the experimentation has nothing to do with medical research, but rather trivial commercial interests, and in almost all cases, dogs provide little to no unique scientific value. Dogs bred into life for use or sale as experimentation objects have all the same emotional complexities, sensations of suffering and deprivation, and inbred need for human companionship as household dogs which are loved as pets and members of the family. Yet the legalized cruelty and torture to which man’s best friend is subjected for profit in the U.S. is virtually limitless. In fact, the majority of dogs bred and sold for experimentation are beagles, which are considered ideal because of their docile, human-trusting personality. In other words, the very traits that have made them such loving and loyal companions to humans are the ones that humans exploit to best manipulate them in labs.

        UN, EU call for global action to protect bees - The United Nation's food agency and the European Union on Saturday called for global action to protect pollinators, and bees in particular, which are crucial for ensuring food security. "It is not possible to have food security if we don't have pollinators," the head of the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization, Jose Graziano da Silva, told a conference in Slovenia ahead of the first-ever World Bee Day. Pollinators, such as bees, birds, bats, butterflies and beetles "are responsible for most of the crops and food that we eat," he said. To cope with the impact of pesticides, shrinking forest areas and reducing wildlife, the world needs to find "ways to increase, preserve biodiversity," he said. Bees help pollinate 90 percent of the world's major crops, but in recent years many have been dying off from "colony collapse disorder", a mysterious scourge blamed partly on pesticides. The UN has warned that 40 percent of invertebrate pollinators -- particularly bees and butterflies -- risk global extinction. EU environment commissioner Karmenu Vella, also attending the conference, announced that Brussels is scheduled to present its action plan to protect pollinators on June 1. "Basically, we'll be addressing the threats, the causes, the consequences but also the actions that we have to take," to protect pollinators and stop the decline of biodiversity, Vella told journalists. 

        Honeybees may be dying in larger numbers due to climate change  - Beekeepers in the U.S. reported an increase in honeybee deaths over the last year, possibly the result of erratic weather patterns brought on by a changing climate, according to the scientist leading an annual survey on the insects. U.S. beekeepers said 40 percent of their hives, also called colonies, died unexpectedly during the year that ended March 31, according to a survey released Wednesday by researchers from Auburn University and the University of Maryland. That’s up from 33 percent a year earlier. Elevated bee-loss rates have been an agricultural concern for the past decade, since a mysterious malady called Colony Collapse Disorder coincided with a doubling of honeybee death rates and spurred greater attention and research on commercial and wild bees. Higher death rates make pollination more expensive for beekeepers and farmers. An autumn that began with hurricanes in southern states, followed by abnormal temperature patterns and frequent winter storms, may have disrupted bee feeding patterns and increased their vulnerability to other maladies, said survey coordinator Geoffrey Williams, an assistant professor at Auburn in Alabama. "Changes in climate and weather affect food and forage for bees," he said. "It’s pretty obvious that if you have bees already on the edge and you have a radical, quick weather shift, they aren’t going to do as well." 

        Beyond Honey Bees: Wild Bees Are Also Key Pollinators, and Some Species Are Disappearing - Declines in bee populations around the world have been widely reported over the past several decades. Much attention has focused on honey bees , which commercial beekeepers transport all over the U.S. to pollinate crops.However, while honey bees are a vital part of our agricultural system, they are generally considered the chickens of the bee world—domesticated and highly managed for specific agricultural use. They are not native to North America and often can't be used as a surrogate for understanding what is happening with native wild bees—the focus of my research .There are about 5,000 native bee species in North America. Many have shown no evidence of decline, and some are thriving in highly urbanized areas. But other species, including some that were previously common, are becoming harder and harder to find. As scientists work to understand bee decline, it is important to identify the unique roles that native bees play, and to identify threats specific to them. One in every three bites of food we eat is made possible by bees. They pollinate almonds, apples, blueberries, squash, tomatoes and many other popular crops. They also pollinate alfalfa, which we feed to farm animals, so they support the meat component of our diet too.We need bees for food security and to maintain healthy ecosystems. Bees pollinate flowering trees and wildflowers, which in turn provide food and homes for other animals and improve water, air and soil quality. Along with honey bees, wild bees are also vital for crop pollination. Research has shown that the presence of wild bees increases yields across many types of crops . They often are more efficient at pollinating crops native to North America than honey bees. For example, a honey bee would have to visit a blueberry flowerfour times to deposit the same amount of pollen as a single visit from a bumble bee queen.

        Mosquito explosion in southwest Russia makes it ‘impossible’ to leave home -  Torrential rains and abnormally warm weather have spurred a mosquito infestation that has terrorized the Voronezh region in southwest Russia.Photos and video show the bloodsucking insects swarming yards, coating cars and surrounding homes.This report from the Russian media company RT is reminiscent of the Alfred Hitchcock horror movie “The Birds”:People are suffering from itchy bites and swelling and say that it’s “impossible” to leave their homes. Children are refusing to go to school as they are immediately “eaten alive” by the insects. Even at home people find scant refuge, as the tiny menaces manage to crawl through any crack they can find. Outside is far worse, as roads cannot even be seen through mosquito hordes, according to local media.Vestivrn, another Russian news organization, said (translated from Russian) that their numbers were  “unprecedented” and that the insects had “eaten several pigs” that died as a result, although one official was skeptical that mosquitoes were the cause. The mosquito siege began around May 6 “with the volume of insects attributed to the recent flooding of local rivers,” reported the Epoch Times. Temperatures have also been much higher than normal. Mosquitoes thrive in warm, wet environments.

        Giant predatory worms invaded France, but scientists just noticed them - WaPo - When Jean-Lou Justine received the first photograph of a giant worm with a head like a shovel, the biologist was astounded. Hammerhead flatworms, which grow to a foot or more in length, do not belong in European vegetable gardens. “We do not have that in France,” said Justine, a professor at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. The predatory worms are native to Asia, where they happily gobble up earthworms under a warmer sun. The gardener who took the first photo, an amateur naturalist named Pierre Gros, emailed Justine a second picture a week later. It was of a completely different species of giant worm. When Gros sent a third photograph, of a third species, Justine thought the images must be a prank: “The man is bringing back worms from his travels, and he pretends he finds them in his garden!” But Gros was neither prankster nor international worm-smuggler. Gros and Justine, co-authors of a new report published Tuesday in the journal PeerJ, had stumbled upon an alien predator in the soil beneath their feet. For the better part of two decades, several species of flatworm have made a home in metropolitan France.“The species are cryptic and soil-dwelling so can be easily overlooked, which often explains their inadvertent shipment round the world,” said entomologist Archie Murchie of Britain’s Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, who was not involved with the study. Worms like these are spreading and will continue to spread, he warned, especially “with increased global trade.” Biologists knew that smaller worms, which eat escargot snails, had made their way to France. But until recently, Justine, an expert in parasites and worms called nematodes, had no idea France was under a hammerhead invasion.

        Swaths of native forest near Great Barrier Reef set to be bulldozed - Federal officials plan to back the destruction of almost 2000 hectares of pristine Queensland forest in a move that threatens the Great Barrier Reef and undermines a $500 million Turnbull government rescue package for the natural wonder. A draft report by the Department of the Environment and Energy recommends that the government allow the mass vegetation clearing at Kingvale Station on Cape York Peninsula. The area to be bulldozed is almost three times the size of the combined central business districts of Sydney and Melbourne. Old growth forest in the vicinity of Kingvale Station, near rivers that flow into the Great Barrier Reef. Photo courtesy Australian Conservation Foundation. The draft recommendation comes despite the department conceding the native forest is likely to contain endangered species, and despite expert warnings that runoff caused by the clearing may damage the reef. Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg will make a final ruling on the proposal. It will test his long-stated willingness to protect the reef from poor water quality, which is triggered by land clearing. Last month the government announced it would spend more than $500 million to protect the reef, including $201 million to improve water quality through better farming practices. AdvertisementA rejection of the Kingvale proposal would put Mr Frydenberg at odds with Queensland Coalition MPs who have vocally backed the plan. Kingvale Station owner Scott Harris wants to clear the land – mostly eucalypt forest and melaleuca swamplands – to make way for cropping and other activities. The former Queensland Newman government approved the work in April 2014. However the federal government determined that the clearing must also be assessed under Commonwealth laws. 

         CSIRO planning US military funded genetic extinction experiments in Western Australia - A raft of emails obtained through a Freedom of Information request (The Gene Drive Files) reveal that CSIRO and University of Adelaide scientists are part of a US military funded global network researching a risky new genetic modification (GM) technique referred to as gene drives. The group have already identified six potential islands in Western Australia where they intend to use the technique to drive local mice populations to extinction.Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA – the US military’s research arm) is contributing US$6.4M to fund the Genetic Biocontrol of Invasive Rodents Program (GBIRd). This is being spread between the CSIRO, the University of Adelaide, several US research institutes and the NGO Island Conservation.The release of gene drives could have potentially catastrophic ecological consequences. Even gene drive proponents have now admitted that the gene drives are too risky to be released into the environment. We find it incredible that CSIRO and its GBIRd partners are already considering the environmental release of this technology.”Gene drives are a new and highly controversial technique that can force altered genetic traits through successive generations. The GBIRd scientists intend to use the technique to develop mice that only produce male offspring in order to drive local populations to extinction. Mice are notorious for stowing away on boats, which is how they have spread globally. One of the proposed release sites for the gene drive mice is Boullanger Island - a popular tourist destination just 1km from the mainland. There is no way that a release of gene drive mice there could be geographically contained.  Most rodents are considered keystone species in their ecological communities as herbivores, seed eaters and seed dispersers, and prey for many carnivores. Many other species depend on them for survival. The ecological impacts if mice are driven to extinction in their natural habitats in Europe and Asia could be catastrophic.

        Wyoming Votes to Allow First Grizzly Bear Hunt in 40 Years - The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the largest grizzly bear hunt in the lower 48 states, despite opposition from environmental groups, tribal nations and wildlife photographers, The Washington Post reported .The vote comes less than a month after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service affirmed its June 2017 decision to delist grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYE) from protections under the Endangered SpeciesAct and pass management of the bears' population off to the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. This will be the first grizzly bear hunt in Wyoming since 1974."Allowing a trophy hunt of these majestic animals—the second-slowest mammal to reproduce in North America—so soon after they lost Endangered Species protections does nothing to build public confidence in state management of grizzly bears," Sierra Club representative Bonnie Rice said in a statement reported by The Washington Post.There is still a chance the hunt will not take place. A U.S. District Court judge will decide several lawsuits challenging the delisting of the GYE bears this summer.If the bears remain delisted, the hunt will occur this fall and will allow hunters to kill one female or 10 male bears in a "demographic monitoring area" of prime habitat and an additional 12 male or female bears in a more "human dominated landscape," for a potential kill of 22 bears. Montana decided not to allow a bear hunt in February and Idaho has permitted a hunt of one male bear, also this fall. More than 200 tribal nations opposed the hunt, saying the bears are sacred to their culture, and want to move the bears to tribal lands. One-hundred and seven wildlife photographers and 75 scientists also wrote letters condemning the hunt to Wyoming's Republican Governor Matt Mead.

        Trump Admin. Wants to Reinstate 'Cruel' Hunting Tactics in Alaska, Conservation Groups Say - The Trump administration has proposed new regulations to overturn an Obama-era rule that protects iconicpredators in Alaska's national preserves . Wildlife protection organizations condemned the move, as it would allow hunters to go to den sites to shoot wolf pups and bear cubs, lure and kill bears over bait, hunt bears with dogs and use motor boats to shoot swimming caribou. Such hunting methods were banned on federal lands in 2015 that are otherwise permitted by the state. The proposed rule, posted Tuesday in the federal register and pushed by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke , "would remove a regulatory provision issued by the National Park Service (NPS) in 2015 that prohibited certain sport hunting practices that are otherwise permitted by the State of Alaska." Members of the public are invited to post comments on the proposed rule by 11:59 p.m. EST on July 23, 2018. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game was "pleased to see the National Park Service working to better align federal regulations with State of Alaska hunting and trapping regulations," Maria Gladziszewski, the state agency's deputy director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation, said in an email to The Associated Press . Safari Club International, a hunting advocacy group, backed the Interior's new proposal. Zinke, an avid hunter himself, created his International Wildlife Conservation Council that is mainly comprised of trophy hunters and members of the Safari Club, who advocate for federal programs that support hunting.

        110 Million Americans May Be Drinking PFAS-Contaminated Water - More than 1,500 drinking water systems across the country may be contaminated with the nonstick chemicals PFOA and PFOS, and similar fluorine-based chemicals , a new EWG analysis shows. This groundbreaking finding comes the same day the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA ) is convening a summit to address PFAS chemicals—a class of toxic chemicals that includes PFOA and PFOS, and that are linked to cancer, thyroid disease, weakened immunity and other health problems.From 2013 to 2015, the EPA mandated national testing for PFAS chemicals in public water systems, yet the full results of this testing, funded by taxpayers, were never made public. Water utilities with the highest concentrations of PFAS chemicals have been publicly identified . But the names of utilities with detectable PFAS contamination below the so-called reporting levels of 10 to 90 parts per trillion, or ppt, were not released. Millions of people were not informed that their water supply is contaminated with these chemicals.The additional water systems with PFAS contamination likely serve tens of millions of people, and it is essential for people in those communities to be informed of this hazard. Eurofins Eaton Analytical, which analyzed a third of the nationwide water samples, found that 28 percent of the water utilities it tested contained PFAS chemicals at concentrations at or above 5 ppt. The percentage of samples with PFAS detections nearly doubled when the laboratory analyzed down to 2.5 ppt. Based on this data, EWG's analysis suggests that up to 110 million Americans could have PFAS in their water.This new research greatly exceeds EWG's previous estimate of 16 million Americans being exposed to PFAS-contaminated water, as reported in the EWG's national Tap Water Database . Independent scientific assessments find that the safe level of exposure to PFAS chemicals is about 1 ppt —significantly below the reporting level set by the EPA.

        EPA Guard Shoves Reporter, Multiple News Outlets Blocked From Water Pollution Event - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) blocked reporters from CNN, E&E News and the Associated Press from attending a summit about water pollution on Tuesday, and a security guard reportedly grabbed a journalist by the shoulders and "forcibly" shoved her out of the building."Guards barred an AP reporter from passing through a security checkpoint inside the building. When the reporter asked to speak to an EPA public-affairs person, the security guards grabbed the reporter by the shoulders and shoved her forcibly out of the EPA building," the AP said Tuesday.EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox told the journalists they had not been invited to the summit and there was not space for them. Wilcox told NBC News the agency provided them with a livestream. He claimed the AP reporter threatened "negative coverage" if she was not allowed to attend the event, but also that he was "unaware of the individual situation that has been reported."A climate reporter for Politico tweeted Tuesday that a security guard joked about how he told an AP reporter she could not film as she was being kicked out of the agency building. A journalist from E&E confirmed that his outlet as well as CNN and the AP had been barred from attending the event. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt convened the meeting about water contaminants perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl after facing fierce criticism last week for preventing the release of a major study examining their impacts on waterways throughout the country. Published emails revealed the agency and the Trump White House feared a "public relations nightmare" in response to widespread contamination from the chemicals, which are commonly used in Teflon, firefighting foam, and by the Department of Defense for exercises at U.S. bases, and have been tied to thyroid and pregnancy issues as well as some cancers.

         Flint congressman’s staff reportedly barred from EPA event on water contamination - The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is having a rough week. On Tuesday, it was revealed that reporters from the Associated Press, CNN, and E&E News were barred from entering an EPA summit on toxic chemicals. When an AP reporter tried to enter the summit, she was reportedly “forcibly” removed. Though the EPA eventually relented and allowed press to cover the event, it was too late to stop an afternoon of negative coverage.Wednesday did not prove any better for the agency’s image. In a tweet, Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) said the EPA barred his staff from attending a summit on water contamination.My staff was not allowed to attend today's @EPA #PFAS summit, and I represent communities affected by drinking water contamination. @EPAScottPruitt's lack of transparency and willingness to deny access to Members of Congress and the media is deeply troubling.— Rep. Dan Kildee (@RepDanKildee) May 23, 2018  What’s especially concerning about this move is that Kildee represents Flint, Michigan, the site of an ongoing toxic water crisis. It shouldn’t have been a surprise to EPA officials that Flint’s congressional representative would find it necessary to attend an event concerning the very issue plaguing his constituents. The state government recently stopped providing bottled water to the town, arguing that Flint’s water is now safe. This move did not sit well with residents. On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Snyder’s (R) office was stormed by 100 protesters who demanded the state begin providing bottled water once again. And as Mother Jones has reported, residents aren’t buying local officials’ claims and scientists are hesitant to agree with the government that the water is safe to drink. Kildee wasn’t the only member of Congress with something to say about the controversy. Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) questioned who the EPA was really serving with this event, saying on Twitter that the agency was “more concerned with protecting the EPA chemical summit from the public than it is with protecting the public from harmful chemicals.”

        Abandoned landfill threatens health of rural Tennessee residents - A landfill in Camden, Tennessee, approximately 80 miles west of Nashville, was abandoned by its owner last year, leaving a likely candidate for a federal Superfund site and nearby residents facing years of continued exposure to toxic waste.The 42-acre site, nicknamed “Black Mountain” by those who live in the area because of toxic sludge leaking out of the 30-foot-high landfill, was walked away from by Environmental Waste Solutions (EWS) last year after its owner declared bankruptcy.“The landfill is leaking heavy metals including lead and cadmium, which is a very big problem,” Environmental Attorney Elizabeth Murphy told the Tennessean. “Cadmium is dangerous because it causes liver damage.” Murphy is representing residents of Camden in Benton County, one of the poorest counties in the state. With an estimated 2016 population of about 16,000, Benton County’s median family income is just $32,720 while the median household income is $28,679.

        Death by slow poisoning - On a Thursday morning at the government primary school in Madhusudankati, a village in West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district, a gaggle of five-year-olds chatter animatedly in a classroom.  It’s a school scene that is as ordinary as it gets, but behind its normalcy lies a disturbing fact: the bodies of these children contain alarming levels of arsenic — a poisonous metalloid that sickens and kills with chronic exposure. Unlike the adults in Madhusudankati though, the children don’t show any symptoms yet. Madhusudankati is a lush green agricultural village about 14 km from the border with Bangladesh and deep inside India’s arsenic territory. About 15 years ago, scientists discovered that the shallow groundwater here had high levels of the mineral: up to 1,000 micrograms (mcg) per litre in places. The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) prescribed safe level is 10 mcg per litre. When such water is consumed for years, either directly or through the food chain, the mineral damages organs like the skin, kidneys and lungs. The most visible symptom in early years is a classic blotchy pattern on the skin, a condition called raindrop pigmentation. If people showing such pigmentation don’t switch to safer water, they develop hyperkeratosis — dark crusts on their palms and soles, which can get infected and make it painful to work. Eventually, the skin can turn cancerous. Simultaneously, arsenic can destroy the kidneys and liver tissue, cause conjunctivitis and affect the lungs, just as heavy smoking does. There are few organs that arsenic spares. Today, an estimated 10 million people in nine districts in West Bengal drink arsenic-laden groundwater. It is the worst worldwide case of mass poisoning alongside Bangladesh, which has 40 million people at risk. When West Bengal’s problem first attracted international attention in 1995, a researcher from the University of Colorado compared its scale with the Chernobyl disaster. Today, we know it is worse. But despite the grave warnings from international bodies like the WHO, the West Bengal government has moved excruciatingly slowly to tackle the crisis.

        Indian police kill 12 protesting industrial pollution in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu -- Police have killed at least 12 protesters in Tuticorin, in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, in a brutal crackdown on mass opposition to a copper smelter that has spewed hazardous industrial waste into the area for decades, causing numerous fatalities.Ten protesters, including two women, were killed Tuesday and more than 60 others injured when police opened fire on a crowd of 20,000 that had defied a government ban on gatherings of more than four people. Yesterday, when opponents of the smelter took to the streets of Tuticorin to denounce Tuesday’s state violence, police again resorted to gunfire, killing a further protester.Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister, the head of the Tamil Nadu regionalist AIADMK, Edappadi Palaniswami, has justified the bloody police repression. “The police,” declared Palaniswami, “had to take action under unavoidable circumstances to protect public life and property.”H. Raja, the national secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindu supremacist party that dominates India’s national government, has also endorsed the shooting down of people who were demanding the closure of a facility, owned by a billionaire Indian industrialist, that has wreaked havoc on the lives of the people of Tuticorin, as well as fishermen along a large swathe of India’s south-east coast. The police had “no other option,” claimed Raja, because the protests had “turned into violence.” The AIADMK is a close ally of the BJP, although not formally part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. The killings have provoked revulsion and anger across India. Fearing mass social unrest, the Tamil Nadu state government has ordered all internet access shut down for five days in Thoothukudi (the district in which Tuticorin is situated) and in the neighbouring districts of Tirunelveli and Kanniyakumari.

        Experts: “Alarming” drought conditions hit US Southwest — Rivers and watering holes are drying up, popular mountain recreation spots are closing and water restrictions are in full swing as a persistent drought intensifies its grip on pockets of the American Southwest. Climatologists and other experts on Wednesday provided an update on the situation in the Four Corners region — where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah meet. They say the area is among the hardest hit and there’s little relief expected, and even robust summer rains might not be enough to replenish the soil and ease the fire danger. The region is dealing with exceptional drought — the worst category. That has left farmers, ranchers and water planners bracing for a much different situation than just a year ago when only a fraction of the region was experiencing low levels of dryness. Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center in Nebraska, said people are become more aware and more concerned. “We’ve been on this pattern where conditions have dried out, we haven’t seen much relief through last summer or into the winter months and here we are going into the summer of 2018 with over two-thirds of the region already in drought,” he said. “So that’s alarming to say the least.” Portions of the four states are seeing near-record to record dryness. Fuchs explained that some spots have missed out over the last two years on more than 12 inches (30 centimeters) of precipitation — which can add up to as much as a year’s worth of rain under normal conditions. Warmer-than-average temperatures haven’t helped as the soil dries out and water demand increases. With the region’s resources strained, a top federal official has resumed pressure on states in the Southwest to wrap up long-delayed emergency plans for potential shortages on the Colorado River, which serves 40 million people in the U.S. and Mexico. 

        Water shortages to be key environmental challenge of the century, Nasa warns - Water shortages are likely to be the key environmental challenge of this century, scientists from Nasa have warned, as new data has revealed a drying-out of swaths of the globe between the tropics and the high latitudes, with 19 hotspots where water depletion has been dramatic.Areas in northern and eastern India, the Middle East, California and Australia are among the hotspots where overuse of water resources has caused a serious decline in the availability of freshwater that is already causing problems. Without strong action by governments to preserve water the situation in these areas is likely to worsen.  Some of these hotspots were previously undocumented or poorly understood: a region in north-western China, in Xinjiang province, has suffered dramatic declines despite receiving normal amounts of rainfall, owing to groundwater depletion from industry and irrigation. The Caspian Sea was also found to be showing strong declines owing to similar forces, which is resulting in a shrinking shoreline. Previously, this change had been attributed to natural variability, but the new report demonstrates it was caused in large part by the diversion and extraction of water from rivers that feed it, for agriculture and industry. This depletion mirrors the well-known fate of the disappearing Aral Sea in the same region: because the Caspian Sea is much bigger it would take millennia to disappear altogether, but its shrinking shoreline and pollution will cause major problems throughout its borderlands. The comprehensive study, the first of its kind, took data from the Nasa Grace (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellite mission to track trends in freshwater from 2002 to 2016 across the globe. “What we are witnessing is major hydrologic change. We see for the first time a very distinctive pattern of the wet land areas of the world getting wetter, in the high latitudes and the tropics, and the dry areas in between getting drier,”  . “Within the dry areas we see multiple hotspots resulting from groundwater depletion.”

        Toxic Algae Blooms Occurring More Often, May Be Caught in Climate Change Feedback Loop - Blooms of harmful algae in the nation's waters appear to be occurring much more frequently than in the past, increasing suspicions that the warming climate may be exacerbating the problem.The Environmental Working Group (EWG) published newly collected data on Tuesday reporting nearly 300 large blooms since 2010. Last year alone, 169 were reported. While NOAA issues forecasts for harmful algal blooms in certain areas, the advocacy group called its report the first attempt to track the blooms on a nationwide scale.The study comes as scientists have predicted proliferation of these blooms as the climate changes, and amid increasing attention by the news media and local politicians to the worst cases.Just as troubling, these blooms could not only worsen with climate change, but also contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. EWG based its study on news reports and before-and-after satellite images that show the expansion of the blooms. Though the rapid increase in the annual numbers might reflect more thorough observations and reporting in recent years, Craig Cox, who focuses on agriculture for EWG, said the numbers may still be on the low side. In 2014, the news was especially urgent in Toledo, where a toxic algal bloom in Lake Erie forced health officials to declare the water unsafe for drinking and bathing. Harmful algae blooms had been common in the western part of Lake Erie from the 1960s through the 1980s, but they had diminished with better pollution controls—until about a decade ago,according to NOAA.  Now the blooms—thick undulating mats of green—have become an annual occurrence there.  The root cause of the problem lies mainly in agricultural runoff that contains phosphorus, which encourages algal growth. The agricultural industry in Ohio and elsewhere has long been aware of the problem. Joe Cornely, a spokesman for the Ohio Farm Bureau, said the bureau had been looking into it for years. But when it came to legislative and regulatory measures, Cornely said: "You've heard the old saying, 'You can have it fast or right.' We want it to be right."

        Adios, La Niña -  NOAA - The La Niña event that overtook the tropical Pacific this past winter is officially over, according to the latest update from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. La Niña’s signature of heavier-than-usual rainfall in the western part of the basin has tapered off, and the cool surface waters in the central part of the basin are dissipating. This animation tracks the fall emergence, winter peak, and spring decay of the ocean half of the La Niña climate phenomenon. It shows monthly sea surface temperatures compared to average (1981-2010) from August 2017 through April 2018. Places where temperatures were up to 9 degrees cooler than average are blue; places where they were up to 9 degrees warmer than average are orange and red. Why do U.S. climate forecasters pay so much attention to a pattern that operates in the remote tropical Pacific? Because the Pacific is the world’s biggest ocean, and disruptions to its climate have a long reach. The seesawing changes in tropical rainfall, winds, and ocean temperature that accompany La Niña and its warm-phase partner, El Niño, trigger a cascade of potentially predictable impacts on seasonal climate in the United States and beyond.

        Weather perceptions linked to belief in climate change, study shows --  According to new research out of Utah State University, perceiving local weather as warmer or colder than normal is strongly connected to our pre-existing beliefs in climate change. Through collaborations with the University of Bergen and the Norwegian Citizen Panel, Howe collected survey data from a representative group of Norway citizens to understand the relationship between belief in climate change, and perceptions of whether the temperature and precipitation patterns deviated from normal."We also found a pretty strong relationship between what people thought about global climate change more broadly and what they said they had experienced in terms of the weather at the local level," said Peter Howe, an assistant professor of geography at Utah State University."So, people who said they think that climate change is happening and caused mostly by humans - which is consistent with the scientific consensus on the issue - were more likely to say that the winter that they had experienced was warmer than normal," he said. "The people who said that human-caused climate change wasn’t happening or that humans weren’t primarily the cause were significantly less likely to say that they had experienced a warmer-than-normal winter.” A larger implication of Howe’s research is that people’s opinions about climate change can be a barrier to them responding and adapting to direct climate change impacts.

        Death toll climbs in Karachi heatwave -  An intense heatwave across south Asia has killed dozens of people with sustained temperatures in excess of 40C (104F) coinciding with power cuts and Ramadan, when many Muslims avoid eating or drinking water. At least 65 people have died in Karachi in recent days according to the charitable organisation that runs the central morgue in the Pakistani port city, as volunteers handed out water to labourers and others working outside in temperatures as high as 44C. Local media reports claimed the death toll could have exceeded 100 in the sprawling megacity of 15 million, where high temperatures are exacerbated by an absence of green space, estimated to make up just 7% of the urban area. Authorities in Karachi have not confirmed the death toll but urged people to stay indoors and keep drinking water. Parts of the city have also been suffering from power cuts, particularly early in the morning when more people than usual have been waking to eat before sunrise in line with Ramadan fasting rituals. During the annual month-long rite, Muslims refrain from eating or drinking anything including water between sunrise and sunset, though children, older people, the sick and pregnant women usually do not participate.  The Edhi Foundation, which runs Karachi’s central morgue, said most of the dead in the city were working-class people from poorer neighbourhoods, including children and elderly people.

        Mekong River nations face the hidden costs of China’s dams- Sam In, a 48-year-old rice farmer from Cambodia's northeastern province of Stung Treng, never knew that people paid for water until he was forced to move out of his home on the banks of a Mekong River tributary two years ago. Along with hundreds of other households, Sam In and his 10-member family were relocated to make way for a dam development that left his entire village, Sre Sronok, underwater. Now they live in a newly created village where government-funded houses with identical blue rooftops are neatly lined up on a spacious, dusty plot of land. Instead of a river, a national road runs alongside the village.  "We have to buy the water we use for rice farming, drinking, cooking and bathing. It all used to come from the river, for free." The government provided the family with 2 hectares of land to use for rice farming. But with no proper irrigation system or decent farming equipment to plow the land, which were promised by the government when they agreed to relocate, productivity is less than half that of the fields in their old village. Those fields, about 20km away, were submerged in September 2017 when the floodgates of the Lower Sesan 2 Dam were closed to create a 33,000-hectare water reservoir.   Beyond the problems Sam In and his neighbors are experiencing, the dam construction is expected to result in a sharply reduced supply of fish, a change in the water flow and a reduced riverbed sediments that provide crucial nutrients to the rice crop in Vietnam and other Mekong countries. A 2012 study by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences concluded that the dam would threaten more than 50 fish species.

        New Orleans area levee system 'high risk,' and 'minimally acceptable', Corps says -- Two different reviews of the New Orleans area levee system by the Army Corps of Engineers raise troubling questions about the ability of much of the system to withstand surges caused by a major storm nearly 13 years after Hurricane Katrina. The reviews also question the ability of local levee districts to keep up with costly maintenance between storms, as required to remain eligible for the National Flood Insurance Program, records show.One of the reviews, completed in 2011, gave the 350-mile levee system the second worst classification - "Urgent (Unsafe or Potentially Unsafe)" -- in the corps' Levee Safety Action Classification system. While preliminary because post-Katrina improvements were not finished, the classification remains accurate to this date, a corps New Orleans District spokesman confirmed recently.The documents indicate New Orleans' levee system is well-designed for a storm surge with a 1 percent chance of occurring in any given year, the so-called 100-year event. But the poor ranking reflects a stark reality: much of the metro area's population is at risk of levee failures during stronger, less frequent storms -- 200-year events or stronger. Such a disaster could kill nearly 1,000 people if storm surge overtopped east bank levees, the corps estimated, and almost 3,000 if those levees broke before being overtopped, unleashing a furious wall of water similar to what some areas faced during Katrina. The classification names used by the corps to assess levee risk have been changed since the initial ranking, so New Orleans' system is now ranked as "high risk", but the reasons for the rankings and the recommendations for local levee systems remain the same.

         Here’s Why Seas Are Rising. Somebody Remind the Wall Street Journal. - Union of Concerned Scientists -On May 15, the Wall Street Journal published a commentary by Fred Singer which argued that rising sea levels are unrelated to global warming, that they won’t be much of a problem, and that there’s little we can do about them. Singer, whose history of disingenuous attacks on science on behalf of the tobacco, fossil fuel and other industries goes back nearly 50 years, is wrong on all counts.Singer acknowledges that “sea levels are in fact rising at an accelerating rate,” but then argues that “the cause of the trend is a puzzle.” Perhaps Singer is puzzled as to the causes, but science is crystal clear about this. Worse, we know that without strong policy to limit CO2 emissions, the rising water will continue to accelerate, inundating all the coastal cities of the world.Fundamentally, there are three reasons why the ocean is rising at an accelerating rate

        1. Adding heat to things causes them to change temperature (1st Law of Thermodynamics)
        2. Seawater volume increases with temperature (thermal expansion)
        3. Adding a volume of water to the oceans from melting land ice causes them to increase in height (conservation of water)

        All three of these principles (conservation of energy and mass, and the thermal expansion of water) are bedrock principles of physics which have been established for centuries and can easily be verified by direct observation.The effect of CO2 on the absorption of radiation has been understood for 160 years.

         Government Sea Level Rise Report Released after Charges of Censorship - A high-profile case of alleged scientific censorship ended Friday when the National Park Service published a long-delayed report outlining how rising seas could damage parks across the country.The report includes references to mankind’s role in climate change—something federal officials had tried scrubbing from the study, according to documents released under a state open records request. The study had languished under administrative review since early 2017.Although National Park Service officials say the report was handled properly, the study’s lead author says the administrative review process has morphed from a “rubber stamp” into a tool for the government to suppress inconvenient science.“Censorship is a good word for that,” said Maria Caffrey, the University of Colorado, Boulder, researcher who led the study. She plans to file a scientific integrity complaint.The alleged interference, first reported by the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal, attracted attention from Democratic lawmakers and the inspector general for the Interior Department, which includes the National Park Service. The affair also raised pressure on the Interior Department at a time when Secretary Ryan Zinke was defending political staff for reviewing research prior to publication.  Zinke said no political staff was involved in editing the report, and he wanted an investigation into how journalists obtained the draft report before it was given to agency headquarters (Climatewire, April 12). A National Park Service spokesman said the only unusual part of the study’s review was the press’s involvement.

         Plastic Killed Most Sperm Whales Found Dead in Greek Waters Since 2001 - More than a third of the sperm whales found dead in the eastern Mediterranean since 2001 were killed byplastic debris, researchers from the Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute in Athens found.Necropsies on nine of the 24 dead whales found in Greek waters revealed that their stomachs were filled with large amounts of plastic, The Times reported on the Pelagos analysis.Marine biologists studying the carcasses said the animals likely suffered slow and "excruciating" deaths from the blockage.  One juvenile male found off the coast Mykonos swallowed more than a hundred items of plastic, including single-use plastic bags . One of the bags came from a shop in Thessaloniki, a city 500 miles away.  "The young whale suffered an excruciating death," Pelgaos director Alexandros Frantzis told The Times. "We alone are accountable.""It's alarming but not surprising," Frantzis added. "The trend is bound to get worse because the amount of plastic waste in the Aegean Sea is growing."Sperm whales are considered endangered in the Mediterranean. Cetaceans in these waters face threats from high levels of ship traffic, pollution, human density, tourism and fishing, Lifegate noted.  Plastic waste has also become a problem in this marine region. A sperm whale found dead in southern Spain in February was killed after ingesting 64 pounds of mostly plastic garbage. Experts determined the whale was unable to expel or digest the trash, causing it to die from peritonitis, or an infection of the abdomen.

        Lava spatter hits Hawaii man and shatters his leg in first known injury from Kilauea volcano - Hawaii officials on Saturday reported the first known injury related to heightened volcanic activity from Kilauea after a Big Island resident was hit by lava spatter while standing on a third-floor balcony. That person, identified only as a homeowner on Noni Farms Road, shattered his leg from his shin to his foot when lava spatter struck him, a spokeswoman for the Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim, according to Reuters.Lava spatters “can weigh as much as a refrigerator, and even small pieces of spatter can kill,” the spokeswoman told Reuters.Neither the mayor’s office nor the Hawaii County Civil Defense Center immediately responded to requests for additional information early Sunday morning. Noni Farms Road is a residential road that lies to the east of the Leilani Estates neighborhood in Pahoa, where the majority of the attention has been focused ever since Kilauea’s volcanic activity increased dramatically three weeks ago. To date, at least 23 fissures have formed along a northeast-southwest line in the rift zone, most in the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens neighborhoods. Lava emerging from the vents has destroyed dozens of homes.Late Saturday, a fast-flowing stream of lava pouring from one of the active fissures also reached Highway 137, which hugs the island’s eastern coast.The lava shut down about a four-mile section of the highway, between Kamaili and Pohoiki roads, blocking one of the main escape routes for the area’s coastal residents. Officials said late Saturday that the lava had entered the ocean, and advised all people to avoid the area because of a new hazard: laze.Laze occurs when hot lava meets the ocean, sending a plume of hydrochloric acid and steam — along with fine glass particles — into the air.Laze plumes travel with the wind and can shift directions without warning, the county civil defense agency said.

        Hawaii volcano poses a new threat: Acid from Kilauea's lava, called 'laze,' pouring into the ocean - After destroying dozens of houses, lava from the Kilauea volcano has now reached the ocean, presenting a new health threat to Hawaii residents.Civil defense authorities on Hawaii posted a warning to stay clear of any lava stream that is flowing into the ocean. When the super hot lava hits the cooler sea water, it produces what is called "laze," hydrochloric acid steam that pours into the air along with fine particles of glass. "Health hazards of laze include lung, eye and skin irritation," the agency said in a message to residents. "Be aware that the laze plume travels with the wind and can change direction without warning."A dispatch Sunday from Civil Defense said two lava flows have reached the ocean, including at least one near MacKenzie State Park. As a result, Highway 137 is closed between Kamaili Road and Pohoiki Road. The threat comes as one of the first injuries as a direct result of lava flows was reported, a man who suffered a "serious" injury from lava splatter while sitting on the porch of his home, according to theHonolulu Star Advertiser. "I heard the injury was quite bad, serious to his leg," the newspaper quoted Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno as saying.More than 20 fissures have opened since the volcano's latest activity began May 3 and are being tracked. Yet, with more than 2,000 residents under evacuation, life largely goes on as normal on much of the Big Island. The tourism industry is still in full swing and the island's airports remain open.

        Ocean, jungle explosions new risks from Hawaii eruption (Reuters) - Lava from Hawaii’s erupting Kilauea volcano is exploding as it pours into the ocean, shooting rock fragments that are a danger to boaters. Inland, where molten rock is burning through jungle, methane explosions are hurling boulders while toxic gas is reaching some of the highest levels seen in recent times. These were new risks geologists warned of on Tuesday as Kilauea’s 19-day eruption showed no sign of easing, with repeated explosions at its summit and fountains of lava up to 160 feet (50 m) from giant cracks or fissures on its flank. Lava edged towards a geothermal power plant on Tuesday after destroying an old warehouse near the facility, County of Hawaii Civil Defense said. Workers at the closed Puna Geothermal Venture, which provided around 25 percent of electricity on Hawaii’s Big Island, worked to cap the last of three pressurized wells to reduce the risk of an uncontrolled release of toxic gases should they be inundated by lava. The race at the site marked the latest challenge facing authorities during what geologists call an unprecedented, simultaneous eruption at Kilauea’s summit and from giant fissures 25 miles (40 km) down its eastern side. “Fissures near Puna Geothermal Venture are active and producing lava slowly flowing onto the property,” Civil Defense said in a statement. “This activity has destroyed the former Hawaii Geothermal Project site,” it said referring to the warehouse.   An explosive eruption at the Kilauea summit at 3:45 a.m. (9:45 a.m. EST) sent ash to a height of 8,000 feet (2,438 meters) over Hawaii’s Big Island, civil defense said. Communities southwest of the summit were dusted with ash, said National Weather Service meteorologist John Bravender.  On the volcano’s east flank, nearly two-dozen fissures are producing 15,000 tons a day of toxic sulfur dioxide, a level “much higher than seen in recent times,” Bravender said.

        Hawaii's Kilauea volcano is producing eerie blue flames only visible at night, and could cause deadly explosions - The Kilauea volcano in Hawaii is behind a new, potentially deadly phenomenon — eerie blue fire streaming up from below the ground.The flames, which can only be seen well at night, are caused by methane buildups, a by-product of the lava flows which have been enveloping the area around the volcano since it erupted last week on the Big Island.Photos published on Wednesday by the US Geological Survey show the flames spouting from cracks in the pavement in the Leilani Estates neighborhood, which has been worst affected by the surges of lava.The methane gas is produced when lava rolls over trees and other plant life, and burns it underground, giving off the gas.It then flows beneath the surface before bursting up when it finds an outlet, such as cracks in the ground caused by the recent seismic activity. The burning gas itself is hot, but not dangerous beyond that. However, authorities warned that if there is an underground build-up of the gas which is suddenly ignited, it can cause a powerful explosion, and toss chunks of rock several feet away, potentially injuring anybody it hits.

        Did Fracking Cause The Hawaii Volcano Eruption? Reuters reports the eruption in Hawaii is entering a new, more violent phase with lava exploding as it pours into the ocean, shooting rock fragments that are a danger to boaters.  Inland, where molten rock is burning through jungle, methane explosions are hurling boulders while toxic gas is reaching some of the highest levels seen in recent times.On the volcano’s east flank, nearly two-dozen fissures are producing 15,000 tons a day of toxic sulfur dioxide, a level “much higher than seen in recent times,” Bravender said.  Additionally, Reuters notes that the race at the Puna Geothermal Venture site marked the latest challenge facing authorities during what geologists call an unprecedented, simultaneous eruption at Kilauea’s summit and from giant fissures 25 miles (40 km) down its eastern side. “Fissures near Puna Geothermal Venture are active and producing lava slowly flowing onto the property,” Civil Defense said in a statement. “This activity has destroyed the former Hawaii Geothermal Project site,”  Many are asking, why now, why so suddenly, why such an "unprecedented, simultaneous" eruption? John Rappoport asks the uncomfortable question - Did fracking cause the Hawaii volcano eruption?On the Big Island of Hawaii, where the Kilauea volcano has explosively erupted, there is a geothermal energy plant. It is the Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) Plant, in Puna.There is a long-running debate about whether PGV is fracking. The debate may be a matter of terminology, because in the geothermal process, as reports, “…the drilling and the injection of cold water into hot rocks used in geothermal energy plants does fracture the rocks, which can induce earthquakes and through contamination of the atmosphere and water tables can affect our health and safety.”Whether deep injection of fluid aims to capture oil, gas, or heat (geothermal), the beginning stage of the process is the same.Earthquakes induced by this water-injection could obviously trigger a volcano.So, on the Big Island of Hawaii, where there is a massive volcanic eruption underway, there is a geothermal plant, PGV. How close to the volcano is PGV?The Washington Post, May 12: “Long a concern for residents and the target of lawsuits challenging its placement ON AN ACTIVE VOLCANO, the Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) is a major safety issue [i.e., chemicals stored at PGV] in the wake of the eruptions and earthquakes that have shaken the Big Island for days, government officials say.” (emphasis added)

        A perk for friends of the Zinkes: Guided tours through National Park Service sites - A personalized visit to Joshua Tree National Park. A spin through the West Wing, guided by White House staffers. And a trip to the top of the Lincoln Memorial, which is closed to the public. Such VIP tours of National Park Service sites, some at the height of the tourist season, came at the request of either Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke or his wife, Lola, according to records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Several excursions were scheduled specifically for friends and acquaintances. Under both Democratic and Republican presidents, top Interior officials have long given lawmakers and White House officials tours of Park Service sites and other courtesies at the agency’s disposal.  Zinke and his aides have offered similar opportunities, while his wife has pressed for such access as well, the records and interviews with current and former Interior employees show.  In the past 14 months, according to documents obtained in separate FOIA requests by The Washington Post and the advocacy group Western Values Project, the Zinkes have arranged for acquaintances and administration officials to get special tours of the Lincoln Memorial, including areas where the public is not allowed. At taxpayer expense, they took a yacht broker — who once sold Lola Zinke a boat — on a work trip to California’s Channel Islands National Park. An aide said the secretary described the man as one of three guests who were “subject matter experts” and could offer “personal testimony” about the area.

        Trump dials back Obama policy asking agencies to reduce emissions | TheHill: President Trump late Thursday replaced an executive order signed by former President Obama that sought to reduce federal agencies’ energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. The revocation came as part of a late-night executive order that instructs agencies to set their own goals for efficiency and “prioritize actions that reduce waste, cut costs, enhance the resilience of Federal infrastructure and operations, and enable more effective accomplishment of its mission.” Obama signed the original order in 2015, with a goal of reducing the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent in a decade. It asked agencies to reduce buildings’ energy use by 2.5 percent per year, use clean energy for 25 percent of their energy needs and shrink water use by 36 percent.Obama saw the measure as a key part of his pledge to reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent to 28 percent by 2030. But Trump has dismantled Obama’s environmental and climate agenda piece by piece, including major regulations and the emissions-cut pledge. Trump’s new order, signed Thursday, only asks agencies to set their own goals, and to track their progress toward them, replacing the prescriptive targets in the Obama order. It also directs the heads of the Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Management and Budget, both White House offices, to work to streamline the various energy and environmental requirements agencies must follow, in an attempt to make compliance more efficient. 

        Climate scientists warn about “methane time bomb” -- A new article published by the Centre for Research on Globalization, titled “The Methane Time Bomb and the Future of the Biosphere,” presents evidence that the current emission of carbon threatens to melt the large polar ice caps, leading to tens of meters of sea level rise and the disappearance of species at a rate two orders of magnitude higher than without recent human actions. Dr. Andrew Glikson states in his abstract, “Having sent young generations to kill and die in wars, the powers that be are now presiding over the greatest mass extinction of nature since 66 million years ago,” a reference to the event that caused dinosaurs to go extinct. According to Glikson, methane is the most potent common greenhouse gas, and there are many hundreds of billions of tons stored in Arctic permafrost, lakes, shallow seas, and sediments. This methane has accumulated as part of the unoxidized organic matter present in such features since the Arctic glaciation that occurred approximately 2.6 million years ago. This methane reservoir, which also exists in tropical bogs, may have catastrophic effects on the biosphere upon its release.The global carbon project has released data showing that up to 1,400 billion metric tons of carbon on land and 16,000 billion metric tons in the oceans will potentially be released in the near future. This much carbon, which would be emitted in the form of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide or methane, would cause a significant rise in temperatures and widespread melting and defrosting of the polar ice sheets. This possibility comes from the combustion of fossil fuels and is further compounded by coal seam gas drilling, which perforates the earth’s crust in several parts of the world and further releases huge quantities of methane into the atmosphere. Glikson notes that even a small percentage of this carbon released into the atmosphere as methane, which has 25 to 75 times the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide, may raise the atmospheric greenhouse concentration of carbon to the point that it leads to further extensive melting of the large ice sheets, major sea level rise, and a mass extinction event rivaling the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum that occurred approximately 56 million years ago.

        Pruitt moves to rescind regulations inspired by West, Texas explosion that killed 15 - Sometime before 7:30 p.m. on April 17, 2013, in the small town of West, Tex., a fire broke out at the West Fertilizer Company plant.  Twenty minutes after the fire started, the plant exploded — so powerfully that it registered as a 2.1-magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale. A total of 15 people died in the blast, including the 12 volunteer first responders. Two hundred sixty people were injured, and 150 buildings in the vicinity were damaged. Half of them, including two schools, had to be demolished. Arson caused the fire, federal investigators concluded three years later. But 80,000 to 100,000 pounds of unsafely stored fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate was the source of the disastrous explosion. The fatal blast prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to make serious changes to regulations about how companies store dangerous flammable chemicals and how they develop risk-management plans. The new rules were set to take effect in June 2017, but they were held up by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt after he took office. Now Pruitt wants to rescind most of the safety regulations, saying that a lot of them imposed “unnecessary regulatory burdens” on the chemical industry. Pruitt’s proposed changes, signed Thursday, are subject to public comment. “The rule proposes to reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens, address the concerns of stakeholders and emergency responders on the ground, and save Americans roughly $88 million a year,” Pruitt said in a statement. The bulk of the claimed savings would come from getting rid of a rule requiring owners of a chemical plant to evaluate options for safer technology and procedures that would mitigate hazards, according to an EPA report. He also seeks to rescind rules requiring companies to conduct a “root-cause analysis” after a “catastrophic” chemical release or an incident that might have caused one and to perform a third-party compliance audit after an accident at a plant or when conditions are discovered that could lead to an accidental release of chemicals. Pruitt’s move to dismantle these regulations is part of a broader push to scrap Obama-era environmental rules.

        California will require solar panels on all new homes. That’s not necessarily a good thing. - David Roberts - The California Energy Commission (CEC) recently voted 5-0 to add some new provisions to the state’s building code. Among them is the requirement that as of 2020, all new house and multi-family residences of three stories or fewer, along with all major renovations, must be built with solar panels.Where solar is not suitable, homeowners must have access to a community solar project or receive efficiency upgrades that compensate. (There are some exceptions for buildings in highly shaded areas.)California is currently adding 113,000 housing units a year, and that number is rising. Right now only about 15 percent of them are built with solar, so this is a big boost to the residential solar industry.  The CEC also boosted standards for insulation, air conditioning, water heaters, and much more. It’s all part of California’s mandate for new homes to be “net-zero energy” — to produce as much energy as they consume — by 2020, with all commercial construction to follow by 2030. Solar on most new houses! This might seem like an obviously good thing. Solar is great; solar panels are cool; California is leading the climate resistance. But among energy nerds, the mandate has caused much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth. They’ve been debating it all week on Twitter — on one hand, on the other; by now there are so many hands that I must confess to paralyzing ambivalence.So let’s walk through some of the pros and cons and see if we can draw some kind of conclusion.

        Solar and wind are coming. And the power sector isn’t ready. - The US electricity system is at an extremely sensitive and uncertain juncture. More and more indicators point toward a future in which wind and solar power play a large role. But that future is not locked in. It still depends in large part on policies and economics that, while moving in the right direction, aren’t there yet.  And so the people who manage US electricity markets and infrastructure, who must make decisions with 20-, 30-, even 50-year consequences, are stuck making high-stakes bets in a haze of uncertainty. That uncertainty has increased markedly under the recent Republican administration (somewhat ironically, given its oft-stated goal of “regulatory certainty”). Under President Obama, the feds established a consistent cross-agency push toward clean energy. The long-term trajectory was clear. Now it’s been thrown into doubt. President Trump has embraced fossil fuels, and the owners of struggling coal plants are appealing to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for bailouts. Should utilities and market managers bet that the Trumpian revolt against modernity will succeed in slowing the growth of renewable energy? Or should they bet that it’s a passing phase and renewable energy will triumph? A fascinating bit of new research from the energy geeks at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL) sheds some light on the stakes involved.

         Electrified vehicles continue to see slow growth and less use than conventional vehicles – EIA - Electrified vehicles (hybrid electric, plug-in hybrid electric, and battery electric) have been sold as high fuel economy alternatives to conventional gasoline vehicles for a number of years but collectively have been slow to gain market share in the United States. From 2012 through 2017, electrified vehicles consistently accounted for between 2.5% and 4.0% of total light-duty vehicle sales, even as the number of available models increased from 58 to 95. Hybrid electric vehicles accounted for the largest share of electrified vehicles, but their share of sales has fallen as plug-in hybrid electric (PHEVs) and battery electric vehicle (BEVs) shares have slightly increased. The BEV share of total light-duty vehicle sales has grown the most since 2012 but only accounted for 0.6% of 2017 sales. The PHEV share grew from 0.1% to 0.5% and non-plug-in hybrid electrics declined from 3.0% to 1.9% of total light-duty vehicle sales between 2012 and 2017, based on Wards Automotive sales data. Several factors may account for the limited growth in these vehicles. Gasoline prices have remained relatively low in recent years, and the fuel economy of conventional vehicles has increased—factors that diminished the potential fuel savings of switching to electrified vehicles. Initial purchase prices for many electrified vehicles remain relatively high, especially for several PHEV and BEV models, despite federal and state incentives. Also, in most locations, limited charging infrastructure for plug-in vehicles has hindered wider adoption. Data from the 2017 National Household Travel Survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation offers insight into the use and ownership of electrified vehicles. Households that own BEVs and PHEVs tend to have more vehicles per household, owning 2.7 vehicles compared with the household average of 2.1 vehicles. BEVs and PHEVs also tend to be used about 12% less than other vehicles in terms of annual mileage per vehicle.

        ‘Climate Change Is Real,’ Carmakers Tell White House in Letter - Automakers urged the White House to cooperate with California officials in a coming rewrite of vehicle efficiency standards, saying “climate change is real.”The plea came in a May 3 letter to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the industry’s leading trade group. It said carmakers “strongly support” continued alignment between federal mileage standards and those set by California. General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Daimler AG and nine other carmakers are members of the Alliance.“Automakers remain committed to increasing fuel efficiency requirements, which yield everyday fuel savings for consumers while also reducing emissions -- because climate change is real and we have a continuing role in reducing greenhouse gases and improving fuel efficiency,” David Schwietert, executive vice president of federal government relations at the Alliance, wrote in the letter, which was made public Monday. The letter came roughly a week before President Donald Trump signaled he was open to talks with California on mileage standards. The direction came after the administration’s April ruling that the Obama administration standards for model years 2022-2025 were too aggressive and needed to be eased.  Officials from the state have pledged to fight a Trump-led rollback, setting up a potential messy legal battle and the risk of different mileage requirements in California and 12 additional states that follow its rules. “Operating under two or three sets of regulations would be inefficient and disrupt a period of rapid innovation in the auto industry,” Schwietert wrote, adding that fractured rules could have negative consequences for the roughly 7 million people employed directly or indirectly by the American auto industry.

        EVs Could Erase 7 Million Bpd In Demand - Electric vehicles will become cheaper than the internal combustion engine in a half decade, while electric buses will completely “dominate” its sector by the late-2020s, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), which just published its Electric Vehicle Outlook 2018 report.EV sales will top 1.6 million in 2018, up from just a few hundred thousand in 2014, according to BNEF. The acceleration in sales can be chalked up to a few factors. First, battery costs have declined by 79 percent since 2010, falling from over $1,000 per kilowatt-hour to just $209/kWh at the end of 2017. Energy density has also increased by 5 to 7 percent each year. Costs could drop to as low as $70/kWh by 2030.Second, governments continue to support EVs with various forms of subsidies or other policy help.The third reason can be summed up in one word: China. Roughly 21 percent of all EV sales in 2017 occurred in just six Chinese cities. China is offering an array of carrots, but also sticks, including restrictions on buying and using gasoline or diesel vehicles. By 2025, China will account for roughly half of the entire global EV market.Another reason is the proliferation of new EV models from a long line of automakers. The number of EV models is expected to nearly double from 155 at the end of 2017 to as many as 289 by 2022.Obviously, it isn’t all rosey for the EV industry. EVs still only account for less than 2 percent of the auto market in most of the world. There is also a lack of recharging infrastructure in most markets. Meanwhile, key ingredients used in lithium-ion batteries, such as cobalt, have seen costs skyrocket as demand has increased. Without significant investment in new cobalt capacity, for instance, there could be shortages within a few years.

         Fuel-efficient cars will be worse for oil than electric vehicles: BNEF -  Oil demand is set to face an even bigger threat from fuel-efficient engines than from electric vehicles over the next two decades, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Engine and other vehicle improvements that increase the distance vehicles can travel per unit of fuel will erode global oil consumption by 7.5 million barrels a day by 2040, more than the 6.4-million-barrel decline due to electric vehicles, BNEF forecast in a report Monday. Demand from passenger cars is set to peak in 2022 before falling to 15.9 million barrels a day from 24 million now, according to the note. “Improvements in the fuel economy of the internal combustion engine and the increasing uptake of passenger electric vehicles are set to have a profound effect on the future of oil in the transport sector,” BNEF analysts including Richard Chatterton wrote in the report.  While analysts are painting an increasingly bearish picture for oil beyond the next 20 years as more electric vehicles hit roads and engines become more efficient, some in the energy industry see the threat as overblown. The CEO of Saudi Arabia’s state crude producer said in March the need for petroleum isn’t going away any time soon, and Exxon Mobil Corp. has said its traditional fossil fuels business isn’t threatened by climate-change policies. Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, is investing in developing more efficient gasoline-powered engines and testing new methods of turning a barrel of crude directly into petrochemicals with the goal of prolonging the demand for petroleum. While BP Plc CEO Bob Dudley sees “tremendous” opportunities around the arrival of electric cars, he’s said they’re “not the silver bullet that everyone’s looking for.”

        Bitcoin’s energy use got studied, and you libertarian nerds look even worse than usual -- Bitcoin’s energy footprint has more than doubled since Grist first wrote about it six months ago.  It’s expected to double again by the end of the year, according to a new peer-reviewed study out Wednesday. And if that happens, bitcoin would be gobbling up 0.5 percent of the world’s electricity, about as much as the Netherlands. That’s a troubling trajectory, especially for a world that should be working overtime to root out energy waste and fight climate change. By late next year, bitcoin could be consuming more electricity than all the world’s solar panels currently produce — about 1.8 percent of global electricity, according to a simple extrapolation of the study’s predictions. That would effectively erase decades of progress on renewable energy.Although the author of the study, Alex de Vries, an economist and data consultant based in the Netherlands, has shared these calculations publicly before, this is the first time that an analysis of bitcoin’s energy appetite has appeared in a peer-reviewed journal.  Beyond its tentative success as a get-rich-quick scheme, bitcoin has an increasingly real-world cost. The process of “mining” for coins requires a globally distributed computer network racing to solve math problems — and also helps keep any individual transaction confidential and tamper-proof. That, in turn, requires an ever-escalating arms race of computing power — and electricity use — which, at the moment, has no end in sight. A single bitcoin transaction is so energy intensive that it could power the average U.S. household for a month.

        Visualizing U.S. Energy Consumption In One Chart -- Every year, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a federal research facility funded by the Department of Energy and UC Berkeley, puts out a fascinating Sankey diagram that shows the fate of all energy that gets generated and consumed in the United States in a given year.Today’s visualization is the summary of energy consumption for 2017, but you can see previous years going all the way back to 2010 on their websiteAs Visual Capitalist's Jeff Desjardins explains, the first thing you’ll notice about this Sankey is that it uses an unfamiliar unit of measurement: the quad. Each quad is equal to a quadrillion BTUs, and it’s roughly comparable to the following:

        • 8,007,000,000 gallons (US) of gasoline
        • 293,071,000,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh)
        • 36,000,000 tonnes of coal
        • 970,434,000,000 cubic feet of natural gas
        • 25,200,000 tonnes of oil

        Put another way, a quad is a massive unit that only is useful in measuring something like national energy consumption – and in this case, the total amount of energy used by the country was 97.7 quadrillion BTUs. On the diagram, one thing that is immediately noticeable is that a whopping 68% of all energy is actually rejected energy, or energy that gets wasted through various inefficiencies. It’s quite eye-opening to look at this data sorted by sector:

        EMP Commission Warns Blackout Of Electricity, Food, Water To Last Year Or Longer With Huge Death Toll - Parts of the United States would be starved of electricity, water, food, internet service and transportation for a year or longer by the smallest electromagnetic pulse attack on the electric grid, according to a newly declassified report from a federal commission.The so-called EMP Commission report said that the threat is real, jeopardizes “modern civilization,” and would set back living conditions to those last seen in the 1800s.  And as a result of the chaos, millions would likely die, according to the report titled “Assessing the Threat from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP),” from the recently re-established Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack.“A long-term outage owing to EMP could disable most critical supply chains, leaving the U.S. population living in conditions similar to centuries past, prior to the advent of electric power,” said the July 2017 report provided Secrets. “In the 1800s, the U.S. population was less than 60 million, and those people had many skills and assets necessary for survival without today’s infrastructure. An extended blackout today could result in the death of a large fraction of the American people through the effects of societal collapse, disease, and starvation. While national planning and preparation for such events could help mitigate the damage, few such actions are currently underway or even being contemplated,” added the executive summary.

        Air Pollution Near Power Plants Tied to Premature Births - Closing coal- and oil-fired power plants is associated with a reduction in preterm births in the surrounding region, researchers report.Scientists counted the number of preterm babies born in regions surrounding eight power plants before and after their closings from 2001 to 2011. The study is in the American Journal of Epidemiology.  Based on the mother’s home address, the researchers looked at preterm birthrates within three, six and 12 miles of each plant in the year before and the year after closing. There were 57,005 births, 28,083 before the plants closed. Air pollution levels after closing decreased to an average of four tons of nitrogen oxides per year from 177 tons before. The prevalence of preterm birth decreased significantly near power plants after they closed, with larger decreases in women who lived closer to the plants. For those living within three miles of the plants, the preterm birthrate was 5.1 percent after closing compared with 7.0 percent before. “This is closer to a causal effect than in some previous studies,” said the lead author, Joan A. Casey, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. “Here we have a natural experiment that can effectively randomize women to different levels of air pollution, something we can’t do ethically under other circumstances.”

        Barges Get Loose On Mon River « – Several barges broke loose on the Monongahela River between the Rankin Bridge and the Homestead Grays Bridge on Thursday afternoon. Allegheny County says approximately 15 barges loaded with coal were loose, with the original call coming in around 5 p.m. The loaded coal barges broke loose around mile marker 10 on the Monongahela River in Rankin Borough. The barges belong to Gulf Materials of Braddock. Two of the barges sunk and one of them appeared to be spilling coal into the water.   The Department of Environmental Protection said coal does not post an imminent threat to downstream water intake or aquatic life, but it will continue to monitor the situation as cleanup begins. The DEP is assisting local emergency responders in the effort. Three of the barges struck the Rankin Bridge and four headed downriver toward the Grays Bridge. Both bridges are now opened after being closed earlier in the day for inspections. Crews are currently attempting to pull the barges together. The Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard were notified and the county requested their assistance with corralling the barges. A number of tugs and other water craft responded and are working to secure the barges. Allegheny County Emergency Services Chief Matt Brown said that the remaining barges are secured to tugs just above the Homestead Grays Bridge. By 9 p.m., the remaining barges were secured to tugboats. Crews will work to account for those that sank. There is currently no word on what caused the barges to break loose.

        Death Juice - Today they cut the coal barges loose. This is to poison the water, poison the river ecology, poison the people’s drinking water. Just as every step of the fossil fuel caldera, from its conception in psychotic minds to the emission of carbon dioxide and toxic air pollutants, is fully toxic in intent and action. “The Department of Environmental Protection said coal does not post an imminent threat to downstream water intake or aquatic life, but it will continue to monitor the situation as cleanup begins. The DEP is assisting local emergency responders in the effort.”  We’ve heard that before. Just selecting one of the host of atrocities, they said the same thing about the 2014 coal poison dumping into the Elk River. The immediate result was an epidemic of acute sickness among anyone who drank the water. Months later the water was still so toxic even the government was still calling it undrinkable. The long term health effects can only be the subject of speculation until they manifest. Same for the massive destruction aquatic life, which also began immediately and whose long run ecocide we can only guess. As we know, we cannot look to science to give us accurate projections since establishment science is ideologically committed to productionism and technocracy, as well as absolutely corrupt in all the regular venal ways. For both reasons we know scientists are fundamentally dishonest where it comes to anything which could compromise these ideological and sordid commitments. No, science is no help to beleaguered humanity. Our only options are abolitionist action, or passive waiting for the collapse of the congenitally toxic civilization, tallying the destruction along the way. The one thing which is impossible is to find any sanctuary of health, well-being, peace, and humanity within the framework of a civilization based on total war at every point.

         'History Going in the Wrong Direction' as Worst Form of Black Lung Disease Rises Again - Spotlighting the terrible human impact of the nation's continued reliance on coal , new research shows the most severe form of black lung disease, progressive massive fibrosis (PMF), is on the rise—big time."This is history going in the wrong direction," said lead researcher Kirsten S. Almberg, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The findings are based on information from the U.S. Department of Labor, which has the data on former miners seeking benefits from the Federal Black Lung Program.From when that program began in 1970 until 2016, 4,679 miners were determined to have PMF. Yet about half of those cases—2,318—were identified since 2000.The overall trend was not a shock to the researchers, given that the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, using surveillance data of active coal miners, found a similar upward trend in 2014. "We were, however, surprised by the magnitude of the problem and are astounded by the fact that this disease appears to be resurging despite modern dust control regulations," Almberg stated. The largest increase of the miners with PMF was in central Appalachian states. Virginia experienced the greatest increase in percentage of PMF cases over the past four decades, surging from 0 to 12 percent in 2015. West Virginia came in second place, increasing from 0 percent in 1972 to 11 percent in 2016. The new research was presented at the American Thoracic Society's International Conference, which ended Wednesday.

        Indian thermal power plants reeling from coal shortages - Private and public thermal power plants across India are facing an acute shortage of coal, at a time when rising electricity demand during summer months has sent the spot price of electricity skyrocketing. According to data sourced the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), power stations with a combined generation capacity of 140 065 MW had coal stocks of 15.006-million tons at April 22, the equivalent to about nine days’ consumption, against a CEA stock requirement of 22 days. Of these, four thermal power plants were carrying stocks equivalent to less than seven days’ worth of consumption, which the CEA categorises as “critical stock”, while another 17 thermal power plants had stocks for less than four-days’ consumption, categorised as “super critical” as of April 23. The stock data relates to all thermal power plants in the country, private, public, joint ventures and captive, which have coal supply linkage with domestic coal producing companies. Significantly, all 21 power plants carrying a critical level of coal stocks were ‘non-pithead’ plants and an indication that a large part of the coal shortage across the country was on account of logistical and infrastructure challenges, industry officials pointed out. The government data on the current stock position indicated that, of total coal stocks with thermal power plants of 15.006-million tons, only 452 000 t constituted imported coal.

        Germany postpones coal phase-out talks yet again -- The German government has delayed the launch of a much anticipated commission on exiting coal power for a second time, now scheduled to take place on Wednesday, 30 May. A strategy paper seen by Clean Energy Wire states that economic considerations come first in the commission’s approach but confirms that a final government report on how to approach Germany’s coal exit will still be compiled in 2018. Germany must exit coal-fired power generation to reach its goal of becoming largely greenhouse gas-neutral by mid-century, as the technology is the country’s single-largest source of carbon emissions. The commission’s strategy paper acknowledges Germany’s pledge to become “largely greenhouse gas-neutral” by 2050 and confirms the government’s 2030 target of reducing emission by 55 percent compared to 1990. But it says climate action must be “harmonised” with economic development and social considerations.

        Gas supply crunch thwarts EU’s plan to kill off coal power-- Europe wants its industry to burn more natural gas instead of coal to reduce global warming. The problem is, there isn’t enough gas at the right price. Depleted gas stores after the coldest winter since 2012, coupled with pipeline constraints on flows from Russia and Norway, have driven prices to their highest level in at least five years. The result: generating electricity from gas is unprofitable for many utilities, according to Bloomberg calculations based on the cost of fuel, power and emission permits. The upward drift in gas prices complicates the plans of policy makers from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to UK Prime Minister Theresa May, who have set their sights on reducing the emissions blamed for damaging the atmosphere. That requires utilities to switch away from coal in the coming years toward a fuel that isn’t making them money at the moment. “It’ll become harder to achieve the European fuel switch if there’s not enough gas flowing,” said Trevor Sikorski, head of natural gas, coal and carbon at Energy Aspects Ltd., an industry consultant in London. Emission permits have doubled this year, rising more than any other major commodity, to their highest level since 2011. They’ve sailed through the 13-to-15-euro-per-ton band that utility Fortum Oyj says should produce a benefit for those who shut their least efficient coal plants and fire up more modern gas stations. And yet utilities are clinging to their coal plants, reluctant to shut off assets that required billions of dollars of investment. At RWE, Germany’s biggest power generator, executives have mothballed some gas plants as a flood of electricity from wind and solar plants made more of their traditional plants unprofitable.

        Netherlands to ban coal-fired power plants in blow to RWE  (Reuters) - The Netherlands will ban the use of coal in electricity generation in the coming decade and shut down two of its five coal-fired plants at the end of 2024 unless they switch fuels. The law announced by economy minister Eric Wiebes on Friday applies to plants build in the 1990s, while newer ones will have to shut by the end of 2029, and marks the first step towards the government’s goal of shutting all coal-fired plants by 2030. The first two plants are run by Germany’s RWE and Sweden’s Vattenfall in Geertruidenberg and Amsterdam, respectively, and have been in operation since 1994. The remaining three were built in 2015 and 2016. RWE, which also operates one of the newer coal-fired plants, said it was displeased by the decisions, as they offer no compensation for the ban on coal and for the 3.2 billion euros ($3.8 billion) RWE said it invested in its newest plant at the request of the government. “We expect significant consequences for our activities”, the company said in a statement. “We will contemplate legal action if the law is implemented as currently proposed.” Vattenfall subsidiary Nuon said it would abide to the law and would shut down its coal-fired plant, known as Hemweg-8, at the end of 2024. Shutting the coal-fired plants should help the government achieve its goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 49 percent relative to the 1990 level by 2030. Emissions were 13 percent lower last year than in 1990. 

         Russia's first sea-borne nuclear power plant arrives in Arctic - (Reuters) - Russia’s first-floating nuclear power plant arrived in the Arctic port of Murmansk over the weekend in preparation for its maiden mission, providing electricity to an isolated Russian town across the Bering Strait from Alaska.  The state company behind the plant, called the “Akademik Lomonosov”, says it could pioneer a new power source for remote regions of the planet, but green campaigners have expressed concern about the risk of nuclear accidents. Greenpeace has called it the “nuclear Titanic”. Russian state nuclear company Rosatom, which developed the floating power plant, said that it docked the unit in Murmansk on Saturday where it was towed from St Petersburg, the city where it was built. In Murmansk it will take on board a supply of nuclear fuel. It will then will be towed to the town of Pevek in the Far Eastern region of Chukotka, separated from the U.S. state of Alaska by the 86-km (53 miles) wide Bering Strait. It will start operations there next year.  The plant will replace a coal-fired power plant and an aging nuclear power plant supplying more than 50,000 people with electricity in Chukotka, Rosatom said.

        Contaminated Fukushima Water Storage Tanks "Close To Capacity", TEPCO Admits - The Tokyo Electric Power Company is running out of container space to store water contaminated by tritium outside the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, and it's also running out of room for building more tanks, according to Yomiuri Shimbum, a Japanese newspaper, which is creating an intractable problem for the utility, which has been tasked with supervising the cleanup of Fukushima. The Japanese government has been desperately trying to accelerate the cleanup ahead of the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo - and it's a miracle it hasn't run into this issue sooner. TEPCO is still struggling with how to dispose of the tritium-tainted water. Options discussed have included dumping it into the ocean, but that proposal has angered local fishing communities.  At some point, TEPCO and the government will need to make a difficult decision. Until then, ground water will continue to seep into the ruined reactor, where it becomes contaminated. Afterward, TEPCO can treat the contaminated water to purify it, but they can't remove the tritium, which is why the supply of water contaminated with tritium continues to grow. As one government official pointed out, Japan can't simply store the radioactive water forever. As of now, the company should be able to store water until 2020. Efforts have been made to increase storage capacity by constructing bigger tanks when the time comes for replacing the current ones. But a senior official of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry said, "Operation of tanks is close to its capacity." TEPCO plans to secure 1.37 million tons of storage capacity by the end of 2020, but it has not yet decided on a plan for after 2021. Akira Ono, chief decommissioning officer of TEPCO, said, "It is impossible to continue to store [treated water] forever." But after that, Tepco is either going to need to start releasing the tritium water into the ocean (something that has been done by many power plants, but is politically popular in Japan) or find another solution. In fact, an average of 380 trillion becquerels had been annually released into the sea across Japan during the five years before the accident. If the water from Fukushima is diluted to the point that tritium content is only 1 million becquerels per liter, which is more than 10 times higher than the national average for sea release. But if it's diluted, it can eventually be released. However, an industry report has determined that sea release would be the safest and most efficient option.

        New Jersey governor plans to sign nuclear bailout bill - New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy plans to sign a bill requiring utility customers to spend more than $300 million a year to rescue struggling nuclear power plants run by Exelon Corp. and Public Service Enterprise Group Inc., according to a person familiar with the matter.The legislation, approved in April by the state’s Democratic legislature, aims to keep nuclear plants operating in the state, after owners warned the facilities were no longer economic amid lower power prices.Murphy, a Democrat who was sworn-in in January, has not said publicly if he supports the measure, which some environmentalists oppose. A schedule released by his office Tuesday said he planned to sign “energy bills” at 11 a.m. Wednesday.The governor will sign the nuclear legislation along with legislation promoting wind and solar energy, according to the person, who asked not to be identified because the matter isn’t public. The non-nuclear bill calls for half the state’s energy to come from renewable energy by 2030. Murphy’s decision comes after New York and Illinois have already thrown lifelines to reactors, which are struggling to turn profits as cheap natural gas and renewable energy have depressed power prices. More than a quarter of U.S. nuclear power plants don’t make enough money to cover their operating costs, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Supporters say keeping the reactors operating saves jobs and helps states achieve clean-energy goals.

        New Jersey governor signs nuclear power subsidy bill into law (Reuters) - New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed several legislative initiatives on Wednesday to advance the state’s clean energy goals, including a controversial bill that would subsidize the continued operation of nuclear power plants.  The new nuclear law, which could cost about $300 million a year, establishes a Zero Emissions Certificate (ZEC) program to maintain New Jersey’s nuclear energy supply, which contributes close to 40 percent of the state’s electric capacity and is by far its largest source of carbon free energy.  Plants seeking to participate in the program would be required, among other things, to demonstrate that they make a significant contribution to New Jersey air quality and are at risk of closure within three years.  The four reactors operating in New Jersey are capable of generating over 4,100 megawatts (MW) of electricity. Three are located at the Salem-Hope Creek nuclear plant and are operated by a unit of Public Service Enterprise Group Inc, the state’s biggest power company. One megawatt can power about 1,000 U.S. homes. The other reactor, Oyster Creek, is owned by Exelon Corp, which also owns part of the Salem reactors. Exelon plans to shut Oyster Creek in October 2018 under a long-standing agreement with the state.

        Airmen Safeguarding American Nukes Busted For Using LSD -- A group of US Air Force air men who were part of an elite squad responsible for safeguarding America's nuclear weapons have been busted for using and distributing the hallucinogen LSD and other drugs, according to the Associated Press, which published details from several courts martial involving members of the purported ring.Though most of the conspirators got off with a slap on the wrist, news of the drug ring, which was busted at F.E. Warren Air Force Base back in March 2016, is still cause for alarm. "Although this sounds like something from a movie, it isn’t," said Capt. Charles Grimsley, the lead prosecutor of one of several courts martial.At times, the AP report reads like an advertisement for LSD, or "Acid" as it's more popularly known. During one courts martial, the air man on trial described their experiences using the drug. One described "bad trips" that led to intense feelings of paranoia. Others described pleasurable sounds, colors and sensations.  "Minutes felt like hours, colors seemed more vibrant and clear," Morrison testified. "In general, I felt more alive." He said he had used LSD in high school, which could have disqualified him from Air Force service; he said that his recruiter told him he should lie about it and that lying about prior drug use was "normal" in the Air Force.

        FirstEnergy must guarantee nuclear clean up, environmental groups tell feds - Plain-Dealer - FirstEnergy's power plant subsidiaries have not put enough money into federally mandated decommissioning trust funds to pay for the shutdown and cleanup of each of its four nuclear reactors, charges an environmental group with a reputation as a legally effective environmental advocate. The Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, or ELPC, made that charge in a petition filed in March with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The ELPC's intervention in the Peabody Energy bankruptcy led to the court requiring that company to purchase $1.2 billion in surety bonds to guarantee clean up. The ELPC wants the NRC to hold parent company FirstEnergy Corp. responsible for bankrolling what it argues could well be a multi-billion reactor cleanup shortfall, which taxpayers or customers could be forced to pay. The ELPC petitioned the NRC just days before the FirstEnergy Solutions Corp. filed for bankruptcy protection on March 31 and the FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co. told the NRC it would close its nuclear plants within two years. Now the ELPC, joined by the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund, the Ohio Environmental Council and Ohio Citizen Action, have intervened in the bankruptcy case under way in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Ohio. The groups want Judge Alan Koshik to "lift" the normal "stay" on legal action that companies seeking bankruptcy protection are normally afforded. "[We] are not seeking a money judgment, but, instead, are seeking leave to continue pursuing the legal and administrative remedies afforded them under federal and state laws and their constitutional right to petition their government," the environmental groups argued in their 96-page petition filed with the bankruptcy court. In other words, they want the judge to allow their action at the NRC to continue unimpeded by a decision in the bankruptcy case preventing it.

        An Ohio legislator defied FirstEnergy lobbyists. Then a ‘dark money’ group helped sink her bid for Congress (Center for Public Integrity)  A “dark money” organization tied to a major electric company pumped significant cash into an Ohio congressional race in what a losing candidate describes as an act of retribution over a failed financial deal.Christina Hagan, a state representative who was running in the Republican primary for Ohio’s 16th congressional district seat, said a group called the Conservative Leadership Alliance targeted her with a barrage of attack ads after she declined to support legislation Akron, Ohio-based electric company FirstEnergy had lobbied her to help pass.The Conservative Leadership Alliance’s treasurer is Marc Himmelstein, who has worked for years as a FirstEnergy lobbyist in Washington, D.C. FirstEnergy has paid Himmelstein's firm, National Environmental Strategies, $640,000 since 2010, according to congressional lobbying filings.Hagan said she didn’t think the bill, which would have allowed FirstEnergy to collect an additional $300 million annually from customers to shore up its aging power plants, was fair to electric customers. House Bill 178 would have created “zero-emission credits” that would have raised customers’ monthly bills by about 5 percent. “I didn’t budge when they came into my office to lobby me,” Hagan said of her meetings with FirstEnergy officials, which took place over a period of many months. “I became the target of the company and the members of our leadership team who wanted to get it done but couldn’t because I wasn’t going to be supportive. I’m sure they just wanted to make an example of me in my race for higher office that if you don’t play well, this is what will happen to you.”

        ODNR Issues a Single Permit in Ohio's Utica – The Ohio Department of Natural Resources last week issued just a single permit in eastern Ohio’s Utica shale and reported 20 rigs in operation.XTO Energy, a division of Exxon Mobil, received a permit for a new horizontal well in Belmont County, according to ODNR.As of May 19, ODNR has issued 2,830 permits for horizontal wells in the Utica, of which 2,343 are drilled and 1,898 are in production.There were no new permits issued for wells in Mahoning, Trumbull or Columbiana counties. Nor were there new permits issued in neighboring Lawrence and Mercer counties in western Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.Earlier this month, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that the Appalachian region – which includes both Ohio’s Utica and Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania – is boosting oil and gas production each month.Net month, the Utica and Marcellus project production of 114,000 barrels of oil per day and natural gas production of 28.1 billion cubic feet per day. Net production of oil is projected to increase by 4,000 barrels a day in June, while net production of natural gas is anticipated to increase by 373 million cubic feet per day.

        Utica Shale well activity as of May 19 -

        • DRILLED: 289 (292 as of last week)
        • DRILLING: 161 (164)
        • PERMITTED: 482 (484)
        • PRODUCING: 1,898 (1,890)
        • TOTAL: 2,830 (2,830)


        • 1. CHESAPEAKE: 875 (875 as of last week)
        • 2. GULFPORT: 403 (403)
        • 3. ASCENT RESOURCES UTICA: 351 (351)
        • 4. ANTERO: 261 (261)
        • 5. ECLIPSE: 180 (180)
        • 6. RICE: 129 (129)
        • 7. HESS: 89 (89)
        • 8. CNX GAS: 84 (84)
        • 9. XTO: 67 (67)
        • 10. HILCORP: 55 (55)

        Prudential Financial Inc. Acquires 576,699 Shares of Gulfport Energy --  Prudential Financial Inc. lifted its holdings in shares of Gulfport Energy Co. by 40.5% in the 1st quarter, according to its most recent Form 13F filing with the SEC. The firm owned 2,000,364 shares of the oil and gas producer’s stock after buying an additional 576,699 shares during the period. Prudential Financial Inc. owned approximately 1.09% of Gulfport Energy worth $19,303,000 at the end of the most recent quarter.  Other institutional investors and hedge funds have also made changes to their positions in the company. State of Alaska Department of Revenue acquired a new stake in shares of Gulfport Energy during the fourth quarter worth about $137,000. Oakbrook Investments LLC acquired a new stake in shares of Gulfport Energy during the fourth quarter worth about $180,000. Delpha Capital Management LLC acquired a new stake in shares of Gulfport Energy during the fourth quarter worth about $187,000. Nisa Investment Advisors LLC boosted its stake in shares of Gulfport Energy by 8,800.0% during the fourth quarter. Nisa Investment Advisors LLC now owns 17,800 shares of the oil and gas producer’s stock worth $227,000 after buying an additional 17,600 shares during the period. Finally, MANA Advisors LLC acquired a new stake in shares of Gulfport Energy during the fourth quarter worth about $268,000. Institutional investors and hedge funds own 92.27% of the company’s stock.

        Community caretakers block access to Cabot Oil fracking site - In a symbolic gesture, proactive residents of Ashland, Holmes and Richland County temporarily blocked access to an exploratory well pad under construction in Green Township, Ashland County, Ohio.  The horizontal drilling being conducted by Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation is extremely unwanted and unwelcome.  The vast majority of folks who live here, about 98 percent according to door-to-door polling, are against this type of extractive industrialization in this north central Ohio country community known for beautiful scenery, rural farming and the millions of visitors who have come to enjoy outdoor recreation in the area’s two state parks, Malabar farm and Mohican.Last December several grass roots groups formed to educate the public about the change in conditions that will come from drilling activity of this type- increased truck traffic, water withdrawal from local water sources, deforestation and drilling activity 24 hours a day for weeks on end.Local legislators hands are tied in the effort to protect citizens, bound by state and federal law which has been drafted by pro-industry organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), bought by lobbying money and voted into law in favor of oil and gas drilling operations.  In fact, not one single landowner in the area of this horizontal well had any say in the matter of industrializing their community. The sub-surface mineral rights were held by Ohio Fuel Gas Company, a now defunct business that preceded Columbia Gas and Cabot was able to obtain a permit with just 136 acres claimed for drilling, according to the permit on file at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). Columbia Gas Transmission LLC owns the majority of sub-surface rights to around 4,000 feet due to the fact that this entire three county area sits above a massive gas storage field used to store excess resources during the summer and withdraw them during peak need times.All of this is changing with the exportation of American resources out of country. TransCanada acquired Columbia in 2016 and is in the process of replacing the 16-inch pipeline around the drilling site, so in addition to the massive drilling pad being built on this rural road, wooded residential lots are being clear cut for the pipeline right of way in preparation for major excavation activities to begin soon.

        Gearing Up For Fracking Fight, Ohio Residents Turn To Pennsylvania For Advice – WOSU -- After 40 years, Kerri and Jeff Bond are moving from their small farm in Seneca Lake, Ohio.  The trees in their yard started to lose foliage and die last year. Their sheep, chickens and cats died, and their dogs developed tumors. The Bonds, themselves, say their family has developed ongoing rashes. “We’ve never had any of this before, ever,” Kerri Bond says. “And we’ve lived area our whole lives. We wanted to retire here. We can’t. We’ve got to move.” The Bonds blame the gas development that’s been building up all around them – numerous well pads, and the Crum Compressor Station sits about a quarter mile over the ridge from their farm. The nighttime sky lights up orange as the compressor station is vented. Then there’s all the diesel trucks creating traffic problems and emitting pollution. Bond was one of about 40 people who gathered recently at Salt Fork State Park in eastern Ohio for a meeting organized and funded by the Freshwater Accountability Project. It was an opportunity for residents to voice their concerns, and to hear from experts about the environmental, legal, and health issues of fracking. Environmental activist Teresa Mills says people like Bond aren’t getting assistance from Ohio officials.“The industry has everything locked down,” she says. “So people feel helpless.”This feeling of helplessness is why Mills helped organize this community meeting.“What we were hoping to do is to get everyone together, and show that together we can stand strong, and we can move forward,” she says.  Pennsylvanians have dealt with these issues, too. John Stolz, an environmental microbiologist at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, has researched the environmental impacts of fracking for years. He says Pennsylvania regulators didn’t seem to take citizen complaints seriously. “The reality is you’ve got 9,000 people calling the [Pennsylvania] DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] over the past ten years to complain,” he says. “It got to the point where I finally came out and said, ‘We’re not dealing with crazy people.'”

        Work on NEXUS pipeline in south Oberlin begins - — Construction has started this week on the NEXUS Gas Transmission pipeline in south Oberlin.“Specialized teams with years of extensive experience monitor the building process from start to finish to ensure there is minimal disturbance to landowners and the environment during pipeline construction and restoration,” said NEXUS spokesman Adam Parker in an email.The 255.8-mile pipeline was given the all-clear after months of litigation by homeowners and communities in its path from Columbiana County in eastern Ohio passing through Medina and Lorain counties seeking to block the pipeline. Construction in Ohio began in March after the Federal Energy Regulation Commission’s August approval of the plan and a federal judge’s December ruling that ended the main lawsuit trying to stop it.In south Oberlin, crews have set up access routes for workers and equipment to sites along state Route 58 and Reserve Avenue as well as West Hamilton Street and South Pyle-Amherst Road.The pipeline also will run through Pittsfield and New Russia townships. In all, about 5.11 acres of land will be used, according to a plan approved by FERC.

        Ohio EPA seeks feedback on proposed pipeline to run through parts of Ohio Valley — The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is seeking public feedback on a natural gas pipeline slated to run through the eastern half of Ohio.  Shell's Falcon Pipeline would start in Harrison County and carry ethane gas to Beaver County in Pennsylvania.The Falcon Pipeline would be a 44-mile stretch through Carroll, Harrison and Jefferson Counties. It's scheduled to start construction later this year, but the Ohio EPA is holding one more week of public comments on the potential impacts to Ohio’s sources of fresh water.Nearly two dozen people showed up at Harrison Central High School. Not even close to the 1,000 comments submitted to the Ohio EPA online. The stakes for the Falcon Pipeline are in backyards throughout the Ohio Valley.  "This project will affect 515 family homes, 20 businesses,” said Cheryl Johncos of the Ohio Sierra Club. “Twelve public parks, five schools and six daycare centers."Several Harrison County residents said they are worried about leaks into local water tables and the lack of documented maintenance plans from Shell on a pipeline stretching through rural landscapes.Industry representatives said the risks are not dire."The Falcon Pipeline is a piece of crucial energy infrastructure we need to put in place,” said Mike Chadsey of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association. “So, often we hear about what's going on in the drilling side of things, but this is really the next step in the development of the Utica Shale play."

         Pennsylvania’s Phenomenal Increase in Natural Gas Production - Pennsylvania increased its permits for natural gas drilling by 51 percent in 2017 and its rig count by 65 percent, resulting in annual natural gas production increasing by 3 percent reaching a record 15 billion cubic feet per day, second only to Texas in natural gas production. The state’s permitting and drilling activity increase is a result of expanding regional pipeline capacity, moving natural gas to market centers outside of production areas. These new sources of natural gas are adding greatly to Pennsylvania’s economy and are increasing investment in the state. In the past, natural gas production in Pennsylvania was constrained by the lack of regional infrastructure to process and transport it out of the region. But, recently, several pipeline projects entered service including the Rockies Express Zone 3 expansion, moving natural gas westward from southwest Pennsylvania, and the Algonquin Incremental Market pipeline, primarily moving natural gas from northeastern Pennsylvania into New England. Two other projects—the Rover Pipeline Project and the NEXUS Gas Transmission Project, are expected to begin operations during the next few months.

        Endocrine Activity of Air Pollutants from Marcellus Drilling & Fracking - In the last decade unconventional oil and gas (UOG) extraction has rapidly proliferated throughout the United States (US) and the world. This occurred largely because of the development of directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing which allows access to fossil fuels from geologic formations that were previously not cost effective to pursue. This process is known to use greater than 1,000 chemicals such as solvents, surfactants, detergents, and biocides. In addition, a complex mixture of chemicals, including heavy metals, naturally-occurring radioactive chemicals, and organic compounds are released from the formations and can enter air and water. Compounds associated with UOG activity have been linked to adverse reproductive and developmental outcomes in humans and laboratory animal models, which is possibly due to the presence of endocrine active chemicals. Using systematic methods, electronic searches of PubMed and Web of Science were conducted to identify studies that measured chemicals in air near sites of UOG activity. Records were screened by title and abstract, relevant articles then underwent full text review, and data were extracted from the studies. A list of chemicals detected near UOG sites was generated. Then, the potential endocrine activity of the most frequently detected chemicals was explored via searches of literature from PubMed. Evaluation of 48 studies that sampled air near sites of UOG activity identified 106 chemicals detected in two or more studies. Ethane, benzene and n-pentane were the top three most frequently detected. Twenty-one chemicals have been shown to have endocrine activity including estrogenic and androgenic activity and the ability to alter steroidogenesis. Literature also suggested that some of the air pollutants may affect reproduction, development, and neurophysiological function, all endpoints which can be modulated by hormones. These chemicals included aromatics (i.e., benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene), several polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and mercury. These results provide a basis for prioritizing future primary studies regarding the endocrine disrupting properties of UOG air pollutants, including exposure research in wildlife and humans. Further, we recommend systematic reviews of the health impacts of exposure to specific chemicals, and comprehensive environmental sampling of a broader array of chemicals.

        Pennsylvania judge accuses pipeline company of prioritizing profit over ‘best engineering practices’ - Pennsylvania regulators ordered the owner of a natural gas liquids pipeline to suspend service on its existing pipeline and stop work on two proposed pipelines along the same route in Chester County, Pennsylvania where sinkholes appeared earlier this year. An administrative law judge at the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) issued her emergency order on Thursday in response to a petition filed by state Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D), who requested a halt to work on the pipeline project in West Whiteland Township, Pennsylvania, a part of Chester County that he represents.Sunoco Pipeline LP, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, owns the existing Mariner East pipeline, an eight-inch-diameter pipeline built in the 1930s. The company also is building two additional natural gas liquids pipelines located along the same route. Mariner East 2 is a proposed 20-inch-diameter pipeline and Mariner East 2X is a proposed 16-inch-diameter pipeline. The natural gas industry is finding the Marcellus and Utica shales in southwestern Pennsylvania rich with natural gas liquids. Wider-diameter pipelines are needed to get all of the natural gas liquids to terminals where they can then be shipped to overseas petrochemical plants. “Sunoco has made deliberate managerial decisions to proceed in what appears to be a rushed manner in an apparent prioritization of profit over the best engineering practices available in our time that might best ensure public safety,” PUC Judge Elizabeth Barnes wrote in her order. Given the accident history of construction on the two new Mariner East pipelines, such as sinkholes and spills, “there is a grave risk of rupture” on the existing Mariner East pipeline,” Barnes ruled. She also noted that water supplies have already been damaged in West Whiteland Township.

        Mariner East construction, operation halted again in Chester County - A Pennsylvania judge on Thursday halted construction of Sunoco’s two new Mariner East pipelines, as well as the operation of the existing Mariner East 1 pipeline in Chester County’s West Whiteland Township, granting an emergency petition by state Sen. Andy Dinniman.Administrative Law Judge Elizabeth Barnes said in an order that she was persuaded by Dinniman’s argument that the pipelines are a risk to public safety in the township, and granted his emergency petition for a halt to construction and operation of the pipelines until the PUC determines that they are safe.“I find there to be an imminent risk to the public and a need for immediate relief and further study to be done on ME1, ME2 and ME2X for the Commission and its Bureau of Safety Engineers to evaluate before construction should resume on ME 2 or ME2X in West Whiteland Twp. and before a potential catastrophic event occurs on ME 1,” the judge wrote in an order issued Thursday after two days of hearings on the Senator’s petition earlier this month.“Additionally, local and state government needs time to create emergency evacuation and notification plans and to educate the public before operations should resume.”Energy Transfer Partners, parent company of Sunoco, blasted the judge’s decision, which it said was a “significant departure from the law” and from PUC’s due-process procedures. It will ask PUC to review the order.“The entire energy industry should be concerned about today’s order and consider this result when making decisions regarding future capital investments in the state as it upends Pennsylvania’s entire regulatory environment,” the company said in a statement. The order reimposes a shutdown on the operation of Mariner East 1 that the PUC ordered in early March after sinkholes appeared at Lisa Drive, a West Whiteland site where the new lines are being built alongside the existing pipeline. The first order was lifted in early May after the PUC concluded that there was no problem with the integrity of the old line.

        West Virginia Oil & Natural Gas Association, environmental group argue over study — A trade association and an environmental group are taking opposing positions on a study about groundwater contamination and natural gas development of the Utica Sale.The West Virginia Oil & Natural Gas Association said the University of Cincinnati study, slated to be published in the June issue of “Environmental Monitoring and Assessment,” is more research showing no impact on groundwater from shale gas development.However, the sampling in the study was not enough to be accurate, said Cheryl Johncox, an organizer of the Beyond Dirty Fossil Fuels initiative in Ohio, a program of the Sierra Club. The study is “really not something to get excited about,” she said. “I have to say it’s a very small sample size,” Johncox said. The study is titled “Monitoring concentration and isotopic composition of methane in ground water in the Utica Shale hydraulic fracturing region of Ohio.” Most of the monitoring took place in Carroll County and the surrounding area, including Stark, Columbiana, Harrison and Belmont counties.  The study began in January 2012, at which time 150 drilling permits had been issued in Ohio, which increased to 1,600 by the end of February 2015, the study said. Researchers collected 180 samples through February 2015. Of those, 118 were collected from 24 drinking water wells, from two to eight times over the course of the study, in Carroll, Harrison and Stark counties.  Sites were based on landowner interest and participation was voluntary, the study said. No relationship was found between CHI4 (methane) in ground water and its location to active well sites, the study said.

        Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction begins with groundbreaking in Lewis County - Representatives of the oil and gas industry, local leaders and elected officials from around the state celebrated the first major step toward completion of Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline project Wednesday with a groundbreaking ceremony for the Marts Compressor Station in Jane Lew. The station, which will provide compression to support the transmission of natural gas, marks the beginning of major construction on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, said Samantha Norris, communications specialist for Dominion.“Dominion Energy is very proud of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project,” she said. “This is a project that we’ve been working on for almost four years now. We are ready to see that construction begin.” The pipeline will cross more than 600 miles between Harrison County and Greensville County, Virginia, to transport natural gas produced in West Virginia to energy users in Virginia and North Carolina. Construction will require more than 3,000 workers over the course of the project, Norris said. “This project means jobs in the state of West Virginia,” she said. “It is being done in a sustainable manner, both environmentally and for the longevity of this pipeline being able to produce a resource for generations to come.” Projections show that there is more than enough natural gas in the region to keep the pipeline active, Norris said. “Many scholars and researchers have identified our region that we are sitting on here in West Virginia as the Saudi Arabia of natural gas,” she said. “We have a rich and abundant resource of clean-burning natural gas right below the surface. We are excited that through projects like this, we are to bring this much-needed resource to the individuals, homes and businesses that want to take advantage of it.”

        Atlantic Coast Pipeline Faces Civil Rights Complaint After Key Permit Is Blocked - A federal court has invalidated a key permit for the Atlantic Coast pipeline project, a step that could give civil rights advocates more time to build their environmental justice case against the $6 billion project to carry natural gas from West Virginia to North Carolina.Opponents of the Atlantic Coast pipeline allege the Dominion Energy-led project would have a disproportionate impact on people of color living along its route.A group of community and statewide advocacy groups in North Carolina, along with the national Friends of the Earth, filed a complaint with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's External Civil Rights Compliance Office on Tuesday asking the agency to overturn North Carolina state permits for the pipeline and for a new environmental justice analysis of it. On the same day, a three-judge panel in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permit for the pipeline, known as an "incidental take limit." The judges ruled that that permit, designed to limit the number of threatened or endangered species that could be harmed or killed during the pipeline's construction and operation, was too vague and could not be enforced. Dominion Energy said the decision only covered parts of the proposed 600-mile project and that the company will move forward with construction as scheduled.The community and environmental groups, meanwhile, say state and federal agencies failed to assess disproportionate health impacts the proposed pipeline project would have on minorities as required under the Civil Rights Act. They assert that an analysis by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission erred in how it compared state, county and local community data in ways that disguised the real discriminatory effect of the route. "As most of the North Carolina counties along the proposed ACP corridor have communities of color significantly above the state average, this decision greatly minimizes the apparent disproportionality in minorities impacted," the complaint letter filed on Tuesday stated.

        Despite federal court ruling, Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction continues - Despite the federal court order that's vacating a key permit in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction, the work will not stop.  Mike Cozad, the Community Liason for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project tells the Upshur County Commission, "There will be no downtime as a result of that judge's decision." This ruling comes from the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals saying that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hadn't provided specific limits for the allowable impact on threatened and endangered species."What they said was that a small percent of an unknown population would be affected and that's just too vague," says the President of the Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance April Pierson-Keating. 5 News reached out to Dominion Energy who wasn't available for an interview but did offer a statement saying in part quote, "We can say that the impact of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling is on a small portion of the 600 mile route and there will be no impact in North Carolina" end quote. This ruling is based on an Incidental Take Statement, something that needs to be revised fast. " Atlantic has five days to identify the affected areas, but we don't think they can do it," says Pierson-Keating.  But Dominion Energy is already working towards that next step saying quote, "Our next steps will be to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who we expect will revise the Incidental Take Statement to provide limits that are more specific," and as for Upshur County, the construction plans aren't halting at all.  "Nobody in West Virginia is benefiting from this pipeline. In reality, anybody near this pipeline is going to lose property value, they're going to lose their way of life" says a board member for the Buckhannon River Watershed Association Kevin Campbell.  But Dominion Energy continues to show reassurance in the project and their research saying quote, "We had more than 300 route adjustments to avoid environmentally sensitive areas such as wetlands, wildlife habitats, drinking water sources, and sensitive geologic features" end quote.

         Atlantic Coast Pipeline sees ruling sidelining only 10 miles of 2018 construction- Atlantic Coast Pipeline on Tuesday estimated that just 10 miles of its 2018 construction areas for the 600-mile natural gas pipeline project will need to be on hold because of the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals decision striking ACP's permit allowing incidental take of protected species. In total, it plans to avoid 21 miles in West Virginia and 79 miles in Virginia until a revised incidental take statement is issued, Atlantic Coast said in a statement Tuesday. Lead developer Dominion Energy on Tuesday updated the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on the areas by milepost that it will avoid in the wake of the last week's court ruling. Less than 2% of the total project mileage, or about 10 miles, is in 2018 construction spreads, it said. Dominion did not publicly release the precise areas involved because it said locations of protected species are generally treated as privileged. The appeals court late May 15 vacated the Fish and Wildlife Service's "incidental take" statement for the project, a document that estimates the likely harm to endangered or threatened species. The court concluded that "limits set by the agency are so indeterminate that they undermine the incidental take statement's enforcement and monitoring function" under the act. Environmental litigants in the case continue to contend FERC needs to halt all construction on the project in response to the ruling. In its Tuesday letter to FERC, Dominion said it "confirms the company's commitment to avoid construction in these areas," adding it will not undertake any activity identified in the FWS biological opinion that is likely to affect protected species until the incidental take statement situation is resolved.

        Atlantic Coast Pipeline to Sideline 100 Miles of Construction in Virginia and West Virginia - Builders of the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline told federal authorities they will delay construction along 21 miles in West Virginia and 79 miles in Virginia until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issues a revised "incidental take statement," which limits the number of threatened or endangered species that might be accidentally killed or harmed during development activities.Lead developer Dominion Energy filed documents Tuesday with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in response to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling last week . The court sided with environmental groups and their lawyers that the FWS' initial review was not clear enough in the case of the $6.5 billion pipeline and vacated one of its key permits.Environmentalists worry that the 600-mile fracked gas pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina could pose risks for a rare bumblebee, the Roanoke logperch and Indiana and Northern long-eared bats and other threatened or endangered species. It will also cut through through forests, pristine mountains and involve the blasting, excavation and removal of mountaintops along 38 miles of Appalachian ridgelines as part of the construction.In its letter to FERC, Dominion said construction will be avoided along those 100 miles in West Virginia and Virginia where protected species might be put at risk until the revised incidental take statement is issued.Dominion did not disclose the specific areas it will avoid "because this information contains the locations of sensitive species which are customarily treated as privileged and confidential," the company stated in a news release quoted by The Exponent Telegram .The Southern Environmental Law Center —which argued on behalf of the Sierra Club , Defenders of Wildlifeand Virginia Wilderness Committee at the appeals court—believes all pipeline construction cannot continue without a valid permit. "According to the Federal Regulatory Commission's own certificate, FERC's previous notices issued to Atlantic Coast Pipeline developers to proceed are no longer valid," said senior attorney D.J. Gerken in astatement . "If what FERC is now saying is that developers can proceed to construction without the Fish and Wildlife Service's valid permit, it is undermining its own requirements."

        New challenges for the disputed Atlantic Coast Pipeline - The proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would carry fracked gas 600 miles from West Virginia to North Carolina and possibly points farther south, has been hit with setbacks in recent weeks that raise questions about its future. Dominion Resources of Virginia, the pipeline's operator, holds a 48 percent stake in the pipeline, while North Carolina-based Duke Energy holds 47 percent and Georgia's Southern Company 5 percent. Dominion's and Duke's ratepayers would foot most of the bill for the $6.5 billion project.The most immediately consequential setback was last week's federal court order voiding a key permit. On May 15, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) had failed to set clear limits for the pipeline's impact on threatened and endangered species. The order came in a case brought by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, and Virginia Wilderness Committee, one of four pending suits brought by the SELC related to permits for the pipeline."Like other agencies, the Fish and Wildlife Service rushed this pipeline approval through under intense political pressure to meet developers' timelines," said D.J. Gerken, managing attorney in SELC's office in Asheville, North Carolina. "It's foolish and shortsighted to risk losing rare species for an unnecessary and costly pipeline boondoggle."The pipeline's construction — which got underway this week with a groundbreaking ceremony for a compressor station in West Virginia — imperils eight threatened or endangered species including a fish called the Roanoke log perch, two types of bats, and the rusty patched bumble bee that USFWS added to the endangered species list just last year. The appeals court panel found the agency's limit on "take" — which includes harassing, harming, wounding, and killing — of at-risk species was too vague and didn't satisfy basic legal standards. And because the USFWS's so-called "incidental take statement" is needed for the construction permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), SELC has said it believes the appeals court order should bring work to a halt. However, the developers this week submitted plans to FERC indicating they plan to avoid construction only in habitat areas amounting to 79 miles in Virginia and 21 in West Virginia. A FERC spokesperson said SELC's request to halt all construction remains under consideration. The agency has come under criticism in recent years for being too eager to approve gas pipelines.

        Mountain Valley Pipeline Protesters Erect New Tree Sit - Protesters in Jefferson National Forest erected a new protest site today aimed at blocking construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.Fern MacDougal is the latest in a string of protesters to take to the trees in protest of the 303-mile pipeline.  In a press release, she said the pipeline threatens to damage the environment and the health and well-being of poor and oppressed communities."This pipeline will catalyze the growth and expansion of gas extraction across Appalachia, an industry which has already caused permanent harm to many communities," she said. "We are dedicated to resisting this reckless endangerment of the land and people as long as MVP continues to operate."  The new blockade is a 30-foot-tall platform suspended in the forest. Protesters say it’s hindering construction of an access road and boring site associated with the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Other protestors are currently camped out in trees along the pipeline’s path. That includes a tree-sit near the ridge on Peters Mountain and a monopod blockade on Pocahontas Road. The project also faces legal challenges by landowners. Construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline is currently halted because of recent heavy rains. The pipeline developer was cited for erosion control problems in West Virginia last month. A request for comment from the pipeline developers was not immediately returned Monday.

        New protester blocks pipeline workers - Another protester took a position Monday morning blocking construction in the Jefferson National Forest. People who have been to the location said that Fern MacDougal has created a new blockade, planning to stay on a platform about 30 feet off the ground.   Pictures showed ropes tied to nearby trees for support and a banner at the site reads, “still here.” She’s hovering over Pocahontas Road in Giles County. MVP workers have closed it to the public and Forest Service workers are enforcing the restricted access.   "Cutting through delicate karst topography and 300 miles of contiguous forest and family farms seized by eminent domain, MVP threatens to damage the health and wellbeing of poor and oppressed communities along the pipeline route by threatening the air, soil, and water,” MacDougal said in a statement.  Her location is about a two-to-three-hour hike from another location on the road where Forest Service workers have restricted access, according to people who have been there.  A woman going by the name “Nutty” was in her 55th day Monday blocking workers on the same Giles County road about three miles away in a so-called monopod. She’s been without access to fresh supplies, including food and water, for more than four weeks. Supporters have been staying nearby at a campsite monitoring the activity of workers during that time.  A legal group filed a lawsuit last week asking a judge to grant a physician access to Nutty to provide medical care. Forest Service workers haven’t allowed anyone besides MVP workers past the taped-off area since they originally blocked access after Nutty ascended to her position.  At least nine protesters have taken positions in trees, or other aerial positions, to block pipeline construction workers this year.

        Tree-Sitters Launch 9th Aerial Blockade of Mountain Valley Pipeline - Resistance is growing against the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) designed to carry fracked gas 300 miles from northwest West Virginia to southern Virginia.  On Monday morning, a woman named Fern MacDougal strung up a platform 30 feet in the air that is suspended by ropes tied to surrounding trees in Virginia's Jefferson National Forest. MacDougal is now the ninth person in the last 85 days to stage tree-sits across the pipeline route in order to block its construction, according to Appalachians Against Pipelines. Her "aerial blockade," as the resistance group calls it, is located on Pocahontas Road, which Mountain Valley plans to use to reach a construction site. Opponents of the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline, whose route cuts through one of the country's most iconic hiking trails , worry about its threat to the area's water supply and to wildlife habitat, as well as its potential harm to recreational lands and the health of surrounding Appalachian communities. Environmental groups also warn that the project sets a terrible precedent of building energy infrastructure through national forests. "Cutting through delicate karst topography and 300 miles of contiguous forest and family farms seized by eminent domain, MVP threatens to damage the health and wellbeing of poor and oppressed communities along the pipeline route by threatening the air, soil and water," said MacDougal in a statement. She added, "This pipeline will catalyze the growth and expansion of gas extraction across Appalachia, an industry which has already caused permanent harm to many communities. We are dedicated to resisting this reckless endangerment of the land and people as long as MVP continues to operate." MacDougal was inspired to follow the activism of a fellow tree-sitter named "Nutty," who has protested from her monopod a few miles up Pocahontas road since March 28, and by David Buckel , a civil rights lawyer who died last month after setting himself on fire to protest environmental destruction.

        Rutherford Institute suing over doctor’s failed attempt to examine Mountain Valley Pipeline protester -- The Rutherford Institute is suing U.S. Forest Service officials on behalf of a Charlottesville doctor who makes medicine a ministry, saying officials violated his religious freedoms by preventing him from examining a Giles County tree-sitting pipeline protester. The Albemarle County-based constitutional rights organization filed the lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. District Court on behalf of Dr. Greg Gelburd. The lawsuit asks the court to force the Forest Service to allow Gelburd to examine the protester.Forest Service officials declined to comment, saying they have not reviewed the complaint. The lawsuit follows a First Amendment-based filing against federal officials submitted by state Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, on behalf of persons who wanted to access the tree stand occupied by a protester nicknamed “Nutty.” That lawsuit claims that “by preventing people from using the road and requiring anyone who wants to reach the protest to hike through steep terrain,” the service is curtailing First Amendment rights. John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, said Gelburd’s medical ministry is a cornerstone of his religious beliefs. “He does this all over the world as his mission as a Christian,” Whitehead said. “It is reprehensible that the rights of corporations and the rights of politicians are superseding citizens’ rights to medical care and religious and free speech rights.” Gelburd’s suit claims that orders signed by the officials resulted in him being threatened with arrest when he attempted to provide medical assistance to Nutty. The suit states that this violated his First Amendment right to free practice of his religion. “By preventing Gelburd from examining Nutty and providing her with medical advice and assistance, the defendants and government agents acting under the authority and direction of the defendants have substantially burdened Gelburd’s exercise of his religious belief, to wit, that he is called and required to provide medical care and assistance,” the lawsuit states. 

        Pipeline protester known as 'Nutty' has come down from her pole in Giles County  - On her 57th day perched atop a pole, a Mountain Valley Pipeline protester decided to come down Wednesday.  Known publicly only as “Nutty,” the woman wrote in a Facebook post that she ran out of food several days ago and was forced to leave her position on a small platform suspended from a 50-foot pole blocking a construction access road in the Jefferson National Forest.Law enforcement officers with the U.S. Forest Service had prevented the woman’s supporters on the ground from providing her with food and water since early April. “We knew it couldn’t last forever,” Nutty wrote in a post to the Facebook page of Appalachians Against Pipelines. “That’s how this works.”When the blockade was erected March 28 in the middle of Pocahontas Road in Giles County, organizers said they hoped to prevent construction crews from using the road to reach the top of Peters Mountain, where plans call for the buried natural gas pipeline to pass under the Appalachian Trial.  Even with Nutty gone, the road remains blocked.On Monday, a second aerial blockade went up. Fern MacDougal is camped out on a platform suspended about 30 feet high from ropes strung across the road, about a mile farther up the mountain from where the first roadblock stood.“If we rely on one location, one tactic, or one group of people to stop this pipeline, we will fail,” Nutty wrote. “But we’re not. I know that as this one facet of the struggle draws to conclusion, more people in other places are gaining momentum. The fire has already caught; we must not let it die.” According to Appalachians Against Pipelines, the woman came down under her own power, was taken to a hospital to be checked out, and was given a citation to appear in court on charges that include blocking a road that had been closed earlier by the Forest Service.

        Tree-sitters put their lives in the balance to foil Appalachian pipeline - Way out in the Appalachian hills, on the line between Virginia and West Virginia, after an hour-long backwoods hike up Peters Mountain, an orderly clutch of tents were surrounded by a plastic yellow ribbon that read, “police line do not cross”.Past that, a woman sat on top of a 50ft pole.Opposite the knot of tents where the woman’s supporters kept 24-hour vigil lay an encampment of police, pipeline workers, and private security bearing floodlights, generators and hard, binocular-bespectacled stares.At the time of our visit, she had been up there for more than 50 days and had vowed to not come down until the police extracted her – at great danger to her life – or until she was starved out. She ate only a tiny amount of food everyday at 6 o’clock. The platform on which she sat was about the size of a bathtub.On Wednesday 23 May, the protester, nicknamed Nutty, finally came down after a record-breaking 57 days spent in the trees – the longest monopod protest sit in US history – to stop a fracked natural-gas pipeline from being built through the state. Her final three days in the trees were spent without food.  “I was and remain tremendously grateful to have been able to make an impact in the struggle against the Mountain Valley pipeline,” she wrote in a statement to the Guardian upon her descent. “And am committed to continuing to participate in the global struggle against the processes of violent extraction, and against the structures of colonization, capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy it feeds.”There are others, too, who remain in the forest and are still blocking construction by putting their lives on the line and refusing to move. On the far side of the mountain sits a man in a perch dangling from a tree.  A handful of folks have also taken to the trees in a place called Little Teel Crossing, and just this Monday, a woman named Fern MacDougal made her new home in another aerial blockade on Peters Mountain. A mother and daughter team, nicknamed Red and Minor respectively, came down from the trees after more than 30 days, on property that has been in their family for more than seven generations.

        Construction halted at Mountain Valley Pipeline work site following severe erosion in Franklin County - State regulators have put a stop to construction of part of the Mountain Valley Pipeline swamped by a rainstorm, saying work cannot continue until proper erosion control measures are established.Crews were using heavy equipment to cut trees and clear land along the natural gas pipeline’s right of way in Franklin County when heavy rains Thursday night and Friday morning swept away much of the soil they had unearthed.Both lanes of nearby Cahas Mountain Road were covered by up to eight inches of mud. “It’s clearly unacceptable,” Ann Regn, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, said Sunday.According to both DEQ and Mountain Valley officials, none of the mudflow reached streams, where it could have done the most damage. Nonetheless, the agency is investigating how check dams and other erosion control measures failed to prevent the mess.Environmental regulators received several calls last week, before the rain started, from members of the public who were concerned that heavy equipment being used to remove trees and clear a 125-foot swath for pipeline construction was exposing the land to potential runoff problems.Although Mountain Valley crews had erosion control devices in place, “there were some things that completely disappeared” after the rains, including concrete barriers, Regn said. “Initial reviews indicate the controls were installed properly; however, the circumstances appear unusual and an ultimate cause is under investigation,” Mountain Valley spokeswoman Natalie Cox wrote in an email Friday.

        Investigation underway into mudslide that halted pipeline construction - An investigation into what caused a mudslide to block a Franklin County road near construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline is underway. Sediment broke through barriers Friday amid heavy rain, and neighbors said about a foot of mud blocked Cahas Mountain Road in Boones Mill. Pipeline workers installed new barriers on Monday and inspectors with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality continued to look into what caused the earth to slide down the hillside, according to DEQ spokeswoman Ann Regn. Many people have expressed concerns in the last four years about the negative effect construction could have on water quality. Regn said the mud did not reach any streams. “It appears that water was channeled and then carried this mass of mud downhill,” she said. She said workers stopped construction when the mudslide happened and they won’t resume until the area is stabilized. “They will be in the area for the next three or four days to conduct inspections and to investigate what happened and why,” she said. MVP spokeswoman Natalie Cox said workers reported the problem when it started and an initial review shows workers installed the controls properly. She echoed that no streams were affected. “The circumstances appear unusual and an ultimate cause is under investigation. Upon learning of the issue, MVP crews promptly began remediation activities, and the road was reopened about 5:30 p.m. Friday. The project team remains committed to the safe and responsible construction of this important underground infrastructure project," Cox said. Regn said DEQ inspectors should know more about what caused the problem in about a week. 

        Mountain Valley Pipeline Construction is One Muddy Mess - State regulators have put a stop to construction of part of the Mountain Valley Pipeline swamped by a rainstorm, saying work cannot continue until proper erosion control measures are established.Crews were using heavy equipment to cut trees and clear land along the natural gas pipeline’s right of way in Franklin County when heavy rains Thursday night and Friday morning swept away much of the soil they had unearthed.Both lanes of nearby Cahas Mountain Road were covered by up to eight inches of mud. “It’s clearly unacceptable,” Ann Regn, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, said Sunday.According to both DEQ and Mountain Valley officials, none of the mudflow reached streams, where it could have done the most damage. Nonetheless, the agency is investigating how check dams and other erosion control measures failed to prevent the mess. Environmental regulators received several calls last week, before the rain started, from members of the public who were concerned that heavy equipment being used to remove trees and clear a 125-foot swath for pipeline construction was exposing the land to potential runoff problems. Although Mountain Valley crews had erosion control devices in place, “there were some things that completely disappeared” after the rains, including concrete barriers, Regn said. Opponents have predicted that building a 303-mile buried pipeline along steep mountain slopes will dislodge sediment, which can contaminate private wells and public water supplies if it is allowed to enter nearby streams and wetlands.

        New challenge to MVP project questions river crossing permit - In the wake of recent tragic school shootings, anxious parents are contemplating homeschooling to protect their children. After February’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the Miami Heraldreported that more parents were considering the homeschooling option. And after Friday’s disturbing school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, a local ABC news affiliate in Alabama reported the increasing appeal of homeschooling. “If I had the time, I would teach my kids myself, and I would know that they’re safe,” a father of four told ABC station, WAAY31.A public school teacher interviewed by the channel disagreed with the idea of homeschooling. According to the news story, the teacher “says resorting to homeschooling is teaching your children to run from reality.”But that raises the question: Is compulsory mass schooling “reality”? Segregating children by age into increasingly restrictive, test-driven classrooms where they are forced by law to be unless a parent or caregiver liberates them is hardly “reality.” What’s worse is that young people are spending increasingly more time in this coercive “reality” than ever before.For young children ages six to eight, schooling increased from an average of five hours a day in 1981-82 to an average of seven hours a day in 2002-03. And for today’s teens, schooling consumes much more of their time than it did for previous generations, seeping into summertime and other historically school-free periods. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 42 percent of teens were enrolled in school during July 2016, compared to only 10 percent enrolled in July 1985. In the case of teens, spending more time in school and school-like activities may be further separating them from the actual real world in which they previously came of age. As Business Insider reports: “Almost 60% of teens in 1979 had a job, compared to 34% in 2015.” Spending more time in the contrived reality of forced schooling and less time in authentic, multi-age, productive communities may be taking its toll on today’s youth.

        Corps of Engineers suspends water permit for MVP --The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has temporarily suspended portions of a river crossing permit for the $3.5 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline, Kallanish Energy reports. Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC, the developer of the under-construction natural gas line, received a streamlined federal review that is not allowed in cases of major stream crossings, pipeline opponents argued in a federal appeals court. Lawyers for five environmental groups fighting the pipeline urged the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., to suspend the federal Clean Water Act permit for the entire pipeline until questions about crossings of the Elk, Gauley, Greenbrier and Meadow rivers in West Virginia can be answered. The Corps, which had approved the permit, agreed on Tuesday to temporarily block construction of those four river crossings, but refused to revoke the entire pipeline permit. The court gave lawyers for both sides a week to formally respond. The suspension of the permit could mean the MVP would have to seek individual permits for those four river crossings. The environmental groups contend that the pipeline will cross more than 1,000 waterways in its 300 miles. The streamlined review, called Nationwide 12, can only be used for projects in which stream crossings can be completed within 72 hours, West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection said. That condition was added last year by the state to the Corps’ streamlined permitting for pipelines before the state allowed such permit reviews in West Virginia. 

        Army Corps of Engineers suspends parts of Mountain Valley Pipeline permit — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has indefinitely suspended parts of nationwide permit 12 for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) just a day after an environmental coalition sued them in federal court for a stay on the project.According to a news release from the Sierra Club, who is part of the coalition, the move also comes after a direct request was sent to the Corps on May 15.In its suit, the environmental coalition alleges that MVP construction across the Elk, Gauley, Greenbrier and Meadows rivers could not be completed in time restrictions implemented in the permit.While the permit from the Corps does not include a time limit, it requires state input and approval to move forward.In the permit granted to MVP, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection added the stipulation that construction across the waterways in the route of the pipeline must be completed in 72 continuous hours.With MVP’s permit now partially suspended, the Sierra Club’s release said that the belief is that the interests of MVP may have to seek out individual permits for each crossing.“The suspension means MVP may have to seek individual permits for those four crossings,” the release reads. “However, advocates for clean air and water say that the Corps’s action falls short of what they have asked a federal appeals court for because it lacks a commitment to wait for the federal court to rule and does not apply to all of the pipeline’s stream crossings.”According to the Sierra Club, the pipeline the 300-mile long pipeline crosses waterways in West Virginia and Virginia more than 1,000 times. “These four stream crossings signal one big problem — the Corps’ slipshod approach to overseeing this project. West Virginians deserve thoughtful permitting, not thoughtless rubber-stamped approvals,” said Angie Rosser, executive director of West Virginia Rivers Coalition in the release.

        4 flown to hospital following oil tank explosion in Doddridge County - Four people were flown to the hospital after oil tanks exploded in Doddridge County Friday morning. A company was removing three oil tanks off a property on White Hair Lane, in West Union, at about 10 a.m. when the tanks exploded, said George Eidel, director of the office of emergency services in Doddridge County. The tanks were being “cut up for scrap, using some sort of torch,” Jake Glance, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said in an email. The tanks were not entirely empty and caught fire, he said. Four people were flown to burn centers for their injuries, Eidel said. According to the DEP’s spill report, oil spilled into the stream, but officials didn’t know how much oil was spilled. Eidel didn’t know which company was removing the tanks or where the four people were flown.

        Federal regulators vote to limit practice of measuring climate impact of pipelines -  Federal regulators appeared to defy a 2017 court ruling when they decided not to take greenhouse gas emissions into account as part of their review of natural gas pipeline applications. Last year, a federal court ruled that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) must fully consider the so-called downstream effects of a pipeline project’s greenhouse gases, particularly the effects of emissions from natural gas-fired power plants that contribute to climate change. .But in a 3-2 vote, FERC ruled Friday that federal laws do not require it to consider greenhouse gas emissions caused by the production or consumption of natural gas that would inevitably result from the approval of a pipeline project. The policy change wasn’t announced in its own separate order. Instead, it was tucked inside an otherwise routine decision rejecting an appeal of its approval of a pipeline project in New York proposed by Dominion Energy. Environmental groups and climate change activists have tried for years to get federal regulators to take greenhouse gas emissions into account when they review a natural gas pipeline application. In response to Friday’s decision, the Sierra Club, one of the groups that has been fighting to get FERC to take greenhouse gas emissions more seriously, hinted it may challenge the commission’s ruling in court.“The people demanded FERC do its job, and FERC refused. Then, the courts ordered FERC to do its job, but instead, it just keeps trying to evade the court’s order and shirk its responsibilities,” 

        Think-tank warns on US gas plant investment costs - US companies risk making hundreds of billions of dollars of unnecessary investments in gas-fired power plants over the coming decade because regulators are obstructing spending in lower-cost alternatives, a leading environmental think-tank has argued.Rocky Mountain Institute has calculated that US power generators are on course to invest about $500bn in new gas-fired plants by 2030, but argues that much of that capacity could be replaced by a combination of renewable energy, battery storage, improved efficiency and measures for reducing demand at peak times.It argues that companies that invest in these plants risk finding themselves stuck with higher-cost options for meeting demand, angering customers and potentially exposing them to competition from lower-cost rivals.  Mark Dyson of RMI  urged investors and regulators to make sure companies were not building plants that could turn out to be uneconomic, particularly if gas prices rise. Gas-fired plants are the largest source of electricity in the US, providing 32 per cent of the country’s power last year. In the “reference case” central projections set out by the government’s Energy Information Administration, the US is expected to add 54 gigawatts of combined-cycle gas-fired generation capacity by 2030, more than a quarter of the total added over that period. One of the crucial arguments for gas-fired plants is that they are despatchable, in other words capable of being called on to meet demand as needed. With US gas prices at about $2.80 per million British thermal units for the Henry Hub benchmark, gas is also one of the lowest-cost forms of power generation in the US.

        NH Supreme Court on natural gas pipeline expansion could provide spark for Northern Pass -  The state supreme court has given new life to Eversource’s multiyear effort to use money from electricity rates to help pay for a natural gas pipeline, and possibly to the stymied Northern Pass hydropower transmission project.The high court on Tuesday struck down a 2016 Public Utilities Commission ruling that denied Eversource’s request to use electric rates to pay for increasing capacity on the Algonquin pipeline, which carries natural gas from New York through Connecticut to eastern Massachusetts and Boston.The court sent the matter back to the PUC, and Eversource officials didn’t say what specific action they might take.However, the ruling could spark the totally unrelated Northern Pass project, the wildly controversial proposal to bring hydropower from Quebec through New Hampshire. Eversource “will revisit the PUC’s denial of the Power Purchase Agreement with Hydro Quebec ... over the Northern Pass transmission line,” spokesman Martin Murray said in a statement.

        Tokyo Gas receives first LNG cargo from Cove Point – Japan’s largest city gas provider, Tokyo Gas, on Monday received the country’s first long-term delivery of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from U.S. shale producers through its 20-year contract with Dominion Energy, Kallanish Energy reports. The 70,000-ton cargo left Cove Point last month, passed through the Panama Canal, and arrived at Tokyo Gas’ Negishi LNG terminal, at the Yokohama port, on board of the LNG Sakura early on May 21. The volume unloaded is equivalent to the annual gas supply of 220,000 households, Tokyo Gas said, in a statement. The recently completed Cove Point terminal is a “premier facility” in Maryland, giving customers direct access to the Marcellus and Utica shale plays – two of the most prolific natural gas basins in North America. Through the joint-venture, Cove Point, Tokyo Gas, Sumitomo and Gail, have each contracted for half of the marketed capacity. The JV has committed to purchasing 2.3 million tons per annum (MTPA) from Cove Point, of which 1.4 MTPA is to be delivered to Tokyo Gas. 

        U.S. liquefied natural gas projects buoyed by China import talks (Reuters) - China’s interest in reducing its trade surplus with United States through increased energy imports could advance plans for U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants, said energy executives involved in developing new facilities. The White House and China on Saturday said a U.S. trade team would travel to China to explore new energy and agricultural deals. The joint communiqué lowered trade tensions, lifting stock markets in Asia and the United States on Monday. There are over two dozen proposed U.S. LNG plants waiting for customer commitments to reach a final investment decision, many of them looking to China for deals. About 13 percent of U.S. LNG cargos went to China last year, according to data provider Genscape. China imported 5.6 billion cubic feet per day last year, making it the world’s largest buyer after Japan.  Delfin is proposing a floating LNG facility in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and aiming for a final investment decision as early as this year to go ahead and produce up to 13 million metric tons per annum (mtpa) of LNG for export.   “For us, it’s strictly been about marketing to China,” said Greg Vesey, chief executive of LNG Ltd , which is developing an LNG plant in Louisiana and another in Nova Scotia in Canada. It hopes to reach a final investment decision on the U.S. project by year-end and begin exports in 2022, he said.  “If you look at some forecasts for 2035, there are really only two places that have significant increases in LNG imports. Europe goes up about 100 mtpa and China goes up about 200 mtpa,” Vesey said. Texas LNG, which is proposing a 4-mtpa export facility in Brownsville, Texas, and has five early-stage agreements with Chinese customers, hopes to make a final decision next year, about six months behind its original goal.

        Cheniere Moves Ahead With Corpus Christi LNG Expansion (Reuters) - Cheniere Energy Inc said on Tuesday it had approved the construction of a third liquefaction unit, known as a train, at its Corpus Christi export terminal in Texas, the first new liquefied natural gas project to go ahead in the United States since 2015.The Houston-based company said it will instruct its contractors to proceed with the full build, which started in a limited fashion in late 2017. The first two trains at Corpus Christi are expected to enter service next year. The positive investment decision comes just days after the White House and China said a U.S. trade team would travel to China to explore new energy deals, prompting company executives to note that China could increase LNG imports to reduce its trade surplus with United States.

         BP secures 2 mil mt/year of LNG from Louisiana's Venture Global Calcasieu Pass - BP has secured 2 million mt/year of LNG from the Venture Global Calcasieu Pass LNG export facility in Louisiana, under a 20-year sales and purchase agreement with Venture Global LNG, the companies announced Monday. BP will purchase the LNG on a free on board, or FOB, basis starting from the commercial operation date of the facility, currently expected in 2022. The agreement brings the exporter's total contracted quantity under the 20-year binding SPA to 6 million mt/year. BP joins Venture Global's other LNG partners, which include Shell, Edison S.p.A. and Galp. Venture Global LNG is developing two export facilities in Louisiana -- the 10 million mt/year Venture Global Calcasieu Pass facility at the intersection of the Calcasieu Ship Channel and the Gulf of Mexico, and the 20 million mt/year Venture Global Plaquemines LNG on the Mississippi River. "As we finalize our arrangements for Calcasieu Pass and proceed towards financing, we have now begun to execute binding commitments for our Plaquemines project, which will also supply low-cost, long-term LNG to our global customers," Venture Global LNG co-CEOs Mike Sabel and Bob Pender said. Venture Global has raised $525 million of capital to date to support the development of its projects.

        NYMEX June natural gas futures down 2.5 cents at $2.822/MMBtu on weather outlook - NYMEX June natural gas futures fell in overnight US trading as revisions to weather forecasts look likely to cap early cooling demand.At 6:30 am EDT (1030 GMT) the contract was 2.5 cents lower at $2.822/MMBtu.National Weather Service outlooks show above-average temperatures across the whole US except for the Southeast in the six-to-10-day period, but receding to encompass just a little more than the western half of the country in the eight-to 14-day period. Early demand for cooling has led to higher gas demand of late. According to the Energy Information Administration's latest update for the week ended May 16, an 8% week-on-week rise in power burn as temperatures rose past 75 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of Texas and the Southeast led a 4% uptick in total gas consumption.

        Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report - Cooling Demand Set To Moderate - The EIA reported a +91 Bcf change in storage for the week ended May 18. This brought storage to 1.629 Tcf. It compares to the +75 Bcf change last year and the +89 Bcf change for the five-year average. Going into this storage report, a Reuters survey of traders and analysts pegged the average at 92 Bcf with a range of +85 Bcf to +100 Bcf. We expected 85 Bcf and were 7 Bcf lower than the consensus. We were off by 6 Bcf on this storage report. Natural gas prices are still squeezing higher today following a neutral storage report. July contracts hit a high of $2.97/MMBtu. With natural gas prices now testing what we believe to be the new upper limits of the price band ($2.80-3/MMBtu), if the weather turns bearish, we could see prices establish a "higher low" before trending higher yet again. As we wrote before, the long-range weather outlook from ECMWF-EPS did show below-average temperatures starting June 4. Commodity Wx Group tweeted today that there are also signs from CFS 16-20 day suggesting much colder weather models going forward.Combining this observation with what we saw in the 15-day cluster from the ECMWF-EPS this morning, we could be looking at colder-than-normal temperatures in the East starting the second week of June. As you see in the first chart above, the cluster breakdown shows the majority of the ensemble members predicting colder-than-normal weather in the East. The composite on the 2m temperature anomaly chart for June 8 also shows colder-than-normal temperatures in the Northeast. As a result, CDDs will decrease, but warmer-than-normal temperatures in Texas and West coast will help keep demand well supported.

        NYMEX June gas remains buoyant at $2.954/MMBtu amid fundamental support - NYMEX June natural gas futures were slightly higher ahead of Friday's open, amid lingering fundamental support. At 6:30 am ET (1030 GMT) the contract was up 1.4 cents at $2.954/MMBtu having traded in a range of $2.925-$2.955/MMBtu in the US overnight. Efforts to rebuild inventories slowed down in the most recent storage report, which outlined a net 91 Bcf injection for the week ended May 18 beating consensus estimates and historical averages, but trailed the robust 106 Bcf build reported the previous week. Total working gas stocks currently sit at 1,629 Bcf, still 804 Bcf below the year-ago level and 499 Bcf below the five-year average of 2,128 Bcf. Warmer weather which ramped up cooling demand during the storage report week is seen to have limited the amount of gas available to be moved into underground stocks. Additional warming which should keep cooling demand elevated is in store in the midrange, as revised National Weather Service outlooks show above-average temperatures spanning the bulk of the US in the six-to-10-day period and the entire country in the eight-to-14-day period.  

        Steps toward making Louisiana a crude-exporting powerhouse, part 2. - The sharp increase in U.S. crude oil exports over the past couple of years is tied primarily to Texas ports — mostly Corpus Christi and the Houston Ship Channel. Louisiana, a distant second in the crude-exports race, has a long list of positive attributes, including the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) — the only U.S. port currently capable of fully loading the Very Large Crude Carriers that many international shippers favor. It also has mammoth crude storage, blending and distribution hubs at Clovelly (near the coast, connected to LOOP) and St. James (up the Mississippi). In addition, St. James is the trading center for benchmark Light Louisiana Sweet, a desirable blend for refiners. The catch is that almost all of the existing pipelines at Clovelly flow inland — away from LOOP — many of them north to St. James. That means infrastructure development is needed to reverse these flows southbound from St. James before LOOP can really take off as an export center. Today, we continue a blog series on Louisiana's changing focus toward the crude export market and the future of regional benchmark LLS.

        State appeals ruling against Bayou Bridge Pipeline - The state Department of Natural Resources has appealed a judge's ruling that it had improperly permitted the controversial Bayou Bridge Pipeline. Filed Tuesday (May 22), the appeal asserts that DNR staff did not violate laws designed to protect the public and environment when it issued the permits for portions of pipeline.  “We feel our staff did their jobs the right way ... in issuing the permits," DNR spokesman Patrick Courreges said Wednesday. Judge Alvin Turner Jr., of the 23rd Judicial District Court in Ascension Parish, had ruled last month that the permit should be reconsidered and that DNR must require the pipeline company to develop a emergency evacuation and response plans for areas near the pipeline.The proposed 162-mile pipeline pipeline would run from St. James Parish to Lake Charles. A portion would cut through the Atchafalaya River Basin, a vast and ecologically rich swampland that conservationists hope to protect from potential oil spills. DNR's permit applies to a 17-mile portion of the route in coastal zone-classified areas of St. James and Assumption Parish.  After the ruling, lawyers representing environmental groups and St. James residents demanded that DNR order the halt of pipeline work. But Courreges said DNR couldn't stop work until either his agency decides not to appeal or the time to file an appeal runs out, which would have been mid-June. DNR's appeal kills any potential stop-work order based on the ruling. Meanwhile, work on the pipeline has intensified. Residents and activists report that workers set up powerful lights at a work site in Assumption Parish on Friday and worked through the night.

        Trump’s Offshore Drilling Plan Puts 68 National Parks at Risk - Sixty-eight National Parks along the coastal U.S. could be in danger from devastating oil spills if President Donald Trump 's plan to open 90 percent of coastal waters to offshore oil drilling goes through, a reportreleased Wednesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Parks Conservation Association found.The report, SpOILed Parks: The threat to our coastal national parks from expanded offshore drilling , summarizes the danger drilling poses to parks that saw 84 million visitors in 2017, supported 59 thousand jobs and earned $5.7 billion. Parks threatened include iconic pieces of American culture and landscape, from the Statue of Liberty National Monument to the Everglades National Park to Alaska's Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve."These places matter, and we cannot completely protect them if we start to drill off our coasts," senior vice president of conservation programs for the National Parks Conservation Association Mark Wenzler told The San Francisco Chronicle .Expanded drilling threatens six national sites in the Bay Area alone.Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced the expanded drilling plans in January in response to an executive order by Trump ordering the rethinking of drilling bans implemented by former President Barack Obama, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. According to the new report, Zinke's plan would lease federal waters for oil and gas drilling and allow drilling in waters where it hadn't been allowed for decades, including areas off the coasts of Alaska and Florida and in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. "It may be stating the obvious to some," Franz Matzner, director of federal affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told The San Francisco Chronicle of the report, "but it may not be obvious to the Trump administration, which is barreling ahead with a plan that is unprecedented."

         Environment, tribal groups rally to fight Line 3 oil pipeline -- With just weeks left before Minnesota regulators decide the fate of Enbridge Energy's contentious Line 3 oil pipeline proposal, activists are gearing up their years-long fight against the project. A cadre of environmental and tribal groups camped in downtown St. Paul on Friday and Saturday for an anti-Line 3 rally and to take pledges from people who promise to continue fighting the pipeline, if it's approved. "The pledge of resistance says that we stand united against this proposed pipeline because of the threat it proposes to our air, our water, wild rice, Anishinaabe treaty territory and our climate," said Akilah Sanders-Reed, a climate activist. "As one of the dirtiest kinds of oil on earth, tar sands oil contributes to climate change more than any other kind of oil." The activists' camp was outside the Public Utilities Commission's office. The agency's five commissioners will have final say on whether to give Enbridge the necessary permits to build Line 3. Sanders-Reed said it was crucial to bring the anti-pipeline message right to the commission's doorstep. "We know that the public utilities commissioners are suposed to be making decisions that benefit the people of Minnesota. And so we're here outside their offices throwing this celebration of resistance to show them the world we believe in," she said. The pipeline would take crude from Canada's oil sands region and zig-zag across northern Minnesota toward the southwestern tip of Lake Superior near Duluth. Enbridge wants to replace its current Line 3 along a new route across northern Minnesota that avoids reservations but still travels through sensitive natural areas, including the Mississippi River headwaters and wild rice waters. 

        How Enbridge Helped Write Minnesota Pipeline Laws, Aiding Its Line 3 Battle Today - The Minnesota section of Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline accounts for nearly 300 miles of the longest crude oil transport system in the world, and it is failing. The multi-billion-dollar transnational corporation has applied for a permit to replace it. Opposition from tribes in the region and environmental groups is slowing the project, but the process at times appears so tilted in Enbridge's favor that, watching the court battles and utility commission meetings, it almost feels like Enbridge wrote the rules.At one point in its application to build the new Line 3, Enbridge listed all the federal and state laws that regulate the permitting and construction of pipelines . Nearly all the Minnesota laws originated in one 1987 Senate bill: S.F. 90 .This bill was accompanied by unprecedented pipeline industry lobbying—led in spending by Enbridge—and included subtle but major handouts to pipeline companies. One such provision imposes a sweeping limit on the public's ability to oppose new pipelines, including the Line 3 replacement project. According to environmental lawyer Paul Blackburn, one of the largest barriers to pipeline regulation is actually the federal Pipeline Safety Act, which preempts most state regulations. He called the law "a beautiful example of how to appear to regulate something without actually regulating it at all."Still, Blackburn said there are ways for states to regulate pipelines, with some of the most powerful being zoning, permitting, and routing laws. However, S.F. 90 includes industry-friendly language that undercuts these and other potential regulations. The bill allowed pipeline operators to classify their own data after a spill, making it inaccessible to the public. It instituted stiff civil and criminal penalties for pipeline company employees who failed to alert the authorities or destroyed evidence after a spill, but the companies were subject only to relatively small fines.

        State appeals court sends Enbridge pipeline permit back to county committee over insurance issue - A state appeals court on Thursday ordered a permit issued by Dane County for a high-capacity oil pipeline be sent back to the county committee that approved it so it can decide whether the pipeline owner has met state-mandated insurance requirements. A three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeals said a group of landowners near Enbridge Energy’s expanded pumping station in the town of Medina has the right to challenge whether Enbridge had properly shown that it carries insurance that state law requires for operators of pipelines that carry hazardous liquids. The court also said that Enbridge had failed to show the Dane County Zoning and Land Regulation Committee that it carried the insurance, including coverage for “sudden and accidental pollution liability.” The decision reverses one issued in September 2016 by Dane County Circuit Judge Peter Anderson, who had also stricken a condition from the county-issued permit which required that Enbridge carry an additional $25 million in cleanup insurance. The appeals court, however, declined to renew the additional insurance requirement. Anderson struck the requirement because of a new state law that barred the county from imposing its own insurance requirement above the insurance required by the state. The county had continued to include the requirement in the pipeline’s permit — even though it knew it couldn’t be enforced — in case changes were made to the state law in the future. Enbridge needed the permit so it could expand a pumping station in the town of Medina for its pipeline that carries Canadian tar sands oil to a refinery in Illinois. Dane County Assistant Corporation Counsel David Gault said Thursday that the county agrees with the court’s opinion. “We are gratified that the court found the county’s argument persuasive that the appropriate remedy was for the circuit court to remand the case back to the county zoning agency, rather than simply striking the insurance conditions that were clearly an integral part of the zoning committee’s decision to issue the (permit),” Gault said in a statement. 

        New sand mine planned for rebounding Eagle Ford shale - There's been a race to build new sand mines in West Texas' Permian Basin to satisfy all of the hydraulic fracturing needs for oil wells. But now there are signs of growth in South Texas' long-stagnant Eagle Ford shale.Fort Worth-based Black Mountain Sand said it plans to construct a new sand mine south of San Antonio near the Eagle Ford to serve the growing oil and gas production in the region as crude oil prices continue to rebound.After building two mines in the Permian, Black Mountain said it is turning its attention to the Eagle Ford. The company acquired 2,300 acres in Atascosa County with the aim of completing a mine by the end of this year that would churn out 2.2 million metric tons of sand annually. The mine would employ about 75 people.Ever-increasing large volumes of sand and water are required to frack the shale oil and gas wells to shatter the tough shale rock and release the petroleum.  "With the (Eagle Ford) region currently producing approximately 12 percent of the U.S. total oil production and growing, the need for local sand has become paramount for our customers," said Rhett Bennett, founder and chief executive of Black Mountain Sand.

        Apache commits to Enterprise's 658-mile Shin Oak pipeline - Houston producer Apache Corp. said it partnered with a major Houston pipeline firm to transport its natural gas liquids from West Texas' Alpine High development to the Houston area.Apache signed on as an anchor customer of Enterprise Products Partners' Shin Oak NGL pipeline that will traverse 658 miles from Reeves County, Texas to Enteprise's storage hub just east of Houston in Mont Belvieu.The pipeline is under construction and is slated for completion in the second quarter of 2019. Apache now has the option of purchasing a 33 percent stake in the Enterprise pipeline.Earlier this month, Apache signed on as a major customer of the planned EPIC Crude Oil pipeline project to move crude from Apache's Alpine High to Corpus Christi, from where the oil can either be refined or exported.The Alpine High development, which is west of Fort Stockton in the Permian Basin, is expected to produce plenty of oil and natural gas liquids, called NGLs, much of which are used to manufacture plastics and other petrochemicals.Apache is committing to move more than 200,000 barrels of NGLs a day on the Shin Oak pipeline, which will have a capacity of 550,000 barrels a day initially."Alpine High is an enormous hydrocarbon resource that encompasses rich gas, dry gas and oil-bearing horizons. This agreement provides an efficient long-term outlet for the tremendous volume of NGLs that Apache plans to produce from the rich gas window of the play,"

         Pipeline officials: Oklahoma City neighborhood safe after crude oil spill – Company officials say residents in a northwest Oklahoma City neighborhood do not need to be concerned after a crude oil spill earlier this month.On May 10, Oklahoma City firefighters and hazmat crews were called to the 16900 block of N. Pennsylvania Ave.  following reports of a yellow liquid spewing from the ground near an oil well site. Authorities were able to determine that a pipeline had ruptured and was releasing raw crude oil into the air.TAC 4: This is what the raw crude oil looked like when firefighters arrived earlier in the 16900 block of N Pennsylvania. This is all taken care of now. Cleanup will begin soon.— Oklahoma City Fire (@OKCFD) May 10, 2018After the spill was contained, residents in the SilverHawk neighborhood began assessing the mess left behind.“You can see the pipe up here on the roof, you can see the film all over the windows and it’s kind of, it’s an oily substance,” Kevin Mashburn told News 4 as he wiped his hand across his window.Officials with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission say about 15 barrels of oil were sent into the air, and settled on more than 220 homes and lawns in the area. OCC field inspectors, environmental professionals and a representative from the pipeline company, Sunoco, went to the neighborhood to check on the clean up process.

        Keystone Pipeline project focus of court hearing  (AP) — Trump administration attorneys defended the disputed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline in federal court on Thursday against environmentalists and Native American groups that want to derail the project. President Barack Obama rejected the 1,179-mile (1,800-kilometer) line proposed by TransCanada Corporation in 2015 because of its potential to exacerbate climate change. President Donald Trump revived the project soon after taking office last year, citing its potential to create jobs and advance energy independence. Environmentalists and Native American groups sued to stop the line and asked U.S. District Judge Brian Morris to halt the project. They and others, including landowners, are worried about spills that could foul groundwater and the pipeline's impacts to their property rights. Morris did not immediately rule following a four-hour Thursday hearing in federal court in Great Falls. U.S. government attorneys asserted that Trump's change in course from Obama's focus on climate change reflected a legitimate shift in policy, not an arbitrary rejection of previous studies of the project. "While the importance of climate change was considered, the interests of energy security and economic development outweighed those concerns," the attorneys recently wrote. 

        New Mexico senators want buffer around World Heritage site  (AP) — A swath of northwestern New Mexico's oil and gas country would be off limits to drilling under proposed federal legislation that seeks to make permanent a buffer zone that has kept development away from Chaco Culture National Historical Park and other sites held sacred by Native American tribes.The measure introduced Tuesday by U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich would prevent future leasing or development of minerals owned by the federal government within a 10-mile radius around the park.The two New Mexico Democrats and tribal officials voiced their concerns about the potential of expanded drilling despite decisions over the years by federal land managers to defer any interest by the oil and gas industry in parcels that fall within the buffer. Most recently, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in March halted a lease sale over concerns about cultural impacts after hundreds of people protested.Heinrich acknowledged that the San Juan Basin has a drilling history that dates back decades. As one of the oldest natural gas production areas in the U.S., the basin already contains thousands of wells, compressor stations and other infrastructure and many leases have yet to be developed. Still, Heinrich said there's consensus that the Chaco area is important and that such places should be "off the table."

        Trump Opens Door to Dangerous Fracking in Northern Arizona - — A new Trump administration plan proposes to auction off 4,200 acres of public land for oil and gas development in northern Arizona. The lands straddle the Little Colorado River, are within three miles of Petrified Forest National Park, and are near habitat for a federally threatened fish called the Little Colorado spinedace. Drilling and fracking would threaten to deplete and pollute groundwater in the Little Colorado River Basin.The Bureau of Land Management is planning the September auction — which would convey development rights to fossil-fuel companies — without any site-specific public or environmental review, as required by federal law. Planning documents cite Trump policies that forego National Environmental Policy Act analysis to fast-track fracking on public lands. According to BLM, about 90 percent of new oil and gas wells on public lands are fracked.“This dangerous plan puts national parks, precious groundwater and wildlife in the crosshairs. We’ll do everything we can to stop it,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Fracking is a dirty, dangerous business that consumes enormous amounts of water and threatens wildlife and public health. Northern Arizonans won’t tolerate public lands being sacrificed as gifts from Trump to the fossil fuel industry.” The BLM is using a shortcut to bypass the analysis of fracking’s harm to the land and water that is required under NEPA. The sweeping “determinations of NEPA adequacy,” or DNAs, presume that oil and gas development complies with the agency’s 30-year-old resource management plan, which predates the U.S. fracking boom. The agency is also foregoing tribal consultations, stating that “tribal consultation was adequate for the [resource management plan].” By deferring all analysis until the drilling-permit stage — after industry has the right to develop the land — the bureau is unable to deny subsequent drilling plans.

        Trump Administration proposes to sell protected land in Arizona for fracking -   The Trump Administration has announced a proposal to sell 4,200 acres of public, protected land in northernArizona for oil and gas development. The area in question crosses the Little Colorado River and is located only three miles from Petrified Forest National Park. It also is close to the habitat for the Little Colorado spinedace, a threatened species of fish. Oil and gas industrial activity, such as fracking, could also threaten the groundwater in the Little Colorado River Basin, potentially affecting drinking water. In September, the Bureau of Land Management is planning to auction the land to the highest bidder, without sufficient environmental and public review. The Center for Biological Diversity is pushing back against the Trump Administration as it advances its pro-industry agenda. “This dangerous plan puts national parks, precious groundwater and wildlife in the crosshairs. We’ll do everything we can to stop it,” said Taylor McKinnon at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Fracking is a dirty, dangerous business that consumes enormous amounts of water and threatens wildlife and public health. Northern Arizonans won’t tolerate public lands being sacrificed as gifts from Trump to the fossil fuel industry.”  Under guidelines issued in January 2018 by the Trump Administration, the Bureau of Land Management has made several assumptions in its approval process and has delayed any detailed analysis until the drilling permit stage. At that point, the site will already have been sold for oil and gas development. “Fracking or drilling development could be catastrophic for the region’s groundwater,” McKinnon said. “This is Trump’s energy dominance policy at work, where nothing matters except fossil-fuel interests.”

        More than 4000 acres of land in northern Arizona to be auctioned for gas and oil exploration - Cronkite News – A Trump administration plan calls for auctioning off about 4,200 acres of public land for oil and gas development in northern Arizona, but environmental groups are poised to block the measure in court.It’s been more than five months since the White House rolled back environmental protections for oil and gas leasing on public lands.Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity, said his group is already involved in federal lawsuits to protect public lands from oil and gas exploration.“What we’re seeing in this instance is the Bureau of Land Management, as we’re seeing all over the country, skipping environmental and public review when holding this lease sale and conveying development rights to industry. And that’s dangerous,” he said.The center said the land straddles the Little Colorado River, and drilling and fracking in the area would threaten to deplete and pollute groundwater.McKinnon said the administration is ignoring federal law. “The National Environmental Policy Act requires federal decisions, like oil and gas leasing, be subject to approval under that law. In this case they’re skipping that step,” he said.Lawsuits already have been filed by his organization against BLM in Ohio and Colorado, specifically related to fracking. McKinnon said his organization is prepared to do the same in Arizona. Trump has billed his energy strategy as part of his promise to bring U.S. “energy dominance” to the rest of the world, according to Time.

          Over 4000 Acres Of Land In Northern Arizona To Be Leased For Gas And Oil Exploration - The Trump administration will auction off over 4,000 acres of public land for oil and gas development in northern Arizona.Environmental groups are poised to block the measure in court.It’s been over five months since the White House rolled back environmental protections for oil and gas leasing on public lands.  Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity, said his group is already involved in federal lawsuits to protect public lands from oil and gas exploration. “What we’re seeing in this instance is the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), as we’re seeing all over the country, skipping environmental and public review when holding this lease sale and conveying development rights to industry. And, that’s dangerous,” he said.    McKinnon said the Trump administration is ignoring federal law, explaining, “The National Environmental Policy Act requires federal decisions, like oil and gas leasing, be subject to approval under that law. In this case they’re skipping that step.” Lawsuits have already been filed by his organization against BLM in Ohio and Colorado, specifically related to fracking. McKinnon said his organization is prepared to do the same in Arizona.

        Stopping a Dakota Access Pipeline Leak in Under 10 Minutes? A Fairy Tale, Say the Standing Rock Sioux - Nine minutes. That's the longest it would take to detect a leak and shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline(DAPL) should the crude oil within begin escaping into the North Dakota prairie or the Missouri River. At least that's what Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the pipeline's owner, says. It's a claim that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe calls completely unrealistic given the company's "inadequate" emergency response plan. This is just one of the problems examined in a new report recently submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which last February approved DAPL's controversial route snaking less than a mile from the tribe's reservation and upriver of tribal lands. In more than 300 pages, the document details many issues that the government never fully investigated when conducting its environmental review in 2016. The report, written by the Standing Rock Sioux and independent experts, delves into treaty agreements, the history of government takeover in the region, the inadequacy of ETP's risk analysis, and how one accident could ruin land, water, and a way of life. But ETP's assertion that it could shut the pipeline down in under 10 minutes is what the report takes particular issue with—something tribe member Dave Archambault Sr. calls "pure folly" and a "fairy tale." Don Holmstrom, an author of the report who worked with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board for 17 years, says that after noticing a break, workers would first have to decide what steps to take to stop the oil from coursing through the steel, an often stressful judgment. Then they must find and close the emergency flow restriction devices one by one, which can take time depending on how much pressure has built up in the pipeline. Of course, all that hinges on whether ETP realizes there's a leak in the first place. In reality, oil pipeline leaks frequently don't even register with control systems and operators; a farmer will simply notice a growing stain darkening a remote field and call it in. According to records obtained by the tribe and its technical team, no one at the company would be able to tell something was amiss if less than 1 percent of the 600,000 billion barrels it transports each day was oozing out. That comes to 6,000 barrels―still a lot of oil.

        Dems introduce bill to block Alaska refuge drilling | TheHill: A group of House Democrats introduced legislation Tuesday that would block oil and natural gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The bill from Reps. Jared Huffman(D-Calif.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and others would reverse Congress’s decision last year to approve drilling in a portion of ANWR, which was included as part of the Republican tax overhaul. The sponsors of the anti-drilling legislation warned that with the Trump administration hoping to hold an auction for drilling rights next year, lawmakers have to work fast to overturn the provision.“Plain and simple: the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a national treasure worth protecting for future generations,” Huffman said in a statement. “Although Republicans in Congress snuck a dangerous drilling provision into their tax bill last year, it’s not too late to keep drills out of this iconic landscape,” he continued. “But time is not on our side: we need to repeal this oil and gas giveaway soon to ensure that the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain remains unspoiled for future generations to experience and enjoy.” Last year’s tax law passed with only GOP support. After decades of efforts by Alaskans, the oil industry and Republicans, it for the first time allowed drilling in ANWR’s small coastal plain, subject to the same environmental rules as other federal land areas. The Interior Department was instructed in the law to hold at least two drilling rights lease sales in the next decade, limited to 2,000 acres leased. Polling has consistently showed that most Americans oppose ANWR drilling. The conservative-leaning Rasmussen Reports found last year that 53 percent of Americans opposed it, and only 12 percent supported it. But most Alaskans and state leaders have long supported drilling. 

        The Rise of Shale Oil – St Louis Fed - Technological advances that allow oil producers to extract crude oil from shale rock formations have reshaped the landscape of U.S. oil production over the last 10 years. Since 2008, shale oil production has increased from around 450,000 barrels per day (bpd) to over 5 million bpd and now accounts for more than half of total U.S. crude oil production. This increase in production is unmatched on a global scale: In 2017, the U.S. became the largest oil-producing country with an average of 14.6 million barrels per day of crude oil, petroleum, and biofuels, 2 million barrels per day more than Saudi Arabia.Shale oil production is different from traditional production in two key ways:

        • Multiple wells can be drilled from one platform.
        • It appears that shale oil production responds differently to changes in oil prices compared with traditional wells.

        The figure shows both the spot price of oil (as measured by West Texas Intermediate at Cushing, Okla.) and the U.S. production of oil broken down by shale and conventional production. Between June 2014 and February 2016, the price of WTI oil dropped from $105.79 to $30.32 (red line). At the time, the belief was that the precipitous drop in prices would lead oil-producing firms in the U.S. to cut back production in shale oil fields. During the period, total oil production in the U.S. dropped from about 9.6 million bpd to about 8.6 million bpd (sum of blue and orange bars). Production has subsequently has recovered to about 10 million bpd—in part because of a strengthening global economy. However, one might ask how a sustained decline in oil prices would affect U.S. oil production that has become increasingly reliant on extraction from unconventional oil fields.

        The Shale Oil Ponzi Scheme Explained: How Lousy Shale Economics Will Pull Down The U.S. Economy - Few Americans realize that the U.S. economy is being propped up by the Shale Oil Industry.  However, the shale oil industry is nothing more than a Ponzi Scheme, so when it collapses, it will take down the U.S. economy with it.  Unfortunately, the reason few Americans understand how lousy the economics are in producing shale oil and gas is due to the misinformation and propaganda being put out by the industry and energy analysts.I am quite surprised how bank analysts and brokerage firms can continue to fund the shale oil and gas or advise clients to purchase stock when the industry is behaving just like the Bernie Madoff Ponzi Scheme.  The only big difference is that the U.S. Shale Industry is a Ponzi at least four times greater than Madoff’s $65 billion fiasco.I decided to discuss in detail why the U.S. Shale Oil Industry was a Ponzi Scheme in my newest video.  I provide some interesting charts that explain how the huge decline rates and massive debt are going to bring down the industry, much quicker than the market realizes.In the video, I show just how quickly two of the largest U.S. shale oil fields decline.  The chart below was developed by Enno Peters at the website.  The Permian, the largest shale basin in the United States, decline rate was a stunning 60% in just two years.  Thus, the companies producing oil in the Permian are forced to spend boatloads of Captial Expenditures (CAPEX) to grow or just maintain production:Furthermore, I explain how many of these shale oil companies are using debt to fund operations. However, lousy shale economics are not allowing these companies to pay back debt, so they must borrow new debt to pay back existing debt.  This is the very definition of a Ponzi Scheme.  The table below shows how EOG has structured its debt to be repaid over two decades:

        US oil and gas production is leaving Saudi Arabia and Russia behind - For seven straight years, the US has pumped more oil and gas out of the ground than any other country. That lead will only widen, states the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). The independent energy statistical agency describes the US as “the undisputed oil and gas leader in the world over the next several decades.” It comes as Russia and Saudi Arabia are constraining production to lift prices, while new technology is making vast new pools of once unprofitable hydrocarbons economical to extract in the US. In an analysis released May 21, the EIA estimates that the US pumped the equivalent of 30 million barrels of oil per day in 2017, a record high. (The figure includes all hydrocarbons such as natural gas, crude oil and others.) That puts the US well ahead of other major producers, including Russia and Saudi Arabia. US natural gas production stole the top spot from Russia in 2008, and exceeded Saudi Arabia’s oil production in 2013. Since 2008, US petroleum and natural gas production has jumped nearly 60%. What happened? New fracking and drilling technology unlocked cheap ways to extract US shale oil and natural gas, even as consumption stayed steady. That has allowed the US to satisfy more of its own consumption, while relying on Canada for most (40%) of its imports. Petroleum imported from Persian Gulf countries now accounts for just 1.74 million barrels per day, or 17% of the total. While good news for the US economy, it has done nothing to stem the overwhelming threat confronting the planet: rising temperatures. Scientists agree the pace of climate change form human emissions is now unprecedented. If catastrophic global warming is to be stopped, we need to aim for zero greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible. The period when we can safely burn our hydrocarbons is almost over.

        The United States is a net energy importer from Canada – EIA - Canada is the largest energy trading partner of the United States, based on the combined value of energy exports and imports. Although the value of bilateral energy trade with Canada has varied over the past decade, driven primarily by changes in the prices of oil and natural gas, the overall structure of bilateral energy trade flows has changed relatively little, with the value of U.S. energy imports from Canada consistently exceeding the value of U.S. energy exports to Canada by a large margin. Increasing energy commodity prices in 2017 led to growth in the value of both exports to and imports from Canada. Based on the latest annual data from the U.S. Census Bureau, energy accounted for $18 billion, or about 6%, of the value of all U.S. exports to Canada. Energy accounted for $73 billion, or about 24%, of the value of all U.S. imports from Canada in 2017, up from 19% in 2016. Canada is the main source of U.S. energy imports and the second-largest destination for U.S. energy exports behind only Mexico. Crude oil accounts for most U.S. energy imports from Canada, averaging 3.4 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2017. Canada is the largest source of U.S. crude oil imports, providing 43% of total U.S. crude oil imports in 2017. The value of U.S. crude oil imports depends on both volume and price. In 2017, the value of U.S. imports of Canadian crude oil increased, reaching $50 billion, as a result of both an increase in oil prices and an increase in volume. Canadian crude oil imported by the United States is largely produced in Alberta and consists mainly of heavy grades shipped primarily to the Midwest and Gulf Coast regions. Until the removal of restrictions on exporting U.S. crude oil in December 2015, virtually all U.S. crude oil exports went to Canada. Since the United States began exporting more crude oil to other countries, Canada’s share of U.S. crude oil exports has fallen, although Canada still remains the largest destination for U.S. crude oil exports. In 2017, for the first time, the United States exported more crude oil, in total, to other countries (794,000 b/d) than it exported to Canada (324,000 b/d). U.S. crude oil exports to Canada are typically light sweet grades that are shipped to the eastern part of the country.  

        Environmental Groups Vow to Block Tar Sands Oil Project: 'We Are Going to Not Allow Kinder Morgan to Finish This Pipeline' -- As the clock ticks down until the May 31 deadline for the controversial Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline project, which will triple the amount of tar sands being transported from Alberta to the British Columbian coast, the campaign against its expansion is spreading abroad. On Sunday in Seattle, more than 120 miles south of where the pipeline hits the coast, hundreds of "kayactivists" took to the water to protest against the pipeline.  Kinder Morgan has given the federal government of Canada until the end of the month to resolve outstanding financial and legal issues surrounding the pipeline. Last week, in order to appease the Texan oil company, Trudeau's government announced that it will effectively give Kinder Morgan a "blank check" " to indemnify " the pipeline "against any financial loss," suffered if they build the pipeline. The move seems to have backfired and emboldened everyone fighting the pipeline. And as the May 31 deadline gets closer, there is a growing awareness not only of the threat that the pipeline poses to the climate, but also to marine life as it would massively increase the tanker traffic up the west coast of Canada and the U.S. Indeed, last week the Natural Resources Defense Council warned Kinder Morgan that the pipeline project, could be "illegal" under the Endangered Species Act, which is seen as one of the world's strongest species protection laws."It's not just about the spills, it's not just about the orcas," said Graham Clumpner, one of the paddlers with the Mosquito Fleet: "The bigger issue that we are all facing is climate change ," he said. "We are going to not allow Kinder Morgan to finish this pipeline."

         For sale: stalled pipeline project, protesters included -  Justin Trudeau’s pipeline nightmare may be only getting started. As Kinder Morgan Inc. drives a hard bargain in Canada’s attempt to save the Houston-based company’s embattled Trans Mountain project, the prime minister could end up fighting for an asset that hardly anybody wants. Pipeline giant Enbridge Inc., for one, signaled it doesn’t. Trudeau’s government upped the ante this week, with Finance Minister Bill Morneau pledging to indemnify the C$7.4 billion ($5.8 billion) project for politically motivated delays and backstop any company willing to take it on. Trudeau said “there are alternatives if Kinder Morgan” decides it wants out.Alberta’s oil sands are a crucial part of Canada’s economy and the expanded pipeline to British Columbia’s shore could help get better prices for the country’s crude in Asia. But finding an alternative investor in the face of fierce opposition in the coastal province would be easier said than done, according to Jihad Traya, manager of strategic energy advisory services for HSB Solomon Associates LLC in Calgary.  “I’m a little perplexed,” Traya said, adding that any attempt to sell the project would be very cumbersome. “So, what part are they going to take over? The expansion? And then, that creates some very interesting intra-agency issues.”   Kinder, which is set to decide by the end of the month whether to abandon the project because of the heated political battle over its construction, was lukewarm in its response to Morneau’s public comment as talks with the government continue. Chief Executive Officer Steve Kean said that “while the discussions are ongoing, we are not yet in alignment and will not negotiate in public.”

        Kinder Morgan set to pull the plug on Canadian crude export pipeline - Ever since Canada’s Liberal government came to power in late 2015, the 525,000 b/d Northern Gateway and the 1.1 million b/d Energy East pipeline projects fell off the radar, while a final investment decision remains due on the 870,000 b/d Keystone XL pipeline, which received a fresh lease of life after US President Donald Trump resurrected it last year. The clock is now ticking fast for the 590,000 b/d Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion, for which developer Kinder Morgan has a set a self-imposed deadline of May 31 on whether to proceed with the estimated $5.6 billion investment. The expectation is that Kinder will likely pull the plug, as all other options start thinning out. The Houston-based midstream company has been pursuing the expansion project since 2012 and has also received full shipper commitment from nearly a dozen oil sands producers in Alberta and refiners in the US. But last month Kinder decided to stop further spending unless it had clarity on the way forward. Its stance came after relentless opposition from stakeholders in British Columbia, particularly the provincial government, which has not spared any efforts to come in the way of shovels being put in the ground thus summer. Be it court cases or the announcement of an 18-month study to determine the environmental impact of a likely spill from the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, the ostensible plan of the British Columbia government was to delay start of construction, which in turn would drive up project costs and deliver its desired goal of Kinder abandoning the project. Such actions irked neighbor Alberta, where the provincial government has been banking on the Trans Mountain Expansion to ensure uninterrupted growth of its multibillion-dollar oil sands industry. 

        Two of Canada’s biggest provinces are feuding over an oil pipeline--Trudeau is caught in the middle   — An increasingly bitter dispute between two of Canada’s largest provinces over expansion of a pipeline for tar sands oil is pitting environmentalists against business and posing a major political challenge for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. At the heart of the battle are plans to triple the capacity of the 65-year-old Trans Mountain pipeline, allowing more crude to flow from northern Alberta to the port of Burnaby, B.C. , adjacent to Vancouver. The province of Alberta says the $5.7 billion project, which the Trudeau government approved in late 2016, is crucial to the growth of its oil industry, which is increasingly dependent on tar sands extraction facilities. In Alberta, tar sands are mined in massive open-pit operations and must be partially processed to create a crude known as diluted bitumen before it is sent by pipeline or rail to be refined into gasoline and other petroleum products. Because of capacity constraints and roadblocks facing several other pipeline projects, the province is finding it increasingly difficult to get its oil to market.Next door, in the province of British Columbia, the eco-friendly government of Premier John Horgan is challenging the pipeline expansion in court, claiming better protection of the province’s scenic coastline is needed in case of a tanker spill. That has enraged Alberta, which has vowed to retaliate by introducing legislation to “turn off the taps” of diesel and gasoline to British Columbia, vital to that province’s economy. “On the one hand, they don’t want our oil, and on the other hand, they are suing us to give them our oil,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said this week after British Columbia hit back with another lawsuit and said it will seek an injunction to stop Alberta from cutting off its fuel supply. Earlier this year, Alberta also threatened to retaliate against its neighbor by banning the sale of British Columbian wine in the province.

        Government announces plan to accelerate fracking developments by fast-tracking private companies' planning applications - New plans to accelerate fracking development have been released by the government, amid accusations that the move will harm the environment and local communities. Proposed changes to the planning process could put an area nearly the size of Wales at immediate risk of drilling.The measures are intended to speed up planning applications and make decisions “faster and fairer” for all those involved. Greg Clark, the business, energy and industrial strategy secretary, and James Brokenshire, the housing and communities secretary, issued a joint statement in which they reiterated the government’s position on the importance of “safe and sustainable exploration and development of our onshore shale gas”. The government said it will streamline and improve the regulation process for fracking planning applications so decisions are made faster, describing recent decisions as “disappointingly slow”. Other measures proposed include a £1.6m shale support fund for local authorities and a consultation on whether exploration wells could be drilled without seeking a planning application.Campaigners said the latter move would “pervert the planning process” and open nearly 18,000 square kilometres of England’s countryside up to “cowboy” operations.

        Green Groups Balk at England’s Plan to Fast Track Fracking -- Government ministers published proposals Thursday that would speed the development of fracking in England, igniting opposition from environmental groups and local communities, The Independent reported .The rule changes could open an area almost as large as Wales for immediate drilling."Communities and their local councils across the UK have said no in every way they can, but the government have turned a deaf ear to everyone who doesn't own a fossil fuel company," Rebecca Newsome of Greenpeace UK told The Independent.The proposals would give planning authorities £1.6 million to speed up application processing time, create a new shale environmental regulator, allow companies to drill at test sites without prior permission and shift approval for new wells from the local to the national level by declaring fracking sites "nationally significant infrastructure," The Guardian reported.Greenpeace further criticized the proposals in The Guardian, saying they would make "exploratory drilling as easy as building a garden wall or conservatory."The Local Government Association also expressed concern that fracking decisions would be taken out of the hands of impacted communities."We are clear that it should be up to local communities to decide whether or not to host fracking operations in their areas," environment spokesperson, councilor Judith Blake told The Guardian.

        Cuadrilla seeks consent to frack UK´s first horizontal shale gas well - Cuadrilla has applied to the Government for consent to frack the UK’s first horizontal shale gas well, the company said.The well was completed last month at the firm’s Preston New Road site in west Lancashire, with drilling through the Lower Bowland shale at a depth of 2,700 metres below ground.Cuadrilla now needs the go-ahead from Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, for hydraulic fracturing to commence. Francis Egan, CEO of Cuadrilla, said: “Following the Government’s very recent announcement which underlined the national importance of shale gas, we are very pleased to submit our application for hydraulic fracturing consent to the Secretary of State. “We are now very close to demonstrating that Lancashire shale gas can be commercially developed in a safe and environmentally responsible manner. We look forward to receiving consent to progress from the Secretary of State at the earliest opportunity.” The drilling of a second horizontal shale gas exploration well through the Upper Bowland shale is nearing completion, added Cuadrilla. A similar application to the Government for fracking consent at the second well will then be submitted. Based on its current operations schedule, Cuadrilla said it plans to be in a position to conduct fracking in the second half of this year. Cuadrilla says it will then run an initial flow test of both wells for six months, with plans to then eventually connect those wells to the local gas grid network in 2019. 

        Experts warning of 'serious earthquake risk' posed by drilling for shale gas -- Former advisor to No 10, Professor Peter Styles, said hydraulic fracturing in former coal mining areas increases the probability of earthquakes on faults that have already been subject to movement through mining. As the Government announced plans to speed up fracking developments by fast-tracking private companies’ planning applications, Professor Styles has called for more rigorous checks to identify the dangers. In his new report, Fracking and Historic Coal Mining: their relationship and should they coincide? He said there was a “serious earthquake risk” posed by fracking in former coalfields, because induced tremors would be “dramatically enhanced”. Although the Fylde has no mine workings, the Blackpool area was hit by two induced tremors in 2011 linked to Cuadrilla’s fracking operation at the now abandoned Preese Hall drill site.He said: “Unfortunately the physics of it means you cannot see those faults with the (survey) waves that you put into the earth. To date it does not appear that any proper industry or government due diligence has taken place with regards to fault lines mapped.” But shale industry body UKOOG said mapping had been done and that a “traffic light” monitoring system had been put in place to prevent tremors using Cuadrilla’s monitoring stations (pictured). Prof Styles recommends a 850-metre buffer zone between fracking and any significant natural fractures or faults. There are faults beneath the Fylde.

        Russia Tightens Grip on Europe’s Gas With Gazprom Deal -- Russia’s natural gas export monopoly is set to expand its position as the dominant fuel supplier to Europe after a deal between the two resolved a seven-year-old anti-trust dispute. The agreement between Gazprom PJSC and the European Commission gives gas buyers more flexibility in handling imports and greater leverage to push for lower prices. That’s likely to make flows from Russia more attractive than alternatives such as expensive new links to fields at Europe’s southeast corner or tanker shipments of liquefied natural gas. Easing tensions with Russia will make it more difficult for countries from the Middle East and Americas to get a piece of Europe’s lucrative energy market, where gas is trading at roughly double the level prevailing in the U.S. Cheaper supplies on more flexible terms also makes it more difficult for Europe to broaden its sources of energy to reduce the risk of a cutoff from any one of them, an idea that President Donald Trump’s administration has been pressing.“Gazprom knows that Europe will always represent its key market, it knows that it’s very difficult to diversify away from Europe,” said Simone Tagliapietra, analyst at the Bruegel research group in Brussels. “If the Russian gas becomes cheaper, U.S. LNG will be less competitive if the U.S. is not able to cut down the price.” Europe relies on Russia for about a third of its gas, and Gazprom’s shipments to the continent reached a record a last year and are only expected to grow. In recent weeks, as the weather warms and demand for heating eases, the pipeline company is shipping in supplies of the fuel to replenish depleted storage sites at rates that are more typical for a hard winter.

        Not so fast on fracking, UN agency tells developing countries - The hydraulic extraction of natural gas, commonly known as fracking, produces cleaner energy than oil and coal, but it is not necessarily in the best interests of the world’s poorest countries, UN development experts said on Thursday.A new report by UNCTAD, the UN Conference on Trade and Development, describes natural gas as a useful “bridge fuel” for States aiming to move towards more environmentally-friendly renewable power sources. But it has disadvantages too, not least the fact that its main component is methane gas, which has a global-warming potential 28 times higher than the carbon dioxide found in other fossil fuels. The fuel “should contribute…to achieving a low-carbon economy” by 2030, the report says, while pointing to “gaps in local geological and hydrological knowledge” and inadequate regulations that may represent “major obstacles to hydraulic fracturing as a method of extracting shale gas”. Janvier Nkurunziza, chief of UNCTAD’s Commodity Research and Analysis Section, said that the report was “not saying (fracking) is good or bad”. That was something that only governments could do, the UN official added, based on variables including their investment capacity and the possible contamination of underground water sources. “Whether it’s really good, or bad, depends on a number of factors that we analyse in this report: geology, sources of water for example; if you are increasing your water stress by using a lot of water, infrastructure and so on and so forth,” said Nkurunziza, adding that “we are not saying it’s good or bad, just look at the conditions and the region (where) you want to explore this resource, and then you can determine whether you can do it or not.” Citing data from the United States Energy Information Administration, the UNCTAD report indicates that the world has around 60 years’ worth of shale gas left before the resource is exhausted. Around half of the 215 trillion cubic metres this represents is in Algeria, Argentina, Canada, China and the United States—although the US is the world’s leading shale gas producer, with 87 per cent of total output. “The US is like an exception,” said Nkurunziza, noting that no other country has the “huge investments” necessary to fund shale gas exploration on such a scale. 

        Race on to boost gas supply to Australia's east coast (Reuters) - A pipeline across Australia and gas imports from as far away as the United States are on the drawing board as the country races to plug a domestic supply gap that is driving up east coast gas prices and threatening jobs. Although Australia is the world’s No. 2 liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter, much of its east coast gas is tied up in long-term export contracts while mainstay supplies in the populated southeast are drying up more quickly than expected. Imports will be needed within four years, warn industry executives and experts, which means gas prices that have more than doubled in the past three years aren’t going to fall and could even rise another 50 percent to match global spot prices. “Some people still find the import of LNG to what is meant to be an energy superpower absurd, and they have a point, it does seem very weird,” said Tennant Reed, national public policy adviser at the Australian Industry Group. The government is under fire from angry household gas users and industry, particularly big gas users such as petrochemical and fertilizer manufacturers which have warned that high prices are making some businesses uncompetitive. Coal seam gas from Queensland, which now supplies around 30 percent of the east coast market, costs around A$6 ($4.50) a gigajoule (GJ) to produce, then has to be piped at a cost of around A$1.85-A$2.45 per GJ, which has driven up gas prices to well above A$8. Shortages will grow from 2022 due to a steep output decline in the main gas field that has supplied southern Australia for five decades, the Australian Energy Market Operator has warned. In the longer term, gas is expected to flow from developments around the country, including more coal seam gas from Queensland, new finds off the coast of Victoria, and shale gas from the Northern Territory, but these are years from development. 

         India's GAIL to nearly double LNG imports in fiscal 2018-2019- India's state-owned gas utility GAIL aims to almost double LNG imports to 100 cargoes in the fiscal year ending March 2019, up from 52 cargoes a year earlier, to meet India's growing demand as the share of gas in the country's energy mix is set to rise to 15% in five years, from the current 6.5%. GAIL will import 60 cargoes from the US and eight cargoes from Russia's Gazprom under long-term contracts, and will buy the remaining 32 cargoes on a short-term basis, company officials said Thursday. GAIL's focus is to acquire a larger share of its LNG from the short-term markets, and enjoy greater destination, volume and delivery flexibility to be able to more effectively hedge risks against price volatility, said GAIL Chairman B.C. Tripathi, after releasing the company's annual results. He added that new long-term contracts are not a priority, as the global LNG market is moving from long-term deals to short-term and spot deals. GAIL will receive its first cargo under a renegotiated deal with Gazprom on June 4. The company plans to maintain an LNG portfolio of 14.3 million mt/year from fiscal 2022-23 to meet demand from cooking gas users, power and fertilizers plants and city gas distributors. The portfolio comprises 5.8 million mt/year from the US, 2.5 million mt/year from Gazprom, 5 million mt/year from India's Petronet LNG and 1 million mt/year from Qatar. Tripathi said India's gas market is expected to grow 6-7% annually over the next five years.

        Venezuela's oil meltdown  - Despite holding one of the world's largest reserves of heavy crude oil, Venezuela cannot feed its people.Hyperinflation, along with a $70bn bond default means that basic food and medicine can't be imported. The military has been put in charge of food distribution, and the government is running out of cash.But despite the near economic collapse, President Nicolas Maduro is standing for re-election. The United States, the European Union and 15 of Latin America's biggest countries have already said they will not recognise the result.The country's sole source of income is oil, but even the industry is in meltdown.The oil price recovery has done little to help Venezuela. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) says oil production is down to a 30-year low of around 1.4mn barrels a day. And troubles are mounting for Venezuela's state-run oil company PDVSA as lawsuits over unpaid bonds are bubbling. This week, the Caribbean Island of Curacao ruled that US oil major ConocoPhillips could seize assets owned by PDVSA. Venezuela uses refineries on the Island of Curacao to store a significant portion of the oil it exports to its foreign markets. Direct sanctions on the oil sector are also a possibility. "Until now, a perception within markets has been that Venezuela pays late, but pays," explains Diego Moya-Ocampos, senior analyst for the Americas for IHS Markit."Few creditors have dared to initiate or file legal actions against Venezuela to try to seize assets. Instead, they've preferred to look behind the scenes from some sort of payment agreement. After Conoco and the recent actions of these days, we're seeing a more aggressive stance and less patience from creditors trying to seize Venezuelan assets, and certainly, no one wants to be the last in line." Moya-Ocampos believes that even though global oil prices are increasing, "the market has already absorbed the idea that Venezuela increasingly will no longer be a key player within OPEC and that all production will systematically continue declining."

        Train Carrying 250,000 Liters of Fuel Derails on Kenyan Coast - A cargo train carrying 250,000 liters (66,000 gallons) of super petroleum , or unleaded gasoline, derailed off its tracks after taking a sharp turn along Kenya's eastern coast, forcing the closure of a major highway over the weekend, according to local reports.The accident occurred early Sunday in Kibarani in Mombasa County, and prompted authorities to completely close off Makupa Causeway, the main link between the mainland and Mombasa Island, fearing a fire would break out after spillage of the highly flammable liquid, The Star, Kenya reported.Thousands of commuters were left stranded until the highway was reopened Monday after experts determined the area was safe. No injuries were reported and the exact cause of the derailment is not yet determined.The 16-wagon Kenya Railways train was headed towards Nairobi and was carrying fuel for Vivo Energy.Maritime and Shipping Affairs Principal Secretary Nancy Karigithu said about 3,000 liters (790 gallons) leaked from the impacted wagons. Authorities have contained the fuel with foam and coolant, she said."The leakage came from two wagons, one of them was profuse. Luckily enough, no oil was spilled into theocean ," Karigithu said, as quoted by The Star, Kenya.  Karigithu added that experts are working to ensure the fuel does not enter the ocean and affect the marine system.

        Europe to ditch US dollar in payments for Iranian oil – source - The European Union is planning to switch payments to the euro for its oil purchases from Iran, eliminating US dollar transactions, a diplomatic source told RIA Novosti.  Brussels has been at odds with Washington over the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, which was reached during the administration of Barack Obama. President Donald Trump has pledged to re-impose sanctions against the Islamic Republic.“I’m privy to the information that the EU is going to shift from dollar to euro to pay for crude from Iran,” the source told the agency.Earlier this week, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that the foreign ministers of the UK, France, Germany, and Iran had agreed to work out practical solutions in response to Washington’s move in the next few weeks. The bloc is reportedly planning to maintain and deepen economic ties with Iran, including in the area of oil and gas supplies.Mogherini stressed that the sides should jointly work on the lifting of sanctions as an integral part of the historic nuclear deal. “We're not naive and know it will be difficult for all sides.”The Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was sealed three years ago in Vienna between Tehran and the P5+1 powers (China, France, Russia, UK, US, plus Germany). The agreement saw decades-long international sanctions lifted in exchange for Iran curbing its controversial nuclear program. On January 16, 2016, the parties to the deal announced the beginning of its implementation. The lifting of international sanctions gave Iran access to the world’s markets for the first time in nearly four decades. Since then, Tehran has managed to significantly increase its exports of crude. However, oil is pegged to the US dollar on international markets, making it difficult for Iran’s partners to make payments for crude and for Tehran to receive them. With the dollar playing the leading role on international financial markets, re-imposing sanctions would mean cutting Iran off from the global financial system.

        Iran says Europe's support for nuclear deal not enough (Reuters) - The European Union is not doing enough to preserve the benefits for Iran from the 2015 international nuclear pact following the withdrawal of the United States, Iran's foreign minister told the EU's energy chief on Sunday. Miguel Arias Canete, European Commissioner for energy and climate, said Tehran wanted the 28-nation bloc to act fast to preserve its oil trade with Iran, and to consider making direct euro-denominated payments for Iranian oil to Iran’s central bank, bypassing the U.S. financial system. "With the withdrawal of America .... the European political support for the accord is not sufficient," Mohammad Javad Zarif told Arias Canete in Tehran, Iran's state news agency IRNA reported. Since President Donald Trump announced on May 8 that he would pull the United States out of the deal, the U.S. Treasury said Washington would reimpose a wide array of Iran-related sanctions after the expiry of 90- and 180-day wind-down periods, including sanctions aimed at Iran’s oil sector and transactions with its central bank. The EU leaders have pledged to try to keep Iran’s oil trade and investment flowing, but conceded that would not be easy. "Our message is very clear. This is a nuclear agreement that works," Arias Canete told Western journalists after two days of meetings with Iranian officials in Tehran. With the threat of new U.S. sanctions looming over them, some foreign firms have already started signaling their intention to pull back from Iran. "The announcement of the possible withdrawal by major European companies from their cooperation with Iran is not consistent with the European Union's commitment to implementing (the nuclear deal)," Zarif was quoted as saying. He appeared to be referring to announcements by several large European companies last week suggesting their activities in Iran would end or be curtailed because of the reimposition of U.S. sanctions. 

        Iran’s top envoy to China calls on Beijing to help safeguard nuclear deal | South China Morning Post: Iran has called on China to help safeguard the nuclear deal it reached with other major world powers, saying Tehran will resort to “other options” if its interests are threatened by US sanctions. The nation’s ambassador to China Ali Asghar Khaji said Beijing had a positive role to play in upholding the deal, and should boost economic cooperation with Tehran. He also said the Iranian foreign minister chose Beijing as his first stop on a whirlwind diplomatic tour last week because of China’s “importance” to Iran. “We expect other remaining members of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, including China, to help implement and continue this deal, and fulfil their commitment and obligations according to this deal,” Khaji said, referring to the plan reached in 2015 that will see Iran significantly reducing its uranium stockpile by 2030 in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. “If we could gain these rights and benefits from this deal we will stay in it. If these Iranian rights were not satisfied, and our interests were not reached, we will think about other options,” he said in an interview with the South China Morning Post last week, without specifying what the other options were. >German newspaper Welt am Sonntag reported on Sunday that diplomats from Europe, China and Russia are discussing a new accord to offer Iran financial aid to curb its ballistic missile development, in the hope of salvaging the 2015 deal, according to Reuters. The officials will meet in Vienna in the coming week under the leadership of senior European Union diplomat Helga Schmid to discuss the next steps.  Last week, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met his counterparts from China and Russia, as well as Britain, France, Germany and the European Union, in a bid to rescue the deal. Despite Washington’s withdrawal, all the other signatory nations have vowed to keep the pact alive.

        Tehran eyes path ahead after US withdrawal from nuclear pact | Asia Times: The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has monopolized the highest levels of government in Tehran around the clock since the decision was announced on May 9. Prime Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who met yesterday with the European Union’s energy chief Miguel Arias Canete, reiterated that mere words of support from the Europeans are not enough. The JCPOA joint commission meets in Vienna this coming Friday to analyze all options ahead. EU diplomats in Brussels told Asia Times that, contrary to rumors, the European Union is not considering offering financial aid to Tehran in exchange for concessions towards a possible new nuclear deal. What Brussels is desperate to achieve before the first US sanctions kick in from August is to devise a mechanism to contest the dominance of extraterritorial American law – and reassure President Hassan Rouhani, who allegedly has “limited” trust that France, Britain and Germany will affirm an independent foreign policy. Tehran, meanwhile, is considering conducting all its trade and commercial transactions in euro and yuan.

        Iran pins hopes on EU measures to get around US oil sanctions - Iran is pinning its hopes on the European Union in its efforts to skirt new US sanctions, while also courting Russian and Chinese investments to keep its oil ambitions alive. "We expect Europe to help us receive the money for the oil we are exporting. We are receiving most of our oil revenue in euros and it needs to have circulation in European banks. This is one of the main [items on the agenda] that we discussed with the European Union," Iranian oil minister Bijan Zanganeh told journalists Saturday after meeting with EU officials in Tehran. Europe is a key outlet for Iran's oil, taking around 700,000 b/d, or a third, of Iranian crude exports. A number of European companies have also signed agreements to help Iran develop its oil and gas sector. The EU itself wants to negotiate sanctions waivers with the US for contracts signed by European companies with Iran before May 8, and is committed to helping Iran maintain its crude oil exports, EU Climate Action and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said Saturday. Ar "We are going to engage with the US to negotiate the possibility of acceptance of waivers, at least to grandfather contracts concluded at the time the US was a party to the [nuclear] deal, which is particularly important for our companies," Canete said. This, along with a raft of measures announced on Friday, is designed to shield European companies from the impact of sanctions. France's Total on Tuesday halted plans to develop Iran's giant South Pars gas field as it seeks to clarify whether the investment can avoid falling foul of US sanctions. Speaking after a meeting in Tehran with Zanganeh, Canete said that the EU was "going to start legislation to protect companies against sanctions with the Blocking Statute." This is meant to nullify the effects on the EU of any foreign court judgments. 

        ‘Plan B’: Tehran Gives European Powers One Week to Salvage Nuclear Deal - The Western European signatories to the Iran nuclear deal have until next Friday to provide Tehran with concrete proposals to offset the consequences of the US decision to pull out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a senior Iranian official said.  "To be honest with you, we are not confident," the official said, speaking to reporters before the start of Friday's talks with representatives from Iran, Russia, China, the UK, France and Germany on how Tehran might mitigate the financial and economic impact of Washington's withdrawal from the JCPOA."We expect the (economic) package to be given to us by the end of May," the official noted, according to Reuters. "I'm sorry to say that we haven't seen Plan B yet. Plan B has just started to be figured out." According to the official, European measures to encourage Tehran to remain committed to the nuclear deal would need to include guarantees concerning the continuation of Iranian oil exports, as well as guarantees about access to the SWIFT international bank payments system. Earlier Friday, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi confirmed that Tehran still had to make a decision on the JCPOA. "The European countries should tell us how they would be able to secure Iran's interests in the JCPOA in the absence of the United States and with the return of the country's sanctions," he said.   The JCPOA was signed in 2015 by Iran, the US, Russia, China, France, the UK, Germany and the European Union. President Trump's decision to pull out of the deal was met with condemnation from the other signatories, which are concerned that the United States may be pushing the Middle East into a nuclear arms race.

        Iran's Demands: Europe Must Guarantee It Will Buy Iranian Oil... Or Else   Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has issued five demands to the European Union (EU)—including Europe guaranteeing Iran’s oil will be completely sold—that European leaders could find quite difficult to meet. “Iran will resume halted nuclear activities if Europe fails to provide guarantees,” Ayatollah Khamenei said, a week after the EU said that it would act to protect the interests of EU companies investing in Iran as part of the European bloc’s continued commitment to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal.After the U.S. withdrew from the deal, the EU, China, and Russia are trying to salvage the deal, and their diplomats are expected to meet with Iranian counterparts for talks in Vienna on Friday.Ahead of those talks, Iran’s Supreme Leader stated his demands:

        • 1. “The US has rejected the Resolution 2231 [the UN resolution endorsing the Iran nuclear deal]; Europe needs to issue a resolution against the US’s violation of it.”
        • 2. “Europe must promise not to raise the issues of missiles and regional affairs of the Islamic Republic.”
        • 3. “Europe must encounter any sanction against the Islamic Republic and explicitly stand to US’s sanctions.”
        • 4. “Europe must guarantee that Iran’s oil will be completely sold. If the US can damage the sale of our oil, we must be able to sell as much oil as we want. Europeans must guarantee that they compensate for the loss, and that they buy Iran’s oil.”
        • 5. “European banks must guarantee transactions with the Islamic Republic. We have no conflicts with regard to these three countries; but we do not trust them, based on previous experience.”

        According to Eurasia Group analyst Henry Rome who spoke to CNBC, Khamenei’s demands should not be taken as the final position, because he is known to have changed his mind in the past.

        Analysis: India could provide Iranian crude with stable outlet at least in near term -- Indian refiners could offer Iran some respite at least for the next few quarters as the South Asian crude oil importers are keen to adhere to their term supply contract obligations with the Persian Gulf producer, undeterred by Washington's efforts to restrain Tehran's oil sales. The US' re-imposition of sanctions on Iran has exerted little impact on the trade flows between India and the OPEC producer so far. India's state-run Bharat Petroleum Corp. Ltd., for one, is set to receive its regular monthly term crude oil cargo from National Iranian Oil Company in the coming days. BPCL's 190,000 b/d Kochi refinery on the west coast of India will receive 130,000 mt of its monthly term Iranian crude oil for May, trade sources with knowledge of the matter told S&P Global Platts last week. Indian state-run refiners typically source their crude oil requirements through term contracts with a host of suppliers, including Iran. BPCL currently holds a term contract with NIOC to buy 1 million mt for its Kochi refinery over April 2018-March 2019. In April, the refinery received two cargoes totaling 260,000 mt of Iranian crude oil. The impact of US sanctions could be felt after six months, but "not immediately," a New Delhi-based trade source said. India's flagship state-run refiner Indian Oil Corp. also holds a term contract with Iran to receive 180,000 b/d in the current fiscal year ending March 2019. 

        Hedge funds exit crude oil but stay bullish on fuels: Kemp (Reuters) - For all the bullish commentary about oil prices at the moment, hedge fund managers have continued to take profits after the recent rally and are trimming their net long positions rather than adding to them.Focusing on what people do rather than what they say is one of the most important lessons for any good analyst (actions always speak louder than words).Hedge funds and other money managers cut their net long position in the six most important petroleum futures and options contracts by 16 million barrels in the week to May 15 ( managers have cut their net long position in the petroleum complex in each of the last four weeks by a total of 71 million barrels, according to records published by regulators and exchanges.Liquidation has been concentrated in crude oil, where the net long position in Brent and WTI has been reduced by a total of 124 million barrels over the last four weeks.Net long positions in Brent have fallen by 84 million barrels over five consecutive weeks, while net length in NYMEX and ICE WTI has dropped by 53 million over four weeks.  But, while portfolio managers have been reducing their bullish exposure to crude, they have been boosting their net long positions in refined fuels. Portfolio managers have accumulated record net positions of 124 million barrels in U.S. gasoline and 160 million barrels in European gasoil, as well as a near-record 86 million barrels in U.S. heating oil.The rotation of positions from crude to fuels reflects strong consumer demand and shrinking inventories of products, coupled with profit-taking in crude oil after a strong rally since the end of June 2017.

        Crude oil futures rise as US-China trade war on 'hold', US rig data --Crude oil futures were higher during mid-morning Asia trade Monday as concerns of a US-China trade war abated after US Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that both countries were "putting the trade war on hold" as they worked out an agreement. The bullish Baker Hughes report on US shale oil rig count had also provided some support to oil prices. At 11.25 am Singapore time (0325GMT), July ICE Brent crude futures was up 54 cents/b (0.69%) from Friday's settle to $79.05/b, while the June NYMEX light sweet crude contract rose 59 cents/b (0.83%) to $71.87/b. The trade war between US and China is currently "on hold" after the two countries agreed to drop their trade tariff threats to work on a broader trade agreement, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin Sunday said. Even though the agreement lacked the specific $200 billion reduction in the US trade deficit with China that was US President Donald Trump's signature demand on trade, the president halted tariffs he had threatened to impose on $150 billion in Chinese products. Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He described the deal as a "win-win choice". "The agreement to suspend plans for further imposition of tariffs ahead of the consultation deadline for the $150 billion tariff plan did help to hold up the near term sentiment with respect to this geopolitical concern," IG market strategist Pan Jingyi said. Meanwhile, data released by Baker Hughes Friday showed that US shale rig count were unchanged for the week ending May 18 at 844. 

        Oil Prices Up almost 50% Year-over-year - First, an excerpt from a research note by Merrill Lynch economists today: If bad luck intersects with bad policy, a recession becomes a real risk. We would keep a particularly close eye on two traditional business-cycle killers-the Fed response to stronger-than-expected inflation in the US and a growing shortage of oil, pushing prices to new heights. So far the increase in oil prices isn't a concern for the economy, but it is something to watch. The first graph shows WTI and Brent spot oil prices from the EIA. (Prices today added). According to Bloomberg, WTI is at $71.40 per barrel today, and Brent is at $78.30. Prices collapsed in 2008 due to the financial crisis, and then increased as the economy recovered.   Oil prices collapsed again in 2014 and 2015, mostly due to oversupply. Now oil prices are rising sharply again.  The second graph shows the year-over-year change in WTI based on data from the EIA. Six times since 1987, oil prices have increased 100% or more YoY.  And several times prices have almost fallen in half YoY.   Oil prices are volatile! Currently WTI is up about 50% year-over-year.

        Rising Fuel Prices Could Offset Tax Cuts - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reviewing the fuel economy standards that is says are “not appropriate”, putting the federal government and California on a collision course over the plans to weaken the rules. Amid this debate and the rising oil prices that led to continuously rising gasoline prices for American consumers at the start of the peak summer driving season, Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE)—an organization which advocates for policies to boost U.S. energy security by significantly reducing dependence on oil and promoting responsible use of domestic energy resources—is calling on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to seize the fuel standard revision opportunity “to protect American businesses and consumers by optimizing, not weakening, fuel economy standards.” Rising gas prices at the pump as we enter the summer driving season threaten to offset the benefits of President Trump’s tax cuts, John W. Handy and Michael Johnson—members of SAFE’s Energy Security Leadership Council (ESLC)—argue in an article published in The Hill. That’s why they are calling on U.S. policymakers to address both supply-and demand-side solutions for reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil. These include maintaining fuel economy standards to help cut the U.S. reliance on oil, whose price has jumped by 67 percent in the past 11 months to more than US$70 a barrel.  “The U.S. consumes one-fifth of daily global supply and has a transportation system that is 92 percent dependent on oil, leaving our economy exposed on both the supply and demand side to an opaque, volatile, and unfree oil market,” SAFE’s leadership council members say. The key argument in their call on EPA’s Pruitt is that by maintaining the fuel standards by 2030, the U.S. will significantly boost its oil exports and cut reliance on oil imports.“Since they were introduced in response to the 1973 oil embargo, fuel economy standards are the single most impactful policy we have in protecting ourselves from oil price volatility,” Handy and Johnson wrote.

        Trans-Atlantic Oil-Price Spread Soars as Supply Glut Disappears - WSJ -- U.S. oil prices are lagging behind global oil prices climbing toward $80 a barrel, the latest sign of a market that has gone from glutted to exceptionally tight in the past year. U.S. oil futures are trailing Brent, the global benchmark, by nearly $7 a barrel, settling at $72.24 a barrel on Monday. Last week, the difference was even wider, approaching $8 a barrel, based on closing prices. The two benchmarks haven’t been that far apart since 2015, before U.S. crude could be freely exported. The divergence is a sign of how stretched global oil supplies have become even as U.S. output has marched higher, overtaking Saudi Arabia and rivaling Russia. That has contributed to soaring U.S. exports, which have hit a record of nearly 2.6 million barrels a day as users clamor for it. “The market is screaming right now, ‘We need every barrel we can get,’ ” said Phil Flynn, an analyst at the Price Futures Group. Both benchmarks have been on a tear lately. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies have been holding some oil off the market for more than a year, and demand has surged as the global economy roared to life. .Unexpected disruptions, such as plunging oil production from Venezuela, have tightened supplies even further. A glut of oil that held prices down for years is essentially gone. Higher oil prices are starting to boost inflation and some worry that they will rein in the pace of economic growth, cutting into disposable income. .U.S. gasoline prices have climbed to nearly $2.93 a gallon on average, and are already more than $3 in several states. Companies such as Walmart Inc. have warned that higher fuel prices are starting to threaten margins.   Retail fuel prices have historically been more closely tied to the world benchmark rather than the national one, since gasoline is exported. Lately, Brent has been pulling ahead of West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark. Tensions in the Middle East and anticipation that renewed sanctions will crimp Iran’s oil exports are having an outsize impact on global prices. 

        Forget About Oil at $80. The Big Rally Is in Forward Prices -- Brent crude oil grabbed all the attention after spot prices hit $80 a barrel last week. And yet, almost unnoticed, a perhaps more important rally has occurred in the obscure world of forward prices, with some investors betting the "lower for longer" price mantra is all but over. The five-year Brent forward price, which has been largely anchored in a tight $55-to-$60 a barrel range for the past year and a half, has jumped over the last month, outpacing the gains in spot prices. It closed at $63.50 on Friday. "For the first time since December 2015, the back end of the curve has been leading the complex higher," said Yasser Elguindi, a market strategist at Energy Aspects Ltd. in New York. "It seems that the investor community is finally calling into question the ‘lower for longer’ thesis." While spot prices fluctuate wildly, often driven by geopolitics such as U.S. sanctions on Iran, the five-year forward usually trades in a narrower range, anchored by longer views about future supply and demand. Over the past three years, long-dated prices had been weighed down by the belief the growth in U.S. shale production, combined with the adoption of electric vehicles, would keep prices under control. Investors are now questioning that hypothesis, pushing up forward prices. Over the past month, Brent five-year forward futures gained 11 percent, compared with a 6.8 percent increase in futures for immediate delivery. 

        Crude Oil Prices Settle Higher Amid Rising Geopolitical Uncertainty – WTI crude oil prices settled higher on Monday as geopolitical uncertainty rose after weekend elections in Venezuela viewed as illegitimate raised the prospect of US sanctions on the country’s exports. On the New York Mercantile Exchange crude futures for July delivery rose 1.4% to settle at $72.24 a barrel, while on London's Intercontinental Exchange, Brent gained 1.06% to trade at $79.36 a barrel. Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro risked further pressure from the International community as his re-election win on Sunday, raised the prospect of US sanctions on the Venezuela, which would further batter the country’s beleaguered energy industry. Ahead of U.S. sanctions on Iran, meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened even tougher sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Pompeo claimed the sanctions would be the “strongest in history when complete.” The prospect for a disruption to global oil supplies is expected to increase the pace of rebalancing in the oil market, prompting analysts to raise their forecast for oil prices. Citigroup raised its base-case oil-price forecast by $10 a barrel in 2018, up to $75 barrel annual average and said oil prices would continue to trend higher through 2018. "Our expectation for balancing, from a market currently in deficit, has been pushed to the second quarter of 2019 from the third quarter of 2018 period we expected previously," Citigroup said. The bank sees Venezuelan production likely falling below 1 million barrels per day before the end of the year. Output in Venezuela has dropped by a third in two years to its lowest in decades, according to Reuters. Traders, continued, however, to take profits on the recent rally in oil prices as data showed they cut their bullish bets on crude oil for the fourth straight week.

        Iran Tensions Send Oil Spiking Again - Oil prices rose on Monday after the U.S. announced a bellicose list of demands on Iran, leaving little chance of a new accord. Oil prices were up “specifically because of Pompeo’s speech,” Thomas Pugh, commodities economist at Capital Economics, told the Wall street Journal. “It certainly looks like the U.S. is going to go as hard as possible on sanctions and try their best to make it hurt.”. On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a long list of extreme demands on Iran as prerequisites for a new deal, without offering any concessions or carrots. The demands include stopping all uranium enrichment activity and also stopping all support for militants in the Middle East. Unsurprisingly, Iran immediately rejected the demands. Pompeo’s speech was clearly not designed to reach an understanding between the two countries, and it puts the U.S. and Iran on track for more confrontation. America’s top diplomat also signaled that there would be little leeway granted to European companies seeking to do business with Iran. . Iran is leaning on the EU to make euro-denominated purchases of Iranian oil as a way to avoid U.S. sanctions. Iran says Europe’s effort to rescue the nuclear deal is so far insufficient.   On Monday, the Trump administration barred the purchase and sale of Venezuelan government debt, including new debt issued by PDVSA and the central bank. The U.S. held off on sanctions on oil sales for now, but a State Department official said those measures were “under active review.” Venezuela might avoid being hit by those harsher measures because oil prices have climbed to three-year highs. “I really don't think they will ban imports in this price environment,” David Goldwyn, president of Goldwyn Global Strategies and a former special envoy for international energy affairs under the Obama administration, told S&P Global Platts.  OPEC is reportedly watching Venezuela’s plunging oil production, which could force the group to tweak its output limits at the upcoming meeting in Vienna. “Maybe, if the market is tight, there will be a need to make some adjustment,” one OPEC delegate told Reuters.

        Crude higher on possible supply disruptions in Venezuela; ICE Brent at $79.64/b, NYMEX WTI $72.51/b- Crude oil futures trended higher during Tuesday morning European trading, underpinned by news that the US will impose new sanctions on Venezuela following Sunday's re-election of Nicolas Maduro as president. At 1125 GMT, ICE July Brent crude futures were up 42 cents from Monday's settle at $79.64/b, while the NYMEX June light sweet crude contract was up 27 cents/b at $72.51/b. "The market is contemplating the impact of further economic decline in Venezuela as a result of US sanctions and what this will mean in terms of the quantity of production and exports," Ole Hansen, head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank, said. The new penalties to be imposed by the US on the South American country will bar US companies from the purchase or sale of any debt or accounts receivable from the Venezuelan government, including PDVSA, the state-owned oil and gas company. In the meantime, speculation into whether OPEC and Russia will step away from the deal to cap crude oil production sooner rather than later was said to be preventing prices from climbing even higher. "It may not be in OPEC's interest to see prices higher than they are now," said Hansen. "The yet unquantifiable reduction in Iran has been priced in and hedge funds have been rallying to reduce positions in anticipation that OPEC may want to step away from the deal."

        Crude Oil Prices Settle Lower Despite Expectations for Global Supply Shortage - WTI crude oil prices settled lower after hitting a three-and-a-half year high on Tuesday as the prospect of global supply disruptions remained elevated amid looming sanctions on Iran and falling Venezuelan crude output. On the New York Mercantile Exchange crude futures for July delivery fell 11 cents to settle at $72.13 a barrel, while on London's Intercontinental Exchange, Brent rose 0.52% to trade at $79.63 a barrel. The United States imposed new sanctions on Venezuela on Monday following President Nicolas Maduro re-election on Sunday – viewed as illegitimate. While the immediate sanctions were aimed at restricting the South American country from selling assets, reports said sanctions on the country’s oil industry may soon follow. Venezuelan production would likely fall below 1 million barrels per day before the end of the year, Citigroup said on Monday. The prospect of lower output from Venezuela raised expectations that the market will be undersupplied as Iran sanctions loom and global demand rises. The United States on Monday, meanwhile, threatened even tougher sanctions against Iran as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed the sanctions would be the “strongest in history when complete.” “Our expectation for balancing, from a market currently in deficit, has been pushed to the second quarter of 2019 from the third quarter of 2018 period we expected previously," Citigroup said. Heading into settlement, meanwhile, sentiment on oil prices were also supported by expectations U.S. crude supplies would fall for a third-straight week. A fresh batch of inventories data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration data on Wednesday is expected to show U.S. crude stockpiles fell by 1.567 million barrels last week. 

        OPEC looking closely at Venezuelan oil output drop: sources (Reuters) - OPEC is looking closely at a drop in oil output from Venezuela to see if the loss of supply from the member state warrants action by the group, sources familiar with the matter said. This marks a shift from earlier this year, when OPEC officials downplayed the drop in Venezuelan production. And it follows a rise in prices and a decline in global inventories that is making tighter supply more significant. Falling Venezuelan output due to an economic crisis has helped the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries deliver a bigger cut than intended under its pact with Russia and other producers to curb supplies and remove a global glut. The pact, which began in January 2017 and runs to the end of 2018, will be reviewed when OPEC meets on June 22 to review policy. OPEC’s compliance with the deal reached an unprecedented 166 percent in April, meaning it has cut well above its target. “Maybe, if the market is tight, there will be a need to make some adjustment,” one OPEC delegate who declined to be identified said, referring to the June meeting. Global inventories have eased back close to their five-year average, the measure originally targeted by OPEC and its allies. The output reductions combined with worries about supply disruptions due to U.S. sanctions on Iran pushed oil prices above $80 a barrel last week, the highest since November 2014. Brent crude, the global benchmark, was trading at $78.33 on Monday. Iranian supply has not yet been affected by the U.S. decision to withdraw from an international nuclear deal and its warning of that it would impose touch sanctions. The energy minister for the United Arab Emirates, which currently holds the OPEC presidency, said last week that OPEC had more significant issues to deal with than Iran. He cited Venezuela. 

        Oil Holds Near 3-Year High Amid Venezuela Sanction Concerns -- Oil settled slightly lower after trading near the highest price in almost 3 1/2 years as new sanctions on Venezuela and shrinking U.S. crude inventories spurred concerns about tightening worldwide supplies.Futures fell 0.2 percent on Tuesday after rising earlier. President Donald Trump’s latest sanctions against the regime of Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro that threaten to further choke the Latin American nation’s already-hobbled petroleum industry. Meanwhile, a U.S. government tally on Wednesday is expected to show crude inventories fell for a third straight week, which would be the longest streak of declines since January.  Oil is trading at the highest levels since late 2014 as Middle East conflicts, U.S. sanctions on Iran and plunging Venezuelan output intensify supply concerns. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and allied nations have been curbing output since the start of 2017 to prop up prices. Still, some traders were cautious about how durable the rally will be, given weakness in the spread between futures contracts pegged to different months, a gauge of the health of the physical market. OPEC may raise oil output as soon as June on concerns about Venezuelan production and possible Iranian supply shortages, Reuters reported, citing OPEC and oil industry people that weren’t identified. “That means inventories wind down a little slower than people thought,” West Texas Intermediate for June delivery, which expired Tuesday, fell 11 cents to settle at $72.13 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after earlier touching $72.83. The July contract fell 15 cents to $72.20. Brent futures for July settlement advanced 35 cents to $79.57 on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. The global benchmark crude traded at a $7.37 premium to WTI for the same month.

        RBOB Extends Losses After Surprise Gasoline Inventory Build -- After the worst day for energy stocks in two weeks as crude turned negative amid reports that OPEC is said to be considering raising oil output, WTI rallied and RBOB kneejerked lower after API reported a smaller than expected crude draw and surprise gasoline build. API:

        • Crude -1.3mm (-1.9mm exp)
        • Cushing -822k (-250k exp)
        • Gasoline +980k
        • Distillates -1.3mm

        The International Energy Agency has started discussions with major oil-producing countries about their ability “to make up the loss from Venezuela or elsewhere,” Executive Director Fatih Birol said in a Bloomberg Television interview.But, analysts remain convinced that things are going to get tighter...“The fundamental picture continues to show signs of tightening,” said Gene McGillian, market research manager at Tradition Energy. “The uncertainty on geopolitical issues is also contributing to the rally.”But prices slid today into the API print...then diverged (WTI higher, RBOB lower) after…

        How To Mitigate The Risk Of Peak Oil Demand - There is a lively debate in the world of oil & gas surrounding the concept of peak demand. In essence, this debate centers around the question of when oil & gas demand will reach its peak and begin to decline. This debate has become especially heated due to three recent catalyst. Firstly, the adoptions of electric vehicles (EVs) and their potential to disrupt oil’s number one pillar of demand: gasoline. Secondly, the continued growth of renewables, which have the potential to disrupt the largest natural gas market: electricity generation. Finally, the general public’s increasing awareness of, and concern about, greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on the climate. The subject of peak demand has raised concern among shareholders of International Oil Companies (IOCs), and some are now even trying to force their companies to study the subject. The shareholders’ concern is explained by the fact that if peak demand occurs, the oil companies might be left with “stranded assets” – assets in which billions of shareholder dollars have been invested. However, since the lion’s share of oil existing reserves are not held by the IOCs, but by OPEC’s members (and the NOC’s that produce these resources), it would seem logical that it is the NOCs that have to worry most about peak demand and stranded assets. If/when peak demand hits, the global oil & gas markets will change fundamentally. Not because oil and gas demand would disappear overnight – that is not a realistic assumption considering the multitude of uses of the two commodities. But peak demand would result in another major supply glut, especially as shale technology is opening up new opportunities for production, putting downward pressure on oil prices. In the “lower forever” environment that might result from this permanent glut, profit focused organizations would look to the lowest cost basins, most of which are located in OPEC’s major oil producing nations –Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iran, UAE, Kuwait, and Russia. Therefore, in what seems an ironic twist of fate, the countries that seem to have most to fear from peak demand will also most likely be the ones that remain standing if / once peak demand happens.  It is other nations with more complex geological or political realities such as Indonesia that will feel the immediate pain of peak demand. Interest in their production potential will disappea as drillers will find it too burdensome and thus too costly to explore, develop or produce at lower prices levels.

        WTI/RBOB Plunge After Massive Surprise Crude Inventory Build - WTI and RBOB are trading lower since last night's API data, but plunged as DOE reported a massive surprise 5.78mm crude build, a surprise gasoline build, and a new record for US crude production.Bloomberg Intelligence Senior Energy Analyst Vince Piazza notes that inventory draws across the petroleum value chain are supporting oil prices and refining margins, though unexpected strength in output is a counterweight."It’ll be interesting to see how the data will look today, especially with pressure ahead of Memorial Day," says Tariq Zahir, commodity fund manager at Tyche Capital Advisors LLC."We’ll be expecting to see a bit of a tick up in gasoline demand" DOE

        • Crude +5.778mm (-2mm exp)
        • Cushing -1.123mm (-250k exp)
        • Gasoline +1.883mm (-1.43mm exp)
        • Distillates -951k

        Shockingly yuuuuuge crude build... and not helped by a big surprise gasoline build... Total crude and product inventories increased 6.73 million barrels, the biggest jump since February. On the supply side, there has been a steeper than usual rise in rig counts since the start of April and production continues to surge to ever-increasing record highs as crude prices  - although the last week saw only a modest rise of 2k b/d...A production decline in Alaska was more than offset by a 24,000 barrel-a-day increase in the Lower 48. On the demand side of the equation, Bloomberg's David Marino notes that gasoline is nearing $3 a gallon for the first time since 2014 as Memorial Day weekend approaches. The IEA, Total's CEO and India's oil minister all expressed concern last week that crude above $80 a barrel may deflate demand growth. Crude exports slowed by 818,000 barrels a day, not helping the overall bearish picture for oil.

        Oil falls on shock U.S. stock builds, OPEC supply worries - (Reuters) - Oil benchmarks fell on Wednesday after an unexpected build in U.S. crude and gasoline inventories despite strong demand, and as traders weighed a possible increase in OPEC crude output to cover any shortfalls in supply from Iran and Venezuela. U.S. crude inventories rose 5.8 million barrels last week, while gasoline stocks increased by 1.9 million barrels, the Energy Information Administration said. [EIA/S] “Normally, you don’t see builds at this time of year. With Memorial Day Weekend and summer driving season coming up, we were expecting a draw. And getting a build - and such a large build, was surprising,” said Tariq Zahir, managing member at Tyche Capital Advisors. Brent crude LCOc1 futures slipped 23 cents to settle at $79.80 a barrel, while U.S. crude CLc1 lost 36 cents to $71.84 a barrel. “A 5.8 million-barrel build is kind of like a slap in the face, where it’s like, ‘Where did this oil come from?’ And as you look through the numbers, it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” said Phil Flynn, analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. “It is definitely a shock to the system.” The increase in U.S. inventories came from a combination of reduced exports and rising imports. The latter is somewhat surprising, Flynn said, because Brent crude is trading at more than a $7 premium to U.S. crude, making exports more attractive.

        Has oil price reached its peak? OPEC could swing into action that may turn the heat off of oil - Crude oil price has surged about $30 a barrel in last nine months, unleashing anxiety on countries such as the United States, India, and China. The crude oil price rallied mainly on production cuts by OPEC-members and non-members led by Russia but other geopolitical factors contributed too.Now that the oil is hovering around $80 a barrel, a Reuters report said that OPEC may decide to raise oil output, which subsequently may bring down the international oil prices. Gulf OPEC countries are leading the initial talks on when the exporting group can boost oil production to cool the oil market after crude rose above $80 a barrel last week, and how many barrels each member can add, Reuters reported quoting unnamed sources.The production cut target reached unprecedented 166% in April as Venezuelan economic crisis led to a bigger cut than intended. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is also monitoring the impact on oil supplies of the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and is ready to offset any shortage but it will not act alone to fill the gap. Oil prices fell on Thursday, pulled down by expectations that OPEC members could step up production. International benchmark Brent futures were down 15 cents, or 0.19%, at $79.65 per barrel and US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 10 cents, or 0.14%, at $71.74 a barrel.

        Oil slips further below $80/bbl on talk OPEC may lift output (Reuters) - Oil prices fell about $1 on Thursday, with expectations building that reduced supplies from Venezuela and Iran could prompt OPEC to wind down output cuts in place since the start of 2017. Brent crude LCOc1 futures fell $1.01 to settle at $78.79 a barrel, a 1.27 percent loss. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 futures fell $1.13 to settle at $70.71 a barrel, a 1.57 percent loss. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries may decide in June to lift output to make up for reduced supply from crisis-hit Venezuela and Iran, which was stung by the U.S. decision to withdraw from the nuclear arms control deal, OPEC and oil industry sources told Reuters.  Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said production cuts could be eased “softly” if OPEC and non-OPEC countries see the oil market balancing in June, the Interfax news agency reported.  Russia and Saudi Arabia have a common position on the future of the oil output cut deal, Novak told Interfax news agency, though he said the deal would stay in place for now. Russia’s Lukoil  said the deal should remain in place but needs to be altered. “We still believe that a production increase will still be forthcoming that will become official at next month’s OPEC meeting,”   “In the meantime, even the slightest suggestion of such a decision, especially from the Saudis, could force a 1-2 percent price selloff as seen this morning.” Venezuela’s output has fallen to about 1.4 million barrels per day, according to OPEC secondary sources, as its economic crisis grows and state-run PDVSA struggles to pay debts and fund operations.  Supply concerns have pushed crude to multi-year highs, with Brent last week breaking above $80 a barrel for the first time since November 2014. OPEC and some other major oil producers, scheduled to meet in Vienna next month, previously agreed to curb combined output by about 1.8 million bpd to boost prices and clear a supply glut.

        OPEC may decide to ease oil supply curbs in June: sources (Reuters) - OPEC may decide to raise oil output as soon as June due to worries over Iranian and Venezuelan supply and after Washington raised concerns the oil rally was going too far, OPEC and oil industry sources familiar with the discussions told Reuters. Gulf OPEC countries are leading the initial talks on when the exporting group can boost oil production to cool the oil market after crude rose above $80 a barrel last week, and how many barrels each member can add, the sources said. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and non-OPEC producers led by Russia have agreed to curb output by about 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) until the end of 2018 to reduce high global oil stocks, but the inventory overhang has now fallen close to OPEC’s target. “All options are on the table,” one Gulf oil source told Reuters, adding that a decision to raise output might be taken in June when OPEC next meets to decide on its output policy, but there is no certain number yet by how much the group would need to ease its oil supply curbs. OPEC and its non-OPEC allies may opt to relax record high compliance with the supply curb agreement, another source said. OPEC’s compliance with the deal reached an unprecedented 166 percent in April, meaning it has cut well above its target. “We are still studying the different scenarios,” the second source said, adding that even if OPEC decided to ease the output restrictions in June it may take three to four months to put into effect. “That is one of the options,” an OPEC source said, referring to adding more supply at the June meeting. 

        Compliance relaxation on St Petersburg agenda -- Saudi Arabia, Russia and the president of Opec are likely this week to discuss a controlled relaxation of over-compliance with the Opec and non-Opec production-cut target. Saudi oil minister Khalid al-Falih, his Russian counterpart Alexander Novak, and UAE energy minister Suhail al-Mazrouei, the Opec president, will meet in St Petersburg. Such a relaxation is a "big possibility", said a Gulf source familiar with Saudi thinking. An agreement would mean Opec's kingpin, the leading non-Opec participant in cuts, and the current Opec head would have a strong proposal to take to next month's gathering of oil ministers in Vienna. An early full unwinding of the Opec and non-Opec cuts is not currently under consideration. The production agreement, which runs to the end of this year, aims to take around 1.7mn b/d out of production. A collapse in Venezuelan output means compliance of Opec's 14 members rose to a record high of 181pc in April, according to Argus estimates. Non-Opec discipline is less impressive but overall compliance still provides scope for participants with spare capacity to relax their output constraint and bring the overall rate closer to 100pc. Saudi Arabia is the custodian of the bulk of Opec spare capacity and Russian companies are keen to boost output. Saudi Arabia is keen to preserve long-term co-operation with Moscow on balancing the market and so is very likely to agree that Russia benefits from a relaxation. In assessing the current market, Opec confronts several issues. The source said "fundamentals are sound" — OECD commercial inventories are falling and are likely to hit their moving five-year average by the end of 2018 or sometime in the first quarter of next year, which would argue for keeping current production levels in place. Opec had indicated that bringing down OECD commercial stocks to their five-year average would indicate a balanced crude market. Al-Falih and ministers from participating countries have over recent weeks said the search for alternative metrics is underway. The Gulf source said prices are rising on expectations of a further decline in Venezuelan output and a possible decline in Iranian exports because of US sanctions, rather than on actual current supply-demand fundamentals. The uncertainty surrounding how US sanctions will affect Iranian exports means Opec and its main Mideast Gulf producers — particularly Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait — will keep issuing reassurances that they will plug any shortages that arise.

        OPEC, Russia prepared to raise oil output under U.S. pressure (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia and Russia are discussing raising OPEC and non-OPEC oil production by some 1 million barrels a day, sources said, while OPEC’s chief said a complaint from U.S. President Donald Trump over high prices had triggered the idea of upping output. Riyadh and Moscow are prepared to ease output cuts to calm consumer worries about supply adequacy, their energy ministers said on Friday, with Saudi Arabia’s Khalid al-Falih adding that any such move would be gradual so as not to shock the market. Raising production would ease 17 months of strict supply curbs amid concerns that a price rally has gone too far, with oil LCOc1 having hit its highest since late 2014 at $80.50 a barrel this month. OPEC began a discussion about easing production cuts following a critical tweet from Trump, OPEC’s Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo said. Trump tweeted last month that OPEC had “artificially” boosted oil prices. “We pride ourselves as friends of the United States,” Barkindo told a panel with the Saudi and Russian energy ministers in St. Petersburg at Russia’s main economic forum. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies led by Russia have agreed to curb output by about 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) through 2018 to reduce global stocks, but the inventory overhang is now near OPEC’s target. In April, pact participants cut production by 52 percent more than required, with falling output from crisis-hit Venezuela helping OPEC deliver a bigger reduction than intended. Sources familiar with the matter said an increase of about 1 million bpd would lower compliance to 100 percent of the agreed level. 

        A meeting between Secretary Perry and OPEC? Unlikely, say analysts -- It would be unprecedented, but Senate Democrats want the Trump administration to send Energy Secretary Rick Perry to Vienna next month for an OPEC meeting. Perry should go to the June 22 meeting in Vienna "to personally communicate the importance of maintaining stable crude oil prices," four senators wrote in a letter to President Trump Wednesday. The letter, signed by Democratic senators Chuck Schumer of New York, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Edward Markey of Massachusetts, includes a list of requests to Trump, including pressing Saudi Arabia to increase oil production, all aimed at lowering domestic gasoline prices. Trump is unlikely to even consider most of the requests, sources said, but could his recent focus on OPEC's supply cut agreement and political pressure from Democrats on gasoline prices prompt the first-ever visit by a US energy secretary to an OPEC meeting? "It's pretty unlikely to me that they would even send Secretary Perry to Vienna," said Jason Bordoff, a former energy policy adviser to former President Barack Obama and founding director of Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy. Bordoff said in previous administrations officials have pressed some OPEC ministers to consider the impact high energy prices may have on global economic growth. 

        Factbox: OPEC strategy reversal hits energy resources – Platts - Global oil prices fell by up to 3% Friday after Saudi Arabia said it is working on a plan with allies to boost oil supplies in the second half of this year.  OPEC and its partners led by Russia had been expected to maintain their strategy of 1.8 million b/d of cuts until the end of the year. However, the group has faced mounting criticism from major consuming nations over failing to dampen prices climbing above $80/b. Saudi energy minister Khalid al-Falih said Friday that the OPEC-led coalition will consider gradually increasing oil production quotas within the next few weeks. The reversal in strategy comes as the market faces a loss Venezuelan barrels and disruption to Iranian crude exports following the introduction of new US sanctions by year-end. ICE Brent futures fell to an intra-day low of $76.63/b in London mid-morning trade, a fall of $2.18/b from the Thursday's settlement. OPEC and 10 non-OPEC producers, led by Russia, are in the midst of a 1.8 million b/d supply cut deal which is scheduled to run through the end of 2018. The Vienna-based group and other key producers will meet in late June in the Austrian capital to review the oil market. The following is a summary of background details to Falih's remarks and energy market price reaction.  The International Energy Agency has warned that a potential supply crunch from Iran and Venezuela could present a "major challenge" for oil producers if they are to fend off sharp price rises and fill the gap. The IEA also said OECD oil stocks had fallen below the five-year average level for the first time in March, by 1 million barrels, representing a benchmark for the success of OPEC/non-OPEC production cuts. In its monthly oil market report the IEA lowered its estimate for growth in world oil demand this year to 1.4 million b/d, from 1.5 million b/d due to higher oil prices.

        U.S. Rig Count Rises Amid Crashing Oil Prices - US drillers added 13 rigs to the number of oil and gas rigs this week, according to Baker Hughes, with oil rigs increasing by 15 and gas rigs dipping by 2. The oil and gas rig count now stands at 1,059—up 151 from this time last year. The Permian basin saw the biggest increase in the number of rigs, at 11. Meanwhile, neighboring Canada lost 2 oil and gas rigs for the week. Both the Brent and WTI benchmark took a steep nosedive on Friday day at 9:03am EST with both benchmarks sustaining more than a 2% loss on the day, as Saudi Arabia—OPEC’s largest member by production—and Russia were reportedly discussing lifting production by some 1 million barrels per day, with a decision expected on June 22 at the OPEC meeting in Vienna. This, despite OPEC’s compliance which has been over 100% for every month this week. Saudi Arabia and Russia are working to offset market fears that there will be imminent supply issues courtesy of Venezuela and Libya, and the possibility of disruption in oil supply from Iran due to the US sanctions that will go into effect later this year.   At 9:03 am, WTI crude was trading down $1.90 (-2.69%) at $68.81, with Brent crude trading down $1.91 (-2.42%) at $76.92—an almost $3.00 loss over last week. US oil production is also pressing down on oil prices, and for the week ending May 18, reaching 10.725 million bpd—the thirteenth build in as many weeks, although this week saw a smaller growth than in recent weeks. US production has steadily increased since OPEC engaged in a supply cut deal that sought to remove 1.8 million bpd from the market. At the time the deal was announced, the US was producing 8.6 million bpd. Today, the US is producing more than 2.0 million bpd over that figure, while OPEC/NOPEC continues to curb supply on its end. At 8 minutes after the hour, WTI was trading down 4.02% at $67.87, with Brent trading down 3.04% at $76.43—for a staggering loss week on week.

        OPEC Sends Oil Prices Crashing - Oil prices plunged in early trading on Friday on news that OPEC and its partners, including Russia, are considering a loosening of their production limits (more below). Both WTI and Brent fell by more than 3 percent Friday morning.  Saudi Arabia and Russia are in discussions about raising their production limits, perhaps adding as much as 1 million barrels per day to the market. The group could announce a change in Vienna next month. The steep losses from Venezuela meant that OPEC’s compliance with the cuts surpassed 150 percent last month. The idea would be to bring compliance back down to 100 percent, which would mean allowing members to produce more to offset Venezuela’s declines. Nothing is finalized yet and the talks will continue for the next few weeks. Oil prices sank on the news.   U.S. oil exports hit a new record at 2.6 million barrels per day two weeks ago, but have dipped since then. Most analysts see exports continuing to rise, particularly with WTI trading at a steep $8-per-barrel discount relative to Brent. However, there are concerns that U.S. port infrastructure won’t be able to handle much higher levels of exports. Export capacity data isn’t tracked and the exact capacity is not known, although it is thought to be around 3.5 mb/d. As of now, the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) is the only Gulf Coast port that can handle very large crude carriers (VLCCs). “So far, export capacity is keeping pace, but we are walking a tightrope,” Bernadette Johnson, vice president at DrillingInfo, told ReutersBP said it will slash 3 percent of its workforce in its upstream unit this year, eliminating more than 500 positions. The oil giant said the move was done in the name of efficiency and competitiveness.  Industry veteran Mark Papa, CEO of Centennial Resource Development and former head of EOG Resources says that the growth projections for U.S. shale are overly optimistic. Papa says growth disappointed last year and would continue to undershoot expectations, largely because the best sites have already been drilled. In the Eagle Ford and the Bakken “my estimate is that about 70% of the good quality drilling locations have already been drilled," Papa said, according to S&P Global Platts.

        Oil Plunges Below $70 After Saudis, Russia Say "Likely Supply Boost" In Second Half Of 2018 -  There are certain benefits when the president of the US is BFFs with the ruling Saudi regime, especially when the price of oil rises so high it threatens to not only undo the US president's tax reform, but to slowdown the overall economy even as said president is injecting a $1 trillion fiscal stimulus in it. We saw that in practice moments ago when Saudi energy minister Khalid Al-Falih said OPEC and Russia are prepared to adjust policy in June, and that it is likely that there will be a gradual oil supply boost in the second half.  The stated reason: "The anxiety of consumers is now a concern to us", translated: between the IEA's forecast of demand destruction the higher the price of oil rises, and Trump's periodic reminders to pump more as US gas prices are getting too high, Saudi Arabia had no choice but to take the first step toward undoing the Vienna oil supply cut agreement. As Bloomberg adds, "the proposal would end a period where the group made significantly deeper output reductions than specified in their original agreement, while also preserving the political and economic alliance between Moscow and Riyadh that has reshaped the global oil market and the balance of power in the Middle East." The group is still debating whether resuming normal compliance with the accord would mean nations individually return to 100 percent compliance with their targets, or whether the group as a whole would aim for that level, the people said, asking not to be identified because the talks are private. The Saudi hedged, saying “we will ensure that the market remains in its trajectory towards rebalancing, but at the same time we will not over-correct,” Al-Falih said. While scaling back the supply caps is “on the table,” no decision has been made.

        Crude Oil Prices Settle 4% Lower as Traders Cut Bets on Global Supply Shortage – A wave of selling hit crude oil prices Friday on signs of increasing U.S. oil expansion and reports OPEC and its allies could lift output to counter a supply shortage from Iran and Venezuela. On the New York Mercantile Exchange crude futures for July delivery fell 4% to settle at $67.88 a barrel, while on London's Intercontinental Exchange, Brent fell 2.98% to trade at $76.44 a barrel. The number of oil rigs operating in the US jumped by 15 to 859, its highest level since March 13, 2015, according to data from energy services firm Baker Hughes, pointing to signs of an expansion in U.S. output. That comes as the Energy Information Administration said Wednesday U.S. oil output rose to 10.7 million barrels a day last week. “The data is likely seen to be as a slight negative for WTI oil prices as the oil rig count had its biggest one week increase in three and a half months,” National Alliance said. Oil prices started the session on the back foot as Reuters said major oil producers could raise output by as much as 1 million barrels, eroding the risk-premium in oil prices. OPEC and its allies had been expected to adhere to the production-cut agreement to curb 1.8 million barrels of oil per day through 2018 but that now looks increasingly unlikely as major oil producers consider exiting the deal. "The moment is coming when we should consider assessing ways to exit the deal very seriously and gradually ease quotas on output cuts," Novak said in televised comments, according to Reuters. Over recent weeks, oil prices had rallied sharply on expectations that falling Venezuelan and Iranian output would disrupt global supplies. Oil prices snapped a three-week winning streak and suffered their biggest weekly fall since February.

        Russia’s OPEC Deal Dilemma Worsens as Idled Crude Capacity Grows - Russia will face a tough choice in talks with OPEC next month as an increasing number of its valuable oil wells lie idle. Almost 4 percent of Russian production capacity isn’t being used, Citigroup Inc. said in a report on Wednesday. That raises questions about how the country will approach its June summit with OPEC amid growing signals of a tighter market, including shrinking global inventories and possible supply losses from Iran. “The Kremlin faces the dilemma of either continuing to extend” output cuts or allowing companies to boost production, Citi analysts said. “Either way, Moscow is flexing its muscles globally with oil as an instrument of strategic policy.” Russia will meet its OPEC allies next month in Vienna, where the signatories to 2016’s landmark deal to cut production will discuss the future of the accord. Several Russian companies have in the past questioned the wisdom of prolonging output curbs when oil prices are rising. The country has about 11.3 million barrels a day of production capacity, of which an estimated 408,000 barrels a day are idle, according to Citigroup, which cited growth in new oilfield startups. That puts it in second place behind Saudi Arabia, which has 2.12 million barrels a day of spare capacity, according to the International Energy Agency.  ‘

        The Crown Prince of Riyadh vs. the Crown Prince of Jihad: Al-Qaeda Responds to Mohammed Bin Salman’s Reforms -  Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old crown prince of Saudi Arabia, recently wrapped up a highly touted and well-choreographed tour of the West, during which he appeared with prime-time television journalists, celebrities, business leaders, and presidents. Major media outlets seemed to unquestionably portray the royal descendant as a forward-looking reformer on a courageous crusade to “transform the Middle East.”  There was dissent, of course. MBS, as he has come to be called, was met by pockets of protestors from Washington, D.C., to London, Paris, and Madrid. Human rights activists and organizations expressed concern over issues such as the prince’s role in the Yemen conflict, which has been dubbed the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” and his repression of dissidence. Yet a more dangerous reaction to Salman’s charm offensive has come from someone with a comparable pedigree. Al-Qaeda has been seeking to exploit domestic skepticism of the prince’s modernization efforts, which are aimed at changing the way the country engages with gender, culture, religion, and the economy. The jihadi organization hopes to foment a backlash that helps it to better position Hamza bin Laden, son of Osama, as heir to his father’s throne and to continue a longstanding feud between al-Qaeda and the House of Saud. These efforts, if successful, will pit the reformist ambitions of the crown prince of Riyadh against the revolutionary Salafi-jihadism promoted by the crown prince of jihad. This war of two princely visions may shape the future of the Middle East.  Al-Qaeda is positioning itself to reclaim the mantle of jihad from ISIL and to reassert itself through a more population-focused and long-term strategy. If Salman’s reforms fall short or fail, al-Qaeda will seek to fill the void with a jihadist alternative that will have greater resonance, just as it did after the failure of the Arab Spring. The United States should not be fooled by the cosmetic reforms that MBS is promoting. The roots of extremism in Saudi Arabia run deeper, and HBL and his associates in al-Qaeda have been able to target these points of weakness through their own counter-propaganda offensive.

        Here's The Viral Interview Of Exiled Saudi Prince Calling For Regime Change In Riyadh (video) Speaking to Middle East Eye early this week, Prince Khaled appealed specifically for his relatives Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz and Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz to mount a coup, saying that "99 percent of the members of the royal family, the security services and the army would stand behind them." Ahmed bin Abdulaziz was longtime deputy minister of interior from 1975 to 2012 and briefly served as minister of interior in 2012; and Muqrin bin Abdulaziz was briefly named crown prince in 2015 before quickly being replaced, and was head of Saudi intelligence until 2012. "There is so much anger within the royal family,” Prince Khaled told Middle East Eye, "I took this information and appeal to my uncles Ahmed and Muqrin, who are the sons of Abdulaziz and are highly educated, well versed and able to change things for the better. I can say that we are all behind them and support them."Though it's unclear how much clout, if any, Prince Khaled actually has inside the kingdom, his interview went viral this week amidst speculation and wild rumors claiming that Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) was injured or killed after not being seen in public since April 21 — the same day gunfire was widely reported near the prince's residence, which the Saudis blamed on a toy drone breaching the security perimeter.The Saudis appear to have quieted the stories questioning bin Salman's whereabouts and status by releasing a official photo of him chairing a meeting of government ministers. Much of the initial sourcing behind claims that the toy drone incident was actually a coup attempt come from both Iranian state media and a mysterious Saudi opposition blogger only known under the pseudonym Mujtahidd.Prince Khaled, however, said the drone was a cover story which makes no sense: “I personally believe that this was not necessarily an attempt to bring down Mohammed bin Salman but rather an act of protest against him” he explained.

        Saudi Women's Driving Activists Accused Of Running "Spy Cell" - Could Face Execution -Weeks before Saudi Arabia is set to lift its longtime ban on women driving, a group of seven women's rights activists has been arrested on treason and espionage related charges offenses which can bring the death penalty. The kingdom plans to lift the driving ban on June 24th, though significant restrictions will still remain to allow women to drive "in accordance with Islamic laws."  On Saturday Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights issued a statement indicating the seven activists have been detained since May 15th, and further that they had come to the attention of Saudi authorities as leading voices campaigning on behalf of women driving, and against the male guardianship system in general. They had reportedly been previously ordered by the royal court to cease all contact with foreign media, something which they apparently defied. The detained include a prominent Saudi blogger, Eman al-Nafjan, and Lujain al-Hathloul, who had previously been imprisoned for 73 days after driving from UAE into Saudi Arabia. Multiple reports indicate further that the crackdown on women's rights activists may be ongoing, and that charges have reached the level of espionage.And perhaps most shockingly, the detained activists could face the death penalty, as Middle East Eye reports: According to Saudi lawyers and judges, the prominent women’s rights activists, who were arrested last week and branded as "traitors" by government-aligned media outlets, may by sentenced to death should investigations result in the charge of treason and conspiracy against the state. The Riyadh-based English language daily newspaper, Arab News, has accused the women of being part of a "spy cell" supported by hostile foreign entities echoing the claims of Saudi authorities and the official Saudi Press Agency: Members of a “spy cell,” arrested by Saudi Arabia’s state security presidency two days ago, sought to “incite strife by communicating with foreign entities hostile to the Kingdom and to establish a false legal organization," according to information received by Asharq Al-Awsat from informed sources.

        Iraqi voters undermine Trump’s Iran strategy | Asia Times: In an ironic twist, May 12, which was the deadline for US President Donald Trump’s decision on the Iran nuclear deal, also happened to be the day the Iraqi parliamentary elections took place. Yet no one seemed to take note of the symbolism. In the event, the Iraqi election results seriously hinder Trump’s agenda of rolling back the Iranian presence in the northern tier of the Middle East comprising Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Of these three countries, Iraq is arguably the most crucial theatre of contestation between the United States and Iran. The fate of the Iranian presence and Iranian capacity to influence the politics of the entire Shi’ite arc will be critically dependent on its standing and influence in Baghdad. The stakes have never been as high as they are today. To be sure, the Iraqi election results that were formally announced on Sunday constitute a stunning setback for Trump’s containment strategy against Iran. Washington had bet heavily on the alliance led by Prime Minister Heidar al-Abadi to win, but it has been relegated to third place, winning only 42 seats in the 329-member parliament. Worse still, two staunchly anti-American alliances – led by Muqtadar al-Sadr and Hadi al-Amiri – secured first and second places respectively. Coalition making will be a long drawn out process, but what is clear is that the next government in Baghdad will have a pronouncedly anti-American tilt and the probability is high that it could evict US troops and contractors totaling 100,000 in Iraq. 

        The Gaza Massacre. Western Governments Complicit in Crimes against Humanity -- This week, 61 killed and over 770 wounded: Palestinian civilians were targeted by IDF snipers with live ammunition. Not a single Western country has sofar ordered the expulsion of Israeli diplomats in protest over the mass killings of Palestinian civilians by IDF snipers.  A crime against humanity under international law is casually dismissed. Double standards is an understatement: Flashback to early March 2018. When the Skripal affair broke out in the U.K., the Kremlin was accused without evidence of poisoning double agent Peter Skripal and his daughter Yulia, with the deadly novichok nerve gas. Pressured by London and Washington, more than twenty Western countries ordered the expulsion of more than 100 Russian diplomats. In the meantime the Skripals have fully recovered. Nobody was killed. In contrast, following the Gaza massacre, not a single Israeli diplomat has been expelled from the member states of the European Union. “Israel has the right to defend itself”, says  US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. No UN member “would act with more restraint than Israel has.” said US Ambassador to the UN Nicki Halley.The lie becomes the truth. These statements are tantamount to an endorsement of crimes against humanity by the self-proclaimed “international community”.And the corporate media applauds. Palestinians are tagged as terrorists. While the Skripal affair was the object of extensive (invariably biased) coverage largely with a view to upholding Theresa May’s baseless accusations against Russia, the reports pertaining to the Gaza killings largely uphold the notion that “Israel has the right to defend itself”. The broader issue of crimes against humanity under international law is barely mentioned. What we are facing is the political acceptance of the Gaza massacre which is tantamount to the criminalization of the Western governments which represent us.

        Calls for international force for Gaza - Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for an "international peace force" to protect Palestinians after dozens were shot dead by Israeli forces on the Gaza border. Speaking at the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which was hosted in Istanbul on Friday, Erdogan said Israel should be held accountable for the killings. "To take action for Palestinians massacred by Israeli bandits is to show the whole world that humanity is not dead," Erdogan said. Muslim leaders pledged to take "appropriate political [and] economic measures" against countries that followed the US in moving their Israel embassies to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Erdogan, who is campaigning for re-election next month, used the summit to verbally attack Israel. He also castigated America, saying its decision to move its embassy had emboldened Israel to put down the protests at the border with Gaza with excessive force. Most countries say the status of Jerusalem - a sacred city to Jews, Muslims and Christians - should be determined in a final peace settlement between Israel and Palestinians and that moving their embassies now would prejudge any such deal. Donald Trump's step to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the embassy there reversed decades of US policy, upsetting the Arab world and Western allies. Guatemala last week became the second country to move its embassy to Jerusalem, and Paraguay said it would follow suit this month. The final declaration of the meeting of the OIC described the killing of 60 Palestinians, protesting against the embassy move on Monday, as "savage crimes committed by the Israeli forces with the backing of the US administration". It said the violence should be put on the agenda of the UN Security Council and General Assembly, and called on the United Nations to investigate the killings.

        Israel, US attempt to block Security Council resolution on Gaza - Israel and the United States made a joint effort Sunday to foil a similar Kuwaiti-Palestinian attempt to pass a resolution in the United Nations Security Council calling for the stationing of an international force in the Gaza Strip to defend Palestinians from "Israeli aggression."  The Israeli-American push was intended to head off Palestinian attempts to secure the nine country majority—out of the Security Council's 15 member states—needed to pass the resolution. The current council makeup could be said to be especially troublesome in this regard—with African, Asian and Latin American countries having a significant majority—giving Palestinians a more than fair chance of passing the resolution in its current wording. If that eventuality comes to pass, US Ambassador Nikki Haley has already promised to her Israeli counterpart Danny Danon that the US will exercise its veto power.  If the US does veto the pro-Palestinian measure, the Palestinian delegation has announced they will summarily appeal to the organization's General Assembly and pass it there, where they enjoy something of an automatic majority.  However, unlike the Security Council, the General Assembly's resolutions are merely declarative in nature and it lacks any concrete means to implement its resolutions.  The original draft resolution was submitted by Security Council member Kuwait, with the text speaking of defending civilians in zones of armed conflict and denouncing Israel for its excessive use of live fire against civilian protesters and for the killing and wounding of many civilians, including children, doctors and journalists.

        Image Of Jewish Temple Photoshopped Over Jerusalem Mosque Embroils US Embassy In Controversy   --As if US-Palestinian relations weren't already at the lowest point in perhaps all of history, they just sank even lower after a controversial photo (to put in mildly) surfaced of the American Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, receiving a large aerial photograph of Jerusalem as he toured the largely ultra-Orthodox Jewish city of Bnei Brak, just east of Tel Aviv.As Ambassador Friedman attended an event sponsored by an Israeli charity, one of the staff members presented him with the framed photograph which featured a photoshopped imagined Jewish Temple in the place where Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock currently stand.  The Israeli Haaretz newspaper describes the image as "bearing a simulation of the Third Temple" placed in the photograph at the heart of Jerusalem's walled old city, with the 'Third Temple' featured front and center. Israelis refer to the area on top of which Islam's third holiest mosque sits as the "Temple Mount" as it is purported to be the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times, now the location of the Western Wall. There has long been a Jewish and Christian Zionist movement dedicated to restoring the temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in about 70 A.D. an initiative that's practically impossible because it would mean razing the Islamic holy site. Concerning the long-term controversy that's raged over the fate of the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock, the US has long held its official position of observing the status quo of the separate religious communities being allowed access their respective sites.

        Erdogan calls on Muslim countries to unite and confront Israel - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on Muslim leaders to unite and confront Israel, days after scores of Palestinians were killed by Israeli snipers as they marked 70 years of Israeli occupation. Speaking at an extraordinary summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Friday, Erdogan said Israel should be held accountable over the killings which drew widespread international condemnation and triggered a wave of protests from Asia, through the Middle East, to North Africa."To take action for Palestinians massacred by Israeli bandits is to show the whole world that humanity is not dead," Erdogan told the group of Muslim leaders gathered in Turkey's largest city, Istanbul. The Turkish president described Israel's killing of Palestinians as "thuggery, atrocity and state terror," and said the US' recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital would inevitably haunt it.

        Turkey Repatriates All Gold From The US In Attempt To Ditch The Dollar - After Venezuela, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands prudently repatriated a substantial portion (if not all) of their physical gold held at the NY Fed or other western central banks in recent years, one month ago Turkey announced that it too has decided to repatriate its gold stored in the US Federal Reserve and deliver it to the Istanbul Stock Exchange, according to reports in Turkey's Yeni Safak. As we reported at the time, it wouldn't be the first time Turkey has asked the NY Fed to ship the country's gold back: in recent years, Turkey repatriated 220 tons of gold from abroad, of which 28.7 tons was brought back from the US last year.And now, according to a report by the Swiss Schweiz am Wochenende, the repatriation is complete with the Turkish central bank withdrawing all of its gold reserves from the U.S. due to the "tense political situation." However, in a strange twist, instead of moving the physical gold to Istanbul as the Turkish press reported in April, the Swiss newspaper notes that around 19 tons of Turkish gold is now stored at the Basel-based Bank for International Settlements. It was not immediately clear why Turkey would shift its gold from the NY Fed to the BIS, whose historical "gold rehypothecation" tendencies have been well documented over the years.  According to the latest IMF data, Turkey’s total gold reserves are estimated at 596 tons in May, up 5 tons since April, and worth just under $23 billion, rising 40% over the past year. This makes Ankara the 11th largest gold holder, behind the Netherlands and ahead of India.

        China’s ‘Social Credit Score’ Blacklists People for Bad Behavior (Who Decides?) - Wolf Richter - China’s ‘Brave New World’ move towards a mandatory ‘social credit’ system for all citizens by 2020 has already blocked people from 11 million flights and 4.25 million high-speed train trips, according to Chinese state-run media. The authorities have also used the social credit system to publish the names of 33,000 companies who have violated certain laws and regulations.But the question is, what determines poor social standing?China’s social credit system—which Western media have likened to the Netflix series Black Mirror—will “forge a public opinion environment where keeping trust is glorious. It will strengthen sincerity in government affairs, commercial sincerity, social sincerity and the construction of judicial credibility.”The system is similar to a financial credit score, but based on character and concocted from big data and artificial intelligence algorithms. Upstanding citizens have high scores, while others (public nuisances, dissidents, etc) will be ostracized, marginalized—or kicked off trains and planes, for instance.In the case of transportation, China is using the social credit system to punish citizens for bad behavior in various categories—from bad behavior on planes and trains, trying to get a free ride by using an expired ticket, contempt of court, or even getting caught smoking where they shouldn’t. In effect, China’s social credit system is a series of mini-blacklists because the punishment is intended to fit the crime. Bad behavior on planes and trains means you’re not getting on one.

        China's Terrifying "Social Credit" System Has Already Blocked 11 Million From Taking Flights - China’s terrifying ‘social credit’ system, which is a rating assigned to each citizen based on government data regarding their economic and social status, has effectively blocked more than 11.14 million flights and 4.25 million high-speed train trips at the end of April, according to a senior government official. Government officials first announced the proposal for a social credit system in 2014 — where each Chinese citizen would be rated according to their online, social, financial, and legal behavior. Misdeeds, such as late credit card payments, criminal record, jaywalking, using fake IDs, refusal to sign up for required insurance, and failing to pay taxes, could result in a travel ban for an extended period. The penalty for misdeeds went into full effect in May.  The government decides who gets these goods and services: (see infographics)   It is still unknown which misdeeds the government cracked down on to induce such a large number of travel bans within the country. Former deputy director of the development research center of the State Council, Hou Yunchun, is quoted by the Global Times as saying the system needs a few more tweaks so that “discredited people become bankrupt.” “If we don’t increase the cost of being discredited, we are encouraging discredited people to keep at it,” Hou was quoted by Sina Finance at an annual credit development forum in Beijing on Saturday.  In addition to blocking the flights and trains, the Global Times noted that the names of 33,000 companies which violated laws had been shamed on a public list, said Meng Wei, spokeswoman for the National Development and Reform Commission, via news website Those on the list could be denied loans, grants, and other forms of government assistance, Wei added.“Hou’s phrase that the ‘discredited people become bankrupt’ makes the point, but is an oversimplification,” Zhi Zhenfeng, a legal expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, told the Global Times. “How the person is restricted in terms of public services or business opportunities should be in accordance with how and to what extent he or she lost his credibility.”

        China Considers Ending Birth Limits as Soon as This Year-- China is planning to scrap all limits on the number of children a family can have, according to people familiar with the matter, in what would be a historic end to a policy that spurred countless human-rights abuses and left the world’s second-largest economy short of workers.The State Council, China’s cabinet, has commissioned research on the repercussions of ending the country’s roughly four-decade-old policy and intends to enact the change nationwide, said the people, who asked not to be named while discussing government deliberations. The leadership wants to reduce the pace of aging in China’s population and remove a source of international criticism, one of the people said.Proposals under discussion would replace the population-control policy with one called “independent fertility,” allowing people to decide how many children to have, the person said. The decision could be made as soon as the fourth quarter, the second person said, adding that the announcement might also be pushed into 2019."It’s late for China to remove birth limits even within this year but it’s better than never," said Chen Jian, a former division chief at the National Family Planning Commission, who’s now a vice president of the China Society of Economic Reform. "Scrapping birth limits will have little effect on the tendency of China’s declining births." The policy change would close the book on one of the largest social experiments in human history, which left the world’s most-populous country with a rapidly aging population and 30 million more men than women. The policies have forced generations of Chinese parents to pay fines, submit to abortions or raise children in the shadows. The U.S. and other Western nations have criticized the coercive measures required to enforce the birth limits, including steep fines, sterilization and forced abortions. The 2015 shift toward a two-child policy was part of a gradual effort to loosen the birth limits over the years as China’s working-age population began to wane.

        China Has Decided Russia Is Too Risky an Investment - On May 4, the planned investment by the Chinese company CEFC China Energy into Russian state oil giant Rosneft fell apart, eight months after it was first announced. The tie-up’s failure reveals the strict limits on the potential for energy cooperation between China — which is in the process of taking ownership of CEFC — and Russia, and with it a broader political alliance between the two countries. Beijing has come to view Rosneft more as a tool of the Russian state than a traditional oil company, and to the extent the two countries don’t share political priorities, China has little interest in any significant economic relationship. Although China is actively searching for new political and economic partners around the world, it seems to have decided the Russian government is too risky a political investment. Rosneft makes little effort to disguise its political motivations and its status as a major domestic political player throughout the Vladimir Putin era. When Yukos, then Russia’s largest oil company, was seized in 2004 following oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s fall from grace, its assets were ultimately transferred to Rosneft. Rosneft subsequently controlled 16 percent of domestic oil production. Today, the firm claims to produce about 40 percent of Russia’s oil output. Since Igor Sechin was named its CEO in May 2012, Rosneft has increasingly become a foreign-policy instrument. Sechin had previously overseen energy policy in his role as vice premier of Russia, and he foreshadowed his future plans for Rosneft in negotiating with BP over its Russian operations and by personally taking a leading role in developing Russian-Venezuelan cooperation. Russia’s shifting geopolitics coincided with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s launch of the Belt and Road Initiative to invest in and develop trade with dozens of countries, using China’s economic pull to enhance its influence and deepen political ties. Rosneft, which had recently agreed to double deliveries to China in one of the oil market’s largest-ever deals, seemed poised to benefit. Meanwhile, the previously little-known CEFC was launching its own foray into global markets, seemingly taking its cues from Beijing.

        Who will be the biggest losers from a China-US trade war truce? | South China Morning Post: Exporters in Brazil, Australia and Russia could feel the pinch if China switches suppliers of some of its big-ticket imports to head off a trade war with the United States, according to analysts. That was the assessment after two days of “constructive” high-level talks in Washington last week yielded a commitment from China to “substantially” reduce the trade imbalance between the two countries. As a result, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the US expected American agricultural exports to China to rise by between 35 and 40 per cent this year and energy purchases to double over the next three to five years. That could leave some of China’s trading partners, including its biggest soybean supplier Brazil, beef producer Australia, and even regional semiconductor makers, out in the cold if China shifts orders to the US.“The state-led efforts to increase China’s imports from the US will lead to trade diversion – other economies will see their exports to China fall as a result,” Louis Kuijs, chief Asia economist of Oxford Economics, wrote in a note. Washington wants Beijing to cut the bilateral trade gap by US$200 billion by the end of 2020, or more than half of last year’s US$375 billion difference, based on US figures. Kuijs said that target would be “practically impossible” to meet. One area where Washington is hoping to boost sales is in agriculture.US farm products accounted for about 20 per cent, or US$21 billion, of China’s agricultural imports last year. About two-thirds of this was in soybeans.

        China to significantly cut auto import tariffs from July - (Xinhua) -- China will cut import tariffs on vehicles and auto parts from July 1, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) announced Tuesday.For cars, the 25-percent tariff levied on 135 items and the 20-percent duty on four items will both be cut to 15 percent. The items cover passenger cars and certain trucks.Import tariffs on 79 auto parts will all be reduced to 6 percent from the current levels of 8-25 percent."China safeguards a multilateral trade system. Lowering auto import tariffs is a major step to expand reform and opening-up," the MOF said.After the cut, the average tariff on vehicles will stand at 13.8 percent, and 6 percent on parts. The new rates are "in line with the reality of the auto industry," the ministry said.China has 178 tariff items of vehicles in total, with an average tariff rate of 21.5 percent currently. It has 97 items for auto parts, with an average duty of 10.2 percent.After the tariff cut, China's vehicle import duties will be lower than the average for developing countries.Take passenger vehicles with nine or fewer seats as an example, the tariff will be reduced to 15 percent, compared with 9.8 percent in the European Union, 8 percent in the Republic of Korea, 60 percent in India and 35 percent in Brazil."Whether China will continue to cut auto import tariffs depends on the competitiveness and development of the auto industry," said the ministry.Cutting auto import tariffs to this degree will help supply-side structural reform and the upgrade of the auto industry, bringing greater quality and efficiency, according to the ministry.

        China orders farmers to grow more soybeans despite deal to buy more produce from US | South China Morning Post: Local authorities in China are encouraging their farmers to grow more soybeans despite the country’s agreement to buy more agricultural products from the United States. Soybeans make up around two thirds of America’s agricultural exports to China and Donald Trump welcomed the promise from Beijing – as part of the deal to avert a trade war – as “one of the best things to happen to our farmers in many years”. The US president also tweeted that China “will purchase from our Great American Farmers practically as much as our Farmers can produce”. Although the immediate threat of a trade war has receded, planners are still keen to diversify the country’s supplies of soybeans to reduce their reliance on one or two importers. China, the world’s largest soybean importer, relied on imports for 87 per cent of domestic consumption last year and steady supplies are vital for the country’s huge pork industry. It is now stepping up its efforts to grow more soybeans, although there is a long way to go before China can meaningfully cut its reliance on imports.

        China lands nuclear strike-capable bombers on South China Sea islands - China’s air force has landed bombers on islands and reefs in the South China Sea as part of a training exercise in the disputed region, it said in a statement. Several bombers of various types – including the long-range, nuclear strike-capable H-6K – carried out landing and take off drills at an unidentified island airfield after carrying out simulated strike training on targets at sea, the Chinese airforce said. “A division of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) recently organised multiple bombers such as the H-6K to conduct take-off and landing training on islands and reefs in the South China Sea in order to improve our ability to ‘reach all territory, conduct strikes at any time and strike in all directions’,” it said. The statement said the pilot of the H-6K bomber conducted assault training on a designated sea target and then carried out take-offs and landings at an airport in the area, describing the exercise as preparation for “the west Pacific and the battle for the South China Sea”. The notice, published on the PLAAF’s Weibo microblogging account, did not provide the precise location of the exercise. The US has dispatched warships to disputed areas of the South China Sea in a bid to challenge China’s extensive sovereignty claims in the territory, which is also subject to claims by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia. The waters are vital global shipping routes and contain what are believed to be significant oil and natural gas deposits.

         China protests being kicked out of US military exercise | South China Morning Post: China’s top diplomat denounced a rebuke by the US military while in Washington, the latest test of a bilateral relationship already damaged by recriminations on the economic front. The US military said it had disinvited China from a multinational military exercise to be held this summer in the Pacific as “an initial response” to what it called “China’s continued militarisation of the South China Sea”. News of the withdrawn invitation, which broke shortly before China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, prompted Wang to accuse the US of having a “negative mindset”. “China’s continued militarisation of disputed features in the South China Sea only serves to raise tensions and destabilise the region,” Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Logan, a spokesman at the US Defence Department, said in a statement explaining the withdrawal of China’s invitation to the 2018 Rim of the Pacific naval drills. “China’s behaviour is inconsistent with the principles and purposes of the Rim of the Pacific exercises.”

        Beijing Warns New Stealth Fighters Will Conduct Patrols In Taiwan's Airspace - Beijing has once again hinted that its new J-20 stealth fighter jets will conduct patrols around, or above, Taiwan’s airspace to pressure the island nation to reunify with China. The warning message recently announced by Wang Mingliang, a Chinese military strategist with the China National Defense University during special programming on China Central Television program about Taiwan.“J-20s can come and go at will above Taiwan,” said Mingliang, adding that Taiwan was frightened about “precision strikes on the leadership or key targets.” Mingliang said that the fifth-generation stealth jet is designed to pierce through Taiwan’s air defense identification zone and launch either reconnaissance or assault missions on the island. The military strategist said the stealth fighter could easily take on the “antiquated” F-16s and Mirage 2000s, which are still the backbone of Taiwan’s air defense. In other words, the Chinese strategist said the stealth fighters would reign supreme in any combat operations or dogfight above or around Taiwan.

        Taiwan sends aircraft to shadow Chinese bombers around island (Reuters) - Taiwan's air force scrambled aircraft on Friday as Chinese bombers flew around the self-ruled island, just a few hours after Taiwan vowed not to be cowed having lost another diplomatic ally amid growing Chinese pressure.Taiwan is China's most sensitive territorial issue and a potential dangerous military flashpoint. China claims the island as its sacred territory and has vowed not to allow any attempts at what it views as Taiwan separatism.Tension between democratic Taiwan and its big neighbour has increased in recent months, with China suspicious the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen wants to push for the island's formal independence.Tsai, who took offer in 2016, says she wants to maintain the status quo, but will protect Taiwan's security and not be bullied by Beijing.In the latest flight by Chinese aircraft around Taiwan, two H-6 bombers passed through the Bashi Channel which separates Taiwan from the Philippines in the early hours of Friday and then rounded Taiwan via Japan's Miyako Strait, to Taiwan's northeast, the island's defence ministry said.Taiwan aircraft accompanied and monitored the Chinese bombers throughout, the ministry said, describing the Chinese aircraft as being on a long-range training mission.The people of Taiwan should not be alarmed as the air force was well able to monitor the Chinese aircraft as they approach and during their missions and can ensure Taiwan's security, the ministry added.There was no immediate word from China. It has said these missions, which have become increasingly frequent, are to send a warning to Taiwan not to engage in separatist activity.

        The Emerging China-Iran-Pakistan Alliance Is Directed Decidedly Against The United States - In a January 10, 2018 Daily Caller article titled “China May Have Just Brokered An Iran-Pakistan Accommodation,” I outlined the extensive diplomatic and military initiatives underway in the past year to foster reconciliation between Iran and Pakistan, orchestrated behind the scenes by China. That strategy supports the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s blueprint for global hegemony. It is a development plan, a program of infrastructure projects and a network of commercial agreements designed to link the world directly to the Chinese economy through inter-connected land-based and maritime routes. As French Asia expert, Nadége Rolland noted, BRI is soft power projection with an underlying hard power component, a comprehensive China-centered economic, financial and geopolitical web with far-reaching, cascading consequences affecting American national interests. It is not just resource acquisition or utilization of China’s industrial over-capacity, but projects specifically designed to ensure economic and, in parallel, military dominance.As China expands commercially, the Chinese military, in particular its navy, will advance concomitantly to protect China’s growing economic empire, as did the British in an earlier era. Chinese intent is to gain access to a number of harbors and airports to create a chain of mutually-supporting military facilities. China’s plans to expand its naval footprint in Pakistan have accompanied signs of increasing military cooperation between Tehran and Beijing over the last several years. In June 2017, Iranian warships joined a Chinese naval flotilla conducting exercises in the Persian Gulf. The Chinese ships also made an official visit to the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas after having earlier docked in Karachi, Pakistan. Chinese efforts towards Iran-Pakistan cooperation have also borne fruit. In recent months, there has been a flurry of agreements in trade, defense, weapons development, counter-terrorism, banking, train service, parliamentary cooperation and — most recently — art and literature.

        N. Korea preps nuclear site demolition despite US summit doubts -- Invited foreign journalists began a long journey up North Korea's east coast Wednesday to witness the slated destruction of the reclusive regime's nuclear test site, a high profile gesture on the road to a summit with the US that Donald Trump now says might not happen. In a surprise announcement Pyongyang said earlier this month that it planned to "completely" destroy the Punggye-ri facility in the country's northeast, a move welcomed by Washington and Seoul. Punggye-ri has been the staging ground for all six of the North's nuclear tests, including its latest and by far most powerful one in September last year, which Pyongyang said was an H-bomb. The demolition is due to take place sometime between Thursday and Friday, depending on the weather. The North has portrayed the move as a goodwill gesture ahead of a planned June 12 summit between Kim and Trump in Singapore. But doubts have since been cast by both sides on whether that historic meeting will take place. Last week Pyongyang threatened to pull out if Washington pressed for its unilateral nuclear disarmament. Trump also said the meeting could be delayed as he met with South Korean leader Moon Jae-in in Washington on Tuesday. "There are certain conditions we want to happen. I think we'll get those conditions. And if we don't, we won't have the meeting," he told reporters, without elaborating on what those conditions might be. 

         North Korea dismantles nuclear test site ahead of US summit -- - North Korea said it had fully demolished its only known nuclear test site on Thursday (May 24) with a series of planned detonations that put the facility beyond further use, in a planned move portrayed by the isolated regime as a goodwill gesture ahead of a potential summit next month with the United States.“The Nuclear Weapons Institute of the DPRK held a ceremony for completely dismantling the northern nuclear test ground on May 24... to ensure transparency of the discontinuence of nuclear test,” the institute said in an English language statement carried on the state-run KCNA news agency.Pyongyang announced its plan to "completely" dismantle the Punggye-ri facility in the country's northeast, inviting some foreign journalists to witness the destruction.“There was a huge explosion, you could feel it. Dust came at you, the heat came at you. It was extremely loud,” Mr Tom Cheshire, a journalist for Sky News who was among those invited to attend the ceremony, wrote on the British broadcaster’s website.  Yonhap news agency, citing South Korean pool reporters at the scene, said multiple explosions were heard throughout the day, beginning at 11am (0300 GMT) until 4.17pm.  Punggye-ri has been the staging ground for all six of the North’s nuclear tests, including its latest and by far most powerful one in September last year, which Pyongyang said was an H-bomb.  Experts are divided over whether the demolition will render the site useless. Sceptics say the facility has already outlived its usefulness with six successful nuclear tests in the bag and can be quickly rebuilt if needed. North Korea also did not invite any independent observers from overseas.

        A bullet was sent to the home of Malaysia's top anti-corruption official investigating a former prime minister — and now he's back to finish what he started -- The head of Malaysia's anti-corruption commission had a bullet sent to his home during the investigation of a financial scandal that implicated former prime minister Najib Razak. Mohd Shukri Abdull, chief of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), told reporters on Tuesday that during a 2015 investigation into how billions of dollars when missing from state investment fund 1MDB he was repeatedly threatened and told he would be "arrested and locked up.""I was threatened to be fired, asked to retire early, take leave early, and be pulled into the training department," Shukri said, adding that witnesses he interviewed were "taken away."  "I was sent a bullet to my house. I never told my wife or my family. I never even made a police report," Shukri said.  He added: "We wanted to bring back money that was stolen back to our country. Instead we were accused of bringing down the country, we were accused of being traitors," tearing up during his remarks. "I cried like a baby. I felt very guilty. Former MACC chief Abu Kassim and I have been accused of betrayal."  Shukri was previously MACC's deputy chief commissioner but resigned in an emotional speech in 2016, saying he had been accused of trying to overthrow the government and urged his collagues to "be brave."  He was appointed head of the commission after Malaysia's new prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, beat Najib at the polls nearly two weeks ago. It was a shock result and the opposition alliance now holds power for the first time in the country's independent history.

        Huge setback for Modi as BJP fails floor test in Karnataka | Asia Times: In a massive setback for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the interim government abandoned its three-day effort to raise a majority in India’s southern state of Karnataka. The Karnataka polls were seen by many as a key barometer for success in the 2019 general elections when Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be seeking a re-election. Not only did the BJP fail to get a majority on its own, despite winning more seats than the ruling Congress, it also failed to attract allies to its cause. The latter will be a bigger worry for the BJP as it gears up for 2019. Most political observers agree that in the 2014 general elections, the BJP had peaked due to the “Modi wave.” That wave has dissipated and the party appears increasingly isolated. So in 2019, it may gain the most votes and yet still not have enough to form a government. As the results emerged on May 15, the BJP could get only 104 seats, well short of the 112 it needed for a simple majority. The Congress, with 78 seats, and the Janata Dal (Secular) (JD-S), with 38 had the numbers. They quickly forged an alliance and formally asked the state’s governor to invite the coalition to form a government.

        With Surging Oil and a Nervous Rupee, Is India’s Macro Magic Starting to Fade? -- The rupee could come under mounting pressure in coming days as a strong crude oil market is hurting India’s macroeconomic stability, which could in turn spur flight of capital.  India’s current account deficit (CAD), a key barometer of macroeconomic stability for foreign investors, is especially vulnerable to oil price shock. But with Brent crude oil hitting the $80-mark this week, a development that is expected to add another $50 billion to India’s import bill, the Modi government needs permanent currency flows to cushion a potentially widening CAD.   These currency flows can come in the form of foreign direct investment (FDI) and foreign portfolio investment (FPI) in equity. Unfortunately, there are some signs of foreign investors exiting India over a number of a factors, one of which includes concerns over the current account deficit.  According to market estimates, India could see permanent foreign currency outflow to the tune of of $45 billion in 2018-19, a level not seen since 2012-13. The rupee has fallen by more than 2% against US dollar this month. It opened at 66.452 against the greenback on May 1. The Indian currency has been on a rollercoaster since then and closed at 68.01 on May 18. On Monday, it plunged to 67.51 against the greenback,hitting  a 16-month low. Then again on Friday, it lost nearly half a percent to the dollar as fear of higher oil prices and rising US treasury yields haunted overseas investors and domestic importers. On Wednesday, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had to intervene in the forex market from going on a downward spiral. The rupee has fallen more than 6% against the dollar in 2018 after strengthening 6.4% in 2017.

        Police Open Fire on Pollution Protesters in India, Killing at Least 9 - A protest of a controversial copper smelter in the Tamil Nadu state on the southeastern tip of India took a violent turn Tuesday when police opened fire on demonstrators, killing at least nine, Reuters reported .On Wednesday, as another person was killed and others injured by gunfire during continued unrest, the Madras High Court ordered the smelter to put plans to double its size on hold, Reuters further reported .The smelter, located in the port city of Thootukudi, is one of the largest in the country and is run by the London-based Vedanta Resources, one of the largest mining companies in the world, according to The Guardian .Community members and environmental activists have been protesting the plant and its proposed expansion for three months, saying that it emits air pollution and water pollution and is hurting the health of human residents and fish. The protests come as India is struggling to combat deadly pollution. Wednesday's court order required authorities to hold a "mandatory" hearing open to the public on Vedanta's environmental clearance application and said the "appropriate authorities" would consider that application, Reuters reported.Before the court's decision, the local pollution regulator had ordered the plant shut until June 6 for failing to comply with environmental rules. It has been shut for 50 days so far, but activists want to see it closed permanently."The inaction of the government has led to the people's protests, and police resorting to firing to control it. Action should be taken to shut down the plant immediately to address this issue," leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam opposition group M.K. Stalin said in a Facebook post, according to Reuters.

        "It's Ridiculous" - Parents Furious As Australia Seeks To Ban Use Of "Boy" Or "Girl" In Books - "For goodness sake, this is social engineering gone crazy...Leave kids alone to be kids. Stop trying to destroy kids’ childhoods..."That is an example of the furious reaction from parents in Victoria, Australia where the local city council has announced plans to audit children’s books and toys with a plan to ban them from kindergartens, schools and libraries if they don’t meet strict gender guidelines. The Herald Sun reports that the local government's justice warriors were inspired by research from the Australian National University that showed children were influenced by gender stereotyping, and urged a ban on the terms 'boy' and 'girl'.The research suggests educators should “minimise the extent to which gender is labelled” and avoid telling children what girls and boys should do.Parents reacted angrily to the story on social media...“This needs to stop. I’ve got a two-year-old daughter (yes I picked her gender based on what genitals she was born with) and she plays with cars, trains, tractors, Barbies, dolls and uses her imagination and pretends she’s cooking food or being a doctor... Let’s just let kids be kids.”

        100s Of White South African Farmers Apply To Australia For Humanitarian Rescue -  Back in February, after literally years of scandal, abuse, and incompetence, South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma was finally forced to resign last week, and new President, Cyril Ramaphosa, was supposed to represent a positive, new chapter for South Africa. However, as Simon Black wrote at the time, Ramaphosa addressed the nation’s parliament in Cape Town and made clear that his priority is to heal the divisions and injustice of the past, going all the way back to the original European colonists in the 1600s taking land from the indigenous tribes.Ramaphosa called this “original sin”, and stated that he wants to see “the return of the land to the people from whom it was taken… to heal the divisions of the past.”How does he plan on doing that? Confiscation. Specifically– confiscation without compensation.“The expropriation of land without compensation is envisaged as one of the measures that we will use to accelerate redistribution of land to black South Africans.” And as we noted at the time, 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. Ramaphosa minced no words: he’s talking about taking land from white farmers and giving it to black South Africans. And as Australia's reported, the racially charged issue of land rights and farm murders has been the subject of fierce debate in the country and internationally. According to civil rights group Afriforum, which represents around 200,000 white farmers largely from the Afrikaner minority, 82 people were killed in a record 423 attacks on farms last year. In 2018 so far, there have already been 109 attacks and more than 15 murders. “Our rural areas are trapped in a crime war,” Afriforum head of safety Ian Cameron said in a statement, adding that torture with irons, blowtorches, melted plastic and boiling water often continued for hours during the attacks. “Although the South African government denies that a violence crisis is staring rural areas in the face, the numbers prove that excessive violence plague these areas. Government cannot deny the facts — our people are being mowed down.”

        All 34 Bishops In Chile Suddenly Resign Over "Absolutely Deplorable" Pedophile Priest Scandal --All 34 bishops in Chile have tendered their resignations in the wake of yet another pedophile priest scandal in which high level officials covered up the institutionalized sexual abuse of minors - even threatening officials tasked with investigating sex crimes and the destruction of evidence. Thirty-one active bishops and three who are signed a document with their offers to resign following an emergency meeting this week with Pope Francis. Francis can accept the resignations one by one, reject them outright or delay a decision.  Calls had mounted for the resignations after details emerged of the contents of a 2,300-page Vatican report into the Chilean scandal leaked early Friday. Francis had accused the bishops of destroying evidence of sex crimes, pressuring investigators to minimize abuse accusations and showing 'grave negligence' in protecting children from paedophile priests.In one of the most damning documents from the Vatican on the issue, Francis said the entire Chilean church hierarchy was collectively responsible for 'grave defects' in handling cases and the resulting loss of credibility that the Catholic Church has suffered. -Daily Mail "No one can exempt himself and place the problem on the shoulders of the others," Francis wrote in the document published by Chile's T13 television and confirmed as accurate Friday by the Vatican. Responding to the 2,300-page report, Chilean bishops called the contents of the document "absolutely deplorable," and showed an "unacceptable abuse of power and conscience," along with sexual abuse.  The bishops asked for forgiveness from the victims, the Pope and all Catholics worldwide.

        Venezuela Election Results: Nicolás Maduro Wins Second Term - Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro won a second six-year term on Sunday in an election marked by accusations of fraudulent voting, in a country that has plummeted into the ranks of the most troubled on earth.Maduro now stands to lead Venezuela until at least 2024.Venezuela’s election board, which has ties to Maduro, said the president won 5.8 million votes, while his closest rival Henri Falcón took 1.8 million, and a third candidate, evangelical minister Javier Bertucci, took 925,000. It pegged turnout at only 46.1 percent, down from 80 percent in 2013. Most opposition voices had urged voters to boycott the vote in a protest to highlight Maduro’s lack of legitimacy, but Falcón went ahead with his candidacy, angering some government opponents.Maduro had banned the biggest opposition parties from participating in the election, and arrested activists and potential political rivals in recent months. Rivals said he compelled citizens to vote for him by promising food and money to citizens. “The process undoubtedly lacks legitimacy and as such we do not recognize it,” Falcón said. Maduro replaced Hugo Chavez after Chavez died in 2013, but has never matched his charismatic predecessor’s popularity,  and has sunk in esteem even among supporters as he has presided over the once affluent country’s collapse.

        One Billion Chickens May Die As Trucker Strike Paralyzes Brazil -- A billion Brazilian chickens and 20 million pigs may die within days - starving to death amid a nationwide truckers' strike over soaring fuel prices which has prevented critical supplies such as animal feed from reaching their destinations. [E]xport group ABPA said a billion chickens and 20 million swines may die in coming days due to a lack of feed." –Bloomberg  As the strike entered its fifth day on Friday - completely ignoring a Thursday night agreement, Sao Paulo declared a state of emergency due to the lack of vital resources for its more than 12 million residents. President Michel Temer deployed national security forces to unblock roads amid warnings that supply disruptions risk causing a public calamity.“I have actioned the federal security forces to unblock highways and I am asking governors to do the same,” Temer said in a televised address on Friday. “We will not let the population do without its primary needs.”"Those who act in a radical manner are harming the population and they will be held responsible."Temer chose to deploy federal forces after meeting with ministers for a "safety assessment" in the country, as the truckers' strike continued, despite the agreement between the government and representatives of the category on Thursday night.The government has also called the Federal Supreme Court for the strike of the truck drivers to be declared illegal. –Globo

        Lira Heads for Crisis Mode on Eve of Erdogan's Election Speech   Turkey is entering the throes of a full-blown currency crisis.The lira suffered its biggest loss in almost a decade Wednesday on a closing basis as trader confidence in the central bank’s willingness to halt its slide all but evaporated. It sank as much as 5.2 percent, nearing an unprecedented low of 5 per dollar, and was 3.8 percent lower as of 3:41 p.m. in Istanbul.Policy makers “must hike now,” said Cristian Maggio, the head of emerging-market strategy at TD Securities in London. “There’s no limit to how far this could go because this is becoming a currency crisis.” Eventually, Turks will start selling too, and then there will be “total loss of confidence,” he said. The lira has fallen every day but three during May, putting it on course for its worst month in a decade, as the combination of the strengthening dollar, a widening current-account deficit and a central bank reluctant to act rattles investors. The latest turmoil was triggered when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has long opposed interest-rate increases, said this month he intends to take more responsibility for monetary policy if he wins the June 24 election.  With policy makers on the sidelines, traders will be looking for a response from Erdogan when he speaks in Ankara tomorrow to formally kick off his election campaign. The retreat underscores a more global switch in sentiment toward the most vulnerable emerging markets as the dollar and U.S. Treasury yields rise. The lira has lost 17 percent of its value versus the dollar this month as currencies across developing nations declined, followed closely by the Argentine peso. The Argentine central bank has raised rates to 40 percent to help support the currency. Commerzbank AG’s London-based analyst Tatha Ghose said the central bank needs to raise its late liquidity lending rate to a minimum of 20 percent. Meanwhile, Devan Kaloo, the global head of equities at Aberdeen Standard Investment, said it’s a matter of time before Erdogan concedes and allows borrowing costs to rise.

        Turkey Turkish lira in tailspin as Erdogan spooks investors -- With snap presidential and parliamentary polls only a month away, Turkey is grappling with currency turmoil that has stoked apprehension over Ankara’s ability to contain its growing economic woes. Not so long ago, in 2007, the dollar was worth 1.3 Turkish liras. This a far cry from where the lira has sunk in recent weeks as the central bank watched from the sidelines, restrained by a president averse to raising interest rates. On May 23, the lira plunged to a historic low of 4.92 against the dollar, losing as much as 5% in value, before the central bank finally hiked rates in an emergency move to salvage the currency and calm investors. Yet, given the confidence crisis gripping the markets, the price of the dollar might well break the psychological barrier of 5 liras before the June 24 elections. How did the problem snowball to that point?Though the lira had fallen all but three days this month, market hopes for a central bank intervention were unmet. The bank made do with a verbal intervention May 16, which read, “[The central bank] is closely monitoring the unhealthy price formations in the markets. Necessary steps will be taken, also considering the impact of these developments on the inflation outlook.” The dollar retreated for only hours before shooting up anew in the absence of a forceful measure.The central bank’s credibility took another blow later in the day, when its governor — the head of a supposedly independent institution — was summoned to a meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the most unlikely of places: the Justice and Development Party headquarters.The currency issue came atop Erdogan’s trip to London on May 13-15, which badly shook foreign investor confidence in Turkey. In a series of interviews and meetings with global money managers, Erdogan disappointed anyone who had hoped he would use the opportunity to allay misgivings over Ankara’s management of the economy. Rather than reassuring investors, he argued for policies that defy economic orthodoxy and declared his intent to assume a greater say on interest rates if he wins the election, flouting the central bank's independence.

        EU turns toward Russia as transatlantic relations strain at seams - European countries are turning to Russia as an ally in their confrontation with Washington over Donald Trump’s tariff measures and sanctions spree against Moscow and Tehran. In this context German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit has marked a potential thaw in EU-Russia relations. Russia has apparently emerged as a potential EU strategic partner, as the bloc is seeking ways to resist US President Donald Trump’s trade policies and Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s May 18 meeting with President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi has come as a signal of a potential thaw in relations between Moscow and the EU following the bloc’s introduction of anti-Russia sanctions over Crimea’s reunification with the state in 2014.“We spoke about the difficult situation amid the US withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal. Germany, the United Kingdom, France and all our colleagues in the European Union are supporting this agreement and we are going to continue to abide by it in the future,” Merkel told a joint press conference.During the Sochi summit Merkel and Putin not only reiterated their commitment to the JCPOA, but also signaled their determination to further implement the Nord Stream 2 project and deepen business ties between the countries. Germany is one of the most important trade and economic partners of Russia, second only to China. Russia supplies a third of Germany’s natural gas and oil demands. In 2017 the trade turnover between the countries increased by almost 25 percent for the first time since 2014.Besides the introduction of additional tariffs on steel and aluminum imports in March by the US president, Trump’s anti-Russia sanctions spree hit European and Germany’s businesses. Washington’s April restrictions against some of Russian individuals and companies such as carmaker GAZ and aluminum group Rusal were specifically painful for the Germans, as they have been closely cooperating with the firms. 

        Europe’s longest bridge and the economic impact on the Crimean peninsula - Immediately after the annexation of the Crimean peninsula, President Putin flagged off an ambitious parallel bridge project to span the Strait of Kerch between the Taman Peninsula of Krasnodar Krai and the Kerch Peninsula of Crimea. The bridge was estimated to stretch 11.2 miles long, making it Europe’s longest bridge. The Kerch Strait Bridge, or more commonly called the Crimean Bridge was finally opened to road traffic last week by President Putin, with the rail link scheduled to open in early 2019. Dubbed the “project of the century” the bridge has been in the offing for over a century. It was first suggested for a railway route construction from England to India through the Crimean peninsula in the 1870s, but was turned down due to the potential expense incurred while building it. Fast forward to today, the U.S. and some European countries have condemned the opening of the bridge, stating that it is a flagrant attempt by Russia to further strengthen its position on a piece of land unlawfully seized from Ukraine.  The Crimean bridge has four road lanes and is expected to witness 14 million people crossing over it every year, which Putin believes would help in integrating Crimea into Russia and not remain a forgotten hinterland. The bridge would be a welcome relief for Crimean residents, who have been largely pro-Russian, but have suffered due to high prices of ration and goods after being carved out of Ukraine.The trucks can traverse the distance in 20 minutes, which significantly cuts the time taken by ferries to reach Crimea from mainland Russia, thus bolstering the economy of the peninsula. Russian state television projected a 2-3% growth in the Crimean GDP over the next year and also a 15% reduction in the cost of goods. The bridge would also serve well to improve tourism, which has been a hard sell in the years following the annexation.

        Italy's Populists Seek New Premier Amid Euro Warning -Italy’s two populist parties agreed on a prime minister, sealing a government deal amid a warning by France to avoid putting the euro area’s stability at risk.With the anti-immigration League and the Five Star Movement set to propose a cabinet to President Sergio Mattarella as early as Monday, Florence University law professor Giuseppe Conte emerged as a possible premier. League head Matteo Salvini and Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio held off on making names public before meeting the head of state. “We closed the deal this morning on the candidate for premier and ministers, so we are ready to get started,” Salvini said in a video posted on his party’s Facebook site after he and Di Maio met on Sunday.  Eleven weeks after a general election, the endgame followed a week of turmoil in Italian bonds and stocks triggered by reports about the coalition’s spending plans and rejection of European Union budget rules. The 10-year yield spread over German bonds ended Friday at 165 basis points, the most since October, prompting a word of caution from Paris. “If the new government took the risk of not respecting its commitments on debt, the deficit and the cleanup of banks, the financial stability of the entire euro zone will be threatened,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Sunday in an interview with Europe 1 radio.  Salvini fired back on Twitter, suggesting the warning was “unacceptable” interference. “Italians first!” he said.Di Maio said the cabinet lineup, if approved by the president, would include a joint minister of economic development and labor to be headed by Five Star. The post could go to Di Maio himself, while Salvini is to be proposed as interior minister and Conte is the nominee for prime minister, Corriere della Sera newspaper said, citing people if didn’t identify.  The League gave Italians a say on the draft coalition platform this weekend at party-organized events across the nation, though it boiled down the 58-page agenda to just one page and 10 key areas, omitting the anti-establishment Five Star’s top policy plank: a minimum income for poorer citizens.

        Italy’s Populists Move Closer to Power, With Little-Known Pick for Prime Minister - NYT — In a significant step toward forming an anti-establishment government in the European Union’s fourth largest economy, the leaders of Italy’s populist parties asked the country’s president on Monday to accept a little-known law professor as their consensus candidate for prime minister. “The name we gave to the President of the Republic is the name of Giuseppe Conte,” Luigi Di Maio, the leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, told reporters after meeting with the president, who has the power to reject the nomination. Mr. Di Maio called Mr. Conte “a professional of the highest level,” intimately aware with the nation’s problems as a child of the peripheral south. Mr. Conte, he said, “is a self-made man and he’s a tough guy. ” He added, “You all will see.” A dapper 54-year-old civil law professor with a taste for cuff links and white pocket kerchiefs, Mr. Conte has a long résumé working for Roman law firms and associating with top-ranking Vatican cardinals. But with no political base or government experience, Mr. Conte’s main qualification may well be his willingness to carry out a government agenda agreed upon by the populist party leaders. That agenda, which calls for lifting of sanctions against Russia, the revisiting of the bloc’s budget rules and crackdowns on immigration, has already sent jitters through European markets and raised concerns that the erosion of the European Union may come from within its western European core. The nomination of Mr. Conte did not exactly assuage those concerns.

        Lib-Pop Politics: Italy’s New Government Is More Neoliberal Than Populist -  The Italian version is here. A new Italian government is in the making, with an unprecedented alliance between the Five Stars Movement (33% of votes in the March 2018 elections; 36% of seats in the House of Deputies) and the Lega (17% of votes; 20% of seats). The view that ‘populist barbarians have conquered Rome’ is a gross misunderstanding. Lega has already governed for nine years in Berlusconi governments supporting every neoliberal policy that has favoured finance, business and the European integration they now criticise. The Five Stars are ready to compromise on everything with anyone – Washington, Brussels, business, finance, the military – for their turn in power, knowing that their large support is at best temporary. The result – rhetoric aside – is that pro-rich neoliberal policies dominate the new government agenda, tinted with a shade of populism, offering modest pro-poor and harsh anti-immigrant action. Lib-pop politicsis how we might describe Italy’s new political experiment. The Five Stars are ready to compromise on everything with anyone…  knowing that their large support is at best temporary. The clear political winner is Lega’s leader, Matteo Salvini, who has turned the Northern ‘separatist’ Lega Nord into a nationwide nationalist, reactionary party, mirroring France’s Front National. He quadrupled Lega’s votes (in 2013 they were 4%); in Northern counties of Lombardy and Veneto Lega reaching 33 to 38% of the votes, with the centre-right coalition well over 50% (an analysisof the election results is here). He ran in a centre-right coalition where he emerged as the clear leader, with the Lega obtaining more votes than Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (14%) and the post-fascists of Fratelli d’Italia stuck on 4%.He managed to obtain from his coalition partners a green light for the government alliance with the Five Stars, thus keeping together – in spite of squabbles – a coalition that last March had procured 37% of votes and is close to obtaining in any future election an overall majority of seats (within reach if they obtain about 42% of votes under current electoral rules). His centre-right allies promised mild opposition and parliamentary support for the (many) policies they will like. Salvini is in the unique position of leading from the extreme right a broad centre-right coalition that includes moderates and élite groups; in no other major European country does such an alliance exist.

        Italy: Most right-wing government since Mussolini -- Italy faces the formation of the most right-wing government since Mussolini’s overthrow 73 years ago. On Sunday, the protest Five Star Movement (M5S) and the right-wing extremist Lega agreed on a joint government programme and a prime minister, the law professor Giuseppe Conte, who is close to Five Star. President Sergio Mattarella must now decide whether to grant the coalition the government mandate. The government programme bears the xenophobic imprimatur of the Lega. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are to be deported to their countries of origin in Africa and the Middle East, held in detention centres for up to 18 months to this end. Lega boss Matteo Salvini wants to personally take over the responsibility for these mass deportations as the new interior minister.Like other far-right parties with which it cooperates at the European level, the Lega employs anti-immigrant rhetoric and the persecution of refugees to incite a chauvinist hysteria, to justify increasing state powers and to attack the democratic and social rights of the entire working class.The European media and politicians of all stripes have made a fuss about the coalition’s intention to introduce a so-called basic income and the partial lifting of earlier pension reforms that drastically increased the retirement age. They see this as an attack on the stability criteria of the eurozone, which serve to justify ever more attacks on the working class.French Finance and Commerce Minister Bruno Le Maire warned that “if the new government runs the risk of failing to meet its obligations for public debt, deficit and bank restructuring, then the financial stability of the eurozone is in jeopardy.” EU Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis urged the parties to respect budgetary discipline. There is no doubt that in the conflict between the working class and capital, the Lega and M5S stand firmly on the side of the latter. They are merely pursuing a more aggressive nationalist course than previous Italian governments, which were always loyal to the European Union. Inspired by Donald Trump, the motto of the new government is “Italy first.”

         As Italy struggles to form a government, Moody's threatens downgrade - (Reuters) - Italy’s prime minister-designate labored to finalize his cabinet team on Friday, as markets tumbled and ratings agency Moody’s threatened a sovereign debt downgrade on fears the incoming government will embark on a spending spree. Giuseppe Conte, a political novice with no managerial or administrative experience, was given a mandate on Wednesday to form a government made up of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the far right League, following inconclusive elections in March. The two parties have agreed a program that includes slashing taxes and ramping up spending, which prompted Moody’s late on Friday to place Italy’s ‘Baa2’ debt rating - two notches above junk status - under review for a possible downgrade. The rating agency’s move may exacerbate tensions on markets, which have already slid on fears that the incoming eurosceptic government will undermine fragile state finances. Markets are particularly on edge over the League’s insistence on giving the pivotal role of economy minister to 81-year-old economist Paolo Savona, who has questioned Italy’s membership of the euro. “I’m very angry,” League leader Matteo Salvini said on Facebook on Friday evening, in an apparent reference to the dispute over Savona’s position. “Nobody should fear change,” he said earlier in the day, adding that he was working on a government that would make Italy “a protagonist in Europe and in the world”. The gap between Italian and German bond yields, a key measure of euro zone stress, surged to 216 basis points, its widest for four years, while Italy’s bank stock index hit an 11-month low. Italy’s 2.3 trillion euro ($2.7 trillion) debt - the world’s third-largest and equivalent to more than 1.3 times the domestic output - makes the country vulnerable. Moody’s cited a risk that the new government may fail to reduce public debt as key to its decision to review Italy’s rating.

        Saudis Halt Orders From German Companies; Crown Prince "Deeply Offended" - Well this is going to hurt: Der Spiegel reports that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has ordered that all government contracts cease being awarded to German companies in what's being interpreted as an aggressive punitive measure after a year of already deteriorating Saudi-German relations and as Germany has expressed its plan to stick by the Iran nuclear deal.Der Spiegel cites companies with long-term partnerships inside Saudi Arabia as already being impacted; however, there's still little clear confirmation on how far reaching the move will be: "Citing no sources, it said the move was likely to hit major companies such as Siemens, Bayer and Boehringer Ingelheim as well as carmaker Daimler,"according to Reuters, citing the Der Spiegel report published late Friday. Germany generated 2017 exports worth 6.6 billion euros ($7.7 billion), according to official German figures, and is deeply invested in multiple major Saudi infrastructural projects, as Der Spiegal explains, "Some 800 German companies are active in the country, and 200 have offices in Saudi Arabia with a total of 40,000 employees," which could be severely impacted, depending on how far the Saudis are willing to go.

        GDPR: US news sites unavailable to EU users under new rules - BBC News: Some high-profile US news websites are temporarily unavailable in Europe after new EU data protection rules came into effect. The Chicago Tribune and LA Times were among those saying they were currently unavailable in most European countries. Meanwhile complaints were filed against US tech giants within hours of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) taking effect. GDPR gives EU citizens more rights over how their information is used. It is an effort by EU lawmakers to limit tech firms' powers. Under the rules, companies working in the EU - or any association or club in the bloc - must show they have a lawful basis for processing personal data, or face hefty fines. There are six legal bases for using personal data, including getting express consent from consumers. However, in most cases firms must also show that they need the personal data for a specific purpose.

        Putin: Skripals Would Not Have Survived 'Military Grade' Nerve Agent --Upon learning of Sergei Skripal’s discharge from the hospital, Putin was happy to hear of his recovery. Although, he reiterated that he was doubtful that their malady was caused by poisoning of a military grade nerve agent.About a month ago, Yulia Skripal had recovered and was released from hospital care, meaning that both of the victims are presently doing well. RT reports:Russian President Vladimir Putin says he was happy to hear that former double agent Sergei Skripal had been discharged from hospital, stressing that if a weapons-grade poison had been used, Skripal would have died on the spot.Speaking at a joint press conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Putin said he had heard Skripal had been released from hospital.“God give him health, we are very happy,” the Russian president said. He added, however, that he doubts a weapons-grade toxin was used to poison Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, UK, in early March.“I think that if, as our British colleagues claim, a weapons-grade poison had been used, that person would be dead on the spot. Combat chemicals are so strong that the person either dies immediately or within seconds, maybe minutes,” Putin said. He also reiterated Russia’s willingness to help the investigation. “We have offered our British partners all the necessary help numerous times, and asked for access to the investigation. There has been no answer so far. Our offer remains on the table,” the Russian leader concluded.

           Spanish exports already feeling the brunt of Brexit - Up until now, British tourism to Spain has been largely unaffected by the United Kingdom’s upcoming exit from the European Union. But the same cannot be said for the sale of Spanish goods. According to a report by the Bank of Spain published on Thursday, the strong, consecutive growth of Spanish exports to the UK came to a halt in 2017 after five years of progress.The report found that sales of Spanish goods to Britain fell by 6% last year, as uncertainty over Brexit caused the pound to retreat against the euro. At the same time, Spanish exports to the European Union rose by 8%. In other words, according to the Bank of Spain, Brexit is already affecting Spain’s foreign trade.  Sales of Spanish goods to Britain fell by 6% last year The growth of Spanish exporting companies to the UK also came to a halt in 2017, falling by 0.8%. “This drop has been higher than what we have seen for other destinations,” says the Bank of Spain report.According to the Office of the State Secretary of Commerce, 7% of all Spanish exporting companies trade with the United Kingdom. Between 2012 and 2017, the number of exporting businesses jumped by 8% to 11,695 – a fourth of which only sell to the British islands. These companies are considered to be “the most vulnerable” by the Bank of Spain and even more at risk if their products are difficult to replace. Spain’s agri-food and automotive sector will be the hardest hit by Brexit According to the Bank of Spain, the agri-food and automotive sector represent nearly half of all exports, with the latter responsible for most of last year’s drop in sales. The UK is Spain’s fifth biggest trading partner, representing 7% of all Spanish sales abroad. Spain, in contrast, is not a big importer of British goods, making up only 4% of the UK’s sales abroad.

          Brexit: betting the farm - It is instructive to see Tony Connelly revisit last December's Joint Report, produced by the UK and EU Commission negotiators.In particular, he asserts, the text of Paragraph 49 is coming back to haunt us, the wording apparently committing the UK to maintaining "full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South Cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement".Connelly has it that UK negotiators are now taking the text as meaning that the whole of the UK would align with the rules of the single market and customs union, precisely so that there would be no difference between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. And, as this sits on the table for the next round of talks, he argues that the implications are enormous. The big problem with that, however, is that the text is inherently contradictory and, at the time, was never intended as a basis for serious negotiations. The report was merely a device to keep the EU-UK talks moving when, without some form of agreement, they would have collapsed. Through roundabout reports sometime later, we got the backstory. Essentially, the "colleagues" were concerned that a breakdown would fatally weaken an already weak Mrs May, and perhaps precipitate a change of government, putting Corbyn in the hot seat. On the basis of preferring to work with "the devil you know", Mrs May was given a much-needed "victory" to keep her in office a little while longer.  With the ink not even dry on the Joint Report, we got from an official in the Department of Brexit – via the Irish Times - a savage qualification of what was being termed the "full alignment" Brexit pledge. The commitment, we were told, applied only to the six areas of North-South economic co-operation identified in the Belfast Agreement. These are transport, agriculture, education, health, environment and tourism. 

          Thought Brexit couldn’t get any more farcical? The story of the European patent court proves you wrong - This is the business end of Brexit, when all the contradictory promises and impossible dreams come face-to-face with legal reality. Usually we only notice this when it’s about trade, but the same is happening all over society, from security to rules around food recipes. This is the tawdry story of what the government did—and didn’t do—with patents, and why it is now stuck with a series of mutually incompatible promises which are about to collide headlong into one another. It starts with Theresa May saying one thing and then proceeding to do exactly the opposite. In October 2016, she told the Conservative Party conference that Britain would leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Then, the next month, the government confirmed that in fact it would do the opposite. The first statement was made in the full glare of media attention at a key event in the political calendar. The second was made away from journalists, in a quiet announcement on a departmental website noticed by just a handful of lawyers and nerds. It stated that it would ratify an agreement for a unified European patent court. Most people have no idea what the existing system is for patents or why the planned update to it would interfere with the government’s Brexit agenda. But for those who do, the decision was baffling. The new patent system is deeply embedded in the European Union’s architecture and would make any signatory dependent on rulings by the court May had just rejected. It is designed by EU states for EU states to rule on patents in EU states according to EU law as decided by the ECJ. When you peel back the patents situation it tells several key truths about Brexit and the government’s handling of it. It shows the benefits to countries—especially highly developed ones like the UK—when they standardise the way they do business. It shows how misjudged May’s promise to leave the ECJ was and why she has had to steadily walk it back since she made it. And it shows that British businesses which depend on legal certainty have been left adrift for months on end with no reassurance from ministers.

          Britain looks to Australia for help on Galileo rival -- The UK is aiming to launch the first tenders for a satellite navigation system to rival Europe’s €10bn Galileo project by the end of the year, with hopes rising that Australia could become a partner in the programme.  Britain is expected to signal its determination to press ahead with its own programme in discussions with EU negotiators next week, should Brussels continue to insist that the UK be barred from secure elements of Galileo. In a sign of the escalating tensions over the ban, the Ministry of Defence will on Monday announce plans to boost resources for a specialist space unit under the control of the Royal Air Force, which will explore military requirements for a UK global navigation system. The MoD is looking at ways to collaborate with countries in its “Five Eyes” intelligence sharing alliance with Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada. Two Whitehall officials told the Financial Times that Australia, which last week announced plans for a National Space Agency, had indicated potential interest in a UK project. However, this was at a very early stage and there had not yet been any formal contact on the subject, several officials said.

          U.K. Admits It Must Pay Brexit Bill Even Without Trade Deal -A leading Brexit minister in Theresa May’s government was forced into a painful political admission -- the U.K. is legally bound to settle its divorce bill even if it doesn’t get a future trade deal with the European Union. To make the bitter pill of 39 billion pounds ($52 billion) easier to swallow for the public and Brexit cheerleaders, May has been insisting that the financial settlement and a free-trade deal are part of the same package. The EU has always been clear they’re separate. After a grilling by lawmakers, Suella Braverman was forced to acknowledge that Parliament will vote on paying the so-called Brexit bill before the legal text of a future trade agreement is ready. Any decision to halt payments -- which are due to continue for years -- would require a renegotiation. It’s particularly significant that the admission comes from Braverman, a Brexit campaigner who used to head a group of some 60 Conservative euroskeptic lawmakers. Their current leader, Jacob Rees-Mogg has been especially critical of May and insists the U.K. should not pay a penny without getting a trade deal in return. It’s a toxic topic and one likely to inflame hardliners worried that May is making too many concessions, including the latest plan to maintain ties to the customs union for a number of years to get around the problem of how to keep an open border in Northern Ireland. It’s also ammunition for anti-Brexit lawmakers trying to thwart the divorce. British officials have said in private that they’re looking to make the payments conditional on sealing that future trading relationship, conscious of how unpopular it would be domestically for Britain to be seen to continue to pay billions of pounds into the EU budget without securing a commercial agreement. 

          EU Shows Up UK Brexit Trade Fantasies by Opening Bi-Lateral Negotiations With Australia and New Zealand -- Yves Smith - The EU managed to put paid to one pet Brexit fantasy today, and via a concrete action, rather than the usual route the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier and European leaders saying things the UK keeps refusing to hear. The Government has been doing the Oxbridge version of Trump’s patter that he’s going to be able to negotiate great trade deals once it is free from those nasty Brussels overlords. Given that the EU27 is a much bigger market than the UK is, why anyone should be champing at the bit to negotiate a trade pact with the UK is a bit of a mystery. But Brexiteers have rung the changes on this theme, arguing, for instance that the UK can become the new Singapore (forgetting that Singapore has all of 5.6 million highly educated people, clean government, and a strategically advantaged location) or that the Commonwealth can make up for diminished commerce with the EU. Today, the EU announced that it had approved starting bilateral trade negotiations with Australia and New Zealand. The Guardian highlighted the implications:The EU has leapt ahead of the UK in the pursuit of free trade deals with Australia and New Zealand after member states gave the green light for talks to start within weeks.….the announcement from Brussels opens up the possibility that the EU could enjoy better terms with the two Commonwealth nations after Brexit than the UK will…The international trade secretary, Liam Fox, had recently spoken of “reinvigorating” the Commonwealth partnership with a host of trade deals after Brexit, labelled “empire 2.0” by sceptical Whitehall officials.But the UK will not be able to start its negotiations over future trade with New Zealand and Australia until 30 March 2019. The European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, has vowed to complete the EU’s talks with the two countries by 31 October of that year, when his time in office expires.  Another proof of the EU’s relative advantages is that it expects to be able to protect key industries: The EU has made it clear before its negotiations with Australia and New Zealand that the size of its market offers bountiful opportunities, without the need for the bloc to expose its agricultural sector to cheap imports.In contrast, there are some voices in the Brexiter wing of the Conservative party who would like to radically liberalise the farming sector in the UK, and open it up to challenge from highly efficient antipodean agricultural exporters.

          UK ‘chasing a fantasy’ in Brexit talks, top EU official warns - The EU has accused the British government of “chasing a fantasy” and warned that it will not negotiate under threat, after a fraught week of Brexit talks in Brussels that have raised serious concerns about the future of the negotiations. The whole approach of the UK government to the discussions was castigated by a senior EU official involved, who further warned that the bloc would not be forced into positions that were against its interests. The UK’s suggestion that it would seek to recover more than €1bn of contributions to the Galileo satellite project unless the European commission lifted a block on British firms being involved received a particularly strident response, with an implicit threat that such posturing could unravel the discussions. “The EU doesn’t negotiate under threat,” the senior EU official said. “Such a request for reimbursement would be backsliding and unacceptable.” After a bad-tempered week in Brussels, frustration is mounting as EU negotiators come to think that almost two years after the referendum the British government has not come to terms with Brexit. The senior EU official said: “I have to say on the basis of this week’s discussions, I am a bit concerned because the pre-condition for fruitful discussions has to be that the UK accepts the consequences of its own choices. “I am concerned that if the current debate continues, in three months’ time it will be the EU that will be made responsible for the Brexit decision. We need the UK to accept the consequences of its own decisions. “To paraphrase The Leopard by Tommaso di Lampedusa, I have the impression that the UK thinks everything has to change on the EU’s side so that everything can stay the same for the UK.”

           UK ups ante in Brexit satellite clash with Brussels— The U.K. will publish a “punchy” official paper Thursday that will double down on the government’s threat to set up a rival system to the EU’s Galileo satellite navigation project after Brexit, if Brussels goes ahead with freezing Britain out of the project.There is growing fury in London at what it sees as Brussels’ uncompromising stance in negotiations over a project that the British government see as a test case for how close the U.K.’s future security relationship with the Continent will be.For months the European Commission has stuck to its position that the U.K. cannot remain a full partner in the €10 billion satellite system because it will no longer be an EU member after Brexit. Officials in Brussels say it is simply a matter of law that as a “third country” the U.K. cannot access the same encrypted information as members of the bloc or be involved in the system’s future development, regardless of the U.K.’s contribution to the project. The U.K. Cabinet, so often divided over Brexit, is united in opposition to what it sees as intransigence on behalf of the Commission, according to British negotiators briefed on the matter. One senior U.K. official familiar with discussions over Galileo said Cabinet ministers and officials are “astounded” at the EU’s position.  “Sometimes you have Remainers on one side and Leavers on the other,” the official said. “Not on this one. Some of the people who are most exercised are [Remainers] Greg Clark, Gavin Williamson, Philip Hammond.” The official accused the EU of “hiding behind a legalistic argument” when the reality is about “narrow commercial interest” because French firms have the most to gain from U.K. companies being denied the right to bid for contracts for the development of Galileo. The EU’s position on Galileo also unnecessarily pre-empted negotiations about a future U.K.-EU security partnership, British negotiators say, which they believe could resolve the EU’s concerns.

          EU to UK: We won’t reimburse Galileo satellite funding - There is “no basis” for the U.K.’s request to be reimbursed the €1 billion it contributed to the EU’s Galileo satellite system if it is frozen out of the project post Brexit, according to a senior EU official, who added the bloc will not negotiate “under threat.” In what amounts to an initial response from Brussels to a concerted push by the British government to retain access to the system beyond the country’s exit, the official said the European Commission is open to negotiation, but the U.K.’s position is “quite a big ask.” Earlier Thursday, the U.K. published a “technical note” — first reported Wednesday by POLITICO — expressing its desire to continue participating in the program and stating that it could pursue the creation of its own rival system if it did not receive adequate access to Galileo. The EU will allow participation on a “third country” basis, but that would restrict access to certain security-sensitive data.Earlier this month, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told the EU Institute for Security Studies conference: “Third countries [and their companies] cannot participate in the development of security-sensitive matters.”The EU position has united Remainers and Leavers in Theresa May’s often warring Cabinet on the question of future access to a system the U.K. regards as something it has part ownership of. The British government has set future access as a test case for the closeness of U.K.-EU security cooperation post Brexit. Speaking at a briefing Thursday, the senior EU official said that the U.K.’s proposal to redraw the satellite program as a “joint EU-UK program” allowing privileged access after the country leaves the bloc would need to be put to the EU27 for discussion. London has made public demands for reimbursement of the money it has contributed to the program already. But the official indicated the suggestion — which has not been presented formally in negotiations — is a nonstarter that would amount to “backsliding” on the financial settlement it agreed in December.

           TSB cancels direct debits of customers who’ve switched away – and claims they’ve DIED - TSB has apologised after it cancelled some former customers' direct debits and mistakenly told the firms they were paying that they had died, MoneySavingExpert can reveal. Several former TSB customers who've switched away from the bank following its IT meltdown have this week reported receiving letters from various organisations including United Utilities, the RAC and local councils saying they are sorry to hear of their passing. The letters also say that their direct debits have been cancelled. Confused by the correspondence, customers have then got in contact with those who have sent them the letters, and been informed that TSB has told them they have died.  TSB told MoneySavingExpert "a small number" of customers switching or closing their account had been affected and said it was "deeply sorry". One of the affected customers told us he has been offered £250 in compensation.

          Furious Customers Leave in Droves after Botched IT Revamp at UK Bank TSB as Nightmare Drags on for a Month - UK Bank TSB’s unending IT nightmare is beginning to take a toll on the bank’s financial health. Analysts say the chaos caused by the botched IT upgrade will cost tens of millions of pounds in fines and compensation. And that’s based on the rosy assumption that the problems the upgrade has caused will be remedied in the near future. For the moment there’s little sign of that happening. And this nightmare has been dragging on for a month now — April 24: “Day 5”, April 30: “Contagion Fears,” and May 6: “Internal Revolt.”Many TSB mortgage account holders are still unable to access their online accounts while business customers continue to have difficulty making online payments, The Guardian reported. Some credit card customers are still being wrongly informed that payment of £0.00 will be taken, while the bank’s internal secure messaging service remains unavailable. To compound matters, a growing number of the bank’s branch and other front-line workers, many of whom have had to bear the brunt of customer ire over the past four weeks, are close to the end of their tether.As if that wasn’t enough, fraudsters have now begun targeting the online accounts of TSB customers, some of whom have logged into their accounts to discover their savings have vanished in a series of payments they did not make. They are then left on hold for hours when they try to complain to the crisis-plagued bank. “When a [big IT] ‘change’ goes wrong and so publicly like TSB’s, it’s like cyber blood in the water,” Ian Thornton-Trump, chief technical officer of Octopi Managed Services, an IT company, told Wired. “Cyber criminals pay attention to companies rocked by internal scandals or public ‘ball drops’ and react accordingly.”

          Will TSB Ever Be Completely Fixed? - naked capitalism by Clive - TSB is beginning to resemble Humpty Dumpty. Readers might recall him from their nursery rhyme reading days. He could not, following his fall from a great height, be put back together again. TSB’s management are resorting to the same approach which onlookers to his accident had. TSB had originally called in “all the king’s horses” – well, Accenture, anyway, who got the gig originally here being eulogised in what must now sound like happier times for TSB – but that didn’t work. So now they are in the midst’s of calling in “all the king’s men” – IBM are having a go.So how are they getting on? There’s a persistent background grumbling on Twitter about missing payments and some of the mainstream media (MSM) are continuing to run reports highlighting features that have apparently stopped working such as fraud monitoring and alerting. But as it’s been pushed out of the MSM here in the UK by the Royal Wedding, Korea, endless Because Trump and Because Russia stories plus the inevitable Brexit nonsense we get fed, there’s little bandwidth left for things like updating people on TSB. And for us Brits, we do tend to get browbeaten by dealing with this kind of situation and fairly quickly merely succumb to resigned acquiescence. As a TSB customer, I have been in the fortunate (?) position of having first-hand information on how the fault-fixing has progressed since the new TSB IT system went live a month ago. Once the scale of the problems had become apparent, I submitted a transaction on my TSB credit card, just to see what happened next. Here, by way of an update, and we will continue to keep readers informed of developments in the future, is the current position.

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