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

Saturday, July 21, 2018

week ending Jul 21

Powell backs more rate hikes as economy growing 'considerably stronger' - The U.S. economy is running at a fast enough pace to justify continued interest rate increases, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Tuesday. Powell is delivering his semiannual testimony to Congress this week, starting with an appearance Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. In remarks he provided ahead of a question-and-answer session, Powell painted a largely positive picture of the economy, which he said is expanding at an increasing pace and is being boosted by aggressive fiscal policy on Capitol Hill. "Overall, we see the risk of the economy unexpectedly weakening as roughly balanced with the possibility of the economy growing faster than we currently anticipate," Powell said. "The unemployment rate is low and expected to fall further. Americans who want jobs have a good chance of finding them," he added. Powell spoke as the central bank is in the process of gradually raising interest rates. The policymaking Federal Open Market Committee has hiked the Fed's benchmark rate twice this year in quarter-point increments, and is expected to approve two more increases before the end of the year. Though the economy grew at just a 2 percent pace in the first quarter, Powell said growth in the second quarter was "considerably stronger than the first." "Robust job gains, rising after-tax incomes, and optimism among households have lifted consumer spending in recent months. Investment by businesses has continued to grow at a healthy rate," he said. "Good economic performance in other countries has supported U.S. exports and manufacturing. And while housing construction has not increased this year, it is up noticeably from where it stood a few years ago."

Powell’s Testimony: The 4 Numbers That Matter -What does Fed Chair Powell want to accomplish in his congressional testimony? We’re betting he would like Fed Funds Futures to more fully discount 2 more rate hikes in 2018. That could be a problem for US equities, as we outline below. During Fed Chair Jay Powell’s congressional testimony over the next 2 days, consider the following 4 numbers:

  1. 2.61%. That is the yield on the 2-Year Treasury as of today’s close, which is a high for the year. Yes, it is also a high for the last decade, but it is the 2018 high that matters right now. Since the 2-Year Treasury is keenly sensitive to Fed policy, this push to new high yields signals that bond markets expect a very upbeat testimony from Mr. Powell.
  2. 56.8%. Those are the odds that the Fed will move twice more in 2018 according to Fed Funds Futures. These have been creeping up in the last month, from 51.3% 30 days ago.
  3. 3.9%. That’s what both blue chip economists and the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow model have penciled in as their estimate of Q2 GDP growth. The consensus view, which we share, is that it is the high water mark for the year.
  4. 26 basis points. We’ve been harping on the narrowing difference between 2 and 10 Year Treasuries recently, and that’s the current spread between the two. Equity markets see this as a one-stop-shop indicator of recession risk once it breaches zero. The Federal Reserve doesn’t.

The question that matters for market action: which one of these numbers does the Fed Chair most want to change? Jay Powell is a “markets guy”, more so than any Fed head in living memory. Conditioning market expectations is a big part of that job, and he will likely feel that his congressional appearance is a unique chance to make his position clearer. But he also knows he has to pick his spots.Our bet: he wants to increase the Fed Funds Futures odds of 2 more rate hikes to +70%. This fits with the Fed’s “Dot Plot”, so it is consistent with stated US central bank forecasts. It is also resonant with his generally positive view of the US economy as outlined in his 2 post-meeting Fed press conferences thus far.

Trump Blasts Powell's Rate Hikes, Trespassing on Fed's Independence - President Donald Trump criticized the Federal Reserve’s interest-rate increases, breaking with more than two decades of White House tradition of avoiding comments on monetary policy out of respect for the independence of the U.S. central bank.“I’m not thrilled” the Fed is raising borrowing costs and potentially slowing the economy, he said in an interview with CNBC broadcast Thursday. “I don’t like all of this work that we’re putting into the economy and then I see rates going up."The dollar relinquished gains from earlier in the day and Treasury yields dropped following the president’s remarks."I am not happy about it. But at the same time I’m letting them do what they feel is best,” Trump said. The Fed has raised interest rates five times since Trump took office in January 2017, with two of those coming this year under Chairman Jerome Powell, the president’s pick to replace Janet Yellen. In the interview, Trump called Powell a “very good man.”

Trump lays into the Fed, says he's 'not thrilled' about interest rate hikes - In a stinging and historically rare criticism, President Donald Trump expressed frustration with the Federal Reserve and said the central bank could disrupt the economic recovery.Presidents rarely intercede when it comes to the Fed, which sets the benchmark interest rate that flows through to many types of consumer debt.Fed officials, including Chairman Jerome Powell, have raised interest rates twice this year and have pointed to two more before the end of 2018.Trump, in an interview with CNBC, said he does not approve, even though he said he "put a very good man in" at the Fed in Powell.“I’m not thrilled,” he told CNBC's Joe Kernen in an interview to air in full Friday at 6 a.m. ET on "Squawk Box." “Because we go up and every time you go up they want to raise rates again. I don't really — I am not happy about it. But at the same time I’m letting them do what they feel is best.” “But I don’t like all of this work that goes into doing what we’re doing.”  Markets reacted to Trump's comments, with stocks, the dollar and Treasury yields all falling.Fed officials did not comment on the president's remarks. The White House, in a statement after the interview excerpt aired on CNBC, emphasized that Trump did not mean to influence the Fed's decision-making process. "Of course the President respects the independence of the Fed. As he said he considers the Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome Powell a very good man and that he is not interfering with Fed policy decisions " the statement said. “The President’s views on interest rates are well known and his comments today are a reiteration of those long held positions, and public comments."

Trump's Fed criticism is nearly without precedent in US history -  President Donald Trump's move to criticize the Federal Reserve is almost without precedent in a nation that places a high priority on the independence of monetary policy.Almost all of Trump's predecessors steered clear of Fed critiques in the interest of making sure that interest rates were set to whatever was best for the economy and not to boost anyone's political fortunes.The Trump administration, of course, has been anything but typical, and the Trump comments, if anything, were consistent with a president who cares little for convention and is willing to speak his mind on virtually anything.“Somebody would say, ‘Oh, maybe you shouldn’t say that as president,'" Trump said in an interview with CNBC. "I couldn’t care less what they say, because my views haven’t changed.”The closest analog with Trump's apparent efforts to influence interest rates — he prefers the Fed keep them low — was how former President Richard Nixon arm-twisted Arthur Burns to maintain loose monetary policy as Nixon sought re-election in 1972."I don’t want to go out of town fast,” Nixon told Burns in one conversation, according to tapes of conversations between the two. Concerns about too much liquidity in the economy were "just bulls---," the president added. That didn't work out particularly well: As the 1970s economy continued to grow, inflation took root thanks to low rates and remained stubbornly in place until the early 1980s, when then-Fed Chair Paul Volcker had to tighten policy sharply. That in turn pushed the economy into recession but also helped slay the inflation problem and paved the way for the most powerful growth the economy had seen in the post-World War II era.

Why Did Trump Just Bully the Federal Reserve on Interest Rates -- Pam Martens - In addition to playing with Powell’s head, President Donald Trump accomplished two things in his interview on CNBC yesterday when he made it clear that he’s “not thrilled” with the Federal Reserve’s plans to continue raising interest rates. He threw more red meat to his base (many of whom want to abolish the Fed altogether) and he laid the groundwork for scapegoating the Fed if the economy goes south on his watch.Trump had this to say about the Federal Reserve raising interest rates to CNBC anchor Joe Kernen (see full interview in video below): “I’m not thrilled. Because we go up and every time you go up they want to raise rates again. I am not happy about it but at the same time I’m letting them do what they feel is best…Now I’m just saying the same thing that I would have said as a private citizen. So somebody would say you shouldn’t say that as a President. I couldn’t care less what they say.” What motivated Trump to put the Federal Reserve in his cross hairs at this particular moment in time? We have two ideas on that. First, Trump takes exception to any hint that he is not a business and economic genius (he’s “like, really smart”) – notwithstanding his businesses’ six encounters at bankruptcy court. In the Fed’s Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) minutes for its meeting of June 12-13, it appeared to be questioning the wisdom of Donald Trump’s nascent trade war.   What also may have played a role in the timing of Trump’s remarks about the Fed is the upcoming August cover and related content at Fortune Magazine, which raises a host of economic alarm bells for the balance of Trump’s presidency.   Fortune invokes the Fed Chairman who presided over the worst economic crash since the Great Depression, Ben Bernanke. Citing remarks he made at a recent policy discussion, Fortune quotes Bernanke as follows: “The economy is already at full employment.” The stimulus “is going to hit the economy in a big way this year and next year, and then, in 2020, Wile E. Coyote is going to go off the cliff.” Oops. That happens to be the year that Donald Trump is expected to seek re-election and will need someone to blame if the economy is worse off than when he took office.

Trump’s criticism of Fed a reminder central bank independence isn't guaranteed — President Trump’s criticism of the Federal Reserve’s interest rate policy was as unprecedented as it was unsurprising. While virtually every president of the modern era has carefully avoided critiquing the central bank for fear of compromising its independence, it was hardly shocking that Trump, who has broken the mold in so many other ways, scrapped that tradition. But his comments come at a dangerous time for the Fed, when it is already fending off bids by various factions in Congress to limit its power and independence—efforts motivated by a fundamental lack of faith in the central bank and the wisdom of its leaders. That might have expected to taper off now that the Fed is run by a Trump nominee, but that hasn’t been this case. Just this week, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling told Fed Chairman Jerome Powell during a hearing that the central bank’s process of normalizing its balance sheet is going too slowly. It may ultimately not shrink to pre-recession levels, a prospect the Texas Republican said “may well threaten the integrity and independence of the Fed’s conduct of monetary policy, by enabling competing activities that lie outside its mandate for stable and full employment.” Hensarling also suggested that the Fed’s 2% inflation target — which has been established for years, and which actual inflation rates have consistently and somewhat inexplicably failed to reach — was too high, and that Congress was the rightful decider of monetary policy. “I understand that other central banks do this. I understand this may be good policy,” Hensarling said. “But if so, Congress should decide this.” 

How Plan to Replace LIBOR Will Cement Fed’s Role as Global Central Banker - Marshall Auerback - Central banking systems like the Federal Reserve set interest rates that the public ultimately pays on its debt, loans and mortgages.  But as we know, finance is now global, capital controls continue to diminish and dollar lending takes place in practically every major financial jurisdiction on the planet. As dollar funding became globalized, there grew a desire for an international benchmark, out of which evolved the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR), a lynchpin that has been used as the reference point for everything from credit card rates to student loans, mortgages, and international borrowing, especially for the multitrillion-dollar interest rate derivative contracts. Of course, as we now know, there was nothing “market-based” in the setting of the LIBOR. In fact, the bankers and related institutional investors engaged in sustained efforts to manipulate the rate to benefit the profitability of their own institutions, literally costing borrowers hundreds of billions of dollars in fees as a consequence of this collusive behavior. So it may come as some surprise to many that LIBOR is still the benchmark for this multiplicity of functions, even as many of the bankers and investors responsible for its manipulation have gone to jail or have faced huge penalties, some of the largest from the overall $320 billion in misconduct fines since the financial crisis.  With that in mind, the Financial Stability Board (FSB) has been rightly tasked by the G20 to review the major interest rate benchmarks and plan their reforms accordingly. As noted earlier, the most notable alternative is one being championed by the NY Fed, in combination with group of large banks, the Alternative Reference Rate Committee (ARRC). They have proposed an alternative rate, the Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR). SOFR would be based on transactions in the Treasury repurchase market (in finance-speak, the so-called “repo rate”), whereby banks and investors borrow or loan Treasuries overnight, thus according a central role to the Federal Reserve, instead of a global cartel of 16 international banks from a variety of national jurisdictions. SOFR futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange are now being offered (to enhance its liquidity), but challenges remain, notably the paucity of trading infrastructure, development of liquid term structure from an overnight rate, educating stakeholders, hedge accounting eligibility, and legacy LIBOR portfolios.

Just Released: Beige Book Points to Moderate Growth and Tight Labor Markets - The New York Fed’s latest Beige Book report—based on information collected through July 9—points to sustained moderate growth and tight labor markets in the region. Manufacturers and wholesalers noted a persistent rise in economic activity over the first half of this year. However, a number of contacts in these sectors remarked that tariffs have raised their costs, and uncertainty about future trade policy was cited as a concern by businesses in a variety of industries. Meanwhile, businesses in most service industries continue to report flat to modestly expanding activity. And while consumer spending has remained fairly steady, consumer confidence edged up to a cyclical high, in large part due to an exceptionally positive assessment of the labor market.  The New York Fed’s report covers New York State, northern New Jersey, and southwestern Connecticut. The twelve District reports are combined with a national summary to produce what has come to be known as the Beige Book—a report that provides some of the most timely information available on economic conditions. With sustained growth, the region’s labor markets generally remain tight. In fact, one business contact observed that almost all job seekers are already employed, and several businesses reported trouble filling more senior positions and finding technically skilled workers, especially in information technology. Hiring activity in the region has been steady overall but mixed across industries. Business contacts in manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, and finance reported a pickup in hiring activity in recent months, while those engaged in business services and information noted some pullback. Despite the tight labor market, contacts in most industries say wage growth has remained fairly moderate.  Over the past year, businesses in a wide range of sectors have pointed to increasingly widespread increases in input prices and a growing number of businesses have begun to raise selling prices. Looking ahead, many businesses in leisure and hospitality, wholesale trade, and real estate said they anticipate further price hikes.

Q2 GDP Forecasts Increased Following Retail Report -- From Merrill Lynch: Core control retail sales were flat, weaker than expected but the May number was revised higher to 0.8% mom from 0.5% mom. The upward revision to May more than offset the weakness in June, pushing up 2Q GDP tracking up to 4.0% from 3.8%. [July 16 estimate]. And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNow  The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the second quarter of 2018 is 4.5 percent on July 16, up from 3.9 percent on July 11. The nowcast of second-quarter real consumer spending growth increased from 2.7 percent to 3.1 percent after this morning's retail sales report from the U.S. Census Bureau. [July 16 estimate] CR note: This looks like it might be the first quarter with 4.0%+ real annualized GDP growth since Q3 2014 when GDP increased 5.2% (after increasing 4.6% in Q2 2014).

In defense of the yield curve (Reuters) - There is much talk about whether the predictive powers of the yield curve are waning, with a growing number of experts arguing its inversion no longer signals recession. “This time it’s different,” they say. Those four words may turn out to be prophetic - but they should still set alarm bells ringing for policymakers, economists and financial market professionals, who consistently fail to call the next recession. The yield curve, meanwhile, has been calling them right for 45 years. The debate is heating up because the U.S. economic expansion, entering its 10th year, is close to becoming the longest in history. It can’t be too far away from rolling over, and the yield curve is inching ever closer to inversion. A shrinking gap between long- and short-dated yields suggests investors expect slower economic growth further out, higher interest rates in the near term to keep inflation in check, or limited rate hikes further out due to softening inflation pressures. Or a mix of all of the above. An inverted curve, where long-dated yields are lower than short-dated ones, points to the Fed being forced to cut rates in the future. All five U.S. recessions since the 1970s have been preceded by an inverted curve. The gap between two- and 10-year yields, the benchmark curve, is the flattest it’s been for 11 years and just 26 basis points away from inverting. Why might things be different this time?

Former Fed Chief Ben Bernanke Says Economic Outlook Is Quite Strong  - Ben Bernanke, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, remains upbeat about the economy’s outlook and isn’t particularly alarmed by recent bond-market developments many see as hinting at trouble down the road. “Everything we see about the near-term outlook for the economy is quite strong,” Mr. Bernanke told reporters in a roundtable interview Monday with Tim Geithner, a former New York Fed chief and Obama administration Treasury secretary, and Henry Paulson, a former Goldman Sachs banker turned George W. Bush administration Treasury secretary. Mr. Bernanke is currently a scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington. He led the central bank from 2006 to 2014 and was succeeded by Janet Yellen, who was replaced by Jerome Powell as Fed chairman this year. The three men met with reporters in New York to take a look back at the financial crisis at a meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations. Those troubles began over a decade ago and all three were intimately involved in leading the response to those events. The current narrowing, called a flattening, is in large part driven by Fed rate rises and the expectation that more are coming. Meanwhile, still-low inflation and the expectation it will stay that way is one of the factors helping limit the rise in long-dated bonds. Mr. Bernanke acknowledged that an inversion is “a good forecaster of economic downturns,” but said the Fed must look at a broad array of factors to think about the future of the economy. “There’s an argument” that maybe inversions aren’t the signal they once were because long-term interest rates “are unusually low,” as is the market-based compensation for risk, Mr. Bernanke said. He added that bond buying by other central banks and regulatory changes are also altering bond-market levels. The yield curve “is one indicator, but you wouldn’t want to religiously consider that being the only indicator,” Mr. Bernanke said. The former Fed chair has cast a cautious eye toward the yield curve before, and it turned out to be the wrong call. In 2006, he brushed off a yield curve teetering around inversion and said he wouldn’t interpret it as “indicating a significant economic slowdown to come.” He also said that “the bottom line for policy appears ambiguous.” The economy was in recession by 2007. 

Bernanke, Geithner, Paulson warn U.S. has weaker tools for dealing with crisis -- The three officials who were grappled with the start of the financial crisis in 2008 warned this week that present-day regulators don’t have all the tools needed to face another panic.“You have a more stable [financial] system today because the defences are better —but you have a weaker set of tools for dealing with an extreme crisis,” Geithner said, according to the Financial Times.Under reforms passed by Congress in the wake of the crisis, the Fed cannot lend to an institution deemed “failing” and all lending must be approved by the Treasury Secretary.The three officials spoke with a small group of reporters earlier this week in advance of the tenth anniversary of the Great Recession.They said the U.S. financial system was healthier but expressed concern about the slow pace of reform in Europe. Paulson and Bernanke also said they were worried about the rising federal deficit.

 Powell Warns US Fiscal Policy Is Unsustainable, Sees "Rising Chorus" Against Tariffs - While there is far less interest in Jerome Powell's second day of his semi-annual testimony to Congress, the Fed chair did make some notable observations on the one topic which continues to fascinate markets, specifically trade disputes - and wars - saying "we don't know ultimately where this process will lead." Powell said the central bank expects the economy to remain strong, but trade could complicate the Fed's forecasts. "... it is difficult to predict the ultimate outcome of current discussions over trade policy," he said in his prepared testimony. When asked by Andy Barr, a Kentucky Republican, about trade and the risk of a "protracted period" of high tariffs, the Fed Chair said that "there was a lot of momentum in the economy earlier this year'' but he wouldn't want to see uncertainty from trade disputes result in offsetting that momentum, warning that if Trump's trade policy "results in broader, higher tariffs across a broad range of traded goods or services that remain that way for a longer period of time, that will be bad for our economy and for other economies too." Senators representing largely agricultural and industrial states tended to express the most concern. Powell largely deflected the questions, saying the Fed doesn't determine trade policy. "I'm going to try to walk the line ... and not comment on any particular policy. But, in principle, open trading is good," Powell said. Powell emphasized the uncertain nature of the Trump administration's current trade policy. In a surprising twist, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, cited a speech from former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke in an attempt to get Powell to be more specific. "Would you agree with Bernanke when he said in a 2007 speech on trade that restricting trade by imposing tariffs, quotas or other barriers, is exactly the wrong thing to do for the economy?" Heitkamp asked. Powell's response was simple: "Assuming you're talking about them remaining in place over a sustained period of time, absolutely." Powell also made his most direct warning about the risk to the economy as a result of escalating trade wars: "we hear from our extensive network of business contacts a rising chorus of concern. As you pointed out, lots and lots of individual companies have been harmed by this. We don't see this in the aggregate numbers yet because it's a $20 trillion economy, and these things take time to show up, but we hear many, many stories of companies that are concerned and are now beginning to make investment decisions, or not make them, because of this."

 War Doesn’t Make Sense Anymore -- America spends more on its military than all its enemies put together yet it still can’t win wars. Failed adventures in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan have drained America’s power and diminished its prestige. The bloated Pentagon budget actually makes us weaker.Here’s the weird bit: nobody seems to care. If any other government department spent as much and accomplished as little, the populace would be in arms, complaining about wasteful government spending. Instead we mumble “Thank you for your service” and increase defense appropriations. War has always been brutal and destructive, but once upon a time it had a purpose. William of Normandy invaded Britain knowing victory would make him rich beyond dreams of avarice. Soldiers followed Genghis Khan, Hernan Cortes, and Napoleon Bonaparte for the opportunity to steal gold, land, or slaves from their defeated enemies. Loot captured in war could transform a man’s life, give him the money he needed to buy land or start a business. For thousands of years, the opportunities inherent in battle gave many men their only chance to escape their impoverished origins. Success in war could turn a brigand into a king. Today it is trade and technology, not conquest, that makes us rich. It is a cliché of the left that America went to war in Iraq to take their oil. This is a serious misreading of history. For one thing, had George W. Bush told Saddam to either share his oil wealth with ExxonMobil or face invasion, Saddam would have certainly complied. For another, Korean, Russian, Angolan, and Chinese companies all control more Iraqi oil fields today than do American firms. Had we gone to war to steal Iraqi oil, we might have done a better job of it.

 Russia Liquidates Its US Treasury Holdings - Last month we showed that as Trade Wars began in April, the world's central banks and other official institutions dumped more Treasuries than in any month since January 2016, some $48.3BN, perhaps over concerns of others selling first, and precipitating a sharp move higher in yields. Fast forward one month later to May, when according to the latest just released Treasury International Capital (TIC) update, in May the selling of Treasurys by official entities continued, with another $24BN sold in the month of May, when yields continued to rise and eventually hit the 2018 highs of 3.11%. But while the selling of Treasuries was to be expected - after all someone had to sell aggressively to push yields sharply higher in April and May - the question was who.  What we showed last month, is that contrary to some speculation, it wasn't Beijing, because after shedding a modest $6BN in April, China actually bought $1.2BN in Treasurys in May, leaving its holdings largely unchanged over the past month.And while Japan did sell $12BN in TSYs in April, it more than made up for its in May when it purchased $17.5BN, bringing its total to $1048.8BN in May, which means that over the past two month, Japan was a net buyer of US paper.  Meanwhile, the third most prominent holder, hedge funds, aka "Cayman Islands", bought for a second consecutive month, adding another $5BN.So if the usual suspects were buying, who was selling?Here is the answer. Readers may recall that last month we first reported  that for all the confusion about sharply higher yields in April, the explanation was simple: it was Vladimir Putin who liquidated a whopping half of Russia's Treasury holdings, which declined by $47.4BN to just $48.7BN - the lowest since 2008 - from $96BN in March. But wait, it gets better, because as Trump continued to jawbone about more sanctions targeting Russia, Putin did not stop and in May he continued what was an outright liquidation of Russia's TSY holdings, which plunged by another $40BN, or 82%, from $48.7BN to just $9BN in May. Keep in mind this was over $100BN at the start of the year. It appears that When Putin warned he would diversify Russia's state reserves  -out of Treasurys - he was serious.And this is what a very politically motivated liquidation of Treasury holdings looks like.

Surprise!? Two Big "Russia! Russia! Russia!" Stories Released Days Before Trump-Putin Summit --  Caitlin Johnstone - In an article for The Nation dated July 11, the internationally renowned US-Russia relations expert Stephen F. Cohen warned of possible attempts by peace-hating beltway stalwarts to sabotage the Helsinki peace talks between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin that is scheduled for this coming Monday. “There is a long history of sabotaging or attempting to sabotage summits and other détente-like initiatives,” wrote Cohen. “Indeed, a few such attempts have been evident in recent months and more may lie ahead.”   And, lo and behold, right before the summit we are seeing two major news stories loudly promoting Russia hysteria blasted onto the front pages on the very same day. An indictment of 12 Russians has finally been issued by the Robert Mueller Special Counsel on various charges of conspiracy against the United States, an action the counsel has been sitting on for months. The indictment contains no evidence and will likely never be defended in any court of law, the correct response to which, in a post-Iraq invasion world, is always to dismiss the story and file it under “Noises US government officials sometimes make with their face holes.” The complete absence of evidence has of course failed to deter establishment propagandists and Capitol Hill war whores from loudly and aggressively advancing the galaxy-brained narrative that these new claims ought to either cancel peace talks between two nuclear superpowers, or at least make them much more hostile and contentious. “President Trump must be willing to confront Putin from a position of strength and demonstrate that there will be a serious price to pay for his ongoing aggression towards the United States and democracies around the world,” said Senator John McCain in a statement, more determined than ever to start World War Three before he finally fucking dies. “If President Trump is not prepared to hold Putin accountable, the summit in Helsinki should not move forward.” These and many other pleas against peace have been emanating at maximum volume from both sides of the political aisle in DC, and by both sides of the political divide in the mass media as well.

Trump: ‘I hadn’t thought’ of asking Putin to extradite indicted Russians - President Trump on Sunday said he "hadn't thought about" asking Russian President Vladimir Putin to extradite the Russian officials indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller for conspiring to hack Democratic National Committee (DNC) servers during the 2016 election. CBS News's Jeff Glor interviewed Trump at his golf resort in Scotland just ahead of the president's summit in Finland with Putin. Glor asked Trump if he would ask Putin to extradite the Russian intelligence officers named in the indictment."Well I might. I hadn't thought of that. But I certainly, I'll be asking about it," Trump said.  Trump then quickly deflected blame for the hack. “But again, this was during the Obama administration. They were doing whatever it was during the Obama administration," he continued.Trump went on to say he'd been told some individuals unsuccessfully tried to hack the Republican National Committee server, too."I think the DNC should be ashamed of themselves for allowing themselves to be hacked," he said. "They had bad defenses and they were able to be hacked. But I heard they were trying to hack the Republicans too. But, and this may be wrong, but they had much stronger defenses."The Justice Department announced on Friday Mueller's indictments against 12 Russian intelligence officers, alleging they interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections in an attempt to help then-candidate Trump win the presidency.  Mueller charged 11 officials with conspiring to hack into the DNC and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee networks and another with conspiring to hack into election systems, including a state elections board website.

As Trump engages Putin, his deal with Kim collapses - As US President Donald Trump sits down for talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, he doesn't seem to have much to show for a month and a half of international high-level meetings and diplomatic effort.Basking in his self-proclaimed "art of the deal" acumen, the US president has upended the international system by alienating allies and reaching out directly to foes. In the span of just a few weeks, Trump managed to anger US allies in Europe and North America, calling Canadian PM Justin Trudeau "weak", identifying the EU as a "foe" and putting a US-UK trade deal in doubt.Meanwhile, he has heaped praise on autocratic leaders the world over, boasting about his "very good relationship" with Russia's Vladimir Putin and describing North Korea's Kim Jung-un as "very honourable".Yet, there is little evidence to suggest his "fire and fury" diplomacy is working. Trump's self-proclaimed success in engaging North Korea is on the verge of becoming a failure, exposing the paucity of his strongman diplomacy.Much against the advice of some allies and leading experts, Trump pushed through with an unprecedented summit with the North Korean leader without any preconditions.The outcome of the historic meeting in Singapore was a generic statement, which reaffirmed both sides' commitment to ending the decades-long conflict in the Korean Peninsula. Pyongyang made no specific commitment to denuclearisation, but managed to dampen its isolation and enhance its international standing by holding direct talks with the US leadership.

 Trump says 'no time limit' to North Korea denuclearisation - President Donald Trump said Tuesday there is no hurry to denuclearize North Korea under his accord with Kim Jong Un -- a shift in tone from when the US leader said the process would start very soon. "Discussions are ongoing and they're going very, very well," Trump told reporters. "We have no time limit. We have no speed limit." Trump said he discussed North Korea with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday at their summit in Helsinki. "President Putin is going to be involved in the sense that he is with us," Trump said. The Republican president met with Kim on June 12 for an unprecedented summit in Singapore during which the North Korean leader pledged to work toward denuclearization of the peninsula. But the accord did not spell out a timetable for the process or say how it would be carried out. Diplomats are now expected to hammer out the details. More than a month later, no concrete progress has been reported and North Korea has complained the Americans are making unilateral demands. Before the Singapore summit, the Trump administration said denuclearization should start "without delay," and after the meeting, it spoke of the process beginning "very quickly." A day after the meeting, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the bulk of North Korea's denuclearization should be completed by the end of Trump's term in 2020. The White House has hailed the summit between Kim and Trump in Singapore as a major breakthrough toward disarming the isolated, nuclear-armed North in exchange for easing of sanctions and other help with economic development.

Trump meets Putin, predicts ‘extraordinary relationship’ — Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump met in Helsinki on Monday for a high-stakes summit at a time of charged U.S.-Russia relations and as Trump continues to rail against investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.  Trump sat down with Putin hours after declaring that the U.S. is to blame for the deteriorating relationship between the two countries.  The two leaders met at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, appearing tense and subdued and forgoing an opening handshake (though there was a very quick handshake at the end) as they appeared together before sitting down for a highly anticipated one-on-one meeting. “I think we have great opportunities together as two countries that, frankly, we have not been getting along very well for the last number of years,” Trump said as he sat beside Putin before an array of Russian and American flags. “But I think we will end up having an extraordinary relationship. I hope so.”  The president then repeated what has become something of a mantra as he pursues warmer relations with Moscow: “Getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing.”  Putin said he is looking forward to a substantive conversation “about our bilateral relationship and problem points in the world.”“There are quite a few of them,” Putin added. Putin spoke first, in Russian, pausing to allow for interpretation for Trump. When Trump spoke Putin clearly understood and showed facial reactions — nodding or raising his eyebrows — before hearing the Russian translation.

Putin triumphs over Trump at US-Russia summit - Donald Trump preferred the "powerful denial" of Vladimir Putin to the word of the entire US intelligence community and called his own nation "foolish" over allegations of Russia's collusion in the 2016 presidential vote. No collusion occurred on the Kremlin's part in the election that propelled the maverick business tycoon to the presidency, Trump said on Monday after four hours of talks with his Russian counterpart in Helsinki, Finland.  "The main thing - we discussed it also - is zero collusion," Trump, standing alongside a nodding Putin, said. "I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.  "I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. We've all been foolish." Trump's strange, inexplicable predilection towards Russia made him look weak, gullible, and isolated from his own administration, America's political establishment, and traditional political allies, analysts say.  "It was nothing short of treasonous," John O Brennan, a former CIA director fired by Trump in 2017, said in a tweet. "Not only were Trump's comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin." Putin unexpectedly offered his help in no less than interrogating the suspected officers with representatives of special counsel Robert S Mueller III, who heads the probe into the alleged collusion.  "We can make one more step forward - we can let official US representatives, including the representatives of Mr Mueller's commission, to be present at these interrogations," Putin said.

Trump sides with Putin over U.S. intel in remarkable press conference -- After meeting one-on-one with Russian President Vladimir Putin for more than two hours -- a first for an American president -- President Trump seemed to side with Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies on Russian interference in the 2016 election."I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today," the president said.After the election, all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government directed cyberattacks on members of the Democratic Party. That view is also shared by bipartisan committees in the House and Senate and the president's own director of national intelligence, Dan Coats.  "All I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me, and some others, they said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be," the president said.That wonderment not only conflicts with his own administration -- it overlooks Friday's special counsel indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking, fraud and conspiracy in the 2016 political cyber attacks, the most detailed and Kremlin-focused account yet. Mr. Trump even appeared taken with Putin's suggestion, one rife with potential security pitfalls, that Russia's intelligence services could assist the special counsel probe.

Trump is now repaying Putin for helping him win the presidency -WaPo - The events of the past few days — culminating in President Trump’s meeting today with Russian President Vladimir Putin — have rendered this interpretation inescapable: Trump is currently in the process of repaying Putin for helping to deliver him the presidency.Whatever comes of this meeting — even if Trump does, in fact, gain some concessions from Putin, and even if Putin does not get what he wants out of Trump — that storyline will remain operative. The known facts have now established it beyond any serious doubt, and the only alternative interpretations of that now-established basic bargain that make any sense are actually more nefarious than that one.In Helsinki today, Trump and Putin spoke to reporters before entering their private meeting. Trump predicted that “I think we will end up having an extraordinary relationship,” adding that “getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing.” But as The Post’s write-up puts it: “Trump did not mention Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign as one of the topics to be discussed.” On Friday, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III indicted a dozen Russian military intelligence officials in an extraordinary and wide-ranging set of cyberattacks on Hillary Clinton’s campaign and Democratic National Committee officials, alleging a detailed plot to sabotage the election that established the clearest connection yet to the Russian government. Yet not only did Trump fail to say he’d bring up Russian sabotage of our election with Putin, he also tweeted this:Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 16, 2018 In blaming only previous U.S. leadership and the current Mueller probe for bad relations with Russia — and not Russia’s attack on our democracy, which is particularly galling, now that this attack has been described in great new detail — Trump is not merely spinning in a way that benefits himself. He’s also giving a gift to Putin, by signaling that he will continue to do all he can to delegitimize efforts to establish the full truth about Russian interference, which in turn telegraphs that Russia can continue such efforts in the future (which U.S. intelligence officials have warned will happen in the 2018 elections). In a sense, by doing this, Trump is colluding with such efforts right now.

In heated Fox interview, Putin denies having dirt on Trump -- Russian President Vladimir Putin denied possessing compromising information about President Trump and insisted Russia had no part in meddling in the 2016 U.S. election during a contentious interview with Fox News' Chris Wallace following a meeting between the two world leaders in Helsinki, Finland. "We don't have anything on them, and there can't be anything on them," Putin said Monday in his first interview with a U.S. news outlet since June 2017. "I don't want to insult President Trump when I say this -- and I may come as rude -- but before he announced that he will run for presidency, he was of no interest for us. He was a rich person, but, well, there's plenty of rich persons in the United States." In the 32-minute interview with Fox, Putin said Russia had no interest in Mr. Trump before he launched his bid for the presidency. "He was in the construction business. He organized the beauty pageants. But no, it would never occur to anyone that he would think of running for president. He never mentioned his political ambitions. It sounds like it's utter nonsense," Putin said.

President Trump, Russia's Vladimir Putin hold joint news conference | ABC News – 1:42:18 - news coverage, news conference starts at 22:10

Transcript: Trump And Putin's Joint Press Conference – NPR

21 disturbing lines from Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin's news conference - After meeting one-on-one for the better part of two hours in Helsinki, Finland, Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin made statements and then took a handful of questions from reporters. It was some kind of, um, performance, from Trump as he sought to cast Russia's meddling in the 2016 election as a "both sides" issue even while running down the US intelligence community. My initial take on what was a disastrous and shameful performance is here. But I also went through the transcript of the press conference and pulled out the 21 most newsworthy and noteworthy lines from Trump. They're below.

    John Brennan Blasts Trump's Press Conference As "Nothing Short Of Treasonous" - The neocons, not to mention members of the military-industrial complex, are furious at the thought of losing Russia as the biggest global bogeyman responsible for tens of billions in bottom line profits to US defense corporations.Case in point: John Brennan. Former Obama-era CIA Director - and ubiquitous tweeter of anti-Trump rhetoric - John Brennan just unleashed the most aggressive comment yet on the Trump-Putin Summit, claiming it was an act of treason."Why did Trump meet 1 on 1 with Putin? What might he be hiding from Bolton, Pompeo, Kelly, & the American public? How will Putin use whatever Trump could be hiding to advantage Russia & hurt America? Trump’s total lack of credibility renders spurious whatever explanation he gives.""Donald Trump's press performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of 'high crimes and misdemeanors,'" Brennan tweeted. "It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump's comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???"Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of “high crimes & misdemeanors.” It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) July 16, 2018   Additionally, Brennan called on Pompeo, Kelly and Bolton to resign over Trump's behavior at presser with Putin... CNN's Anderson Cooper was apparently reading from the same gospel, calling the Trump-Putin press conference "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president at a summit in front of a Russian leader certainly that I've ever seen":

    After Helsinki, Democrats incite “deep state” action against Trump  --Monday’s meeting in Helsinki has unleashed a torrent of wild denunciations that verge on a direct appeal to the military and intelligence agencies to take action to force Donald Trump’s removal from the White House.The Democratic Party, the corporate media and leading figures within the US military and intelligence apparatus have joined in branding Trump a traitor who is functioning as an agent of the Kremlin.Trump and his cohorts have many crimes to answer for. But the objectives that motivate the anti-Trump hysteria in the media and the conspiratorial methods to which the Democrats are resorting are utterly reactionary.The summit in Helsinki was preceded by the strategically timed announcement of an indictment of 12 alleged Russian military intelligence officers by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on charges of hacking into the computers of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign chairman, John Podesta.This indictment, which consists of a series of unsubstantiated allegations, was seized upon by top Democrats and sections of the media to demand that Trump call off his meeting with Putin. When the Republican president ignored these demands and went ahead with the trip to Helsinki, the Democrats and their allied media outlets were prepared to erupt as soon as the talks had ended. This was made clear by a particularly reactionary piece by New York Times columnist Charles Blow headlined “Trump, Treasonous Traitor” published on the morning of the meeting, which accused Trump of “committing an unbelievable and unforgivable crime against this country …”   The hysterical tone had already been decided upon in advance of the Trump-Putin meeting, and the reaction once it was over was instantaneous.

    Trump's Helsinki Bow To Putin Leaves World Wondering: Why? -- Given the attitude with which President Trump has greeted all news of the Russian interference in the 2016 election, his performance in Helsinki on Monday should have come as no surprise.And yet there was surprise — even shock — when the president of the United States stood onstage alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin and accepted the former KGB officer's denials regarding that interference. Trump was asked directly which one he believed: his own intelligence community or Putin. In so many words, Trump gave the answer: Putin. (Via tweet, Trump would later seek to clarify his response.) Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican, called it "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory." Sen. Bob Casey, the Pennsylvania Democrat, said Trump had "shamed the office of the presidency" with his "dangerous and reckless" reaction to Putin — "a new low and profound embarrassment for America."  The mildest judgment seemed to be that the president's whiff was a missed opportunity. But at the other end of the Twitter scale was former CIA Director John Brennan, calling it "nothing short of treasonous." House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., rejected the idea of "moral equivalence" between the U.S. and the Russian Federation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., spoke to reporters as he entered the Capitol on Monday. "As I've said repeatedly, the Russians are not our friends and I entirely agree with the assessment of our intelligence community," McConnell said.

    Arizona Republic editorial board: Congress needs to rein in Trump | TheHill: The Arizona Republic editorial board said in a scathing editorial on Tuesday that President Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin proves Trump “has no clue what it means to be president of the United States.” “When will Congress rein him in?” the editorial board said in the editorial published a day after Trump appeared to side with Putin over his denial of interfering in the 2016 election. Trump and Putin held a joint press conference in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday. “The president's yes-man behavior with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin shows that Donald Trump does not understand the importance of the job he holds,” the editorial board wrote. “He hasn’t got a clue about what it means to be president.” “The world looks to the United States for leadership, for support of democratic institutions, for respect of human rights and dignity. We have long stood for those values,” the fiery editorial continued. “But the world just saw the American president give a green light to a dictator’s aggression. Every tyrant on the planet has reason to rejoice.” Trump drew swift backlash on Monday after he refuted his own intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election during the press conference, saying that he doesn’t “see any reason” why Russia would have been behind the hacking. The editorial board went on to criticize the president’s performance in four words: “Shameful. Treasonous. Dangerous. Dishonest.”

    ‘Treasonous’ Trump and ‘Putin’s poodle’: Scathing headlines follow the Helsinki summit -  President Donald Trump’s siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin rather than his own intelligence services — who said Russia had meddled in the U.S. election in 2016 — has prompted a litany of eye-grabbing headlines in the press.Trump's summit with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday saw the leaders chat in private before a press conference during which Trump made waves by saying that, despite advice from the U.S. Intelligence community, he believed Putin's repudiation of the allegations.Trump's refusal to condemn Russia has largely prompted consternation, scorn and disbelief from politicians, pundits and the press. Most newspapers Tuesday morning went for variations on the theme — Trump appearing to side with Putin — with an image of the men shaking hands featuring widely on front pages around the world.Headlines have mainly followed the lines of: “Trump backs Putin over FBI in election meddling row,” “Trump sides with Russia over FBI” or “Trump defends Putin over U.S. election meddling accusations,” as per Britain's The Daily Telegraph, Metro and Financial Times newspapers.Others, following a meeting that shocked Republicans and Democrats alike for Trump’s apparently all-too-easy trust of Putin’s word, led with the condemnation waiting for Trump at home in the U.S. “Trump faces backlash after hailing ‘productive’ summit with Putin,” conservative U.K. broadsheet The Times stated. The U.K.'s left-leaning Guardian newspaper went further, quoting former CIA director John Brennan in its headline that stated “’Nothing short of treasonous:' Trump accused over Putin talks.”  Reflecting on an "extraordinary summit," the U.K.'s Sky News ventured further, asking "Could Donald Trump be impeached after 'disgraceful' news conference with Vladimir Putin?" In continental Europe, Germany's Die Welt online news site carried the headline, "After Trump's performance, even Republicans talk of betrayal" and Spain's El Pais went for a similar line, saying Trump had caused "indignation" among Republicans. France's Les Echos noted that the "U.S. president scandalized the American public by saying Monday that there was no collusion during the last election campaign." Italy's Corriere della Sera noted that "Trump did not listen to advice and immediately capitulated on 'Russiagate.'"

    Why Trump Is Getting Away With Foreign-Policy Insanity -- If U.S. President Donald Trump wanted to provoke most of the foreign-policy establishment into a feeding frenzy, then his bizarre, baffling, and in many ways pathetic performance at the Helsinki meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday was a success. But his behavior is still hard to fathom: A guy who is trying to convince us that he isn’t Putin’s puppet and likes to portray himself as tough, strong, and “like, really smart” ended up exposing himself (again) as inarticulate, ill-prepared, gullible, and seemingly incapable of standing up to his Russian counterpart. If this were any other presidency, he’d be toast.It was never entirely clear why he was so eager to meet with Putin anyway. The administration had deliberately lowered expectations before the meeting, aware that the two leaders were not in a position to reach important agreements about anything. Most observers expected a typical Trumpian photo-op and a bland communique like the one issued after the Singapore summit with Kim Jong Un last month, followed by a bunch of boastful tweets about how the president had singlehandedly gotten U.S.-Russian relations back on track.Instead, what the world saw was a U.S. president rejecting the findings of his own intelligence services—now headed by his own appointees, by the way—and accepting at face value Putin’s entirely predictable denials. Trump also tossed in a word salad of discredited conspiracy theories about former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s email server and other irrelevant nonsense, and he said that the legitimate investigation into possible Russian interference was utterly baseless and bad for the country. (That very last claim might be true—i.e., the suspicion that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia is bad for the country—but whether it is without foundation remains to be seen.) The response to Trump’s performance was immediate, overwhelming, and almost entirely negative. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times accused Trump of “treasonous behavior” and concluded, “Donald Trump is either an asset of Russian intelligence or really enjoys playing one on TV.” Former CIA head John Brennan agreed that Trump’s performance was “nothing short of treasonous,” a charged echoed at length by former Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck and repeated by many others. Even normally discreet officials such as former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and my colleague Ash Carter, a former secretary of defense, were visibly appalled, with Burns calling the press conference “the single most embarrassing performance by an American president on the world stage that I’ve ever seen,” and Carter saying, “it was like watching the destruction of a cathedral.”

    Trump hits back amid anger over Russia --US President Donald Trump has hit back after facing fierce criticism over his summit with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.He said the meeting had gone "even better" than the recent Nato summit.After talks with Mr Putin, he contradicted his own intelligence agencies by saying he could not see any reason why Russia would meddle in the 2016 US election that he won.The remarks have angered even some of his supporters. In a tweet, Mr Trump alluded to last week's Nato summit, which ended with him saying he had secured extra money for defence - something disputed by allies in the Western military alliance.  On Monday the US and Russian presidents held nearly two hours of one-on-one talks without their advisers in the Finnish capital Helsinki.At a news conference afterwards, Mr Trump was asked if he believed his own intelligence agencies or the Russian president when it came to allegations of meddling in the 2016 presidential election."President Putin says it's not Russia. I don't see any reason why it would be," he replied.  The US president was also asked whether he held Russia accountable on any particular issue.  He declined to offer specific criticism, but said: "I think we've all been foolish. We should have had this dialogue a long time ago... And I think we're all to blame."

     Peace Talk Between Nuclear Superpowers Offends America's Assholes And Morons -  Caitlin Johnstone - Opposing talks which could lead to de-escalations between the two countries who own almost all of the nuclear warheads in the world is inexcusable and unforgivable. I don’t care if you’re dumb enough to swallow the US intelligence community’s still completely unsubstantiated claims of Russian hacking. I don’t care if you think Trump is bought and owned by Vladimir Putin. Even if both of those things were true, there would still be no excuse for opposing peace talks in a dangerously escalating new cold war. None.Communication and understanding in this situation is an objectively good thing. This meeting with Russia’s leader, which all US presidents have done for many decades, is an objectively good thing. If you have joined in the campaign to help shove the tide of opinion away from peace and toward nuclear holocaust, you are making yourself an enemy of humanity. You have become so warped and demented by your hatred of Donald Trump that it has made a part of you less human. I despise Donald Trump and everything he stands for, and I despise everything that created him. I hate that I have to know his fucking name. But he is the only President of the United States right now, and he is in a unique position to help steer us away from the iceberg and avoid a confrontation that everyone on earth should want to avoid. Any possibility of that happening, however remote, should be supported. Only assholes and morons oppose these peace talks. If you want to help steer this ship into the iceberg of nuclear holocaust, then I want you thrown overboard. Get a fucking grip, you raving lunatics. Stop this. Stop this immediately.

    Helsinki Talks – How Trump Tries To Rebalance The Global Triangle - Moon of Alabama -- The reactions of the U.S. polite to yesterday's press conference of President Trump and President Putin are highly amusing. The media are losing their mind. Apparently it was Pearl Harbor, Gulf of Tonkin and 9/11 all in one day. War will commence tomorrow. But against whom?Behind the panic lie competing views of Grand Strategy.Rereading the transcript of the 45 minutes long press conference (vid) I find it rather boring. Trump did not say anything that he had not said before. There was little mention of what the two presidents had really talked about and what they agreed upon. Later on Putin said that the meeting was more substantive than he expected. As the two spoke alone there will be few if any leaks. To understand what happened we will have to wait and see how the situations in the various conflict areas, in Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere, will now develop. The 'liberal' side of the U.S. did its best to prevent the summit. The recent Mueller indictment was timed to sabotage the talks. Before the meeting in Helsinki the New York Times retweeted its three weeks old homophobic comic flick that shows Trump and Putin as lovers. It is truly a disgrace for the Grey Lady to publish such trash, but it set the tone others would follow.  These imbeciles do not understand the realism behind Trump's grand policy. Trump knows the heartland theory of Halford John Mackinder.  He understands that Russia is the core of the Eurasian landmass. That landmass, when politically united, can rule the world. A naval power, the U.S. now as the UK before it, can never defeat it. Trump's opponents do not get what Zbigniew Brzezinski, the National Security Advisor of President Carter, said in his book The Grant Chessboard (pdf) about a Chinese-Russian alliance. They do not understand why Henry Kissinger advised Trump to let go of Crimea.  There are three great geographic power-centers in the world. The Anglo-American/transatlantic one which is often called 'the west'. Mackinder's heartland, which is essentially Russia as the core of the Eurasian landmass, and China, which historically rules over Asia. Any alliance of two of those power-centers can determine the fate of the world.

    The Helsinki Summit: Trying to Turn the Page on the New Cold War - Finally, on Monday, July 16, 2018, the Helsinki Summit bringing together Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump took place, despite shrill demands that it be stopped, canceled, or turned into a platform for more aggression. “President Trump should cancel his meeting with Vladimir Putin until Russia takes demonstrable and transparent steps to prove that they won’t interfere in future elections. Glad-handing with Vladimir Putin on the heels of these indictments would be an insult to our democracy,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said. Yet there could never be any “proof” of someone not doing something in the future, and to implement the conditions for this specific case would require turning off all the electricity in Russia and seizing all computers everywhere on its territory. It is thus plainly an absurd, irrational, and unrealistic statement that is meant to satisfy partisan emotional needs. As a recipe for international relations, it would be a disaster of a policy. In a desperate effort to maintain the interests vested in the new Cold War, Democrats tried to elbow their way into the summit, to no avail. In the US today, “resistance” means continuing, even escalating, the fabricated Cold War against Russia—resistance has become the catchy buzzword for what Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex, updated to include billionaire tycoons funding “social movements” operating as part of “civil society”. Thus days before the event, President Trump pointed critically at the shrill media and Democrats for firing up the new Cold War: “Heading to Helsinki, Finland – looking forward to meeting with President Putin tomorrow. Unfortunately, no matter how well I do at the Summit, if I was given the great city of Moscow as retribution for all of the sins and evils committed by Russia… …over the years, I would return to criticism that it wasn’t good enough – that I should have gotten Saint Petersburg in addition! Much of our news media is indeed the enemy of the people and all the Dems… …know how to do is resist and obstruct! This is why there is such hatred and dissension in our country – but at some point, it will heal!” (Twitter 1, Twitter 2, Twitter 3).

    A walk on the wild side as Trump meets Putin at Finland station -- “The Cold War is a thing of the past.” By the time President Putin said as much during preliminary remarks at his joint press conference with President Trump in Helsinki, it was clear this would not stand. Not after so much investment by American conservatives in Cold War 2.0. Russophobia is a 24/7 industry, and all concerned, including its media vassals, remain absolutely livid with the “disgraceful” Trump-Putin presser. Trump has “colluded with Russia.” How could the President of the United States promote “moral equivalence” with a “world-class thug”?

    • Trump: “Our relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed. As of about four hours ago.”
    • Putin: “The United States could be more decisive in nudging Ukrainian leadership.”
    • Trump: “There was no collusion… I beat Hillary Clinton easily.”
    • Putin: “We should be guided by facts. Can you name a single fact that would definitively prove collusion? This is nonsense.”

    Then, the clincher: the Russian president calls [Special Counsel] Robert Mueller’s ‘bluff’, offering to interrogate the Russians indicted for alleged election meddling in the US if Mueller makes an official request to Moscow. But in exchange, Russia would expect the US to question Americans on whether Moscow should face charges for illegal actions. Trump hits it out of the park when asked whether he believes US intelligence, which concluded that Russia did meddle in the election, or Putin, who strongly denies it. “President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

    Intel chief Coats shoots back at Trump, who refused to side with him over Putin on election meddling - Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats maintained that Russia interfered in the 2016 election after President Donald Trump refused to say he believed the intelligence community over Russian leader Vladimir Putin.During a joint press conference with Putin, Trump said "I have confidence in both parties" when asked if he believed his own administration's intelligence chiefs over Putin. "My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others. They said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia," Trump said. Coats shot back on Monday afternoon in a statement sent from DNI's official email service, stating unequivocally that Russia not only interfered in the election, but that its "efforts to undermine our democracy" are ongoing: "The role of the Intelligence Community is to provide the best information and fact-based assessments possible for the President and policymakers. We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security." The intelligence community — a collection of federal intelligence agencies — unanimously agrees that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and showed a clear preference for Trump. Putin has denied that he or his government interfered in the election or colluded with the Trump campaign, though he has said he supported Trump over Hillary Clinton in that election. Trump has shown reluctance to accept the intelligence community's findings and on Monday appeared to give Putin more support than Coats at times. "I don’t see any reason why it would be" Russia who hacked the opposition party, Trump said. "I have great confidence in my intelligence people. But I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today."

    Washington Post columnist calls for intervention of the “deep state” - The media hysteria surrounding US President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki has become the occasion for a radical shift to the right in the US ruling elite and media apparatus. Thinly-veiled calls for police state measures and the intervention of intelligence agencies into state affairs that would have been considered beyond the pale just a week ago, are now rife within the editorial pages of US newspapers.On Friday, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson published a column entitled “God Bless the Deep State,” in which he presents the “public servants derided by Trumpists as the supposed ‘deep state’” as an antidote to a treasonous president and an ineffectual Congress.Robinson never defines precisely what he means by the “deep state,” but he cites Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coates as among those high-ranking officials who have countered Trump’s assertion that Russia did not “meddle” in the 2016 elections. It is to such intelligence and military officials that the Post columnist is appealing.The “knowledgeable and experienced” professionals that make up the state and intelligence bureaucracy “are not participants in any kind of dark conspiracy,” he writes. Rather “they have spent years—often decades—mastering the details of foreign and domestic policy.”“God bless them. With a supine Congress unwilling to play the role it is assigned by the Constitution, the deep state stands between us and the abyss.” He concludes, “Democrats in Congress are powerless; the Republican leadership, spineless. Experienced government officials know that their job is to serve the president. But what if the president does not serve the best interests of the nation? In this emergency, the loyal and honorable deep state has a higher duty. It’s called patriotism.”

    US Media is Losing Its Mind Over Trump-Putin Press Conference -- The reaction of the U.S. establishment media and several political leaders to President Donald Trump’s press conference after his summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday has been stunning. Writing in The Atlantic, James Fallows said: Either Donald Trump is flat-out an agent of Russian interests—maybe witting, maybe unwitting, from fear of blackmail, in hope of future deals, out of manly respect for Vladimir Putin, out of gratitude for Russia’s help during the election, out of pathetic inability to see beyond his 306 electoral votes. Whatever the exact mixture of motives might be, it doesn’t really matter. Or he is so profoundly ignorant, insecure, and narcissistic that he did not  realize that, at every step, he was advancing the line that Putin hoped he would advance, and the line that the American intelligence, defense, and law-enforcement agencies most dreaded.  As soon as the press conference ended CNN cut to its panel with these words from TV personality Anderson Cooper: “You have been watching perhaps one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president at a summit in front of a Russian leader, surely, that I’ve ever seen.” David Gergen, who for years has gotten away with portraying himself on TV as an impartial political sage, then told CNN viewers: “I’ve never heard an American President talk that way but I think it is especially true that when he’s with someone like Putin, who is a thug, a world-class thug, that he sides with him again and again against his own country’s interests of his own institutions that he runs, that he’s in charge of the federal government, he’s in charge of these intelligence agencies, and he basically dismisses them and retreats into this, we’ve heard it before, but on the international stage to talk about Hillary Clinton’s computer server …”“It’s embarrassing,” interjected Cooper.“It’s embarrassing,” agreed Gergen.  White House correspondent Jim Acosta, ostensibly an objective reporter, then gave his opinion: “I think that sums it up nicely. This is the president of the United States essentially taking the word of the Russian president…over his own intelligence community. It was astonishing, just astonishing to be in the room with the U.S. president and the Russian president on this critical question of election interference, and to retreat back to these talking points about DNC servers and Hillary Clinton’s emails when he had a chance right there in front of the world to tell Vladimir Putin to stay the HELL out of American democracy, and he didn’t do it.”

    Russia’s ambassador to U.S. on Putin-Trump summit: ‘Why do the Western media think it’s bad?’ - The Helsinki summit between Presidents Trump and Vladimir Putin was a “key event” in international politics, but Washington and the international media are reluctant to accept that it was a success, Russian’s top envoy to the Unites States said Friday. “The presidents of two great powers met and talked. Their talks were constructive,” Ambassador Anatoly Antonov said during a news conference in Moscow. “I saw that they spoke with respect, listened to each other. I think they understood each other.“Why do the Western media think it’s bad?” he asked.As speculation continues to swirl about what exactly was discussed or agreed upon in the Finnish capital, Antonov offered only a few scant details about what the two presidents discussed behind closed doors Monday. He told reporters that most of the meeting was devoted to Syria and bilateral relations between Washington and Moscow, which included the “well-known concerns” on the American side regarding Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.The exact details of the meeting’s talks should and will remain, as Antonov put it, “discreet” in order to be effective. Trump and Putin met alone with only their translators present.Russia also is open to discussing Trump’s surprise invitation Thursday for Putin to visit the White House this fall, Antonov said.“The Russian side has always been open to a possible proposal,” Antonov said. “We’re ready for dialogue on this issue. But of course, it’s up to the Kremlin to decide how many summits are needed, and when.”

    Climb Down From the Summit of Hostile Propaganda - Throughout the day before the summit in Helsinki, the lead story on the New York Times home page stayed the same: “Just by Meeting With Trump, Putin Comes Out Ahead.” The Sunday headline was in harmony with the tone of U.S. news coverage overall. Contempt for diplomacy with Russia is now extreme. Mainline U.S. journalists and top Democrats often bait President Trump in zero-sum terms. No doubt Hillary Clinton thought she was sending out an applause line in her tweet Sunday night: “Question for President Trump as he meets Putin: Do you know which team you play for?” A bellicose stance toward Russia has become so routine and widespread that we might not give it a second thought — and that makes it all the more hazardous. After President George W. Bush declared “You’re either with us or against us,” many Americans gradually realized what was wrong with a Manichean view of the world. Such an outlook is even more dangerous today. Since early 2017, the U.S. mass media have laid it on thick with the rough political equivalent of a painting technique known as chiaroscuro — “the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition,” in the words of Wikipedia. The Russiagate frenzy is largely about punching up contrasts between the United States (angelic and victimized) and Russia (sinister and victimizer). Countless stories with selective facts are being told that way. But other selectively fact-based stories could also be told to portray the United States as a sinister victimizer and Russia as an angelic victim. Those governments and their conformist media outlets are relentless in telling it either way. As the great journalist I.F. Stone observed long ago, “All governments lie, and nothing they say should be believed.” In other words: don’t trust, verify. 

    Detente Bad, Cold War Good -- The entire “liberal” media and political establishment of the Western world reveals its militarist, authoritarian soul today with the screaming and hysterical attacks on the very prospect of detente with Russia. Peace apparently is a terrible thing; a renewed arms race, with quite literally trillions of dollars pumped into the military industrial complex and hundreds of thousands dying in proxy wars, is apparently the “liberal” stance. Political memories are short, but just 15 years after Iraq was destroyed and the chain reaction sent most of the Arab world back to the dark ages, it is now “treason” to question the word of the Western intelligence agencies, which deliberately and knowingly produced a fabric of lies on Iraqi WMD to justify that destruction. It would be more rational for it to be treason for leaders to blindly accept the word of the intelligence services. This is especially true on “Russia hacking the election” when, after three years of crazed accusations and millions of man hours by lawyers and CIA and FBI investigators, they are yet to produce any substantive evidence of accusations which are plainly nuts in the first place. This ridiculous circus has found a few facebook ads and indicted one Russian for every 100,000 man hours worked, for unspecified or minor actions which had no possible bearing on the election result. There are in fact genuine acts of election rigging to investigate. In particular, the multiple actions of the DNC and Democratic Party establishment to rig the Primary against Bernie Sanders do have some very real documentary evidence to substantiate them, and that evidence is even public. Yet those real acts of election rigging are ignored and instead the huge investigation is focused on catching those who revealed Hillary’s election rigging. This gets even more absurd – the investigation then quite deliberately does not focus on catching whoever leaked Hillary’s election rigging, but instead seeks to prove that the Russians hacked Hillary’s election-rigging, which I can assure you they did not. Meanwhile, those of us who might help them with the truth if they were actually interested, are not questioned at all. 

    You’ve Heard the Hysteria About the Trump-Putin Summit. Now Consider the Facts. - Even before Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin ended their press conference after their summit in Helsinki, the dam of outrage had burst. Hysterical pundits, opinionated anchors, motivated intelligence officers and even field reporters were denouncing Trump for not being tough on Putin.It was as if Trump had lost America’s collective manhood to a former KGB spy – a man, in their opinion, more deserving of sanctions than support. They used some of the harshest language – “disgraceful,” “treasonous,” “surrender,” “shameful,” “stunning” “tragic mistake” “dangerous,” “imbecilic,” “high crimes and misdemeanors” – to describe Trump’s conduct. A Democratic Congressman even appealed to “military folks” to save the country from Trump, calling for a coup in all but name.Attacks also came from the Republicans, starting with Senator John McCain, seen as a definitive voice on matters of national security. He called Trump’s performance at the press conference “one of the most disgraceful by an American president in memory.”Washington’s elite were especially perturbed by Trump undermining his own intelligence agencies and their finding that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential elections, and by the moral equivalence he drew by blaming both the United States and Russia for the current state of bilateral relations. Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian Studies at Princeton University and a preeminent scholar, compared the rabid reaction Trump’s press conference generated to “mob violence” and a “kangaroo court” pronouncing judgment. “I have never seen anything like it in my life,” he said in a rare television interview.  “This is the president of the United States, doing what every other president before him since FDR in 1943 with Stalin (has done) … meeting with the head of the Kremlin,” Cohen explained. All US presidents have met the leader of the Kremlin “for one existential purpose: to avoid war between the nuclear superpowers.” In Cohen’s considered judgment, relations between the US and Russia today are “more dangerous than they have ever been,” including during the Cuban missile crisis. “I want my president to do – I didn’t vote for this president – what every other president has done. Sit down and walk back the conflicts that could lead to war, whether they be in Syria, Ukraine, the Baltic nations or accusations of cyber attacks.”

    Ron Paul Praises Trump's "Peaceful Negotiations" With Putin; Damns 'Deep State', Media Warmongers - The American media are “almost unanimously endorsing the idea that we have to have an enemy,” declares International peace and trade advocate Ron Paul, warning that "at this point, especially for the last 20 years, they’ve been working very hard to make Russia the enemy, and I think this is wrong." However, bucking the mainstream sheeple narrative, in a new RT interview, Paul praised how United States President Donald Trump handled himself at a meeting in Helsinki, Finland this week with Russia President Vladimir Putin. Says Paul, “I was sort of pleased with the way Trump handled himself.” In particular, Paul comments that Trump emphasized the benefit of “peaceful negotiations,” something Paul supports, calling it "a step in the right direction.""I was very pleased with what went on today," Paul said. He added that if the two leaders ever had a serious discussion, "I guess it would come out on how much we've been involved when we shouldn't be involved, for instance in Ukraine, and how that occurred.”"But if they don't want to concentrate on those problems and they want to look forward I think that is great… I think the next best step ever would be for us to reassess this and say that Trump's going in the right direction and talk him into getting rid of the sanctions on Russia."Paul also addressed the US media, calling it a "big problem." When asked by RT why the US media already seems angry about the meeting between the two presidents, he said: "It's hard to say, but we usually describe that there is a secret government that likes to control things and most people know what we talk about when we talk about the 'deep state.' And they do have a lot of clout, they are very much involved in the media and the leadership of both parties, so both parties and the media are very, very, annoyed with Trump [being so] independent."  Referring to the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity of which Paul is the chairman, Paul says: “Of course, we believe very strongly at the institute that trade is very important, and that’s why we don’t like to see protectionism and tariffs and sanctions and all these kinds of things."

     "This Is Utterly Ridiculous": Highlights From Fox News' Putin Interview -  After sitting down with President Trump earlier in the day, President Putin joined Fox News' Chris Wallace for a combative interview where he insisted that the idea that Russia could have influenced the votes of millions of Americans during the 2016 election was "utterly ridiculous" while insisting that Russia doesn't have compromising materials on President Trump. The interview aired on "Special Report" on Monday as the bipartisan backlash to Trump's meeting with Putin was beginning to grow, and President Putin started off with some advice for the world (and perhaps even more so, the sheep in America): "As for who to believe and who you can't believe... can you believe at all - you can't believe anyone." . Pushing back against claims that the Russians have compromising information on Trump, Putin said "I don't want to insult President Trump when I say this - and I may come as rude - but before he announced that he will run for presidency, he was of no interest for us." He then went on to claim that it would be impossible for Russia to have influenced the 2016 election. "Interference with the domestic affairs of the United States - do you really believe that someone acting from the Russian territory could have influenced the United States and influenced the choice of millions of Americans?" Putin said. "This is utterly ridiculous." Russia doesn't even have the resources to track Trump even if it wanted to, Putin said. For example, the annual St. Petersburg Economic Forum usually attracts 500 business leaders and most of them are industrial tycoons on a "greater scale" than Trump, yet do the Americans think Russia organized surveillance on all of them?"Well, unlike you, unlike the United States, we don't do this. We don't have enough resources. We don't have enough manpower to organize the total state of control. That's not part of our plans. And it's clear that we did nothing of that kind of against Mr. Trump." Asked how Russia might respond if either Georgia or Ukraine were to join NATO, Putin scoffed, saying his reaction would be "negative."  Moving on to Syria, Wallace asked about reports made by independent monitors claiming that Russia has bombed civilians in Aleppo and Ghouta, to which Putin replied that "victims are inevitable.""You know, when there [is] warfare going on - and this is the worst thing that can happen [for] humankind - [victims] are inevitable, and there will always be a question of who’s to blame. I think it is the terrorist groups who are to blame who destabilized the situation in the country."But when Wallace asked if Putin had qualms about killing innocent men, women and children, the Russian president chided him, accusing him of being "completely deceived.""You are completely deceived, and I am very sorry that you do not know the real situation…about Syria."

    If you work for Trump, quit now -  Ruth Marcus, WaPo editorial page editor -- Everyone who works for President Trump: Quit now. Save your souls. Save your honor, such as it is. Save your reputation, such as it remains. Russia attacked our democracy. Trump has demonstrated repeatedly, and did so again with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, that he doesn’t care and won’t defend his country.If you work for this man and you call yourself a patriot, it is time for you to go.This may sound excessive, even irresponsible. Indeed, for months I have agonized over the question of public service in the age of Trump.Of course, as a general matter, it is better to have more grown-ups around Trump, mitigating his worst impulses, providing wisdom born of experience to counter his ignorance and petulance.But that assessment assumes facts not in evidence: that Trump is educable or containable. Actually, it contravenes the available evidence. There is none that Trump has done anything but what Trump wants to do. Monday’s news conference made that clear. Extreme times call for extreme measures, and these are the extreme-est of times.

    Trump: "Russia Has Agreed To Help With North Korea" - Still reeling from the bipartisan outrage over his press conference alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Trump announced on twitter Wednesday morning that Russia has agreed to help with North Korea as the president tries to prove his critics wrong and demonstrate exactly why closer ties with Russia are a net positive for the US - as Trump has long insisted."While the NATO meeting in Brussels was an acknowledged triumph...the meeting with Russia may prove to be, in the long run, an even greater success," Trump began (indeed, even the NYT has praised Trump because he "got from NATO everything Obama ever asked for"). "Russia has agreed to help with North Korea, where relationships with us are very good and the process is moving along."Trump also insisted that "so many people at the higher ends of intelligence loved my press conference performance in Helsinki" although it was unclear who Trump was referring to. So many people at the higher ends of intelligence loved my press conference performance in Helsinki. Putin and I discussed many important subjects at our earlier meeting. We got along well which truly bothered many haters who wanted to see a boxing match. Big results will come! While the NATO meeting in Brussels was an acknowledged triumph, with billions of dollars more being put up by member countries at a faster pace, the meeting with Russia may prove to be, in the long run, an even greater success. Many positive things will come out of that meeting..  ....Russia has agreed to help with North Korea, where relationships with us are very good and the process is moving along. There is no rush, the sanctions remain! Big benefits and exciting future for North Korea at end of process! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 18, 2018

    Trump Reverses Course, Says Russia Meddled in 2016 Election—A day after questioning the U.S. intelligence community’s findings that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election, President Donald Trump reversed course on Tuesday, saying he accepted its conclusion. Mr. Trump, whose comments at his news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki prompted a backlash in Congress and criticism from some of his allies, offered his “full faith and support for America’s great intelligence agencies.” Speaking to reporters at the White House, Mr. Trump said he has “strong respect” for intelligence agencies and noted “tremendous talent” within the U.S. intelligence community. Even as he acknowledged Russia’s role, Mr. Trump left open the idea that there “could be others too,” and he repeated his assertion that there was no collusion with his campaign.The president said his administration had no plans to lift sanctions on Russia and would work hard to thwart further attempts at Russian election meddling in the U.S. “We will stop it, we will repel it,” he said. “We’re doing everything in our power to prevent Russian interference in 2018.”Mr. Trump told reporters that he had reviewed the transcripts of the news conference and realized that he had misspoken at one key point. Asked at Monday’s summit whom he believed—U.S. intelligence agencies or Mr. Putin—Mr. Trump said Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, “came to me [and] said, they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia.”  He then said, “I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be.”   Mr. Trump on Tuesday said that he had meant to say, “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.” Earlier Tuesday, lawmakers from both parties reiterated assertions that Russia is a U.S. adversary. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that there was “indisputable evidence” that Russia had interfered with the U.S. election, and that Moscow was no friend to the U.S.

    Poll: Trump's handling of Putin meeting at Helsinki Summit, Russia election meddling and US intelligence agencies - Only a third of Americans (32 percent) approve of the way Donald Trump handled his summit in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a CBS News poll shows. Sixty-eight percent of Republicans approve.  Most Americans (70 percent) believe U.S. intelligence assessments that Russia interfered in the elections, though Republicans are more skeptical. Just half say they believe U.S. intelligence, while nine in ten Democrats do. More Americans see President Trump as too friendly toward Russia than they did last year. This is largely due to an increase in the number of Democrats and independents who say so. More than 3 in 4 Republicans think the President has the right balance.  Thirty-nine percent of Americans report feeling less confident after the summit about Mr. Trump standing up for U.S. interests, though much of that comes from Democrats; Republicans say they are more confident or unchanged.Republicans hold relatively more positive views of Russia than Democrats do, as has been the case since Donald Trump was elected. More Republicans call Russia at least friendly or an ally to the U.S. compared to Americans overall. Looking ahead, a majority of Americans overall (61 percent) express at least some concern about Russia interfering in the 2018 elections, though Republicans express far lower levels of concern, while most Democrats are very concerned.

    A Spirited, Substantive Debate on the Trump-Putin Summit, Russia, and U.S. Politics - Glenn Greenwald. Transcripts here and here. -- On Saturday, I described the “multiple reasons political discourse is degraded by the fact that it now plays out primarily on Twitter.” On Sunday night, the New York Times’s White House reporter Maggie Haberman announced that she was ” taking a break from this platform” because “it’s not really helping the discourse.” There seems to be a growing recognition, one I certainly share, that Twitter is a uniquely poor, even destructive, medium for conducting complex political debates and should be avoided for those purposes. That view was reinforced for me by a lengthy, spirited, and substantive debate I had on Democracy Now! this morning about the Trump-Putin summit, and U.S. politics more broadly, with Joe Cirincione, the longtime president of Ploughshares Fund, which has long been devoted to the reduction and ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons, as well as a contributor to MSNBC and Think Progress. Although we disagreed on several critical questions, the debate was substantive, respectful, and nuanced, and therefore, infinitely more illuminating of my positions and his than endless Twitter bickering could possibly achieve (the two tweets of his that I referenced during the discussion are here and here). The quality of the debate was so high that we ended up conducting a second part that Democracy Now! will publish shortly, and I will add it once it’s up. But this first part, which is about 25 minutes, contains what I believe is a worthwhile examination of the questions raised by the Trump-Russia controversy, Vladimir Putin, and the role of the U.S. in the world generally:

    Trump Sparks More Outrage Claiming "Russia No Longer Targeting US" - Moments ago, Trump held another meeting with members of his cabinet, amid the fallout of the Putin summit. A live feed is available below: Unlike yesterday's "damage control" press conference, today Trump was focusing on the economy, saying he will focus on workforce training and will make a "big announcement" on job training tomorrow; he added that he wants Americans to have a choice and find jobs they really love, so they'll "love getting up in the morning and going to work."   Hinting at an end to NAFTA, Trump told his cabinet the US is having "really good discussions" with Mexico and is "getting closer" in trade negotiations, and may do a separate trade agreement with Mexico. He also said the US could do a separate agreement with Canada "at a later time. He then said that autos will be the focus of trade talks with the EU on July 25.  Trump also addressed the recent decision by Pfizer not to hike some drug prices, saying "Pfizer responded appropriately to the White House call."Finally, Trump touched on Russia, saying "there's been no president ever as tough as I have been on Russia... I think President Putin knows that better than anybody, certainly a lot better than the media. He understands it, and he's not happy about it." But in a surprise twist, seconds later Trump said "no" when asked if Russia still poses a threat to the US: "Russia is no longer targeting the US." That comment undercut his own director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, who said after Trump's Helsinki press conference that Russia's hostile activities against the U.S. and its allies are "ongoing." Coats also underscored the intelligence agencies' worry that Russia is prepared to interfere with this fall's midterm elections. "We have been clear in our assessment of Russian meddling in our 2016 elections and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy," Coats said in a statement.

    Trump Putin: Incredulity as Russian leader is invited to visit US - President Donald Trump has invited Russian leader Vladimir Putin to visit the US, in a move that drew startled laughter from a US intelligence chief. "That's going to be special!" said Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, when he was told about the invitation during a live interview. The political fallout is continuing from Mr Trump's first summit with Mr Putin in Finland on Monday. Democrats are demanding the notes from the two leaders' private talks. "Until we know what happened at that two-hour meeting in Helsinki, the president should have no more one-on-one interactions with Putin," said Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, in a statement. "In the United States, in Russia, or anywhere else." The Republican president's 18 months in office have been dogged by investigations into whether any of his aides colluded with alleged Russian attempts to sway the 2016 election in his favour. Mr Trump and Mr Putin have poured scorn on the claims. In a CNBC interview televised on Friday, Mr Trump said he and Mr Putin "get along well", even if they did not always see eye to eye. "It wasn't always conciliatory in that meeting," Mr Trump said. "We discussed lots of great things for both countries, frankly." He did not offer further details. Mr Trump also vowed to be the Russian leader's "worst nightmare" if their relationship ever turns sour, and said former President Barack Obama had been Mr Putin's "total patsy".

    Senate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit | TheHill: Senate Republicans are attempting to dissuade President Trump from holding another summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin anytime soon. Many GOP senators regard Trump's meeting with the Russian leader in Helsinki earlier this week as a political disaster. Congressional Republicans have since come under intense pressure to renounce the president's embrace of Putin on the world stage, particularly his apparent acceptance of Putin’s denial that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. When asked about the possibility of a second summit, Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas) hung his head and quipped, “maybe in a year or two.” The body language of other GOP senators was equally telling. “I don’t have anything to say about that today,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), another member of the GOP leadership, lowering his eyes and shaking his head. The White House confirmed Thursday that Trump has asked national security adviser John Bolton to invite Putin to Washington for another rounds of talks in the fall. "In Helsinki, @POTUS agreed to ongoing working level dialogue between the two security council staffs," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted. "President Trump asked @Ambjohnbolton to invite President Putin to Washington in the fall and those discussions are already underway." Republican senators made clear that they think rushing into another Helsinki is not a good idea. 

    After three days, Trump rejects Putin's 'incredible offer' to help Russia interrogate Americans - The White House on Thursday said President Donald Trump would not accept an "incredible offer" from Russian President Vladimir Putin. During the Helsinki summit between the two leaders on Monday, Putin offered to permit U.S. investigators to interrogate Russians charged with hacking during the 2016 election, in exchange for the United States agreeing to allow the Kremlin to interrogate U.S. citizens about unspecified crimes. “It is a proposal that was made in sincerity by President Putin, but President Trump disagrees with it," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement Thursday. "Hopefully President Putin will have the 12 identified Russians come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt." The statement, coming three days after Trump's initial comment, was the latest example of back tracking the White House press office has undertaken since Trump's stunning joint press conference with Putin on Monday. There Trump called Putin's proposal an "incredible offer." Trump also signaled that he believed Putin's denial that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election and cast doubt on his own intelligence services' assessment that Russia did, in fact, interfere. "I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today, and what he did is an incredible offer," Trump said in Helsinki, Finland. "He offered to have the people working on the case come [to Russia] and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer." Initially, that statement did not get the kind of bipartisan backlash that Trump's comments about his intelligence services received. But on Wednesday when asked about it, rather than dismiss Putin's offer out of hand, Sanders said the president would "work with his team" to assess it. A wide range of observers were outraged that the American president would even consider permitting Russia to question U.S. officials, including former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, for alleged crimes relating to tax evasion by British financier Bill Browder. The White House announced Trump’s rejection just before the Senate's unanimous vote to approve a resolution telling the president not to accept Putin’s request.

    Trump: I’ll be Vladimir Putin’s ‘worst enemy’ if US-Russia relationship ‘doesn’t work out’ - President Donald Trump vowed Thursday that if his dealings with Russian leader Vladimir Putin don't "work out, I'll be the worst enemy he's ever had."Trump made the statement during an interview at the White Housewith CNBC's Joe Kernen that will air in full Friday at 6 a.m. ET on "Squawk Box.""I'll be his worst nightmare, but I don't think it'll be that way," Trump said about Putin. "I actually think we'll have a good relationship."In the same interview, Trump blasted his predecessor, President Barack Obama, for having been a "total patsy" for Russia — while claiming he has been "far tougher on Russia than any president in many, many years.""Maybe ever," Trump added.But Trump also said he valued the opportunity to improve the United States' relationship to Russia, even after American intelligence agencies have said that Russia repeatedly tried to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.""Getting along with President Putin, getting along with Russia, is positive, not a negative," Trump said.Later Thursday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted that Trump asked National Security Advisor John Bolton to invite Putin to Washington in the fall. The president's comments came three days after he met with Putin in Helsinki, where his comments at a joint press conference with the Russian strongman drew widespread criticism both from Democrats and from his fellow Republicans.Under questioning from reporters, Trump refused to criticize Putin for the election meddling, and suggested that it was an open question as to whether the former KGB spy Putin's denials of such hostile action were as credible as the findings by American intelligence services. In his interview Thursday, Trump ticked off several actions that he said rebut any argument that he is under Putin's thumb. Those actions include his urging German leader Angela Merkel last week to withdraw support for a new gas pipeline that would bring gas from Russia to Germany across the Baltic Sea. Trump had called Germany "a captive of Russia" because its reliance on Russian energy sources.

     Forget Trump: The Military-Industrial Complex Is Still Running The Show With Russia - President Donald Trump has strengthened, not weakened, American military and economic opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin. That fact has been mostly unreported and it is of the utmost importance. Irrespective of what Trump harrumphs about NATO or Vladimir Putin, the multi-trillion-dollar military-industrial-counterterrorism complex (MICC) rules American-Russian relations as it has for seven decades. And the nightmare of the MICC is not to lose a friend, but to lose an enemy. Fake news is fixated on personalities. Authentic news understands that nations have no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests. The executive branch in particular has a permanent interest in exaggerating threats to augment its own power and to order up more superfluous military spending. President Barack Obama, in opposing Russian designs, refused to provide military assistance to Ukraine. Trump has authorized the transfer of defensive military weapons. Obama limited the U.S. military mission in Syria to defeating ISIS. Trump has expanded the mission to remain in Syria indefinitely and influence the outcome of that country’s protracted civil war. Trump is also planning a $1.2 trillion upgrade of our nuclear arsenal, including low-yield tactical weapons, largely targeting Russia. His most recent National Security Strategy paper elaborates: The United States will respond to the growing political, economic, and military competitions we face around the world. China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity. They are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence. Trump has supported NATO’s 30,000-strong rapid response force in case of a Russian attack. He has exhorted NATO members to spike their military spending against Russia from 2 percent or less of GDP to 4 percent. Trump has affirmed that he will treat an attack on any NATO member as an attack on the United States and will respond with military force without a constitutionally required declaration of war. He has not withdrawn even one soldier of more than 50,000 on the ground in NATO countries. Trump has maintained economic sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea and further military encroachments into eastern Ukraine. He signed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which the Russian prime minister assailed as a “full-scale trade war.”

     America's 'Gift' To The World: Visualizing 70 Years Of US Arms Exports - Back in April, the Trump administration rolled out a new “Buy American” initiative aimed at allowing more countries to buy more and even bigger weapons. It will loosen U.S. export rules on equipment ranging from fighter jets and drones to warships and artillery, the officials said.Some more details on the new weapons sales policy: Reuters has learned that the initiative will provide guidelines that could allow more countries to be granted faster deal approvals, possibly trimming back to months what has often taken years to finalize. The strategy will call for members of Trump’s cabinet to sometimes act as “closers” to help seal major arms deals, according to people familiar with the matter. More top government officials will also be sent to promote U.S. weapons at international air shows and arms bazaars. While human rights and arms control advocates are warning that the proliferation of a broader range of advanced weaponry to more foreign governments could increase the risk of arms being diverted into the wrong hands and fueling violence in regions such as the Middle East and South Asia, this is of little import to an administration obsessed with closing the US trade deficit, even it means closing it by selling nukes to the highest bidder. “This policy seeks to mobilize the full resources of the United States government behind arms transfers that are in the U.S. national and economic security interest,” a White House official said, responding to a request for comment on the story. “We recognize that arms transfers may have important human rights consequences,” the official said. “Nothing in this policy changes existing legal or regulatory requirements in this regard.”It will probably not come as a surprise to anyone that the main architects of the new policy has been economist Peter Navarro, a China trade skeptic ascendant in Trump’s inner circle. His effort to boost arms exports has drawn little resistance within the White House, Reuters officials said. But, as the following stunning animation shows, US exports of arms has been going strong since at least 1950...

    Tensions over Syria deepen following Helsinki summit - Amid the hysterical denunciations of President Donald Trump by the US media, the Democrats as well as Republicans, and prominent spokesmen for the US intelligence apparatus for his failure to confront Vladimir Putin over alleged Russian “meddling” in the 2016 election, the Helsinki summit was celebrated in at least one quarter. The government of President Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli press greeted statements by both Trump and Putin in support of Israeli security and interests in Syria as a diplomatic triumph. During their joint press conference, Trump and Putin, representing governments that have supported opposite sides in the bloody seven-year-old US-backed war for regime change, expressed their commitment to Israel’s security as well as its interests in the Syrian conflict. Boasting that no American government has ever had closer relations to the Israeli government than his administration, Trump continued: “President Putin also is helping Israel. And we both spoke with Bibi Netanyahu, and they would like to do certain things with respect to Syria having to do with the safety of Israel. So in that respect, we absolutely would like to work in order to help Israel, and Israel will be working with us. So both countries would work jointly.” For his part, Putin said that he and Trump had paid “special attention” to the issue during their one-on-one talks, adding that the “crushing of terrorists” in southwestern Syria “should be brought to the full compliance with the Treaty of 1974 about the … separation of forces of Israel and Syria. This will bring peace to Golan Heights and bring a more peaceful relationship between Syria and Israel, and also to provide security of the state of Israel.” Netanyahu had traveled to Moscow on the eve of the Trump-Putin meeting in Helsinki, apparently pressing Moscow to curtail the presence of Iranian-backed forces in Syria and particularly in the south of the country near the Israeli border. Putin’s invocation of the ceasefire agreement that ended the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, leaving the bulk of the Golan Heights under Israeli occupation while creating a UN-monitored demilitarized zone, appeared to be aimed at meeting Israel’s demands, at least in southern Syria.

    US rebuffs European plea for Iran sanctions waiver for firms: FT-- Washington will move forward with imposing fresh sanctions on corporations operating in Iran, starting as early as next month, despite a European request to hold off, the Financial Times reported on Monday. In a recent letter sent to European leaders, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin refused to grant waivers to exempt companies working in the country, diplomats told FT. Instead, according to the diplomats, Pompeo and Mnuchin wrote that the US wanted to create "unprecedented financial pressure" until Iran makes a "tangible, demonstrable and sustained shift" in policies. The letter was a response to a 6 June request from France, Britain, Germany and the EU sent to US President Donald Trump's administration. The plea came as European leaders scrambled to save the hard-fought deal signed between Iran and world powers in 2015 under which Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear capacities in exchange for relief from crippling economic sanctions. Trump announced he was abandoning the deal in May, paving the way for new sanctions on the Islamic republic and punitive measures for those who trade with it. French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire told Le Figaro on Friday that after the US dismissed the European request, he had asked for at least more time before the sanctions kicked in, but that too was rejected. Washington's refusal came as Trump called Europe a foe in trade and renewed accusations that the EU was taking advantage of the United States. Analysts say European firms which have rushed to invest in Iran after the lifting of sanctions over the past three years have the most to lose from the renewed sanctions. Several European companies, including French oil firm Total and Danish shipping group AP Moller-Maersk, have announced in recent months that they would cease commercial activity in Iran over fears of fresh sanctions.

    US rejects EU carve-out from sanctions against Iran -- The Trump administration has formally rejected calls from France, Germany and the UK, as well as the European Union, for a carve-out from US sanctions on Iran imposed as a result of the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal last May.The letter, signed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, cited in a number of news reports over the weekend, was in reply to a June 7 request from the European powers seeking exemptions in finance, energy and health care and for contracts with Iran signed after the nuclear deal was reached.The European powers had said that, “as allies,” they expected that “the United States will refrain from taking action to harm Europe’s security interests.”This was flatly rejected. The Pompeo-Mnuchin letter said the US was seeking to apply “unprecedented financial pressure” on Iran after pulling out the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).“The president withdrew from the JCPOA for a simple reason—it failed to guarantee the safety of the American people,” the letter said. “We are thus not in a position to make exceptions to this policy except in very specific circumstances where it clearly benefits our national security.” The first wave of sanctions will come into effect on August 4, targeting cars, gold and other metals. A second wave will be imposed on November 4, directed against sales of oil and financial transactions by Iran’s central bank.

    Leaked Netanyahu Tape: We Made Trump Cancel The Iran Deal - On Tuesday an Israeli television channel aired leaked video footage it obtained exclusively showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasting that he had personally convinced President Trump to abandon the Iran nuclear deal. The statements were made at a small dinner event where he addressed senior members of his Likud party. The video, aired by Israel's Kan News shows Netanyahu enthusiastically praising his and Likud leadership's efforts, saying “We convinced the US president [to exit the deal] and I had to stand up against the whole world and come out against this agreement." He added, "And we didn't give up." According to a translation of the prime minister's words by The Times of Israel he further agrees that "the Iranian regime" will "disappear with the help of God" — in the words of one of his supporters, to which Netanyahu adds, "You said it. From your mouth to God."   תיעוד בלעדי | רה"מ @netanyahu התגאה במפגש פוליטי סגור של הליכוד כי הוא זה שהצליח להוביל לביטול הסכם הגרעין: "שכנענו את נשיא ארה"ב" #חדשותהערב @shemeshmicha  — כאן חדשות (@kann_news) July 17, 2018   The Times of Israel presents the rest of the short clip's contents as followsThe prime minister then begins to speak about the Iranian regime — “not the Iranian people, I have nothing against them” — before he is interrupted by an unidentified person off-screen who says, “It will disappear with the help of God.”“You said it. From your mouth to God,” Netanyahu says in response as the clip ends.Netanyahu does not explain in the video aired by Kan how he convinced Trump to exit the deal. Trump had vowed to scrap what he assailed as the “worst deal ever” before becoming president.The Israeli broadcaster that obtained the footage said it was filmed two weeks ago.

    Iran indicates talks with US on nuclear program unlikely (AP) — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's chief of staff claims the president rejected eight requests from President Donald Trump last year for one-on-one talks.It's the latest comment from Tehran suggesting Iran isn't prepared to embark on bilateral negotiations with Washington.Trump earlier this year pulled America out of the international deal meant to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon. He said last week that with increased American sanctions, "at a certain point they're going to call me and say 'let's make a deal.'"  State-owned IRAN newspaper quoted Rouhani's chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi saying Thursday that "it's been the reverse, so far," with Trump seeking to initiate talks. He says Iran rejected the requests from the U.S. for the two presidents to meet at last year's UN General Assembly meeting.

    White House Asked 8 Times For Trump-Rouhani Meeting, Iran Says --In a disclosure that the New York Times said showed "a previously undisclosed level of hostility among top Iranian officials toward President Trump", the paper reported Thursday that Iran had rejected eight requests from the White House for a meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during the United Nations General Assembly last year.  White House and State Department officials haven't responded to Iran's claim, made by Rouhani’s chief of staff, Mahmoud Vaezi, at a cabinet meeting. Reports of the remark first surfaced in Iranian state media. Iran’s Foreign Ministry has previously claimed that it denied a request for a meeting between the two leaders. "Trump asked the Iranian delegation eight times to have a meeting with the president," Mr. Vaezi said. Since then, Trump has withdrawn the US from the 2015 Iran deal and restored sanctions against the country in defiance of the wishes of Russia, China and our European partners. Iran was also included in Trump's travel ban, which was recently upheld by the Supreme Court. Despite this, Trump has also expressed a willingness to engage Iran and negotiate, though the two sides haven't had much, if any, contact.  "The biggest obstacle to a U.S.-Iran dialogue is not Trump but Khamenei," said Karim Sadjadpour, a senior fellow in the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Trump flew halfway around the world to meet with Kim Jong-un. Khamenei hasn’t left Iran since 1989." Obama and Mr. Rouhani spoke on the phone at the end of the 2013 General Assembly as the Iranian leader headed home. That was the first time an Iranian leader had spoken with a US President since the revolution.

    Trump says defending tiny NATO ally Montenegro could result in World War III-- After rattling U.S. allies last week at a NATO summit, President Donald Trump voiced concerns Tuesday that defending the "tiny" and "aggressive" nation of Montenegro could theoretically result in World War III. Montenegro, located on the Adriatic Sea in southeastern Europe, joined the NATO alliance during the Trump administration. The nation, which borders Serbia, Albania, Bosnia and Croatia, is geographically smaller than Connecticut and has a smaller population than Washington, D.C. Russia has condemned its NATO membership. The most recent addition to the alliance became a topic of discussion Tuesday during a Fox News interview with the president in the wake of his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "Membership in NATO obligates the members to defend any other member that's attacked," Fox News host Tucker Carlson said to Trump. "So let’s say Montenegro, which joined last year, is attacked. Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack?" Trump answered: "I understand what you're saying. I've asked the same question. Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people. … They're very aggressive people. They may get aggressive, and, congratulations, you're in World War III." In the same interview with Carlson, Trump continued to say he deserves sole credit for NATO members increasing defense spending. NATO last agreed to raise spending levels before he became president.

    US Launches National Security Probe Into Uranium Imports - As Bloomberg and others previewed yesterday, on Wednesday morning the Trump administration announced it has launched a probe whether uranium imports threaten national security, a move which may result in tariffs on the metal.According to the Commerce Department, the probe will determine "whether the present quantity and circumstances of uranium ore and product imports into the U.S. threaten to impair the national security.” The probe will cover the entire uranium sector, from the mining industry to enrichment, defense and industrial consumption.In a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the Department of Defense will be consulted about national defense requirements for uranium, Bloomberg reported.The probe was initiated when US uranium producers Energy Fuels Inc. and Ur-Energy Inc. filed a petition in January asking the Commerce Department to investigate the matter under Section 232 of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act; this is the same provision the president used to slap tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.U.S. industry participants want the government to shield them from competition from state-owned companies in countries including Russia and Kazakhstan.  The problem is that any stumbling blocks to uranium imports could have a drastic impact on various downstream industries: U.S. production of uranium necessary for military and electric power has dropped to just 5% of domestic consumption, from 49 percent, said Ross. A uranium investigation would add to further trade tensions which the IMF, and Wall Street, believe represent the biggest "tail risk" risk to the global economy. And, as Bloomberg adds, "imposing uranium duties would deal another blow to nuclear power plants already struggling with low electricity prices and flat demand."

    "Mr. Trump, Tear Down This Alliance" - NATO is obsolete. Donald Trump made this argument back on the campaign trail. This week, in his typically hyperbolic manner, he dressed down the organization for its hypocrisy over its mandate, which is to counter any aggression from Russia. But, the potential threat of a Russian invasion of Europe is nil. And, literally, everyone involved in this farce of a summit knows this. So, Trump was right to call out the hypocrisy, but wrong about how to solve it. Attacking Germany over the Nordstream 2 pipeline is nonsense. Trade, especially energy trade, stitches economies and peoples together. But to Trump energy is different. Energy is a defense issue. As such, it should be tightly controlled and only deployed to the benefit of those he approves of (or is allied with) against those he doesn’t (China). And this is what is fundamentally wrong with geopolitically-dominant thinking. Everything gets reduced to the metaphoric chess board. People stop thinking about their individual needs and can only think in terms of nations and governments. And it makes it easy for authoritarians like Trump, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel and all the rest to push the public’s buttons, openly stoking people’s in-group/out-group bias against their own best interest. This is ultimately what allows for equally odious people like Donald Trump and Angela Merkel to achieve and maintain power. NATO is obsolete because the thinking behind why it is necessary is obsolete. It’s not Russian aggression that everyone has to be worried about, it is the aggression of those who have to this point mismanaged everything they were empowered to take care of in the first place, i.e. the very politicians at the meeting.  

    Trump knows that the US can exercise more power in a UK weakened by Brexit -- English nationalism as expressed by Brexiteers is a strange beast.  Donald Trump gives an interview in which he assumes the right to intervene in the conflict between Theresa May and Boris Johnson over Brexit. He speaks with the same confident authority as he would in his own country, sorting out differences in the Republican Party over who should be the next senator for Alabama or South Carolina. His attempted roll-back later does not alter the tone or substance of what he said.  The aim of Trump’s intervention in the short term is, as always, to top the news agenda and to show up everybody, be they allies or enemies, as weaker and more vulnerable than himself. More dangerously for Britain, in the long term, his domineering words set down a marker for the future relationship between the UK and the US outside the EU which could be close to that between the colony or the vassal of an imperial state. The terminology is the Brexiteers’ own: Johnson claimed in his resignation letter that the Chequers version of Brexit a few days earlier was so watered down that it meant that “we are truly headed for the status of a colony”. He cited, as concrete evidence of this servitude, the anger he felt towards the EU for frustrating his efforts to protect cyclists from juggernauts, though media investigation revealed that it was the British government that blocked the life-saving measure.Jacob Rees-Mogg, the fundamentalist Brexit leader, described the intention to keep Britain within the EU rule book for goods and agriculture as “the greatest vassalage since King John paid homage to Phillip II at Le Goulet in 1200”.

      Trump 'snubbed' by UK royal family — Prince Charles and Prince William refused to meet U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife Melania on their visit to the U.K, according to the Sunday Times of London.Queen Elizabeth II was left alone to receive the Trumps at Windsor Castle Friday. According to a “well-placed source” quoted by the Times, the absence of the two princes during Trump’s visit “was a snub,” and they “simply refused to attend.” Downing Street and Buckingham Palace said that because Trump’s tour was not a state visit, the plan was always for the Queen to greet the president and his wife alone.  However, the Times source said senior courtiers discussed concerns about the princes’ reluctance to participate. The Times also quotes a Whitehall official who said Trump’s time with the Queen was “kept to a bare minimum,” and that the royal family “were not as enthusiastic as they were when Obama came over.”

      “I think the European Union is a foe,” Trump says ahead of Putin meeting in Helsinki --Coming off a contentious NATO summit and a trip to the U.K. in which he seemed to undercut the government of America's closest ally, President Trump took aim at another Western institution just days before his high-stakes meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In an interview with "CBS Evening News" anchor Jeff Glor in Scotland on Saturday, President Trump named the European Union -- comprising some of America's oldest allies -- when asked to identify his "biggest foe globally right now.""Well, I think we have a lot of foes. I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade. Now, you wouldn't think of the European Union, but they're a foe. Russia is foe in certain respects. China is a foe economically, certainly they are a foe. But that doesn't mean they are bad. It doesn't mean anything. It means that they are competitive," Mr. Trump said at his golf club in Turnberry, Scotland. "I respect the leaders of those countries. But, in a trade sense, they've really taken advantage of us and many of those countries are in NATO and they weren't paying their bills," he added.

      Trump Calls Europe "Biggest Global Foe" But Tusk Says US, EU "Best Friends" - Following President Trump's controversial interview with CBS, in which he called Europe one of America's biggest foes, European Commission president Donald Tusk fired back...  As we detailed earlier, when asked who America's biggest foe globally is, Trump responded..."I think we have a lot of foes...I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade. Now you wouldn't think of the European Union, but they're a foe.”The president went on to add that Russia and China are also on his list of enemies. "Russia is foe in certain respects. China is a foe economically, certainly they are a foe. But that doesn't mean they are bad," he said. "It doesn't mean anything. It means that they are competitive. They want to do well and we want to do well." Tusk immediately responded with a pointed tweet arguing that in fact "America and the EU are best friends," and jabbing Trump specifically by adding that "Whoever says we are foes is spreading fake news."America and the EU are best friends. Whoever says we are foes is spreading fake news.— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) July 15, 2018 As The Hill notes, Trump was not entirely negative as he said he could not take a fully combative stance to the EU because “both” of his parents were born there. His mother was born in Scotland, while his father was born in New York."You know I love those countries. I respect the leaders of those countries," Trump said. "But, in a trade sense, they've really taken advantage of us, and many of those countries are in NATO and they weren't paying their bills."Tusk's comments come just 5 days after he also warned President Trump to "appreciate you allies" as there are fewer and fewer of them. "America does not have, and will not have, a better ally than Europe." Tensions have been evident between Tusk and Trump for a while, as the European Commission President said that the American president appeared to gloat about the EU's frailty when the two men first spoke (governments in several Eastern EU nations, such as Poland and Hungary, view Trump as a political ally in their fight against Europe’s liberal elites). “Trump’s aversion to the EU and NATO exceeds standards, while his openness to people like the dictator of North Korea and President Putin is quite significant,” Tusk told Polish broadcaster TVN24 on Friday.

      Bill Black: Trump Sees Europe as a “Foe” Because of Key Misinformed Advisor - Real News Network interview - President Trump’s belief that the European Union’s trade policies are more unfair towards the United States than just about any other trading partner is woefully misinformed and the result of his reliance “nutcase” trade advisor Peter Navarro, says NEP’s Bill Black. You can view with transcript here.

      Bitter Rivals Airbus and Boeing Agree: No One Wins a Trade War -- The world’s two largest planemakers are fierce rivals who aren’t above employing hardball geopolitics if it will gain them an edge. Yet the chief executive officer of U.S. manufacturer Boeing Co. and the commercial chief at European rival Airbus SE want no part of President Donald Trump’s trade war with China. They agree that nothing good will come from the tension that’s been gathering momentum over recent weeks. Speaking at the Farnborough air show south of London on Monday, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg made the case that finding a solution to the dispute is essential because the aerospace industry relies on the free flow of goods. His stance was seconded by Guillaume Faury, who runs Airbus’s operation making jetliners for airlines across the globe, using parts shipped in from dozens of countries. “There will be no winner if there’s a trade war around the world,” Faury said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “Aviation will continue to be international. We are based in the U.S., in Europe, in China, we do business across those blocs.” Airbus and Boeing are locked in a global duopoly for most of their aircraft, so any imbalance stands to hand the other side an advantage. While Muilenburg said the risk of Airbus benefiting from the current trade spat is “a concern we have,” he dismissed the notion of any sudden shifts in order or backlog patterns because the industry is long-term and Boeing has an established presence in China. Aerospace is the biggest trade-surplus generator in the U.S. and provides key manufacturing jobs, while China relies on foreign aircraft to help fuel economic growth, Muilenburg said. “We are concerned about some of the discussions right now around trade,” the CEO said in a separate interview with Bloomberg Television. “Our aerospace business thrives on free and open global trade and we’re hopeful we’re going to find solutions as alternatives to some of the tariff discussions that have been going on.”

      Preparing for (Trade) War and an Uncertain Future - Industry Week - Back in March when the Trump Administration announced tariffs on aluminum and steel, I mentioned that the tariffs would have other undesirable consequences such as rising prices for manufacturers and consumers who used those commodities, and would also result in tariffs on other imported American goods as a “tit for tat” move. As per a recent Cleo blog, 53% of companies are highly or critically dependent on suppliers, according to Deloitte, meaning tariffs might lead companies to take measures to source new domestic suppliers.So, new tariffs mean that companies are going to need to onboard new supply partners much faster than in the past, involving configuring partner profiles and connections to securely exchange order, invoicing, shipping and payment data.To truly enable a lean and agile supply chain, legacy systems and custom coding cannot support onboarding new customers in a timely and effective fashion, and such disparate technologies silo the critical data flows and hinder visibility into daily business processes.World-class supply chains have onboarding and visibility capabilities built into their systems, reducing the complexity and cost of partner onboarding and enabling holistic views into data. These systems support cloud, B2B and application integration improves partner communications and transparency. While these tariffs are a cause for concern, change is always present. Companies might not be able to control protectionist measures that will affect supply costs, but they can control the technology that enables their supply chain to improve customer service and contain costs to some degree.Furthermore, global supply chains emerged in an era of falling tariffs, that may now be coming to an end amid an upsurge in protectionism. However, according to Matt Mossman from Mainpointe, experience suggests that in most economic sectors, supply chains do not need to change substantially in the face of protectionism, that only small adjustments need to be made, allowing most companies to maintain operations and avoid major increases in the cost of their goods.

      Trump says EU officials want to negotiate trade deal in Washington visit (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that European leaders were coming to Washington next week to try to hammer out a deal focused largely on car tariffs, while his top economic adviser accused Chinese President Xi Jinping of holding up a U.S.-China trade deal.   Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House, said that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s visit will discuss car tariffs, which he cited as “the big one” among U.S.-EU trade irritants. Trump considers the EU’s 10 percent tariff on cars to be unfair compared to the U.S. 2.5 percent tariff, although the United States maintains a 25 percent tariff on pickup trucks. “They’re going to be coming on July 25th to negotiate with us. We said if we don’t negotiate something fair, then we have tremendous retribution. Which we don’t want to use, but we have tremendous powers,” Trump said. Trump has threatened to levy higher tariffs, as much as 25 percent on imported cars, and his Commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, is conducting a study on whether vehicle and parts imports threaten national security. Larry Kudlow, who heads the White House Economic Council, said separately at an investment forum in New York that he has been told that Juncker would be “bringing a very important free trade offer” to Trump on his visit.  Kudlow said he believed Xi has blocked progress on a deal to end dueling U.S. and Chinese tariffs. He added that lower-ranking officials want a deal, including Xi’s top economic adviser Liu He, but Xi has refused to make changes to China’s technology transfer and other trade policies.

      Trump lashes out at EU over massive Google fine: 'I told you so' | TheHill: President Trump on Thursday lashed out at the EU for imposing a record $5 billion antitrust fine on Google.   Trump wrote in a tweet that the move shows the EU is targeting U.S. companies.“I told you so!” he said. “The European Union just slapped a Five Billion Dollar fine on one of our great companies, Google. They truly have taken advantage of the U.S., but not for long!”  The EU’s decision, the second record antitrust fine in as many years against Google, comes amid escalating trade tensions between Europe and the U.S.The fine was a result of a three-year investigation into the company’s practices of bundling its search and browser apps with its Android operating system. Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission’s competition chief, said that allowed Google to illegally establish dominance in the mobile search market. "These practices have denied rivals the chance to innovate and compete on the merits,” Vestager said. “They have denied European consumers the benefits of effective competition in the important mobile sphere. This is illegal under EU antitrust rules." A spokeswoman for Google did not immediately respond when asked for comment on Trump’s tweet.

      Trump repeats threat to impose auto tariffs - US President Donald Trump has repeated his threat to impose tariffs on auto imports despite opposition from the industry and criticism of his proposed measures from within Congress.The threat was issued at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday. Trump threatened “tremendous retribution” against the European Union, singling out auto tariffs, if negotiations on trade did not bring about concessions.Trump is scheduled to meet with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the White House next Wednesday in the midst of an investigation by the Commerce Department into auto imports to examine whether they impact on US “national security” under a provision of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act.The results of the investigation could be the imposition of tariffs of up to 25 percent. Such measures would not only deal a major blow to European producers, especially German companies, but would also heavily impact on Japanese firms, with Toyota the most affected.German car makers have said they would not be able to sell at a profit in the US market if the tariffs go ahead. Toyota has stated the cost of the popular Camry model could increase by as much as $1,800.The EU has previously said it is prepared to negotiate with the US. But it has insisted such discussions should take place within the framework of the rules-based system of the World Trade Organisation and not through unilateral actions which put a gun at its head.However, that is precisely the stance taken by Trump. “If we don’t negotiate something fair, then we have tremendous retribution, which we don’t want to use” he said, adding “including cars, cars is the big one.”If the auto tariffs go ahead, they would be the largest trade war measure invoked by the Trump administration so far, with the US importing $176 billion worth of passenger cars, $36 billion worth of trucks and $147 billion of auto components in 2017.

      EU Ready To Retaliate If US Slaps Tariffs On Autos, Trade Commissioner Says - European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom will travel to Washington later this month alongside European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to try and hash out a new trade agreement with the Trump administration and ease the transatlantic trade dispute. But just in case the talks fall apart and the US moves ahead with Section 301 tariffs on European cars - President Trump has threatened a 20% tariff) - Malmstrom said the EU is preparing a list of US imports to hit with tariffs in response, per Reuters.The retaliatory "rebalancing" would target the US car sector, which she said is "healthy" and that no one involved in the sector had called for tariffs. "We are preparing together with our member states a list of rebalancing measures there as well. And this we have made that clear to our American partners," Malmstrom told a conference hosted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Brussels.Those tariffs would be in addition to the 2.8 billion euros ($3.25 billion) worth of US products ranging from whiskey to motorcycles that were designed to hit "distinctly American" products manufactured in states that supported Trump during the election.  According to Reuters, EU steel and aluminum exports to the US that are subject to tariffs are worth some 6.4 billion euros ($7.4 billion) per year. By comparison, EU car and car-part exports are worth 51 billion euros ($60 billion). The Commission on Wednesday briefed representatives from member states on the retaliations that are being considered, though one diplomat said the briefing didn't include a list of US products that would be subject to the tariffs, saying only that they would total roughly 9 billion euros. White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said yesterday that he expects Juncker to arrive with an offer in hand for a bilateral trade deal that would lower tariffs on auto imports. Malmstrom pushed back on this idea, saying that a deal to eliminate import duties on cars could only be part of a much broader agreement. But it appears the Europeans, already sufficiently shaken by Trump's aggressive rhetoric on trade (not to mention his demands that NATO members meet their funding commitments), might be looking for an end to these transatlantic tensions. And the US, which has reportedly failed to pursue talks with China, is also looking for a clear win on trade.

      Unpacking Disingenuous GOP Complaints About Presidential Trade Authority -  At midnight on June 30, Fast Track, which delegates Congress’ constitutional trade authority to the president, extended for another three years.The congressional Democrats, who fought this broad give-away of control over trade agreements even when it was President Barack Obama’s request in 2015, could not even obtain a vote because the procedure is so rigged it automatically extends unless a “non-extension resolution” is passed. But that vote can only occur if the congressional GOP leadership allows it.And the congressional GOP, most of whom supported the extreme Fast Track procedure but now are cynically howling about undue presidential authority over trade, chose not to take action.Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress is supposed to write the laws and set trade policy, while the executive branch represents the United States in negotiations with foreign governments. When it came to trade agreements, this arrangement required cooperation between the branches.For 200 years, these key checks and balances helped ensure that no one branch of government had too much power over trade policy. But, starting with Nixon, presidents have tried to seize those congressional powers using Fast Track.Fast Track, which supporters renamed Trade Promotion Authority as the procedure became increasingly controversial, empowers the executive branch to unilaterally select partner countries for “trade” pacts, .President Obama — despite his campaign promise to reject Fast Track — requested the authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). A years-long battle ensued, with opposition coming from a majority of the U.S. public, most House Democrats and a sizeable bloc of Republicans, organized labor, environmental groups, public health organizations, family farmers, and many more. Despite the unprecedented strength and diversity of this coalition focused on a trade issue, Fast Track authority was passed by a one-vote margin in June 2015. This delegation of Fast Track authority was for a three-year period with an automatic renewal for another three years after that. The only way to stop the automatic renewal of Fast Track would have been with a congressional resolution of disapproval.

      Washington’s free traders held hostage by Trump’s plan for midterms -  Many observers who have watched Trump for decades warned throughout his first year in office that he might actually follow through with threats to enact protectionist measures, which he repeated ad nauseam during his election campaign. Nonetheless, for a long time, all was quiet on the trade front. Those days now feel like a distant memory.  Trump first dipped his toe in the pool of protectionism with an inconsequential move targeting foreign-made washing machines and solar panels. The tariffs had no material impact, even on some of the firms directly targeted, but the president received a tongue-lashing from the news media, as well as from advocates of free trade in Congress from both political parties. Far from being dissuaded, Trump upped the ante and announced steep tariffs on foreign-made steel and aluminum. This time, the market responded, but then recovered. In a week when Mexico, Canada and the European Union all imposed retaliatory tariffs, US stocks gained. In the same week, the US imposed tariffs on US$34 billion in Chinese goods, to which China responded. Trump then announced he would slap tariffs on an additional US$200 billion in imports from China. Stocks rose again. Meanwhile, despite some skepticism from economists about medium- and long-term prospects, economic data coming out of the US has been painting a rosy picture. To top it off, the president’s poll numbers continue to rise. All three things that critics of Trump’s trade policy had hoped would force him to back off – markets, the economy and politics – have done the opposite. 

      Can Globalization Be Reversed? - The wide-scale imposition of tariffs by the Trump administration is part of a larger effort to undo the expansion of markets around the globe and ensure that the goods consumed in the U.S. will be produced here. Will it be successful? And what would a world that represented a retreat from the globalization of the 1990s and early 2000s look like?  The world could divide into competing spheres of influence. China is taking advantage of the withdrawal of the U.S. from international pacts to advance its Belt and Road Initiative that will link it to resource-rich developing economies in Asia and Africa as well as markets in Europe. Advocates of British withdrawal from the European Union claim that there are better opportunities in the “Anglosphere” of English-speaking countries such as the U.S. and Australia. But the Trump administration has exhibited animus to even regional pacts such as NAFTA, and seemingly favors bilateral pacts guided by mercantilist goals. Such an approach would be a serious problem for U.S. based multinationals that have integrated production lines across the borders with Mexico and Canada. Nor will the governments of those agree to mercantilist arrangements that are designed to ensure bilateral trade surpluses for the U.S. A world of tariffs and quotas, moreover, would also be a step towards increased government controls on the private sector. Anne Krueger of Johns Hopkins points out that quotas, such as those on steel that South Korea has agreed to, must be administered by either the Korean or U.S. government. Similarly, exemptions from tariffs must be granted by a bureaucracy that reviews applications from private firms. These grants of authority open up opportunities for corruption. They also act as barriers to entry for new firms, and lessen incentives to innovate. All this adds to the higher costs that consumers and those who rely on imported intermediate goods will pay.Perhaps the most self-defeating counter-globalization measure would be to lower immigration. While most of the benefits of immigration flow to the migrants themselves, there is also a “migration surplus” for the economy that hosts them. The tax payments of migrants can be used to pay rising Social Security payments at a time when the native U.S. population is aging. Moreover, immigrants have a strong record of establishing new businesses. The Center for American Entrepreneurship reports that 43% of firms listed in the 2017 Fortune 500 were founded or co-founded by first- or second-generation migrants.’

      Can Truth Survive Trump? WaPo Fails to Ask How Well Truth Was Doing to Begin With -- Dean Baker -- Carlos Lozada, the nonfiction book critic for the Washington Post, promised “an honest investigation” of whether truth can survive the Trump administration in the lead article in the paper’s Sunday Outlook section. He delivered considerably less.Most importantly and incredibly, Lozada never considers the possibility that respect for traditional purveyors of “truth” has been badly weakened by the fact that they have failed to do so in many important ways in recent years. Furthermore, they have used their elite status (prized university positions and access to major media outlets) to deride those who challenged them as being unthinking illiterates. This dynamic is most clear in the trade policy pursued by the United States over the last four decades. This policy had the predicted andactual effect of eliminating the jobs of millions of manufacturing workers and reducing the pay of tens of millions of workers with less than a college education. The people who suffered the negative effects of these policies were treated as stupid know-nothings, and wrongly told that their suffering was due to automation or was an inevitable product of globalization. These claims are what those of us still living in the world of truth know as “lies,” but you will never see anyone allowed to make these points in the Washington Post. After all, its readers can’t be allowed to see such thoughts.

      Trump Tariffs Hit Largest US Aluminum Company, ALCOA --  Today, the stock of ALCOA fell over 4 percent on a report from the company of it expecting to see a , substantial decline in profits in the coming quarters due to the imposition of tariffs on aluminum by President Donald Trump. So, his imposition of tariffs on aluminum, designed to aid US aluminum producers, will be causing a substantial decline in profits for the largest aluminum producing company in the US. What is going on here?   It appears that the problem is that the US is increasingly a net importer of unprocessed aluminum that is the main input for companies that process aluminum, which is what ALCOA mostly does, even after spinning off Arconic. The US has never been a major producer of bauxite, the original source of most aluminum, only producing about 1 percent of global supplies of it. In term of producing unprocessed aluminum, the US reached a peak in 1980s, with this now only about a quarter of that level today. The US imports $23.4 billion of aluminum products, with nearly half of that, 46.8 percent to be precise, being unprocessed aluminum. So ALCOA is importing a lot of the unprocessed aluminum it uses to produce aluminum products. Unlike American steel companies, whose main inputs of iron ore and coal are domestically produced, ALCOA is more like an automobile company that is hurt by the tariffs on steel, which raise its costs. Thus it is not surprising that the US aluminum industry more broadly has opposed the Trump tariffs, in contrast to American steel and coal companies supporting the steel tariffs. I note that the US exports some finished aluminum products, but far less than it imports. The top five nations from whom the US imports aluminum are Canada (36.3 percent), China (15.1 percent), Russia (7.0 percent),UAE (6.5 percent) and Mexico (4.3 percent). When the tariffs were first announced, meanie Canada and Mexico were exempted due to ongoing NAFTA negotiations, but on May 31, they were included given the apparent breakdown of the NAFTA negotiations.  The meanies will be put in their place, and ALCOA will just have to have a stiff upper lip and be patriotic along with all our soybean farmers.

      Whirlpool Wanted Washer Tariffs. It Wasn’t Ready for a Trade Showdown -—After the Trump administration announced new tariffs on imported washing machines in January, Marc Bitzer, the chief executive of Whirlpool Corp., celebrated his win over South Korean competitors LG Electronics and Samsung Electronics Co. “This is, without any doubt, a positive catalyst for Whirlpool,”   Nearly six months later, the company’s share price is down 15%.  Net income, even with the added benefit of a lower tax bill, was down $64 million in the first quarter compared with a year earlier.   Put into practice, tariffs are a complex economic weapon that can ricochet through an economy in ways even proponents don’t expect. That’s what happened with washing machines, which were among the first consumer products targeted by the Trump administration. In the months since washing machine tariffs took effect in February, LG and Samsung have pressed on with investments in the U.S., given that they now face the higher cost of shipping goods in from abroad. The overseas companies and Whirlpool have also increased hiring in the U.S. But appliance prices have risen for consumers, and there are signs of waning demand. Whirlpool had campaigned for protection from what it called unfair foreign competition. Things became more complicated as the trade conflict spread beyond its industry.“Raw-material costs have risen substantially,” Mr. Bitzer said on the April investor call, primarily blaming steel and aluminum tariffs. Most of the 200-pound weight of a washing machine is in its steel and aluminum parts. A spokeswoman at the Benton Harbor, Mich., company declined to answer more detailed questions about the tariffs’ effects, saying Whirlpool needed to remain silent before it announces second-quarter earnings in late July. She declined to make Mr. Bitzer or other executives available for comment. The administration has imposed tariffs on $92 billion of imports including washers, solar panels, steel, aluminum and a range of goods imported from China. U.S. trading partners, including the European Union, Canada, Mexico and China, retaliated in like sums.

      Trump administration denies pipeline company tariff exemption --  The U.S. Commerce Department has denied what appears to have been the first request by a pipeline company to be exempted from the Trump administration’s 25% tariff on imported steel pipe. The denial of the request by Plains All American Pipeline LP, disclosed in a regulatory filing, indicates that pipeline companies, several of which have sought similar exemptions, may soon face increased materials costs. A Plains All American subsidiary asked in April that a specialized pipe it planned to use in a proposed West Texas pipeline be excluded from the steel tariff President Donald Trump announced in March. The project, known as Cactus II, is slated to run from the Permian Basin, America’s hottest oil field, to Corpus Christi beginning late next year. “The product referenced in the above-captioned exclusion request is produced in the United States in a sufficient and reasonably available amount and of a satisfactory quality,” the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security wrote Friday. Plains said Monday that it was “disappointed” by the decision but intended to move forward with the project as planned. It criticized the exemption-application process, calling it opaque and flawed. “Collecting a tariff on steel pipe orders for projects like this constitutes a tax on the construction of critical U.S. energy infrastructure, which is a significant unintended consequence of current trade policy and risks U.S. energy security and American jobs,” the company wrote in a statement. The company had said in its exclusion request that no U.S. companies were capable of manufacturing the kind of pipe it ordered from Greece in December. Plains also warned of possible construction delays in the “hypothetical scenario” in which a U.S. company were able to manufacture the pipe. “If a purchase order was issued today, the mill would not likely be able to meet the pipeline system’s completion targets,” 

      US files World Trade Organization complaint against Canada's retaliatory tariffs - U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has filed a World Trade Organization complaint against the retaliatory tariffs Canada imposed on U.S. products in response to Trump’s tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum.Canada has previously launched a WTO complaint against the U.S. tariffs, which Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland calls illegal. The basic argument from the Trump administration, announced Monday, is that Trump’s tariffs are legal but the retaliation is not. The U.S. announced WTO complaints against not only Canada’s retaliatory tariffs but also those imposed by China, the European Union, Mexico and Turkey. “The actions taken by the president are wholly legitimate and fully justified as a matter of U.S. law and international trade rules. Instead of working with us to address a common problem, some of our trading partners have elected to respond with retaliatory tariffs designed to punish American workers, farmers and companies. These tariffs appear to breach each WTO member’s commitments under the WTO agreement,” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in a statement. Under WTO rules, countries are allowed, under certain conditions, to impose temporary “safeguard” tariffs to protect a domestic industry against a damaging surge in imports. Other countries are allowed to retaliate. Canada and other countries have said that the U.S. tariffs appear to be improper safeguards. But the Trump administration argues that they are not safeguards at all. Rather, the U.S. says, they are being imposed under a national security rule under which retaliation is not allowed.

      China files WTO challenge to US $200B tariff plan (AP) — China announced it filed a World Trade Organization challenge Monday to President Donald Trump's latest tariff threat, stepping up its diplomatic efforts to counter U.S. pressure in a spiraling technology dispute. The Trump administration has criticized the WTO as unable to deal with the problems posed by China, suggesting a challenge there might have little impact in Washington. But it might help Beijing rally support from governments that criticized Trump for going outside the WTO to impose tariffs on Chinese and other imports. The move is unusually swift, coming less than one week after the U.S. Trade Representative proposed 10 percent tariffs on a $200 billion list of Chinese goods. Those wouldn't take effect until at least September. China's lopsided trade balance means it will run out of U.S. imports for penalty tariffs before Washington does. Beijing is trying to recruit support, so far in vain, from Europe, South Korea and other governments. "We are unable to fight equally," said Tu Xingquan, director of the China Institute for WTO Studies at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing. Monday's move "indicates that we value the role of the WTO rules," said Tu. Washington imposed 25 percent tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese goods in response to complaints Beijing steals or pressures companies to hand over technology. Beijing responded immediately by imposing identical penalties on a similar amount of American imports. It has criticized the latest tariff threat but has only about $80 billion of annual imports left for penalties. 

      China’s Tariff Hike Has Left Tons of US Pig Feet With Nowhere to Go -- Every country has a staple meat in its diet. For Americans, it’s beef; for the Chinese, it’s pork. In China, no part of the pig goes to waste. (In ancient times, even the absolutely inedible part, the bladder, would be inflated into a toy ball, which is believed to be the earliest version of soccer.) In fact, many of the country’s most popular dishes are made of pig feet, pig ears and other parts that no one eats in the U.S. Every year, nine out of 10 American pigs’ parts go to China. The Chinese also happily pay a much higher price than buyers in other parts of the world, who normally process the animal products into food for pets and livestock. But this profitable business has shrunk significantly in recent months as China’s tariffs on U.S. pork has soared. According to statistics from the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), pork exports to China in May dropped by a steep 31 percent from a year ago, due to a 25 percent tariff Beijing imposed on U.S. pork on April 2. The tariff has also caused total pork exports from January through May to fall 18 percent compared to a year ago. Pork was the only type of animal product affected by the April tariff hike. In contrast, beef exports to China rose by 20 percent over the same five-month period. “It is unfortunate that U.S. pork is caught in the crosshairs of a dispute that has nothing to do with [the] pork trade,” Dan Halstrom, CEO of USMEF, said in a recent report.And the future isn’t looking bright. Pork exporters are facing an even bigger challenge with China’s second round of 25 percent tariffs which kicked in on July 6. Now, U.S. pork will be charged a total of 63 percent duty when entering China.U.S. beef, which is already sold for a higher price in China than beef from other countries, will be affected by the most recent tariff hike as well, facing a 37 percent import duty. ( Australia beef is only charged 7.2 percent thanks to the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement.)

      Kudlow blames Xi for prolonging U.S.-China trade dispute - President Trump's chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow told CNBC's Delivering Alpha conference Wednesday morning that he believes that Chinese President Xi Jinping is "holding the game up" on a trade deal with the United States — all while playing down the idea that the two countries are engaged in a trade war. Our thought bubble from Axios’ Dan Primack: After first giving some lip service to generally opposing blanket tariffs, Kudlow stated "the president is doing exactly the right thing here" and China’s "local party leaders" are similar to "mafioso dons." I’ve had a tough time finding anyone at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen who has amended, or is thinking about amending, their tech investment strategy because of the trade wars.

      • On China: "Look, I'm not a big fan of tariffs, you know that. I don't like blanket tariffs. ... But I have been a long-term critic of China."
      • More on Xi: "So I think he needs to move. We are waiting for him. The ball is in his court. And the tit-for-tat business, which is nobody's favorite path, but nonetheless, they can end that this afternoon, this afternoon, by providing a more satisfactory approach."
      • On inflation and the rising deficit: "No recession in sight. No recession in sight. I just want to make that point. No recession in sight right now."

      What's next: "Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of EU, is coming to Washington next week. We will be in discussions. I am told he is bringing a very important free trade offer. Okay. I'm told. I can't confirm that. This is what I'm hearing."

      Is Trump Bailing Out Soybean Farmers Or Not? -- Chinese tariffs on US soybean exports have now kicked in, with China half the US soybean market, and exports much more important for soybeans than for corn, with the US producing half the world’s corn, but exporting less of it than soybeans.  Upshot is that while soybean prices have fallen roughly 20% since Trump started his trade war, corn prices have fallen noticeably less.Recognizing that soybeans are very important in some key pro-Trump states like Iowa, North Dakota, and Indiana, he has promised to provide aid for them, even as he has at times said that the victims of his trade war will be “patriotic” and continue to support him, even as they lose their jobs, farms, businesses.  Googling suggests that he has himself has not followed through on supporting his damaged soybean farmer supporters, but in fact the situation is unclear. I have made my annual visit with my old friend who is an Indiana farmer, among other things.  He is glad that he planted more corn than soybeans this year, given that corn prices have fallen so much less than have those of soybeans.  But he tells me that even though the internet says Trump has done nothing to follow up on his promises to help out the soybean farmers, there is a new USDA program to  provide some sort of assistance to soybean farmers.  He has signed up for it, but so far has received no clear information of what is going to come out of it. As near as I can tell what this might be is a resurrection by somebody at USDA inspired by Trump of the old Commodity Credit Corporation programs that date back to the Great Depression and are still on the books.  I do not know if this is the case or not, but it is hard to see what else it might be. As it is, my friend is curious and hoping to get some assistance, but whether any will actually be forthcoming, much less how much or to what degree Trump actually has anything to do with it specifically, remains up in the air, as does so much else about the Great New Trade War of Donald J. Trump.

      Bannon On "War With China", National Identity, & The Russian "Annoyance" - Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon gave what was possibly his strongest live interview in recent memory (to be fair, he hasn't given many since leaving the White House) on Wednesday when he sat down with Michelle Caruso-Cabrera at CNBC's "Delivering Alpha" conference to discuss President Trump's geopolitical strategy, the controversy over his performance in Helsinki and the greater purpose of President Trump's trade war. Bannon, who looked clean-cut and unusually healthy, offered an articulate, coherent explanation of how President Trump is upending the unsustainable liberal world order and standing up to America's biggest foes with his actions, if not always his words. Meanwhile, Bannon convincingly portrayed Trump's political opponents as hysterics and prigs who are too focused on optics and parroting the "opposition party" media narrative.In what was perhaps his most salient claim, Bannon insisted that President Trump's trade war will be remembered not as the economy-wrecking disaster but with a triumph that will save the US economy.Unsurprisingly, Caruso-Cabrera opened the interview by asking Bannon for his take on President Trump's controversial performance in Helsinki, which drew condemnation from Republicans and Democrats alike. "The opposition media missed the point...up until the last part, when he talked about the meddling and the collusion, [the press conference with Putin] was fine. I think the president has done a terrific job." If Trump appeared too willing to tolerate Russia's illegal meddling, he clearly took Putin to task over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Europe, which some would describe as the biggest threat to NATO's security, given Germany and much of Europe's dependence on Russia for energy. Russia's success in courting Europe as a customer and its alliance with Syria were too major failures of previous presidents, including Obama and Bush. Trump, Bannon said, has actually been harder on Russia than any other president since the 1980s.

      Xi Jinping ‘doesn’t intend to follow through’ on trade war talks and local Chinese officials are ‘like mafioso dons’, says top Donald Trump adviser Larry Kudlow - South China Morning Post --US President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser blamed China’s President Xi Jinping for stalling talks that could end the US-China trade war, and referred to local Chinese government officials as “mafioso dons”, in an interview on Wednesday.Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, made his remarks weeks after the last round of high-level talks between Trump administration officials and Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He that were aimed at averting punitive tariffs that went into effect on July 6.“I do not think President Xi, at the moment, has any intention of following through on the discussions we made … I think Xi is holding the game up,” Kudlow said at the CNBC Institutional Investor Delivering Alpha conference in New York on Wednesday. During negotiations in May and June, China offered to import more US soybeans and other products to draw down its trade surplus, but Trump has insisted on better access to Chinese markets for US companies and an end to what the White House calls forced technology transfers.“You open a company on a joint venture basis in a Chinese province, OK, and because you only own 49 per cent, they own 51 per cent or more, the local party leaders – you know, these are like mafioso dons, I'm told,” Kudlow said.“You have to go and lay your entire blueprint on the table, including the technology, and they will have their experts open it right up.” Kudlow also said that China had not “responded at all, not one basis point, to our request to do something about the theft of intellectual property and the forced divestiture of our technology.”

      China "Shocked Beyond Imagination" At Larry Kudlow's "Bogus" Accusations -While China has so far failed to list explicitly just how it will respond to Trump's proposed tariffs on $200BN in additional Chinese imports, it has been quite clear that it is happy to go from trade war to currency war with its ongoing devaluation of the Yuan, which overnight lost another 550 pips, sliding to 6.80 against the dollar, the lowest level since July 2017. And as it turns out, a big reason for the overnight plunge in the Chinese currency are Wednesday's comments by Larry Kudlow, Trump's chief economic advisor, who blamed President Xi Jinping for stalled trade talks when he told CNBC that he believed lower-ranking Chinese officials want a deal, including Xi’s senior economic adviser Liu He, but that Xi has refused to make changes to China’s technology transfer and other trade policies, accusing Xi of "holding the game up.”“I think Liu He and others would like to move but haven’t,” he said at CNBC's Delivering Alpha conference. “We are waiting for him (Xi). The ball is in his court." Kudlow also said that China could end U.S. tariffs “this afternoon by providing a more satisfactory approach” and taking steps that other countries are also calling for.Asked about Kudlow’s comments, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: "That the relevant United States official unexpectedly distorted the facts and made bogus accusations is shocking and beyond imagination."And in the latest escalation in the war of words, Hua told a regular briefing that "the United States’ flip-flopping and promise-breaking is recognized globally."China has made the utmost efforts to avoid an escalation of trade frictions, Hua said, reiterating that China does not want a trade war but is not afraid of one. And yet, China’s other trading partners including the European Union, while not supporting tariffs, have also criticized Beijing’s trade policies, and have implicitly supported the substance of Trump's complaints and actions against China, if not the delivery.

      Trump says he's 'ready' to put tariffs on all $505 billion of Chinese goods imported to the US - President Donald Trump has indicated that he is willing to slap tariffs on every Chinese good imported to the U.S. should the need arise."I'm ready to go to 500," the president told CNBC's Joe Kernen in a "Squawk Box" interview aired Friday.The reference is to the dollar amount of Chinese imports the U.S. accepted in 2017 — $505.5 billion to be exact, compared with the $129.9 billion the U.S. exported to China, according to Census Bureau data.Thus far in the burgeoning trade war, the U.S. has slapped tariffs on just $34 billion of Chinese products, which China met with retaliatory duties.By sheer dollar volume, the Chinese won't be able to come close to the U.S. in a tit-for-tat battle. Trump's comments point to a willingness to push the envelope as far as the U.S. needs to get Chinese tariff concessions, along with a pledge to stop allegedly stealing American technology."I'm not doing this for politics, I'm doing this to do the right thing for our country," Trump said. "We have been ripped off by China for a long time."Trump said the U.S. is "being taken advantage of" on a number of fronts, including trade and monetary policy. Yet he said he has not pushed the tariffs out of any ill will toward China."I don't want them to be scared. I want them to do well," he said. "I really like President Xi a lot, but it was very unfair."Trump also said he was told by unspecified Chinese officials that "nobody would ever complain" from past administrations "until you came along — me. They said, 'Now you're more than complaining. We don't like  what you're doing.'"

      US dollar falls as Trump accuses 'China, European Union and others' of manipulating their currencies -  - President Donald Trump ramped up his criticism of global monetary policy as well as his own central bank, saying in tweets that multiple nations are manipulating currencies to the detriment of the U.S.The comments come a day after Trump, in a CNBC interview, ripped U.S. trading partners including China and the European Union and said the nation needs a weak dollar. Immediately after the president's tweets, the euro, yuan and yen strengthened against the dollar. The dollar index, which measures the U.S. currency against a basket of its global peers, was off about 0.6 percent in morning trading and on pace for its worst day of July. Trump weighs in on the trade war with China Trump weighs in on the trade war with China 11 Hours Ago | 04:02 President Donald Trump ramped up his criticism of global monetary policy as well as his own central bank, saying in tweets that multiple nations are manipulating currencies to the detriment of the U.S. The comments come a day after Trump, in a CNBC interview, ripped U.S. trading partners including China and the European Union and said the nation needs a weak dollar. Immediately after the president's tweets, the euro, yuan and yen strengthened against the dollar. The dollar index, which measures the U.S. currency against a basket of its global peers, was off about 0.6 percent in morning trading and on pace for its worst day of July. In his CNBC interview, Trump was candid in his feelings about where the U.S. stands in the foreign exchange market. He estimated that currency imbalances were costing the U.S. $150 billion with European Union nations. "They're making money easy and their currency is falling," Trump said on "Squawk Box." "In China their currency is dropping like a rock and our currency is going up, and I have to tell you it puts us at a disadvantage."

      4 powerful weapons China has in its arsenal to win the US-China trade war - Last week, the U.S. fired the latest shot in its trade war with China, revealing a list of tariffs that it could slap on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. While China has, to this point, been matching U.S. tariffs dollar-for-dollar – both countries instituted tariffs on $34-billion of items in June — if the U.S. forges ahead, China will have to use a different, and more damaging, set of weapons.In theory, the U.S. could place tariffs on $505 billion worth of Chinese items, which is the total dollar value of goods imported from China into the U.S. in 2017. President Trump already said he's willing to put tariffs on all these goods should the need arise on Friday. China only imports $130 billion worth of U.S. goods, so there’s no way it can match President Trump’s latest tariff threat. That doesn’t mean it can’t retaliate, though. In fact, when it comes to non-tariff measures, it can do much more to hurt America than vice-versa, says Kristina Hooper, Invesco’s chief global market strategist. “China has a much larger arsenal of weapons than the U.S.,” she said. “Tariffs are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what China has.” How can China retaliate if it can’t do tit-for-tat tariffs anymore? Here are four ways the Red Giant can hit back.

      • 1. Stop buying U.S. Treasurys. China is one of the largest holders of U.S. Treasurys, owning about $1 trillion of bonds in 2017, according to the Federal Reserve. If China floods the market with U.S. Treasurys, bond yields could climb. That’s problematic: Treasury holders around the world, including the U.S. government and the average citizen, will see their bond prices drop. Higher yields also make it more expensive for the U.S. government to borrow through new debt issues, while companies that issue corporate debt, would have to pay higher borrowing costs, too.
      • 2. Devalue the yuan. If China really wants to annoy President Trump, and make tariffs moot, it could devalue the yuan. In fact, this might be the best tool it has to get back at the U.S. “Currency is the most effective lever to offset the impact of tariffs,” said Salman Baig, a multi-asset investment manager at Unigestion, a Geneva-based investment firm. If the yuan falls by about 8 percent, which it has done since mid-March — one U.S. dollar now equals 6.77 yuan — U.S. importers would only see a 2 percent rise in the cost of Chinese goods.
      • 3. Make life harder for U.S. companies. The Chinese government has a lot of sway over its people. If it wants its citizens to stop traveling to the U.S. or to quit buying American goods, it can make that happen,.
      • 4. Isolate the U.S.  If China really wants to make a splash, it could join the Trans Pacific Partnership, which the U.S abandoned when Trump took office and then have more open trade with 11 countries. Tariffs between China and these countries would be reduced or eliminated, and it would get much easier to move goods from one place to another after trade deals get put in place. “Imagine if China decides to come in,” Baig said. “That would be a big global trade agreement.”

      Tariffs lay bare Washington's rare earths dilemma: Andy Home (Reuters) - The United States Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) is aiming to buy 10 tonnes of yttrium oxide this year. Yttrium is one of the rare earth metals that have become increasingly critical to a wide spectrum of modern-day products. It is used in radars, lasers, camera lenses and super-conductors. It is also about to become more expensive if the United States makes good on its threat to impose more tariffs on China because, to quote the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), “nearly all imports of yttrium metal and compounds are derived from mineral concentrates produced in China.” The same applies to many of the other metals on the DLA’s procurement plans for the year, particularly the 416 tonnes of other non-specific “rare earths”. The DLA qualifies for tariff-free imports of yttrium and of the other non-specified “rare earths” on its 2018 procurement list. Non-military U.S. consumers are not going to be so lucky. Yttrium is just one a host of esoteric, critical minerals on the list of Chinese imports targeted for the next escalation of the simmering trade war between the two countries. Across the metallic spectrum tariffs will ricochet back on U.S. consumers. The U.S. administration is of course aware of its Chinese dependency, which is why it is working on a plan to reduce its import reliance for “critical minerals”. Rare earths are on the list. Its short-term options are limited, however, unless it is prepared to countenance a very un-American solution. The proposed U.S. tariffs on another $200 billion of Chinese goods include many inputs to Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” plan to become a global leader in high-tech industry. Unfortunately for the United States, and just about everyone else, China is itself the major supplier of those inputs. Rare earths are a particularly striking example. The USGS estimates that China accounted for around 80 percent of global rare earths production last year, or 105,000 tonnes out of 130,000 tonnes. 

       Key Republican Orrin Hatch threatens to check Trump's tariff policy - Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah Key Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch threatened Tuesday to push for legislation to curb President Donald Trump's trade authority if he pushes forward with more tariffs. It marks the strongest warning yet issued by Hatch — a Trump supporter, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the longest serving Senate Republican — about pushing back against the president's tariff policy, which the senator has repeatedly criticized. If Hatch would back a bill to limit Trump's powers, he would become the most important Republican to do so. "If the administration continues forward with its misguided and reckless reliance on tariffs, I will work to advance trade legislation to curtail presidential trade authority," the Utah Republican said on the Senate floor Tuesday. "I am discussing legislative options with colleagues both on and off the Finance Committee and I will continue to do so." However, Hatch said that he would "much rather work with the administration to advance a trade agenda that serves the interests of the American people and job creators." The senator's comments underscore the bubbling GOP opposition to Trump's tariff policy, which many Republican lawmakers have argued will damage both American consumers and businesses. As Trump recently put tariffs on most steel and aluminum imports and a variety of Chinese goods, prompting retaliation from major trading partners, some Republicans pushed for a measure to limit the president's authority.Hatch's support would give such legislation powerful backing it so far lacks. He did not signal what specific action he would support.

      Trump’s Trade War with China Will Cause an Economic Catastrophe — Here’s a Better Solution -  Marshall Auerback: With the announcement by President Trump that the U.S. would start the process of imposing 10 percent tariffs on an additional $200 billion of Chinese imports in the next few months, it is safe to say that the U.S.-China trade war has definitively moved past the phony war phase. This action goes well beyond placating some important rust belt/swing-state constituencies and reflects the president’s deeply held belief that trade is a zero-sum game in which the U.S. has been persistently played for patsies over the last several decades, especially by Beijing (although, as last month’s G7 summit demonstrated, neither the EU, nor Canada, is exempt from this animus either). The cumulative actions undertaken by the president now account for almost 7 percent of total global trade, according to the economist George Magnus, reflecting the magnitude of Trump’s efforts. If Trump is actually hoping that tariffs will enhance the possibility of boosting America’s export markets, he’s in for disappointment and a good deal of anger from the very economic sectors he might have expected to champion him. Modern global supply networks have been established on the assumption that globalized free trade and capital mobility were permanent realities. The so-called “Washington Consensus” has assumed globalization as an irreversible process to such a degree that U.S. companies are utterly reliant on global supply chains.So what is the solution? Perhaps that might come via the imposition of local content requirements as opposed to a haphazard reliance on tariffs, which is to say that when a foreign company manufactures a product in a country, a certain proportion of those materials and parts should be made in that country domestically rather than imported. This is not unusual. In fact, China makes use of this practice very liberally, and insists that a minimum level of local content is required, when giving foreign companies the right to manufacture in a particular place. And if this requirement is mandated going forward, it may well arrest the ongoing “de-skilling” of the American labor force (because it slows the outsourcing of manufacturing), as well as curbing labor arbitrage (to be fair, labor arbitrage is less of a problem when free trade pacts are done between countries/regional blocs of comparable living standards, such as the recently concluded EU-Japan trade pact). So it’s potentially a win-win for American workers and businesses.

       History shows trade wars cause world wars. Will this time be different? - US President Donald Trump’s conviction that “trade wars are good, and easy to win” certainly runs against well-established economic doctrine and history, both of which suggest no one can win and all will lose in such a mutually destructive war.Worse can happen than just material loss to the countries directly involved. While a country may try to destroy another by targeting its economy rather than its military, history suggests that a full-blown trade war inevitably leads to a shoot-out between nations.The first shots of the current war have been fired, with the United States and China each imposing punitive tariffs of 25 per cent on US$34 billion worth of the other’s imports. Neither Washington nor Beijing has shown any intention of backing down; both appear prepared for a tit-for-tat fight.US tariffs are expected on a further US$200 billion worth of goods, though Trump has threatened to target US$500 billion worth of Chinese imports, approximately the value of China’s exports to the US last year. Meanwhile, Beijing has pledged retaliatory measures of “the same scale and intensity”.Trump has also fired a salvo of shots on all of America’s main trade partners, including its allies in the post-war Atlantic trading alliance, from Canada, Mexico and South Korea, to Japan and Germany. The developments have effectively put an end to the more than two decades of normal trade since the founding of the World Trade Organisation in 1995.

      Democrats abstain on House resolution praising ICE thugs - The US House of Representatives voted Wednesday to pass a resolution supporting the actions of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. The resolution was proposed by Republican Representative Clay Higgins in response to a bill that was introduced by three Democrats last week to abolish ICE.As the WSWS reported Monday, the Democrats’ bill was just a show to give themselves a left cover. Not expecting the Republican leadership to actually bring the bill to the floor, the Democrats who introduced the bill exposed themselves by vowing to vote against their own legislation.Republicans seized on the opportunity to embarrass Democrats further by introducing a new resolution to praise the institution responsible for the detention of thousands of immigrant children. The resolution contains language like “The national security interests of the United States are dependent on the brave men and women who enforce our Nation’s immigration laws” and “abolishing ICE would allow dangerous criminal aliens, including violent and ruthless members of the MS-13 gang, to remain in American communities.”ICE has broken up thousands of families, stripped children away from their mothers, jailed the elderly, and perpetrated other heinous acts. Perhaps most disturbing are the reports from inside child detention facilities that include unclean living areas, lack of healthy food, and sexual abuse by ICE officers or contractors. This is the organization that the Republicans praise as “heroic law enforcement officers.” But Republicans are not alone in their support for ICE. Only 34 Democrats voted against the resolution. The majority of Democrats voted “present,” meaning they abstained from voting altogether. Democrat minority whip Steny Hoyer claimed, “Democrats refuse to play Republicans’ game when it comes to children’s well-being and the safety of those who come here seeking asylum.” He continued, “Democrats support secure borders and honor the service of all those whose lives are at risk in protecting our country and our people. ... But we will neither be silent nor will we cease fighting to bring an end to the dangerous and inhumane policies of the Trump administration.”

      IRS To Revoke 362,000 Passports From US Citizens -About two and a half years ago, I told you about a particularly nasty piece of legislation that President Obama quietly signed into law towards the end of his administration.They called it the “FAST Act”, which stood for Fixing America’s Surface Transportation.Yet despite $300 billion earmarked for infrastructure repairs, they didn’t manage to fix very much of America’s surface transportation.The legislation did, however, have two major effects:

      • 1) The FAST Act authorized the US government to plunder excess capital from the Federal Reserve… which is about as stupid as thing as anyone could possibly do.The Federal Reserve is America’s central bank; they control the value and fate of the US dollar… which is still the most dominant currency in the world.You’d think that having some excess cash on the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet would be viewed as wise and conservative.But not Congress.
      • 2) Section 32101 of the FAST Act required the US State Department to revoke or deny the passport of any taxpayer that the IRS deems to have “seriously delinquent tax debt.” They define seriously delinquent tax debt as owing $50,000 or more.  Well, it took them a couple of years, but the IRS has finally started enforcing this law.  Earlier this month the IRS acknowledged that they had sent at least 362,000 names to the State Department to start revoking or denying passports.And that’s just the beginning. The IRS is sending these names out ‘in batches’, so there will be many more to follow. They hope to be finished by the end of the year.Now, there are so many things wrong with this.For starters, it’s pretty clear there’s no due process here. It’s purely an administrative matter. Which means there’s limited oversight.Your name could accidentally end up on some list because the IRS couldn’t keep its own records straight. Or there was a problem with the data integrity. Or someone simply mismatched one John Smith for another.The IRS literally has billions of records being managed by antiquated technology that’s prone to data breaches.The idea that they could come up with a list of hundreds of thousands of people without making a single mistake is just farcical.

      Trump administration arms officials to reject H-1B applications outright --The Trump administration has empowered officials to outright reject visa applications under certain circumstances. This step can be taken if the required ‘initial evidence’ wasn’t submitted or it failed to establish eligibility for the visa sought. The revised policy will apply to all applications and requests received by the authorities from September 11 onwards. In other words, the visa applicants, that include companies sponsoring H-1B employees, are less likely to get a second chance to submit more documentary evidence or provide explanations that would substantiate eligibility for the visa. In some cases, outright denial of the application, say for the extension of an H-1B visa, could even place the employee at the risk of deportation + .  United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has issued this revised policy on July 13. “It has rescinded an earlier policy that restricted official’s ability to deny a case without first giving the applicant an opportunity to provide more evidence to prove the case. While the revised policy instructs officials to deny the application, without a Request for Evidence (RFE), only if the case lacks sufficient ‘initial evidence’, it is not yet clear how this term will be interpreted,” states Fragomen, a global firm specialising in immigration laws.

      Judge Orders Temporary Halt To Deportations As Families Are Reunited - San Diego Judge Dana Sabraw has thrown another wrench into the Trump administration's plans for tightening security at the US border by issuing a temporary halt to deportations of families that were separated under the administration's "zero tolerance" policy.In his ruling, the judge argues that the families need some additional time to consider whether to pursue requests for asylum. It was made in response to a request from the ACLU, which said it was responding to "persistent and increasing rumors...that mass deportations may be carried out imminently and immediately upon reunification," according to the Associated Press.  Sabraw ruled last month that the Trump administration would have 30 days to reunite the youngest children detained under the policy with their parents. The administration just barely finished the reunifications before the deadline, though it said some children could not be reunited with their parents because they had been deported, or for some other reason. The government is now working to reunite some of the older minors with their families.These same families now must be given at least a week to consult with their children and an advocate or counsel about their chances for asylum.The American Civil Liberties Union had asked Judge Dana Sabraw to delay deportations a week after reunification. The ACLU said in a court filing that its request is a response to “persistent and increasing rumors … that mass deportations may be carried out imminently and immediately upon reunification.”The ACLU said parents need a week after being reunified with their children to decide whether to pursue asylum.The decision "cannot be made until parents not only have had time to fully discuss the ramifications with their children, but also to hear fro m the child’s advocate or counsel, who can explain to the parent the likelihood of the child ultimately prevailing in his or her own asylum case if left behind in the U.S. (as well as where the child is likely to end up living)," the ACLU says.

      UN reaches migration deal, despite opposition from USA - More than 190 countries have agreed on a global compact to promote safe and orderly migration and reduce human smuggling and trafficking, culminating lengthy negotiations on the often contentious issue that were boycotted by the US. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, General Assembly President Miroslav Lajcak and many other supporters hailed the first global document to tackle the migration issue. Mexican Ambassador Juan Gomez Camacho, co-facilitator of the negotiations, called it "a historic day" after decades of efforts. The Global Compact for Safety, Orderly and Regular Migration is not legally binding and is to be formally adopted at a ministerial meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco, in December.But Hungary's foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, told diplomats after the agreement was adopted by consensus that his government disagrees with key points and will discuss "the possibility of disassociation" from the compact at a meeting on Wednesday. In September 2016, all 193 UN member states, including the US under President Barack Obama, adopted a declaration saying no country can manage international migration on its own and agreeing to launch a process leading to the adoption of a global compact in 2018. But last December, the US said it was ending its participation in negotiations on the compact.A statement from the US Mission to the United Nations said numerous provisions of the declaration were "inconsistent with US immigration and refugee policies" under President Donald Trump. 

      Trump Administration Succeeds at Securing Confirmation of US Attorneys- Jerri-lynn Scofield - The Senate has confirmed 65 of Trump’s nominees for United States attorneys– the principal federal law enforcement officers in their districts– eight more than had been confirmed at at a similar stage in his predecessor’s tenure, according to this recent WSJ piece, New Slate of U.S. Attorneys Aids Sessions’ Law-and-Order Push. Trump enjoys a Republican Senate majority– which facilitates confirmation of executive appointments and judgeships– but I should note that Democrats had an even larger Senate majority at a similar stage in his predecessor’s first term.The WSJ notes there are 93 US attorney positions in 94 judicial districts nationwide, and some positions are currently being filled on a temporary basis (and thus do not require Senate confirmation).As the WSJ discusses, filling US attorney positions allows Attorney General Jeff Sessions– himself a former US attorney:[to]  implement his law-and-order platform, a tougher approach that’s been praised by supporters as long overdue and decried by critics as turning back the clock on civil rights. The Journal suggests that the previous experience of both Sessions and his deputy, Ron Rosenstein, as US attorneys has in part fostered  a policy of empowering those now holding such positions: “Having served in that role themselves, the attorney general and deputy attorney general know how critical United States attorneys are to battling violent crime, combating the opioid epidemic, and making their communities a safer place,” [Justice Department Spokesman] Prior said. I’ve argued elsewhere opponents of the current administration’s policy priorities shouldn’t condemn the chaos that has surrounded many aspects of its governance– including the inability to fill positions that has plagued some other agencies.  But at the Department of Justice (DoJ), we’re not seeing the same degree of administrative chaos. That’s not to say that the tenure of Sessions has been a bed of roses– but that is in part due to Trump’s shall we say, somewhat unusual, hand’s on managerial style.

      Report documents plundering of US wealth through tax cuts for the rich - A report released last Wednesday by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) documents the plundering of US wealth to benefit the rich since 2001. Under presidents Bush, Obama and Trump—that is, under both Democratic and Republican administrations—US federal tax cuts have resulted in lost revenue of $5.1 trillion, with 65 percent of that money going to the top 20 percent of income earners. When interest on increased federal debt is calculated in, the cost in social wealth totals $5.9 trillion over the past 17 years.The report provides statistical proof that the policies pursued by both major parties are deliberately designed to enrich the top 10 percent—and especially the top 5, 1, .1 and .01 percent—at the cost of increased social misery, poverty, disease and death for the masses of people.When the cost of US imperialism’s wars since 2001 is figured in, the result is an even more staggering $10 trillion-plus in additional federal debt. The total national debt is approximately $15.7 trillion. Its massive increase, the result of war and social plunder by the financial oligarchy, is then used as the justification for attacking basic benefits such as Social Security and Medicare. The data provided in the report expose the lie promoted by the ruling elite and politicians in both big business parties that there is “no money” to fund basic social needs such as decent-paying jobs, health care, education and housing. The report also gives the lie to the claim that entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security are the main drivers of the country’s growing indebtedness. ITEP explains that its estimates of the growth of economic inequality and the national debt resulting from changes in tax policy are conservative, since they do not take into account tax “extenders,” such as provisions giving companies tax benefits for accelerated equipment depreciation. Nonetheless, it concludes that the tax cuts enacted since 2001 will total $10.6 trillion by 2025, with nearly a fifth of those savings going to the top 1 percent of income earners.

      Claiming that the war on poverty has been won, Trump administration works to gut social programs - A study released by the White House Counsel of Economic Advisors earlier this week declared, “Based on historical standards of material well-being and the terms of engagement, our War on Poverty is largely over and a success.” Starting from that clearly erroneous assumption, the report goes on to recommend instituting work requirements for non-cash social programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP), Medicaid, and housing assistance.The report doubles down on perhaps the one consistent theme of the Trump administration: the idea that the poor are imagining their poverty, that all they lack is self-sufficiency and the impetus to work.The report begins with an obvious fiction: that poverty doesn’t exist in America to any large degree, because welfare programs, which they count as income, have allowed people to overcome what they call “material poverty.” The poor, they maintain, have no incentive to work because of the social programs that have supposedly lifted them from poverty. The rest of the document is devoted to tables, graphs, and quotes stretched to the point of absurdity in support of this conclusion. The first several pages of the CEA’s report are devoted to fictive definitions of the words “poverty,” “homelessness,” and “hunger.” Because 99.6 percent of Americans did not spend the night in a homeless shelter on one particular January night in 2017, “homelessness in America is rare.” Because only “2.9 percent of people lived in households defined as food insecure in 2016” (an outright lie—12.3 percent of US homes were food insecure in 2016), a number that “includes households which always had sufficient food but at some point during the year had difficulty in obtaining food or reduced diet quality as a consequence of limited resources,” the document blusters, “95 percent of Americans and 99 percent of children” live without hunger. The document is riven with obvious contradictions.  Like Trump’s attacks on Medicaid, the CEA’s proposed cuts to SNAP, Medicaid and housing vouchers are disingenuously cloaked with references to the “self-sufficiency” and economic success of the poor. These claims are belied by their reliance upon patently false information.

       Worker wages drop while companies spend billions to boost stocks --Six months after the Tax Cut and Jobs Act became law, there's still little evidence that the average job holder is feeling the benefit. Worker pay in the second quarter dropped nearly one percent below its first-quarter level, according to the PayScale Index, one measure of worker pay. When accounting for inflation, the drop is even steeper. Year-over-year, rising prices have eaten up still-modest pay gains for many workers, with the result that real wages fell 1.4 percent from the prior year, according to PayScale. The drop was broad, with 80 percent of industries and two-thirds of metro areas affected."Now, economic confidence has been good, we're in a strong economy, GDP is growing, but the question has been, where's the paycheck?" said Katie Bardaro, vice president of data analytics at PayScale.   The answer is, largely, in the companies' coffers. Businesses are spending nearly $700 billion on repurchasing their own stock so far this year, according to research from TrimTabs. Corporations set a record in Q2, announcing $433 billion worth of buybacks — nearly doubling the previous record, which was set in Q1.  The popularity of stock buybacks in the wake of the corporate tax cuts has drawn lawmakers' attention. A group of senators wrote to the SEC late last month, asking the agency to review the rules around buybacks. "The explosion of stock buybacks has funneled corporate profits to wealthy shareholders and corporate executives instead of workers and long-term investments that spur sustained economic growth," they wrote.

      The Trump administration has a new argument for dismantling the social safety net: It worked. WaPo -Republicans for years have proclaimed the federal government’s decades-old War on Poverty a failure. “Americans are no better off today than they were before the War on Poverty began in 1964,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) wrote in his 2016 plan to dramatically scale back the federal safety net. Now the Trump administration is pitching a new message on anti-poverty programs, saying efforts that Republicans had long condemned as ineffective have already worked. The White House in a report this week declared the War on Poverty “largely over and a success,” arguing that few Americans are truly poor — only about 3 percent of the population — and that the booming economy is the best path upward for those who remain in poverty.“Over the past 54 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of a War on Poverty, federal spending on welfare programs targeting low-income households has grown dramatically, contributing to a substantial reduction in material hardship,” the White House Council of Economic Advisers wrote, saying that poverty had fallen by 90 percent since the programs began.“None of these statistics is intended to deny the ways in which millions of Americans sometimes struggle to make ends meet,” the economic advisers wrote, but “the vast majority of Americans are able to meet their basic human needs.”The report is the latest in a string of Trump administration efforts to argue that poverty is a diminishing problem in the United States. Thursday’s White House report marks a departure from decades of GOP rhetoric, party veterans say.

       “The Inevitable Math behind Entitlement Reform” -- Austin Frakt - That’s the title of a new NEJM Perspective by Michael Chernew and me. After crunching the numbers, our argument is that for long term cost control we will probably need to address growth in per capita health care utilization. The easy “solutions” won’t be enough. Much of the projected increase in inflation-adjusted spending on health care entitlements, particularly for Medicare, stems from assumed increases in utilization (e.g., 2.75 percentage points of the 5.33% annual projected growth for Medicare spending). Strategies for holding utilization growth below projections (and more in line with very recent historical growth) will thus be central to the success of any attempt at cost containment.[One approach] is to dissuade patients from seeking care by charging them more at the point of service. About 85% of Medicare beneficiaries have supplemental plans (e.g., Medigap) that reduce their out-of-pocket costs. Policies that limit the generosity of such plans could reduce Medicare spending considerably. However, such strategies would increase beneficiaries’ financial risks, reduce access to care, and probably exacerbate health disparities.A second strategy is to help beneficiaries improve their health by enhancing long-term care management and preventive services with the goal of avoiding more expensive services. Evidence suggests that although this type of approach is probably beneficial to patients and may be cost-effective, it is generally not cost saving. The piece continues with some more promising approaches, in our view. Click to read it in full (unfortunately pay-walled though).

      Net Neutrality: FCC’s Scuppering Will Stand; Meanwhile, India Adopts World’s Most Sweeping Protections -  Jerri-lynn Scofield - US advocates for net neutrality hold onto slender hope that the current Congress might overturn last May’s FCC regulation that scuppered existing net neutrality protections when the first House Republican signed onto support pending legislation. Ars Technica reports in Bill to save net neutrality gets first Republican vote in US House: US Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) today announced his support for the bill. Coffman is signing a discharge petition that would force the House to vote on a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution; the resolution would reverse the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of its net neutrality rules. Senate votes to overturn Ajit Pai’s net neutrality repeal The US Senate approved the CRA resolution in May, with votes from all members of the Democratic caucus and three Republican senators. While 176 House Democrats have signed the discharge petition, Coffman is the first House Republican to do so.“I hope more Republicans will join this effort and stand on the side of American families who rely on and overwhelmingly support a free and open Internet,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass), who submitted the CRA resolution that passed in the Senate. The petition needs 218 signatures, and Republicans hold a 236-193 majority in the House, so it’s still a long shot. But advocacy groups that support net neutrality praised Coffman for becoming the first House Republican to sign the petition.(This account in Wired is more skeptical about exactly what Coffman hopes to achieve). Trump and Congressional Republicans previously deployed CRA to overturn late-inning regulatory decisions made  sixty “session days” before his Inauguration Day– June 20, 2017. These provisions allow for a simple overturn of a new regulation, by majority vote, and presidential assent.

      Ajit Pai deals major setback to Sinclair/Tribune merger -- Sinclair Broadcast Group's acquisition of Tribune Media Company has run into a major roadblock at the Federal Communications Commission.FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he won't approve the Sinclair/Tribune acquisition as it's currently structured, saying Sinclair's plans for divested stations would violate the law. Pai is recommending that the merger be reviewed by an administrative law judge, a move that could ultimately kill the deal. Pai's decisions came after months of pressure from Democratic lawmakers, consumer advocacy groups, and industry lobby groups. Pai has been repeatedly accused of making regulatory changes that benefit Sinclair; the FCC's inspector general in February agreed to investigate whether Pai has improperly coordinated with Sinclair on rule changes. Pai's FCC previously rolled back broadcast TV station ownership limits, a move that at the time gave Sinclair a better chance of buying more stations. But Pai's statement today said that the FCC can't approve Sinclair's plan for Tribune:The evidence we've received suggests that certain station divestitures that have been proposed to the FCC would allow Sinclair to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law. When the FCC confronts disputed issues like these, the Communications Act does not allow it to approve a transaction. Pai's statement did not say which station divestitures would break the law. Reuters reported that the draft order says, "Sinclair's actions here potentially involve deception" in its application to acquire Tribune and divest WGN, a TV station in Chicago. The draft order also said that "this question of misconduct" bears not just on the WGN transaction but also on the entire merger application, Reuters wrote.

      Tribune, Sinclair Tumble After FCC Chair Rejects Merger - US Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said Monday that he has "serious concerns" about the merger between the Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media. In a statement, Pai said that he has proposed sending the $3.9 billion deal before an administrative law judge."The evidence we’ve received suggests that certain station divestitures that have been proposed to the FCC would allow Sinclair to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law."According to many analysts, Pai's proposal is a step toward killing the merger altogether. In 2011, AT&T and T-Mobile withdrew a merger application after then-FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski circulated a similar proposal to the commission. The announcement comes a welcome surprise for many opponents of the deal who had been concerned that the FCC was giving Sinclair special treatment.According to the Hill, the agency's inspector general had opened an investigation into whether Pai's efforts to deregulate the broadcasting industry were intended to clear regulatory roadblocks for the deal. Pai has denied that his campaign to roll back media ownership restrictions was designed to help any single company. As Bloomberg adds, Sinclair, which grew from a single TV station in Baltimore in 1971, is trying to leap into nationwide prominence with the deal for 42 Tribune stations in cities including New York. The purchase would lift Sinclair’s station total above 200. It’s being examined by the FCC and by antitrust regulators at the Justice Department.

      Identical Anti-Kavanaugh Letters Published By Newspapers Across The Country - A series of identical letters signed by different individuals were sent to newspapers across the country in protest of President Trump's Monday nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court - a technique known as "astroturfing" designed to appear as a genuine grassroots effort against the pick. In total, 21 newspapers across 12 states printed the identical letters - each signed with a different name, as first noted by the website Liberty Headlines and further investigated by the Daily Mail's David Martosko. At least one person didn't even know her name was being used to sign the letter.  At least 21 papers were duped last week, including big-market brands like the Dallas Morning News and The Washington Times. They ran identical letters over a four-day period, each signed by a different person.The effort is an example of public-relations 'astroturfing,' a technique meant to simulate genuine grassroots support for an idea or cause.The form letter is one small piece of the message minefield erupting around Kavanaugh as he prepares for a brutal confirmation process that will end with scant support from Democrats. -Daily Mail The letter begins with a declaration that "Brett Kavanaugh is the wrong choice to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. If he is confirmed to the Supreme Court, everything that we hold dear as a nation will be at stake." It goes on to warn that there could be a swing-vote that "takes away our rights" while giving "mega-donors with extreme agendas even more influence in our democracy."

      America’s Top Justices Are Less Like The Rest of The Country Than Ever Before -- If Brett Kavanaugh’s swift, steady climb up the American legal ladder clears one more rung, the Supreme Court of the United States will have a majority of justices, five of them, who as young adults previously worked there in intensely coveted positions as clerks. It will have seven justices who, before joining the court, worked in pivotal chapters of their careers as favored subordinates to powerful figures in Washington, D.C. It will have eight people who served tenures on federal appellate courts. And it will have nine justices — all of them — who took their legal educations at Harvard or Yale. This actually represents no change, since retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy also went to Harvard.  Kavanaugh’s ascension would further ratify a trend that has been building for a generation: a court of careerists. A generation of apple-polishers and résumé jockeys is one byproduct of the decades-long partisan war over control of the court. Legal interest groups, such as the conservative Federalist Society, identify like-minded activists and scholars they hope will someday serve on appellate courts and the Supreme Court early in their professional lives. Presidents want to nominate justices who won’t offer personal or ideological surprises in the confirmation process or once on the bench.  Yet in nominating a conservative prodigy who checks all the conventional boxes—Yale Law, a Supreme Court clerkship, a stint in the Bush White House—President Donald Trump guaranteed that the court will again have zero members who have ever held elective office. Only one who ever served in the U.S. military (Samuel Alito, for three months active duty in 1975, followed by several years in the Army Reserve). Zero who started a business. Zero who went abroad with the Peace Corps. Zero, even, who zigged and zagged through their 20s or early 30s—in the way that millions of ultimately successful Americans have done—between travel here, a false career start there, a wandering path in which they wondered with an open mind what they really wanted to do in life. These nine people knew from early on: They wanted to be legal stars. They all proved uncommonly adept at shimmying to the top of the greasy pole.

      Putin Claims U.S. Intelligence Agents Funneled $400 Million To Clinton Campaign -- Vladimir Putin made a bombshell claim during Monday's joint press conference with President Trump in Helsinki, Finland, when the Russian President said some $400 million in illegally earned profits was funneled to the Clinton campaign by associates of American-born British financier Bill Browder - at one time the largest foreign portfolio investors in Russia. The scheme involved members of the U.S. intelligence community, said Putin, who he said "accompanied and guided these transactions."Browder made billions in Russia during the 90's. In December, a Moscow court sentenced Browder in absentia to nine years in prison for tax fraud, while he was also found guilty of tax evasion in a separate 2013 case. Putin accused Browder's associates of illegally earning over than $1.5 billion without paying Russian taxes, before sending $400 million to Clinton.After offering to allow special counsel Robert Mueller's team to come to Russia for their investigation - as long as there was a reciprocal arrangement for Russian intelligence to investigate in the U.S., Putin said this: For instance, we can bring up Mr. Browder, in this particular case.  Business associates of Mr. Browder have earned over $1.5 billion in Russia and never paid any taxes neither in Russia or the United States and yet the money escaped the country. They were transferred to the United States. They sent [a] huge amount of money, $400,000,000, as a contribution to the campaign of Hillary Clinton. Well that’s their personal case.   It might have been legal, the contribution itself but the way the money was earned was illegal.  So we have solid reason to believe that some [US] intelligence officers accompanied and guided these transactions.  So we have an interest in questioning them.

       Bourdain's Parting Words: "Piece Of Sh*t" Bill Clinton Is "Entitled, Rapey, Gropey, Grabby, Disgusting" - Four months before Anthony Bourdain's June 8 suicide, he sat down with Popula's Maria Bustillos for a wide-ranging interview which was finally published on Sunday. In it, Bourdain excoriates the Clintons, has harsh words for Obama and even calls Richard Branson "kind of a douche." Asked about whether Bill Clinton should have been removed from office after the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Bourdain said that despite Clinton being "A piece of shit," who was "Entitled, rapey, gropey, grabby, disgusting" should have still kept his job despite "the way that he - and she [referring to Hillary Clinton] destroyed these women and the way that everyone went along" was "screaming in apparent hypocrisy and venality." How you can on the one hand howl at the moon about all these other predators. And not at least look back. OK, let’s say, well, it was all consensual: powerful men, starstruck women, okay fine, let’s accept it at its most charitable interpretation. Fine. He is a very charming man, I met him, he’s fucking magnetic. -Anthony Bourdain via PopulaBourdain expounded on Hillary, noting "When you’re in the room, you think wow, she’s really warm and nice and funny. But the way they efficiently dismantled, destroyed, and shamelessly discredited these women for speaking their truth..."As the Washington Examiner wrote in 2016: But Mrs. Clinton took a very different approach herself 25 years ago as the wife of then-Gov. Bill Clinton, leading the effort to discredit women who came forward with their own stories of harassment or assault by her husband.Campaign narratives written by reporters detailed how she honchoed the campaign team that handled “bimbo eruptions,” digging up personal papers and official records that could be used to undercut the stories told by a series of women. One top aide later recounted Mrs. Clinton’s intent to “destroy” the story of one accuser, while former adviser Dick Morris said Mrs. Clinton engaged in “blackmail” to try to force women to recant their stories. -Washington Examiner Bourdain said Clinton's behavior during those years "is unforgivable," though reiterated that he didn't think Bill Clinton should have been thrown out of office for his behavior.

      Mueller's New Indictment Says Russia Hacked Clinton Emails When Trump Asked Them To - On July 27, 2016, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump asked Moscow for help targeting Hillary Clinton.“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said during a Florida press conference, referring to emails that Clinton had deleted from the personal server she used while serving as Secretary of State. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”  Maybe Russia was listening. In an indictment issued Friday, special counsel Robert Mueller disclosed that Russian intelligence officers first targeted a key Clinton email provider at that time of Trump’s request. As the indictment explains:  “On or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton campaign.” The indictment doesn’t say whether the particular hack was undertaken by the Russians in response to Trump’s statement. Indeed, the indictment—which more broadly outlines the campaign by a dozen Russian intelligence officers to hack and disseminate Democrats’ emails in 2016—notes Russia began targeting Clinton campaign volunteers and employees at least as early as March 2016. But the efforts on or around July 27, according to prosecutors, marked the first time the hackers targeted private email accounts of campaign staff. That effort succeeded. The Russian hackers gained access to Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s Gmail account and disseminated the stolen emails through WikiLeaks in October 2016. Trump and his defenders have said his July 27 statement was a joke. Friday’s indictment offers a new suggestion that Russia might have not have seen it that way.

      Trump-Putin summit hits last-minute turbulence -Asia Times -- It was always within the realms of possibility that there might be some last-minute attempt made by the strong and vociferous opposition within the United States to President Donald Trump aimed at undermining his Monday summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.The suspense was about if this would happen, how it would happen and from which quarter the attempt would be made. That suspense has now ended.The charge is being led by none other than Robert Mueller, who is investigating allegations of Russian collusion in Trump’s 2016 election win.With impeccable timing, the weekend before Monday’s summit, Mueller issued a detailed indictment against 12 Russian nationals purportedly working for the Russian Military Intelligence Service (GRU), holding them responsible for “large-scale cyber operations” designed “to interfere with the 2016 US presidential election.”The 29-page document broadly outlines how Mueller reached this conclusion. But it lacks hard evidence and, prima facie, without incontrovertible proof, it may be hard to prove anything.Indeed, the indictment may not even come before a court for that reason. Besides, an open trial could open a Pandora’s box – such as casting light on any illegal snooping that might have taken place during the 2016 election by other parties. Those parties could well include American security agencies – as has been alleged already. Wouldn’t Mueller, a highly experienced lawyer himself and a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, know all this? Of course, he would. Nonetheless, he acted – and chose the last working day before the Helsinki summit to do so.

      Russia Indictment 2.0: What to Make of Mueller’s Hacking Indictment -- The indictment Friday morning of 12 Russian military intelligence officials in connection with the 2016 election hacks and the resulting distribution of purloined emails was not a total surprise. Observers of the Mueller investigation have been expecting it for a long time, particularly since the Feb. 16 indictment of 13 Russian individuals and three companies over the social media campaign conducted by the so-called Internet Research Agency.  But if the hacking indictment was generally expected, nobody seemed to see it coming this week before today’s announcement of an 11:45 am press conference.  Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein briefed President Trump on the coming action before the Leaker in Chief left town, the matter held until Rosenstein disclosed it at a Justice Department press conference. This was the investigation over which the president of the United States fired James Comey as FBI director.   This was also the investigation that multiple congressional committees have spent more than a year seeking to discredit—most recently Thursday, when two House panels hauled the former deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Department, Peter Strzok, a career FBI agent who worked on the Russia probe, up to Capitol Hill for 10 hours of public, televised, abusive conspiracy theorizing. When the president of the United States derides the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt,” and when congressional Republicans scream at FBI agents, this is the investigation they are trying to harass out of existence. It is, therefore, fitting that this indictment comes less than one day after the astonishing display House Republicans put on in the Strzok hearing. If Mueller had been trying to remind the public of what the investigation is really about and what the stakes are in it, if he had been trying to make a public statement in response to the Strzok hearing, he could not have timed this action better.

      Trump on Russia indictment: Why didn’t Obama do something? -- President Trump on Saturday reacted to the indictment of 12 Russian military officers “for conspiring to interfere with the 2016 presidential election” by blaming former President Obama and the “deep state.” “The stories you heard about the 12 Russians yesterday took place during the Obama Administration, not the Trump Administration,” he tweeted from Scotland. “Why didn’t they do something about it, especially when it was reported that President Obama was informed by the FBI in September, before the Election?”  Obama issued sanctions against Russia for the meddling in the election in December 2016.  He also expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the U.S. and ordered two Russian compounds to be closed.  Special counsel Robert Mueller is now leading the investigation into Russian interference in the election, as well as possible collusion within the Trump campaign. His probe led to the 12 indictments announced on Friday by the Justice Department. They are charged with hacking Democratic National Committee (DNC) officials and dispersing the stolen documents online.  The Trump administration has emphasized that the indictments do not indicate any level of collusion by a member of the Trump campaign. Trump has repeatedly said there was no collusion.  Trump went on to question “Where is the DNC Server, and why didn’t the FBI take possession of it?” He proposed that the server could have been kept hidden by the “Deep State.”  The deep state is a conspiracy theory that claims high-level officials run a shadow government working against Trump.

      Has Mueller Caught the Hackers? -- naked capitalism by Jerri-lynn Scofield - In this Real News Network interview, Aaron Mate discusses Special Counsel Robert Mueller indictment of 12 officials with the GRU, Russia’s main foreign intelligence agency, for allegedly meddling in the 2016 election, including hacking Democratic Party emails with author and investigative journalist Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News. Case closed? Mate clearly hasn’t drunk the Kool Aid– and demonstrates  a healthy degree of scepticism about this entire escapade. As for Isikoff…

      Mueller Indictment Adds Urgency to Securing 2018 Midterm Elections - WSJ —Special counsel Robert Mueller’s latest move briefly hijacked a closed-door meeting of state election officials and federal cybersecurity personnel here last Friday, as phones buzzed with news alerts about his indictment against Russians allegedly behind a spree of hacks before the 2016 election. The interruption, described by several people in attendance, caught the room off guard. Some of the details in the indictment, describing the persistent efforts to compromise both Democratic Party and state election networks, were new to the officials present. That added urgency to the gathering’s mission—protecting the nation’s election machinery in November. It also reflected how tightly the secrets unearthed by Mueller’s investigators are held, even from the officials responsible for preventing a repeat in 2018. Mr. Mueller’s indictment of 12 Russian intelligence operatives helped shape the tenor of weekend meetings of the country’s state election officials. Usually reserved for staid administrative topics, the sessions this time were dominated by discussions of how to protect voting machines and databases from hackers. It was the final time the secretaries of state and election directors would formally meet before voters head to the polls in November. Many officials have spent the past two years hiring new technology experts, requiring cybersecurity training for poll workers, enrolling in Department of Homeland Security computer vulnerability assessments and, in some cases, purchasing new voting equipment that includes paper-ballot backups that can be audited in the event of any cybermischief. Some of the state officials repeated a longstanding complaint that they don’t get enough information from federal agencies. “We feel like there ought to be a greater level of cooperation between the intelligence community and the FBI and DHS with the states,” said Kyle Ardoin, the Republican secretary of state for Louisiana. In a speech here on Saturday, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen described a high level of cooperation, saying all 50 states were now working with her agency in some capacity to guard against foreign meddling. She also spoke of the Mueller indictment, saying it demonstrated that the U.S. was taking the threat seriously. Some state officials said DHS, their primary federal partner on election security, has improved its communication. They cited the rapid growth of a DHS-funded group on election infrastructure, which now numbers nearly 1,000 state and local officials. DHS itself, however, is dependent on intelligence provided by agencies like the National Security Agency and the FBI, so it may not always have all the relevant information.

       Twelve Ham Sandwiches with Russian Dressing - Kunstler - After two years of Trump-inspired hysteria, it’s pretty obvious what went on in the bungled Obama-Hillary power handoff of 2016 and afterward: the indictable shenanigans of candidate Hillary and her captive DNC prompted a campaign of agit-prop by the US Intel “community” to gaslight the public with a Russian meddling story that morphed uncontrollably into a crusade to make it impossible for Mr. Trump to govern. And what’s followed for many months is an equally bungled effort to conceal, deceive, and confuse the issues in the case by Democratic Party partisans still in high places. It was very likely begun with the tacit knowledge of President Obama, though he remained protected by a shield of plausible deniability. And it was carried out by high-ranking officials who turned out to be shockingly unprofessional, and whose activities have been disclosed through an electronic data evidence trail.Mr. Trump’s visit to confer with Russian President Putin in Helsinki seems to have provoked a kind of last-gasp effort to keep the increasingly idiotic Russian election meddling story alive — with Robert Mueller’s ballyhooed indictment of twelve “Russian intel agents” alleged to have “hacked” emails and computer files of the DNC and Hillary’s campaign chairman John Podesta. The gaping holes in that part of the tale have long been unearthed so I’ll summarize as briefly as possible:1) the bandwidth required to transfer the files has been proven to be greater than an internet hack might have conceivably managed in the time allowed and points rather to a direct download into a flash drive device. 2) the DNC computer hard drives, said to be the source of the alleged hacking, disappeared while in the custody of the US Intel Community (including the FBI). 3) the authenticity of the purloined emails by Mr. Podesta and others has never been disputed, and they revealed a lot of potentially criminal behavior by them. 4) Mr. Mueller must know he will never get twelve Russian intel agents into a US courtroom, so the entire exercise is a joke and a fraud. In effect, he’s indicted twelve ham sandwiches with Russian dressing. Tragically, the American public is led to take this ploy seriously by a morally compromised news media, especially CNN and the The New York Times. The latter outfit is so afflicted with a case of the Russian meddling vapors that it ran this laughable headline at the top of its front page yesterday: “Just Sitting Down With Trump, Putin Comes Out Ahead.” Gosh, what’s the message there? Don’t even bother talking to foreign heads of state, especially in the interest of improving relations?

      The Establishment Strikes Back - There are a number of elements in the recent release of an indictment of twelve named alleged Russian military intelligence GRU officers by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein looking into possible ties between Moscow and the Trump Administration that I find either implausible or even incoherent. But before considering that, it is necessary to consider the context of the announcement. The Department of Justice, which had, based on evidence already revealed, actually interfered in the 2016 election more that Moscow could possibly have done, continued in that proud tradition by releasing the indictment three days before President Donald Trump was due to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Helsinki Summit between the two leaders was critically important to anyone interested in preserving the planet Earth as we know it and there was no reason at all to release a non-time sensitive document that was clearly intended to cast a shadow over the proceedings. In fact, the surfacing of the indictment might easily be explained as a deliberate attempt by a politicized Justice Department and Special Counsel Robert Mueller to torpedo President Trump over concerns that he might actually come to some understanding with Putin. The 30-page long indictment is full of painstaking details about alleged Russian involvement but it makes numerous assertions that the reader is required to accept on faith because there is little or no evidence provided to back up the claims and the claims themselves could be false trails set up by any number of hostile intelligence services to implicate Moscow. From an intelligence officer’s point of view, there are even some significant areas where operational implausibility completely undermines the case being made. All twelve alleged GRU officers are described in detail, together with the cover mechanisms they reportedly used and the targets they pursued. But they are all in Russia and there is virtually no chance that they will be extradited to stand trial in Washington, which was certainly understood when the indictment was prepared. That means the “facts” as stated in the document will never be subjected to the normal judicial review process or discovery that takes place whenever someone is accused of a crime, which in turn means that information contained in the indictment will never be challenged.

      What Mueller’s Latest Indictment Reveals About Russian and U.S. Spycraft --On Friday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, as part of his investigation into interference with the 2016 presidential election, charged 12 Russian military intelligence officers with conducting “large-scale cyber operations to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” The indictment contains a surprising amount of technical information about alleged Russian cyberattacks against a range of U.S. political targets, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic National Committee, members of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, the Illinois (probably) State Board of Elections, and an American election vendor, apparently VR Systems, and its government customers.While the indictment only describes the U.S. government’s charges in this case, the specific technical evidence presented is compelling and paints by far the most detailed and plausible picture yet of what exactly occurred in 2016. It also sheds light on what the U.S. government is capable of doing when it investigates cyberattacks, as well as how Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, or GRU, allegedly conducted the attacks — which it denies — and what operational security mistakes they made. Here are what I find to be the most compelling takeaways from the indictment.The indictment says that the organization DCLeaks, which claimed that it was started by a group of “American hacktivists,” and the persona Guccifer 2.0, who claimed to be a Romanian “lone hacker,” are both controlled by the named Russian intelligence officers. DCLeaks operated the website and the Twitter account @dcleaks_, and Guccifer 2.0 operated the website and the Twitter account @Guccifer_2. Russian officers took steps to anonymize their hacking and infrastructure, according to the indictment, trying to leave no trace of their identity as they rented servers, registered internet domain names, and set up accounts for email, Twitter, and other uses. But they didn’t do the best job compartmentalizing this infrastructure. This allowed Mueller’s team to confirm that the same people were behind a number of ostensibly distinct operations: DCLeaks, Guccifer 2.0, the spear-phishing campaign, and the hacks of the DCCC and DNC networks.

      Mueller’s Latest Indictment Contradicts Evidence In The Public Domain - On July 13th, 2018, an indictment was filed by Special Counsel Robert Swan Mueller III. This author is responding to the indictment because it features claims about Guccifer 2.0 that are inconsistent with what has been discovered about the persona, including the following:

      Tony Podesta Offered Immunity To Testify Against Paul Manafort: Report Tony Podesta, the brother of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, has reportedly been offered immunity by special counsel Robert Mueller to testify against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, according to Fox's Tucker Carlson.  Manafort and Podesta both made millions together as unregistered agents on a pro-Russia project in Ukraine. While Podesta had the uncanny foresight to retroactively file as a foreign agent last April, Manafort did not, and is currently on trial for his failure to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) - created decades ago to curb Nazi propaganda in the US, as part of a 12-count indictment handed down last October. "In other words, for a near identical crime, Bill and Hillary's friend could escape and emerge completely unscathed while Paul Manafort may rot in jail. Only one of them made the mistake of chairing Donald Trump's presidential campaign," said Carlson. One week after Mueller announced he was targeting Manafort and an unnamed "Company B" in October, Podesta resigned from his position as chairman of the Podesta Group, which he co-founded with his brother Tony in 1988.

      Trump resists Mueller interview, leaving decision on subpoena before fall elections - After months of negotiations failed to secure an interview with President Trump, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III warned the president’s lawyers during a contentious meeting this spring that he could use a grand jury subpoena if necessary to compel his testimony. That prompted a furious response from John M. Dowd, the president’s lead attorney at the time. “I told him, in no uncertain terms, if that's the route he took, he'd have a war on his hands,” Dowd recalled about the March meeting. Trump’s team has increasingly signaled he will not voluntarily answer questions as the special counsel investigates Russian meddling in the 2016 election, whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin, and if Trump subsequently obstructed the investigation. That may give Mueller little choice but to seek a subpoena if he deems Trump’s testimony critical. But getting one this summer almost certainly would spark a bitter court battle with the president’s lawyers before the November midterm elections, a prospect Mueller might want to avoid. The impasse represents a defining juncture for a federal investigation that has clouded the Trump White House from its first day and led to criminal charges against 32 people since October, including 12 Russian intelligence officers indicted Friday for hacking files of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, Democratic Party organizations and state election offices in 2016. While Mueller has avoided the media — news agencies recycle year-old photos of him — Trump’s rage has only grown, with near-daily Twitter broadsides against what he calls a “rigged witch hunt.” Trump will meet Monday in Finland with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who denies the meddling even though U.S. intelligence agencies said he personally ordered the operation.

      Lisa Page 'cooperative,' 'credible,' lawmakers say after 5-hour closed-door session --Former FBI lawyer Lisa Page was “cooperative” and "credible" in a closed-door session Friday with select House committee members that lasted nearly five hours.U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., had been among Page’s harshest critics heading into the session, but he said her cooperation “speaks well of her,” according to the Hill. Meadows said he thinks the American people “would be happy” with Friday’s transcribed interviews, the Washington Post reported. “She’s been willing to help in the spirit of transparency. … We’ve certainly learned additional things today,” Meadows said.  Remarkably, we learned new information today suggesting the DOJ had not notified Lisa Page of Congress' outstanding interview requests for over 7 months now. The DOJ/FBI appear to be continuing their efforts to keep material facts, and perhaps even witnesses, from Congress.— Mark Meadows (@RepMarkMeadows) July 13, 2018   The GOP-led probe is a joint investigation run by the chairmen of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees. Page, who defied a subpoena Wednesday, would have been held in contempt of Congress had she not appeared at Friday's session, lawmakers said.

      Within 24 hours, 2 of Trump’s top intelligence officials hint that they’ve considered resigning - Two of President Donald Trump's top intelligence officials hinted within 24 hours of each other that they've considered resigning from their positions.First was FBI Director Christopher Wray, who was asked by NBC News anchor Lester Holt at the Aspen Security Forum whether he had previously threatened to resign from his position."There have also been stories that you threatened to resign," Holt said on Wednesday night. "Have you ever hit a point on that issue of sources and methods or anything else when you said, this is a line?""I'm a low-key, understated guy, but that should not be mistaken for what my spine is made out of," Wray answered. "I'll just leave it at that."Next was Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, the top US intelligence official, who was also at the Aspen Security Forum. During a Thursday interview with NBC News anchor Andrea Mitchell, Coats was asked if he had ever considered resigning from his position."That's a place I don't really go to publicly," Coats said, joking that he's "tried to retire twice," noting his previous retirements from the Senate."Are there days when you think, 'Well, what am I doing?' Yeah," he continued. "But there's lot more days saying, "You know, the mission here is critical. And to be able to be a part of it, be able to feel like you're giving something back to your country — it's a reward. ... As long as I'm able to have the ability to seek the truth and speak the truth, I'm on board."

      Three Top FBI Cybersecurity Officials to Retire - WSJ - Three of the top cybersecurity officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation are retiring from government service, according to people familiar with the matter—departures that come as cyberattacks are a major concern for the country’s security agencies. Senior U.S. intelligence officials warn that the country is at a “critical point” facing unprecedented cyberthreats, including Russia’s ongoing attacks on the American political system. The retirements also come as the FBI is facing regular criticism from President Donald Trump and his supporters, and is working to attract and retain top cyber talent. Scott Smith, the assistant FBI director who runs the Bureau’s cyber division, is leaving this month. His deputy, Howard Marshall, also left in recent weeks. Mr. Marshall has accepted a job at Accenture , a consulting firm that is expanding its cybersecurity portfolio. Mr. Smith is also expected to move to the private sector. David Resch, executive assistant director of the FBI’s criminal, cyber, response and services branch, is departing the bureau as well. Mr. Resch, who was named to his senior post by FBI Director Christopher Wray in April, supervised Mr. Smith and Mr. Marshall. Additionally, Carl Ghattas, executive assistant director of the FBI’s national security branch, has decided to leave for the private sector. And Jeffrey Tricoli, a senior FBI cyber agent who oversaw a Bureau task force addressing Russian attempts to meddle in U.S. elections, left last month for a senior vice president position at Charles Schwab Corp. , the Journal reported last week. The FBI confirmed the departures. One U.S. official said more people are expected to leave soon, declining to provide additional names. Several people familiar with the moves said that while it was abnormal to see so many senior-level people leave at the same time, it wasn’t uncommon for agents to depart after becoming eligible for retirement benefits at age 50. However, Mr. Marshall’s exit was seen as “highly unusual,” according to one person, because he is stepping away before retirement age. 

      I've seen the future and its murder --You know who interfered in our elections? The Supreme Court interfered in our elections. Striking down the 1965 Civil Rights provision that supervised the election process in the South allowed, for instance, Trump to win in N.C. That there were 65,000 less black votes in 2016 than in 2012 - instead of about a 120 thousand more - is the direct result of Republican actions. By not expanding the Civil rights act to Wisconsin, which under its Shitty governor has pressed the id card voter thing - see here and here:- the Supreme court was definitely putting its thumb on the scales for the GOP. Expect more of that. Russian trolls on fb did not win for Trump. John Roberts did. And the House of Unrepresentatives and the cockeyed Senate are going to keep that happening. The attack on American democracy is coming from the structures put in place during the 170 years of unchallenged white supremacy. As we head further into the century of bringing down the Holocene, we are going to have an American ruled by, among other things, a senate in which 50 members will come from 30 percent of the population, if current trends hold. And guess what? That 30 percent of the population is from places like Idaho and Utah, the white white white areas. The whole structure of the American republic is on a collision course with the brief liberal interlude that lasted from the 30s to the beginning of the eighties. Don't bet on this ending pretty.I've seen the future brother and its murder.

      Lunatic Politics (Part 2) – It's Becoming Impossible To Have A Conversation --More and more people are becoming aware of and concerned about the level of political dialogue going on right now. We’ve gotten to a point where I’m seeing almost no intelligent debate about any serious issue. Russiagate now consumes such a massive amount of our collective energy, it feels we’ve become nearly incapable of discussing anything else. Even worse, Russiagate has morphed into a creepy D.C. establishment religion where merely demanding evidence for the wild claims being made gets you labeled a traitor or Putin agent. Ironically, average Americans don’t care about the issue.When Gallup recently asked Americans what the most important (non-economic) problem facing the country today is, the amount of people saying Russia was so low they couldn’t even attribute a number to it. Think about that. We’re being divided into two camps of increasingly insane and angry people because of hysteria surrounding an issue nobody even cares about. As usual, we can thank mass media for turning this topic into its singular obsession as well as promoting an environment of cultural insanity and stupidity.  As a result, people aren’t having intelligent conversations with one another. They’re just yelling at each other. The dialogue feels more like a political hunger games where people see everything as a linguistic competition of kill or be killed. Language itself has become debased as individuals try to one up each other with name calling and hyperbole. Demonizing and dehumanizing the other side appears to be the primary goal, which will only lead to a very bad place if we don’t take a collective deep breath.

      Mueller Reveals Russia Investigation Just Elaborate Sting To Nail Clinton Child Sex-Slavery Ring - — Special Counsel Robert Mueller informed the public Wednesday that his so-called Russia investigation was in fact merely a cover for an elaborate sting to bring down the Clinton family’s child sex-slavery ring. “The Justice Department has finally been able to track down and arrest everyone associated with the Clinton Foundation’s unconscionable crimes, and it’s all thanks to President Trump agreeing to work undercover and play along with our fabricated accusations of Russian interference in the 2016 election,” said Mueller, explaining that after its agent Seth Rich was killed by the Clintons, the department recruited Trump to distract high-ranking Democrats with social media stunts, continuous denials of Russian involvement in U.S. politics, and glowing praise for Vladimir Putin. “Without the president’s help, we never would have been able to keep the guise of the ‘Russia investigation’ going long enough to launch our successful raids of Comet Ping Pong and secret locations in Haiti—efforts that ultimately brought the Clintons’ human-trafficking crimes to light. Thanks to the heroic actions of Donald Trump, we can all sleep a little more soundly tonight, knowing the world’s children are safe.” Mueller went on to thank the numerous media personalities and Republican lawmakers who first pointed out to federal investigators that the real problem lay in Hillary Clinton’s missing emails.

      Trump ex-lawyer Michael Cohen secretly recorded Trump talking about payoff to Playboy model: Report - President Donald Trump was secretly recorded by his then-lawyer Michael Cohen just two months before the 2016 presidential election talking about paying off a Playboy model who claimed to have had an affair with Trump, a new report said Friday. The New York Times reported that the FBI seized that recording, which related to model Karen McDougal, during a raid on Cohen's office in New York City on April 9. Trump's current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told the Times on Friday that while Trump had talked about making payments with Cohen on that recording, the payment to McDougal was never actually made. "I know this is the tip of the iceberg," Michael Avenatti, a lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels, told CNBC when asked about the recording with McDougal, and asked if Cohen had recordings relating to Daniels.Daniels has said she had her own sexual tryst with Trump in 2006, the same year in which McDougal has said she began a nealry yearlong affair with the him, and the same year in which his wife Melania gave birth to their son Barron. McDougal sold her account of the alleged liaison with the future president to The National Enquirer for $150,000 before the November 2016 election. But the Trump-friendly supermarket tabloid did not publish it before Election Day. Giuliani told the Times that the recording made by Cohen lasts for less than two minutes, and demonstrated that Trump committed no wrongdoing. Giuliani was quoted as saying that Cohen and Trump discussed Trump paying McDougal for her story, separately from the payment she received from The Enquirer, which would guarantee her silence in the future.

      Trump raises $90 million for his reelection bid and the Republican Party, with less going to legal fees -WaPo - With the 2018 midterms underway, President Trump's reelection campaign and two affiliated committees entered the third quarter with a massive fundraising haul of $90 million and a steep decline in attorneys' fees, which have consumed his reelection expenses since he took office.Trump’s campaign committee and two fundraising committees that are joint operations with the Republican National Committee — Trump Victory and the Trump Make America Great Again Committee — together raised $17.7 million in the second quarter, for a total of about $90 million in the 2018 cycle, according to Federal Election Commission records filed Sunday evening.Unlike his predecessors, Trump began fundraising for 2020 soon after he won the presidency. He continues to energize small-dollar donors, FEC filings show. In the second quarter of 2018, 62 percent of the direct contributions to his campaign committee came from donations of $200 or less.Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law and senior adviser to his campaign committee, in a statement called the small-dollar donations a sign of “the continued support of so many Americans who resoundingly approve of Donald Trump’s performance as President.” The three committees reported $53.5 million total in cash on hand at the end of the quarter.

      You Are Paying for the Trump Brothers to Travel the World on Trump Organization Business - It’s not cheap to live like a Trump, and American taxpayers are finding out the hard way. Wherever Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump go, they are accompanied by an entourage of Secret Service agents. Taxpayers don’t pay for the Trumps to travel, but they do foot the bill for their protective details. These trips often include stays in high-priced, luxury hotels, such as the One&Only Royal Mirage in Dubai, where the Trump brothers jetted in February 2017 to meet with Hussain Sajwani, their business partner in a Dubai golf resort. On this trip alone, which included a side visit to the Maldives with Sajwani and his family, the Secret Service racked up $230,000 in travel costs. The eye-popping expenses are contained in documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Extensive details of the Dubai trip’s itinerary—including arrangements for a seaplane to take the brothers and their protective entourage to private islands in the Maldives—are included in the records, which were released by CREW on Wednesday. The Dubai visit was perhaps the most lavish trip the Trump have taken with taxpayer-funded protection, though it was hardly the only one. In January 2017, the Secret Service spent roughly $30,000 to accompany Eric Trump to the Dominican Republic, where he met with his father’s former business partners to explore reviving a collapsed resort project—despite a pledge from the president that his company would engage in no new foreign deals while he was in office.  According to the documents obtained by CREW, taxpayers shelled out more than $50,000 for a visit the brothers made to Vancouver, Canada in early February 2017 for the opening of a new Trump hotel there. More than half of those charges were paid to the Trump hotel. The documents also detail a trip to Uruguay by Eric Trump in January 2017, which cost taxpayers at least $97,000.

      'She was like a novelty': How alleged Russian agent Maria Butina gained access to elite conservative circles - For nearly five years, the young Russian political-science student was an unusual fixture at the most important events of the U.S. conservative movement.Maria Butina, who was indicted this week on charges of being a covert Russian agent, struck up friendships with the influential leaders of the National Rifle Association and the Conservative Political Action Conference, touting her interest in U.S. affairs and efforts to promote gun rights in Vladi­mir Putin’s restrictive Russia. She sidled up to GOP presidential candidates, seeking first an encounter with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and then, after his rising candidacy stumbled, with Donald Trump.But by August 2016, when she moved to the United States on a student visa, the FBI was watching, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter. Rather than question or confront her, they said, officials decided to track her movements to determine whom she was meeting and what she was doing in the United States — the kind of monitoring that is not uncommon when foreign nationals are suspected of working on behalf of a foreign government. By then, Butina had already publicly quizzed Trump about his views on Russia and briefly met his eldest son at an NRA convention. After the FBI began monitoring her, Butina attended a ball at Trump’s inauguration and tried to arrange a meeting between him and a senior Russian government official at last year’s annual National Prayer Breakfast. By 2017, after she had enrolled as a graduate student at American University in Washington, Butina began probing groups on the left as well, trying unsuccessfully to interview a D.C.-based civil rights group about its cyber-vulnerabilities for what she said was a school project, according to a person familiar with her outreach. On Sunday, alerted that she was preparing to leave Washington for South Dakota, where monitoring her would be more difficult, federal authorities arrested Butina.The 29-year-old was indicted by a grand jury on Tuesday, accused of conspiracy and failing to register as a foreign agent. The indictment alleges that she worked with her contact in the Russian government to infiltrate American political groups as part of a scheme “to advance the interests of the Russian Federation.” Robert Driscoll, an attorney for Butina, said she is not a Russian agent but merely a student with an interest in politics and a desire to network with Americans. “She intends to defend her rights vigorously and looks forward to clearing her name,” he said in a statement.

      Maria Butina: accused spy was in contact with Russian intelligence, prosecutors say  -- The Russian woman charged with spying in the US was in contact with suspected Russian intelligence officers and a billionaire oligarch linked to the Kremlin, US authorities said on Wednesday. Prosecutors said Maria Butina had contact details for “individuals identified as employees of the Russian FSB”, and that investigators found a handwritten note that asked: “How to respond to FSB offer of employment?” Butina, 29, also entered into in a sham relationship with an American political operative to help her activities, and offered someone else sex in return for a position within an activist group, according to a court filing by the government. The new information was presented by prosecutors as they asked a judge in Washington to keep Butina in jail in advance of her trial for conspiracy and illegally operating as a foreign agent inside the US. She is accused of working to infiltrate the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Republican party. Butina pleaded not guilty to the charges at a court hearing in Washington on Wednesday. Judge Deborah Robinson ordered she be detained and denied bail. The next hearing was scheduled for 24 July. Speaking to reporters outside court, her attorney Robert Driscoll said he “strongly disagreed” with the judge’s decision. Driscoll said Butina had not tried to flee despite being aware for months that she was under criminal investigation. “We remain confident that she will prevail in this case,” said Driscoll. “She’s not an agent of the Russian government. She’s innocent of the charges brought against her. Most importantly, she’s a young student seeking to make her way in America.” Jessie Liu, the US attorney for Washington DC, said in Wednesday’s filing that Butina was watched by US agents sharing a private meal with a Russian diplomat who is suspected of actually being an intelligence officer. Liu said electronic messages reviewed by investigators contained references to a Russian billionaire with “deep ties to the Russian presidential administration”, who was described as Butina’s “funder”. Butina was also in contact with a second wealthy Russian businessman. 

      Alleged Russian Spy Was Working to Infiltrate Christian Right, Pro-Gun Groups  - The more we learn about freshly indicted Russian spy suspect Maria Butina, the stranger the 29-year-old Siberian woman’s story becomes. As Eric Levitz explained earlier this week, Butina has had some extracurricular activities that are unusual for a grad student, which is supposedly why she was in the United States to begin with:Previous reporting has suggested that this woman, 29-year-old American University graduate student Maria Butina, tried to broker two separate secret meetings between Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin during the 2016 campaign. The court documents unveiled Monday allege that Butina simultaneously worked to infiltrate American political organizations and establish “back channel” lines of communication with American politicians.Her apparent associate (or perhaps dupe) in her intelligence operations was U.S. “political operative” Paul Erickson, who was 30 years older than Butina but reportedly lived with her. He’s had his own colorful pre-espionage career, which included Pat Buchanan’s 1992 presidential campaign and a stint as “media advisor” to John Wayne Bobbitt, the man whose wife Lorena famously dis-membered him. The New York Daily News helpfully reports that Erickson was the genius behind Bobbitt’s “international ‘Love Hurts’ tour during which they sold t-shirts and autographed steak knives.” In any event, Erickson had lots of useful contacts among U.S. gun activists that Butina, who led a gun-rights group back in Russia, was able to exploit very successfully. Her apparent boss, Russian pol (and Putin ally) Alexander Torshin, attended multiple NRA conventions, and Erickson reportedly hooked him up with Donald Trump Jr. at the 2016 event. He also sought to set up a meeting for Torshin with the mogul himself around that same time. Butina also took advantage of Erickson’s links with the Christian right, as Slate’s Ruth Graham reports, though Torshin had his own relationships in that universe, having attended multiple National Prayer Breakfasts.

      Treasury’s Mnuchin Just Gave the Koch’s Dark Money Machine a Bonanza - Pam Martens - The Trump administration has been the gift that keeps on giving to billionaire Charles Koch’s vast network of political front groups known as the Kochtopus. Its democracy-smothering tentacles have wrapped themselves around everything from the U.S. judicial system, to elections, to climate change, higher ed, news dissemination, and how laws are made in Washington and at the state level. (See related articles below.)Charles Koch’s wealth, and that of his brother, David, derives from their majority ownership of Koch Industries, one of the largest private corporations in the world with major interests in fossil fuels, chemicals, paper products, and commodities trading. Forbes puts their net worth at $51 billion each.The Trump administration, now packed full of Koctopus operatives, has been rapidly running a playbook for the Koch machine: withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord – check. Tax cuts for corporations and the rich – check. Gut the Environmental Protection Agency – check. Make their ally, Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education – check. Gut Federal regulations – check. Build skepticism toward NATO – check. The list goes on and on.Now comes another bonanza. On Monday the U.S. Treasury announced that certain types of tax exempt organizations (read Koch front groups) would no longer have to reveal the names and addresses of their donors to the IRS. That information has never been available to the public, but now it will no longer be available to the IRS in order for it to quickly detect patterns of fraud, illegal foreign donors inserting themselves into U.S. elections, or a mega-billionaire and his cronies potentially outspending an entire political party in an election.In making the announcement, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin stated this in a press release:“Americans shouldn’t be required to send the IRS information that it doesn’t need to effectively enforce our tax laws, and the IRS simply does not need tax returns with donor names and addresses to do its job in this area. It is important to emphasize that this change will in no way limit transparency.” This is simply more of the Orwellian Reverse-Speak that the Trump administration has adopted as the official language in the executive branch, such as the recent “would” now means “wouldn’t” in the press conference with Putin.

      Treasury defends move to halt nonprofit disclosures, saying information available -- Senior Treasury Department officials on Tuesday defended the decision to scrap donor-disclosure requirements for most nonprofits, saying it won’t limit what the public can glean from legally available sources.The IRS will no longer collect names or addresses of those who contribute $5,000 or more to all tax-exempt Section 501(c) groups, some of which donate to political campaigns, other than charitable organizations registered under a different section of the tax code, according to new guidelines released late Monday. The decision immediately sparked a backlash, with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) saying Tuesday that he’ll oppose the nomination of a new IRS commissioner over the move. Wyden, the Finance Committee’s top-ranking Democrat, charged that President Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have made it easier for anonymous foreign donors to funnel dark money into nonprofits. “It’s the latest attempt by Secretary Mnuchin and Donald Trump to eliminate transparency and keep officials and lawmakers from following the money,” Wyden said in a statement. “That’s why I’ll be opposing Charles Rettig, nominee to be IRS commissioner, unless Mr. Rettig commits to restoring this critical disclosure requirement.”

      Bank CEO's fire-and-rehire maneuver reaps windfall at t… Three months before the 2016 election, the chief executive of a small, privately held bank in Chicago was appointed to Donald Trump’s 13-member economic advisory team. Stephen Calk may have expected his foray into presidential politics to open new doors. Instead it backfired spectacularly. The little-known banker became an important figure in the Russian election meddling saga, with prosecutors alleging that an executive who fits Calk’s description snagged a spot on the Trump advisory council in exchange for providing millions of dollars in loans to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.Manafort, who is under scrutiny for his ties to Moscow, is scheduled to go on trial later this month on charges that include bank fraud. Calk, the CEO of the $265 million-asset Federal Savings Bank, could be a key witness at one of the most high-profile U.S. trials in recent memory.Though Calk’s involvement in the Trump campaign did not go as planned, his own business history in Chicago may have given him reason to think that it would pay dividends. Four years earlier, Calk struck an agreement with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel that promised to bring up to 400 new employees to a gentrifying neighborhood west of downtown. The city agreed to pay the bank $10,000 per employee, in what was the largest-ever grant of its kind, to cover job training costs.In the end, Calk and his brother John pulled off a neat trick: Their bank, among the most profitable in the country that year, collected $3.6 million in public subsidies in substantial part by rehiring employees who they had recently fired from a separate company that they also owned.“It was blatantly obvious what they were doing, and how they got away with it is beyond me,” said a former Federal Savings Bank employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

       Bitcoin was Russian hackers' currency of choice, U.S. says - For years, bitcoin believers have tried to distance the digital coin from the perception that it's only used for criminal activity. New insights into Russian meddling in the U.S. election aren't helping. Bitcoin was the currency of choice among the Russian intelligence officers indicted for hacking offenses related to the 2016 presidential campaign, the U.S. said Friday. The conspirators primarily used the virtual coins when buying servers, registering domains and making other payments related to the cyber breaches, according to the indictment. Many of the transactions were processed by U.S. companies.   "To facilitate the purchase of infrastructure used in their hacking activity — including hacking into the computers of U.S. persons and entities involved in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and releasing the stolen documents — the defendants conspired to launder the equivalent of more than $95,000 through a web of transactions structured to capitalize on the perceived anonymity of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin," the U.S. said.The 12 intelligence officers indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller are members of the GRU, a Russian intelligence agency. They are accused of stealing usernames and passwords of volunteers in Democrat Hillary Clinton's campaign, including its chairman, John Podesta. They also hacked into the computer networks of the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in an operation starting around March 2016, the filing said. The group allegedly mined bitcoin to pay a Romanian company to register the domain "," for example. They also bought bitcoin by using peer-to-peer exchanges, moving funds through other cryptocurrencies and setting up prepaid cards, according to prosecutors.  "The use of Bitcoin allowed the conspirators to avoid direct relationships with traditional financial institutions, allowing them to evade greater scrutiny of their identities and sources of funds," the U.S. said.

      Winklevoss Twins Donate $130K To Cuomo Before Winning NY 'Bitlicense' - How's this for pay-to-play politics? New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a political scion and erstwhile contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination, is fighting for his political future as simmering public outrage over the NYC subway has bolstered a celebrity primary challenger who is attacking Cuomo from the left. And in the latest revelation about corruption - or at least the appearance of corruption - in Albany, the New York Post has published a story about how Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss donated a total of $130,000 to Cuomo's reelection campaign weeks before New York State issued their firm, the Gemini Trust Company, a license to trade bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies.  Gemini, the Winklevii's firm, was the "first qualified custodian and exchange" to offer trading of the "emerging digital currency Zcash in New York," officials said in a May 14 press release.They gave Cuomo’s campaign $50,000 each on April 24, 2018, three weeks before the state Department of Financial Services licensed the Winklevosses’ firm, Gemini Trust Company, to trade bitcoin and other emerging currencies in the state.[...]Then, five weeks later, the twins each cut Cuomo’s campaign another check for $15,000 on June 20 - for $30,000 total. And those donations weren't the sum total of the twins' support for the governor. The twins were named to the hosting committee for a July 14 fundraiser for Cuomo at the Surf Lodge in Montauk, a popular Hamptons hangout for celebrities where both Tiffany Trump and Malia Obama have been spotted this summer. The minimum donation to be named to the committee was $1,000.

      Should banks let people buy bitcoin with credit cards? -- The fintech startup Abra's decision to let customers use credit cards to buy cryptocurrency — a move at odds with recent actions by Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Capital One and Discover — is again raising the question of whether the practice is too risky for financial institutions to allow. The big banks made their move in February after a precipitous drop in the value of bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple and Bitcoin Cash, worried that crypto buyers, some of them highly leveraged, would buy high and balk when the credit card bill came due and their currency was worth far less than its purchase price. While Abra acknowledges that is an issue, the firm's chief executive said the fault lies with banks' systems. “That is definitely a concern," said Bill Barhydt, Abra's CEO. “A lot of U.S. banks that haven’t rolled out 3-D Secure" — a security protocol for card transactions — "and other technologies have different chargeback rules because they’re still behind in the technology curve. So they’ve been reluctant to process crypto transactions.” But while Abra supports the use of credit cards for crypto purchases, large banks remain averse to the idea. USAA was one of the few big institutions to allow crypto purchases with credit cards, but it joined the ban on June 15. "After careful thought, USAA has decided not to allow cryptocurrency transactions on USAA credit cards," a spokeswoman said. "This change helps prevent fraud or losses and protects USAA and our members’ financial security. Members that would like to continue to purchase cryptocurrency may purchase the currency by using their own funds through the use of a debit card." JPMorgan says its decision stands for the moment. “Due to the volatility and risk involved, we are not processing cryptocurrency purchases using credit cards at this time," a spokeswoman said. . For their part, Mastercard and Visa appear to be neutral on the issue. 

      Next stage of GOP’s Dodd-Frank grief: Acceptance -- House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, has been preparing a package of bipartisan bills aimed at reforming securities rules to aid investors, mergers and acquisitions and other types of capital formation. But the legislative effort, which includes combining some bills that have already passed the House, is also symbolic.  The measures represent the follow-up reforms that Hensarling said he expects Congress to consider after the House agreed to pass the recent Senate bank deregulatory bill — making targeted changes to Dodd-Frank — despite the House GOP's desire to more dramatically curtail the post-crisis regulatory regime. Yet the capital-formation bills, which largely stay clear of bank regulatory issues, suggest a shift in focus. “The whole 'We are replacing and repealing Dodd-Frank’ is clearly over," said Karen Shaw Petrou, managing partner at Federal Financial Analytics. "It was rhetorical at best but it’s over for now.” Hensarling, who is retiring from Congress, has called the package an update to the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, a law focused on small-business funding passed during the Obama administration. The "JOBS Act 3.0" package deals with everything from how firms access the capital markets to changes in investor disclosures.It includes bills that have passed the full House or the Financial Services Committee with broad Democratic support, including eight bipartisan bills that the committee marked up this past week. A series of amendments to the JOBS Act were scheduled for House floor time this Tuesday.They include some provisions dealing specifically with financial services firms, such as a bill setting a two-year schedule for large banks to submit living wills as required under Dodd-Frank. Banks have generally had to submit the resolution plans annually. The bill previously passed the House 414-0. Credit union advocates, meanwhile, have hailed the inclusion of a two-year delay in the National Credit Union Administration's risk-based capital rule.

      After Senate reg relief bill, House package would be cherry on top -  — Following enactment of the Senate's regulatory relief bill in May, Congress is attempting to sprinkle in a handful more provisions to ease the industry's burden. Bipartisan legislation the House passed Tuesday is primarily focused on capital formation: easing regulations on businesses looking to go public. But the package, which mostly includes noncontroversial bills that had already passed the full House or the Financial Services Committee, includes a few measures that will particularly please financial institutions.“There’s some good, solid policy dealings, specifically with the capital markets, and I think that’s the emphasis,” said Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., who chairs a subcommittee on capital markets. “But we also have a couple of other things that I think are important.” The bill, which the House passed 406 to 4, would extend the period between when banks submit living wills, delay a risk-based capital rule for credit unions and exempt nonbank financial institutions from mandatory stress test requirements, among other measures.The package is considered the third iteration of the Obama administration’s Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, or JOBS Act 3.0, and is a rare show of compromise between House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and ranking member Maxine Waters, D-Calif.The legislation is largely intended to better enable small businesses to access the capital markets.The capital-formation struggles for new companies "is a bad trend in America," Hensarling said in a Tuesday morning briefing with reporters. Referring to the homemade nature of how many companies are launched, Hensarling said, “We still have too many garages filled with old cars" and "not enough startups."In a statement, Waters said the legislation may even blunt some negative effects of deregulation, recognizing "the connection between a stable financial system and strong economic growth."

      Fed's Powell has some explaining to do on stress test move - When Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell faces lawmakers this week, one big question will almost certainly be: Is the central bank playing favorites among the big banks?   Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, ranking member on the Banking Committee, criticized the agency for its latest round of stress test results earlier this month after the Fed agreed to give Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley a “conditional non-objection” on the quantitative portion of their exams, despite a capital shortfall. In doing so, the Fed permitted the investment banks to maintain their capital distributions at recent levels, rather than cutting them, and to avert what The Wall Street Journal has termed the “black eye of failure.”  The lawmakers raised questions about the decision in a July 10 letter to the Fed, calling the decision “a gift to the banks.” The Fed for its part has said that the move was tied to one-time changes in the tax overhaul passed late last year, which put the banks at a capital disadvantage before the tests were even conducted. On a June call with reporters regarding the exam results, senior Fed officials stressed that the banks faced the same consequences as those that had failed the quantitative portion of the test in the past — namely that they would have to abide by prior levels of buybacks and dividends. A spokesman for the central bank declined to comment further. Yet given that all 35 banks tested faced changes from the recent tax law, “it’s unclear why Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley deserve special treatment,” Brown and Warren said in their letter.  It’s a question Democrats are likely to ask repeatedly at Powell’s back-to-back hearings in the Senate and House on Tuesday and Wednesday, particularly as the Fed weighs a number of changes to how stress tests will be conducted in the future. Of course, this one decision is extremely unlikely to pose any real threat to the economy in the short term — the financial system is much stronger than it was in 2009 when the tests were first developed. Nor do the exams play the same role that they did in the wake of the crash, when they were used as a key tool to shore up public confidence. It’s understandable that policymakers may be rethinking how the stress tests should be conducted going forward — and the part they play in the supervisory framework — almost a decade after the crisis.

      Fed chair faces Democratic fury over stress test results  — Senate Democrats rebuked Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell for the agency’s decision to withhold failing grades for three banks on this year’s stress test despite the fact that their capital levels fell below required minimums. In Powell's semiannual appearance before the Senate Banking Committee Tuesday morning, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, the committee's ranking member, wasted little time blasting the Fed for what he described as an overly lenient approach.Even though the test performances for Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and State Street were subpar, Brown said in his opening statement, the Fed allowed all seven of the "largest banks to redirect $96 billion to dividends and buybacks” following the assessments.  Brown also criticized some of the ideas that Powell and Fed Vice Chairman for Supervision Randal Quarles have floated to change the stress tests, including opening the stress test scenarios to notice and comment periods and exempting even more banks from the qualitative stress test examination.“Vice Chair Quarles has suggested he wants to give bankers more leeway to comment on the tests before they’re administered — that’s like letting the students help write the exam,” Brown said. “The Fed is considering dropping the qualitative portion of the stress tests altogether— even though banks like Deutsche Bank, Santander, Citigroup, HSBC and RBS have failed on qualitative grounds before.”   Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, also asked Powell about the Fed’s rationale for not failing the three banks last month when the results for the Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review were announced. Powell responded that this year’s test was especially stringent, and that the timing of last year’s tax law made the results idiosyncratically low for those firms and not representative of those banks’ actual capital positions today. “This year’s test was, by a good margin, the most stringent test yet,” Powell said. “We labeled these as conditional nonobjections rather than objecting straight out to the plan. And we’ve done that … many times, and we thought that it was appropriate here.” Powell also faced questions about whether he intended to loosen supervisory requirements for U.S. based affiliates of international banks — so-called intermediate holding companies — after the passage of the regulatory relief bill earlier this year raised the asset thresholds for U.S.-based Systemically Important Financial Institutions from $50 billion to $250 billion. Powell indicated that there was no plan in place to change the IHC regulatory regime at all, though he shied away from promising that he would never change it during his tenure as Fed chair.

       Quarles details how Fed may regulate $100B-$250B banks — The Federal Reserve’s top regulator laid out some initial thoughts on how the agency plans to apply enhanced prudential standards to banks with assets of $100 billion to $250 billions. Speaking before a banking conference in Utah on Wednesday, Fed Vice Chairman for Supervision Randal Quarles suggested that banks in that range could get a break from filing resolution plans — also called living wills — and that the Fed may consider reducing the frequency of stress tests for some institutions."We should consider limiting the scope of application of resolution planning requirements to only the largest, most complex, and most interconnected banking firms because their failure poses the greatest spillover risks to the broader economy,” Quarles said. (Under the Dodd-Frank Act, the Fed enforces living-will requirements along with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.)  Quarles said tailoring regulations to meet the risks posed by individual firms is a policy that the central bank has been engaged in for some time.“As the board built its post-crisis framework, supervision and regulation were designed to increase in stringency in tandem with a firm’s size and systemic footprint,” Quarles said.  Congress passed a bill in May that raised Dodd-Frank’s threshold for enhanced prudential standards from $50 billion to $250 billion, but left the application of enhanced prudential standards for banks between $100 billion and $250 billion to the Fed.

         Report: Wells Fargo to pay customers after charging for hidden services - Wells Fargo is getting ready to shell out tens of millions of dollars to customers.
      According to the Wall Street Journal, the bank has been charging monthly fees to hundreds of thousands of customers for dozens of products they didn't fully understand or know how to use.Pet insurance, legal services and other add-on services were just some of the add-on's. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is now investigating. In a statement sent to the Associated Press, Wells Fargo said it is reviewing the add-on products and is working with regulators.

      CFPB orders TCF to refund consumers for overdraft charges - TCF Financial has agreed to pay a $5 million fine to two regulators and provide $25 million in restitution for the way the bank marketed and charged consumers for overdraft protection.The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued the $21 billion-asset TCF, based in Wayzata, Minn., last year, alleging the bank had engaged in deceptive and abusive practices. TCF obscured its overdraft fees and made it appear to customers that the fees were mandatory for opening new checking accounts, the CFPB said Friday.The overdraft charges occurred from mid-2010 to 2013 when the bank was implementing changes to Regulation E, which requires banks to obtain consent from consumers before charging overdraft fees on one-time debit purchases and ATM withdrawals, the CFPB said. The CFPB said it had imposed a $5 million civil penalty but adjusted that downward to account for a separate $3 million penalty imposed by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which did not publicly disclose its enforcement action against the bank.

      Menendez, 24 other Dems call for CFPB to reinstate advisory board - Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey and 24 other Senate Democrats have urged acting Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Mick Mulvaney to reinstate members of the agency's consumer advisory board, who were fired last month, and to provide details on the firings.The senators sent a letter to Mulvaney on Thursday asking for a detailed plan on how and when the CFPB will meet with the advisory board, which is mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act. "By dismissing the [advisory board], the CFPB is deliberately rejecting statutorily required advice from qualified professionals who are volunteering their services to the American public, with no credible explanation as to why the present CAB members are not fulfilling their responsibilities," the letter said.

      CFPB consumer advisory board 2.0: Far fewer members -- Just as Mick Mulvaney fired members of a board that advises the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on consumer issues last month, the agency's acting director was also taking steps to re-form the panel with less than a quarter of its sitting members. On June 5, Mulvaney signed an amended charter to reconstitute the consumer advisory board with only six members, according to a copy of the charter obtained by American Banker. A day later, the board's 25 volunteer members were fired along with roughly 35 members of two other advisory boards. The board's new amended charter states that the board "will have no formal decision-making role and no access to confidential supervisory or other confidential information." The document also indicates that the amended charter was filed on June 20 with the Senate Banking Committee, the House Financial Services Committee, the General Services Administration and the Library of Congress. The advisory board was originally created under the Dodd-Frank Act.All the board members were fired via a conference call by Anthony Welcher, the CFPB's policy adviser for external affairs and one of a dozen political appointees hired by Mulvaney. The firings came after several consumer lawyers and advocates complained in media reports that Mulvaney had refused to meet with them or convene the boards at all this year.

      3 questions to make or break Kraninger's CFPB nomination - You don’t get a second chance at first impressions, especially in Washington. Kathy Kraninger, President Trump’s pick to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is set to find that out for herself at Thursday’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee.The Office of Management and Budget official, a deputy to acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney, who also runs OMB, is a virtual unknown in the financial services industry. While some top Republicans have spoken encouragingly about meeting with the nominee, her fate could very well come down to her performance at the hearing.  Kraninger will be speaking to a number of audiences when she takes the hot seat — Republicans and Democrats, along with bankers and consumer advocates — though she doesn’t necessarily have to win them all over.Her most important objective will be to assuage any pressing concerns that could derail Republican support for her confirmation. The GOP holds a slim majority in the Senate right now, with enough votes to get her through as long as there are no dissenters. Otherwise, she’ll need to sway at least a handful of moderate Democrats to secure her position. More progressive lawmakers are unexpected to support Kraninger, given her ties to Mulvaney, who has made quick work overhauling the agency.  Here are three of the most important questions she will face.

      • Are you qualified to oversee this agency despite a lack of financial services or consumer finance experience?  Perhaps the biggest hurdle Kraninger will encounter is demonstrating a familiarity with the consumer protection laws she would be tasked with overseeing, given her lack of industry experience.
      • Can you explain your involvement in the White House’s “zero-tolerance” policy? Soon after Kraninger’s nomination, Democrats were quick to raise concerns about her time at OMB under Trump, especially including her alleged role in a controversial immigration policy that separated children from their families this spring.  Banking Committee Democrats asked Chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, on Wednesday to delay the hearing until questions about her work on the issue have been addressed, in addition to questions about her role in the budgeting of the administration’s hurricane response in Puerto Rico. Critics, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have also raised questions about her budgeting decisions around affordable housing.
      • What's the appropriate role for government when it comes to consumer protection? Kraninger is expected to broadly share her boss’s views about the direction of the bureau. Mulvaney is known for having called the agency a “sick, sad” joke before taking office, and he has said that he said he wished it didn’t exist.  Early evidence suggests Kraninger maintains a critical view of the agency, particularly as it was run under former Director Richard Cordray.

      All heat, no light: Kraninger gives little sense of CFPB views --As much attention as Kathy Kraninger has drawn over her selection as the administration's choice to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, she has mostly been a blank slate on financial regulatory issues. That remained the case following her three-hour nomination hearing Thursday.Kraninger, a senior official at the Office of Management and Budget, spent much of the hearing getting grilled over the administration's now-rescinded "zero tolerance" policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the southern U.S. border, which Democrats say she helped implement while at OMB. The nominee signaled that she carries similar pro-free-market views as acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney — who is also OMB director — while she does see financial services players in particular need of regulatory scrutiny, such as the credit bureaus and Wells Fargo.But in response both to questions about immigration and financial regulation, Kraninger mostly avoided direct answers, which visibly frustrated members of the Senate Banking Committee. "You are going to be the head of this agency, your recommendations are going to count for something, so it would be really helpful for me to know where you're at," said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. Although the hearing appeared to do little damage, if any, to Kraninger's confirmation prospects, Democrats were still able to land some rhetorical punches on the OMB official over her role in the administration's immigration policy.  The tensest moment came in questioning from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., when Kraninger attempted to deny she played a part in developing the separation policy. "I had no role in setting the policy," she said.  But Warren dug in, insisting that Kraninger specifically describe her involvement in creating a plan for reuniting children with their parents.  Kraninger said she took part in meetings but refused to answer beyond that. "I will not characterize the advice I provided," she said,

       Trump nominee assailed at hearing as unfit to lead consumer bureau -  Kathy Kraninger, President Donald Trump's pick to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, faced withering criticism on Thursday from Democrats, who repeatedly charged that she was unqualified to lead the powerful agency.With her confirmation already resting on a tight margin, Kraninger drew no words of support from any Democrat during a nearly three-hour confirmation hearing, which Senate Banking Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) called “intense.” Kraninger, who has worked as a congressional aide and at the departments of Transportation and Homeland Security, has a short paper trail and no clear experience in financial policy. The bureau’s critics see her nomination as a way to keep acting Director Mick Mulvaney, her boss at the Office of Management and Budget, in the loop at the CFPB. With no consumer protection record to attack, Democrats homed in on Kraninger’s position as an associate OMB director overseeing the agencies responsible for the controversial "zero-tolerance" border policy and disaster recovery in Puerto Rico. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) repeatedly asked Kraninger whether she had any role in “developing or implementing” the policy responsible for separating children from their parents at the border.  “You’ve given a very lawyerly and limited answer — you’re dodging,” Warren told Kraninger. “The answers have also been contradictory: You’ve said you had no role in ‘setting’ the policy, but you also can’t describe the advice you gave on the policy. Which raises a question: Which is it — you had no role, or you had a role and you can’t describe it?” she added.  “I had no role in developing it, in terms of its announcement by the attorney general,” Kraninger responded. “Subsequent to the attorney general’s announcement, there were meetings within the administration on the general topic of the implementation.” Warren said the policy “is fundamentally immoral, and you — you — were part of it, Ms. Kraninger. It is a moral stain that will follow you for the rest of your life, and if the Senate votes to give a big promotion to you, this then it is a stain on the senators who do so.”

       Would Trump’s CFPB pick silence consumers? - When someone has been cheated out of money and their family’s well-being is at stake, it’s an injustice that for too long left people with little recourse. That is, until 2011 when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau launched the consumer complaint database, which documents and helps people resolve disputes with financial companies. However, the temporary head of the CFPB, Mick Mulvaney, has threatened to shut off public access to the database. If he or Kathy Kraninger, President Trump’s pick for permanent CFPB director, carries out this threat, they would be taking away one of the most effective weapons Americans have to prevent businesses from fleecing them: transparency. To see the database in action, look at the case of David Perry. …  Their complaint is one of more than 1.5 million lodged with the CFPB. After the CFPB verifies the customer-business relationship and gives the company an opportunity to respond, the complaint narrative and relevant data are published online with personal information removed. Ninety-seven percent of consumers get a timely reply when the CFPB sends their complaints to companies. Many receive compensation. The searchable and public nature of the database encourages accountability and responsiveness from powerful financial institutions. It’s worth noting that the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Safety Administration also have searchable public complaint databases.The CFPB database is heavily used by service members and their families who are targeted by debt collectors with illegal threats to contact commanding officers, seniors who are the victims of scams and students who tell of loan servicers not providing legally required information on repayment options.Journalists, academics, consumer watchdogs and federal regulators use the database to uncover patterns of consumer abuse. The surge of complaints against Wells Fargo for opening unauthorized accounts contributed to the decision, by the previous head of the CFPB, to investigate and take action. The public nature of the complaints also quietly nudges regulators to address emerging problems.

      Why independent mortgage banks need CFPB reg relief –Bank Think - Our firms recently joined up with 50 other independent mortgage bankers in a comment letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau asking for regulatory streamlining for smaller IMBs. Our letter asked that Section 1024(b)(b) of the Dodd-Frank Act — which requires tiered regulation of nonbanks based on size, volume, product risk, and extent of state supervision — be fully implemented with respect to these types of community-based mortgage lenders.IMBs are supervised by every state in which they do business, as well as by the sponsors of mortgage programs they originate under, including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and government agencies like the Federal Housing Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs. IMBs are also redundantly regulated by the CFPB with respect to federal consumer mortgage laws.Why is this a concern? Because the additional costs of preparing for CFPB exams (on top of state exams) and of divining CFPB rules interpretations that may differ from state regulators has a disproportionate impact on smaller IMBs. Smaller lenders don't have the compliance economies of scale that larger lenders do. The costs of redundant CFPB regulation contribute to IMB consolidation, which is bad for competition and bad for consumers. The CFPB has supervisory authority over banks, thrifts, and credit unions with assets over $10 billion, a threshold that exempts roughly 98% of the nation's 5,600 depository institutions. Our letter asks for similar treatment for nonbank IMBs — calling on the CFPB to adopt a formal policy or rule that exempts smaller IMBs from CFPB exams or audits, as well as makes it clear that the CFPB will not take enforcement action against smaller IMBs unless one of their state regulators or a different federal regulator provides a referral for it to act.

      FHFA leadership structure is unconstitutional: Judges   — A federal appeals court in Texas has ruled that the single-director structure of the Federal Housing Finance Agency is unconstitutional but validated a dividend agreement requiring the government-sponsored enterprises to deliver nearly all of their profit to the Treasury Department. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Texas reversed the previous court’s decision and agreed with the shareholders that the FHFA was “unconstitutionally insulated from executive control” since its single director — as opposed to a board or commission — cannot be fired by a sitting president without cause. If upheld, the decision could render the agency’s actions void. The court panel consisted of Chief Judge Carl Stewart and Judges Catharina Haynes and Don Willett. Haynes agreed with the court’s decision, while Stewart dissented on the constitutionality issue. Willett also dissented on the profit sweep issue.  However, the ruling also delivered a blow to investors who have been seeking to upend Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's profit sweep into the Treasury through the Third Amended Dividend Agreement. Fannie and Freddie shareholders have questioned the net-worth sweep rule since it was enacted in 2012, arguing that it is illegal, but the appeals court dismissed those claims, agreeing with other courts that the Housing Economic and Recovery Act of 2008 placed restraints on judicial review. Yet the judges' skepticism of the agency's leadership structure was a positive for the shareholders. Investors have argued that the FHFA violates the separation of powers because, with a single director who can be removed only with cause, shareholder interests may not be properly considered.

       FHFA, like CFPB, finds its constitutionality in doubt - — The question of what are appropriate checks on independent regulators continues to be a focus for courts around the country, but the issue has now extended way beyond the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. A three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has ruled that the Federal Housing Finance Agency's leadership structure — with a single director at the top who can be fired only for cause — is unconstitutional. The decision — which could be appealed to the full panel of Fifth Circuit judges or the Supreme Court — echoes a similar ruling in 2016 written by Judge Brett Kavanaugh, of the D.C. Circuit, that the CFPB's single-director structure was unconstitutional.  That CFPB decision was later overturned by a full panel of the D.C. Circuit. But with Kavanaugh now nominated for a Supreme Court seat, and plaintiffs clearly still interested in using the constitutional argument to fight regulatory power, the issue could be coming to a head with big implications for both agencies.“Existing precedent supports independent financial regulators,” said Aaron Klein, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. “The Kavanaugh philosophy may overturn precedent.”

      Jared Kushner's firm investigated over tenant harassment claims in New York -New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s office on Monday unveiled an investigation into claims the family-run firm of Donald Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner tried to harass tenants out of an apartment building in a fashionable section of Brooklyn.  The decision follows an Associated Press report published on Sunday in which more than a dozen current and former tenants of Austin Nichols House in Williamsburg claimed they were subjected to relentless construction noise, toxic dust and an infestation of rodents, combined with steep rent hikes, as part of an effort to force them out so they could be replaced with higher-paying tenants.“Governor Cuomo has zero tolerance for tenant abuse of any kind and we will aggressively take on landlords who try to intimidate people out of their homes,” said RuthAnne Visnauskas, commissioner of New York State Homes and Community Renewal, in a statement. “In New York, no one is above the law, and we will thoroughly investigate the appalling allegations of harassment at this or any related property.”  Over the past three years, the AP report claimed, more than 250 rent-stabilized apartments, or three-quarters of tenants of the building – were either emptied or sold, bringing in around $155m to Kushner Companies.. “You have to be ignorant or dumb to think this wasn’t deliberate.” Aaron Carr, head of Housing Rights Initiative, a tenant’s rights watchdog that filed a $10m lawsuit late on Sunday claiming that some tenants were also exposed to high levels of cancer-causing dust, said the conditions and tenant exodus “provides a window into the Kushner Companies′ predatory business model”. Kushner and two partners paid $275m for the building in April 2015. The company has denied harassing tenants to get them out, and said it will defend itself vigorously.

      Ben Carson says he’s raising rents to put poor Americans to work. But in the District, the majority are either elderly, disabled or already at work. WaPo --Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has said his proposal to raise rents for America’s poorest citizens will force low-income tenants to find jobs and become more self-sufficient. But in D.C. — where his proposal will likely cause a larger increase in rent than any of the 50 states would see — that rationale does not stand up to scrutiny, housing experts and advocates say.More than half — 53 percent — of D.C. residents receiving federal rental assistance are elderly or disabled, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Even if their rents go up, most of these individuals are physically unable to work, said Claire Zippel of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute.  As for non-elderly, non-disabled Americans who receive rental assistance, many are already working — a statistic that holds true both for the District and the nation.  In D.C. in 2016, 72 percent of people in this category were currently working, had worked in the last year, or were enrolled in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which mandates that nearly all of its recipients work. Nationally, that figure is 74 percent, according to CBPP. Carson’s plan, announced in April, would cause the rent paid by extremely low-income Americans to at least triple. If approved by Congress, the proposal would increase the monthly minimum rent charged by public-housing facilities from $50 to $150. It would also raise the rent paid by tenants in subsidized housing from 30 percent of adjusted income to 35 percent of gross income.Under the plan, individuals who are over the age of 65 or are disabled will be exempt from the rent increases for six years, though they could start seeing incremental raises within three years, according to Will Fischer of CBPP. Nationwide, seniors and disabled people make up more than half of the 4.7 million families who receive federal subsidies, HUD officials have said.

      House bill would reform and extend flood insurance program — Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., introduced a bipartisan package of legislation Tuesday to reform and extend the National Flood Insurance Program. The package of eight bills would keep the program running through Nov. 30. It also would include “common sense reforms” to improve flood mapping loss mitigation efforts that have previously passed in the House, according to a press release announcing the bill.  The bill "takes bold action that will steer NFIP towards a sustainable path by modernizing flood risk assessments and reducing the burden of repetitive loss properties,” Royce said in the press release.  Congress has until July 31 to renew the program or risk a lapse in coverage, which would create a new round of headaches for lenders and real estate agents. The National Association of Realtors estimates that should the program lapse, there would be about 40,000 fewer home sales per month.

      MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest Weekly Survey - From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey: Mortgage applications decreased 2.5 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending July 13, 2018. Last week’s results included an adjustment for the Fourth of July holiday.... The Refinance Index increased 2 percent from the previous week. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 5 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 19 percent compared with the previous week and was 1 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) increased to 4.77 percent from 4.76 percent, with points increasing to 0.46 from 0.43 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

      Housing Starts decreased to 1.173 Million Annual Rate in June  --From the Census Bureau: Permits, Starts and Completions Privately-owned housing starts in June were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,173,000. This is 12.3 percent below the revised May estimate of 1,337,000 and is 4.2 percent below the June 2017 rate of 1,225,000. Single-family housing starts in June were at a rate of 858,000; this is 9.1 percent below the revised May figure of 944,000. The June rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 304,000.  Privately-owned housing units authorized by building permits in June were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,273,000. This is 2.2 percent below the revised May rate of 1,301,000 and is 3.0 percent below the June 2017 rate of 1,312,000. Single-family authorizations in June were at a rate of 850,000; this is 0.8 percent above the revised May figure of 843,000. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 387,000 in June. The first graph shows single and multi-family housing starts for the last several years. Multi-family starts (red, 2+ units) decreased in June compared to May.   Also Multi-family starts were down 14% year-over-year in June. Multi-family is volatile month-to-month, and  has been mostly moving sideways the last few years.Single-family starts (blue) decreased in June, and were up 0.2% year-over-year.  The second graph shows total and single unit starts since 1968. The second graph shows the huge collapse following the housing bubble, and then - after moving sideways for a couple of years - housing is now recovering (but still historically fairly low). Total housing starts in June were well below expectations, and starts for April and May were both revised down.

      Housing Starts Crash In June, Permits Tumble YoY - Following May's plunge in building-permits (starts jumped), June was expected to deliver a rebound, but it didn't. Permits dropped 2.2% MoM (vs +2.2% exp) but Housing Starts collapsed 12.3% MoM (after May's 4.8% rise MoM). This is the 3rd month of declining permits in a row and biggest drop in starts since Nov 2016... Total housing starts declined YoY for the first time since Dec 2017.   The collapse in starts was broad based:

      • single family starts down from 944K to 858K
      • multi family starts down from 381K to 304K 

      But the drop in permits was dominated by multi-family units...

      • Single-family permits  from 843K to 850K , +0.8%
      • Multi-family permits  from 424K to 387K , -8.7%, lowest since May 2017

      Total starts and permits are the lowest since September...  Mortgage apps fell once again this week and broadly speaking homebuilder stocks are tracking housing market economic data lower...

      Comments on June Housing Starts - Bill Mcbride - Earlier: Housing Starts decreased to 1.173 Million Annual Rate in June.  Housing starts in June were disappointing, and starts for April and May were revised down.   However this was just one month, and most of the decline was in multi-family starts that are volatile month-to-month. The housing starts report released this morning showed starts were down 12.3% in June compared to May, and starts were down 4.2% year-over-year compared to June 2017. Both multi-family and single family starts were down year-over-year. This first graph shows the month to month comparison for total starts between 2017 (blue) and 2018 (red).Starts were down 4.2% in June compared to June 2017. Through six months, starts are up 7.8% year-to-date compared to the same period in 2017.   That is still a solid increase.  Single family starts were down 0.2% year-over-year, and down 9.1% compared to May 2018.  Multi-family starts were down 15.3% year-over-year, and down 20.2% compared to May 2018 (multi-family is volatile month-to-month).  Below is an update to the graph comparing multi-family starts and completions. Since it usually takes over a year on average to complete a multi-family project, there is a lag between multi-family starts and completions. Completions are important because that is new supply added to the market, and starts are important because that is future new supply (units under construction is also important for employment).These graphs use a 12 month rolling total for NSA starts and completions.  The rolling 12 month total for starts (blue line) increased steadily for several years following the great recession - but has turned down recently.  Completions (red line) had lagged behind - however completions have passed starts (more deliveries). It is likely that both starts and completions, on rolling 12 months basis, will now move mostly sideways.As I've been noting for a few years, the significantly growth in multi-family starts is behind us - multi-family starts peaked in June 2015 (at 510 thousand SAAR).  The second graph shows single family starts and completions. It usually only takes about 6 months between starting a single family home and completion - so the lines are much closer. The blue line is for single family starts and the red line is for single family completions.

      Disappointing housing permits and starts point to housing, GDP slowdown - For the second month in a row, the preponderance of evidence from housing permits and starts is that increased interest rates and continuing increased prices are beginning to take a bite out of the market.  FRED doesn't have the graphic updates yet, so let's look at the charts provided by the Census Bureau.  First, here are housing permits: Total permits declined to a 9 month low, and are actually down YoY. The less volatile single family permits rose, but are just above its 9 month low from one month ago.  This remains the first time that single family permits have declined about 4% since 2010. But because the peaks for single family homes were only in February, and overall in March, not enough time has passed to be confident that this downturn is truly significant. Declines of 4% or more took place several times in the 1990s and 2000s without signaling the top of the market, as in 1994-95, 1996, and 2004: It is noteworthy that in 2017, there was a similar pattern of new highs in permits during the winter months, and a decline in the spring and summer. So there may also be some residual seasonality that has not been accounted for (data shown through May):  nThe more volatile total and single family housing starts also declined to 9 month lows: There were also significant downward revisions to the last several months. This had a significant effect on the three month rolling average, which cuts down on volatility. Initially, last month's three month average was a new expansion high. With the revisions, the high is now back in March.So there is not enough evidence of a significant downturn to set off any recession alarms. It would take a decline of at least 5% from peak in single family permits for me to change my evaluation of the housing market. At the same time, as I noted last month, even though the economy didn't roll over, in two of the last 3 times -- 1994 and 2004 -- where there was a similar decline in permits outside of recessions, real GDP did slow down:

      Has Housing Market Activity Peaked? -  Mcbride - Following the release of housing starts this week, Sharon Nunn wrote in the WSJ: Housing Market Stumbles at the Beginning of Summer. She quoted Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics as telling clients: “Housing market activity – sales and construction – likely has peaked for this cycle."If correct, that would be significant for the economy.  First, I think it is likely that existing home sales will move more sideways going forward. However it is important to remember that new home sales are more important for jobs and the economy than existing home sales. Since existing sales are existing stock, the only direct contribution to GDP is the broker's commission. There is usually some additional spending with an existing home purchase - new furniture, etc. - but overall the economic impact is small compared to a new home sale. Also I think the growth in multi-family starts is behind us, and that multi-family starts peaked in June 2015. See: For the economy, what we should be focused on are single family starts and new home sales. As I noted in Investment and Recessions "New Home Sales appears to be an excellent leading indicator, and currently new home sales (and housing starts) are up solidly year-over-year, and this suggests there is no recession in sight." If new home sales and single family starts have peaked that would be a significant warning sign.   Although housing is under pressure from policy (negative impact from tax, immigration and trade policies), I do not think housing has peaked, and I think new home sales and single family starts will increase further over the next couple of years.

      NAHB: Builder Confidence Unchanged at 68 in July --The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported the housing market index (HMI) was at 68 in July, unchanged from 68 in June. Any number above 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor. From NAHB: Builder Confidence Stays at Healthy Level in July Builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes remained unchanged at a solid 68 reading in July on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI).“Consumer demand for single-family homes is holding strong this summer, buoyed by steady job growth, income gains and low unemployment in many parts of the country,” said NAHB Chairman Randy Noel, a custom home builder from LaPlace, La. “Builders are encouraged by growing housing demand, but they continue to be burdened by rising construction material costs,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “Builders need to manage these cost increases as they strive to provide competitively priced homes, especially as more first-time home buyers enter the housing market.” The HMI index measuring current sales conditions remained unchanged at 74. Meanwhile, the component gauging expectations in the next six months dropped two points to 73 and the metric charting buyer traffic rose two points to 52. Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the Northeast rose one point to 57 while the Midwest remained unchanged at 65. The West and South each fell one point to 75 and 70, respectively.

      Hotels: Occupancy Rate decreased Year-over-Year - From STR: US hotel results for week ending 14 July - The U.S. hotel industry reported mixed year-over-year results in the three key performance metrics during the week of 8-14 July 2018, according to data from STR. In comparison with the week of 9-15 July 2017, the industry recorded the following:
      • Occupancy: -1.6% to 76.1%
      • Average daily rate (ADR): +1.2% to US$132.14
      • Revenue per available room (RevPAR): -0.4% to US$100.56
      The following graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average.

       Retail Sales increased 0.5% in June -- On a monthly basis, retail sales increased 0.5 percent from May to June (seasonally adjusted), and sales were up 5.9 percent from June 2017. From the Census Bureau report: Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for June 2018, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $506.8 billion,an increase of 0.5 percent from the previous month, and 6.6 percent (±0.5 percent) above June 2017. Total sales for the April 2018 through June 2018 period were up 5.9 percent from the same period a year ago. The April 2018 to May 2018 percent change was revised from up 0.8 percent to up 1.3 percent.  This graph shows retail sales since 1992. This is monthly retail sales and food service, seasonally adjusted (total and ex-gasoline). Retail sales ex-gasoline were up 0.47% in June. The second graph shows the year-over-year change in retail sales and food service (ex-gasoline) since 1993. Retail and Food service sales, ex-gasoline, increased by 5.2% on a YoY basis. The increase in June was slightly below expectations, however sales in April and May, combined, were revised up.

      Retail Sales July 16, 2018: Strong gains for the discretionary categories of autos and restaurants and a big upward revision to May highlight the June retail sales report. Total sales rose an as-expected 0.5 percent in June with May, in what will be a positive for second-quarter GDP estimates, revised a sharp 5 tenths higher to an outsized 1.3 percent jump. What's striking is that autos were very strong in both June and May, up 0.9 and 0.8 percent respectively, with restaurants really showing unusual acceleration, up 1.5 and 2.6 percent in the two months. Gains here point to new confidence among consumers and are consistent with the strength underway in the labor market. Sales at health & personal care stores were unusually strong in June, up 2.2 percent following a series of very strong gains in the 1 percent range. Nonstore retailers, in a sign of e-commerce strength, rose 1.3 percent in June and continue to make ground compared to other components. Gasoline stations, boosted by high gas prices, saw a 1.0 percent rise in June sales following a 3.0 percent spike in May. Building materials, at plus 0.8 percent in June, and furniture store sales, up 0.6 percent, are both positive indications for residential investment. Consumer spending in May was at first modest overall on weakness in spending on services though today's upward retail revision will offer a major lift for May's final result. And unless services prove flat again, June -- based on today's report -- should prove a very strong finish for the second-quarter economy.

       June Retail Sales: Up 0.5% MoM, As Expected --The Census Bureau's Advance Retail Sales Report for June was released this morning. Headline sales came in at 0.5% month-over-month to one decimal and was at the consensus. Core sales (ex Autos) came in at 0.39% MoM (to two decimals). Revisions were made to April and May figures.Here is the introduction from today's report:Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for June 2018, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $506.8 billion, an increase of 0.5 percent (±0.4 percent) from the previous month, and 6.6 percent (±0.5 percent) above June 2017. Total sales for the April 2018 through June 2018 period were up 5.9 percent (±0.5 percent) from the same period a year ago. The April 2018 to May 2018 percent change was revised from up 0.8 percent (±0.5 percent) to up 1.3 percent (±0.2 percent).Retail trade sales were up 0.3 percent (±0.5 percent)* from May 2018, and 6.4 percent (±0.5 percent) above last year. Gasoline Stations were up 21.6 percent (±1.6 percent) from June 2017, while Nonstore Retailers were up 10.2 percent (±1.4 percent) from last year. [view full report] The chart below is a log-scale snapshot of retail sales since the early 1990s. The two exponential regressions through the data help us to evaluate the long-term trend of this key economic indicator.

      Consumer Credit Binge Hangover Sparks Slowdown in Retail Sales Growth - Consumer Credit Binge Hangover Sparks Slowdown in Retail Sales Growth - Following May's exuberant jump (revised even higher to +1.3% - biggest since Sept 2017) which coincided with a massive spike in consumer credit, June's retail sales growth slowed notably (+0.5% as expected). Retail Sales ex-Autos beat expectations, rising 0.5% vs 0.4% expected, but slowing dramatically from an upwardly revised May spike of 1.3% MoM; but retail sales ex-autos and gas disappointed.   However, the control group's growth (ex-food, auto dealers, building materials, and gas stations) collapsed to unchanged in June (against expectations of a 0.4% MoM jump)... Under the hood it was a mixed picture, with 8 of 13 major retail categories showed increases, according to the Commerce Department data.

      • Motor Vehicle and parts dealers: +0.9%
      • Furniture and home furnishing stores: +0.6
      • Building material and garden equipment: +0.8%
      • Health and personal care stores: +2.2%
      • Gasoline stations: +1.0%
      • Nonstore (internet) retailers: +1.3%
      • Food service and drinking places: +1.5%
      • Miscellaneous store retailers: +0.2%
      • Electronics and appliance stores: -0.4%
      • Food and beverage stores:  -0.3%  
      • Clothing and clothing accessories stores: -2.5%
      • Sporting goods, hobby, musical and book stores: -3.2%
      • General Merchandise stores: -0.8%

      Amazon Now Accounts For 49% Of Online Retail - Amazon will account for accounts for 49.1% of all online retail sales, up from 43% the year before, if they clear an expected $258 billion in sales this year. The stunning figure provided by research firm eMarketer is tempered by the fact that Amazon's near-majority share of online sales accounts for just 5% of all retail sales. Amazon is set to rake in $258.22 billion in US retail sales in 2018, while annual growth has jumped 29.2% year-over-year, reports Tech Crunch.Fueling Amazon's rise is a robust network of third-party sellers and a rapidly expanding range of goods from groceries to fashion - made all the more attractive for subscribers of their Prime services.  Now, it is fast approaching a tipping point where more people will be spending money online with Amazon, than with all other retailers — combined. Amazon’s next-closest competitor, eBay, a very, very distant second at 6.6 percent, and Apple in third at 3.9 percent. Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer when counting physical stores, has yet to really hit the right note in e-commerce and comes in behind Apple with 3.7 percent of online sales in the US. –TC  Popular categories: The most popular category on Amazon is consumer electronics and tech, with projected sales of $65.82 billion according to eMarketer; around a quarter of total turnover. Second in line is apparel and accessories, which should account for roughly $39.88 billion, followed by health, personal care and beauty with $16 billion. In last place is food and beverage trailing at $4.75 billion.

      Weekly Gasoline Price Update: WTIC Drops Almost 8% -- It's time again for our weekly gasoline update based on data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). The price of Regular was up a penny and Premium was down less than a cent, from last week. According, Hawaii has the highest average price for Regular at $3.72 and San Francisco, CA is the most expensive city, averaging $3.79. Mississippi has the cheapest at $2.54. The WTIC end of day spot price closed at 68.06, a 7.8% decrease from this time last week. How far are we from the interim high prices of 2011 and the all-time highs of 2008? Here's a visual answer.

       LA area Port Traffic Increases YoY in June -- Container traffic gives us an idea about the volume of goods being exported and imported - and usually some hints about the trade report since LA area ports handle about 40% of the nation's container port traffic. The following graphs are for inbound and outbound traffic at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in TEUs (TEUs: 20-foot equivalent units or 20-foot-long cargo container).  To remove the strong seasonal component for inbound traffic, the first graph shows the rolling 12 month average. On a rolling 12 month basis, inbound traffic was up 0.7% compared to the rolling 12 months ending in May.   Outbound traffic was up 0.6% compared to the rolling 12 months ending in May.  The 2nd graph is the monthly data (with a strong seasonal pattern for imports).  Usually imports peak in the July to October period as retailers import goods for the Christmas holiday, and then decline sharply and bottom in February or March depending on the timing of the Chinese New Year.  In general imports have been increasing, and exports have picked up recently. It is possible that some of the recent increase was an effort to beat the proposed tariffs.   We will know in a few months.

      "Things Are Getting Real" - Companies Are Reporting The Impact Of Tariffs On Their Business - While President Trump's latest round of tariffs has only just taken effect, and his earlier tariffs on steel and aluminum weren't widely imposed on American allies until May, American companies, or foreign firms' US-based subsidiaries, are already complaining about the negative impact that tariffs are expected to have. And as the White House mulls over whether to slap 10% tariffs on another $200 billion of Chinese imports, the situation is finally "getting real." Companies have warned for months that the tariffs would hurt economic growth, but to try and get a handle on the "real-world impact"of these policies, Bloomberg is compiling a list of companies that have either mentioned the tariffs during their earnings calls, or have released some other tariff-based announcement. Though tariffs will have an impact on big and small US companies, Bloomberg is focusing on only the biggest publicly-traded firms. As Bloomberg points out, while Trump says he wants to protect American jobs, General Motors says his threat to tax imports of auto parts could force GM to cut its workforce in the US. Meanwhile, higher US tariffs on steel have prompted Germany’s Kloeckner & Co. to raise its earnings forecast because prices have risen so much. Here's a roundup of the headlines, with link. Only two of the references - Kloeckner's and Ryerson's - have been positive.

      • Procter & Gamble: Cites ‘meaningful’ impact of tariffs on a handful of products in Canada, which accounts for 3% of global sales
      • Kloeckner: Steel trader raises earnings forecast on higher U.S. prices
      • General Motors: Could be forced to cut U.S. jobs if tariffs are applied to imported vehicles and auto parts.
      • Volvo Cars: Owner Li Shufu says cars will cost more as trade wars escalate
      • Ryerson: Metal processor’s sales guidance exceeds estimates in part because of higher anticipated demand from inventory dislocations tied to tariffs
      • Osram: Trade tensions will weaken sales of automotive lighting parts
      • Brown-Forman: Raised Jack Daniel’s prices in light of EU tariffs
      • Harley-Davidson: Plans to move production overseas, sees EU tariff costs of $100 million annually
      • Daimler: Cut profit forecast on U.S.-China trade fight
      • Tyson Foods: ‘Day-to-day uncertainty’ in delivering products and services
      • MillerCoors: Brewer says profit could fall by $40 million depending on how much aluminum prices rise

      The Deadly Math Of America's Faux Prosperity - Sometimes math is a real bitch.   Donald Trump is a smart guy.  I know he knows math.Too bad he’s ignoring it.Here’s the gig.  The title says it all. Government spending is rising rapidly.  More actual money is flowing into the US economy.  Where is that spending going?  To buy cell phones, computers, cars, office supplies and all the rest.It doesn’t matter if the purchase is made at Best Buy through a Purchase Order, the money still goes to stuff built and imported from China.  The second order effect is that even if it goes to subsidize a farmer in Iowa or a defense contractor in California, that money winds up in the hands of a consumer who does what?Goes to Best Buy and buys a new TV.  This isn’t rocket science folks, it is simple cause and effect.More money chases those goods.  Despite the naysayers, Apple is selling a crap-ton of $1200 phones…. built where?  China.So, the budget deficit thanks to record spending is fueling the very trade deficit with China that Trump is complaining about daily.Here’s the math.First up is the budget deficit numbers through nine months of fiscal year 2018, courtesy of Zerohedge.This resulted in a June budget deficit of $75 billion, the second biggest June budget deficit since the financial crisis……The June deficit brought the cumulative 2018F budget deficit to over $607BN during the first nine month of the fiscal year, up 16% over the past year; as a reminder the deficit is expect to increase further amid the tax and spending measures, and rise above $1 trillion. The post has a ton of charts to illustrate the point, but it’s mostly unnecessary.  The US Treasury is issuing debt at an astounding rate to cover this budget.  Spending goes up as tax receipts do thanks to lower tax rates and increasing growth.

      Industrial Production Increased 0.6% in June --From the Fed: Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization -- Industrial production rose 0.6 percent in June after declining 0.5 percent in May. For the second quarter as a whole, industrial production advanced at an annual rate of 6.0 percent, its third consecutive quarterly increase. Manufacturing output moved up 0.8 percent in June. The production of motor vehicles and parts rebounded last month after truck assemblies fell sharply in May because of a disruption at a parts supplier. Factory output, aside from motor vehicles and parts, increased 0.3 percent in June. The index for mining rose 1.2 percent and surpassed the level of its previous historical peak (December 2014); the output of utilities moved down 1.5 percent. At 107.7 percent of its 2012 average, total industrial production was 3.8 percent higher in June than it was a year earlier. Capacity utilization for the industrial sector increased 0.3 percentage point in June to 78.0 percent, a rate that is 1.8 percentage points below its long-run (1972–2017) average. This graph shows Capacity Utilization. This series is up 11.3 percentage points from the record low set in June 2009 (the series starts in 1967). Capacity utilization at 78.0% is 1.8% below the average from 1972 to 2017 and below the pre-recession level of 80.8% in December 2007. Industrial ProductionThe second graph shows industrial production since 1967. Industrial production increased in June to 107.3. This is 24% above the recession low, and 2% above the pre-recession peak.

      Manufacturing Sector Hits a Sweet Spot – WSJ - The manufacturing sector staged a quick turnaround in June after a fire at the plant of a Ford pickup-truck supplier knocked output lower the previous month, extending a solid run of growth for U.S. industrial activity. The fire, which occurred May 2 at a parts plant in Michigan operated by a unit of China’s Wanfeng Auto Holding Group, led Ford to idle production of its flagship F-150 and Super Duty trucks for more than a week.Output resumed, leading to a 0.8% increase in manufacturing output in June after a 1.0% decline the previous month, the Federal Reserve said Tuesday in a monthly report on U.S. industrial activity.Manufacturing production has been rising since mid-2016, when rising oil prices helped reverse a hit to U.S. energy production. Manufacturing output is now up 4.2% since May 2016 and up 22% from a recession low in June 2009, according to Fed data. It’s part of a broader rebound for the U.S. industrial sector, which has added 1.2 million jobs since March 2010. The manufacturing sector was hit hard by the 2007-2009 recession and later by a big drop in oil prices, which hurt energy production. More broadly, it has been buffeted by years of competition from low-cost countries such as China.Several large manufacturers report quarterly results next week, including 3M Co. , motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson Inc. and conglomerate United Technologies Corp. Strong results are widely expected, though investors have become mindful lately of the potential for weakening demand next year, in part because trade disputes could disrupt global growth.For now, the long U.S. expansion, now in its 10th year and being further fueled by recent business and individual tax cuts, appears to be paying dividends for American plants that churn out cars, appliances and business equipment.“Activity right now is hitting on all cylinders. Demand is up, production is up, [and there’s] really robust hiring overall,” said Chad Moutray, chief economist at the National Association of Manufacturers.Surveys show businesses feel confident in the economic outlook. Global growth, while slowing in some pockets, remains solid. Also, business investment has risen, a sign companies are spending to increase productivity. In the first quarter, investment in structures rose at a 16.2% seasonally adjusted annual rate, while investment in equipment climbed at a 5.8% rate. Strength in business investment owes much to the rebound in the price of oil. Oil prices stopped falling in early 2016, then began to move higher, resulting in increased investment from energy firms that rippled throughout the U.S. economy.Many larger industrial companies and manufacturers are expected to report strong second-quarter results in the next two weeks. Companies that sell parts and supplies to manufacturers are also benefiting from the improvement in the sector.

      Earlier from the NY Fed: Manufacturing "Business activity continued to grow at a fairly brisk pace in New York State" --From the NY Fed: Empire State Manufacturing Survey: Business activity continued to grow at a fairly brisk pace in New York State, according to firms responding to the July 2018 Empire State Manufacturing Survey. The headline general business conditions index edged down by over two points to 22.6—still a high level, suggesting a continuation of robust growth. The new orders index dipped three points to 18.2, while the shipments index fell nine points to 14.6, pointing to a modest pullback in growth of orders and shipments.The index for number of employees, which had climbed to its highest level of the year in June, edged back two points to 17.2, pointing to ongoing moderate growth in employment. The average workweek index fell six points to 5.6, suggesting more modest increases in hours worked than in recent months.  This was slightly above the consensus forecast and a solid reading.

      Earlier: Philly Fed Manufacturing Survey "Continued to expand" in July - From the Philly Fed: July 2018 Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey Regional manufacturing activity continued to expand in July, according to results from this month’s Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey. All the broad indicators remained positive, with the general activity and new orders indexes improving this month. The survey’s price indexes suggest widespread increases for purchased inputs, and more firms reported price increases for their own manufactured goods. Expectations for the next six months continued to moderate but remain positive overall. The diffusion index for current general activity increased 6 points this month. Over 44 percent of the manufacturers reported increases in overall activity this month, while 19 percent reported decreases. The new orders index rebounded 14 points after falling 23 points in June. ...The firms continued to report overall higher employment, but increases were not as widespread this month. Over 24 percent of the responding firms reported increases in employment this month, down from 34 percent last month. The current employment index fell 14 points to 16.8. The current average workweek index declined 11 points. Here is a graph comparing the regional Fed surveys and the ISM manufacturing index:

      Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decreased to 207,000 -The DOL reported: In the week ending July 14, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 207,000, a decrease of 8,000 from the previous week's revised level. This is the lowest level for initial claims since December 6, 1969 when it was 202,000. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 from 214,000 to 215,000. The 4-week moving average was 220,500, a decrease of 2,750 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 250 from 223,000 to 223,250. The previous week was revised up. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

       US layoff rate at all time lows -- I don't write about new jobless claims much anymore, mainly because it has been boringly good for a few years (outside of hurricane disruptions!).  But there are times like this week when I am particularly thankful that I am concentrating on the one thing - the economy - that is doing unequivocally well. Back in 2009 and 2010 when I was arguing with the Doomer dead-end recession double-dippers, I used to hear from people who were still in danger of, or worse, had been laid off. I sympathized, and just noted that, however bad things seemed, they had been even worse in 2008 and early 2009, and conditions were still going to improve. I haven't heard stories like that in a few years.   Well, this morning, we had yet another new 48 year low in initial jobless claims, at 207,000. We had lower numbers, in the high 100,000's, in the 1960s, but that was against a US population that was only half of what it is now.In other words, we have never had a lower *rate* of layoffs for as long as records have been collected: As of this morning, roughly only 1 in 800 workers is filing a new jobless claim each week. Occasionally  I still see it noted that the percent of jobs which qualify for filing for unemployment insurance is lower than it used to be. That is true, but the DoL keeps track of that number as well, and we can calculate what the number of initial claims would be normed for  this: If the same percent of jobs now qualified for unemployment insurance as at any point in the last 50+ years, it would translate into about 270,000 new claims per week -- still a very good number.So today I will celebrate one unabashedly good thing about the US economy: it is almost unheard of now to get laid off.

      BLS: Unemployment Rates Lower in 9 states in June, Oregon at New Low --From the BLS: Regional and State Employment and Unemployment Summary Unemployment rates were lower in June in 9 states, higher in 3 states, and stable in 38 states and the District of Columbia, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Ten states had jobless rate decreases from a year earlier and 40 states and the District had little or no change. The national unemployment rate rose by 0.2 percentage point from May to 4.0 percent but was 0.3 point lower than in June 2017. Hawaii had the lowest unemployment rate in June, 2.1 percent. The rate in Oregon (4.0 percent) set a new series low. (All state series begin in 1976.) Alaska had the highest jobless rate, 7.1 percent. This graph shows the number of states (and D.C.) with unemployment rates at or above certain levels since January 2006. At the worst of the employment recession, there were 11 states with an unemployment rate at or above 11% (red). Currently only one state, Alaska, has an unemployment rate at or above 7% (light blue); And only Alaska is above 6% (dark blue).

      Huge Increase in Large Work Stoppages Seen in 2018 - U.S. labor relations have never been cordial and large strikes have been declining since the 1970s. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) releases a report early every year of the number of large work stoppages the previous year. BLS defines large work stoppages as “involving 1,000 or more workers lasting one full shift or longer.” In counting work stoppages, it includes strikes and lockouts (where the employer refuses to let the union members work), but the list is usually mostly strikes. In 2017 BLS released this stunning chart summarizing 70 years of collecting this data. Clearly, the number of large strikes has plummeted. For the 30 year period starting in the mid 1940s, the average number of annual strikes was over 300 per year. That means on almost every day in that era a large strike would start. The average in the most recent decade has been about 14 per year. Continuing this trend, the BLS’s most recent report listed only seven large strikes for 2017, the 2nd lowest on record after 2009. There is another record of strikes maintained by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS). It tracks work stoppages of all sizes related to contract bargaining in the private sector, though it also seems to include some public sector strikes as well. A full analysis of this data needs to be done, and it’s not clear to me at this point how complete it is. Does any of this matter? It does if we’re interested in a labor movement that successfully fights to raise standards for its members and the working class as a whole. That 30 year post-WW2 era of striking coincides closely with the years of large union membership, higher union density (the percentage of workers who are union members), rising average working class wages and decreasing inequality in society. The years ever since have seen a reverse of these trends, as I’ve discussed elsewhere. In the 1950s union density was about one-third of all workers, and in that era, strike activity grew the labor movement which made it stronger and therefore able to strike more. Today, union density is about 11%, and we’ve been in a downward cycle where unions strike less and grow weaker over time. This chart shows union density over time. That’s why it’s fascinating that in 2018, we’re seeing a dramatic increase in the number of large work stoppages. I count 16 for the first half of the year, including one lockout, which if this trend continues, puts us on track for 32 for the full year. The number of large work stoppages has not been 30 or more since the year 2000.

      Wall Street celebrates Teamsters deal with UPS - Corporate executives and investors are lauding the proposed contract signed by the Teamsters union for nearly a quarter of a million workers at United Parcel Service (UPS) for its potential to cut labor costs and boost profit margins even higher. UPS share values, which had been sliding downwards since mid-June, reversed course after the Teamsters released the details of the sellout early last week. The stock had trended downwards due to investor fears of a potential strike when the contract expires on July 31. Wall Street is pinning its hopes on the Teamsters union, which has extended the contract indefinitely, to wear down rank-and-file opposition and ram the deal through. David Vernon, the Senior Analyst at Bernstein Global Wealth Management, encouraged private investment in UPS upon the release of the contract, saying its replacement of up to 25 percent of full-time drivers with hybrid drivers was “better than he hoped.” He explained, “Added flexibility in the UPS cost structure from hybrid drivers should increase the flexibility with which UPS is able to accommodate future growth from e-commerce and lower the effective rate of wage growth at the margin."  UPS executives have also expressed excitement with the deal. “We are confident in our ability to resolve remaining issues, building on the progress we have achieved with current tentative national and local agreements,” stated UPS spokesman Glenn Zaccara. “UPS’s objective is to reward our employees for their contribution to our success, provide flexibility to keep our company strong, and meet the needs of our customers and other stakeholders.”

      Exploited Amazon workers need a union. When will they get one? - With a net worth of around $140bn, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is now the richest person in the world. That distinction has come at the expense of Amazon’s workers. In order for those workers to begin sharing in the vast wealth their labor has afforded Bezos and other Amazon executives, they need a union.Since Amazon’s founding in 1994, the company has successfully suppressed all efforts by its employees to unionize and improve working conditions. A few years ago, maintenance and repair technicians at Amazon filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board announcing their intention to form what would have been Amazon’s first union. Amazon immediately hired a law firm to suppress the organizing effort.  In January 2014, under intense pressure from management, the maintenance and repair workers voted against unionizing. In 2000, after an arm of the Communication Workers of America attempted to organize customer service employees, Amazon responded by shutting down the call center where they worked. (The company claimed, unpersuasively, that the firings weren’t related.) The same year, the New York Times reported that Amazon’s internal website for managers included instructions on detecting and busting unionizing efforts. In 2016, the Times exposed a manager at an Amazon warehouse in Delaware who made up an anti-union story to scare employees off organizing. According to the Times, several employees appeared to have been fired for advocating a union.  While Amazon has been diligently working to shut down any prospect of its workers unionizing, investigative journalists and activists have uncovered widespread abuses of workers. Ambulances were called to British Amazon warehouses 600 times in three years. James Bloodworth, a writer who went undercover at an Amazon warehouse in Staffordshire, England, discovered that workers there routinely urinated in water bottles to avoid being punished for taking breaks from work.

      Walmart's pay-advance app Even used by 200,000 employees -- Walmart’s experiment with offering’s money management and pay-advance app to employees appears to be off to a good start. The retailer launched the app to employees in December. On Thursday, Walmart and its fintech partner announced that 200,000 Walmart employees are now using it. (The retailer employs 1.5 million people in the U.S.) “We are very pleased with the early results of our program with Even and continue to see an overwhelming response to it from our associates,” said Daniel Eckert, senior vice president, Walmart Services and Digital Acceleration. “By working together, we are able to offer every Walmart associate more control and a better understanding of how to make the most of their hard-earned money.” Even’s app is designed to help the 170 million Americans who live paycheck to paycheck manage their money more wisely with budgeting and “okay to spend” tools and Instapay, a way to access money ahead of payday to meet emergencies. An automated saving tool is in the works. About 75% of associates use the app every week and 46% use it every day. The typical Walmart associate checks the “OK to spend” feature four days a week. Just over half of the Walmart employees use Instapay once a month. 

      The National Insecurity State and the United States of Inequality -- So effectively has the Beltway establishment captured the concept of national security that, for most of us, it automatically conjures up images of terrorist groups, cyber warriors, or “rogue states.”  To ward off such foes, the United States maintains a historically unprecedented constellation of military bases abroad and, since 9/11, has waged wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and elsewhere that have gobbled up nearly $4.8 trillion.  The 2018 Pentagon budget already totals $647 billion — four times what China, second in global military spending, shells out and more than the next 12 countries combined, seven of them American allies.   For good measure, Donald Trump has added an additional $200 billion to projected defense expenditures through 2019. Yet to hear the hawks tell it, the United States has never been less secure.  So much for bang for the buck.  For millions of Americans, however, the greatest threat to their day-to-day security isn’t terrorism or North Korea, Iran, Russia, or China.  It’s internal — and economic.  That’s particularly true for the 12.7% of Americans (43.1 million of them) classified as poor by the government’s criteria: an income below $12,140 for a one-person household, $16,460 for a family of two, and so on… until you get to the princely sum of $42,380 for a family of eight. Savings aren’t much help either: a third of Americans have no savings at all and another third have less than $1,000 in the bank.  Little wonder that families struggling to cover the cost of food alone increased from 11% (36 million) in 2007 to 14% (48 million) in 2014.  The latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that there are 8.6 million “working poor,” defined by the government as people who live below the poverty line despite being employed at least 27 weeks a year.  Their economic insecurity doesn’t register in our society, partly because working and being poor don’t seem to go together in the minds of many Americans — and unemployment has fallen reasonably steadily.  After approaching 10% in 2009, it’s now at only 4%.

      The Dickensian Return of Debtors’ Prisons -- Imagine you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck. On your way home from work one evening you’re pulled over for having a loud muffler or tossing a cigarette butt out of your window, or maybe you’re cited by your local municipality for letting your grass grow a tad too long. Suddenly, you owe hundreds of dollars in fines and fees. But you can’t afford to pay without falling behind on rent, car payments, or other essentials.  Those hypotheticals may sound far-fetched, but for far too many poor Americans, they’re a reality. Unpaid fees can turn lives upside down; they can trap people in a perpetual cycle of poverty and incarceration.  In 1983, the Supreme Court ruled in Bearden v. Georgia that judges must first consider whether a suspect is “willfully” refusing to pay a fee before locking him or her up for failure to pay. Still, modern judges routinely sentence poor Americans to jail for not paying fines or fees. Take the story of 62-year-old Edward Brown. In February 2015, the bedridden Brown was cited by the city of Jennings, Missouri, for letting his grass grow too high. After Brown’s small house was condemned, he continued to live there and was subsequently charged with trespassing on what was, just the other day, his own property. Brown, who was living off of a $488 Social Security check and food stamps, was ultimately saddled with $464 in fees from the city. Certainly, one would have a hard time arguing that his inability to pay the fees was “willful.” However, that didn’t stop judges from sentencing him to jail on multiple occasions.  Snock’s and Brown’s cases aren’t outliers. As a matter of fact, in 2016, some 2,500 people were jailed for failing to pay fines or fees in Pennsylvania, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

      Japan is reversing a dangerous demographic time bomb — but now the US is in the danger zone -- Rich countries like the US and Japan are struggling to make enough babies. As sizeable populations of older adults retire and age out of the workforce, younger people are having fewer kids. It's setting up a ticking demographic time bomb, readying to explode when there aren't enough young people to care and pay for what the older generation needs.In the US, the trend of people having fewer babies than ever comes down to one simple factor: kids are expensive.While the birth rate in the US just 11 years ago was 2.12, today it's at an estimated 1.76,meaning women in the country have, on average, fewer than two kids each. In Japan, however, the low birth rate that forecasters have worried about for decades is steadily inching upwards, and is now rivaling what it was in the mid-90s, hovering around 1.44. Childcare may be a big reason why. Among US adults ages 20 to 45 who do want kids, their number one reason for having fewer babies, or none at all, is the cost of childcare, according to a recent survey in The New York Times. Additionally, one in three adults who were unsure about wanting kids said a lack of certainty about affording childcare is a big reason they're not having children (The average cost of full-time childcare is nearly $10,000 a year in the US, which is more than the cost of in-state college tuition in most places.)The US birth rate has been lower than "replacement level" since the 1970s, which means the country's not producing enough new people to keep the population and job market steady as older Americans retire and, yes, eventually die off. Some of that gap can be filled with immigrants. But data from Japan suggests the US would do well to pay attention to childcare accessibility.

      Las Vegas hotel seeks immunity from lawsuits by shooting victims (Reuters) - The owners of Mandalay Bay, the Las Vegas hotel from which a gunman launched the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, have filed countersuits against victims seeking immunity from damage claims they might bring. MGM Resorts International (MGM.N), in lawsuits filed in federal courts in Las Vegas and Los Angeles last week, denied liability for the carnage and trauma of the October 2017 rampage in which 58 people were killed and hundreds of others injured. Since the attack more than 2,500 people have sued or threatened to sue the hotel owners, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Nevada on Friday by MGM Resorts, Mandalay Resort Group, MGM Resorts Festival Grounds and MGM Resorts Venue Management. Survivors have accused the hotel inadequate security measures. Stephen Paddock, 64, a retired real estate investor, poured gunfire from his 32nd-floor hotel suite into a crowd of 20,000 people attending an outdoor music festival, then killed himself before police stormed his room. Investigators found that Paddock amassed high-powered weapons and ammunition in the hotel room in the days leading up to the shooting, unnoticed by hotel security. The countersuit maintained that the hotel was protected under a 2002 U.S. law known as the Support Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies Act, or SAFETY, which limits liability to certain businesses that take prescribed steps to “prevent and respond to mass violence.” MGM maintained in the lawsuit that a private security company employed for the festival and certified under the SAFETY Act by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) exempted the hotel from liability, adding that any claims against the hotel must be dismissed. 

      MGM Files "Outrageous" Lawsuit Against Victims Of Las Vegas Shooting - The FBI's final investigative report on the deadly Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas that claimed the lives of nearly 60 people is expected to be released before the shooting's first anniversary, and its surviving victims are hoping that it includes some new information implicating MGM Resorts International (the owner of the Mandalay Bay hotel and resort where shooter Stephen Paddock opened fire from the window of his 32nd-floor suite), otherwise they could be on the receiving end of a painful lawsuit filed by the company.  That's right: MGM Resorts International has filed a new lawsuit claiming that it has no liability in any of the injuries or deaths in the October mass shooting in Las Vegas.  The company - which not only owns Mandalay Bay but also owns the venue across the street from the hotel where most of the victims were gathered for a country music festival - is suing more than 1,000 victims of the shooting. The lawsuits were filed in federal courts in Nevada and California, which one attorney representing the victims decried as an attempt to find a judge they like, according to the Daily News."I’ve never seen a more outrageous thing, where they sue the victims in an effort to find a judge they like," attorney Robert Eglet, who represented some of the victims, said. The attorney accused MGM of "judge-shopping" in federal court, rather than state court, where he believes any lawsuits should be filed."It’s just really sad that they would stoop to this level.” Eglet added that the lawsuit was "preemptive strike" to get the case heard in federal court instead of state court, which means MG M probably thinks it has a better chance of winning in federal court. He added that the decision is a "blatant display of judge shopping" that "quite frankly verges on unethical."

      Detaining immigrant kids is now a billion-dollar industry (AP) — Detaining immigrant children has morphed into a surging industry in the U.S. that now reaps $1 billion annually — a tenfold increase over the past decade, an Associated Press analysis finds. Health and Human Services grants for shelters, foster care and other child welfare services for detained unaccompanied and separated children soared from $74.5 million in 2007 to $958 million in 2017. The agency is also reviewing a new round of proposals amid a growing effort by the White House to keep immigrant children in government custody. Currently, more than 11,800 children, from a few months old to 17, are housed in nearly 90 facilities in 15 states — Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington. They are being held while their parents await immigration proceedings or, if the children arrived unaccompanied, are reviewed for possible asylum themselves. In May, the agency issued requests for bids for five projects that could total more than $500 million for beds, foster and therapeutic care, and "secure care," which means employing guards. More contracts are expected to come up for bids in October. HHS spokesman Kenneth Wolfe said the agency will award bids "based on the number of beds needed to provide appropriate care for minors in the program." The agency's current facilities include locations for what the Trump administration calls "tender age" children, typically under 5. 

       Immigrant Shelters Drug Traumatized Teenagers Without Consent - Whether they came to the U.S. alone, or were forcibly separated from their families at the border, despondent minors are often pressured into taking psychotropic drugs without approval from a parent or guardian. Fleeing an abusive stepfather in El Salvador, Gabriela headed for Oakland, California, where her grandfather had promised to take her in. When the teenager reached the U.S. border in January 2017, she was brought to a federally funded shelter in Texas. Initially, staff described her as receptive and resilient. But as she was shuttled from one Texas shelter to another, she became increasingly depressed. Without consulting her grandfather, or her mother in El Salvador, shelter staff have prescribed numerous medications for her, including two psychotropic drugs whose labels warn of increased suicidal behavior in adolescents, according to court documents. Still languishing in a shelter after 18 months, the 17-year-old doesn’t want to take the medications, but she does anyway, because staff at one facility told her she wouldn’t be released until she is considered psychologically sound. Gabriela’s experience epitomizes a problem that the Trump administration’s practice of family separation exacerbated: the failure of government-funded facilities to seek informed consent before medicating immigrant teenagers. Around 12,000 undocumented minors are in custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. The majority crossed the border unaccompanied, while more than 2,500 were separated from their parents while Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy was in effect from April to June.

      Of course some children are being drugged -- New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi is appalled to learn from an article in her paper that some of the immigrant children being held by the US government are being medicated with psychiatric drugs. After everything I’ve read about immigrant children separated from their parents, this paragraph in today’s @nytimes piece is still shocking. The children in some facilities are “heavily dosed with psychiatric drugs” in order to treat their depression and anxiety?— Rukmini Callimachi (@rcallimachi) July 7, 2018  However, my reaction was, “Of course some children are being drugged.”  Why is Callimachi shocked while I am not? Certain psychotropic drugs are often prescribed to patients who do not have the mental disorders for which these medications are approved. These drugs have significant harmful side effects. Therefore, in my view, many of these prescriptions are misuses of the drugs. So why are these drugs prescribed? Because they have powerful sedative effects, which is why the children are sleeping at their desks. There are high rates of antipsychotic prescriptions in foster care, in nursing homes, and — I will bet — many other institutional settings. The goal of sedation is often not to treat a diagnosed illness but rather to control the behaviour of someone who is institutionalised and difficult to manage. There are situations where institutions that provide long-term care have legitimate concerns about unruly patients. People who have dementia are sometimes disinhibited. They can be aggressive or engage in unwanted sexual behaviours that terrify and endanger their vulnerable co-residents. Institutionalized children have often been exposed to horrific violence and, sometimes, experience paroxysmic anger. Some of these children have minimal self-control and, because they are already institutionalised, have nothing to lose. A young child with a piece of silverware can do a lot of harm. There are two options here. First, you can physically restrain someone, e.g., by strapping them to a bed.  Or you can use a powerful sedative as a “chemical restraint.” The patient is stupified and becomes docile for an extended period. Sedation may be more humane for the patient and is certainly easier for the institution. Of course, if you can’t or won’t do anything to prevent recurrence of disruptive or threatening behaviour, you will be chronically sedating the patient.

      Fortnite Addiction—Are Parents Ready This Summer? --School’s out for summer. For so many American kids, that used to mean meandering stretches of unstructured time playing outdoors. But for my kids, summer means a battle over Fortnite. As a parent, I’m not alone. At least two families I know have banned Fortnite Battle Royale—the supremely popular video game—from all devices in their house. Yet the basketball court and baseball field at the school near our house remain empty most of the time. In my house, we severely limit Fortnite consumption. As our kids slip further into a world of screens and leave behind the monkey bars, aimless bike rides, and kickball games, there is an inevitable tradeoff: fitness and life in the real world, or Fortnite. If you haven’t heard, Fortnite has snagged more than 125 million players in less than a year, mostly kids under the age of 18. Many play for 10 or even 20 hours per week. Tens of millions watch Fortnite game livestreams on Twitch and YouTube. Athletes, musicians, and other cultural icons have adopted the game and its campy dance moves, called “emotes.” And the game is set to launch its fifth season in mid-July, which has sent the gaming world into a frenzy. The media is awash in stories of parents enrolling their children in Fortnite therapy sessions and temper tantrums by youths asked to curtail their Fortnite consumption. In reality, Fortnite is not that different from past youth-centric cultural crazes, from Minecraft to Donkey Kong to Atari to pinball machines. What’s new is its ubiquity, portability, and the duration of time spent on the game. Unlike at any time in the past, roughly 95% of U.S. teenagers have a smartphone or regular access to one, according to the Pew Research Center

      Photographing America’s armed educators -  In 2007, after the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, David Thweatt, superintendent of Harrold Independent School District in North Texas, began quietly encouraging his teachers to keep handguns in the classroom.  Working with his school board and a team of lawyers, Thweatt created the Guardian Plan, which legalized the carrying of pistols by teachers. “The names of our Guardians are kept confidential,” Thweatt wrote in The Washington Post earlier this year, “and they are paid a small yearly stipend in addition to their regular salaries to have them carry concealed handguns at school.”  Thweatt’s Guardian Plan became more popular following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, appealing to the boards of some rural schools, which can be far from law enforcement and may lack funds for dedicated security personnel.  After the Parkland shooting, President Trump voiced support for arming school teachers. Following the fatal May shooting at Santa Fe High School, Texas Governor Greg Abbott released a proposal to arm more school staff in his state. Pulling off my photography project has been tough. Most schools I’ve reached out to have been wary of meeting me, afraid of participating in coverage of such a charged topic. Teachers I met with were bound by the anonymity clauses in the same laws that permit them to possess guns on campus; they couldn’t tell me which weapons they used, what caliber bullet, who exactly had weapons, or how many staff members were armed. Under the Guardian Plan, schools are free to set their own rules around training hours, weapon choice, and level of anonymity among guardians. All of the subjects depicted in my series carry firearms, and chose to speak openly with me. My subjects all shared similar motivations: a desire to protect the children in their care, and a frustration at the lack of other alternatives for them. Handguns—carried under the Guardian Plan or the School Marshal Program, both of which include training and licensing regulations—represent for them an affordable and possible solution.

      Fed Finds Wealth Advantage For College Grads Is Vanishing - Four years ago, in one of its taxpayer subsidized research papers, the San Fran Fed asked "is it still worth going to college", looking at the tradeoff between the "investment" of tens of thousands of dollars in student loans relative to the pick up in earnings potential over one's lifetime. It founds that the answer is "yes" because "the value of a college degree remains high, and the average college graduate can recover the costs of attending in less than 20 years." In other words by the time one is 42, one's student loans will be paid off, assuming of course that one can still find a job. And, staying in this idealized world, the difference between earnings continues to grow "such that the average college graduate earns over $800,000 more than the average high school graduate by retirement age."Four years later, the New York decided to rerun the same analysis, which it described in a recent blog post "The College Boost: Is the Return on a Degree Fading?", and came to a starkly bleaker conclusion. As DataTrek's Nick Colas summarizes the Fed's study, the net income and net worth benefits of a college or grad school degree are rapidly diminishing. Specifically, the NY Fed economists looked at two broad demographic cohorts (whites and African Americans), segmenting changes in expected income between those people born each decade between the 1930s and the 1980s. Their findings:

      • White workers with a 4-year degree born from the 1930s to the 1970s saw a +57–72% pickup in income over their non-college educated counterparts. Those born in the 1980s only saw a +43% improvement, however.
      • African American college grads born in the 1980s are, however, still seeing income differentials in line with older cohorts (+71% versus +66 – 76% for those born in the 1940s to 1970s).

      The data looks similar for those workers with a graduate degree. For white workers born in the 1980s, the differential to their peers without an advanced degree is +54%, lower than the +80–108% of older cohorts. For African Americans, the benefits of a graduate education remain consistently high (+73–125% more than those without a grad school degree) across all age groups. Where things look really bad is when you look at total wealth differentials between the age groups. These include both financial assets and nonfinancial, such as home ownership.

      Vermont Law School revokes tenure for 75 percent of faculty - Fourteen out of 19 members of the Vermont Law School faculty lost tenure on July 1 as part of a restructuring effort at the South Royalton institution.Faculty who lose tenure will no longer enjoy certain protections that ensure employment.Professors interviewed by VTDigger are concerned that the 75 percent reduction in tenured faculty will damage the school’s reputation as one of the nation’s top-ranked environmental law schools.The Vermont Law School has had an ongoing budget deficit of more than $1 million over the past several years and the administration has said the revocation of tenure is part of a plan to develop a “sustainable financial model.”President Tom McHenry, who did not respond to repeated requests for an interview for this story, said in June that he is “looking for every efficiency we can find.”Professors said they were informed of the decision to revoke tenure in a private meeting with McHenry and Academic Dean Sean Nolan. Faculty members were told they could choose to continue teaching another year under a new contract or they could opt for six month contracts with varying teaching requirements and salaries, or they could leave. Tenured faculty were required to sign a non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreement, prohibiting them from speaking to anyone except their spouses. The agreement prohibited faculty from making derogatory remarks about Vermont Law School and its administration.

      Student Debt Bubble Expands As Parents Do More Of The Borrowing - Not so long ago, student debt was mostly the responsibility of students. That is, you paid for college with loans and then paid off those loans with the proceeds of the good job you got with an advanced education. These days it’s a little different. The cost of higher education is soaring, the jobs available to college grads don’t pay as much, relatively speaking, as they used to, and the size of loans available to students – though huge – don’t cover the full cost of many degrees. One might expect these changes to lead more students to work for a few years and save up, or choose a cheaper degree, or eschew college altogether (as a lot of successful people now recommend) and substitute work experience for a diploma. Some of that is happening but apparently the biggest change is that parents have stepped in to cover the difference between what their kids can borrow and the cost of a degree. As the chart below illustrates, until just a few years ago, the average debt of students exceeded that of students’ parents. But post-Great Recession, parents have given up trying to moderate the cost of their kids’ education and started doing the borrowing themselves. They’re now taking on the majority of new debts, and the gap is widening dramatically. So we can add student loans to the list of instances where people who once tried to control their borrowing have stopped trying and are now just going with the flow. Which means several things.

      • First, kids who if left to themselves and the market would probably opt for one of the aforementioned cheaper alternatives are still in high-cost, frequently low-reward degree programs, and are being sheltered from the consequences by well-meaning parents.
      • Second, the retirement crisis that everyone is talking about – in which people who have never saved a penny are approaching retirement age and looking at 30 years of abject poverty – is being made that much worse by parents taking on new debts at a time of life when they should be aggressively trending towards debt-free/cash-rich.
      • Third and most important for people who aren’t participating in this game of financial musical chairs, the eventual implosion of the student loan market – i.e., the point at which loan defaults become intolerable – will lead to a government bailout, making student loans everyone else’s problem.

      CFPB says Department of Education is obstructing suit against student loan giant - The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is accusing the Department of Education of getting in the way of its lawsuit against a student loan giant. The accusation from the consumer watchdog comes in a case the agency filed last year against Navient, alleging the student loan company caused borrowers to struggle unnecessarily by steering them towards repayment plans that weren’t in their best interest and ignoring borrowers’ instructions about how their payments should be allocated, among other claims. In a letter submitted to the judge overseeing the case this week, the CFPB claims that Navient isn’t producing documents requested as part of the case that are “essential to identifying the universe of harmed consumers,” because they don’t have permission from the Department of Education. The Department didn’t respond to a request for comment on the case. Though it seems like a wonky regulatory battle, the letter is the latest sign of the tussle between the Department of Education, state lawmakers and the CFPB over whether student loan companies’ relationship with the Department of Education shields them from other legal challenges. Navient is also facing multiple suits from state law enforcement officials, including most recently,California’s attorney general. Politico reported earlier this year that the Department instructed student loan companies not to respond directly to any third party without first seeking the agency’s permission. In the spring, another major student loan company filed a lawsuit against the state of Connecticut’s Department of Banking, claiming that the state was requiring the firm to provide documents it didn’t have permission from the Department of Education to release.Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos also released a memo earlier this year arguing that states can’t regulate student loan companies hired by the federal government, because state laws governing the companies are superseded by federal regulations. “It appears that Secretary DeVos is siding with one of the most complained about companies in America to try to obstruct the ability of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to enforce consumer protection law for student loan borrowers,” said Chris Peterson, a senior fellow at the Consumer Federation of America, an association of consumer advocacy organizations.

      Executions in Texas and Ohio --Two men were executed this week in the United States. They met their deaths more than a thousand miles apart, but their stories bear striking similarities. Both suffered traumatic childhoods, committed heinous murders, and expressed remorse for their crimes. Both were denied clemency and put to death by lethal injection. One was black and one was white, but both came from the poorer sections of the working class. Texas executed Christopher Young, 34, on Tuesday. He was convicted and sentenced to death for the shooting death of Hashmukh Patel during a failed robbery at Patel’s convenience store in San Antonio in 2004. Before shooting Patel, Young sexually assaulted a woman in her apartment with her three children present, according to court documents. Young was executed despite his rehabilitation in prison, which involved the mentoring of young men, and the call by Patel’s son to spare his life. Young’s final statement in the execution chamber in Huntsville was: “I want to make sure the Patel family knows I love them like they love me. Make sure the kids in the world know I’m being executed and those kids I’ve been mentoring keep this fight going. I’m good, Warden.” Young was the eighth person executed so far this year in Texas. Since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, Texas has carried out 553 executions, far more than any other state. Robert Van Hook, 58, was executed at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville on Wednesday morning. He was sentenced to death for the 1985 murder of David Self. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, witnesses were silent as Van Hook entered the execution chamber. Seven witnesses for Van Hook and three representing victim David Self were in attendance in an adjoining room.The witnesses watched on a television screen as IVs were placed in Van Hook’s arms. After they were in place, the black curtains separating the condemned inmate from the witness room were raised.As he lay strapped to the lethal injection gurney in the execution chamber, Van Hook turned his head to the witness chamber and said while sobbing, “I’m very sorry for taking your brother from you. I’m no good. I hope you have some peace. One day may you be reunited with him and your mother as well.”He recited a Norse prayer used in a 1999 Antonio Banderas film and sang to himself before going silent at 10:30 a.m., according to the Enquirer. At 10:33, he gasped and wheezed briefly after the toxic chemicals began to be injected, and at 10:34 his chest stopped rising and falling.

      Most nursing homes are not adequately staffed, new federal data says— Most nursing homes had fewer nurses and caretaking staff than they had reported to the government, according to new federal data, bolstering the long-held suspicions of many families that staffing levels were often inadequate. The records for the first time reveal frequent and significant fluctuations in day-to-day staffing, with particularly large shortfalls on weekends. On the worst-staffed days at an average facility, the new data show, on-duty personnel cared for nearly twice as many residents as they did when the staffing roster was fullest. The data, analyzed by Kaiser Health News, come from daily payroll records Medicare only recently began gathering and publishing from more than 14,000 nursing homes, as required by the Affordable Care Act of 2010. Medicare previously had been rating each facility’s staffing levels based on the homes’ own unverified reports, making it possible to game the system. The payroll records provide the strongest evidence that, over the past decade, the government’s five-star rating system for nursing homes often exaggerated staffing levels and rarely identified the periods of thin staffing that were common. Medicare is now relying on the new data to evaluate staffing, but the revamped star ratings still mask the erratic levels of people working from day to day.

      Health Insurers Are Using Your Online Shopping Cart and Zip Code to Determine Your Rates - To an outsider, the fancy booths at last month’s health insurance industry gathering in San Diego aren’t very compelling. A handful of companies pitching “lifestyle” data and salespeople touting jargony phrases like “social determinants of health.” But dig deeper and the implications of what they’re selling might give many patients pause: A future in which everything you do—the things you buy, the food you eat, the time you spend watching TV—may help determine how much you pay for health insurance. With little public scrutiny, the health insurance industry has joined forces with data brokers to vacuum up personal details about hundreds of millions of Americans, including, odds are, many readers of this story. The companies are tracking your race, education level, TV habits, marital status, net worth. They’re collecting what you post on social media, whether you’re behind on your bills, what you order online. Then they feed this information into complicated computer algorithms that spit out predictions about how much your health care could cost them.

      Healthcare Triage News: Juice – It’s Sugary, It’s Caloric, and It’s Not Great for You -  Aaron Carroll – video  - We know that sugary drinks can contribute to a host of health problems, including obesity and diabetes. So, why do fruit juices, which can have as much or more sugar than soda, get a pass? We serve them to kids as a healthy option, but they really aren’t. Juice: It's Sugary, It's Caloric, and It's Not Great for You – YouTube This episode is adapted from a column Erika Cheng, Lauren Fiechtner and I wrote. Links to sources can be found there.

      Hidden From View: The Astonishingly High Administrative Costs of U.S. Health Care - It takes only a glance at a hospital bill or at the myriad choices you may have for health care coverage to get a sense of the bewildering complexity of health care financing in the United States. That complexity doesn’t just exact a cognitive cost. It also comes with administrative costs that are largely hidden from view but that we all pay. Because they’re not directly related to patient care, we rarely think about administrative costs. They’re high.A widely cited study published in The New England Journal of Medicine used data from 1999 to estimate that about 30 percent of American health care expenditures were the result of administration, about twice what it is in Canada. If the figures hold today, they mean that out of the average of about $19,000 that U.S. workers and their employers pay for family coverage each year, $5,700 goes toward administrative costs.Such costs aren’t all bad. Some are tied up in things we may want, such as creating a quality improvement program. Others are for things we may dislike — for example, figuring out which of our claims to accept or reject or sending us bills. Others are just necessary, like processing payments; hiring and managing doctors and other employees; or maintaining information systems.That New England Journal of Medicine study is still the only one on administrative costs that encompasses the entire health system. Many other more recent studies examine important portions of it, however. The story remains the same: Like the overall cost of the U.S. health system, its administrative cost alone is No. 1 in the world.Using data from 2010 and 2011, one study, published in Health Affairs, compared hospital administrative costs in the United States with those in seven other places: Canada, England, Scotland, Wales, France, Germany and the Netherlands.At just over 25 percent of total spending on hospital care (or 1.4 percent of total United States economic output), American hospital administrative costs exceed those of all the other places. The Netherlands was second in hospital administrative costs: almost 20 percent of hospital spending and 0.8 percent of that country’s G.D.P.At the low end were Canada and Scotland, which both spend about 12 percent of hospital expenditures on administration, or about half a percent of G.D.P.Hospitals are not the only source of high administrative spending in the United States. Physician practices also devote a large proportion of revenue to administration. By one estimate, for every 10 physicians providing care, almost seven additional people are engaged in billing-related activities.

      This Bold Plan to Fight Opioid Overdoses Could Save Lives — But Some Conservatives Think It’s ‘Immoral’ -- With Ohio beset by a massive public health around opioid use and overdoses—more than 4,000 Ohioans died of opioid overdoses in 2016—the Cleveland Plain Dealer sent travel editor Susan Glaser to Amsterdam in search of innovative approaches to the problem. While there, she rediscovered Holland's long-standing, radical, and highly effective response to heroin addiction and properly asked whether it might be applied to good effect here. The difference in drug-related death rates between the two countries is staggering. In the U.S., the drug overdose death rate is 245 per million, nearly twice the rate of its nearest competitor, Sweden, which came in second with 124 per million. But in Holland, the number is a vanishingly small 11 per million. In other words, Americans are more than 20 times more likely to die of drug overdoses than the Dutch. Ohio, with just under 12 million people, saw 4,050 drug overdose deaths in 2016; the Netherlands, with 17 million people, saw only 235. What's the difference? The Dutch government provides free heroin to several score hardcore heroin addicts and has been doing so for the past 20 years. Public health experts there say that in addition to lowering crime rates and improving the quality of life for users, the program is one reason overdose death rates there are so low. And the model could be applied here, said Amsterdam heroin clinic operator Ellen van den Hoogen.

      Report: Pharmaceutical distributors flooded Missouri with more than a billion opioid doses - The opioid overdose crisis claimed the lives of more than 3,400 Missouri residents between 2012 and 2016. According to a recently released US Senate report, three separate pharmaceutical distributors flooded the state with opioids during this period and failed to report suspicious orders to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ Minority Report, released by Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, states that pharmaceutical companies McKesson, Amerisource Bergen and Cardinal Health together shipped 1.6 billion doses of opioids into Missouri between 2012 and 2017 at the height of the crisis.  During that time, thousands Missouri residents succumbed to opioid overdose, with many others suffering the long-term consequences of addiction. Missouri’s opioid crisis is part of a larger national crisis. According to an earlier Senate report, “[F]atal overdoses from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids more than doubled in the United States between 2015 and 2016.” This spike in opioid deaths contributed, along with other social and economic factors, to the first two-year drop in life expectancy in the US since the 1960s. At the same time, the three companies involved in the distribution of opioids in Missouri and across the country reaped extraordinary profits. According to the report, “[E]ach recorded 2017 revenue in excess of $125 billion and ranked within the top 15 companies on the 2017 Fortune 500 list.” The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) requires that pharmaceutical companies report to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) any suspiciously high rates of orders from physicians and pharmacies, as this can signal that a physician is enabling addicts or that pharmacies are diverting pills to street dealers. As the report clarifies, the companies supplying most of Missouri’s opioid tablets also reported the fewest suspicious orders.

      Fentanyl-Related Deaths Double In Six Months; Officials Warn The Third-Wave Will Be A "Crisis" - According to the CDC’s Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report, the number of overdose deaths involving fentanyl and fentanyl analogs doubled in the last several years. The third wave of the opioid epidemic is here, as new synthetics [fentanyl analogs] that are 10,000 times as potent as morphine and used to tranquilize elephants are attributing to the latest surge in deaths.The new report examined fatal overdoses that tested positive for fentanyl and compound variations of the drug from July 2016 to June 2017 in 10 states: Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Wisconsin.The findings suggest the opioid epidemic has taken a turn for the worse, as the nation is not prepared for the next parabolic rise in overdoses that could severely strain the economy and or government.Researchers report that among 11,045 fentanyl overdose deaths examined in 10 states, 2,275 (20.6 percent) decedents tested positive for fentanyl analogs and 1,236 (11.2 percent) tested positive for carfentanil. Researchers also detected fourteen different compound variations of the drug.During the first half of 2017, the number of deaths with fentanyl analogs detected (1,511) nearly doubled, compared with the number during the second half of 2016 (764); deaths with carfentanil detected increased 94 percent, from 421 to 815. The proportions of deaths with fentanyl analogs or with carfentanil detected nearly doubled during this period.Carfentanil is 10,000 times as potent as morphine, as standard naloxone treatments are mostly ineffective. Researchers write that the “highly potent nature of many analogs, particularly carfentanil, might warrant multiple administrations of…naloxone.” In other words, researchers allude to the third wave in the opioid crisis, where overdoses of the highly potent analogs may not be reversed, even if first responders administer the reversing agents in time.

       Can Artificial Intelligence Compete With Real Doctors? - In the race for world dominance in advanced technology, Chinese artificial intelligence is also taking on its own doctors, with a new system claiming to diagnose brain tumors faster and more accurately than human physicians.  BioMind, developed by Beijing’s Tiantan Hospital and its AI research center for neurological disorders, has told Chinese media that the new system has correctly diagnosed 87 percent of 225 cases in only 15 minutes. That compares to only a 66-percent accuracy rate for the same by a team of 15 senior physicians. Further, BioMind, according to China’s Xinhua news agency, was able to predict brain hematoma expansions better than human doctors, registering an 83-percent rate of accuracy against a 63-perent rate of accuracy for the cream of the crop of Beijing’s senior physicians. Feeding the system with thousands of images and patient diagnoses from over a decade, BioMind was able to extrapolate and deliver on complicated neurological diseases. The brains behind BioMind are hoping that it will remove any lingering doubts doctors may have about AI. They also seem to think it won’t replace physicians; rather, it will simply reduce their workloads, describing BioMind as a sort of GPS driven by humans.

      Great News: Wearing A Tie Might Be Choking Your Brain -- As we all know, the neck is the vital yet rickety bridge between your head and the rest of your body, transporting precious blood upwards (and precious nachos downwards). And it turns out that when you tie a tie around all those delicate veins, they get restricted. The clue was in the name, really. In a study published in Neuroradiology, German doctors conducted a study on the effects of wearing restrictive neckties on the blood flow in the brain. The study recruited 30 healthy young men and put them into two groups. One group had to wear a tightly tied tie, while the other served as a control group chilling in open-collared shirts like a bunch of common drug kingpins. Through MRI scanning, the researchers noticed that, on average, wearing a buttoned-up shirt with a tie reduced the amount of blood going to the brain by a staggering 7.5 percent. Even more jarring, after the subjects got to pop their top buttons and loosen their ties, their blood flow still kept declining by as much as 12.8 percent. So even that cool "I just got off work" look you sport during after-hour drinks isn't helping you sound any smarter.

      Liver cancer death rates rise 43 percent in U.S., CDC reports - Liver cancer death rates jumped 43 percent, according to a report released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The research collected data from adults 25 and older in the United States from 2000 to 2016. During this time, liver cancer rose from the ninth leading cause of cancer death in 2000 to the sixth leading cause of death by 2016. “I think it’s surprising that it’s such a significant jump,” said Dr. Sam G. Pappas, chief of the Division of Surgical Oncology at Rush University Medical Center.  Among the 50 states plus Washington, D.C., the capital city had the highest death rate and Vermont the lowest. Illinois was in the middle. According to state-by-state data from the CDC, in Illinois in 2016, 1,006 adults died from liver cancer. Throughout the country during the years studied by the CDC, more men died of liver cancer; the death rate for men was between 2 and 2.5 times the rate for women, according to the CDC. The age range when cancer rates increased the most were adults 55 to 64; this rate increased 109 percent from 2000 to 2013, but then remained stable through 2016. According to Mayo Clinic, risk factors for liver cancer include chronic infection with the hepatitis B virus or hepatitis C virus, as well as cirrhosis, inherited liver diseases and excessive alcohol consumption. Pappas said the data show a need for better screening for patients at a high risk for liver cancer. Those patients should see their physicians regularly, he said, be counseled about risk factors and then regularly screened. “Obesity is a big risk factor that often goes overlooked,” he added. Long-term obesity can cause fatty liver disease, one of the leading causes of liver damage, he said.

      Young people are drinking themselves to death in record numbers - Scientists have yet to reach a consensus on how alcohol impacts certain parts of our bodies. They’re not sure if it helps or hurts the brain; they’re conflicted about whether it reduces or heightens the risk of heart disease. But there’s one part of the body that scientists have found alcohol to indisputably — and irreversibly — harm: the liver.According to a recent study from the BMJ, the damage it inflicts on the liver is fueling a spike in deaths from liver disease and liver cancer. The conclusion comes from researchers at the University of Michigan who analyzed death certificates and vital statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In that sample, they found a doubling in deaths from liver cancer and a 65 percent increase in deaths from cirrhosis from 1999 to 2016. Cirrhosis, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a “late-stage scarring of the liver” that’s promulgated by diseases like hepatitis C or alcoholism. According to the American Cancer Society, most of the 42,000 people diagnosed with liver cancer each year have “some evidence” of cirrhosis. Although alcohol is not the only thing contributing to the increase in deaths, researchers found it to be the leading one. “Driven by deaths due to alcoholic cirrhosis, people aged 25-34 have experienced the greatest relative increase in mortality,” the researchers write. “The rapid increase in death rates among young people due to alcohol highlight new challenges for optimal care of patients with preventable liver disease.” Alcohol abuse has long been a problem in the United States, but recent studies have shown that it’s increasing among women and people of color. According to a 2017 study in JAMA Psychiatry, the number of people engaging in “high-risk drinking” in America — defined as four or more drinks in one sitting for women and five or more for men — rose by nearly 30 percent from 2002 to 2013. The problem is now so prevalent the researchers suggest public officials declare it a “public health crisis.

      Blood Pressure Medicine Is Recalled -- NYT --The Food and Drug Administration has announced a voluntary recall of a widely prescribed blood pressure medication made in China, reviving fears about the safety of imported drugs.Three companies that sell the generic drug, valsartan, in the United States agreed to recall it after the F.D.A. said it might be tainted by N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), considered a probable human carcinogen. The agency is still investigating, but said the contamination was believed to be related to changes in the way that valsartan was manufactured.All of the valsartan that is being recalled was made in China by the same company, Zhejiang Huahai Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. It is distributed in the United States by three companies: Major Pharmaceuticals; Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Ltd.; and Solco Healthcare.  .“We have carefully assessed the valsartan-containing medications sold in the United States, and we’ve found that the valsartan sold by these specific companies does not meet our safety standards,” said Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the F.D.A.’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “That is why we’ve asked these companies to take immediate action to protect patients.”   The safety of imported drugs has long been debated. The F.D.A. said it would continue to investigate the levels of NDMA in the recalled products, determine the possible effect on patients who have been taking them, and assess what measures can be taken to reduce or eliminate the impurity from future batches. Dr. Harry Lever, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, said he was concerned about quality control of generic medicines, like valsartan, made in China and India. “It’s not just valsartan,” Dr. Lever said. “It’s becoming very difficult for me to write prescriptions at all. There are so many drugs that are coming in from India and China and companies are buying and selling each other and you don’t know what’s what.”

      Doctors fear urgent care centers are wildly overusing antibiotics—for profit -- Based on insurance claims from patients with employee-sponsored coverage, researchers estimated that about 46 percent of patients who visited urgent care centers in 2014 for conditions that cannot be treated with antibiotics—such as a common cold that’s caused by a virus—left with useless antibiotic prescriptions that target bacterial infections. That rate of inappropriate antibiotic use is almost double the rate the researchers saw in emergency departments (25 percent) and almost triple the rate seen in traditional medical offices (17 percent).   The authors of the analysis—a team of researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the University of Utah, and the Pew Charitable Trusts—concluded that interventions for urgent care centers are “urgently needed.” The data is concerning, the team notes, because such misuse of antibiotics can fuel the development and spread of drug-resistant bacteria, which can go on to become resistant to multiple types of antibiotic drugs and cause intractable, sometimes deadly, infections. As antibiotics have become less effective at knocking back infections in recent decades, public health experts worldwide have amped up calls for more judicious use of the critical drugs. In 2016, researchers analyzing data from 2010-2011 estimated that 30 percent of antibiotics prescriptions given in US emergency rooms and traditional medical offices were inappropriate. But that estimate didn’t account for prescriptions doled out at urgent care and retail clinics, which are growing in popularity and now prescribe about 40 percent of all antibiotics used outside of hospitals. In other words, the true rate of antibiotic overuse may be even worse than experts thought.

      Bad Bugs: How the White House Is Stoking a World Public Health Crisis -- Certainly a dust up with Beijing, Tehran, or Pyongyang is a scary thing to contemplate. But the thing that should also keep people up at night is Washington’s approach to international health organizations and the president’s stubborn refusal to address climate change. Bad bugs are coming, and they are stronger and nastier than they have ever been. A few — like malaria and yellow fever — are ancient nemeses, but they’re increasingly immune to standard drugs and widening their reach behind a warming climate. Others — like Ebola, SARS, MERS, and Zika — are new, exotic, and fearsome. And antibiotic-resistant bacteria threaten to turn the clock back to pre-penicillin days, when a cut could be a death sentence. Trump’s disdain for international agencies and treaties, plus cuts in public health programs and a relaxation of regulations on the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry, could create a worldwide medical catastrophe. The president recently asked Congress to cut over $15 billion from health care, especially in the area of overseas response. On the very day that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared an emergency over the latest Ebola outbreak, National Security Adviser John Bolton eliminated the National Security Agency’s program for epidemic prevention. Diseases like Ebola get media attention, in part because Ebola kills more than 80 percent of its victims in a particularly grotesque manner: death by massive hemorrhaging. But the more familiar diseases like malaria do the most damage. The malaria plasmodium infects 216 million people a year and kills 450,000, many of them children. And after decades of retreat, the disease is roaring back with varieties that are increasingly hard to treat. One by one, the barriers that once kept the disease at bay have fallen. Having overcome chloroquine, and then Fansidar, now malaria has begun to breach the latest cure, artenisinin. Yellow fever, once a major killer but largely tamed by mosquito control and vaccinations, is also making a comeback. Dengue, or “break-bone fever,” which infects 400 million worldwide and kills over 25,000 people a year, has spread from nine countries in 1970 to over 100 today.

      Virginia resident dies after coming into contact with a flesh-eating bacteria -- A Virginia resident has died from an infection involving a waterborne bacteria that eats flesh. Virginia Department of Health officials weren’t releasing the person’s name or other details about the resident, citing privacy laws. Katherine McCombs, a ­foodborne disease epidemiology program coordinator at the health department, said the person died from a Vibrio infection. So far this year, 23 people in Virginia have contracted illnesses tied to Vibrio, according to health officials, which is up slightly from last year. The death is the first this year in Virginia. Vibrio is a naturally occurring bacteria found in brackish or warm salt waters that can cause serious infections. The most common species that cause illness in Virginia are Vibrio parahaemolyticus and Vibrio vulnificus, according to health officials. The person who died in Virginia suffered an infection from the Vibrio vulnificus bacteria. It is more rare and is often underreported, according to the state’s health department. Vibrio vulnificus is more often found in states along the Gulf Coast. In Virginia, there are typically fewer than 10 cases reported each year, according to state health officials. With Vibrio vulnificus illnesses, a person typically becomes infected if they have a cut or open wound exposed to brackish water that becomes contaminated with the bacteria. Symptoms include redness around the wound, swelling at the cut area, fever, tiredness and generally “feeling poorly,” McCombs said. In New Jersey, a man who had been crabbing near the Delaware Bay died earlier this month from a Vibrio infection. The family of Angel Perez said he made several trips to a hospital’s emergency room with redness and blistering on his legs. It was later discovered that Vibrio bacteria had found its way into a cut or open sore on his leg. Doctors had at one point mistakenly diagnosed Perez as having a minor bacterial infection, his family said.  Eventually, the infection spread and was in all four limbs.

      'People Are Literally Being Poisoned': How Sewage Problems in Alabama Got So Bad -- and Why Other States Should Worry -- Alabama’s Lowndes County, which lies between Selma and Montgomery, has been coping with basic sewage problems for decades.Most residents of this rural county, who are predominantly poor and black, live too far from cities to attach their homes to sewer systems. So they rely on septic tanks. But installing and maintaining those septic systems is difficult -- not only because they're so expensive but also because they have to be specially designed to work in the region's clay-rich soil. As a result, many people who live in Lowndes County have open pits of human waste in their yards or raw sewage backing up into their homes after heavy rains. Neither the county nor the state seems to be in any position to help, and at times, they’ve arguably made things worse. After Baylor University researchers found evidence of hookworm, a tropical disease that's largely been eradicated in most developed countries, in more than a third of the residents they sampled in Lowndes County, a United Nations poverty investigator visited the area last December.“I think it’s very uncommon in the First World. This is not a sight that one normally sees. I’d have to say that I haven’t seen this,” remarked Philip Alston, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, as he toured a nearby county.Suddenly, national and international media are taking an interest in Lowndes County’s long-festering issues. But they’ve been slower to recognize how widespread the problem of poor sewage treatment is in the United States. “It’s not just in Alabama. A lot of rural communities are experiencing the same problem,” says Catherine Flowers, who has been the area’s most prominent advocate for improving its sewage disposal and the associated problems. “This is a problem around the country that shouldn’t exist.”

      Penalty for poisoning Lake Michigan 'unjustifiably low,' surfers say as they seek to restart lawsuit vs. U.S. Steel --Surfrider Chicago is looking to relaunch its federal lawsuit against U.S. Steel, which it says sickened surfers when it dumped toxic hexavalent chromium in a waterway connected to Lake Michigan in northwest Indiana. Attorney Mark Templeton of the U. of C.'s Abrams Environmental Law Clinic said Tuesday that he filed a motion on Surfrider's behalf seeking to reopen the case in the U.S. District Court in Hammond. The suit had been on hold after U.S. Steel agreed to work out a consent decree with the U.S. EPA to resolve problems at its plant in Portage, Indiana, where the spill took place last year. But Surfrider is now looking to reopen the case so it can compel the steelmaker to comply with discovery requests "necessary to evaluate the consent decree between U.S. Steel and the government," Templeton said. Templeton added that because Surfrider's case against U.S. Steel is much broader in scope, "resolving the government's complaints won't resolve ours." He claimed that in order to know what U.S. Steel needed to do to become compliant with the Clean Water Act, the plaintiffs require documents that can only be obtained by lifting a stay on the case. U.S. Steel did not respond to a request for comment. The company has until August 3 to file a response to the motion. In April, Surfrider agreed to stay its lawsuit to evaluate a proposed settlement between the EPA and U.S. Steel. But last week, Surfrider announced its opposition to the proposed consent decree for its "unfairness, unreasonableness, and inadequacy." 

      More Than a Third of Schools Tested Have ‘Elevated Levels’ of Lead in Drinking Water - A troubling new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that more than a third of the nation's schools that tested their water for lead found "elevated levels" of the neurotoxin. But despite heightened concern in recent years about lead in drinking water, more than 40 percent of schools surveyed conducted no lead testing in 2016.According to the GAO's nationwide survey, roughly 43 percent of school districts, serving 35 million students, tested for lead in 2016. Of the districts that tested, 37 percent found lead at levels above the threshold the districts set for taking remedial action. All the districts that found elevated levels reported taking steps to lower lead, such as installing filters, replacing old water fountains, and providing students and employees with bottled water.  The GAO said that 41 percent of schools, serving about 12 million students, did not test for lead in 2016. Sixteen percent of schools said they did not know if they had tested. No federal law requires lead testing in schools, and the GAO said only eight states require testing. "This report should shock every member of Congress and jolt acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler into action," said Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook. "In the richest country on Earth, none of our children should be attending schools where the drinking water is contaminated with a heavy metal that causes brain damage." The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set its so-called action level of 15 parts per billion, or ppb, for lead in tap water from public water systems decades ago. It is not based on a safe exposure level for children, but was instead set to monitor a water system's efforts to manage water corrosivity and minimize lead leaching from old pipes. Shockingly, for school water systems, the EPA's action level for lead is 20 ppb, or one-third higher than the action level for public water systems.

      Can Elon Musk fix Flint's water? - The Michigan community of Flint has become a byword for lead poisoning. Elon Musk recently entered the fray. He tweeted a promise to pay to fix the water in any house in Flint that had water contamination above acceptable levels set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. On Twitter and elsewhere, people argued whether this offer was a big deal or not.  Even as controversy swirls this week around Musk’s financial contribution to a Republican fundraising committee and his comments about a British cave rescuer in Thailand, I argue the Tesla founder has made an important offer regarding Flint. What’s more, he’s clearly explored the issues surrounding lead in the town’s drinking water. I have studied lead exposure for 30 years.  I know that removing lead from drinking water is important because lead is such a toxic metal. It lowers children’s IQs, and my colleagues and I showed that lead-exposed children have higher blood pressure late in life.  As Musk noted, most of the tap water in Flint (more than 90 per cent) is indeed safe by the EPA standard. But that doesn’t mean that lead has been completely eliminated. While ongoing work to replace pipes, some the result of lawsuits, should mean lower levels of lead in the community’s tap water in the future, it can cause spikes in lead water levels as particular pipes are cut apart and replaced. Elon Musk may have an important role to play, not as an engineer and an installer of filters, but as an arm’s-length third party whose help can be believed. The mayor of Flint, Karen Weaver, has said her conversation with Musk’s team gave her hope that Musk could help with improving local confidence in water quality. If Musk can help achieve safe drinking water more quickly for every home in Flint, then he should be lauded.

      Here's what Flint's mayor wants Elon Musk to do - Tech billionaire Elon Musk has been known to offer help, from donating solar batteries to Puerto Rico to building a tiny ‘submarine’ to rescue that Thai soccer team that was trapped in a cave. (It was never put to use.) The latest disaster to land on Musk’s radar? The water crisis in Flint, Michigan. The predominantly black city of Flint has been reeling from a manmade water crisis since 2014 when the city switched its water source, exposing everyone to lead-contaminated water. Twelve people died as a result of a Legionnaires outbreak from the same water source switch. Given how many times the state and city told residents the water was safe when it wasn’t, people have a hard time trusting their water even today. The mayor’s office told Earther it has been in touch with Musk’s team for preliminary conversations about what this partnership or donation or whatever Musk is offering could look like. Weaver said she still hasn’t gotten Musk on the phone, but the plan is for that to happen by Friday. First on her agenda? To tell Musk what the city actually needs. Musk had tweeted about water filters, but the state alreadyoffers free filters to Flint residents. And Weaver said Musk’s team is listening, which is a good sign. If this billionaire wants to parachute into a complex environmental disaster, listening is animportant first step. The mayor wouldn’t mind some help with Flint’s ongoing pipe replacement. The city currently plans to replace all its lead service pipes by 2019, a feat that is expected to cost nearly $200 million (which the city is funding through a legal settlement and with state and federal help). “If we could finish that sooner, that would be a wonderful thing,” Weaver said. “This year would be great!” That’s one potential avenue. Economic development is another. Growing economic opportunities in this city, where nearly half the population lives below the poverty line, would immensely aid its recovery, Weaver said. The mayor hopes their conversation will include opportunities in tech, given Musk’s role in the sector. Her conversation with his team didn’t shy away from that option.

      Watts: Another Flint? - The whole world knows the story of Flint by now. The famously depressed city in Michigan, where the majority of residents are African American, shifted its drinking-water source to a local river in 2014 in order to save money. . As it turned out, they were being poisoned by lead contamination from years of industrial-waste dumping. Eventually, a state of emergency was declared.   But Flint is not alone. Across the country, for example, there’s another impoverished community you might have heard of — this one near the golden shores of Southern California. Watts, located on a mere 2.1 square miles in South Central Los Angeles, isn’t suffering the immediate effects observed in Flint. Not yet. But the causes of pollution recently detected under a 58-year-old housing project — and the reluctance of officials to address the situation — are much the same. Today, in one of the ironies common to urban redevelopment schemes, an effort to improve Watts may actually be making things worse. The billion-dollar makeover of a sprawling housing project that’s been plagued for decades by contamination from industrial sources threatens to endanger the very residents it is supposed to help.  Testing of the site has shown toxic levels of lead and other deadly chemicals. Residents have urged that redevelopment should not move forward unless these problems are addressed. But state and city regulators have ignored them.

      Coca-Cola Plant Starves Mexican Town of Water, Leads to Diabetes Epidemic - It has been something of an obsession here to keep an eye on the attempts by the corporate class to monetize the most basic building block of all life—namely, water. The New York Times reported this weekend from a small, impoverished place in Mexico, where that phenomenon has put the people there in an impossible position—namely, perish from thirst or contract diabetes. Potable water is increasingly scarce in San Cristóbal de las Casas, a picturesque mountain town in the southeastern state of Chiapas where some neighborhoods have running water just a few times a week, and many households are forced to buy extra water from tanker trucks. So, many residents drink Coca-Cola, which is produced by a local bottling plant, can be easier to find than bottled water and is almost as cheap. In a country that is among the world’s top consumers of sugary drinks, Chiapas is a champion: Residents of San Cristóbal and the lush highlands that envelop the city drink on average more than two liters, or more than half a gallon, of soda a day. The effect on public health has been devastating. The mortality rate from diabetes in Chiapas increased 30 percent between 2013 and 2016, and the disease is now the second-leading cause of death in the state after heart disease, claiming more than 3,000 lives every year. You will not be surprised to learn that the Coca-Cola people get the residents of this place coming and going. Buffeted by the dual crises of the diabetes epidemic and the chronic water shortage, residents of San Cristóbal have identified what they believe is the singular culprit: the hulking Coca-Cola factory on the edge of town. The plant has permits to extract more than 300,000 gallons of water a day as part of a decades-old deal with the federal government that critics say is overly favorable to the plant’s owners. Public ire has been boiling over. In April 2017, masked protesters marched on the factory holding crosses that read “Coca-Cola kills us” and demanding that the government shut the plant down. “When you see that institutions aren’t providing something as basic as water and sanitation, but you have this company with secure access to one of the best water sources, of course it gives you a shock,”

      Fast Food Nation: Inside India’s Growing Crisis -- Ten years ago, Prem Shah's life got turned upside down. "You have diabetes," his doctor told him after a blood test the next day. Pram was 38 at the time and could neither read nor write. . He had never even heard of diabetes.  Further examinations and treatment in the hospital would have cost 15,000 rupees (about 185 euros). Prem, his wife Geeta and their four children didn't have that much money to spare. They are members of the lowest-ranking of the four main Indian castes and live in a doorless stone hut in a slum in the Baljit Nagar neighborhood. Even a single day in a public hospital, which is almost free for patients, was too expensive for the family. If Prem doesn't work during the day, the family doesn't have anything to eat at night. Soon, the disease began affecting him badly.  For many people living in emerging economies, eating at McDonald's or Pizza Hut is a status symbol indicative of prosperity. The new wealth is also drawing people from the countryside into the cities, where physical labor is less necessary. It's this new sedentary lifestyle that is making people ill. That proved to be the case with Prem Shah, too. As a child, he could never be sure when he would get his next meal, so as an adult in New Delhi, he overcompensated by eating whenever he could. He barely had to move at his job at a plastic factory, and at home his wife Geeta used lots of wheat in her cooking, which is subsidized by the government and still distributed to the poor. "Prem had an insatiable appetite," his wife recalls. "In India, we have a problem in that we traditionally already eat a lot of carbohydrates," says diabetes expert Nikhil Tandon, the head of the endocrinology and metabolic diseases department at the renowned All India Institute of Medical Sciences. And there are also further risk factors. Fast food has also become a regular part of daily life for Prem's growing children. His children eat potato chips and drink soda every day.

      Start-up producing cell-grown meat raises new funding -- German drugmaker Merck and a top European meat processor are backing a startup producing beef from cattle cells, ramping up a race to transform the global meat industry with cell-culture technology. The $8.8 million investment in Netherlands-based Mosa Meat by Merck’s venture investing unit and Basel, Switzerland-based Bell Food Group fuels a continuing effort to fulfill growing global demand for meat via a process that developers say requires a fraction of the resources used in traditional livestock and poultry production. Cell-culture meat makers have yet to begin selling any of their products. But the emerging technology has drawn investments from major U.S. meat processors like Cargill and Tyson Foods Inc. It also is raising complaints among cattle ranchers and hog farmers, some of whom regard it as a lab-developed imitation of traditional hamburgers and pork. Mosa is led by Mark Post, a Maastricht University physiologist who unveiled the world’s first lab-grown burger in 2013, and Peter Verstrate, a food technician at the university. Mr. Post’s prototype burger cost $330,000 to develop, but the project encouraged Mr. Post to form Mosa, which previously received funding from Google Inc. co-founder Sergey Brin. “We’ve done a lot of work in scaling up the cell culture... to something that can be used on an industrial scale,” said Mr. Post. Cell-culture meat makers begin by isolating livestock or poultry cells that have the capacity to renew themselves, and place them into room-size bioreactor tanks, similar to fermenters. The cells are fed oxygen and nutrients like sugar and minerals, and can grow into skeletal muscle that can be harvested within a few weeks. That tissue can then be formed into meatballs or chicken strips. 

      Is Your Popcorn Laced With Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals?   No one should be exposed to toxic chemicals in their food, particularly children. But that's exactly what the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) found in tests of microwave popcorn bags sold in Dollar Stores. These stores are frequented by communities of color and millions of poor Americans. In fact, every single bag that was independently tested contained toxic per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances(PFASs)—chemicals linked to developmental problems, hormone disruption, organ damage and more. These findings are particularly alarming for children's health, as their bodies are still developing, making them more vulnerable to the effects of hormone disruptors.PFASs confuse our bodies' hormones and damage the liver and kidney. There are hundreds of PFAS chemicals, yet there is no publicly available information about which ones are used in microwave popcorn products. In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that certain PFAS chemicals could migrate out of microwave popcorn bags and contaminate popcorn. A 2007 publication from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tested 17 types of microwave popcorn from eight different brands and detected PFAS in the air from just-heated popcorn bags, suggesting people might also inhale these chemicalswhen eating microwave popcorn. Unfortunately, it's not just microwave popcorn we need to worry about. Families may be exposed to a wide array of hazardous chemicals in a variety of products, most of which are under-regulated by authorities. PFASs or their chemical cousin perfluorochemicals (PFCs) are used for stain, water and/or grease resistance. They are not just in microwave popcorn bags but also in many household items, including furniture, carpet and carpet cleaners, textiles, floor waxes and outdoor apparel. A 2017 study by CEH—Kicking the Can?—found that 38 percent of the cans tested from Dollar Stores contained the hazardous chemical BPA, another hormone disruptor. Numerous other studies have also shown that toxic chemicals are commonly found in Dollar Store products (summary and report, BPA in canned food).

      New Dicamba Drift Estimate: 1.1 Million Acres Damaged Already in 2018 - A University of Missouri report released Thursday estimates that drift damage from the pesticide dicamba has occurred across 1.1 million acres of agricultural crops, trees and other plants so far this year.This comes less than a year after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and many statesintroduced additional restrictions meant to prevent off-target damage from the pesticide. Last year dicamba drift wreaked havoc on a reported 3.6 million acres of soybean crops not genetically engineered to resist the notoriously drift-prone pesticide."The widespread damage to crops and even hearty trees like the catalpa and Bradford pear confirms this drift-prone poison can't be safely used and shouldn't get approved by the EPA again," said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "You'd have better luck herding kittens than getting dicamba to stay put. The EPA's new leadership needs to end the use of this dangerous pesticide."Highly toxic dicamba products are designed for use primarily on next-generation soybeans genetically engineered to resist what would normally be a fatal dose of the pesticide.A previous report released last month noted that reported damage to specialty crops, vegetables, ornamental species and trees has increased dramatically, indicating that many types of plants can be damaged by dicamba.Earlier this year a Center for Biological Diversity report found that more than 60 million acres of monarch butterfly habitat are projected to be sprayed with dicamba by next year. Dicamba can degrade monarch habitat in two ways: by harming flowering plants that provide nectar for adults as they travel south for the winter and by harming milkweed, which, as the only food of monarch caterpillars, is essential for the butterfly's reproduction. "In addition to the farming community again getting slammed by dicamba drift, this uncontrollable pesticide is harming wild plants just outside of agricultural fields that provide important animal habitat," said Donley. "The only reason farmers are turning to dicamba is to kill the glyphosate-resistant superweeds sprouting across millions of acres. Dumping more and more pesticides on crops just keeps farmers on the pesticide treadmill. Meanwhile neighboring farms and wildlife pay the cost."

      Research shows pesticides influence bee learning and memory -- A large-scale study published by researchers from Royal Holloway University of London has drawn together the findings of a decade of agrochemical research to confirm that pesticides used in crop protection have a significant negative impact on the learning and memory abilities of bees. Their findings are published on 11 July in the Journal of Applied Ecology.   PhD student Harry Siviter, alongside Professor Julia Koricheva, Professor Mark Brown, and Dr Elli Leadbeater combined data from a large number of studies in which bees that had been exposed to pesticides had to learn about floral scents, a test that is commonly used to measure learning and memory in bees. Their research reveals that even at very low field-realistic dosages, pesticides have significant negative effects on bee learning and memory, with worker bees exposed to pesticides less likely to learn and memorise a rewarding scent. Learning abilities are a vital component of the search for food in bees, because individuals must remember what type of flowers to visit, where to find them, which flowers they have recently drained of nectar, and how to find the way back to the hive.  Harry Siviter said: "Policy makers need robust information about the impact of insecticides on pollinators if they are to develop appropriate regulation for sustainable bee health". "Our results show that, when combining data collected from a wide range of studies, insecticides have a significant negative impact on bee learning and memory. This occurs even at the low levels of pesticides that bees would routinely encounter in the field.

      Even Nixon Supported This 100-Year-Old Law Protecting Migratory Birds. Now Trump Wants to Gut It. -- Legal wrangling over the future of a landmark conservation law signed 100 years ago centers on the question of whether “inadvertently” killing birds is illegal.Environmental groups are suing the Interior Department over its reversal of a longstanding policy that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act prohibits killing birds, even unintentionally, if the deaths were avoidable.Since the 1970s, the federal government had used the act to compel companies to halt or fix industrial practices that killed large numbers of birds. The Nixon administration first used it to get electric companies to redesign power poles to stop electrocuting eagles and other raptors in the Rocky Mountain West. Since then, Republican and Democratic administrations relied on the threat of fines and prosecution to stop birds from being trapped in oil company wastewater pits, snarled in fishing lines and injured in collisions with communications towers and wind turbines.In December, the Trump administration issued a new legal opinion declaring that the act applies only to hunting, poaching or other activities that “have as their purpose the taking or killing of migratory birds.” The US Fish and Wildlife Service is not tracking instances of restrictions being relaxed because of the policy reversal, according to Vanessa Kauffman, an agency spokeswoman. But already, a pipeline company cited the new policy when asking for permission to clear trees during birds’ nesting season. The federal government granted DTE Midstream Appalachia’s request for its project in Pennsylvania, according to documents from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

      Trump administration introduces proposal to roll back Endangered Species Act protections | TheHill: The Trump administration is proposing significant changes to the way it enforces the Endangered Species Act (ESA), saying they are a needed modernization of decades-old regulations, but wildlife groups say the changes will put endangered animals and plants at risk. The proposal would make it easier to delist an endangered species and would withdraw a policy that offered the same protections for threatened species as for endangered species unless otherwise specified. It would streamline interagency consultations and make it more difficult to protect habitat near land where endangered species live. The proposed rules also include an interpretation that a species considered endangered would be protected for a “foreseeable future” that extends “only as far” as it can be reasonably determined that “both the future threats and the species’ responses to those threats are probable.” In a call with stakeholders on Thursday, Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Deputy Director Greg Sheehan called the proposal a way of “providing clarity.” He said the changes would help the agency meet the Endangered Species Act’s main goal of “species recovery” so that animals and plants could more easily be removed from endangered and threatened species lists. The move to change the act reflects demands from industry groups and landowners who frequently challenge endangered species protections as overbearing and unsuccessful. Critics of the law have argued that only 3 percent of all species placed on the endangered list have ever been delisted. 

      Climate change is turning sea turtle eggs female. What about alligators? -  Sometime in mid-August, 400 baby alligators will hatch on the roof of a building at the University of North Florida. Researchers will scoop up the newborns and tally them up: male or female? If Professor Adam Rosenblatt’s hypothesis is correct, most of the tiny reptiles wriggling out of their manmade nests will be female, thanks to climate change. The warming world has already launched a new — overwhelmingly female — generation of sea turtles. In the Pacific Ocean’s most important sea turtle nesting area, females outnumber males 116 to 1, National Geographic reported. More and more South Florida sea turtles are born female too, said Florida Atlantic University Professor Jeanette Wyneken. In seven of the last ten years, Wyneken and her students found every sea turtle nest they sampled in Palm Beach County was totally female. “Basically what we’re seeing is when the temps would go over 31 Celsius (87.8 degrees Fahrenheit) we would pretty much have 100 percent female nests,” she said. That’s because sea turtle sex is determined by the heat of the sand around them. Science has clearly shown that warmer nests mean more female sea turtles, but although alligator eggs also change sex depending on temperature, Rosenblatt said there’s no research on how alligators react to rising temperatures. “Nobody has really looked at future temperature scenarios and climate change and their effects on crocodilians,” he said. 

      Surprise tornadoes leave trail of destruction in Iowa — A flurry of tornadoes that formed unexpectedly swept through central Iowa Thursday, injuring at least 17 people, flattening buildings in three cities and forcing the evacuation of a hospital.The tornadoes hit Marshalltown, Pella and Bondurant as surprised residents ran for cover. The storms injured 10 people in Marshalltown and seven at a factory near Pella, but no deaths were reported.  Marshalltown , a city of 27,000 people about 50 miles northeast of Des Moines, appeared to have been hit the hardest. Brick walls collapsed in the streets, roofs were blown off buildings and the cupola of the historic courthouse tumbled 175 feet to the ground.The only hospital in Marshalltown was damaged, spokeswoman Amy Varcoe said. All 40 of the patients at UnityPoint Health were being transferred to the health system’s larger hospital in Waterloo as well as one in Grundy Center, she said.Weather forecasters said the tornadoes formed suddenly and took them by surpriseAlex Krull, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Des Moines, said forecasting models produced Thursday morning showed only a slight chance of strong thunderstorms later in the day.“This morning, it didn’t look like tornadic supercells were possible,” Krull said. “If anything, we were expecting we could get some large hail, if strong storms developed.” Additional funnels were reported as the storm moved east of Des Moines past Altoona, Prairie City and Colfax.National Weather Service meteorologist Rod Donavon said two primary storms spawned the series of damaging tornadoes. One developed in the Marshalltown area, causing damage there, while the other started east of Des Moines and traveled through Bondurant and into Pella. The exact number of tornadoes and their strength will be determined later.

      July 2018 ENSO Update: Dog days -- The chance that El Niño conditions will be in place across the tropical Pacific by the fall is about 65%, and close to 70% by the winter, continuing the El Niño Watch from last month.  After a trip through the tropical Pacific, we’ll get into what El Niño could mean for global weather and climate this winter. The tropical Pacific is still well within neutral limits. The temperature of the ocean surface in the Niño3.4 region has edged above average, with June 2018 coming in about 0.11 degrees Celsius above the long-term average, based on our best-quality data set. Most climate models predict that the Niño3.4 region temperatures will reach the El Niño threshold (0.5°C above the long-term average) by the fall.   Much of the rest of the equatorial Pacific is warmer than average now, as well, with only the Niño1+2 region (the farthest east region, next to the coast of South America) still cooler than average. The temperature of the water below the surface of the Pacific is elevated, too. The downwelling Kelvin wave that was initiated a few months ago has sloshed to the east across the Pacific, bringing warmer waters toward the surface. It’s likely the surface will continue to warm over the next few months, helping to support the forecast for El Niño’s development. The atmosphere over the tropical Pacific is demonstrably neutral right now. Cloud cover and rain over the central Pacific are still reduced compared to average, a hold-over from this past winter’s La Niña. On the other hand, atmospheric conditions over Indonesia have returned to near-average. Both the Southern Oscillation Index and the Equatorial Southern Oscillation Index were near zero during June, reflecting neutral conditions. These indexes compare the surface air pressure in the central-eastern Pacific to the pressure in the western Pacific, a useful metric for the Walker circulation. If the pressure in the eastern Pacific is relatively lower (more rising air than average, resulting from warmer-than-average sea surface temps) and the pressure to the west is relatively higher (less rising air, due to cooler waters), it can be another indication the Walker circulation has weakened, representing the atmospheric component of El Niño.  We’ll keep an eye on these indexes and the other indicators of the atmospheric component of ENSO while we’re sweating it out over the summer and into the fall. El Niño is a coupled system, meaning it requires both the Niño3.4 region to be more than 0.5°C above average and for the atmosphere to respond to those warmer-than-average waters. When both conditions are met, and expected to continue for several months, El Niño conditions will have arrived.

      "It's Dire!" - Aussie Farmers Face Worst Drought In 100 Years - Farmers are saying the situation they’ve been presented with is “dire.” As they battle the worst drought they’ve faced in 100 years, farming families in central-western New South Wales in Australia are facing ruin. According to The Guardian, the farmers in the affected region of central and western New South Wales continue to battle a crippling drought that many locals are calling the worst since 1902. In Warrumbungle Shire, where sharp peaks fall away to once fertile farmland, the small town of Coonabarabran is running out of water. The town dam has fallen to 23% of its capacity and residents are living with level-six water restrictions. There are real fears the town will run dry. Unable to provide food would not only mean financial ruin for the farmers but also less food for those who need it.  Last year, the Doolan family recorded their fourth-lowest average rainfall and that poor year has been followed by even drier conditions this year. The family has begun selling whatever stock they can and spends their whole day at feeding the cattle that remain because the pastures have dried up. Farmers in this part of NSW are importing almost all food for their livestock from as far away as South Australia as prices rise with demand. The continued cost of buying feed is causing many to question their future on the land. The NSW government recently approved an emergency drought relief package of $600m, at least $250m of which will cover low-interest loans to assist eligible farm businesses to recover. The package has been welcomed but, in the words of a local farmer, “it barely touches the sides”. With the prospect of a dry El Niño weather pattern hitting the state in spring, the longer-term outlook is dire. –The Guardian As the cost of trucking in food for cattle and sheep increases, so will the cost of the products created from them, hitting consumers’ wallets hard.

      Cumulative Stress Impairs Great Barrier Reef Recovery  Jerri-lynn Scofield - Science Advances published a paper this week, Impaired recovery of the Great Barrier Reef under cumulative stress, analyzing the recent decline in corals on the Great Barrier Reef. (The full paper may be found here.)The paper found that coral recovery declined by 84% between 1992 and 2010, with some key coral types exhibiting close to zero recovery over that time period, while other reefs showed high recovery.The paper attributed loss in recovery capacity  partly to “the cumulative effects of chronic pressures including water quality, warming, and sublethal effects of acute disturbances (cyclones, outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish, and coral bleaching.”Note that the period studied in this paper 1992-2010– predated the serious back-to-back bleaching events of 2016 and 2017, which killed about half the coral in the 1400 mile long reef, as reported by  Motherboard in The Great Barrier Reef Is Losing Its Ability to Recover from Bleaching Events Even with the exclusion of that bleaching, the effects on coral recovery reported are alarming, as Science News notes in Great Barrier Reef not bouncing back as before, but there is hope:Dr Juan Ortiz, lead author from The Australian Institute of Marine Sciences and UQ’s School of Biological Sciences, said that during this time, average coral recovery rates showed a six-fold decline across the Great Barrier Reef. “This is the first time a decline in recovery rate of this magnitude has been identified in coral reefs,” he said.

      This year’s global hurricane boom could go into overdrive -- The powerful weather pattern known as El Niño has been blamed for massive wildfires, crippling droughts, and global food shortages. And it’s looking increasingly likely that another one is on the way. The latest outlook from the National Weather Service, out Thursday, says there’s a 70 percent chance that El Niño will arrive before the end of the year. Summertime outlooks for El Niño are generally pretty accurate, so it’s a big deal that the weather pattern is still in the forecast. Another El Niño would carry far-reaching consequences for the world’s weather, one of which may have already arrived: Hurricanes and typhoons have been popping up more often than normal this year. (Both are place-specific names; the meteorological term for these storms is tropical cyclone.) El Niño warms the waters of the Pacific Ocean, providing additional fuel for tropical cyclones and increasing their activity by about 15 percent. As of Thursday, according to Grist’s analysis of available weather data, cyclone activity in the Pacific Ocean is running about 42 percent above normal; in the Indian Ocean, it’s about 40 percent above normal. But in the Atlantic, it’s a whopping 370 percent above normal. Some of this is just random chance, but at least in the Pacific, the early signs of El Niño have already arrived. All this has already led to several cyclone disasters in a season that’s just getting started. In May, Cyclone Mekunu struck Oman, bringing two years’ worth of rainfall in a few hours and creating a huge swath of temporary lakes in one of the driest deserts on Earth. This week, more than 600,000 people were evacuated in China’s Fujian province before Typhoon Maria made landfall. Meanwhile storm-weary Puerto Rico received a scare from Hurricane Beryl, before it fizzled shortly after reaching the Caribbean. Earlier this month, Typhoon Prapiroon kicked off a record-breaking torrential downpour in southern Japan. More than 70 inches of rain have fallen — about four-months worth in 11 days — a precipitation level on par with what Texas experienced during Hurricane Harvey last year. More than 200 people have died so far as a result, and the damage is so widespread that Japanese officials are comparing it to the 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

      Heat Records Falling Around the World in 2018 - The first five months of 2018 were the fourth warmest in global records going back to 1880, according to NOAA. Along the way, a number of extreme heat events have occurred already this year. In recent weeks across the Northern Hemisphere, these records have included an impressive number of all-time highs (an all-time high is the warmest temperature reported on any date at a given location). Setting an all-time high is no small accomplishment, especially for locations that have long periods of record (PORs). All-time highs are especially noteworthy when you consider that, on average, the planet is warming more during winter than during summer, and more at night than during the day. Urban heat islands are no doubt contributing somewhat to the heat records achieved in large urban areas, but the extreme heat of 2018 has also played out in remote rural areas without any urban heat islands.As of July 13, the U.S. Records summary page maintained by NOAA showed that 18 U.S. locations had set or tied all-time highs so far this year, as opposed to 10 locations that set or tied all-time lows. There is an even sharper contrast between the number of all-time warm daily lows (40) and all-time cool daily highs (5), which has been a common pattern in recent years. Here is a summary of some of the more significant heat-related events of the year-to-date around the world, in chronological order. Note that in some cases, extremely high temperatures recorded in the early 20th century are not considered reliable because of instrument placement and/or observing practices (as was the case with the infamous and ultimately disqualified El Azizi world heat record). All of the all-time highs shown below are valid for the climatological records that are considered reliable at a given location. All records are shown in the units used locally, followed by conversions to Celsius or Fahrenheit.

      Airlines prepare for flying in hotter temps as climate change brings more extreme heat -- It's less than a month into the summer and triple-digit temperatures have already shattered records in many cities across the country, like around Los Angeles area where it hit 114 degrees in Burbank and 120 degrees in Chino on July 6. That's as hot as last year's brutal summer when temperatures hovered around 120 degrees in Phoenix and prompted American Airlines to cancel more than 40 flights at its hub there. The regional jets that feed big airlines' couldn't operate with temperatures above 118 degrees. The extreme heat that has come with climate change is prompting airplane manufacturers to test their fleets for increasingly hotter temperatures. While travelers are used to flight cancellations in blizzards, the unpredictable storms and extreme heat of warmer months present airlines — and passengers — with some of the most challenging conditions of the year. The gradual warming of the earth that has come with climate change is causing more frequent and more severe swings in weather patterns across the globe. That means more days of extreme heat that airlines didn't have to worry about before.  Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for American Airlines, the world's largest carrier by traffic, said the airline approached Montreal-based Bombardier, the manufacturer of the regional jets that were grounded in last year’s heat wave, to see if the planes could fly at higher temperatures. The maximum temperature at which Bombardier CRJs can fly depends on altitude, but from Phoenix, it's now around 123 degrees Fahrenheit, up from about 118. Bombardier's competitor, Brazil's Embraer has taken similar steps and its new E190 E2 regional jet, which started service this April, can operate at higher temperatures than previous models."Rising temperatures have been an important design consideration for Embraer," the company said in a statement.

      Over a billion people struggle to stay cool as Earth warms  (Reuters) - More than a billion people are at risk from a lack of air conditioning and refrigeration to keep them cool and to preserve food and medicines as global warming brings more high temperatures, a study showed on Monday. More electricity demand for fridges, fans and other appliances will add to man-made climate change unless power generators shift from fossil fuels to cleaner energies, according to the report by the non-profit Sustainable Energy for All group. About 1.1 billion people in Asia, Africa and Latin America - 470 million in rural areas and 630 million slum dwellers in cities - were at risk among the world’s 7.6 billion people, it said. In a survey of 52 countries, those most at risk included India, China, Mozambique, Sudan, Nigeria, Brazil, Pakistan, Indonesia and Bangladesh, it said. The U.N.’s health agency says that heat stress linked to climate change is likely to cause 38,000 extra deaths a year worldwide between 2030 and 2050. In a heat-wave in May, more than 60 people died in Karachi, Pakistan, when heat rose above 40 degrees Celsius (104°F). In remote areas in tropical countries, many people lack electricity and clinics are often unable to store vaccines or medicines that need to be chilled, the study said. And in city slums, electricity supplies are often intermittent. Many farmers or fishermen, meanwhile, lack access to a “cold chain” to preserve and transport products to markets. Fresh fish goes off within hours if stored at 30 degrees Celsius (86°F) but stays fresh for days when chilled.

      Hot Times for Reindeer: All-Time Records Melt in Lapland - Temperatures soared into the nineties Fahrenheit north of the Arctic Circle on Tuesday and Wednesday, as 2018’s parade of exceptional heat continued marching across the Northern Hemisphere. This week has been northern Scandinavia’s turn under the sizzling klieg lights, including Lapland (Sápmi), the region of northern Scandinavia famed for its reindeer and often associated with Christmas. In contrast to that wintry reputation, Sweden is now grappling with an onslaught of wildfires unprecedented in modern times, as reported by Here’s a sampling of the preliminary all-time highs set in Scandinavia on Tuesday. (see list) Located at an altitude of 1100 meters (3500 feet), Finland's Tarfala Research Station is the coldest long-term reporting site in Lapland, according to weather records expert Maximiliano Herrera. The station hit 23.1°C (73.6°F) on Tuesday, smashing the all-time record of 21.4°C (70.5°F). The overnight low Monday night at Tarfala was a strikingly mild 13.3°C (55.6°F). More records were smashed on Wednesday, including 33.4°C (92.1°F) at Kevo, Finland—the hottest temperature in reliable records for all of the province of Lapland in Finland, according to Herrera. Other all-time highs in the preliminary list for Wednesday: At the Makkaur, Norway lighthouse, located at 70.7°N--hundreds of miles inside the Arctic Circle--the temperature did not drop below 25.2°C (77.4°F) the night of July 18 - 19. According to Herrera and weather records expert Jérôme Reynaud, this destroyed the world record of highest minimum temperature for the Arctic, and is the all-time third highest minimum temperature recorded anywhere in Scandinavia. It is also the highest minimum temperature ever recorded in northern Norway (previous record for northern Norway: 24.7 °C on July 1, 1972 at Grøtøy), and for northern Scandinavia as a whole. Several other stations in Norway also set unfathomable minimum temperature marks on Thursday morning, including 20.5°C (68.9°F) at Lyngen Gjerdvassbu, Norway at 69.55°N at an elevation of 710m (1583 feet).

      Heatwave blankets Japan, kills 14 people over long weekend (Reuters) - An intense heatwave killed at least 14 people over a three-day long weekend in Japan, media reported on Tuesday, and high temperatures hampered the recovery in flood-hit areas where more than 200 people died last week. Temperatures on Monday, a national holiday, surged above 39 degrees Celsius (102.2 Fahrenheit) in some inland areas and combined with high humidity to produce dangerous conditions, the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA) said. At least 14 people died from the heat over the long weekend, media reports said, including a woman in her 90s who was found unconscious in a field. Thousands more were treated in hospitals for heat-related conditions. The heat was most intense in landlocked areas such as Gifu prefecture, where it soared to 39.3 Celsius (102.7 F) in the town of Ibigawa on Monday - the hottest in the nation. The capital Tokyo recorded a high of 34 Celsius on Monday. Temperatures in parts of western Japan hit by deadly floods reached a high of 34.3 Celsius by midday on Tuesday, creating dangerous conditions for military personnel and volunteers clearing mud and debris. “It’s really hot. All we can do is keep drinking water,” one man in Okayama told NHK television. Temperatures of 35 or above - known in Japanese as “intensely hot days” - were recorded at 200 locations around Japan on Sunday, the JMA said, which is unusual for July but not unprecedented. Similar scorching temperatures were reported from 213 locations on a July day in 2014. Last year, 48 people died from heat between May and September, with 31 deaths in July, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency. The current heatwave was due to the layering of two high pressure systems over much of Japan and is expected to continue for the rest of the week if not longer, the JMA said 

      Heat Check -- Extreme heat kills more Americans each year than any other weather-related event. In California this past week, triple-digit temperatures shattered records and caused tens of thousands of Los Angeles residents to lose power for days. And more than 50 deaths have been linked to a heat wave that hit Quebec earlier this month. Thanks to the “urban heat island effect,” cities are significantly warmer than their surrounding suburbs, exurbs, and rural areas. And within a city like New York, a long history of disinvestment in black and brown neighborhoods means these communities are heating up the most. Hunts Point is one of the New York City neighborhoods with the highest risk of heat-related deaths. It’s also a place where 98 percent of residents are people of color. “Extreme heat is really becoming one of the most dangerous climate impacts,” says Annel Hernandez with the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, which has made tackling the urban heat island effect the top priority in its climate justice agenda for this year. “While hurricanes and storm surge happen every five years or even longer, extreme heat is something that’s happening every single year.” Heat-induced fatalities are entirely preventable. And with climate change threatening to increase the death toll, grassroots community leaders and city officials in New York are taking action. One solution is to beef up the city’s response to extreme weather events by providing ways for residents to keep cool and ensuring people know how to access them. But to save more lives as climate change makes the problem much worse, the city will have to undo decades of urban development that has put many communities of color at risk when the temperature spikes.  Summer heat waves pose a serious public health threat. As people lose water and salt from sweating due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures, they can experience symptoms of heat exhaustion — muscle cramps, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea, and fainting. If left unchecked, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke — which happens when the body can no longer regulate its core temperature. People get confused, lose consciousness, and can also suffer seizures.

      As Temperatures Climb, Coalition Calls For Worker Protections - As extreme temperatures exacerbated by a warming planet continue to take a deadly toll on laborers across the country, a coalition of worker advocacy groups is calling on the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to create the country’s first national standard for heat stress. “Deaths and injuries from extreme heat are still too common in states without any protective standards,” said United Farm Workers of America President Arturo S. Rodriguez, who spoke to reporters during a conference call on Tuesday. “Farmworkers are not agricultural implements. They are important human beings who sweat and sacrifice to feed millions of people across America and the world.” Rodriguez’s organization, along with two former OSHA directors, the nonprofit consumer group Public Citizen, and a broad coalition of more than 130 labor, public health and environmental organizations, filed the petition to Loren Sweatt, the acting assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, on Tuesday. Without a federal heat stress standard, OSHA relies on a general requirement that employers provide workplaces free of hazards. But as global warming causes more frequent spells of extreme heat and record-breaking summers become the norm, the coalition said employers are falling far short. “We argue that [the general requirement] is not enough,” said Shanna Devine, a worker health and safety advocate for Public Citizen. “Employers aren’t going to voluntarily implement these common-sense criteria ― access to water, shade and breaks ― unless required to and unless there is likely to be a real penalty.” 

      Raging wildfire cuts off major route into Yosemite National Park - A wildfire burning largely out of control on the western edge of Yosemite National Park has killed one firefighter and shut down State Route 140, a major access route into the park. According to the Associated Press, the fire, now known as the Ferguson Fire, broke out Friday and has now burned more than six square miles of land, while forcing the evacuation of a popular hotel within the park, as well as rural communities nearby. Smoke from the fire is also degrading air quality and visibility in the park, according to Yosemite. Yosemite is also warning that an alternate park entrance, via Highway 41 to the south, is experiencing significant delays due to the closure of of the western route. The deceased firefighter, 36-year-old Braden Varney, was killed while using a bulldozer to dig a trench intended to slow the spread of the fire. According to the AP, 56 large fires are currently burning across the U.S., mostly in the West. The Union of Concerned Scientists notes that more severe and regular wildfires can be expected as global warming trends make forests drier during summer months. The economic impact of those fires is accelerating rapidly. The annual damage caused by wildfires averaged $665 million per year between 2000 and 2009, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data cited by UCS. In 2017, though, the cost of wildfire damage was estimated at over $3 billion in California alone. Nationwide spending to fight wildfires, meanwhile, rose to more than $2 billion in 2017.

      Ferguson Fire doubles in size, yet to reach Yosemite National Park -  As the Ferguson Fire swelled to 9,266 acres Monday, residents of Mariposa, the biggest town bordering Yosemite National Park, woke up to ash in the sky and fire rigs rumbling down Highway 49. Again. Officials propped a plywood board reading “fire information” with a few printed handouts stapled to it in a parking lot. Some shops closed, because tourists don’t like to visit when it is smoky, and that’s what they do when the tourists don’t come. It’s the same routine, again and again. One year ago to the day, the Detwiler Fire inched so close to Mariposa that the entire town had to be evacuated. It burned thousands of acres, and scorched the countryside bordering the community, but no one was killed. On Monday, many residents were mourning the death of fire crewman Braden Varney, who was killed when his bulldozer flipped into a steep ravine near El Portal.  Crews retrieved the body of the 36-year-old Cal Fire veteran at midday from the mesh of mangled metal that was wedged in an area too remote for bulldozers and too precarious for an immediate extraction. Firefighters had stood sentinel over their colleague’s body, coming and going in shifts, hiking in and out of the remote niche, in a revolving honor guard.The Ferguson Fire, burning in steep, rugged terrain west of the park in the Sierra National Forest, and was only 2 percent contained Monday night. Alex Olow, a Sierra National Forest spokesman, said the fire is burning south and west along the Merced River canyon. Firefighters are focusing on keeping the fire out of the park and away from small clusters of houses in the area. “That’s a big concern — making sure the fire is not entering the park,” Olow said. Nearly 1,500 people are battling the blaze, which started late Friday night.

      The most worrying wildfires burning in the U.S. right now -   After a record-breaking year of destruction, the summer is off to a fiery start. This week alone, there are more than 50 active wildfires burning across California, Colorado, and the rest of the West, many in urbanized areas.Pacific Standard spoke with wildfire policy expert Char Miller to learn which wildfires he's watching, and what they can tell us about a pattern of destruction that he no longer calls the "new normal"—just "normal."

      • THE SPRING CREEK FIRE, COSTILLA AND HUERFANO COUNTIES, COLORADO - Scorching more than 100,000 acres, the Spring Creek Fire is already the third-largest fire in Colorado history, and set to become the second. Miller identified climate change as the underlying driver for the hot, dry conditions affecting the state, which now has nearly a third of the nation's active wildfires, according to the Denver Post. Those include some of the strongest blazes still burning this week: the416 Fire and the Lake Christine Fire.
      • GEORGES FIRE, INYO COUNTY, CALIFORNIA - Authorities say lightning set off this blaze near the Mount Whitney trailhead in the Sierra Nevada, temporarily halting hiking and camping activity in the area. Officials from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, estimated the damage Wednesday at 2,500 acres, with 30 percent of the blaze contained. Miller said the consequences of this fire outweigh its size, particularly because of the disruption to the Pacific Crest Trail.
      • KLAMATHON FIRE, SISKIYOU COUNTY, CALIFORNIA, AND JACKSON COUNTY, OREGON - After charring northern California for a week, the Klamathon Fire jumped the border into Oregon, where it continues to burn at 60 percent containment. Covering 36,500 acres, the fire has prompted evacuations in both states. According to Cal Fire, one California resident has been killed, three people have been injured, and 82 structures have been destroyed as a result of the fire. Untethered from state lines, fires like this one complicate firefighting, demanding collaboration between agencies.
      • GRANT FIRE, ALAMEDA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA - Though now under control, this 640-acre grass fire shut down a freeway in the Central Valley for hours on Sunday. The chaos prompted some drivers on Interstate-580 to flee along the shoulders of the gridlocked road, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

      Southern Oregon wildfires bring 'unhealthy' air quality, spark evacuations in four regions - The growth of the Klondike Fire has brought a level 2 evacuation warning for the residences in Oak Flat, located west of Selma in the Illinois River corridor. Level 2 means "get set" to go at any moment. This is the fifth area to be under an evacuation order due to wildfires in Southern Oregon.  The growth of the Taylor Creek Fire has brought a level 3 evacuation — meaning "go now" — for an area northwest of Grants Pass. The Josephine County Sheriff's Office announced the highest evacuation level for all residents on West Pickett Creek Road, located about 12 miles northwest of Grants Pass and six miles west of Merlin near the Rogue River. "Do not delay leaving to gather any belongings or make efforts to protect your home," a statement from the sheriff's office said. "This will be the last notice you receive. A shelter has been established at Grants Pass High School."  None of the wildfires burning in Southern Oregon have yet "blown up" or gotten out of hand. But the sheer number of blazes currently burning have impacted air quality, closed roads and trails, and sparked evacuation warnings in four different areas as of Friday. The eight major wildfires and multi-fire complexes were ignited by lightning last weekend. They're now burning across a wide area — from Crater Lake to the Siskiyou Mountains.  Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared a statewide wildfire emergency to provide more resources to fire teams, but firefighters have still been stretched thin. And conditions will remain challenging, with temperatures expected to remain in the 90s to 100s for the next week.  Below is a breakdown of the major fires burning, beginning with the four that have brought evacuation warnings.

      All wildfires are not alike, but the US is fighting them that way - So far, the 2018 fire season has produced a handful of big fires in California, Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado; conflagrations in Oklahoma and Kansas; and a fire bust in Alaska, along with garden-variety wildfires from Florida to Oregon. Some of those fires are in rural areas, some are in wildlands, and a few are in exurbs.  Even in a time of new normals, this looks pretty typical. Fire starts are a little below the 10-year running average, and the amount of burned area is running above that average. But no one can predict what may happen in the coming months. California thought it had dodged a bullet in 2017, until a swarm of wildfires in late fall blasted through Napa and Sonoma counties, followed by the Big One – the Thomas fire, California’s largest on record, in Ventura and Santa Barbara.Every major fire rekindles another round of commentaries about “America’s wildfire problem.” But the fact is that our nation does not have a fire problem. It has many fire problems, and they require different strategies. Some problem fires have technical solutions, some demand cultural calls. All are political. Here’s one idea: It’s time to rethink firefighting in the geekily labeled wildland-urban interface, or WUI – zones where human development intermingles with forests, grasslands and other feral vegetation.  It’s a dumb name because the boundary is not really an interface but an intermix, in which houses and natural vegetation abut and scramble in an ecological omelet. It’s a dumb problem because we know how to keep houses from burning – but we have had to relearn that in WUI zones, hardening houses and landscaping their communities is the best defense. This is a local task, not a federal one, though the federal agencies have a supporting role and can, and do, help build local capacity.

      Wildfires Are Destroying Our Air Pollution Gains - Americans today are breathing cleaner air than they have in decades. Our cars run 100 times cleaner than in the 1960s, and we burn less coal for power in favor of natural gas and renewables—changes with a huge impact on our health. But in areas across the West wildfires threaten to undo much of that progress.Climate change has made the West hotter and drier, and that, combined with decades of fire suppression, has led to larger wildfires and a longer fire season. Between 1984 and 2011, in fact, the area burned in this region increased by almost 90,000 acres each year. These massive new fires are sending huge amounts of particulate matter in the form of noxious ash into the air, according to a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And some of the worst affected areas are much of northern Utah and Nevada, parts of California and Oregon, and most of Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana.“This is a more rural part of the country, but that area includes cities like Salt Lake City, Reno, Boise, and Spokane,” says Daniel Jaffe, an atmospheric scientist with the University of Washington and one the study’s authors. “There are a lot of people who live in the areas that are being affected.”   To track trends in air quality, the scientists tapped into data from a series of monitoring sites, most of them located in national parks and forests across the U.S. They looked at levels of fine particulate matter—particles like smoke, metal, or organic compounds 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter—from 1988 to 2016. Pollution this fine often comes from smoke or burning fossil fuels, especially coal, so to differentiate the two researchers compared levels of carbon versus sulfur. Sulfur emissions—a main source of which is burning coal—went down across the states. But carbon—an indicator of wildfire—showed increasingly big, summertime spikes in the West.

      The Arctic Is Burning: Wildfires Rage from Sweden to Alaska - There are currently 11 wildfires blazing in the Arctic circle, The Guardian reported Wednesday.  While fires are also raging in Russia, Norway and Finland, Sweden has seen the most extensive Arctic fires, which have forced four communities to evacuate, according to The Guardian.  Two Italian water-bombing planes that answered Sweden's call for help will begin operating Wednesday, but Sweden's Civil Contingencies Agency has requested even more planes and helicopters from the EU, The Local Sweden reported.   "This is definitely the worst year in recent times for forest fires. Whilst we get them every year, 2018 is shaping up to be excessive," university researcher and Uppsula resident Mike Peacock told The Guardian.  This year's fires in Sweden cover a much larger area than fires in past years, The Guardian reported. The fires come as a consequence of a heat wave that is bringing unusually hot, dry weather to much of Europe, conflagrations far outside of Europe's Mediterranean firezone, EU officials said, according to The Guardian. The European Forest Fire Information System has warned that fire conditions will persist in central and northern Europe over the next few weeks.

      Sweden is battling a historic wildfire outbreak. Swedish firefighters have been battling throughout the summer in what has been described by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency as the country's "most serious" wildfire situation of modern times. Not only is it particularly warm in Sweden at the moment, the heat also arrived early. While May can often be an up and down month where even the odd spell of snow isn't unthinkable as far south as Stockholm, this year was a stark contrast. Sweden experienced its hottest May on record, and several cities saw their hottest individual May days since records began 150 years ago. June provided some brief respite, but the heat returned as the month rolled into July, with many parts of the country registering temperatures of 30C or above for several days in succession, and some expected to do so for as many as five days in a row. It's not only warm, many parts of Sweden have also been exceptionally dry this summer. That created an "extreme risk" for forest fire outbreaks as early as May, and the lack of rain is now so bad that the government is even considering state assistance for farmers struggling with the conditions.  Combine dry terrain with high temperatures and a lack of frequent rain, and the conditions are ripe for forest fires to spread, but the human factor shouldn't be overlooked either. Many of the fires are thought to have been started by people using disposable barbecues, despite a ban on lighting them and any other kind of open fire in the majority of municipalities at the moment. On Friday afternoon, firefighters were tackling 52 different wildfires in Sweden, and across the month of July there have been three times as many fires as in the same period last year. Though there have been wildfires across the length and breadth of the country this summer, the three worst affected regions are in central Sweden – Gävleborg, Jämtland and Dalarna.

      Wildfires rage in Arctic Circle as Sweden calls for help  - At least 11 wildfires are raging inside the Arctic Circle as the hot, dry summer turns an abnormally wide area of Europe into a tinderbox.The worst affected country, Sweden, has called for emergency assistance from its partners in the European Union to help fight the blazes, which have broken out across a wide range of its territory and prompted the evacuations of four communities.Tens of thousands of people have been warned to remain inside and close windows and vents to avoid smoke inhalation. Rail services have been disrupted. The Copernicus Earth observation programme, which gives daily updates of fires in Europe, shows more than 60 fires burning across Sweden, with sites also ablaze in Norway, Finland and Russia, including in the Arctic Circle.Norway has sent six fire-fighting helicopters in response to its neighbour’s request for assistance. Italy is sending two Canadair CL-415s – which can dump 6,000 litres of water on each run – to Örebro in central southern Sweden.In western Sweden, fire-fighting operations were temporarily halted near an artillery training range near Älvdalen forest due to concerns that unexploded ordnance might be detonated by the extreme heat. Residents in Uppsala said they could see the plumes of smoke and have been banned from barbecuing in national parks, after 18 consecutive days without rain.“This is definitely the worst year in recent times for forest fires. Whilst we get them every year, 2018 is shaping up to be excessive,” said Mike Peacock, a university researcher and local resident. There have been huge fires in the past in Sweden, but not over such a wide area. This appears to be a trend as more and bigger blazes are reported in other far northern regions like Greenland, Alaska, Siberia and Canada. Swedish authorities say the risk of more fires in the days ahead is “extremely high” due to temperatures forecast in excess of 30C. Much of the northern hemisphere has sweltered in unusually hot weather in recent weeks, breaking records from Algeria to California and causing fires from Siberia to Yorkshire. Ukraine has been hit especially hard by wildfires.

      Europe's Blistering Heat Wave Ruining This Year's Harvest -- Looking out over his parched fields south of Berlin, dairy and grains farmer Thomas Gaebert is wishing for rains to save his crops after relentless hot weather.He’s one of many farmers battling for survival after a heatwave and drought swept across northern parts of the continent, damaging crops from wheat to barley. Many German growers could go bankrupt if they suffer another crop failure, and too much rain in France is set to reduce output there. All combined, it’s shaping up to be the bloc’s smallest grains harvest in six years. Gaebert stands to lose a third of his usual wheat harvest and more than half his rapeseed output after heat and a lack of rain withered plants. He’s worried he won’t have enough of his own grain to feed his 2,500 cows, nor is he insured against the potential losses from the hot weather. The situation is so bad in Germany -- temperatures exceeded 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) for much of May and June -- that many farmers are destroying crops rather than attempting to harvest them, In the past few weeks, Germany was forced to import feed wheat from as far away as Romania.  The U.K.’s hottest summer in four decades hurt wheat crops more than normal because a wet and late winter hindered root development, leaving plants more vulnerable to damage from summer dryness. In Poland, more than 66,000 farms spanning 1.2 million hectares (3 million acres) have been hit by drought, the Agriculture Ministry said. East of Poland, the damage to agriculture has prompted Lithuania and Latvia to declare a national natural disaster or state of emergency. It’s wheat output in France, the EU’s top grower, that’s come as the biggest surprise. While warm and wet weather initially sparked calls for the best harvest in years, that soon changed. Too much rain and not enough sun resulted in wheat with fewer grains, and will mean lower yields, according to Strategie Grains.

      From stinky seaweed to sick fish, world's warming oceans threaten livelihoods - From a rise in aquatic diseases to a "massive" invasion of stinking seaweed that stops fishing boats going out to sea, the warming of the world's oceans is affecting the livelihoods of millions - and experts say it is going to get worse. Changes in water temperature, acidity and circulation patterns combined with rising sea levels will increasingly impact communities that live off the ocean, according to new analysis from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In Zanzibar, plant diseases are already destroying seaweed, a key export and a crucial source of income for women in the Indian Ocean archipelago. Meanwhile fishermen in the Caribbean have seen their catch plummet and costs rise due to a record invasion of sargassum, a brown, stinking seaweed, linked to ocean warming. "The sargassum is a new phenomenon, unprecedented and massive in its scale," said Milton Haughton, executive director of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism. "It prevents boats from going out. When it stays on the coastal harbour areas, it rots, decays, depletes the oxygen in the water and releases toxic substances and the fish dies," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The research by the FAO and 100 collaborating scientists shows climate change will reduce the productivity of fisheries in the world's exclusive economic zones (EEZs) by up to 12 percent by 2050. The analysis shows the fall in productivity in EEZs could range from less than 3 percent to 12 percent, with significant regional fluctuations. The biggest decreases are expected in tropical countries, mostly in the South Pacific, and some regions could even see an increase in potential catch.

      Sea Level Rise Could Sink Internet Infrastructure -- Sea level rise may be coming for your Internet.The first ever study to look at the impact of climate change on the Internet found that more than 4,000 miles of fiber optic cable in U.S. coastal regions will be underwater within 15 years and 1,000 traffic hubs will be surrounded, a University of Wisconsin (UW)—Madison press release reported."Most of the damage that's going to be done in the next 100 years will be done sooner than later," senior study author and UW–Madison professor of computer science Paul Barford said in the release. "That surprised us. The expectation was that we'd have 50 years to plan for it. We don't have 50 years."The study, conducted by researchers at UW–Madison and the University of Oregon and presented for the first time Monday at the 2018 Applied Networking Research Workshop in Montreal, mapped National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sea level rise projections over the Internet Atlas, which shows the location of the net's physical infrastructure. It found that the most vulnerable U.S. cities to sea level-based Internet disruption were Seattle, New York and Miami, but, since most data converges on fiber optic strands leading towards major population centers, the effects could ripple out across the country and around the world. The study is one example of how public infrastructure must rapidly learn to adapt to climate change. Buried cables were designed to be water resistant, but not entirely waterproof the way ocean-crossing cables are. They were also often laid alongside existing rights of way like highways or coasts. "So much of the infrastructure that's been deployed is right next to the coast, so it doesn't take much more than a few inches or a foot of sea level rise for it to be underwater,"

      Rising ocean waters from global warming could cost trillions of dollars - About 150 million people live within 1 meter (3 feet) of sea level. About 600 million live within 10 meters (33 feet) of sea level. As waters rise, these people will have to go somewhere. It is inevitable that climate refugees will have to move their homes and workplaces because of rising waters.  In some places, humans will be able to build sea walls to block off the water’s rise. But, in many places, that won’t be possible. For instance, Miami, Florida has a porous base rock that allows sea water to permeate through the soils. You cannot wall that off. In other places, any sea walls would be prohibitively expensive. It isn’t just the inevitable march of sea level that is an issue. Rising waters make storm surges worse. A great example is Superstorm Sandy, which hit the US East Coast in 2012. It cost approximately $65 bn of damage. The cost was higher because of sea level rise caused by global warming.Climate scientists do their best to project how much and how fast oceans will rise in the future. These projections help city planners prepare future infrastructure. My estimation is that oceans will be approximately 1 meter higher in the year 2100; that is what our infrastructure should be prepared for. What I don’t know is how much this will cost us as a society.A very recent paper was published that looked into this issue. The authors analyzed the cost of sea level if we limit the Earth to 1.5°C or 2°C warming. They also considered the future cost using “business as usual” scenarios. What the authors found was fascinating. If humans take action to limit warming to 1.5°C, they estimate sea level will rise 52 cm by the year 2100. If humans hold global warming to 2°C, sea levels will rise by perhaps 63 cm by 2100. The difference (11 cm) could cost $1.4 tn per year if no other societal adaptation is made.

      Hurricane Maria Aftermath: FEMA Admits to Deadly Mistakes in Puerto Rico - The Federal Emergency Management Agency was sorely unprepared to handle Hurricane Maria and the subsequent crisis in Puerto Rico, the agency admitted in an internal performance assessment memo released last week.FEMA's after-action report details how the agency's warehouse on the island was nearly empty due to relief efforts from Hurricane Irma when Maria made landfall last September, with no cots or tarps and little food and water.The report finds that the agency was severely understaffed and relied on "underqualified" staffers, and that leadership lacked key information on the island's infrastructure both before and after the storm. The report advises that communities and families in remote areas must prepare independently of the agency for future weather disasters.As reported by NPR:  San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who ended up in her own verbal battle with Trump, said she believes this report shows FEMA was negligent in how it responded to the island. Inside the agency, FEMA Administrator Brock Long, published a response acknowledging that the agency had work to do. He said the report gives FEMA the, quote, "opportunity to learn from the 2017 hurricane season and be more prepared for the next one." And that hurricane season is now a month underway. The New York Times editorial board described FEMA's response as "tragically inadequate" and warned that the agency must do better:There can be no excuse next time for the sort of incompetence and chaos that marked FEMA's work on Puerto Rico. But there is another lesson that does not figure into FEMA's account.Many mainland Americans persist in regarding Puerto Ricans as second-class citizens. The condescension with which Puerto Rico is too often held was clearly behind President Trump's downplaying the disaster and his complaints about the cost, and most likely behind the radically underreported casualties. When the next killer storms strike, and they will, all Americans should be secure in the knowledge that their government, local and federal, will be there ready and able to help.

      Canada's high Arctic glaciers at risk of disappearing completely, study finds -  Hundreds of glaciers in Canada’s high Arctic are shrinking and many are at risk of disappearing completely, an unprecedented inventory of glaciers in the country’s northernmost island has revealed.Using satellite imagery, researchers catalogued more than 1,700 glaciers in northern Ellesmere Island and traced how they had changed between 1999 and 2015. The results offered a glimpse into how warming temperatures may be affecting ice in the region, from glaciers that sprawl across the land to the 200-metre thick ice shelves, said Adrienne White, a glaciologist at the University of Ottawa. “It’s an area that’s very difficult to study,” said White. “Logistically it’s very hard to get to and even with satellite imagery – for the longest time Google Earth didn’t even have complete imagery – it was kind of the forgotten place.”  White’s study, published last month in the Journal of Glaciology, found that the glaciers had shrank by more than 1,700 sq km of over a 16-year period, representing a loss of about 6%.  A previous study of glaciers in the region – which used air photos and did not include ice shelves – showed a loss of 927 sq km between 1959 and 2000, hinting that the pace of loss may be increasing.

      An ice shelf melts and the world’s sea levels gain an inch -The urgency of climate change is hard to grasp because everything is happening so slowly and incrementally. But the individual events are continuing to add up, and even a couple big pieces of ice melting can have a significant effect on the whole planet. Take Antarctica’s ice shelves, specifically Larsen C and George VI. There are a hell of a lot of ice shelves out there in our ever-warming Earth, and — surprise surprise — they’re basically all melting.Though Larsen C and George VI are puny in comparison to some of the more high profile shelves to collapse, they’re going to have a considerable impact on the world at large, raising the seal level one inch once they are melted, according to a study published on Thursday in the journal The Cryosphere. And though it may seem small, it’s not when you consider that this one inch is being added to our global sea levels. “These numbers, while not enormous in themselves, are only one part of a larger sea-level budget including loss from other glaciers around the world and from the Greenland, East and West Antarctic ice sheets. Taken together with these other sources, the impacts could be significant to island nations and coastal populations,” said University of Birmingham glaciologist and study author, Nicholas Barrand, in a statement. "The Antarctic Peninsula may be seen as a bellwether for changes in the much larger East and West Antarctic ice sheets as climate warming extends south.” “The vulnerability to change at George VI Ice Shelf and the possible sea level implications from these changes, are far greater," . Though George VI is only half the size of Larsen C, the study found that it is posed to contribute three to five times more to global sea-level rise, as it currently serves as the primary boundary between a number of large glaciers and the open sea. Without George VI, the ice contained within these glaciers would add 8 mm to global sea levels before 2100 and 22 mm by 2300.

      Giant iceberg drifting towards Greenland village could cause tsunami, prompting emergency evacuation - A massive iceberg has drifted dangerously close to tinyGreenland community, sparking widespread panic as residents fear it could trigger a tsunami.Local authorities have declared a state of emergency and told people to move further up the steep slope on which the village is built.The iceberg now looms over houses on the edge of Innaarsuit, a small island settlement in northwestern Greenland, but it has become grounded and appears to have stopped moving.Residents are now afraid that if the iceberg “calves” and a huge chunk of ice falls into the water it will create waves that could destroy the village.A small part of the iceberg has already fallen off.   Heavy rain is expected in the region until Saturday, and may increase the chances of a major calving event."  There are 180 inhabitants and we are very concerned and are afraid," Karl Petersen, chair for the local council in Innaarsuit, told CBC News.  Last summer, four people died after waves swamped another settlement in northwestern Greenland. There is also a danger that the impact of iceberg calving could cause flooding as rivers near the community experience a water surge.

      Carbon Dioxide Emissions: Global and US - US emissions of carbon have been falling, while nations in the Asia-Pacific region have already become the main contributors to the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide. These and other conclusions are apparent from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy (June 2018), a useful annual compilation of global trends in energy production, consumption, and prices.  Here's a table from the report on carbon emissions (I clipped out columns showing annual data for the years from 2008-2016). The report is careful to note: "The carbon emissions above reflect only those through consumption of oil, gas and coal for combustion related activities ... This does not allow for any carbon that is sequestered, for other sources of carbon emissions, or for emissions of other greenhouse gases. Our data is therefore not comparable to official national emissions data." But the data does show some central plot-lines in the carbon emissions story.A few thoughts: 

      • 1) The US has often had the biggest declines in the world in carbon emissions in absolute magnitudes in recent years. Granted, this is in part because the quantity of US carbon emissions is so large that even a small percentage drop is large in absolute size. Still, better down than up. The BP report notes: "This is the ninth time in this century that the US has had the largest decline in emissions in the world. This also was the third consecutive year that emissions in the US declined, though the fall was the smallest over the last three years. ... Carbon emissions from energy use from the US are the lowest since 1992, the year that the UNFCCC came into existence.:
      • 2) Anyone who follows this topic at all knows that China leads the world in carbon emissions. Still, it's striking to me that China accounts for 27.6% of world carbon emissions, compared to 15.2% for the US. On a regional basis, the Asia Pacific region--led by China, India, and Japan, but also with substantial contributions from Indonesia, South Korea, and Australia--by itself accounts for nearly half of global carbon emissions. If you're concerned about carbon emissions, you need to think about proposals that would have strong effects on China and this region.
      • 3) Total carbon emissions from the three regions of South and Central America, the Middle East, and Africa total 13.8% of the global total, and thus their combined total is less than either the United States or the European/Eurasian economies. However, if the carbon emissions for this group of three regions keeps growing at about 3% per year, while the carbon emissions for the US economy keeps falling at 1% per year, their carbon emissions will outstrip the US in a few years.
      • 4) In an interconnected global economy, it's worth remembering that the country where energy is used doesn't always reflect where the final product is consumed. If China produces something through an energy-intensive process that is later consumed in the US, it counts as energy use in China--but both countries play a role.
        For some more US-specific data, here's some data from the Monthly Energy Review (June 2018) published by the US Energy Information Administration. This table shows total carbon emissions for the US, emissions per capita, and emissions relative to GDP, going back to 1950

       Can we remove a trillion tons of carbon from the atmosphere? -- 'Remove', 'sequester', 'lock-up'. Call it how you like, but to stabilise our climate and surpass the Paris Agreement, we really need to be thinking about storing hundreds of billions of tonnes of carbon. I don’t think anybody on Earth can visualise what numbers like these really look like. Yet, our future depends on us lowering the quantity of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to safe levels before, so-called self-amplifying feedbacks take over - if they haven’t already. There is a clue emerging as to how we might accomplish such a feat - in the image of the Blue Marble NASA image of Earth. Namely that over 70 percent of the planet is ocean and the fate of life on Earth is intrinsically tied to that of the oceans. Currently - and it is no secret - the oceans are in a terminal decline, acidifying, heating, losing their biomass and, the worse bit, flipping from carbon sink to carbon source. Fish stocks are also depleted, as ocean ecosystems fall under the sad blanket of degradation. This blue planet is 28 percent land, of which half is rock and ice. So 14 percent of this planet has soil that might sustain green plants, but 72 percent of this planet is the ocean, all of which can sustain green photosynthesis.So the green photosynthetic productivity in the ocean is down by 40-50 percent. That is the conservative data backed numbers for the collapse of phytoplankton in the worlds ocean. We are terrestrial beings so we think about forests. So everybody on the planet knows about the plight of the Amazon rainforest, and it is a global cause celeb. Tens of millions of dollars are being focussed on trying to save the remaining rainforests because 20 percent of the rainforest has been cut down.  But in every five year period of time since 1950, there has been a loss of green plant life equal to an entire Amazon in the worlds oceans. So here we are. A dozen Amazons have gone missing from the world.

      THIS! Raising a Child in a Doomed World -- I cried two times when my daughter was born. First for joy, when after 27 hours of labor the little feral being we’d made came yowling into the world, and the second for sorrow, holding the earth’s newest human and looking out the window with her at the rows of cars in the hospital parking lot, the strip mall across the street, the box stores and drive-throughs and drainage ditches and asphalt and waste fields that had once been oak groves. A world of extinction and catastrophe, a world in which harmony with nature had long been foreclosed.  My partner and I had, in our selfishness, doomed our daughter to life on a dystopian planet, and I could see no way to shield her from the future.  Anyone who pays much attention to climate change knows the outlook is grim. It’s not unreasonable to say that the challenge we face today is the greatest the human species has ever confronted. And anyone who pays much attention to politics can assume we’re almost certainly going to botch it. To stop emitting waste carbon completely within the next five or 10 years, we would need to radically reorient almost all human economic and social production, a task that’s scarcely imaginable, much less feasible. It would demand centralized control of key economic sectors, enormous state investment in carbon capture and sequestration and global coordination on a scale never before seen, at the very time when the political and economic structures that held the capitalist world order together under American leadership after World War II are breaking apart. The very idea of unified national political action toward a single goal seems farcical, and unified action on a global scale mere whimsy. And even if world leaders somehow got their act together, significant and dangerous levels of warming are still inevitable, baked into the system from all the carbon dioxide that has already been dumped. There’s a time lag between carbon dioxide increase and subsequent effects, between the wind we sow and the whirlwind we reap. Our lives are lived in that gap. My daughter was born there.

      We asked psychologists why so many rich people think the apocalypse is coming --Many of the world's richest seem to earnestly believe that some kind of apocalyptic "event" is coming, and have prepared accordingly. You might have read about this before — such as in the New Yorker's deep dive back in January 2017 — but billionaire doomsday preppers are back in the news again thanks to a new viral article penned by professor and media theorist Douglas Rushkoff. In it, Rushkoff gives some insight on the grave manner in which some of the business elite are going about preparing for a doomsday, which he learned first-hand after receiving an invitation to speak with some one-percenters.  It's worth noting that the fear of doomsday is not specific to the world’s financial elite. It appears in splashy headlines. It is in the science fiction we read and watch. Apocalypse anxiety seems to be on everyone’s mind lately, and some psychologists have their own theories as to why. Clay Routledge, a researcher who studies existential anxiety and has conducted studies specifically about drivers of apocalyptic beliefs, tells Salon these apocalyptic fears can be motivated by a number of different variables — one big one being technology.“There are, of course, some very real threats to worry about, but our always-connected digital world can heighten anxiety because it is a constant and chaotic stream of information, and is often negative, and specifically fear-focused,” he explained.Furthermore, his research suggests that such anxieties could be linked to existential concerns and a search for meaning.“Though we tend to think of the apocalypse as negative, the idea may counterintuitively be attractive to some,” he said. “In a world in which life feels uncertain and often unfair, in which people struggle to find a sense of personal purpose, the idea of an apocalyptic ending, though terrifying, can also feel meaningful." "This is obvious when we think about certain religious apocalyptic beliefs, but even among more secular types or those who do not believe in a particular religious apocalyptic narrative, apocalyptic ideas can be seductive," Routledge added, noting that such beliefs could be a result of people dreaming of a “better world." “Some are attracted to these ideas because they would be tested and could find their true purpose, maybe even emerge as heroes or people of importance in a new world,”

      EPA proposal to limit role of science in decision-making met with alarm -- Democratic lawmakers joined scientists, health and environmental officials and activists on Tuesday in denouncing a proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), backed by industry, that could limit dramatically what kind of science the agency considers when making regulations. One lawmaker called the Trump administration proposal a “thinly veiled campaign to limit research” that “supports critical regulatory action”. The rule was introduced by the agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt, before his resignation this month amid ethics scandals. Tuesday’s public hearing drew opponents and a much smaller number of industry and trade groups backing it. If adopted, the rule would allow an EPA administrator to reject study results in making decisions about pollutants and other health risks if the underlying research data is not made public because of patient privacy concerns. Joseph Stanko, a representative of a coalition of groups and companies ranged against what it says are increasingly stringent air-pollution regulations, said the Pruitt rule “enables the public to more meaningfully comment on the science”. Opponents said the move would throw out the kind of public health studies that underlie enforcement of the Clean Air Act and other landmark controls, because such studies drew on confidential health data from thousands of individuals. “This has nothing to do with transparency,” the Democratic representative Paul Tonko of New York said at the hearing in EPA headquarters. “It’s a thinly veiled campaign to limit research … that supports critical regulatory action.” The “proposal and its false claims about transparency … guarantees that political interests will always matter more than science” in forming environmental regulations, Tonko said. 

      Starbucks Bans Plastic Straws, Winds Up Using More Plastic -- 2018 will forever be remembered as the year that hating plastic straws went mainstream. Once the lonely cause of environmental cranks, now everyone wants to eliminate these suckers from daily life.In July, Seattle imposed America's first ban on plastic straws. Vancouver, British Columbia, passed a similar ban a few months earlier. There are active attempts to prohibit straws in New York City, Washington, D.C., Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco. Not to be outdone by busybody legislators, Starbucks, the nation's largest food and drink retailer, announced on Monday that it would be going strawless. "This is a significant milestone to achieve our global aspiration of sustainable coffee, served to our customers in more sustainable ways," said Starbucks Kevin Johnson CEO in a press release announcing the move.The coffee giant says that by 2020 it hopes to have eliminated all single-use plastic straws at its 28,000 stores worldwide. It will now top all its cold drinks with fancy new strawless lids that the company currently serves with its cold brew nitro coffees.   As is to be expected, Starbucks' decision was greeted with universal adulation. Yet missing from this fanfare was the inconvenient fact that by ditching plastic straws, Starbucks will actually be increasing its plastic use. As it turns out, the new nitro lids that Starbucks is leaning on to replace straws are made up of more plastic than the company's current lid/straw combination. Right now, Starbucks patrons are topping most of their cold drinks with either 3.23 grams or 3.55 grams of plastic product, depending on whether they pair their lid with a small or large straw. The new nitro lids meanwhile weigh either 3.55 or 4.11 grams, depending again on lid size.

      Vintage photos taken by the EPA reveal what America looked like before pollution was regulated -- As the story goes, the chemical-filled Cuyahoga River in Cleveland burst into flames on June 22, 1969, possibly ignited by a spark from a passing train.That had happened at least dozen times before on the Cuyahoga. Additional fires were known to blaze up on rivers in Detroit, Baltimore, Buffalo, and other cities. River fires were far from the only environmental disasters in the US at the time. A spill from an offshore oil rig in California coated the coast in oil and pollutants. Smog and car exhaust choked cities around the country.  People were ready for a change. In his 1970 State of the Union address, President Richard Nixon said: "We still think of air as free. But clean air is not free, and neither is clean water. The price tag on pollution control is high. Through our years of past carelessness we incurred a debt to nature, and now that debt is being called."Nixon followed that up with a list of requests to Congress and later that year announced the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA. Soon after it was founded, the EPA began a photo project called Documerica that captured more than 81,000 images showing what the US looked like from 1971 to 1977. More than 20,000 photos were archived, and at least 15,000 have been digitized by the National Archives. As a reminder of what the US looked like before many of the EPA's policies were in place, here's a selection of the Documerica photos from the 1970s.

      How a Government Program to Get Ethanol from Plants Failed - The nation’s most ambitious program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from gasoline has failed despite a bipartisan, 11-year effort that has cost taxpayers and companies billions. While the effort to produce cellulosic ethanol from wood and plant wastes was intended to reduce U.S. reliance on ethanol made from corn and other food sources, it has actually increased it. Those were the findings that EPA quietly delivered to Congress earlier this month amid the turmoil of former Administrator Scott Pruitt’s departure. Some industry experts complain that flawed EPA regulatory decisions under Pruitt played a key role in the failure, but cellulosic ethanol’s problems took shape during two previous administrations as companies grappled with the scientific challenges and changing economics that made the fuel too expensive to produce in volume. It started as a goal in the George W. Bush administration to produce as much as 16 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol by 2017. It was supposed to cut greenhouse gases by as much as 90 percent, measured against “reformulated” gasoline, which usually contains 10 percent ethanol. What came out of pipelines last year, according to a statement by Derrick Morgan, senior vice president of American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, was a mere trickle: 10 million gallons. “For perspective, that was enough fuel to satisfy approximately 40 minutes of U.S. fuel consumption last year,” Morgan noted, asserting that “cellulosic biofuel mandates” set by EPA under a 2007 law “are unachievable.” He blamed an “array of market, technology, cost and logistics challenges.” The United States uses almost 200 billion gallons of transportation fuels each year.

      Green Groups Sue EPA to Reverse Pruitt’s Last Act - Environmental groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday in an attempt to block Scott Pruitt's last act as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), an act they say his replacement Andrew Wheeler declined to undo despite requests.On July 6, the EPA wrote two memos saying the makers of super-polluting "glider trucks," new truck bodies using old engines, could ignore an Obama-era rule limiting the number of these vehicles to 300 per manufacturer per year. "People will die because of Pruitt's parting gift of thousands more super-dirty trucks on our roads spewing toxic pollution into the air we must breathe," senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute Vera Pardee said in a press release. "If Wheeler hopes to distance himself from Pruitt's corrupt brand of loyalty to polluters, he's off to a horrific start."The Center for Biological Diversity was one of the groups that filed the suit, along with the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund. They are asking the federal court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to hand down an emergency order mandating that the EPA enforce the "glider truck" rule, arguing that the agency cannot simply decide to stop enforcing a rule, The Hill reported.  The groups are concerned about the amounts of deadly air pollution produced by the trucks.  One EPA study found that glider trucks emit about 43 times the nitrogen oxide and 55 times the particulate matter of trucks with new engines using up-to-date pollution controls, according to The Hill.

      Court blocks EPA policy against enforcing truck pollution rule | TheHill: A federal appeals court on Wednesday blocked a Trump administration policy that sought to ignore a regulation limiting sales of trucks that environmental groups called “super-polluting.” The policy memo at issue said EPA wouldn’t enforce a 2016 regulation from the Obama administration that sought to put a cap on sales of “glider trucks,” new heavy trucks with older chassis and engines that do not meet current air pollution rules. Former EPA head Scott Pruitt issued the memo on July 6, the day he resigned from the agency. In granting a Tuesday motion from green groups to stop the policy, a three-judge panel said the stay is intended “to give the court sufficient opportunity to consider the emergency motion and should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits of that motion.”Environmental groups had argued that the July 6 “no action assurance” memo is illegal because it essentially overturns a regulation without going through the usual process to do so, including giving public notice and taking comments. The green groups argued further that allowing unlimited sales of glider trucks is a major threat to air quality, citing EPA’s own research findings that found that gliders emit as much as 43 times the nitrogen oxides as new trucks and 55 times the particulate matter. 

      What Saudi Women Drivers Want: Muscle Cars – WSJ - They rumble. They roar. And when a heel stamps on the gas pedal, they overtake. Weeks after the government lifted its longstanding female-driving ban, Saudi women are embracing not only driving, but driving fast, and loudly. “They don’t expect to see me in this car,” said Samia Weheba, 23 years old, as she zipped past taxis and sport-utility vehicles in her matte gray, 400-horsepower Audi RS3. “It’s such a guy’s car, especially in this country.” Many auto showrooms, getting ready for the end of the driving ban on June 24, hired saleswomen and rolled out vehicles they thought would appeal to women. They stocked affordable sedans and mini-SUVs, often in bright colors. At super-luxury auto maker Rolls-Royce, vehicles customized for potential female clients included a cherry-red Dawn Drophead Coupé. A classic Ghost model sedan was offered in rose quartz and sparkly black with a starlight ceiling. At Audi, “We expected women to begin with small cars with small engines,” said saleswoman Taghreed al-Shomrani in Jeddah. “But they are looking for big cars with big engines.” When Ms. Weheba, who works for Audi, told colleagues she wanted an RS3, few believed her. It is the kind of car young Saudi men use for drag racing.It is also popular for drag racing’s more dangerous variation, “drifting,” in which drivers show off their spinning and skidding skills.  Ms. Weheba aspires to become one of Saudi Arabia’s first female drifters. “Everyone suggested I get the yellow Q2,” she said, referring to a mini-SUV from the German auto maker. Ms. Weheba, who wears her long, highlighted hair uncovered, dismisses the Q2 as “cute.” “Do I look like a yellow Q2 kind of girl?” she said.As soon as the Saudi king last September announced plans to let women drive, Sahar Nasief knew what she wanted: a Mustang convertible. “It’s always been my dream car,” said Ms. Nasief, 64, who learned how to drive decades ago as a student in the U.S.

      Texas sets another electricity-usage record for July, sixth this week- Texas' electric grid operator planned for a challenging summer. Now, it's here with electricity-usage records falling daily since Monday. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas set a sixth electricity-usage record in the last four days. Between 4 and 5 p.m. Thursday, Texas averaged 73,259 megawatts. That topped the amount of electricity used an hour earlier and also in consecutive hours Wednesday afternoon. Those numbers all beat the August 2016 mark of 71,110. On Monday and Tuesday, Texas also set consecutive records for usage in July. The temperature at DFW International Airport was 107 late Thursday afternoon. At least one observation point in Fort Worth hit 110. "We fully expect to keep hitting new demand records as summer 2018 continues," ERCOT officials said in a written statement Wednesday. Tuesday, usage averaged 70,963 megawatts between 4 and 5 p.m. That was the most ever for a single hour in July. Monday, Texans set the July record of 70,587 megawatts. Since then, usage has only escalated. One megawatt is the amount needed to power about 200 Texas homes on a hot day, according to ERCOT. While air conditioners struggled to keep homes and workplaces cool, the state's electric grid was holding steady. Oncor, which operates power lines for most of North Texas, reported only small, routine outages on its website. "We know it's hot out there. Operators are working around the clock," said ERCOT spokeswoman Theresa Gage.

      Feature: Energy industry faces unprecedented cyber threats almost daily — Every day the energy sector faces a barrage of cyber attacks, and just about once a day an attack is novel, something the industry has not seen before but must defend against. Receive daily email alerts, subscriber notes & personalize your experience. Whether hackers are hoping for financial gain or to disrupt the grid, utilities, pipeline companies and federal agencies have no choice but to prepare."The problem is there are an infinite number of ways that you can create malware, that you can attempt intrusions," John Bryk, a cyber and physical threat intelligence analyst with the Downstream Natural Gas-Information Sharing and Analysis Center, said in a recent interview. "There's always going to be something new."The center, launched by natural gas utilities in 2014 to help them prepare for and better understand threats, aggregates cyber risk data to spot trends and communicate back to companies.Cyber attacks that could cause physical damage are becoming more common. Although an attack is unlikely to bring down the entire grid, the risks have caused some sleepless nights for energy executives."The implications of something going wrong is no longer loss of property, it's loss of life," Jed Young, chief information security officer at refining giant Andeavor, recently told a Houston conference.One of the biggest power and natural gas companies in the world, Dominion Energy, is facing more unique threats than ever before, and its director of information technology risk management said the attacks have escalated most intensely within the past 18 months. "It's really gotten our attention on what are our levels of defense," Dominion's Tom Arruda said. "How do we protect at each level? And how do we ensure that, if anything were to happen, it would be limited in the scope of what it can do?"There are two kinds of digital utility systems that can come under attack: information technology and operation technology. The IT side includes digital communication, data and other material that is connected to the internet in some capacity. Under the OT umbrella reside the systems that manage the movement of electrons through the grid and molecules through pipelines.

      The air conditioner paradox: heating the world while cooling our homes - As climate change drives ever hotter summer temperatures, more and more Canadians are turning to air conditioning to stay cool. It's one of the miserable ironies of global warming because air conditioning contributes to even warmer climates. The use of air conditioners is predicted to explode as year after year sets new "hottest temperatures on record." According to a May 2018 report by the International Energy Agency, the number of air conditioners worldwide will skyrocket from 1.6 billion units today to 5.6 billion units by 2050. That would spell trouble for the planet because of the energy air conditioners need and some of the chemicals they use.   China leads the world with 569 million units installed, and now spends 68 times more electricity for cooling than it did in 1990. With a burgeoning middle class, China's demand for air conditioners is rising faster than anywhere else in the world.  Because of all the demand for energy, air conditioning is on the rise as a driver of climate change. In the U.S., it's about six per cent of the country's total residential energy use, according to a 2013 report by the Energy Information Administration, but that number might soar to almost 20 per cent by mid-century if things continue. In addition to electricity demand, air conditioners — especially ones used in developing countries — use hydrofluorocarbons, (HFCs) which are potent greenhouse gases. Even though HFCs represent a small portion of total greenhouse gas emissions, they trap thousands of times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. While HFCs don't leak into the environment when an air conditioner is working properly, they cause damage if they aren't carefully disposed of.  In 2016, 196 nations developed a schedule to phase down HFCs under the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. As of last November, 21 countries had ratified the amendment which is enough for it to come into force. For the U.S. to fully participate, two-thirds of the Senate needs to support the amendment, but since pulling out of the Paris climate agreement last June, President Trump hasn't shown any interest in sending the amendment for a vote.

      Supersonic jets for the ultra rich could be a climate change disaster   -- Fifteen years after the last Concorde flew, a new fleet of up to 2,000 supersonic business jets is in the works to ferry wealthy travelers around the world. The planes are expected to hit the runway in the next decade, but the climate change alarms are already going off. President Donald Trump, of course, has hailed the supersonic revival as an example of the “Great American Spirit.” NASA dropped a $247.5 million contract on Lockheed Martin to build a quieter engine capable of breaking the sound barrier. Climate advocates, meanwhile, are pointing to a new report, released Tuesday by the nonprofit International Council on Clean Transportation, that offers heavy criticism of the next generation of ultra-fast business jets. The ICCT, which uncovered the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal, warns that increased emissions from the new jets risk “large environmental consequences.” Its report concludes that the planes will burn five to seven times more fuel than normal aircraft and break United Nations-set carbon dioxide emissions limits for aircraft by 70 percent. “People should be worried,” Daniel Rutherford, one of the report’s authors, told HuffPost. “We know that even without these supersonic jets, emissions from international aviation are expected to triple by 2050.”  Rutherford said he had seen estimates that by then, domestic and international aviation could account for about a quarter of the global carbon budget envisioned under the Paris climate change agreement.

      Is it time for a post-growth economy? - The crowds of protesters that confronted US President Donald Trump during his visit to London last week have channelled the world's outrage at all that he represents. But despite this opposition, Trump's base is expanding. Even those who baulk at his regressive positions - his racism, misogyny, divisiveness - are willing to hold their noses and line up behind him. Why? Because of his promises to deliver growth.Politicians rise and fall on their ability to grow the GDP. It doesn't matter what it takes, whether it's ripping up environmental protections, gutting labour laws, or fracking for cheap oil: If you achieve growth, you win.This is only the beginning. As we bump up against the limits of growth - market saturation, resource depletion, climate change - politicians will become increasingly aggressive in their pursuit of it. People like Trump will proliferate because everyone knows that we need growth: if the economy doesn't keep expanding by at least two percent or three percent a year in developed countries, it collapses into crisis. Debts can't be repaid, firms go bust, people lose their jobs.  The global economy has been designed in such a way that it needs to grow just to stay afloat. We are all hostages to growth, and hostages to those who promise it.   This is a massive problem because growth is tightly linked to environmental degradation. Growth of three percent may not sound like much, but it means doubling the size of the economy every 25 years - doubling the number of cars, smartphones, air miles... i.e. doubling the waste. Scientists tell us that we have already exceeded key planetary boundaries, and we can see the consequences all around us: deforestation, biodiversity collapse, resource wars and climate change.  Economists and politicians tell us that we need growth in order to boost people out of poverty. But of all the new income generated by growth, only five percent goes to the poorest 60 percent of humanity. Growth is an extremely inefficient and ecologically insane way of improving people's lives. We can end poverty much more quickly, without any growth at all, simply by distributing existing income more fairly.

      IEA warns of 'worrying trend' as global investment in renewables falls -  The world’s energy watchdog has sounded the alarm over a “worrying” pause in the shift to clean energy after global investment in renewables fell 7% to $318bn (£240bn) last year. The International Energy Agency said the decline is set to continue into 2018, threatening energy security, climate change and air pollution goals. Fossil fuels increased their share of energy supply investment for the first time since 2014, to $790bn, and will play a significant role for years on current trends, the IEA said. Investment in coal power dropped sharply but was offset by an uptick in oil and gas spending, the World Energy Investment report found. Dr Fatih Birol, the executive director of the IEA, said of the renewables fall: “We are seeing a decrease, which is disappointing. And more disappointing is we see the signs this decline may continue this year – this is a worrying trend.” Fossil fuels’ share of energy investment needs to drop to 40% by 2030 to meet climate targets but instead rose fractionally to 59% in 2017. World leaders’ warm words on renewables and energy efficiency needed to be matched with action, Birol said, urging governments to create less investment uncertainty for green energy. “I was myself worried to see there is a contradiction between a) the statements the governments make and b) what the world needs today vis-a-vis the investment numbers, where we see a decline,” he said. Globally, energy investment fell 2% to $1.8tn in 2017, with electricity taking a bigger share than oil and gas for the second year in a row. The decline in renewable power generation spending was mostly down to falls in wind power and hydro but solar hit record levels despite becoming cheaper to install. While coal investment fell to its lowest level in 10 years, spending on gas-fired power stations rose 40%. Nuclear power fell sharply to the lowest level of investment in five years. 

      Volcanic lava flows continue to affect geothermal power generation on Hawaii’s Big Island - Lava flows from the Kilauea volcano on the island of Hawaii led to the shutdown of the Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) power plant on May 3, 2018. The 38-megawatt (MW) facility is the only geothermal plant on the island, and it produced about 29% of the island’s electricity generation in 2017. The plant voluntarily ceased operations ahead of the approaching lava flow. Continuing eruptions in lower Puna, the southeastern corner of the island, have damaged transmission lines and equipment, and local residences are experiencing extended power outages. The island’s utility, Hawaii Electric Light Co (HELCO), has implemented switching operations to reroute power from its nearby plants to customers in undamaged areas of lower Puna.PGV is a geothermal plant drawing steam and hot geothermal fluid up through 11 production wells drilled 6,000 feet to 8,000 feet deep. Pressurized steam from the hot fluid, along with non-condensable gases, is routed through the facility to drive a turbine generator that produces electricity. Exhaust steam from the turbine is used to vaporize a working fluid, which drives a second turbine that generates additional electricity. The remaining steam (along with geothermal fluid) is reinjected into the ground through reinjection wells. Plant operators quenched 10 of the 11 geothermal wells to prevent them from releasing gases. Quenching involves injecting the well with water to cool and depressurize it. The 11th well was plugged with bentonite clay after quenching efforts were unsuccessful. Two of the capped geothermal wells, identified as KS-5 and KS-6, were covered by lava from the Kilauea fissures in late May. A transmission substation and a warehouse containing a drilling rig were also destroyed by the lava flows.

      Hidden Gem for Big Oil in Carbon Tax Plan: Ending Climate Liability Suits - Oil and gas companies could be off the hook for climate change-related damages if a new carbon tax proposal makes its way through Congress. The proposal is being spearheaded by Americans for Carbon Dividends, an industry-backed organization whose mission is to build support for the Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends Plan, which proposes taxing carbon emitters and returning the proceeds to the American public. It also includes a waiver of the right to sue fossil fuel companies for climate change impacts and suggests rolling back most Environmental Protection Agency regulations on greenhouse gases.Launched earlier this month, Americans For Climate Dividends is co-chaired by former Senators Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and John Breaux (D-La.), whose lobbying firm was hired to promote the campaign. Its public relations effort is being led by Hill+Knowlton, a firm that once spearheaded the communications campaign for Big Tobacco.The group has succeeded in gaining support from politicians and policymakers from both parties and even garnered qualified support from some environmental organizations. The public relations effort has succeeded in placing several Op-Ed articles and some newspaper editorial boards have endorsed it.The Baker-Schultz plan—named for its lead authors, former secretaries of state James A. Baker III and George P. Shultz—proposes the implementation of a gradually rising carbon tax, with 100 percent of the proceeds paid to Americans in a monthly dividend payment. For companies that import or export goods to countries without a carbon pricing system, a border adjustment would be specified. The plan starts the tax at $40 per metric ton, but does not specify how or by how much it will rise. The plan also includes what it calls “regulatory simplification:” a rollback of carbon dioxide emissions regulations because the authors claim the program would reduce emissions more than all current and prior climate regulations.

      Fossil Fuel Industry Outspent Environmentalists and Renewables by 10:1 on Climate Lobbying, New Study Finds - Industry sectors based on fossil fuels significantly outspent environmental groups and renewable energycompanies on climate change lobbying, new research has found.In a study published Wednesday in the journal Climatic Change, Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle shows that between 2000 and 2016, lobbyists spent more than $2 billion trying to influence climate legislation in the U.S. Congress.Analyzing data from lobbying reports made available on the website, Brulle found that electric utilities spent the largest sums during this timeframe followed by the oil, gas and coal industries, and transportation sector, respectively. Overall, lobbying by corporate sectors involved in the production or use of fossil fuels overshadowed that of environmental organizations and the renewable energy sector by a ratio of approximately 10 to 1.  Brulle acknowledges that the leading spenders do not take monolithic approaches and at times lobby in support of climate legislation. "Different corporations typically push for whatever positions are advantageous to their economic well-being," writes Brulle. He says that further research is required to parse out the effect of such variable lobbying positions on climate legislation.

       EPA eases rules on how coal ash waste is stored across the US - The Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule Tuesday to overhaul requirements for handling the toxic waste produced by burning coal, providing more flexibility to state and industry officials who had sought a rollback of restrictions put in place in 2015.The far-reaching rule will dictate how coal ash, which has contaminated waterways in two high-profile spills in Tennessee and North Carolina in the past decade, is stored at more than 400 coal-fired power plants around the country.The new standards — the first major rule signed by EPA acting administrator Andrew Wheeler — will extend the life of some existing ash ponds from April 2019 until October 2020, empower states to suspend groundwater monitoring in certain cases and allow state officials to certify whether utilities’ facilities meet adequate standards. EPA officials estimate that the rule change will save the industry between $28 million and $31 million a year in compliance costs.“These amendments provide states and utilities much-needed flexibility in the management of coal ash, while ensuring human health and the environment are protected,” Wheeler said in a statement. “Our actions mark a significant departure from the one-size-fits-all policies of the past and save tens of millions of dollars in regulatory costs.”Industry officials petitioned the Trump administration last year to reconsider existing standards for the fine powder and sludge — which contains mercury, cadmium, arsenic and other heavy metals — and the new regulation expands on the proposal then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued in March. Wheeler worked for several years as a lobbyist for Murray Energy, which supported reconsideration of the coal ash rule, before joining the administration this spring. He said in an interview with The Washington Post this month that he has not lobbied EPA directly for several years, though he lobbied other government departments since President Trump took office.

      Black Lung Rate Hits 25-Year High In Appalachian Coal Mining States - One in five working coal miners in central Appalachia who have worked at least 25 years now suffer from the coal miners' disease black lung. That's the finding from the latest study tracking an epidemic of the incurable and fatal sickness.It's the highest rate in a quarter century and indicates that the disease continues to afflict more miners in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia. "We haven't seen this rate of black lung since before the early '90s," says Cara Halldin, an epidemiologist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and one of the authors of the study.Black lung results from the inhalation of coal and silica dust during coal mining. Lung tissue is scarred by the dust, which diminishes the ability to breathe. The study's researchers reviewed nearly fifty years of coal miner X-rays taken as part of a national NIOSH effort to identify disease among working coal miners. They compared the last five years of X-rays with those taken earlier.In addition to the heightened rates of disease, the study found that the most severe form of disease – progressive massive fibrosis – now occurs in 5 percent of veteran miners in the region, the highest rate ever recorded."We can think of no other industry or workplace in the United States in which this would be considered acceptable," wrote Halldin and her colleagues in the American Journal of Public Health.

      A tenth of U.S. veteran coal miners have black lung disease: NIOSH (Reuters) - More than 10 percent of America’s coal miners with 25 or more years of experience have black lung disease, the highest rate recorded in roughly two decades, according to a government study released on Thursday that showed cases concentrated heavily in central Appalachia. The study by researchers from the government’s National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health marks the most authoritative evidence to date of a resurgence of the incurable respiratory illness caused by coal dust, which plagued miners in the 1970s but was nearly eradicated by the 1990s. “Although many consider black lung a disease of antiquity, it is undeniable that … these contemporary cases resulted from injurious exposures encountered in the 21st century,” the authors said in the report, published in the American Journal of Public Health. The National Mining Association, which represents U.S. coal mining companies, has cast doubt on assertions that black lung disease is rebounding, arguing that miners are not required to participate in screenings. “The exclusion of healthy individuals who self-select out of the program may skew the results – we won’t know until more data is available,” said NMA spokeswoman Ashley Burke. The authors of the NIOSH report said that their findings underscored the need for stricter regulations as the administration of U.S President Donald Trump seeks industry feedback on coal dust policy enacted in 2014. The 2014 standards reduced allowable miner coal dust exposure in underground mines to 1.5 milligrams per cubic meter, from 2 mg/m3.  

       India’s coal demand rose 7.5% to 900 million tons in 2017/18 - India’s coal demand rose 7.5 percent to about 900 million tonnes in the year ending March 2018, Coal Minister Piyush Goyal told lawmakers on Wednesday. Coal is expected to remain India’s main energy source for the next three decades, even as the country encourages the use of renewable power generation. State-owned Coal India Ltd has been directed to boost production, Goyal said in a written reply to lawmakers. India, the third world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter and one of the world’s largest coal producers, depends on coal for about three-fifths of its energy needs.

      India’s $17Bln 6,000 MW Nuclear Power Park to be Ready by 2026 - India’s Kudankulam will become the country’s first nuclear power park by 2026. The first and second units of the Kudankulum Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) are fully operational, the third and fourth units are being constructed at a cost of approximately $6 billion. The government has sanctioned $7.5 billion to the fifth and sixth units of the plant. The overall cost of the the nuclear park will be around $17 billion. India aims to complete the construction of seven other nuclear power reactors, presently at different stages of construction, in the next seven years at a cost of $7.5 billion. In addition, 12 more nuclear power reactors were accorded administrative approval and sanctioned by the government in June 2017.

      Construction starts on second Bangladeshi reactor - First concrete for the foundation of unit 2 of the Rooppur nuclear power plant in Bangladesh was poured during a ceremony on 14 July. A construction licence for the Russian-supplied reactor was issued by the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority on 8 July. The VVER-1200 reactor design has already been implemented at Novovoronezh II in Russia, where the first unit of that design – a development from the VVER-1000 – entered commercial operation in February 2017. JSC AtomStroyExport (ASE), a subsidiary of Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom, is the general construction contractor. Rosatom in February 2011 signed an agreement for two 1000 MWe-class reactors to be built at Rooppur for the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC). The initial contract for the project, worth USD12.65 billion, was signed in December 2015. The Bangladesh Atomic Regulatory Authority issued the first site licence for the Rooppur plant in June 2016, allowing preliminary site works, including geological surveys, to begin.

      US coal and nuclear plant bailout could cost $16.7 billion - Providing financial support to uneconomic US coal and nuclear power plants, as the Trump administration has ordered, could cost $16.7 billion annually, according to a study commissioned by a group of renewable energy, oil and gas trade associations and released Thursday. “This report sheds light on how costly the Administration’s coal and nuclear bailout could be,” Amy Farrell, senior vice president for government and public affairs at AWEA, said in a statement. “The $10 to $35 billion this policy would take from American taxpayers to keep failing businesses open each year for the next two years is just the down payment – this misguided bailout would also completely upend the competitive electricity markets that are delivering billions in consumer savings,” she said.

      US Officials Robbed Of Plutonium And Dirty Bomb Materials -   Two Department of Energy security officials tasked with transporting deadly substances left plutonium in the back of their Ford Expedition, where it was promptly stolen from a Marriott parking lot in San Antonio. And over a year later and after what appears to be a ham-handed investigation that was prematurely shut down perhaps for fear of public embarrassment, authorities still have no clue as to the whereabouts of what the government admits are "bomb-usable materials". An investigative report by the watchdog group, the Center for Public Integrity, details a March 2017 "sensitive mission" by two security experts from the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory to transport dangerous nuclear materials from a nonprofit lab in San Antionio back to a high-secure government facility in Idaho.  This involved specialized equipment, which the report describes as "a plastic-covered disk of plutonium, a material that can be used to fuel nuclear weapons, and another of cesium, a highly radioactive isotope that could potentially be used in a so-called 'dirty' radioactive bomb." The moment where the theft is recounted is worth viewing in the original report, given how unbelievable the scenario: But when they stopped at a Marriott hotel just off Highway 410, in a high-crime neighborhood filled with temp agencies and ranch homes, they left those sensors on the back seat of their rented Ford Expedition. When they awoke the next morning, the window had been smashed and the special valises holding these sensors and nuclear materials had vanished.More than a year later, state and federal officials don’t know where the plutonium — one of the most valuable and dangerous substances on earth — is. Nor has the cesium been recovered. Of course none of these embarrassing details were publicized by Department of Energy officials or the FBI, but by government watchdog researchers with the Center for Public Integrity, who were able to piece together the events based on obtaining local police reports which matched a blurb found in an internal Department of Energy memorandum.

      How to Start a Nuclear War - Serving as a US Air Force launch control officer for intercontinental missiles in the early Seventies, First Lieutenant Bruce Blair figured out how to start a nuclear war and kill a few hundred million people. His unit, stationed in the vast missile fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base, in Montana, oversaw one of four squadrons of Minuteman II ­ICBMs, each missile topped by a W56 thermonuclear warhead with an explosive force of 1.2 megatons—eighty times that of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. In theory, the missiles could be fired only by order of the president of the United States, and required mutual cooperation by the two men on duty in each of the launch control centers, of which there were five for each squadron.  In fact, as Blair recounted to me recently, the system could be bypassed with remarkable ease. Safeguards made it difficult, though not impossible, for a two-man crew (of either captains or lieutenants, some straight out of college) in a single launch control center to fire a missile. But, said Blair, “it took only a small conspiracy”—of two people in two separate control centers—to launch the entire squadron of fifty missiles, “sixty megatons targeted at the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea.” (The scheme would first necessitate the “disabling” of the conspirators’ silo crewmates, unless, of course, they, too, were complicit in the operation.) Working in conjunction, the plotters could “jury-rig the system” to send a “vote” by turning keys in their separate launch centers. The three other launch centers might see what was happening, but they would not be able to override the two votes, and the missiles would begin their firing sequence. Even more alarmingly, Blair discovered that if one of the plotters was posted at the particular launch control center in overall command of the squadron, they could together format and transmit a “valid and authentic launch order” for general nuclear war that would immediately launch the entire US strategic nuclear missile force, including a thousand Minuteman and fifty-four Titan missiles, without the possibility of recall. As he put it, “that would get everyone’s attention, for sure.” A more pacifically inclined conspiracy, on the other hand, could effectively disarm the strategic force by formatting and transmitting messages invalidating the presidential launch codes.

      Rig Count Drops in Ohio Utica as Production Rises – The rig count across eastern Ohio’s Utica shale dropped to 16 during the week ended July 14, down from 18 recorded the previous week, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.Permitting activity was also light in the Utica, as just one permit for a single horizontal well was issued during the week. Ascent Resources Utica LLC, based in Oklahoma City, secured a permit for a new horizontal well in Jefferson County.As of July 14, there are 2,483 permits issued for horizontal wells across the Utica in eastern Ohio. Of that number, 2,372 wells are drilled and 1,929 wells are in production.There were no new horizontal well permits for wells in the northern tier of the Utica play, which includes Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.There were no new permits issued in neighboring Lawrence and Mercer counties in western Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.  However, natural gas output from the Utica and Marcellus shale plays in the Appalachian Basin continues to rise, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s drilling productivity report. The EIA estimates that natural gas production in August from wells in the Utica and Marcellus should increase at a rate of 328 million cubic feet per day compared to July. Oil production should also increase by 4,000 barrels per day compared to the same period.

      Utica Shale production report released for Ohio – During the first quarter of 2018, Ohio's horizontal shale wells produced 3,942,251 barrels of oil and 531,291,017 Mcf (531 billion cubic feet) of natural gas, according to the figures released today by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.Natural gas production from the first quarter of 2018 showed a 42.85 percent increase over the first quarter of 2017, while oil production decreased by 3.6 percent for the same period. ODNR reports 3,942,251 bbl barrels of oil were produced during the first quarter of 2018, down from 4,090,500 bbl in 2017. The natural gas production was 531,291,017 mcf, up 42.85 percent from 371,921,659 mcf a year ago. The ODNR quarterly report lists 1,949 horizontal shale wells, 1,909 of which reported oil and natural gas production during the quarter. Of the wells reporting oil and natural gas results:

      • • The average amount of oil produced was 2,066 barrels.
      • • The average amount of natural gas produced was 278,454 Mcf.
      • • The average number of third quarter days in production was 86.

      All horizontal production reports can be accessed at Ohio law does not require the separate reporting of Natural Gas Liquids or condensate. Oil and gas reporting totals listed on the report include NGLs and condensate.

      Natural-gas production keeps growing in eastern Ohio, despite low prices - Natural-gas production from shale deposits in eastern Ohio is surging, helped by the increase in pipelines in the area that get the gas to markets, and by greater efficiency by producers. Production from the Utica shale region jumped 43 percent from the first three months of 2018 from the same period of 2017, with production totaling 531.3 million cubic feet, according to Ohio Department of Natural Resources data released this week. The jump follows a 38 percent increase in production in the final three months of 2017. The jump in production comes even as prices for natural gas remain low. "There are more and more advances in technology and efficiencies," said Jackie Stewart, state director of Energy In Depth, a research and education organization financed by the oil and gas industry. "That's really the name of the game." At the same time, producers are learning more about the region and where the best resources are, Stewart said. "There is some good data and core sampling," she said. "There is a better handle of the geography." When the Utica was first being developed, the region didn't have the pipeline capacity to handle the growing production. In the several years since, the pipeline system in the region has expanded as demand for gas has grown. Power companies are depending more on gas to generate electricity, and more gas-fired power plants are being developed in the state to use that gas. Last month, the Ohio Power Siting Board approved construction of a natural-gas plant in Cadiz in eastern Ohio. Construction by Harrison Power is expected to start in October, with operation to begin by June 2021. It is the 10th natural-gas power plant approved by the board in the past five years. Also, Thai chemical company PTT Global Chemical is considering building a similar plant in Belmont County in eastern Ohio. Those plants will depend more on natural-gas liquids being produced in the Utica.

      Fracking opponents blast Loudonville's sale of water to Cabot - - A dozen foes of the Cabot Gas & Oil drilling projects in the area assailed Mayor Steve Stricklen and members of Loudonville Village Council on their appearance of support for the company at the council meeting Monday.The focal point of the comments was the village's sale of water to the company, which is drilling a horizontal deep well in northern Green Township and which has sited two other projects, one at U.S. 30 and Ohio 511 in Vermillion Township and the other south of Jeromesville in Mohican Township.Village Administrator Curt Young confirmed that to date the village has sold 650,000 gallons of water to Cabot, earning $4,358 in sales revenue. As with all water customers, Cabot is paying 0.65 cents per gallon of water, the highest amount the village will sell water for in its tiered billing process.Asked by resident Dee Hinkle if the village could refuse sale of water to Cabot, Council Member Traci Cooper said "we can't discriminate on who we sell water to. If we sell to one entity, we have to sell to all."The opponents to the drilling projects disagreed. "You could require a buyer to disclose how they will use the water, and refuse service for fracking projects," Annette McCormick said."My fear is that they will take the waste from this water, which is contaminated by chemicals used in the fracking process, and pour it in to Charles Mill Lake," Shelly Hootman of Jeromesville said. Stricklen said "the village's water supply would be monitored closely, and if the inventory gets critically low, we can halt sales, but it will have to be all sales." Young said the village's treats 10 to 12 million gallons of water a month, "so I seriously doubt if our levels will get critically low." "You don't know," Teresa Clark said. "Estimates are that it takes 4-7 million gallons to drill a well, and supplemental water is needed for ongoing fracking operations."

      Evacuation Lifted in Ohio After Chemical Spill from OFS Truck --Local authorities in Northeast Ohio were forced to evacuate about 75 residents and more than 20 homes for a few hours on Monday after hydrochloric acid leaked from an oilfield services (OFS) semitruck.   A rusty valve is thought to be the cause of the leak, authorities said. A passerby called authorities around 7:30 a.m. on Monday after a vapor plume was spotted. Firefighters responded and called in a hazardous materials team at Predator Trucking Co. on U.S. Route 422 in Girard, about five miles north of Youngstown. Part of the road was closed, but reopened later in the morning when the evacuation was lifted.Ohio Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Anthony Chenault confirmed that the truck is owned by Texas-based ProFrac Services, which has operated in the Appalachian Basin for about two years. While authorities estimated that more than 2,000 gallons leaked from the truck, Chenault said regulators don’t expect to have an actual number until later this week. There were no injuries.  Chenault said firefighters and the hazardous materials team contained the release with sand dikes. An environmental contractor was still at the site cleaning the spill on Tuesday. The acid is used commonly during well stimulation. It’s highly corrosive and mixed with water to dissolve contaminants such as scale and rust to clear the well and help oil and natural gas flow.

      Roads open, evacuation ended after Weathersfield chemical leak -- Route 422 and Tibbets Wick Road are open to traffic again. However, it could take four to five hours to clean up a chemical spill that forced an evacuation in Weathersfield Township.  People who were evacuated from their homes in the area at around 7:30 a.m. Monday were allowed to return at around 11 a.m. Fire Cheif Ken Boring tells 21 News that 23 homes, the McDonalds, and Scenna Family Restaurant were evacuated after hydrochloric acid was found leaking from a tank at Predator Trucking North State Street.However, it is now known that the truck that was leaking is not owned by Predator Trucking, it is owned by Pro Frac, a company operating out of Texas.According to Pro Frac's website, they have been operating in the Marcellus and Utica Shale areas since October 2016. Traffic was blocked off on Route 422 from Tibbets Wick Road to the Golf Dome as Hazmat worked to contain the leak using sandbags. Boring says about 1,000 gallons of acid leaked from a corroded valve on the 5,000-gallon tank. Cleanup crews from Cleveland and Pittsburgh have been dispatched to the scene. It's expected to take four to five hours to clean up the spill, according to the chief. According to the EPA, hydrochloric acid is corrosive to the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes. Acute inhalation exposure may cause coughing, hoarseness, inflammation, and ulceration of the respiratory tract, chest pain, and pulmonary edema in humans.  Acute oral exposure may cause corrosion of the mucous membranes, esophagus, and stomach, with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea reported in humans. Dermal contact may produce severe burns, ulceration, and scarring.

      Oil and Gas Wastewater Wells Disproportionately Located in Lower Income Communities in Ohio -  Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” wells used to procure natural gas produce large amounts of wastewater, which may contain toxic and radioactive compounds. The wastewater per well, ranging from 2 million to14 million liters, is most commonly injected underground where it has the potential to contaminate water supplies used by people and animals.   A new study in Ohio led by researchers at the Yale School of Public Health finds that these oil and gas waste disposal wells are disproportionately located in communities that have lower per capita incomes and lower population density compared to areas without these waste sites, after controlling for other sociodemographic and geographic variables.  Specifically, the odds of a census block group containing an injection well were 16 percent lower for each $10,000 increase in median income, and 97 percent lower per 1,000 people/mi2 increase. Race, age, education and voter turnout were not significant predictors of injection well presence. “Our findings suggest a pattern of environmental inequity and are consistent with findings from a Texas study reporting a greater proportion of disposal wells in high poverty block groups,” said Assistant Professor Nicole Deziel, Ph.D., the paper’s senior author. “Further research is needed to determine whether residents in census blocks with injection wells face increased risk of chemical exposures or adverse health outcomes.”  Our findings suggest a pattern of environmental inequity. Potential pathways of water contamination include spills at the surface during the transport or initial injection of the wastewater or underground leakage. In the United States, there is a significant history of disproportionate placement of hazardous facilities, particularly waste disposal facilities, in communities with a lower average income and a higher proportion of minority residents; however, little is known about the characteristics of populations living near injection wells used in fracking. The findings are published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

      CNX Cancels Plans for Pipeline to Gather Natural Gas from Deep Utica Test Pad -- CNX Resources Corp. has stopped construction and canceled plans for a pipeline that would have served a multi-well pad in Indiana County, PA, where the company was testing a deep Utica Shale well to delineate the formation in the western part of the state.The company told the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in May that it no longer intends to build and operate the Marchand 3 Pipeline to gather gas from the pad, raising questions about the test well in the area, which is near other prolific deep Utica wells, but still further north of successes in Westmoreland, Greene and Washington counties.In late March a DEP inspection of the Marchand pipeline construction revealed that earth disturbance activities had caused sediment laden water from unstabilized construction areas to escape erosion and sediment controls, leading to a discharge into what are state-designated high quality waters. CNX agreed to pay a $250,000 fine and has corrected the violations. The company has focused on building its Utica program in Ohio and Pennsylvania in recent years, while the Marcellus Shale has anchored sales volumes. CNX has applied completion designs from its Ohio Utica program and other lessons from newer wells in Pennsylvania to delineate the deep, dry Utica core in the southwest part of the state, where it’s been increasingly focused on stacked pay potential.

      Environmental groups pressure Allegheny County officials to crack down harder on polluters - More than 50 protesters gathered outside the Allegheny County Courthouse on Friday to pressure county officials to crack down harder on air polluters. The group unraveled a scroll of complaints made through Carnegie Mellon University’s ‘Smell Pittsburgh’ app collected from September 2016 through June. It wrapped around the courthouse fountain nearly twice. Rita Botts, of Squirrel Hill, held a sign that said, “Mr. Fitzgerald: If we can’t survive in this air, then how can Amazon?” “I think the county is willing to use taxpayer funds to subsidize Amazon coming to our area, but not air quality,” Botts said. The protesters did not want the county to encourage new sources of pollution. The Shenango Coke Works plant on Neville Island was demolished earlier this year. The group is asking DTE Energy to develop the site into a solar energy farm, and wants Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald to support the effort. “We’re asking Fitzgerald not to provide financial incentives to another polluter on the site,” said Angelo Taranto, co-founder of Allegheny County Clean Air Now. The group plans to attend the county’s Board of Health meetings starting Wednesday until they read all of the more than 11,000 complaints made through the app from September 2016 through June of this year, said Mark Dixon, a local environmental activist and filmmaker. With public comments at those meetings limited to three minutes, it could take a while. “It could take nine years to give less than two years of complaints,” Dixon said. On Monday, two organizations sued the county over its health department’s plans to use more than $10 million from the Clean Air Fund and Title V Fund on a project to renovate its office space in Lawrenceville. In April, an American Lung Association report ranked Pittsburgh is the nation’s 10th-worst region for short-term particle pollution. 

      Water Contamination May Well be Widespread Due to Drilling & Fracking - A State College-based fracking company recently paid $159,000 to settle water contamination claims brought by a group of families in Butler County. Rex Energy revealed the settlements in bankruptcy documents filed this month. The documents were part of the company’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which it filed in May. In its “Statement of Financial Affairs,” the company listed the settlements, of between $11,750 and $27,125, which were paid out on April 17. The settlements went to eight families in the Woodlands, a section of Connoquenessing Township, who began complaining about their water quality in early 2011, shortly after Rex began drilling gas wells near their homes. Several sued Rex. One couple, Janet and Fred McIntyre, claimed in their lawsuit that they experienced severe “vomiting, headaches, and diarrhea,” and said their water “had a strong smell and bad taste, as well as an oily sheen” shortly after Rex began operating in the neighborhood. Federal and state regulators did not think Rex Energy’s activities were the cause of the problem. Both the Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. EPA examined water tests from before and after drilling, and concluded that oil and gas activities hadn’t damaged the water supplies. But the residents still complained. For a time, Rex provided them with water, but the company stopped in 2012. Many of the families buy their own water or receive it from a local church that runs a “water-drive” for the local community. John Stolz, an environmental microbiologist at Duquesne University, tested the water at 150 households in the Woodlands. He found 50 families had “significant changes” either in water quality or quantity since drilling began there. He was retained by the families that sued Rex as an expert witness, but the case never went to court. He said the water in the Woodlands is still bad. “It hasn’t changed–they’re still dependent on the volunteer water drive,” he said. “The other families that weren’t part of the case of course didn’t get any compensation whatsoever.”

      ETP Mariner Liquids Pipe Racks Up More Pennsylvania Violations (Reuters) - Pennsylvania environmental regulators this week issued another notice of violation to Energy Transfer Partners LP's Sunoco Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline for spilling drilling fluid in a wetland.It was the 65th notice of violation the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued the project since construction began in February 2017.As with other recent notices of violations, the DEP said ETP must provide a report describing how it will clean the spill, among other things, before it will allow the company to restart drilling at the site.Pipeline companies use horizontal drilling to cross under obstacles like highways and rivers.Those work stoppages, among other things, have significantly slowed progress on the $2.5 billion Mariner East 2 project, which ETP had planned to complete in the third quarter of 2017 but now expects to put in service in the third quarter of 2018. Those delays have forced some gas producers, like Range Resources Corp, to find another home for their liquids.The Mariner East project transports liquids from the Marcellus and Utica shale fields in western Pennsylvania to customers in the state and elsewhere, including international exports from ETP's Marcus Hook complex near Philadelphia.The latest notice of violation was for a spill of about 3,500 gallons of drilling fluid into a wetland associated with horizontal drilling on July 11 in Jackson Township in Cambria County about 70 miles (110 km) east of Pittsburgh.Analysts have noted the state was citing ETP for some spills as small as 1 gallon likely due to increased scrutiny the Mariner project has received as it racks up a large volume of permit violations. Overall, the company has reported 111 spills into waters in the state and 91 spills in upland regions, according to the DEP, which included some of the same spills on both waters and upland reports.

      New Mariner East troubles: Spill in western Pa., exposed pipeline outside Philadelphia -- Sunoco is facing more challenges to its troubled Mariner East pipelines with a major spill of drilling fluids into a Cambria County wetland and the exposure of a section of the existing Mariner East 1 line in Chester County near Philadelphia. The company spilled about 3,500 gallons of drilling fluid into a wetland in Jackson Township, Cambria County during construction of Mariner East 2, according to the Department of Environmental Protection, which said it was informed of the incident on July 11. The spill prompted the DEP on Monday to issue its 65th notice of violation to Sunoco since it began building the natural gas liquids pipeline in February 2017. On Wednesday, the DEP issued yet another violation for a spill of only three ounces in Washington County.The new line’s continuing technical problems have led to three forced shutdowns, but Sunoco says it will begin operating by the end of September, thanks to the redeployment of an older line that will be temporarily used in sections of Delaware and Chester counties where the new pipe is unfinished.In Chester County, Mariner East 1 was recently exposed in a residential area of Uwchlan Township, renewing concerns about public safety and raising questions about why the pipeline hasn’t been re-buried almost three weeks after its operator, Sunoco, reported it to the Public Utility Commission.The 1930s-era pipeline, which carries natural gas liquids, was exposed in a creek at least 18 days ago, but township officials knew nothing about it until they were informed on Tuesday by the owner of the land where it’s exposed, said Mayme Baumann, a township supervisor. The township engineer found the exposed section in a creek that runs through the Marchwood neighborhood, and confirmed that the pipeline is Mariner East 1, Baumann said. The section, of about four feet, is “visibly corroded,” she said.

      Mama Bears' arrests signal new frustration of Delco pipeline protesters   -- Members of the Middletown Coalition for Community Safety were arrested and charged with trespassing during a protest on July 10. Members of the coalition say these “Mama Bears” are mothers and grandmothers who are fed up with a lack of response from state and local officials over their concerns about the Mariner East 2 pipeline. Allyson Galloway remembers the first time she heard about the pipeline running across the street from her home in Middletown Township. “To me, it seemed akin to living close to a gas station,” she said. “At least, that’s what we thought at the time.” That was before she and her neighbors caught wind of Mariner East 2, another planned pipeline along the same route that would carry 675,000 barrels a day of propane and other highly volatile gas liquids. Before they became amateur experts in pipeline safety. Before their organization into the Middletown Coalition for Community Safety. Before more than two years of attending meetings with politicians locally and in Harrisburg. And before two members of the coalition, part of a subset of mothers and grandmothers calling themselves “Mama Bear Brigade,” were arrested July 10 during a sit-in at a pipeline construction site a few yards from her front door. Members of the group, frustrated with what they call a lack of transparency from Gov. Wolf and Sunoco Logistics, the pipeline’s operator, say the demonstration is a turning point for their activism, one borne out of frustration. It represents a shift for them, they say, to a more active approach to having their voices heard. 

      Hydrocarbon Hypocrisy - Governor Andrew Cuomo and activist/actress Cynthia Nixon, opponents in September’s New York gubernatorial primary, don’t agree on much—but they are hell on hydrocarbons. Cuomo has outlawed natural-gas hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Empire State, while Nixon wants to ban fracked gas from even entering the state. Never mind that the revolutionary energy-extraction method has over the past decade transformed America from a net hydrocarbon importer to the world’s leading energy producer. Both candidates promise to block new gas pipelines in New York, too.The two arrived at their identical positions from opposite directions. Nixon is a provocateur, not a policy macher. Her views are as otherworldly as her prescriptions. Cuomo, meanwhile, is unencumbered by ideals. His positions are calibrated for maximum political benefit—he polled for almost two years before imposing his fracking ban, for example.Cuomo knows that hydrocarbons fuel our civilization. They certainly power New York, an energy-gobbling giant; it leads American states in commercial consumption of natural gas and is near the top in most other categories as well. But because of Cuomo’s ban, the state produces virtually no natural gas, despite vast hydrocarbon reserves in the Marcellus Shale formation, located in the state’s needlessly impoverished Southern Tier. Neither Cuomo nor Nixon proposes substantive energy alternatives. Like all New Yorkers, the governor, a two-term Democrat, and Nixon, of Sex and the City fame, rely heavily on hydrocarbons themselves. Cuomo flits about the state in a helicopter, and he commands a massive, natural-gas-heated government complex in Albany. And what would Sex and the City have been without the energy-sucking bright lights of Broadway? (Nixon’s NoHo building uses gas heat—small beer, to be sure, but shouldn’t prohibitionists be held to a higher standard?)

      Ethane is about to crack in Appalachia. Now it needs a market - The United States has been in the throes of a shale boom and bust for over a decade. The rocks are loaded with natural gas liquids — ethane, propane and other chemical cousins that are mingled in the more common methane heating gas. These more complex hydrocarbons are raw materials for a host of chemical and plastic products that are seeding dreams of a manufacturing renaissance in economically downcast Appalachia that would have been unimaginable 10 years ago. Like parents of prodigies amazed at their children's unexpected gifts, many in the three-state region have been counting blessings in advance. The Mid-Atlantic Technology, Research & Innovation Center (MATRIC) in South Charleston, W.Va., has published an estimate that a full exploitation of Marcellus and Utica resources could in time create 25,000 jobs in chemical and plastics manufacturing. "Ethane is to the chemical industry what flour is to bakers," said Steven Hedrick, MATRIC's chief executive, at an energy conference last month. "Allow yourself to be inspired by what is about to happen in Appalachia." "The shale gas is very wet and rich and very low-cost," says Robinson, president of PLG Consulting, whose research work includes the Appalachian gas resources. In some parts of the region, the natural gas contains up to 65 percent ethane and other gas liquids, and 40 percent is common, Robinson said, creating a fertile building block for plastic products.   But today, just a small part of the region's potential ethane production moves by pipeline to Philadelphia, Canada and the Gulf Coast because there's little else to do with it. "There's a lot of trapped ethane in that region that needs a home," Robinson said. Now the first home is under construction by Shell Chemicals along the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pa., 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. Shell's steam cracking plant will break ethane apart and reconstitute it as ethylene gas. Three production units will then link ethylene molecules to create polyethylene plastic pellets, a ubiquitous component of packaging and housewares products. Through the same process, propane winds up as polypropylene fibers and resins, turned into carpets and high-performance plastics. Ohio hopes the next cracker is on its turf. In March, Gov. John Kasich (R) announced a stepped-up investment commitment by Thailand's PTT Global Chemical and South Korea-based Daelim Industrial Co. Ltd. for a proposed cracking plant in Belmont County, in the heart of Utica's "wet" shale gas area. Kasich said he is hoping for a go decision by the end of this year on a project that could be worth up to $10 billion.

      Feds Say Land Shift Likely Caused Explosion, Pipeline Still at Risk - A natural gas pipeline explosion that occurred last month in Marshall County was likely caused by land subsidence, or movement, according to federal regulators. In a notice of proposed safety order, issued to TransCanada Corp. this week, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) said shifting land likely triggered the explosion of the Leach Xpress pipeline. "The preliminary investigation suggests that the failure was the result of land subsidence causing stress on a girth weld," PHMSA said. The explosion occurred during the early hours of June 7 near Moundsville, West Virginia. No injuries or damage to private property were reported, but a fireball burned for several hours after an 83-foot section of the pipeline burst into flames, releasing more than $430,000 worth of natural gas. TransCanada’s own incident report released this week states the pipeline failed due to a landslide, but not one caused by heavy rainfall. The full federal investigation is still ongoing, but PHMSA’s proposed safety order states TransCanada should conduct extra surveillance and analysis on a 50-mile section of the pipeline that is buried in terrain geologically similar to where the explosion took place.TransCanada is the parent company of Columbia Gas Transmission LLC, which operates the 130-mile pipeline that runs from Majorsville, West Virginia to Crawford, Ohio. The pipeline went into operation in January and was not running at full capacity when the explosion occurred.In the order, the federal safety agency also said it identified six other locations where similar geography could cause the pipeline to fail. It outlines a series of additional corrective actions the company should undertake. TransCanada has 30 days to review the order and request consultation with PHMSA regarding the proposed suggestions.

      Report: Pipeline That Exploded in Marshall County Remains At Risk — The federal agency in charge of investigating a recent pipeline explosion has notified its owner that six other areas on the same pipeline have issues that could cause another catastrophic event if they are not repaired. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued July 9 a 13-step Notice of Proposed Safety Order to lower the risk of future explosions like the one that occurred June 7 on Nixon Ridge. The notice gives companies an opportunity to respond to a proposed correction plan before finalizing an order, which then makes the steps involved mandatory. PHMSA Eastern Region Director Robert Burrough sent the notice to TransCanada Corp. and its subsidiary, Columbia Gas Transmission LLC, which owns the 130-mile Leach Express pipeline. Burrough said in the notice that completing the steps outlined in the notice is necessary for the safety of the people and property near the 36-inch gas transmission line. “It appears that the continued operation of the Affected Segment, without corrective measures, poses a pipeline integrity risk to public safety, property, and the environment,” Burrough wrote.  TransCanada did not return a call seeking comment by presstime. Several people who live or own property near the site of the June explosion declined to comment.  TransCanada filed an incident report June 27 with the PHMSA regarding the June 7 explosion. In it, the company said it had sent the damaged pipeline to a metallurgy lab, but it had not determined the cause of the pipeline’s failure as of the time of the report.PHMSA said its preliminary findings suggest the failure was the result of land subsidence that caused stress on a girth weld. However, it also said the investigation is ongoing and the cause of the failure remains unknown. PMHSA’s preliminary findings indicated that the Leach Express pipeline was operating at approximately 86 percent to 89 percent of its maximum capacity of gas when the failure was reported around 4:55 a.m. June 7. That’s when a drop in pressure was discovered by a gas controller. The section of the pipeline was manually closed down by 5:20 a.m.In its incident report, TransCanada said $437,250 worth of natural gas was burned off in a fireball that could be seen as far as 50 miles away. Because Nixon Ridge — about 7 miles south of Moundsville — is isolated, no fatalities, injuries or property damage were reported as a result of the blast. Damage was limited to about 1,100 feet around the site.However, the company did say in the report that the property damage, not including the loss of the gas, came to $10 million. The Leach Express pipeline runs approximately 130 miles between Majorsville, Pennsylvania, to Crawford, Ohio.

      TransCanada's blast-damaged Leach natgas pipe returns to service (Reuters) - TransCanada Corp’s Columbia Gas Transmission said the section of its Leach Xpress natural gas pipeline damaged in a blast in West Virginia in early June returned to service on July 15, boosting gas output in the Appalachian region. Production in the region was expected to rise to 28.7 billion cubic feet per day on Monday from 28.1 bcfd on Friday, according to Thomson Reuters data. Before the June 7 blast, output in the region was about 27.5 bcfd. One billion cubic feet of gas can fuel about 5 million U.S. homes for a day. The Leach shutdown forced producers using the line to find other pipes to ship gas out of the Marcellus and Utica shale regions of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. But traders noted that overall output was little changed after the blast as producers, such as Range Resources Corp and Southwestern Energy Co, found other pipes to ship their gas. Alternative pipelines include Dominion Energy Inc’s transmission system, Energy Transfer Partners LP’s Rover, Tallgrass Energy LP’s Rockies Express, Enbridge Inc’s Texas Eastern Transmission and Kinder Morgan Inc’s Tennessee Gas, according to analysts at S&P Global Platts. The 1.5-bcfd Leach pipeline in West Virginia and Ohio, whichentered full service at the start of 2018, transportsMarcellus and Utica shale gas to consumers in the U.S. Midwestand Gulf Coast. Last week, Columbia said it expected to return the damaged section of pipe on July 15 after gaining approval from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). PHMSA gave Columbia 30 days to respond to a list of corrective actions the agency proposed to improve the safety of the Leach pipe. Those actions included mechanical and metallurgical testing and enhanced surveillance and monitoring, according to the federal report, made available on Thursday. Since the blast, Columbia has identified six other points along the pipeline that PHMSA said are “areas of concern” based on soil conditions and steep slopes or indications of slips.

      Pipelines, Birds and Coal Ash: A Look at Environmental Coverage Inside Appalachia (podcast) The Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) are two major interstate projects to move  gas from the Utica and Marcellus shale formations to market, to another line that runs up and down the eastern seaboard, and to export terminals on the East Coast. Pipelines are considered the safest way to transport natural gas, crude oil, gasoline and other volatile substances that would otherwise have to be taken by rail or truck, which pose a far greater safety risk.The projects will create jobs through 2019. According to WorkForce West Virginia, as of July 2018, 2,745 people have been hired in West Virginia in the past year within the sectors of oil and gas pipeline, related structures construction, and support activities for oil and gas operations.But some landowners are concerned that the pipelines could damage the environment and upend their way of life. Environmental and citizen groups have brought half a dozen lawsuits collectively against both projects. Most challenge the legality of water quality permits issued on both the state and federal level. In late June, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals halted some construction of the Mountain Valley pipeline in West Virginia, finding that the pipeline developer’s own documents showed the company could not complete construction quickly enough to comply with a federal water quality permit.Earlier this year, some protestors in Virginia and West Virginia took more extreme measures by sitting in trees to prevent construction crews from tearing down trees to build the Mountain Valley pipeline.   We’ll talk with Virginia journalist, Mason Adams, who’s covered the tensions among protesters, law enforcement officials and the pipeline company this spring, as pipeline protesters began scaling trees to block the Mountain Valley pipeline.

      Pipeline explosion in W.Va. cited by opponents of Mountain Valley Pipeline   - An explosion of a natural gas pipeline in West Virginia was triggered by the same conditions — steep slopes prone to landslides — that exist along the route of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a conservation group is warning. Work on the Mountain Valley project, which is cutting a swath through the mountains of Southwest Virginia, should be suspended pending a review of the potential danger of a similar explosion, the Indian Creek Watershed Association wrote in a request filed Tuesday with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. On June 7, the newly constructed Leach Xpress pipeline in Marshall County, West Virginia, ruptured and exploded into a ball of flames that could be seen for miles. A preliminary investigation by federal officials found that dirt and rocks from a landslide exerted pressure on the 36-inch diameter buried pipe, causing a weld to give way, according to a filing from the West Virginia-based watershed association. “The similarities of terrain — particularly the prevalence of steep slopes and landslide-prone areas along MVP’s 300-mile route through West Virginia and Virginia — make the Leach XPress explosion yet another wake-up call about the dangers of MVP’s selected route,” the request stated. Although pipeline opponents have been raising environmental concerns about erosion from construction sites in recent months, they say it’s time to address issues of public safety before the project begins to ship natural gas at high pressure by year’s end. “It’s an accident waiting to happen,”

      US FERC chair sees plan on LNG permitting in days; LaFleur hopes for middle ground on pipes — US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Kevin McIntyre said Tuesday that a formal agreement is likely "in the coming days" with other agencies to streamline permitting and trim LNG project review timelines. His comments come as industry and lawmakers have aired concerns that staff shortfalls at FERC could slow reviews even as US LNG export terminal developers are racing to line up offtake agreements and trade tensions are adding to their worries. "In just the last few days we have made truly significant strides in reforming the permitting process with our federal partners, eliminating duplicative efforts and instituting a streamlined procedure that will significantly reduce our LNG permitting timelines," McIntyre said in a podcast released by the commission. "The details are still being hammered out, but we expect to have a formalized agreement in place in the coming days." He denied a news report that FERC had told developers there would be delays of 12 to 18 months in LNG application reviews, saying FERC has issued no such letters. While he did not release details of the upcoming process changes, he said FERC is working with the departments of Energy and Transportation to improve coordination, in line with the administration's memorandum of understanding encouraging one federal decision on permits. FERC is also taking a hard look at its own processes to find efficiencies, he said, and is working to hire more LNG engineers and to farm more out to third-party contractors. Pushing back on the notion that FERC has been slow to release environmental review schedules for projects, he said FERC will not issue schedules until it has all the needed facts and has implemented its improved processes. "FERC staff is very cognizant of the financial market impacts of its LNG project schedules," McIntyre said. The timing can be affected by such factors as project complexity, completeness of initial applications, and timeliness of response to requests, and FERC does not give preference for one project over another, he said. With FERC soon faced with an even split of two Democrats and two Republicans, once Commissioner Robert Powelson leaves the agency in mid-August, it may also be experiencing pressure to act quickly on major policy questions before it, such as electric grid resiliency, review of the 1999 natural gas pipeline certificate policy and implementation of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act.

      Pipeline Builders Abuse Eminent Domain – WSJ - Across the country activists are speaking out against the use of eminent domain to construct natural-gas pipelines. Some have climbed trees and refused to come down. The agency in charge of approving these pipelines—the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC—is reconsidering how eminent domain, by which the government legally expropriates private property for public purposes, is used. While we stand with those who stand for individual rights—and enjoy a good tree-climb—protests like these can only go so far. The U.S. is a country of laws, and if a court rules that eminent domain can be used to construct a pipeline, then Americans must respect that ruling. But judges haven’t actually issued many such rulings. Right now FERC presides over a system that strips property owners of their rights without courts getting involved. When FERC approves the use of eminent domain to build a pipeline, landowners have the right to appeal to a federal court only after they have asked the agency to reconsider its decision and had their request denied. But FERC has developed the habit of granting these requests so that it can draw out the time it spends “thinking” about them. While FERC dawdles, the pipeline companies use eminent domain to snatch thousands of landowners’ properties free from judicial review. Furthermore, FERC’s approval comes with eminent domain authority, allowing pipeline companies to seize property before seeking other necessary approvals. In one instance, a company seized part of a Pennsylvania family’s property to build a FERC-authorized pipeline only to have the project fall apart when officials in New York refused to grant a permit to build another part of the pipeline. The taking, which also involved cutting down more than 500 of the family’s trees, was ultimately for nothing. As rotten as these procedural shenanigans are, FERC is guilty of a more consequential deception. Under current law, the agency can approve a pipeline without telling property owners that decisions will be effectively unreviewable unless they file an immediate appeal. When states have behaved this way, federal courts have deemed it unconstitutional. Yet FERC continues to harm eminent-domain victims by failing to inform them how to protect their rights. No one’s property should be taken without a real chance at judicial review. Property owners who go to court don’t always win, but some do. Property owners in both Pennsylvania and Texas have persuaded state judges to reject pipeline-related property seizures in recent years. Perhaps property owners who’ve been subject to eminent domain expropriations by FERC-approved pipelines would find similar success. The agency should afford them the chance to find out.

      US pipeline builders brace for higher costs after Plains loses steel tariff case — US oil and natural gas pipeline builders are bracing for higher costs and potential delays after Plains All American lost its bid for an exemption from US steel tariffs for its 585,000 b/d Cactus II crude pipeline. Cactus II is one of three major oil pipelines starting up in the second half of 2019 that are expected to relieve a botteneck currently holding back Permian production and depressing Midland wellhead prices. It was the first major energy project to receive a ruling since the 25% steel and aluminum tariffs took effect. Plains said the $1.1 billion project would "move forward as planned," but did not say whether the decision altered the Q3 2019 in-service target. The Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security recommended denying Plains' request for relief from the 25% steel tariff after determining that 26-inch steel pipe needed for the project is produced in the US "in a sufficient and reasonably available amount and of a satisfactory quality." Matthew Borman, deputy assistant secretary of export administration, denied the exclusion request July 13, according to a document made public Monday. In March, Commerce said companies would be allowed to seek exemptions if the steel or aluminum products are found not to be made in the US in satisfactory quality or "in a sufficient and reasonably available amount." Plains said it was unfair to enact tariffs on steel orders placed months earlier. It bought steel pipe from a Greek mill in late 2017, and tariffs were announced in March. "Collecting a tariff on steel pipe orders for projects like this constitutes a tax on the construction of critical US energy infrastructure, which is a significant unintended consequence of current trade policy and risks US energy security and American jobs," a Plains spokesman said in a statement. "We are reviewing our options to challenge this decision." Plains had argued that while some US mills make 26-inch pipe, none use the "high-frequency welded" manufacturing technique the company requires.

      It's Time to Stop Investing in New Oil and Gas Pipelines - Last week the now-former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, resigned amid a series of ethical breaches, including his cozy relationship with fossil fuel lobbyists. Government ethics experts said Pruitt’s connection to lobbyists working for the Canadian energy company Enbridge, at the time when the EPA approved expansion of an Enbridge pipeline, raised red flags. So-called environmental regulators like Scott Pruitt certainly can’t be trusted to uphold environmental laws.   Last month Minnesota regulators approved Line 3, another controversial Enbridge pipeline that would cross lakes on Ojibwe treaty lands, affecting indigenous wild rice harvest, hunting and fishing. Following the news, Honor the Earth Executive Director and activist Winona LaDuke said “They have gotten their Standing Rock. We will do everything that is needed to stop this pipeline.” Resistance to pipelines like Line 3 is growing because pipeline spills are so common—much more common than you would think. Indigenous and environmental groups will continue to resist new pipelines because spills jeopardize land and livelihoods, especially when the pipeline crosses ecologically and culturally important places. Since 1986 there have been over 8,000 "significant" oil and gas spills reported by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation. That's equivalent to a major spill every two day for the past 32 years. “Significant” spills have a very specific definition—they either caused a fire, left someone injured, involved a large volume of oil or gas release or resulted in over $50,000 in damages. PHMSA classifies over 1,500 of these incidents as "serious," meaning the spill resulted in a fatality or injury requiring in-patient hospitalization. Our interactive U.S. Climate Justice Map visualizes these spills alongside other data and stories. New pipelines are also being resisted because they make no sense in the context of climate change. Take the now iconic Keystone XL, a pipeline that would carry tar sands, some of the most carbon-intensive oil. According to a 2015 study funded by the Department of Energy, Canadian tar sands emits 18 percent more greenhouse gases when processed into gasoline compared to conventional crude.  In November of last year TransCanada’s existing Keystone pipeline spilled 9,700 barrels of crude oil in rural South Dakota making it the 7th largest oil spill in the US since 2010.

      Pence family's failed gas stations cost taxpayers $20M+ (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence turns nostalgic when he talks about growing up in small-town Columbus, Indiana, where his father helped build a Midwestern empire of more than 200 gas stations that provided an upbringing on the "front row of the American dream."The collapse of Kiel Bros. Oil Co. in 2004 was widely publicized. Less known is that the state of Indiana — and, to a smaller extent, Kentucky and Illinois — are still on the hook for millions of dollars to clean up more than 85 contaminated sites across the three states, including underground tanks that leaked toxic chemicals into soil, streams and wells.Indiana alone has spent at least $21 million on the cleanup thus far, or an average of about $500,000 per site, according to an analysis of records by The Associated Press. And the work is nowhere near complete. The federal government, meanwhile, plans to clean up a plume of cancer-causing solvent discovered beneath a former Kiel Bros. station that threatens drinking water near the Pence family's hometown. To assess the pollution costs, the AP reviewed thousands of pages of court documents, tax statements, business filings and federal financial disclosures, as well as federal and state environmental records for Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois. The total financial impact isn't clear because Indiana officials have yet to release cost figures for 12 contaminated areas. Other records are incomplete, redacted or missing.The public cleanup of more than 25 former Kiel Bros. sites in Kentucky and Illinois — where officials have done a better job keeping costs down — has been much less expensive, totaling about $1.7 million, according to an analysis of records obtained under each state's public records law.Kiel Bros. has paid for only a fraction of the overall effort. In court documents , the company cited payment of $8.8 million in "indemnity and defense costs," but also noted that $5 million of that amount came from the states.

      Minnesota Pipeline Replacement Threatens a Repeat of ‘Standing Rock’ -- Weeks after Minnesota regulators approved the replacement of an oil pipeline that crosses the state, Native American and environmental groups are starting to oppose the project with a similar playbook to a failed effort to stop the Dakota Access pipeline. Winona LaDuke, who lives 30 miles from the pipeline’s route on the White Earth reservation of the Ojibwe tribe, said three small protest camps have sprung up. To draw more protesters, she is planning a public campaign that includes a concert with the Indigo Girls in Duluth later this month, followed by a ride on horseback along the pipeline’s route. “All of us were at Standing Rock,” the site of the Dakota Access pipeline protests, said Ms. LaDuke, a co-founder of Honor the Earth, a Native American environmental group. “They’re a long ways from getting a pipe.” But the fight against the Enbridge Inc. pipeline known as Line 3 is different from efforts to stop the $3.8 billion Dakota Access one. The Line 3 project, which would carry crude oil from Alberta, Canada, across Minnesota to a terminal in Wisconsin on Lake Superior, is a replacement of a pipeline built in the 1960s. Enbridge said the existing pipeline requires as many as 900 repairs over six years. It has reduced capacity on the current line to 390,000 barrels a day, from 760,000 barrels a day, out of safety concerns. Opponents are focused on stopping the replacement, but many want the existing line shut as well. At the end of June, Minnesota utility regulators approved the project, which will diverge from the old route. Dan Lipschultz, a state utility commissioner, said the existing “highly corroded” line poses a danger to the environment and culturally sensitive areas. Supporters say they believe the new pipeline will be safer. “Our view is that we need this thing to be built to safely provide steady, reliable product downstream to the refineries,” said Bob Schoneberger, CEO of United Piping Inc., a pipeline contractor in Duluth that hopes to work on the project. Mr. Schoneberger started a group called Minnesotans for Line 3 that he said has several hundred supporters.

      U.S. refinery capacity virtually unchanged between 2017 and 2018 - As of January 1, 2018, U.S. operable atmospheric crude distillation capacity totaled 18.6 million barrels per calendar day (b/cd), a slight decrease of 0.1% since the beginning of 2017 according to EIA’s annual Refinery Capacity Report.  .The Refinery Capacity Report also includes information about secondary units—downstream refinery units that are used to process the products coming from the atmospheric crude distillation unit into ultra-low sulfur diesel and gasoline, as well as other products. Secondary refining capacity, including thermal cracking (coking), catalytic hydrocracking, and hydrotreating and desulfurization, increased slightly, up 1% from year-ago levels. These downstream capacity increases are primarily the result of changing processes that can increase refinery throughput rather than building new refining units. The number of operating refineries decreased from 141 on January 1, 2017, to 135 on January 1, 2018, largely reflecting classification changes in EIA’s survey: four refineries previously considered separate in survey data were merged into two, and two refineries were reclassified from idle to shut down. Consequently, the decrease in number of operating refineries does not necessarily represent a meaningful change in U.S. refinery operating capacity.  Record refinery runs have helped accommodate increases in U.S. crude oil production, which averaged 9.4 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2017, an increase of 4.0 million b/d from the level in 2009. Gross crude oil inputs to refineries averaged 16.6 million b/d in 2017 compared with 14.3 million b/d in 2009. Over that period, operable refinery crude distillation capacity increased 945,000 b/cd, and utilization rose from 83% in 2009 to 91% in 2017, resulting in the 2.3 million b/d increase in gross crude oil inputs. Over the same period, U.S. crude oil imports decreased by 1.1 million b/d, and U.S. crude oil exports increased by 1.1 million b/d.

      Texas fractionation capacity beyond the Mont Belvieu Hub, part 5. -- Mont Belvieu may be the epicenter of NGL storage, fractionation and distribution along the Gulf Coast, but the rest of Texas offers almost half as much fractionation capacity — about 1 MMb/d of it — and a good bit of storage and pipeline connectivity too. These are particularly important facts in the summer of 2018, when demand for fractionation services in Mont Belvieu is at or near an all-time high and increasing volumes of NGLs are headed toward the hub. So what else has the Lone Star State got on the fractionation and NGL storage front? And are these assets experiencing the same strong demand as their counterparts in Mont Belvieu? Today, we continue our review of fractionators and key NGL-related infrastructure. With 2.1 MMb/d of existing fractionation capacity, more than 250 MMbbl of salt-cavern storage, a spaghetti bowl of incoming and outgoing pipelines, and ethane and LPG export terminals nearby, Mont Belvieu is the undisputed king to NGLs.  And Mont Belvieu keeps growing; another 465 Mb/d of fractionators are under development and scheduled to come online over the next couple of years. But NGL production has been rising fast, and so has the need for more fractionation capacity — the mixed NGLs that come out of gas processing plants aren’t of use to anyone until they are fractionated into purity products (ethane, propane, normal butane, isobutane and natural gasoline). The problem is, new fractionators in Mont Belvieu haven’t been coming online as quickly as the need for them. Until recently, producers had been reluctant to commit to building new fractionation capacity, so existing plants have been running flat out to keep pace.

      Houston company plans massive offshore terminal to export Permian oil - As more of the nation’s oil production flows to the Texas Gulf Coast, one Houston firm aims to build a massive offshore terminal to ship much of the nation’s record crude volumes overseas.  Enterprise Products Partners said Tuesday it plans to construct an oil export terminal and dock miles off the Texas coastline that can accommodate the world’s largest crude-carrying vessels. Energy analysts estimated the project cost at $1 billion to $2 billion. Putting the terminal out to sea solves a critical problem for very large crude carriers, or VLCCs, more of which have been heading to Texas since the recent widening of the Panama Canal. Despite ongoing dredging efforts, water depths at Texas ports aren’t deep enough for these giant ships to fill to capacity. So Enterprise plans to build pipelines to run about 80 miles from its Houston-area network to the offshore terminal where the water is naturally deeper.The project could be years in the making. Enterprise expects the state and federal permitting processes alone to take roughly a year before it can commence construction.The plans come as rising U.S. oil production outpaces relatively stagnant domestic consumption, requiring more of the oil to be shipped overseas to developing markets in Asia and elsewhere.With Houston known as the world’s energy capital for its dealmaking and a cluster of corporate headquarters, the city is increasingly becoming the destination for much of the oil itself. Buoyed by West Texas’ booming Permian Basin, Enterprise believes the nation’s already record-high crude production will grow by another one-third from 2018 to 2022 to more than 13 million barrels a day, with most of that new oil leaving the country via the Gulf Coast. Pipelines are sending much of the crude to refining and port hubs near Houston and Corpus Christi.

      Houston To Overtake Cushing As Key Hub - Houston is emerging as one of the great oil hubs in the world, and pretty soon it will be outfitted with an oil futures contract, which could cement its position.Intercontinental Exchange Inc. (ICE) announced plans to launch an oil futures with physical delivery in Houston, and the contract could launch as soon as this quarter, subject to regulatory review. “The Houston delivery point has become the pricing center for U.S. crude oil production and exports, and the new flat price futures contract is designed to serve hedging and trading opportunities in this growing market,” ICE said in a statement.Houston is now the “central delivery point for U.S. crude,” with proximity to upstream production in Texas, abundant refining and storage capacity along the Gulf Coast, and coastal facilities that have allowed a crude oil export boom over the past two years. The ICE Permian WTI futures contract will provide price discovery, settlement and delivery at Magellan Midstream Partners, L.P.’s terminal in East Houston, ICE said.“The recent price divergence between Cushing-based WTI and Brent is a reminder that although Cushing is a marker for local crude fundamentals in the midcontinent, it diverges for pricing waterborne U.S. crude,” Jeff Barbuto, Vice President of Oil Markets at ICE, said in a statement.For decades, Cushing, Oklahoma has served as the main delivery point for U.S. crude. Cushing is often referred to as the “pipeline crossroads of the world,” and was the designated point of delivery for the WTI contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Cushing also has the ability to store around 90 million barrels of crude oil, and indeed, the weekly change in inventory figures have become a closely watched metric since the market downturn began in 2014, with specific emphasis on Cushing’s figures. But the explosion of production from the Permian basin, and especially the lifting of the crude oil export ban by the U.S. Congress a few years ago, has undercut the importance of Cushing as an oil hub. West Texas oil can be funneled to the Gulf Coast and either refined or exported, all without the need to be routed through or stored in Cushing.

      Texas set to pass Iraq, Iran as world's third-largest oil producer | TheHill: Texas's oil industry is set to surpass Iraq and Iran to become the third-largest oil producing region in the world, behind only Russia and Saudi Arabia. CNN Money reports that HSBC Bank predicted in a recent report that the state's explosive growth in oil production over the last two years could result in Texas passing the two Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) members as oil prices rise around the world."It's remarkable. The [Permian Basin oil field] is nothing less than a blessing for the global economy," Bob McNally, president of Rapidan Energy Group, told CNN. The surge in production comes just two years after the oil fields in Texas were seeing much lower production levels at the tail end of the Obama administration, according to CNN."In 2014, it was amazing. 2016 was down in the dumps. Two years later, it's back to crazy," Texas railroad commissioner Ryan Sitton told the news network.Production cutbacks in Russia and OPEC nations have also led to a rise in U.S. oil prices, a boon for the economy as companies in Texas struggle to find qualified workers and the infrastructure required to support the surge."To say there's a shortage of bodies is an understatement," Jeff Bush, president of CSI Recruiting president, told CNN. He said lower production under the Obama administration had left companies struggling to adjust to the economic boom in time."These service companies took it on the chin the last few years. They're trying to make hay while the sun shines, but you can't do that if you don't have people," he said. "Right now, everything's an issue: Water, sand, buildings, transportation. You name it," Sitton added.

      Report: Oil and Gas Production Is Making People Sick in Rural Texas - Reeves County, population 14,732, sits atop the Permian Basin and has been the site of some of the most frenzied hydraulic fracturing in the state. Though the fracking boom started in 2011, it didn’t reach the Franklins’ 10-acre plot of land until early 2017. That year, four wells were drilled nearby, some within a half-mile of their home. In the spring, Sue’s nose started bleeding and she began having breathing problems.Sue takes allergy medicine and uses nasal spray to help her breathe, as recommended by her doctor. Jim said he started experiencing “debilitating” headaches and respiratory problems around the same time from exposure to the emissions, which can include volatile chemicals like methane. “Now every morning we get up coughing and hacking… It makes us sick. We’ve both missed days of work because of being sick,” Jim said.  The Franklins are one of five case studies included in a new report by two environmental advocacy groups on the health dangers faced by people who live near active oil and gas operations. Earthworks and Clean Air Task Force conclude that concentrated energy development activity in rural America is inundating nearby communities with greenhouse gases and volatile chemicals, making people sick and spurring climate change. One other Texan (a military veteran in frack-happy Karnes County) is featured in the report, along with people in rural areas of Utah, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Air pollution in Texas’ population centers is well-documented. But thanks to oil and gas development in broad swaths of sparsely populated areas across the state, the people who live in some small communities are also gasping for breath, said Alan Septoff, an Earthworks spokesperson. “There’s a general impression that air pollution is a problem in urban areas, that there’s dirty air in urban areas and clean air in rural areas,” he said. “But the oil and gas industry turns rural areas into urban areas in terms of air pollution.”

      Lotteries, Shippers And Trends In Midland Price Differentials --Since early this year, the Midland crude differential has continued to widen, trading one day last week at a discount of $15.75/bbl to West Texas Intermediate (WTI) at Cushing, the widest spread since August 2014 before settling back to $11.25/bbl on Monday. The wide price differential is a result of fast-growing production in the Permian and bottlenecked takeaway pipelines. But the trajectory of this increasing price spread has been anything but smooth. Lately, we have seen a blip in the price differentials right around the 19th or 20th of the month. In each of the last three months, for a short-lived 24 to 48 hours, the Midland-Cushing price differential has narrowed by $2/bbl or more as Permian shippers have gone on feeding frenzies. Today, we look at these brief upticks in pricing and the pipeline and trader mechanics behind them. As we discussed in our All Dressed Up With No Where to Go series, Midland crude prices have taken an increasingly steep dive since the start of February 2018. After averaging a meager $0.34/bbl discount to WTI at Cushing in 2017, the Midland discount to WTI has increased to as much as $15.75/bbl in recent days and has averaged $12.80/bbl since the start of July 2018. But in the last few months, as pipelines have been consistently full, we’ve seen brief spikes in the Midland-Cushing differential around the middle of the month in April, May and June.

      Union Pacific positions to move Permian crude in tank cars: executive - A shortage of pipeline takeaway capacity from the Permian Basin in West Texas is creating opportunities for Union Pacific to move crude oil in tank cars, a railroad official said Thursday. "The [Permian] is an interesting place and we're definitely seeing some reduction in crude production due to the lack of pipelines," Chief Marketing Officer Beth Whited said on an earnings webcast. "We have some capacity in our network and expect to see some results in the third and fourth quarter." UP officials did not respond to queries on their targeted volumes. Loading terminals in Texas and New Mexico have a capacity of 300,000 b/d. But roughly 100,000 b/d of that capacity can be used to load crude as those facilities serve the needs for frac sands, Bernstein said in a report last month. Frac sands is used extensively by shale producers that utilize the hydraulic fracking process. A fast pace of growth in the Permian -- currently projected to reach 3.690 million b/d by S&P Global Platts Analytics to be 3.5 million b/d -- has resulted in producers seeking alternate market access like railorads and trucks to move their barrels from that land-locked basin to the US Gulf Coast. In the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin -- another land-locked basin -- Canadian Pacific Railway sees the "potential" to double the volume of crude it hauls to refineries in the US Midwest and the US East Coast by 2019, as it hires more staff and adds additional locomotives, Chief Marketing Officer John Brooks said in an earnings call Wednesday. The railroad moved 20,000 car loads, or roughly 134,000 b/d, by operating 60 units trains each month in the second quarter, Brooks said. But CP now sees a potential to increase that run rate to some 266,000 b/d by late 2018 or early 2019, Brooks said, as no new pipelines get built out of the WCSB and oil sands producers still add new production. A rail car can typically move about 600 barrels and in the first quarter CP moved 17,000 cars.

      Permian region natural gas prices fall as production continues to grow - The natural gas spot price spread between the Permian Basin, as priced at the Waha Hub in western Texas, and the U.S. national benchmark Henry Hub in Louisiana has grown considerably in the past year. Natural gas prices at Waha are nearly a dollar per million British thermal units (MMBtu) lower than Henry Hub prices. This spread widened as the ability to transport the increased natural gas production in the Permian Basin in western Texas and southeastern New Mexico was constrained by existing pipeline capacity.  Based on estimates in EIA’s most recent Drilling Productivity Report, production of natural gas in the Permian Basin averaged 10.4 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in June 2018, which was 2.1 Bcf/d more than in June 2017. Much of this increase in production is associated natural gas, or natural gas produced as a byproduct of the increase in oil production from oil-directed rigs. As a result, the increase in natural gas production closely correlated with the increase in crude oil production in the Permian Basin, which averaged 3.3 million barrels per day (b/d) in June 2018, up 0.9 million b/d from the June 2017 level.   The widening price differential between Waha and Henry Hub indicates pipeline capacity is already somewhat constrained.  Producers may flare or vent the natural gas, although these disposal methods are regulated in Texas and New Mexico. Both states allow flaring from wells during drilling and immediately after completion. However, after a certain amount of time, producers can only flare natural gas after receiving exemptions from a state agency. If natural gas production continues to grow, and natural gas prices continue to fall, some producers in the area may cease oil production to avoid producing associated natural gas. Two pipelines—Comanche Trail and Pecos Trail—were completed in 2017 to export Permian natural gas to Mexico. Although these pipelines have a combined takeaway capacity of 2.6 Bcf/d, they are not expected to see significant flows until late 2018 or early 2019 when downstream pipeline infrastructure in Mexico enters service. The only other project expected to come online in 2018 is the combined expansion of the North Texas Pipeline and resumption of service on the Old Ocean Pipeline, which collectively will increase pipeline capacity out of the Permian by 0.15 Bcf/d.

      Cooler Weather Helps Drag Down Natural Gas Futures as Production Keeping Bears in Control - Natural gas futures continued their recent slide Tuesday as strong production and cooler weather trends conspired to help drag down prices. In the spot market, more volatility in Southern California and retreating prices in the Northeast headlined a day of generally small adjustments; the NGI National Spot Gas Average gave back a penny to finish at $2.74/MMBtu. The August Nymex futures contract settled at $2.740 Tuesday, down 1.9 cents, after marking out a higher high ($2.788) and a lower low ($2.731) versus the previous day’s action. September dropped 2.3 cents to $2.707, while January settled at $2.968, down 2.1 cents on the day. The latest guidance issued on Tuesday showed slightly above-average cooling load overall the next two weeks but with “decent cooler risks” for the last week of July, and weather patterns appear unlikely to produce the kind of record-level demand that has been needed to drive prices higher this summer, according to Bespoke Weather Services. Prices initially climbed “on indications that production has declined more than expected from recent highs,” Bespoke said. “However, production still remained high enough that when combined with looser burns the last couple of days and especially significantly cooler medium- and long-range weather trends natural gas prices were forced to reverse, moving steadily lower through much of the morning before finding a low midday.” The Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its latest Drilling Productivity Report (DPR) this week and is forecasting month/month (m/m) production growth from the United States’ seven most prolific onshore oil and gas plays to continue in August. Total gas production production in August for seven key regions -- the Anadarko, Appalachian and Permian basins, and the Bakken, Eagle Ford, Haynesville and Niobrara formations -- is expected to reach 70.53 Bcf/d, compared to 69.47 Bcf/d in July, according to EIA. Total oil production from the same plays is forecast to increase to 7.47 million b/d from 7.33 million b/d in July.

      Similar Themes from Forecasts Overnight as August Natural Gas Seen Near Even -August natural gas futures were set to open Wednesday near even at around $2.746/MMBtu as forecasters noted generally minor adjustments to the weather outlook overnight. The major weather models overnight carried a mix of changes but maintained the overall pattern of “mostly comfortable” temperatures sweeping through the Midwest and east-central United States over the next two weeks, according to NatGasWeather.“We continue to look toward the last couple days of July into early August for the next opportunity for more intimidating heat to return across the east-central U.S., which more data would still need to come on board with if the markets are to believe it,” the firm said.   “...To our view, today will be an interesting day to see if prices are able to hold recent support” before Thursday’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report, “where deficits are likely to increase slightly to near 525 Bcf as it’s favored to come in just under the five-year average of 62 Bcf. To illustrate how strong production has become, the same weather pattern last year would have resulted in a build nearly 30 Bcf lighter” than the injection expected in the report.   Radiant Solutions reported similar themes in both its six- to 10-day and 11-15 day forecasts Wednesday.The six- to 10-day period trended “only slightly cooler in the Rockies. Otherwise, anomalous heat remains favored from the West toward Texas, where the more intense heat is focused in the early half and only fading slightly in intensity late,” Radiant said. “A pair of disturbances deepen a trough over the Great Lakes as the period progresses, with the feature helping to pull down a cooler Canadian air mass toward the Midwest during the second half of the period.” In the 11-15 day period, “near normal temperatures are expected in the Eastern Half, while aboves remain the favored solution from the West toward Texas,” the firm said.

      Excess natural gas keeps pricing for Oklahoma producers discounted - Power producers across the nation continue to add natural gas generation to their fleets, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports. Locally, Oklahoma Gas and Electric recently spent about $400 million to upgrade its Mustang power plant in Oklahoma City to include 462-megawatts of new generating capacity supplied by seven natural gas-fired turbines. You can't burn natural gas fast enough to help Oklahoma producers, it seems.Despite the fuel's increased use to generate electricity and an exponential growth in exports, a growing supply of gas continues to outpace demand and market pricing for it remains under $3 per thousand cubic feet. The catalyst behind that growth is new, "associated gas" production from shale wells, particularly ones targeting oil that are being drilled in the Permian Basin.Associated gas from wells in Oklahoma's SCOOP and STACK fields also are a contributor, as are production increases involving natural gas wells being completed in the Utica and Marcellus shale fields in Ohio and Pennsylvania.On the demand side, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports the nation:

      • • Exported about 3.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in 2017, about double what it exported in 2013.
      • • Is expected to use natural gas to generate 37 percent of the electricity needed to power homes and businesses domestically during this summer's cooling season of June, July and August, nearing a record percentage that previously was set in 2016.
      • • Is expected to export about 10 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas and natural gas liquids this year, and will export about 13 billion cubic feet per day of the product in 2019.

      The myth of clean natural gas -- Natural gas in particular has gotten wide attention, in part because it is much more carbon-efficient than coal when burned to produce electricity. The slogan was that it could serve as a "bridge fuel" between dirty coal and clean renewables — and thus fight climate change, at least relative to continuing reliance on coal.It's increasingly clear, however, that natural gas is already nearly past its point of maximum usefulness. It should simply be phased out as soon as possible — as soon as coal is gone, it should be next on the chopping block, if not right beside.  The first and biggest problem with natural gas is leaks. The fuel is largely composed of methane, and the smaller greenhouse gas footprint of the fuel relies on all that methane actually getting burned. If there are leaks at the wellhead, or the pipelines, or at the power plant, it cuts into the climate change benefit very quickly, because methane is tremendously effective at capturing heat. Measured over 20 years, a given quantity of methane captures about 86 times as much heat as the same amount of carbon dioxide.  It turns out there are a ton of such leaks. Comprehensive leak data hasn't been assembled, largely because the energy industry — and now the United States government, but I repeat myself — doesn't want it to be. However, it's a fairly simple procedure to fly a plane over the big drilling fields, test for methane concentrations, figure out a reasonable model of gas dispersal, and calculate a leak rate. Lo and behold, a recent study found (yet again) that leaks are so bad they basically cancel out the climate advantages of natural gas compared to coal (though natural gas still produces fewer poisonous fumes and heavy metals).

      Minn. Supreme Court allows pipeline protesters to use climate 'necessity defense' - Climate change protesters are claiming victory in their effort to present an unusual "necessity defense" against felony charges stemming from efforts to shut down oil pipelines.The Minnesota Supreme Court declined Wednesday to review a ruling by the Minnesota Court of Appeals that backed the protesters, who will still face an uphill legal battle when their case goes to trial this fall.  Emily Johnston and Annette Klapstein acknowledge turning the emergency shut-off valves on two pipelines in 2016 in Clearwater County of northwestern Minnesota as part of a coordinated nationwide action. Eleven activists were charged in all. The Court of Appeals ruled in April the two Seattle-area women can argue that they believe the threat of climate change from Canadian tar sands crude is so imminent that they were justified.

      Colorado to accelerate cleanup of ‘orphaned’ oil, gas wells (AP) — Colorado's governor ordered state regulators on Wednesday to accelerate the cleanup of inactive oil and gas wells whose owners have walked away.Gov. John Hickenlooper also told regulators to study whether the state requires companies to post a big enough bond before they start drilling. The bonds are designed to cover the cost of plugging inactive wells and cleaning up the sites if the company fails to do it.Colorado has about 260 wells considered "orphans" because no owner can be found, or the owner is unwilling or unable to deal with them. About 110 other oil and gas sites without wells on them are also orphaned.Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said that number will increase because some energy companies go out of business and previously unknown orphaned wells are being discovered.He signed an executive order directing the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to categorize each orphaned well and site as high, medium or low priority and aim to clean up the high and medium priority sites by July 2023.The priority will be based on how many people live nearby, the environmental impacts of the site, how many spills the site has had and other factors.Hickenlooper told the commission to produce the list by Aug. 1 and update it yearly. Newly added sites should be cleaned up within two years if they are high or medium priority, he said. Hickenlooper said it could cost around $25 million to plug and clean up the known orphaned wells and sites.

      The Colorado valley at stake in Trump's oil boom - Ten thousand feet up, it’s possible to see the whole North Fork Valley from Dan Stucker’s plane. As the aircraft glides over sloping mesas with snow-dusted mountains, the land below resembles a vintage pioneer landscape.If President Donald Trump has his way, a new feature could arrive on this vista: oil and gas pumps. His administration is opening vast stretches of public land to energy companies, and among the forests and fields under Stucker’s plane, up to 95 percent of the valley could be available to drillers.The administration’s new policies would bring sweeping changes to this Rocky Mountain landscape, facilitated by a growing bond between federal officials and the oil and gas industry. Emails and other communications between government employees obtained by E&E News reveal directives and orders by Trump officials to shelve environmental policies to speed energy development. In one instance, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke courted oil and gas drillers in private by assuring them that changes to federal land policy would make their companies more profitable. Documents show that some career employees in the Bureau of Land Management questioned whether drillers were being penalized adequately for major violations of environmental regulations. Interior Department staffers also pushed back on efforts by political appointees to put federal land up for auction before scientific assessments on the potential damage drilling could inflict on wildlife were finished.  At other times, federal officials voiced concern that Trump’s drilling goals were more aggressive than oil industry wishes. One federal official was asked whether it would be possible to rejigger data to make it look like the government would sell more leases because she was worried about how companies’ lack of interest in drilling would look to administration bigwigs, according to an email E&E News obtained.  These policies will set the nation on a future course of reliance on fossil fuels that cause climate change, more air and water pollution in rural areas, and new threats to endangered species. In return, the government charges oil companies as little as $2 per acre to lease the land for drilling.

      Groups sue North Dakota over oil refinery near national park  — Three environmental groups are suing North Dakota over an air quality permit that allows construction of an $800 million oil refinery about 3 miles (5 kilometers) from Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  National Parks Conservation Association, the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Dakota Resource Council filed the lawsuit in state court on Thursday, asserting that the state erred when it concluded the proposed Davis Refinery wouldn’t be a major source of pollution and wouldn’t negatively impact the park. The lawsuit asks a judge to declare the permit invalid and send the case back to North Dakota’s Health Department for further review.  “We must protect the air quality in the national park, which visitors and surrounding community members breathe, and on which the stunning views and fragile ecosystems depend,” said Stephanie Kodish, clean air program director for National Parks Conservation Association. “This polluting oil refinery betrays the conservation values of the park’s namesake.”  The 30,000-acre (12,000-hectare) park is named for the former U.S. president who ranched in the region in the 1880s and is revered for his advocacy of land and wildlife conservation. It’s a rugged and breathtaking area of hills, ridges, buttes and bluffs where millions of years of erosion have exposed colorful sedimentary rock layers, and is home to a variety of wildlife including prairie dogs, wild horses and bison. The park is the state’s top tourist attraction, drawing more than 700,000 visitors annually. Meridian Energy Group is developing the refinery to initially process about 27,500 barrels of oil daily, with room for expansion. The company maintains that the plant with modern technology will be “the cleanest refinery on the planet.” The lawsuit comes about two weeks after the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Dakota Resource Council filed a separate complaint with North Dakota regulators requesting a study of the refinery’s location. The Public Service Commission is reviewing the complaint. The refinery also will need state water and wastewater permits, but it can begin building before receiving them. O’Clair said that, in light of the lawsuit, the company would be proceeding at its own risk.

      ND oilfields set three new state records —North Dakota's daily oil production in My broke the previous all-time high set in 2014, but that wasn't the only new record set. As oil production hit 1.24 million barrels per day in May, natural gas production hit almost 2.32 billion cubic feet per day, with producing wells at 14,755 for the month — all new state records. Lynn Helms, director of the state Department of Mineral Resources, said Friday that May's numbers "really shattered the old record" set in December 2014, by about 17,000 daily barrels, or about a 1.4 percent increase. North Dakota's gas production in May also surpassed 70 billion cubic feet — a first in state history for a month, according to Helms. But for the first time since October 2017, state gas production missed its flaring goal of 85 percent gas capture, notching 83 percent, which Helms said was largely due to the Robinson Lake gas plant in Mountrail County being down in May for maintenance and upgrades. "We're seeing natural gas increase at twice the pace of oil production, in terms of a percentage increase, and back in 2014, that wasn't the case," Helms said. "Today when you see a 1.6 percent increase in oil, you're seeing twice that in gas production increases, and so it's really straining the infrastructure." Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority, also noted natural gas capacity and processing were strained by production growth. "It has narrowed from what it was in the previous months, but again, just challenges out there keeping up with this increasing drilling activity, new wells coming online, has been proving challenging for the industry as well, as once you get them connected, the network today just simply doesn't have enough capacity to handle all that gas," he said. 

       Tribal Chairman Sends Ominous 4-Word Letter to Keystone XL Pipeline Developer - The hotly contested Keystone XL Pipeline set to bring crude oil from Canada into the U.S. is chugging along. Developer TransCanada is preparing for construction in Montana and South Dakota, and the company decided it would give the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe a heads up in a letter on Wednesday. On Thursday, Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier offered just four ominous words in response.  “We will be waiting.”  Native American tribes in the Midwest have been opposing the 1,179-mile long pipeline since 2008, and they’re not letting up. They nearly won the fight in 2015, when former President Barack Obama rejected a key permit. Then Trump came along and reversed that decision.  Opponents worry what an oil spill could mean for their water, their land, and their health. And they have reason to worry. Keystone XL’s sister pipeline, Keystone, suffered a spill last year in South Dakota.Anyway, TransCanada wants to begin construction in Montana and South Dakota come 2019, so it’s getting ready. That means delivering construction materials and clearing out trees and plants to lay the groundwork for pipe installation. The project is still wrapped up in the courts, though. Tribes arechallenging its approval, and landowners are arguing to keep their land, so it’s not a done deal. That’s not stopping the company from doing what it can, though.

      Zinke’s Real Estate Deal With Halliburton Chair to Be Investigated -- The Department of Interior's (DOI) inspector general wrote to Congressional Democrats Wednesday saying the office had opened an investigation into a real estate deal involving Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke and Halliburton Chair David Lesar, POLITICO reported."You expressed special concern about the reported funding by a top executive at Halliburton and assuring decisions that affect the nation's welfare are not compromised by individual self enrichment," Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall wrote to Democratic Representative Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, and other Democrats, POLITICO reported. "My office opened an investigation into this matter on July 16."The investigation will asses whether the deal, uncovered last month, violated conflict of interest law.In June, POLITICO reported that a foundation started by Zinke and currently run by his wife granted a real-estate development backed by Lesar permission to build a parking lot on land originally donated to the foundation for a Veteran's Peace Park that has yet to be built. The development, in the Zinke's hometown of Whitefish, Montana, could increase the value of the land owned by their foundation."Secretary Zinke doesn't seem to take his responsibility to the public seriously," Grijalva said in a statement reported by POLITICO. "He's turned it into the Ryan Zinke show, which is more about waving his own flag above the building and doing personal business deals with his friends instead of protecting public lands and improving our environmental quality. This formal investigation is one of many he's managed to pile up in his short and undistinguished tenure, and I join my Democratic colleagues in seeking the transparency and accountability that Republicans have so far not provided." The DOI investigation comes little over a week after the U.S. Office of Special Counsel started a case file on whether Zinke violated the Hatch Act when he tweeted a picture of himself wearing socks embroidered with Trump's face and "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan, CNN reported.

      US unconventional oil production seen rising 143,000 b/d in August to 7.470 million b/d — US unconventional oil production is projected to rise 143,000 b/d in August to 7.470 million b/d, the US Energy Information Administration said, the second-highest month-to-month growth increase since the agency has kept such records.  The EIA predicted an all-time high 144,000 b/d jump in output only a few months ago in a build from May to June. The agency said in its latest Drilling Productivity Report released Monday domestic unconventional natural gas production is forecasted to increase by 1.066 Bcf/d to 70.532 Bcf/d, a record-high and nearly twice the volume produced at end-2013 of around 36.5 Bcf/d.Moreover, Permian Basin drilled but uncompleted (DUC) wells rose 164 in June to 3,368, one of the largest recent monthly well builds. By comparison, the DUC build in was 169 in May and 133 in April.Total US DUCs rose by 193 on month to 7,943 in June.But the EIA said its DUC and production figures are sketchy since information is difficult to obtain now as little specific data is provided by E&Ps or midstream providers. "We may overestimate production due to constraints" in oil and gas takeaway capacity, EIA analyst Jozef Lieskovsky said. "We have watched [well completions] filings coming in and they are disappointing over the last few weeks.  Lieskovsky and other industry sources are confident more information will be forthcoming during the round of second-quarter conference calls in the next several weeks. Until then, all eyes are on the Permian Basin of West Texas and southeast New Mexico, which EIA sees as far outdistancing other shale basins in unconventional oil production growth during August - up 73,000 b/d to 3.406 million b/d. Production in the Eagle Ford Shale of South Texas is forecasted to grow 35,000 b/d in August to 1.436 million b/d, while the Bakken Shale of North Dakota and Montana is pegged to grow 15,000 b/d to 1.297 million b/d. The Anadarko Basin of Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle, is predicted to grow 10,000 b/d to 559,000 b/d, while the Niobrara Shale in Colorado and Wyoming is pegged to increase by 6,000 b/d to 611,000 b/d. The Appalachian Basin in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia is forecast at 4,000 b/d of oil growth in August to 118,000 b/d. The Haynesville Shale, in northeast Louisiana and east Texas, is targeted to remain flat in oil output in August at 43,000 b/d. The Appalachian and Haynesville plays are largely natural gas-prone basins with small crude outputs.

      US Crude Oil Output Hits 11 Million bpd For First Time Ever (Reuters) - U.S. crude oil production last week hit 11 million barrels per day (bpd) for the first time in the nation's history, the Energy Department said on Wednesday, as the ongoing boom in shale production continues to drive output. The gains represent a rapid increase in output, as the data, if confirmed by monthly figures, puts the United States as the second largest producer of crude oil, just behind Russia, which was producing 11.2 million bpd in early July, according to sources. "Eleven million would have made us the biggest producer in the world; but actually Russian production in June was above 11 million. So, this is kind of like the space race," said Sandy Fielden, director of research in commodities and energy at Morningstar. The United States has added nearly 1 million bpd in production since November, thanks to rapid increases in shale drilling. "I don't think production is plateauing at 11. It's fully expected to grow beyond 11 - we won't be topping out there," said Scott Shelton, a broker at ICAP in Durham, North Carolina. Crude inventories increased 5.8 million barrels in the week to July 13, compared with analysts' expectations for a decrease of 3.6 million barrels. Crude futures edged down on the data. U.S. crude was down 55 cents to $67.51 a barrel, while Brent dropped 39 cents to $71.77 a barrel. The benchmarks have gained steadily since bottoming out below $30 a barrel in early 2016; U.S. crude is up nearly 12 percent this year. Weekly production figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration are notorious for revisions, as monthly data, released on a lag, shows U.S. production at 10.5 million bpd as of April. In the last several weeks, the EIA has rounded off U.S. production to the nearest hundred thousand barrels, so that figure had been stuck at 10.9 million bpd for over a month. This report comes amidst worries that infrastructure bottlenecks, which make it difficult for producers to get their oil to market, could soon start curtailing output. 

      Record Oil Output Does Not End US Import Dependence - In the first week of July, US net imports of petroleum products fell to just 1.67 million barrels per day, the lowest weekly total on record in at least three decades. The decline of net imports comes as the US has ramped up oil production in the last few years, which affects the net import figure in two ways. A steady increase in exports also pushes down the net import figure, Oil Price reported. Crude oil exports hit a high of 3 million bpd in the third week of June. However, the net import figure has been falling for years and a large part of that is the fact that the US has been scaling up exports of refined products, including gasoline, distillate fuel oil and propane, among others. This trend dates back longer than the recent rally in crude exports. In 2005, weekly net imports peaked, routinely topping 13 million bbd. This figure has currently plunged to less than 2 million bpd. While the US may not need oil and refined product imports as in the past, but the US is still completely enmeshed with the global market. In fact, as output of oil and refined products dramatically increased over the past few years, the volume of trade also rose sharply. When adding imports and exports, the total US trade in petroleum products hit 10.8 million bpd in June, the highest monthly total since 2005, dating back to when the US import dependence peaked.

      The U.S. and Canada Are Preparing for a New Standing Rock Over the Trans Mountain Tar Sands Pipeline --In British Columbia’s southern interior, on unceded land of the Secwepemc Nation, Kanahus Manuel stands alongside a 7-by-12-foot “tiny house” mounted on a trailer. Her uncle screws a two-by-four into a floor panel while her brother-in-law paints a mural on the exterior walls depicting a moose, birds, forests, and rivers — images of the terrain through which the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will pass, if it can get through the Tiny House Warriors’ roving blockade. The project would place a new pipeline alongside the existing Trans Mountain line, tripling the system’s capacity to 890,000 barrels of tar sands bitumen flowing daily from Alberta through British Columbia to an endpoint outside Vancouver. On May 29, the Canadian government announced that it would nationalize the Trans Mountain pipeline to assure the expansion would be built, putting up 4.5 billion Canadian dollars ($3.5 billion) to acquire the pipeline and other assets from the Texas-based energy giant Kinder Morgan. The purchase has dramatically raised the stakes of the fight for both the administration of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and pipeline opponents like Manuel. Should construction begin as scheduled in August, the Tiny House Warriors expect waves of allies from Indigenous nations inside Canada and beyond to join them as they wheel 10 of the houses into the pipeline’s path. Near the pipeline’s terminus outside Vancouver, members of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation have constructed a traditional “watch house” from which to monitor the progress of construction.  Resistance to the pipeline is already escalating: On July 3, seven pipeline opponents rappelled from Vancouver’s Ironworkers Memorial Bridge in a daylong blockade of tanker traffic associated with the existing Trans Mountain line. Last week, the Tiny House Warriors wheeled the homes into a provincial park that sits on the site of a historic village near Clearwater, British Columbia, in an assertion of their title to the land. On Saturday, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police singled out and arrested Manuel, whose livestream of the incident has garnered more than 500,000 views on Facebook.

      Canada LNG Exports -- Both West and East -- Facing Global Cost Pressures, Says CERI - Formidable cost obstacles confront British Columbia (BC) plans to break into global liquefied natural gas (LNG) markets, while Nova Scotia export proposals face even higher hurdles, according to the Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI).Supply costs exceed Asian and European spot market prices, a CERI study released Thursday said. The Competitive Analysis of Canadian LNG offers a sobering 125-page statistical portrait of the outlook for projects on the northern Pacific and Atlantic coasts.Even in long-term contracts that formerly placed high premiums on internationally traded gas, reductions of energy value indexes now make overseas export projects depend on oil price increases to make LNG from Canada profitable, CERI researchers said.CERI, an industry and government-supported independent agency, painted its Canadian LNG portrait with economic modeling. No inside knowledge is revealed about projects that lately aroused BC and Alberta industry optimism by attracting Asian participation and awarding construction contracts ahead of a final investment decision, LNG Canada and the associated Coastal GasLink pipeline.In CERI’s model as of May, the cost of landing LNG from BC and Alberta tight gas and shale formations on the benchmark Asian spot market in Japan would have been US$8.35/MMBtu -- or US80 cents more than the going price at the time. Export projects on Canada’s east coast would sink far deeper into the red because bans against tapping unconventional gas with horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec eliminated potential nearby supplies, said CERI.

      TransCanada celebrates Mexico pipeline start-up - TransCanada Corp. announced earlier this week that its Topolobampo natural gas pipeline in northern Mexico is complete and has been placed into service. The approximately $1.2 billion, 348-mile (560-kilometer) 30-inch diameter pipeline extends from El Encino in Chihuahua state to Topolobampo, located near the city of Los Mochis in Sinaloa state, according to a TransCanada press release. The Topolobampo Pipeline can deliver up to 670 million cubic feet of natural gas per day to markets in Chihuahua and Sinaloa, the company noted. Moreover, the company added that Topolobampo serves as an upstream interconnection with its Mazatlan Pipeline to form a combined 540-mile (870-kilometer) gas pipeline system in northwestern Mexico. “The completion of the Topolobampo and Mazatlan pipeline system is an important milestone for TransCanada as we continued to expand our portfolio to deliver natural gas to serve Mexico’s electric generation needs,” Robert Jones, president of TransCanada Mexico, said in a written statement. “We are developing the infrastructure to feed new power plants and convert existing fuel oil and diesel power plants, thereby reducing both the cost of electricity and greenhouse gas emissions. We are proud of the way we overcame technical challenges and completed this difficult project safely.” According to TransCanada, the pipeline route’s geography made constructing Topolobampo particularly challenging. The pipeline crosses the Tarahumara mountain range near Chihuahua’s famed Copper Canyon, and TransCanada pointed out that it used novel techniques such as a raised bore to cross “extreme steep cliff faces.” Moreover, the company said that construction called for the use of air cranes to transport pipes to remote locations. Nearly 3,500 employees and contractors worked on the Topolobampo project, which TransCanada noted was one of the first projects in Mexico to include federal government-led Indigenous consultations with impacted communities. The Topolobampo-Mazatlan system represents more than one-quarter of the gas pipeline mileage that TransCanada either operates or is building in Mexico. 

      TransCanada pipeline in Mexico expected to help displace fuel oil with US gas — TransCanada said Monday its 670 MMcf/d Topolobampo Pipeline has begun commercial service, part of an effort to move more US natural gas to northwest Mexico to serve power generation demand. The $1.2 billion project, which provides the upstream interconnection with the company's Mazatlan Pipeline, is expected to reduce fuel oil consumption in the power markets in the Mexican states of Sinaloa and Sonora.While TransCanada is focused on its significant pipeline interests in its home country and the eastern US, it also has been seeking to leverage its footprint in Mexico to take advantage of the shifting market dynamics resulting from energy reforms there. Mexico continues to be a major importer of US LNG, but that demand will decrease over time as other pipeline projects in the country come online."We are developing the infrastructure to feed new power plants and convert existing fuel oil and diesel power plants, thereby reducing both the cost of electricity and greenhouse gas emissions," Robert Jones, president of TransCanada's Mexico unit, said in a statement.The project involved the construction of approximately 348 miles of 30-inch diameter pipeline from El Encino, near the city of Chihuahua, to Topolobampo, near the city of Los Mochis, Sinaloa. Combined, the Topolobampo and Mazatlan pipelines form a system that adds over 540 miles of energy infrastructure that provide natural gas to power plants and industrial and urban markets in Mexico.Data from TransCanada Mexico show that Topolobampo Pipeline began taking intermittent receipts of gas on June 18, and since July 2 flows have increased to an average of 65 MMcf/d. Supply gas for the Topolobampo Pipeline is coming from interconnections with the Tarahumara pipeline in Chihuahua, which is itself taking gas from Oneok's Roadrunner pipeline in West Texas. Topolobampo Pipeline also delivers gas to interconnection systems in Sinaloa, which supply IEnova's 510 MMcf/d Guaymas-El Oro pipeline that serves the Mexican state of Sonora. While near-term utilizations are expected to be well below capacity, Topolobampo Pipeline remains a much needed outlet for Permian Basin associated gas production, which is itself nearing takeaway capacity constraints.

      EIA's Big Bullish Storage Miss Shakes Up Natural Gas Market Lulled by Production - A bullish surprise from the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) weekly natural gas inventory report served up a clear reminder that even as production growth has dominated the market’s thinking as of late, it hasn’t made a dent in storage deficits -- yet. EIA reported a 46 Bcf injection into Lower 48 gas stocks for the week ended July 13, roughly 10 Bcf below consensus estimates based on major surveys. The build also fell below the five-year average 62 Bcf injection. Last year, EIA recorded a 31 Bcf build for the period. With Thursday’s report marking the second straight week that injections have lagged the five-year average by a wide margin, the bears -- firmly in control heading into the session largely because of surging production -- seemed to concede that they had gone too far given the risks posed by large inventory deficits. The number, released at 10:30 a.m. ET, immediately sparked a rally for the prompt month, with prices popping to $2.750-2.760 after languishing down around $2.710 earlier in the morning. By 11 a.m. ET, the August Nymex futures contract was trading around $2.770, up about a nickel from Wednesday’s settle. Prior to the report, surveys showed the market looking for a build closer to 55 Bcf. A Bloomberg survey of traders and analysts had produced a median 56 Bcf build, with a range of 44 Bcf to 65 Bcf. Intercontinental Exchange EIA Financial Weekly Index futures had settled Wednesday at an injection of 54 Bcf. Bespoke Weather Services said this week’s figure came in “a whopping 15 Bcf below our expectation. This indicates that there was significantly more holiday in the print last week than expected, and that the natural gas market is materially tighter” than previously thought. 

      Analysis: Bullish build in US gas storage leads to price gains as deficit widens — Despite a drop in gas-fired power demand, natural gas storage inventories increased at a much lower volume than the market expected last week, which expanded the deficit to historical levels and provided uplift to prompt-month futures for the first time in weeks.  US natural gas in storage increased by 46 Bcf to 2.249 Tcf for the week ended July 13, the US Energy Information Administration reported Thursday morning. The build was much less than an S&P Global Platts' survey of analysts calling for a 59 Bcf addition. The injection was more than the 31 Bcf build reported during the corresponding week in 2017 but below the five-year average addition of 62 Bcf, according to EIA data. As a result, stocks were 710 Bcf, or 24%, less than the year-ago level of 2.959 Tcf and 535 Bcf, or 19%, less than the five-year average of 2.784 Tcf. The injection was smaller than the 51 Bcf build reported the week prior, even though cooler weather prompted a drop in gas-fired power demand by 1.1 Bcf/d, according to data from Platts Analytics. However, this was somewhat offset by a 400 MMcf/d drop in Canadian imports and a 200 MMcf/d dip in domestic production. The report featured net withdrawals in two of the EIA's five storage regions, including a 5 Bcf pull in the South Central region and a 1 Bcf draw from the Pacific. NYMEX August Henry Hub natural gas futures climbed 5 cents to $2.77/MMBtu following the storage announcement. Prompt month futures have dipped steadily for the past several weeks. The gas market has been in a downturn since mid-to-late June, whereby much of the 2018 strip is approaching or is at year-to-date lows. However, from a fundamental perspective, the market is trending more bullish. The week ending July 20 looks to feature an even smaller build of only 36 Bcf, according to Platts Analytics. Searing temperatures across the Northeast, Southeast and especially in Texas boosted power burn by 2.5 Bcf/d from the week prior. On Tuesday, power burn struck a year-to-date high of 40.3 Bcf/d. Also, with relatively hot weather forecasts spanning the remainder of the month, it is likely that total July power burn will top the current record of 36.6 Bcf/d realized during July 2016. It is currently averaging 37.3 Bcf/d month to date, according to Platts Analytics, which is 3.3 Bcf/d more than last July. Texas alone makes up 400 MMcf/d of the increase.

      End-of-season natural gas storage inventories are forecast to be the lowest since 2008 - The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) forecasts working natural gas inventories on October 31 will be 3,470 billion cubic feet (Bcf), 365 Bcf (10%) lower than the five-year average and 346 Bcf (9%) lower than last year’s level. This forecast inventory level would be the lowest end-of-October storage level since 2008, when inventories ended the month at 3,412 Bcf. The natural gas storage refill season is traditionally April 1—October 31, when natural gas is typically put into underground storage facilities to prepare for increased winter demand for space heating, particularly in the residential and commercial sectors—although injections into storage often occur in the first few weeks of November.  Current New York Mercantile Exchange (Nymex) winter strip futures prices—the average price for November through March futures contracts—for this coming winter have remained relatively unchanged since January 2018 and are similar to the last 3 years’ winter strip futures prices in July. The winter strip price can reflect expectations of meeting peak winter demand based on factors such as natural gas inventories heading into the winter or production expectations. Because inventories are forecast to remain lower than the five-year average, which would put upward pressure on the futures price, other factors are contributing to downward pressure on winter-strip prices:

      • Expectations of continued production growth: The STEO forecasts total U.S. dry natural gas production for November 2018–March 2019 will average about 84 Bcf per day (Bcf/d), up 6 Bcf/d from the winter period last year.
      • Expectations of average injection levels for the remainder of the refill season: Net injections reported since April 27 have generally followed the five-year average, with the forecasted end-of-season level 3% lower than the five-year minimum.

      A key uncertainty for end-of-season inventory levels is weather-driven demand from the electric power sector. Natural gas demand for electricity generation tends to peak in the summer months with demand for air conditioning. The current temperature outlook for August–October is for above-normal temperatures throughout the Lower 48 states. The STEO is currently forecasting natural gas use in the electric power sector for August–October to average about 31 Bcf/d, up 2 Bcf/d from last year for the same time period. While production is largely forecasted to keep up with growing sector demand and exports, more extreme weather could lead to higher demand for natural gas-fired generation and, subsequently, a lower inventory level by October 31.

      Senate to consider bill boosting U.S. LNG exports to Europe, taking aim at Russian gas- Two days after President Donald Trump's controversial summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, some Senate Republicans are looking to hit Russia where it hurts - it's energy sector. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., introduced legislation Wednesday calling for the Department of Energy to speed up approval of LNG exports to Europe, where Russia has long had a strangle hold on natural gas supplies. Likewise, the bill would authorize U.S. sanctions on Russian energy projects, including the planned Nordstream 2 pipeline, which would run across the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany."It is in the national security interests of our country to help our allies reduce their dependence on Russian energy," Barrasso said on the senate floor. ""Where those countries don't see it for themselves, we need to show them how important it is for their own security." With Republicans anxious to prove their anti-Russian bonafides, Congress is expected to consider in the weeks ahead numerous pieces of legislation designed to punish Russia for its meddling in the 2016 presidential election.That follows a summit in Helsinki Monday in which Trump, standing alongside Putin, said the Russian president had made a "strong and powerful" case that his country had not interfered in the election. He also questioned unanimous consensus among U.S. intelligence officials that Russia had in fact interfered - a statement the president attempted to walk back Tuesday. Under the legislation, U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchinson, the former Texas senator, would be directed to encourage members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to work with the United States to "achieve energy security for its members and partners in Europe and Eurasia."

      Not dead yet: Home of Brent crude gets new lease of life (Reuters) - Oil giant BP’s Eastern Trough Area Project off the coast of Scotland wasn’t supposed to be viable beyond 2018. But government and industry working together have given ETAP a new lease of life that is being closely watched by countries and companies eyeing other ageing projects around the world. When ETAP was launched 20 years ago today, some experts predicted the UK sector of the North Sea would cease most production by 2030. Government efforts to keep producers in the basin, home to the Brent crude that underpins the price benchmark, gained urgency with the 2014 oil price crash. Cheaper oil also forced the industry to upgrade technology and find more efficiencies. From original plans to stop production at ETAP, BP decided to invest $1 billion in 2015. “One has to take stock of the potential going forward and make an intervention that allows for the right investment to extend life,” Ariel Flores, BP’s North Sea Chief, told Reuters. “We’ve done that on ETAP.” ETAP’s example shows how efforts to extend the production in the North Sea are succeeding, providing lessons for producers in other fields near exhaustion such as those in the Gulf of Mexico and southeast Asia. ETAP produces around 37,000 barrels per day of oil now against as much as 217,000 bpd in 2000. But BP production in the entirety of the North Sea is set to double in 2020 to 200,000 bpd from 2014 as fields such as Clair Ridge west of Shetland islands come on line, Flores said. “There are a number of fields in the central North Sea area waiting for final investment decisions (FIDs). And for some of those, the potential host is ETAP,” Flores said. Long-established oil giants such as BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Total as well as smaller, nimbler North Sea-focused producers such as Enquest and Premier Oil are all finding business opportunities in the area. 

      Ireland To Move All Its Oil Reserves Out Of The UK As Brexit Nears -- The Irish government is expected to agree this week on a plan to move all of the Republic’s oil reserves out of the UK as Ireland steps up its preparations for Brexit, Ireland’s Sunday Independent reported.Under the plan, seen as one of the most significant Brexit decisions for Ireland so far, Ireland will transfer the nearly 200,000 tons of oil out of British refineries and back into Ireland or other EU member states, as the UK is preparing to leave the European Union bloc.According to Sunday Independent, the oil would be moved out of the UK “for national security reasons.”“We pay for storage there so that will have serious implications for UK refineries who have stored our oil for almost two decades,” a senior Irish government source told Sunday Independent.Ireland has 1.5 million tons of oil reserves. Some 500,000 tons of those reserves are stored in other countries, including the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Spain. The remaining 1 million tons are held at ports along Ireland’s coasts.Under the EU’s Oil Stocks Directive, EU countries must keep emergency stocks of crude oil and/or petroleum products equal to at least 90 days of net imports or 61 days of consumption, whichever is higher.According to reports, one of Ireland’s options for moving the oil reserves out of the UK could be physically moving the oil via tankers. An alternative is also being considered—to make trade deals in which the ownership of UK oil in other EU member state is transferred to Ireland, without the need to physically move the oil.While it is studying  where to keep its oil reserves after Brexit, Ireland could become the first country in the world to quit fossil fuel investments completely, after the Fossil Fuel Divestment bill was passed by the country’s lower house, the Dáil Éireann, last week.

      Why Is Venezuela Still Sending Subsidized Oil To Cuba? -- In the past, oil has accounted for 96 percent of Venezuela's exports and over 40 percent of government revenues. Now, as the nation’s economy continues to crumble amid sanctions, political strife, and low oil prices, Venezuela’s all-important oil production is plummeting. In fact, last month’s production was the lowest in 30 years at 1.5 million barrels a day. In desperation, the struggling administration has even begun to shut downproduction proactively as their terminal storage meets maximum capacity and the government faces major bottlenecks at storage facilities and ports.  As oil production and exports drop, the Venezuelan government has even less money to buy essentials like food, medicines, and other basic goods--a well-established crisis growing worse all the time. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said that the brutal economic crisis underway in Venezuela is one of the worst in modern history. The nation’s once powerful economy has plummeted 45 percent in the last five years, and the IMF projects that it will shrink 15 percent in 2018 alone. Out-of-control inflation rates will reach 13,800 percent. However, in the middle of the chaos -- a collapsing regime, widespread hunger, medical shortages -- there is one holdover from the socialist platform that autocratic President Nicolas Maduro has refused to lapse on. Despite the crisis on his own soil, Maduro continues to grant generous oil subsidies to Cuba. The small island nation, not without its own economic issues, has been dependent on cheap Venezuelan oil since the 1990s. After the fall of the Soviet Union, comrade Cuba was in economic shambles. It was at this point that they turned to Venezuela reduced-rate crude oil, in exchange for sending skilled laborers across the Caribbean. Now, as Venezuela sinks deeper and deeper into an extreme economic depression, few could have predicted that they would still be making good on that decade-old agreement with Cuba--even the Cubans themselves have been scrambling for new sources of cheap crude.

      Big petroleum projects in Argentina face tiny challenge: a lizard (AFP) - A tiny but critically endangered lizard found in Argentina's extensive Vaca Muerta petroleum field could pose a major challenge to companies planning multimillion-dollar investments in the area. The lizard, whose scientific name is Liolaemus cuyumhue, was discovered in an area known as Bajo de Anelo, in the western province of Neuquen. "We have classified this lizard as critically endangered," warned Luciano Avila, a herpetologist, or reptile specialist. The species was identified just a year ago in Bajo de Anelo, an area of tectonic subsidence -- sinking of the Earth's crust -- within the Vaca Muerta field. The lizard is "one step away from being in danger of extinction if no measures are taken to protect its environment,"  The tiny tan lizard lives in dunes and can bury itself and move under the surface "as if swimming through the sand," Avila said. It survives on insects. But its habitat, he said, is being disturbed by oil companies' fracking activities -- the hydraulic fracturing of shale deposits to extract oil or gas. Petroleum companies have big plans for the area, saying they want to invest more than $3 billion over the next 20 years. But to Avila, Bajo de Anelo is a "spectacular area" and a hotspot of biodiversity, with "many lizards that are unique to these environments." He would like to see more research done on the lizards and their environment, with the government establishing permanent safe areas for their continued survival. 

      Angola data: Crude oil exports down further in May — Angola's oil exports fell further in May, as the African oil producer struggles to arrest declines at some of its ageing deepwater oil fields, finance ministry data showed Tuesday. But there could be a recovery in the country's oil production with the start up of Total's 230,000 b/d Kaombo field beginning production next month. Angola exported 1,425,269 b/d of crude oil in May from 1,534,750 b/d in April, and down 13% from the 2017 average export volume of 1,632,766 b/d, according to ministry data. The country exported a total of 44,183,339 barrels of crude in May at an average price of $70.71/b, compared with 46,042,507 barrels at an average price of $65.50/b in April, the ministry added. Export volumes last year fell 6% from 2016 levels of 1,730,070 b/d after exports in 2015 rose to a five-year high of 1,767,410 b/d. Trading sources expect exports in June to fall further as technical problems persist at some its fields. Last week, the Angolan oil minister reported to OPEC that output in June averaged 1.45 million b/d in June compared to 1.49 million b/d the previous month. The fall in exports in the past year reflects a similar trend in Angolan oil production, owing to technical and operational problems, especially at its offshore fields, as well as a lack of upstream investment. Production peaked at around 1.9 million b/d in 2008. 

      S.Korea LNG imports set to ease from record as power firms guzzle less gas (Reuters) - South Korean imports of liquefied natural gas are set to ease from record levels racked up in the first-half of the year, with appetite for the fuel from utilities seen fading as a raft of nuclear power stations come back online. The country’s imports of the commodity jumped nearly 16 percent year-on-year to a record 22.7 million tonnes in the first six months of 2018, according to customs data in mid-July, boosted by demand from power firms as around half the nation’s 24 nuclear plants were shut for maintenance. But with an average of only six reactors expected to be offline over the rest of the year, analysts say shipments of LNG into the world’s No.3 importer of the fuel are likely to decline. “(LNG) demand in the second-half won’t be as strong as in the first-half because nuclear run rates will rise,” said Yang Ji-hae, an analyst at Samsung Securities. South Korea mainly consumes natural gas for heating and cooking, although it has been pushing to use the fuel more in power generation as it looks to switch away from coal and nuclear. Gas power generation made up 29.1 percent of the country’s overall electricity output in January-May, up from 20.4 percent last year, according to Reuters calculations based on data from Korea Electric Power Corp. That compares to the share of nuclear power at 20.8 percent, down from typical levels of around 30 percent. 

      China gasoil exports build surplus, hold Asia cash spread to multi-year lows (Reuters) - China’s record-breaking gasoil exports have built a surplus of the fuel in Asia, sending the region’s gasoil cash differentials to Singapore assessment prices to multi-year lows, with no sign the glut is set to subside through the third quarter. Cash differentials for Asia’s benchmark 10 parts-per-million (ppm) grade, gasoil containing 0.001 percent sulphur, sank to a discount of 25 cents a barrel to Singapore prices on July 2, the lowest since Reuters started tracking the grade in late 2011. The differential GO10-SIN-DIF has held near that level since then, although narrowing slightly. “Singapore 10 ppm gasoil usually trades at a premium but is now trading at a discount as it is very bearish,” said a Singapore-based veteran trader of middle distillates. “The bearishness is more a result of supplies coming from China and sellers having few outlets as the Asia-Latin America trade flow is shut,” the trader said. China’s diesel exports have been surging as refiners there have been running at record rates. China’s March gasoil exports reached 2.4 million tonnes, surpassing an earlier record of 2 million tonnes in November 2017. Between January and May, China exported about 8.5 million tonnes of diesel, 6.5 times higher than in 2015 and up 27 percent versus 2017 over the same periods. The rising gasoil supplies have prompted refiners to search for new markets, with Sinopec Tianjin Refinery shipping a parcel to Australia last month for the first time. “Yield shifts towards gasoil/diesel are becoming observable in the latest rounds of data,” said Eugene Lindell of the JBC Energy Research Team, a consultancy firm based in Vienna. The shift towards middle distillates - caused by price incentives over other fuels - could also mean higher exports including from South Korea and India, Lindell said. The recovery in crude oil prices has weighed heavily on most fuels, although middles distillates gasoil and jet fuel have fared better than products such as gasoline and naphtha. India exported 8.8 million tonnes of gasoil over January-April versus 8.4 million tonnes for the same period last year. South Korea exported 71.6 million barrels (9.5 million tonnes) for the first five months this year, down 1.4 percent during the same period last year, according to data from state-run Korea National Oil Corp.

      Analysis: China's crude import growth slips into the red, may fall further  — The pace of growth in China's crude imports may slow in H2 as a cocktail of lower runs at independent refiners, potential delays in the start up of some refineries and higher inventories curb the appetite for cargoes by Asia's largest oil consumer. The first signs of feeble interest in cargoes were visible in the June data, which showed imports falling 4.9% to a six-month low of 4.35 million mt, or 8.39 million b/d, marking the first year-on-year drop in 2018, data from the General Administration of Customs showed. "We think crude imports in H2 2018 will likely ease to an average of 9.01 million b/d, from 9.08 million b/d seen in H1 2018," S&P Global Platts Analytics' senior analyst Zhuwei Wang said. Wang attributed the expected slowdown in crude oil import growth in H2 to a variety of factors. While Zhejiang Petrochemical will likely delay the start of trial runs until Q1 2019, Hengli Petrochemical might be fully commissioned only in early 2019. This will curb the potential for higher crude imports in H2 2018, he said. Even the start of the 100,000 b/d primary capacity expansion of PetroChina's Huabei refinery in Q4, and the restart of operations at Fuhaichuang Petroleum and Petrochemical's 4 million mt/year condensate splitter in Q3 are unlikely to support crude imports, as they would only be able to do trial runs this year. "In addition, crude inventories piled up at both state oil companies and independent refineries in H1 2018, which will likely incentivize destocking in Q3, and cut the appetite for higher crude imports in July and August," Wang added.  Monthly crude imports by China were lower than June 2018 levels only in December 2017, which saw inflows of 7.97 million b/d, customs data showed. The fall in June inflows was in line with expectations.

      De-Dollarization: Chinese Refiner Replaces US Imports With Iranian Crude - An independent Chinese refiner has suspended crude oil purchases from the United States and has now turned to Iran as one of its sources of crude, media reports cited an official from the refiner, Dongming Petrochemical Group, as saying.  The source said Beijing is planning to slap tariffs on US crude oil imports and replace them with West African and Middle Eastern crude, including crude from Iran, Oil Price reported. China has already said that it will not comply with US sanctions against Iran and it seems to be the only country for now in a position to do this. US crude oil exports to China reached 400,000 barrels per day at the beginning of this month, but now Beijing is planning to impose a 25% tariff on these as part of its retaliation for Trump’s latest round of tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods. The retaliation began with tariffs on 545 US goods worth another $34 billion, but Reuters reports that oil tariffs will be announced at a later date. Energy analysts seem to believe that these oil tariffs are more or less a certainty, and now expect a reshuffle of crude oil imports to Asia. With China turning to Iran for its crude, US oil could start flowing in greater amounts to another leading importer in the region, South Korea.“If China retaliates with tariffs on US crude, that could improve South Korea’s terms of buying US crude ... because the US would need a market to sell to,” an analyst from the Korea Energy Economic Institute said. Meanwhile, South Korea’s Embassy in Iran this weekend rejected media reports that the country had suspended oil purchases from Iran under pressure from the United States. The US has pressed South Korea and some other nations to cut down its purchase of Iranian oil to zero or face so-called secondary sanctions. The deadline is Nov. 4 when the 180-day grace period ends.

      U.S. Expects China to Buy Even More Iranian Oil After Sanctions  - There is one big hitch in U.S. plans to stem buying of Iranian oil: China.  Some in Washington now expect that China will vacuum up much of the Iranian oil that other nations won’t buy because of the threat of U.S. sanctions, according to a senior U.S. government energy official.  China buying extra Iranian oil could dull the economic impact of those sanctions. It could also bring Iran closer to China at a time of elevated tensions between Washington and Beijing over trade.In May, President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and vowed to reimpose sanctions on Tehran.  Oil prices jumped sharply higher in reaction and if China does take spare Iranian crude that could add to pressure currently pushing crude lower, traders say.In anticipation of sanctions, foreign oil companies are already exiting Iran and international banks have declined to finance oil trades. While the European Union doesn’t back renewed sanctions, countries including Greece and Turkey, are winding down their purchases. But China, already the largest buyer of Iranian oil, is gearing up to take more, said the senior official. Tehran is currently in negotiations with Chinese companies to ensure that, according to an Iranian oil official involved in those talks.“We don’t have any problem selling our oil” to China, the Iranian official said.The White House referred calls to the U.S. National Security Council, which didn’t respond to emails seeking comment.  China’s Foreign Ministry and the country’s two biggest oil companies, China National Petroleum Corp. and China Petrochemical Corp., didn’t respond to requests for comment. In the past Beijing has decried the U.S.’s resort to unilateral “long-arm” sanctions in international dealings.Having initially indicated the goal was to reduce Iranian exports to zero, the U.S. government has tempered its expectations. Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. would consider Iran sanctions relief for a “handful” of countries. South Korea, India and a handful of other countries had a waiver to buy Iranian oil during the last round of sanctions. But Washington has also said that it will pursue Chinese companies with U.S. connections if they violate Iran sanctions.“It is our intent to enforce sanctions on Iran related oil against everybody including China,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told the House Financial Services Committee last week.

      Russia to invest $50bn in Iran’s oil & gas - report — Moscow and Tehran are expanding economic cooperation, with Russia planning multi-billion dollar investments in Iran's energy sector. The move comes as major Western firms are pulling out of Iran amid the threat of US sanctions. “Russia is ready to invest $50 billion in Iran’s oil and gas sectors,” Senior Adviser for International Affairs of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic Ali Akbar Velayati was cited as saying by the Financial Times.Velayati met with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week in Moscow. The sides focused on Russian-Iranian cooperation as well as the situation in the region. According to the Kremlin, they reaffirmed their commitment to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s Nuclear Deal (JCPOA). An unnamed official from the Russian government confirmed Russia’s $50-billion investment plans to the Financial Times. A Russian oil company has signed an agreement with Iran worth $4 billion, Velayati said, without specifying the name of the company. He added that the deal “will be implemented soon.” Russian energy giants Rosneft and Gazprom are also in talks with the oil ministry of Iran to potentially sign deals worth up to $10 billion, according to an Iranian official. Earlier this year, an agreement was inked by a local Iranian company, Dana Energy, in a consortium led by Russia’s Zarubezhneft, with the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC). They seek to redevelop the Aban and West Paydar oilfields, with a total capital expenditure estimated at around  $740 million.Russia’s Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Friday that Moscow was studying all legal implications of a possible deal with Tehran, under which Russia would provide goods to Iran in exchange for oil.Meanwhile, the European Union fears that billions of dollars' worth of trade could be jeopardized as a result of Washington's new sanctions on Iran.

      European Governments Explore Financial Channels for Iran —The French, British and German governments have told Iran they are exploring activating accounts for the Iranian central bank with their national central banks in a bid to open a financial channel to keep alive the Iranian nuclear deal, according to several European officials. The move is the first concrete sign that Europe could deliver on its promise to take steps to sustain the Iranian nuclear deal, setting European governments squarely against the Trump administration’s Iran sanctions policy aimed at isolating Tehran economically.Following the U.S. withdrawal from the deal in May, Iran has said it would stop complying with the nuclear deal unless it continues to receive the economic benefits of the 2015 agreement. That deal saw most international sanctions on Tehran lifted in exchange for strict but temporary restrictions on Iran’s nuclear work. Officials involved in discussions said the option of central banks activating Iranian central bank accounts—or reactivating some which have been dormant for years—is one of several that European governments are actively exploring. The three European governments laid out their plans to Iran during discussions earlier this month among foreign ministers and senior officials in Vienna. Officials said they are still trying to iron out details. Other European governments, including Austria and Sweden, have also said they would consider doing likewise, the officials said.However, officials stressed that while discussions have started with central banks, they haven’t yet received buy-in. European central bank officials have said there is reluctance to forge financial links with Iran as the U.S. prepares to reimpose sanctions.

      Zanganeh: OPEC Members Not Allowed to Pump Above Target - Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh in a letter told his Saudi Arabian counterpart that last month’s OPEC supply pact does not give member countries the right to raise oil production above their targets. OPEC agreed with Russia and other oil-producing allies last month to raise output from July, with Saudi Arabia pledging a “measurable” supply boost but giving no specific numbers, Reuters reported. “Member countries committed themselves to reach a production adjustment conformity level of 100%, as of July 1, 2018,” the letter said. “However, the aforesaid decision neither warrants member countries the right to exceed their production level above the allocated production level decided ... nor the right to redistribute the unfulfilled production adjustment commitments among member countries.” Zanganeh’s letter comes after Falih, who chairs a joint committee of OPEC and non-OPEC members for monitoring production compliance, wrote to OPEC last week saying that individual conformity levels will no longer be reported. Zanganeh’s comments underline the still-simmering tensions after OPEC’s meeting last month. Saudi Arabia said the deal allowed countries able to produce more to meet the group’s overall conformity level, meaning some members, such as itself, are to make up for shortfalls elsewhere.

      US Treasury Secretary: Washington to Consider Waivers on Iran Sanctions --The US in certain cases will consider waivers for countries that need more time to wind down imports of oil from Iran as it seeks to avoid disrupting global oil markets while reimposing sanctions against Tehran, US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said. “We want people to reduce oil purchases to zero, but in certain cases, if people can’t do that overnight, we’ll consider exceptions,” Mnuchin told reporters on Friday, clarifying some US officials’ comments that there would be no exemptions. Mnuchin’s comments were embargoed for release on Monday as other US officials were expected to begin talks in India this week on cutbacks in Iranian oil supplies. Mnuchin spoke to reporters while en route from Mexico, where he was part of a high-level US delegation led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet Mexico’s next president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. The Trump administration is pushing countries to cut all imports of Iranian oil from November when the US reimposes sanctions against Tehran. Trump withdrew from the multi-national 2015 Iran nuclear deal against the advice of allies in Europe and elsewhere. A delegation from the US State Department and US Treasury are expected for talks in Delhi this week to discuss Iran sanctions, according to Indian officials. The US crude oil exports to India hit a record in June as Indian refiners moved to replace supplies from Iran and Venezuela. Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates in Houston, said India was expected to ask the US to ensure adequate global oil supplies as Washington presses countries to cut back on Iran oil. “That might include pressure to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which the administration indicated they were considering on Friday,” 

      Saudi oil exports slip below 7 million b/d after refinery restarts — Saudi Arabia's crude oil exports fell below 7 million b/d to a seven-month low in May after the restart of a major refinery absorbed higher crude output from OPEC's biggest producer during the month. Saudi crude oil exports in May fell by 328,000 b/d month on month to 6.98 million b/d, the lowest since October, according to data from the Riyadh-based Joint Organizations Data Initiative. The lower May export figure came as overall crude production rose 160,000 b/d month on month to 10.03 million b/d. At the same time, crude used for the refining rector jumped by 403,000 b/d, or 18%, after the Satorp refinery -- a 400,000 b/d joint venture between Saudi Aramco and Total in Jubail -- returned from a maintenance shutdown in the first quarter. The plant, which was expected to restart in April, said last week it had shipped RBOB (reformulated blendstock) gasoline to the US the first time. Crude used directly to fuel power generation plants, which rises seasonally due to higher summer demand for air conditioning, also rose in May, according to the data. So-called "direct burn" crude was 24,000 b/d higher month on month at 412,000 b/d, the highest since last September. Combined, Saudi Arabia's domestic crude use rose to 3.02 million b/d in May, up from 2.588 in April but below the May 2017 total of 3.12 million b/d. The data covered the month before OPEC's meeting late June saw the producer group, Russia and other allies agree to a 1 million b/d output boost to ease expected market tightness before US sanctions crimp Iran's exports from next month. 

      U.S. and Allies Consider Possible Oil-Reserve Release -  U.S. and Western officials are considering an eventual emergency release of stockpiled oil if new supplies can’t prevent another sharp rise in prices, according to people familiar with the matter. The Trump administration is actively assessing whether to dip into the country’s emergency oil stocks while it simultaneously pushes other countries to boost their output, according to people familiar with the matter. The discussions are part of a broader effort to ensure oil markets remain well supplied amid a host of production disruptions around the world, and rising global demand. Any draw down of the so-called Strategic Petroleum Reserve isn’t imminent, according to people familiar with the matter. Such releases have been rare, and typically only as a last resort. The current discussions about such a move—while preliminary—-underscore growing worry among consuming nations over supplies. OPEC and Russia have committed to pumping more crude to ease markets, but a host of global production constraints—and rising demand—have raised questions about whether that new oil will be enough. Some senior Trump advisers are strongly opposed to the idea, and the administration is primarily concerned with keeping its options open, according to people familiar with the matter. Meanwhile, Fatih Birol, director of the International Energy Agency, a group that advises industrialized nations on energy policy and coordinates emergency oil releases globally, told a private dinner last month that a release was an option if supply outages worsen, according to people at the dinner. A few months back, a release of strategic oil reserves sounded far-fetched. In the past, such a move has been a last-ditch option, often triggered by war. There have been just three IEA-coordinated releases—the most recent was in 2011 at the height of the Arab Spring.

      U.S. SPR oil release would be a mistake: Kemp (Reuters) - The United States is considering releasing crude stocks from the SPR, possibly in conjunction with its partners in the International Energy Agency (IEA), according to news reports, to prevent a sharp rise in oil prices.“The Trump administration is actively assessing whether to dip into the country’s emergency oil stocks while it simultaneously pushes other countries to boost output,” the Wall Street Journal reported on July 13.Releasing crude oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) in response to a rise in prices resulting from the reimposition of sanctions on Iran would be a mistake and ultimately self-defeating. The SPR has sufficient crude to offset any loss of exports from Iran for many months, especially if stock releases are combined with increased oil production by Saudi Arabia and other members of OPEC. The statutes governing the operation of the SPR grant the U.S. president broad discretion to order a drawdown, and any order is unlikely to be constrained by Congress or the courts. But the SPR was established to deal with short-term interruptions of crude supplies and is not suited to managing long-term changes in the supply situation. In particular, if the purpose is to relieve upward pressure on prices, it would blunt the signal needed to help the market adapt to sanctions. If the SPR release succeeded in holding down prices, it would discourage the rise in production needed to replace lost Iranian barrels, while allowing rapid consumption growth to remain unchecked. Deploying the SPR to manage a loss of Iranian oil supplies would ultimately prove self-defeating, and deplete the reserve if pursued for any length of time. Like a buffer-stock management system, which can even out short-term shifts in supply and demand, but not enduring ones, the SPR is best employed to deal with short-term supply interruptions, not long-term changes.

      Wood Mackenzie: Global oil demand could peak by 2036 - Global oil demand could peak within 20 years driven by a rapid shift towards electric vehicles (EVs). That is the conclusion of one of the world's most influential oil consultancies, Wood Mackenzie, which last recently warned its clients oil demand could begin to decline much earlier than many of oil majors expect. In comments reported by the FT, Ed Rawle, Wood Mackenzie's head of crude oil research, revealed the company had reappraised its projections for lone term oil demand and is now predicting oil consumption will peak around 2036. The projections are the centrepiece of the company's flagship long term energy outlook briefing, which was distributed to clients in May but was reported on for the first time by the FT today. The report provides further evidence of how the oil industry is starting to plan for a potential peak in oil demand. "A lot of our clients recognise that peak demand is real," Rawle was quoted as saying. "It's just a question of when it arrives." However, Wood Mackenzie's 2036 date for peak oil demand is significantly earlier than the date included in many oil majors' base case scenario planning and investment plans. As such it is likely to further fuel fears that oil and gas companies could end up creating a 'carbon bubble' whereby they invest in assets that become overvalued and stranded. Some oil majors have started to acknowledge a peak in oil demand could come by the 2030s or even earlier, if demand for EVs accelerates. However, others maintain oil demand will continue to rise throughout much of the first half of the century, breaking carbon budgets and making the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change unattainable in the process.

      Hedge funds quiet before oil-price plunge (Reuters) - Hedge fund managers made few adjustments to their positions in the petroleum complex in the week ending on July 10, as the market remained calm - before oil prices plunged the following day. Hedge funds and other money managers raised their net long position in the six most important futures and options contracts linked to petroleum prices by just 6 million barrels in the seven days to July 10. Net length increased for the third week running but the rise was much smaller than in the week ending July 3 (+47 million barrels) or June 26 (+36 million) indicating the recent wave of position-building was largely complete. Portfolio managers cut net long positions in Brent (-10 million barrels) while adding them in NYMEX and ICE WTI (+1 million), U.S. gasoline (+6 million), U.S. heating oil (+5 million) and European gasoil (+4 million). The previous position-building in WTI ran out of steam, with fund managers adding just 1 million barrels of net long positions, compared with 41 million and 75 million in the two prior weeks. While crude contracts continued to come under selling pressure, funds started or continued to add slightly to bullish positions in refined fuels ( .   The very limited position changes in the week to July 10 suggest most fund managers had completed adjusting their positions after a bout of profit-taking on crude and fuels that began in late April. But Brent positions have declined in 10 out of the last 13 weeks, and with no new buying in WTI, the gentle downward pressure on prices and calendar spreads finally turned into a torrent just one day later. 

      Crude falls sharply as rising output outweighs supply shocks from Norway, Libya; Brent $73.88/b, WTI $69.69/b — Crude futures fell sharply in European trading on Monday morning, as signals of rising output from the US and OPEC members offset a string of supply strains, including a strike at Norwegian oil fields and a kidnapping at the Sharara field in Libya.  At 1130 GMT, September ICE Brent was down $1.45 from Friday's settle at $73.88/b, while the August NYMEX crude price was down $1.32 to $69.69/b.That dip comes amid signals that overall supplies could rise, with the US heard to be mulling tapping into stockpiles over the summer months, alongside larger offers of crude from Saudi Arabia and higher Russian output.Reports over the weekend suggested that the Trump administration is considering releasing additional supplies to prevent price spikes, while Saudi Arabia was heard to be offering larger volumes to customers in Asia who have pulled back sharply on Iranian imports. Russian officials have also said they will bring 200,000 b/d of additional product back into the market for June as production cuts ease."Over the weekend there were a string of supply-side developments that would have been supportive," said Harry Tchilinguirian at BNP Paribas in London, from disruptions in Libya and Norway to longer-running supply threats including Iranian sanctions and the decline of Venezuelan output."However, all these elements are trumped by the fact that the US may be thinking of tapping into the US [Strategic Petroleum Reserve] over the summer, with the view of preventing any price spikes."Meanwhile, strikes on Norwegian oil and gas rigs by unions were expected to dramatically expand over the course of Monday, extending last week's strike of 669 workers on offshore rigs, over pay disputes. That closed the Knarr field, operated by Shell.That was not expected to have an immediate impact on output, but could eventually dent total output if the strike continues.Over the weekend, production at Libya's largest oil field dropped by almost half following a kidnapping of four workers, according to the state-owned National Oil Corporation. That was at the Sharara oil field in the country's southwest region, which as an output of about 340,000 b/d and is jointly controlled by Total, Repsol, Statoil and OMV. The field has been plagued by closures in recent years. That came on the heels of a force majeure declared at Libya's 90,000 b/d El-Feel oil field, which was only ended on Thursday.

      Brent, WTI Prices Slide as Disruption Concerns Ease - Oil prices slipped on Monday as concerns about supply disruptions eased and Libyan ports reopened while traders eyed potential supply increases by Russia and other oil producers. But global supply remained tight with investors wary over the impact of production losses in several exporting countries, CNBC reported. Brent crude slid 30 cents at $75.03 a barrel. US light crude was down 50 cents at $70.51. Supply outages in Libya, a labor dispute in Norway and unrest in Iraq all helped push oil prices higher late last week, although prices still fell for a second straight week. Russia and other oil producers may raise output by 1 million barrels per day or more if shortages hit the market, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak told reporters on Friday. “If we need more than 1 million bpd, I do not rule out that we can quickly discuss it and make a quick decision.” Production at Libya’s giant Sharara Oilfield was expected to fall by at least 160,000 barrels per day after two staff were abducted in an attack by an unknown group, the National Oil Corporation said on Saturday. A Norwegian union for workers on offshore oil and gas drilling rigs on Monday stepped up a six-day strike that has hit oil output. Investors are also on edge over the impact of trade dispute between the United States and its big trading partners.

      Crude Oil Prices Settle 4% Lower as Traders Cut Supply Shortage Bets - WTI crude oil prices settled sharply lower Monday, pressured by expectations for an increase in supplies after U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said some crude importers may receive waivers to continue buying supplies from Iran. On the New York Mercantile Exchange crude futures for August delivery fell 4.2% to settle at $68.06 a barrel, while on London's Intercontinental Exchange, Brent fell 4.5% to trade at $71.92 a barrel. "We want people to reduce oil purchases to zero, but in certain cases if people can't do that overnight, we'll consider exceptions," Mnuchin told reporters on Friday, Reuters reported. The comments were not released until Monday morning. This somewhat softer outlook on restrictions of Iranian crude oil buyers comes as U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly called on OPEC to address the sharp uptick in oil prices, which rose earlier this month, to levels not seen since November 2016. With the drop in Iranian crude supplies likely to be less than many had anticipated, investors have lowered expectations for a shortage in global crude supplies. Expectations of increased crude supplies were heightened as Libyan ports reopened, while Iraq output reportedly soared in the first half of the July . Iraq crude exports jumped 6% to 4.05 million barrels a day (bpd) in the first half of July from 3.839 million bpd for the entire month of June, according to tanker tracking and data from port agents compiled by Bloomberg. The slump in oil prices comes as oil market observers were monitoring potential comments on oil markets at the meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday. Putin hinted that the U.S. and Russia could work together in a constructive way to regulate the international energy markets as an extreme drop in prices was not in Russia's interest. That, however, did little to stem the plunge in oil prices, as attention shifted toward weekly U.S. petroleum inventory data from the American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday, and from the Energy Information Administration on Wednesday.

      Is This The End Of The Oil Rally? - Oil prices were mostly flat at the start of trading on Tuesday, after having posted two of the worst single-day declines over the past week. The oil market has seen a sudden shift in sentiment compared to just a week ago. There are several reasons for this: The return of oil from Libya, the lifting of force majeure on a key oil stream in Nigeria, the anticipated return of oil from an outage in Canada, increased production from Saudi Arabia and the prospect of an SPR release from the U.S. Taken together, the oil market doesn’t seem as desperate for supply as it did a week ago.  Saudi Arabia is offering extra volumes of oil to some buyers in Asia, according to Bloomberg, a sign that the Kingdom is going further to ensure the market is adequately supplied. It also suggests that Russia and Saudi Arabia are likely set to go beyond what was agreed to at the OPEC+ meeting, which called for an additional 1 mb/d of supply. Saudi Arabia also said that OPEC+ would no longer focus on country-specific output limits but instead would heed a collective target, a switch that would free Saudi Arabia to ramp up production.  Royal Dutch Shell lifted force majeure on Bonny Light in Nigeria following the repair of the Nembe Creek Trunkline. Bonny Light represents about 200,000-250,000 bpd, and Shell had put it under force majeure in May because of problems with the pipeline. The return of Bonny Light has helped ease concerns regarding global supplies.

      Oil Prices Edge Up After Slumping More Than 4% Following Mnuchin's Comments– Oil prices rebounded on Tuesday after plunging more than 4% in the previous session as U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the U.S. is considering waivers on Iran sanctions for some crude importers. Crude Oil WTI Futures for September delivery were trading at $67.16 a barrel at 12:05AM ET (04:05 GMT), up 0.15%. Brent Oil Futures for September delivery, traded in London, were also up 0.5% at $72.18 per barrel. Mnuchin told reporters that the U.S. wants to avoid disrupting global oil markets and is considering waivers for countries that need more time to wind down imports of oil from Iran while reimposing sanctions against Tehran. President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and restored sanctions on Tehran in May. "We want people to reduce oil purchases to zero, but in certain cases if people can't do that overnight, we'll consider exceptions," Mnuchin said. His comments contradicted some U.S. officials' comments earlier that said there would be no exemptions. Officials from the U.S. State Department and U.S. Treasury are expected for talks in Delhi this week to discuss Iran sanctions, according to Indian officials. Meanwhile, recent reports that Saudi Arabia offers more crude cargoes to Asian customers were also cited as headwind for oil prices. Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump was reportedly considering tapping the nation’s emergency oil supply to tame rising fuel prices. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude oil prices ended Monday's session down $2.95, or 4.2%, at $68.06.

      Oil slips as focus turns to surplus from shortage - U.S. crude oil futures fell on Tuesday as worries over supply disruptions eased and the focus moved to increasing domestic production and potential damage to global growth from the U.S.-China trade dispute.  U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI) was 81 cents lower at $67.26 a barrel by 10:53 a.m. EDT [1453 GMT]. It lost 4.2 percent on Monday.Brent futures rose 9 cents to $71.93 a barrel, after earlier trading as low as $71.35 a barrel, its lowest since April 17. Brent fell 4.6 percent on Monday. “Fears of shortages, which pushed prices as high as $80 per barrel in early summer, are receding and concerns about looming surpluses growing,” The market is waiting for clear signals on supply, including whether the U.S. will release crude from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve and whether Libya’s oil production will rebound following military clashes in late June and early July, said Tariq Zahir, managing member at Tyche Capital in New York.“You really have to see how much Saudi is going to produce, along with Russia,” he said. Russian crude production could also ramp up, restoring 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) that were cut in an agreement with OPEC, he said.“I think we’re going to get to a more balanced market as we get to the fourth and first quarter of next year.”Oil prices have fallen by almost 10 percent over the last week as crude export terminals in Libya have reopened and exports from other OPEC countries and Russia have increased. Production from seven major U.S. shale oil formations is expected to rise by 143,000 bpd to a record 7.47 million bpd in August, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said on Monday. Output is expected to rise in all seven formations.

      WTI Drops After Surprise Crude Build -- Oil prices rebounded to unchanged intraday on hopes that tonight's API data would show a notable draw and recover the momentum in energy markets. However, WTI dropped as API reported a surprised crude build of 629k (exp was a 4.1mm draw).“We’re expecting a fairly bullish report tonight, a significant decline in U.S. crude oil inventories again,” said John Kilduff, a partner at New York-based hedge fund Again Capital LLC. At the same time, we’re seeing “short-covering and profit-taking at the moment from the big sell-off.”API

      • Crude +629k (-4.1mm exp)
      • Cushing -1.34mm (-700k exp)
      • Gasoline +525k
      • Distillates +1.711mm

      Following last week's massive crude draw (and distillates build), API reported a surprising 629k barrel build (massively missing the 4.1mm draw expected), and Gasoline and Distillates also saw builds... WTI traded flat around $68 heading into the API print then tumbled on the surprise crude build...

      Oil Prices Drop as U.S. Crude Inventories Unexpectedly Rise - Oil prices declined on Wednesday after a slight increase in the previous session amid a surprise surge in US crude inventories reported last week. Crude Oil WTI Futures for September delivery fell 0.42% to $66.88 per barrel at 12:22AM ET (04:22 GMT), while Brent Oil Futures dropped 0.3% to $71.94 for one barrel. After rising to over $72 per barrel yesterday, Brent oil went back on the dropping track, as the American Petroleum Institute revealed a rise of over 600,000 barrels in US crude stockpiles last week. Meanwhile, Libya reopened its ports and started exporting oil again after the closures of its oil field. The country’s National Oil Corporation announced its force majeure on exports from Zawiya oil terminal on Tuesday, in a bid to boosting national production. The organisation’s Chairman Mustafa Sanalla said, “We have to prioritize local demand for fuel. For the time being all, Sharara production will go to the refinery.” Iran, the world’s fifth largest oil producer, filed a lawsuit at the International Court of Justice against sanctions imposed by the U.S. in May, alleging that they violated a 1955 bilateral treaty between the two countries. The Islamic country asked the sanctions to be lifted provisionally. On Monday, the US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Washington might grant waivers to Iran oil purchases.

      US Crude Oil Inventories Surge After Production Spikes, Exports Crash -  -- WTI was still trading lower after API reported last night's surprise crude build, and traded lower initially after DOE reported a massive surprise crude build. Additionally, US production hit 11mm b/d for the first time ever.As Bloomberg Intelligence's Senior Energy Analyst Vince Piazza notes, even as U.S. crude inventories drain, concerns persist over global growth amid trade tensions driven by geopolitics and an increase in OPEC quotas. Slowing demand for refined products, which is tied to higher crude prices and emerging-market struggles, has dampened optimism for U.S. refiners. ADOEPI

      • Crude +5.84mm (-4.2mm exp) - biggest build since April
      • Cushing -860k (-700k exp)
      • Gasoline -3.17mm
      • Distillates -371k

      After last week's massive draw (and API's surprise build), this week saw a huge rebound in crude inventories But while US crude inventories surged, Cushing continues to draw down...Permian pipeline bottlenecks continue to pressure discounts... But production resumed its rise (after a 3-week stall) up 100k b/d, hitting 11mm b/d for the first in history...

       Crude Edges Up as Fuel Supply Drop Outweighs Rising Crude Stocks (Bloomberg) -- Crude rose as investors assessed conflicting supply-and-demand signals in the world's biggest economy. Futures in New York wavered between gains and losses during the session before settling 1 percent higher on Wednesday. Gasoline held in U.S. storage tanks dropped by the most since May and fuel demand increased, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. Those factors overshadowed the biggest increase in American crude inventories since April. "This is what happens when you get the largest imports we've had during the year and the lowest exports we've had for three months,"said Rob Thummel, managing director at Tortoise, which manages $16 billion in energy-related assets. "The lone positive for the bulls is the gasoline draw was very strong. Obviously, gasoline demand seemed to bounce back this week." The surprise jump in U.S. crude inventories occurred against the backdrop of looming production increases from Saudi Arabia, Russia, Libya and other major sources. During a meeting in Vienna on Wednesday, OPEC and allied producers discussed how much individual nations plan to produce this month but didn't go so far as to formally share out a planned output increase across the cartel, according to people familiar with the matter. West Texas Intermediate crude for August delivery added 68 cents to settle at $68.76 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the biggest gain in more than a week. Total volume traded was about 25 percent below the 100-day average. Brent for September settlement rose 74 cents to end the session at $72.90 on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange, and traded at a $5.15 premium to WTI for the same month. U.S. WTI hovered just above its 100-day moving average after London's Brent settled below that level on Monday for the first time since March. The EIA reported U.S. crude inventories rose by 5.84 million barrels last week, confounding most analysts in a Bloomberg survey who were forecasting a decline. Purchases of foreign oil jumped the most since the start of 2017, while crude exports slid for a third week, contributing to the inventory build. 

      Proposed Law Would Allow U.S. to Sue OPEC for Manipulating Oil Market - Exasperated by high gasoline prices just ahead of the U.S. midterm elections, lawmakers in Congress are trying to make it easier for the United States to sue OPEC. And unlike previous failed efforts to go after the oil-exporting cartel, this time Congress will find a sympathetic ear in the White House. The bipartisan No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act, or NOPEC bill, would tweak U.S. antitrust law to explicitly ban just the kind of collusive behavior that OPEC was created to engage in. The bill, a carbon copy of previous legislation, makes illegal any activity to restrain the production of oil or gas or set oil and gas prices and knocks away two legal defenses that in the past have shielded OPEC from U.S. antitrust measures.The NOPEC bill passed handily out of the House Judiciary Committee last month and could go to the floor this summer for a full vote. A different bill in the Senate seeks to rein in OPEC by opening the door to complaints at the World Trade Organization if the cartel jacks up prices by capping its oil output, part of a double-barreled effort to hold big oil producers’ feet to the fire. “The objective of this legislation is to tell OPEC once and for all that they can no longer collude to fix the price of oil,” said Brian Griffith, a spokesman for Rep. Steve Chabot, an Ohio Republican, who co-sponsored the bill. “If they do, they can be held accountable under our laws and in our courts.” Political anger at OPEC tends to rise alongside oil prices; the first effort to use antitrust law against the oil cartel came in the late 1970s after a pair of nasty energy shocks.    At the time, lower courts avoided the political hot potato by ruling, among other things, that other governments have sovereign immunity from the long arm of U.S. law. Now, rising oil prices are again stoking predictable anger in Washington — prompting the same legislative exercise. Crude has risen more than 60 percent since last summer, pushing up gasoline prices to close to $3 a gallon nationwide.

      Putin suggests Russia and US could work together to regulate oil prices - Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that Moscow and Washington could cooperate to soothe volatility in the oil market that has roiled the industry in recent years. Russia has partnered with OPEC and other producer nations since 2017 to manage nearly half of the world's oil supply. The countries took action after crude prices sank to 12-year lows in 2016, piling pressure on oil-dependent economies and bankrupting hundreds of U.S. energy companies. The United States, where drillers compete in a free market, is not part of the deal. U.S. laws prohibit companies from colluding to fix prices, and a bipartisan group of U.S. Congress members recently revived a push to punish OPEC for alleged price-fixing. Still, Putin suggested that some form of cooperation is possible during a press conference with U.S. President Donald Trump in Helskinki on Monday. "I think that we as a major oil and gas power, and the United States as a major oil and gas power as well, we could work together on regulation of international markets, because neither of us is actually interested in the plummeting of the prices," Putin said. "But nor are we interested in driving prices up because it will drain a lot of juices from all other sectors of the economy, so we do have space for cooperation here," he said. Trump has demanded that OPEC tame fuel costs, after a slow-and-steady rally accelerated this year. Led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, the two dozen producer nations last month agreed to hike output to offset falling output in Venezuela and looming U.S. sanctions on Iran, the world's fifth largest oil producer.

      Oil prices mixed as producers adding more oil while U.S. gasoline stocks drop --  (Reuters) - Oil prices were mixed on Thursday as the market struggled to digest signs of strong gasoline demand in the United States, the world's biggest consumer of thefuel, with a statement from oil producers that they are putting more crude on the market.Brent crude futures fell 11 cents, or 0.2 percent,to $72.79 a barrel at 0401 GMT. West Texas Intermediate (WTI)crude futures CLc1 climbed 6 cents, or 0.1 percent, to $68.82.Both benchmarks rose by 1 percent on Wednesday after inventory data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported on Wednesday U.S. gasoline stockpiles fell along with supplies of distillate fuels. Motor fuel demand also rose fromthe week before and was up from a year earlier. However, the EIA also reported U.S. oil production reached arecord 11 million barrels per day (bpd). The United States has added nearly 1 million bpd in production since November, thanksto rapid increases in shale drilling.*:nL1N1UE0QCAlso, a meeting of members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-OPEC producer monitoring their supply pact reported on Wednesday that compliance with the agreement has declined, meaning more oil is available to the market.  The bullish tone sparked by the gasoline data is unlikely tolast, said Stephen Innes, head of trading APAC at brokerage OANDA. "With Russia quick to offer the President a supply olivebranch and Saudi Arabia mainly in his back pocket when it comesto increasing their supply, its challenging to see (the)gasoline numbers turning the bearish market's tide," he said.

      Brent slips as focus returns to oversupply (Reuters) - Global benchmark Brent crude dipped on Thursday as concerns about mounting supply returned after a brief rally earlier in the session on comments that Saudi Arabia’s exports would fall in August. Crude prices fell from session highs reached after Saudi Arabia’s OPEC Governor Adeeb Al-Aama statement that the kingdom expects crude exports to drop by roughly 100,000 bpd in August as it limits excess production. Brent oil fell 32 cents, to settle at $72.58 per barrel, previously reaching a session high of $73.79. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) was 70 cents higher, or 1 percent, settling at $69.46. U.S. crude prices had reached a session high of $70.17 earlier in the session before paring gains. Crude prices pulled back from highs earlier in the session as traders cashed in on profits, said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital Management in New York. Prices, which had strengthened on news of Saudi Arabia’s planned export cuts, fell as the market’s focus returned to potential oversupply as Saudi Arabia, Russia and other major producers continue to lift output. OPEC and non-OPEC producers cut oil output in June by 20 percent more than agreed levels, compared to 47 percent in May, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Wednesday. “Just because the Saudis are trying to temper the fallout, doesn’t change the fact that they are increasing production,” Kilduff said. Commodities, under pressure from a strong dollar and a new wave of trade tensions that stoked fears of damage to economies and commodities, also weighed on prices. Earlier in the trading day, the U.S. dollar hit its highest level against a basket of other currencies since July 2017, up half a percent on the day.

       Oil prices contend with strengthening U.S. dollar: Kemp (Reuters) - The rising value of the U.S. dollar against most other major currencies is creating an additional headwind for oil prices, as it pushes up the local price of crude and fuels across much of Asia, Europe and Latin America. In trade-weighted terms, the dollar has risen to its highest since late 2016 and early 2017, and before that 2002/2003 ( Adjusted for inflation, the dollar’s trade-weighted value is close to its highest since 2004, according to the broad exchange rate index compiled by the Federal Reserve ( U.S. dollar has appreciated by more than 8 percent against China’s yuan since the end of March, in response to the worsening trade tensions between the two countries.China overtook the United States to become the world’s largest crude importer in 2017 and net imports of crude and fuels are now running at around 9 million barrels per day.Brent crude prices have risen nearly 9 percent this year in dollar terms but are up more than 13.5 percent in yuan as a result of the exchange-rate shift.China’s currency depreciation is partly driven by bilateral tensions as the country's authorities actively engineer or passively permit the exchange rate to act as a shock absorber (the practical effect is the same).But the U.S. dollar has also appreciated against every other major currency, including the euro, the Japanese yen, the British pound, the South Korean won and the Canadian dollar.The U.S. currency is also rising against most emerging-market currencies, including the Brazilian real, the Indian rupee and the Indonesian rupiah. In general, it is the U.S. dollar appreciating rather than other currencies depreciating, mostly as a result of strong economic growth in the United States, steadily rising interest rates and safe-haven capital flows. The result is that oil prices in most oil-consuming countries are now rising much faster than the international benchmark prices quoted in dollars.

      Oil Regains Footing After Volatile Week -Oil prices held steady on Thursday and in early trading on Friday after a top Saudi official said that oil production would remain flat in July compared to June and that Saudi Arabia does not want to oversupply the market. Previous comments suggested that Saudi Arabia would ramp up to 10.8 million barrels per day (mb/d) in July, but instead the Saudis will keep output at 10.5 mb/d.  U.S. oil production hit 11 mb/d last week, a new record high. A separate EIA report predicts that shale output will grow by another 143,000 bpd in August, compared to July. Gains will come from the Permian (+73,000 bpd), the Eagle Ford (+35,000 bpd), the Bakken (+15,000 bpd), plus smaller contributions from elsewhere. Meanwhile, the number of drilled but uncompleted wells (DUCs) increased by a massive 193 in June from a month earlier, most of which were concentrated in the Permian basin. The DUC backlog continues to swell as the Permian suffers from pipeline bottlenecks.  Two of Venezuela’s four oil upgraders are slated to go offline for maintenance in the next few weeks, according to Reuters. The upgraders process heavy oil from the Orinoco Belt into an exportable form of oil, and they have a combined 700,000 bpd of processing capacity. The maintenance for the two upgraders throw up another obstacle for Venezuela, which saw its total oil production fall to just 1.34 mb/d in June.  The Shia-majority in Southern Iraq have been protesting for two weeks, angry at corruption and an unemployment crisis. The protests have spread to other Iraqi cities, including Najaf, Amarah and even Baghdad. Most of Iraq’s oil wealth comes from Basra, but the majority of people in the south barely see any benefit.

      Rig Count Drops As US Crude Output Hit 11 Million Bpd -- Baker Hughes reported a decreased number of active oil and gas rigs in the United States on Friday. Oil and gas rigs decreased by 8 rigs, according to the report, with the number of active oil rigs falling by 5 to 858 this week, while the number of gas rigs dipped by 2, hitting 187.The oil and gas rig count now stands at 1,046—up 96 from this time last year, with the number of oil rigs accounting for 94 of that 96.Canada gained 14 oil and gas rigs for the week, 11 of which were gas rigs. Canada’s oil and gas rig count is now up just 5 year over year. Oil rigs are up by 24 year over year in Canada, while the number of gas rigs are down by 19. The biggest loser by basin this week was Granite Wash, which lost 3 rigs. The only basin to gain rigs this week were Cana Woodford (+2), and Utica (+1). The Permian basin, which saw neither an increase or a decrease this week, and Cana Woodford, saw the biggest increases year over year. Cana Woodford now has 12 more rigs than this time last year, while the Permian has 102 rigs more than this time last year.  WTI crude was trading down on Friday afternoon while Brent crude was trading up—widening the WTI discount to Brent. WTI was trading down 0.18% (-$0.12) at $68.12 at 12:34 pm EDT. Brent crude was trading up 0.25% (+$0.18) at $72.76 per barrel.Both benchmarks are trading significantly down week on week as the market treads carefully after OPEC committed to increasing production in order to more closely stick to its production cut agreement after months of under producing, and despite US production that this week, for the first time, hit a new psychologically important high of 11 million bpd, after hovering at 10.9 million bpd for multiple weeks. At 11 minutes after the hour, WTI was trading up 0.04% at $68.27, with Brent trading up 0.34% at $72.83.

      Oil prices finish higher, but suffer third weekly decline in a row - Oil futures settled higher Friday, finding some support as Saudi Arabia said it expects to reduce exports in August, easing some concerns of coming oversupply in the market.Prices, however, logged a third straight weekly decline on renewed trade-war fears after President Donald Trump said he was ready to impose tariffs on all $505 billion worth of Chinese imports. August West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark, rose $1, or 1.4%, to settle at $70.46 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It settled at its highest level in a week, but was still down 0.8% from last Friday’s finish for a third consecutive weekly loss. September WTI crude, which became the front-month contract at the session’s end, added 2 cents to finish at $68.26 a barrel. The global benchmark, September Brent crude,  settled at $73.07 a barrel, up 49 cents, or 0.7%, on ICE Futures Europe. It marked a weekly loss of about 3% and its third-weekly fall.  “Despite the recent weakness and volatility in the energy markets, the longer term trends do still favor the bulls, although the case for WTI is more favorable than Brent on the charts as the latter just hit fresh 3-month lows this week,” Oil saw little change after oil-field services firm Baker Hughes  said the number of U.S. oil rigs, a proxy for oil activity, fell by 5 this week to 858. The rig count is up 94 from a year ago, when there 764 rigs.

      Mass protests in Iraq’s southern provinces -- Thousands took part in mass demonstrations in southern Iraq over the weekend against the intolerable economic conditions that prevail 15 years after the US-led war for regime change that toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein and collapsed the Iraqi state. Iraqi officials have desperately sought to quell the unprecedented protests through a combination of conciliatory rhetoric and state repression, with security forces injuring dozens and killing three demonstrators over the first week. The protests began in Basra City on July 8 when security forces fired on a demonstration of youth protesting lack of employment and essential services, including water and electricity. The Iraqi security forces killed one of the demonstrators, sparking widespread outrage in the community. The demonstrations have continued every day since, with crowds of hundreds of protesters blocking traffic, attempting to seize oil fields and storming and setting fire to government buildings, as well as those belonging to Shia political parties, whom many blame for the lack of any significant improvement in living standards since the fall of the Ba’athist regime. The protests erupting in the mainly Shiite South are directed against the Shiite-dominated, US-backed government. They are driven not by sectarian sentiments, but by class issues. Protesters are calling for an end to pervasive graft, unemployment, and grossly inadequate public services, all of which have become defining features of Iraqi society since the US invasion and occupation. In particular, regular power outages and a lack of clean drinking water make life miserable for the city’s mostly working-class inhabitants during the sweltering summer months. The unreliability of electricity in southern Iraq was exacerbated this year by a drought, which significantly reduced power production at the nation’s hydroelectric dams, and by Iran’s large reduction in the amount of electricity it provides to Iraq as a result of a dispute regarding payment. Basra Province is by far the country’s most oil-rich region. Its oil exports account for 95 percent of annual revenue for the Iraqi government, making its security a key priority for the regime.

      Iraq Protesters Storm Airport, Oil Offices Amidst Energy Crisis; Foreign Companies Begin Evacuations - Widespread protests have gripped multiple Iraqi cities for a week in response to government corruption, rising unemployment, and an electricity shortage which has left residents suffocating in soaring summer temperatures. What began as anger over a continued failing infrastructure, however, has increasingly turned into political protests and clashes with police after May 12th parliamentary elections tainted by broad allegations of fraud failed to produce a new government.And now Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has weighed in publicly on the side of the protesters, stating they are facing an "extreme lack of public services". Sistani's words were issued via live television broadcast during a significant escalation in the Shia hotbed of Najaf on Friday, where hundreds of protesters stormed the city's international airport, bringing air traffic to a halt. Video showed demonstrators rushing through security barriers while chanting demands, and multiple fires were lit just outside the terminal. Iraqi police appear to have held back, as the protesters numbers were significant — possibly into the thousands according to social media footage — and were able to block key access points to the airport. State TV reported that security was restored and operations resumed as normal by late Friday.  Though sporadic protests over the country's failing electricity grid have been ongoing throughout the summer, last weekend witnessed the first significant clashes with security forces in the southern city of Basra, resulting in an least one death. And this weekend's clashes appear to be escalating with at least two more deaths reported in Amara, the capital of the Maysan province on the border with Iran.

      What’s behind Iraq’s Basra protests? -- The protests in Basra have been decades in the making and involve a complex set of factors. Over the last week demonstrators have taken to the streets of Basra, Iraq's third largest city, protesting unemployment and lack of services. The protests only intensified when Iraqi security forces killed one of the participants.   How Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi defuses the crisis will serve as a test for him, as he seeks re-election as a compromise candidate, and will only increase public pressure to expedite the process of forming a new government after the May elections.   To understand the latest protests one must read Peter Hartling's essay "Basra Dystopian City". My mother used to speak of Basra in its glory days in the 1960s as a thriving urban centre with grandiose homes known as shenasil with wooden facades and ornate hanging balconies overlooking the Shatt Al-Arab waterway.  My first trip to Basra as an adult was in 2004 and the city she described did not exist. I saw Hartling's dystopia, a city devastated by three wars, an uprising, and a decade of sanctions. How did a city once described as Eden become this way? Basra served as a frontline metropolis during the Iran-Iraq war, with Iranian offensives - particularly after 1986 - to seize the city, destroying much of its urban fabric. Basra was relatively unscathed during the 2003 invasion, but it suffered during the ensuing decade with rival militias fighting over the city, running kidnapping and extortion rackets, and served as a battleground between these militias and the Iraqi and US military in 2008.  Since then the discontent in Basra has been building up. Basra was one of the cities that took part in anti-government protests in the summer of 2015 over corruption in the government, unemployment, and lack of services, particularly salinity in the water, water shortages, and frequent power cuts. Those are the exact same demands articulated over the last week.

      Iraq protests: Demonstrators blame ‘bad government, bad roads, bad weather, bad people -- “The people want an end to the parties,” chanted protesters, adapting a famous slogan of the Arab Spring, as they stormed the governor’s office and the international airport in the Shia holy city of Najaf.Part of the wave of demonstrations sweeping across central and southern Iraq, they demanded jobs, electricity, water and an end to the mass theft of Iraq’s oil wealth by the political parties.Beginning on 8 July, the protests are the biggest and most prolonged in a country where anti-government action has usually taken the form of armed insurgency.The demonstrations are taking place in the heartlands of the Shia majority, reflecting their outrage at living on top of some of the world’s largest oilfields, but seeing their families barely survive in squalor and poverty.The protests began in Basra, Iraq’s third largest city which is at the centre of 70 per cent of its oil production. A hand-written placard held up by one demonstrator neatly expresses popular frustration. It read:
      “2,500,000 barrels daily
      Price of each barrel = $70
      2,500,000 x $70 = zero !!
      Sorry Pythagoras, we are in Basra”

       Iraqi police disperse protesters outside Zubair oilfield as unrest grows (Reuters) - Iraqi police wielded batons and rubber hoses to disperse about 250 protesters gathered at the main entrance to the Zubair oilfield near Basra on Tuesday as unrest across southern cities over poor basic services gathered pace. Iraqi policemen threw sand to put out the fire that the protesters had set ablaze, during a protest at the main entrance to the giant Zubair oilfield near Basra, Iraq July 17, 2018. REUTERS/Essam al-Sudani Since demonstrations began nine days ago, protesters have attacked government buildings, branches of political parties and powerful Shi’ite militias and stormed the international airport in the holy city of Najaf. Tensions focused attention on the performance of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is seeking a second term after May 12 parliamentary elections tainted by allegations of fraud that prompted a recount. In his weekly news conference on Tuesday, Abadi promised to work with protesters to fight corruption and said the government would improve services. Officials and industry sources said the protests have not affected output at Zubair, run by Italy’s Eni, and the other major oilfields including Rumaila developed by BP and West Qurna 2 managed by Lukoil. Many Iraqis believe their leaders do not share the country’s oil wealth. Some demonstrators said foreign laborers were robbing them of employment at oil companies. Three protesters have been killed in clashes with police, including one at West Qurna 2, and dozens wounded. Dozens of policemen were also injured. 

      ‘Desperate to find a way out’: Iran edges towards precipice - In the words of Mohammad, a graphic designer out of work for four months, life in Iran is “like being a fish in a rapidly shrinking puddle of water, under scorching sun in the middle of desert”.  On the surface the 28-year-old’s comments speak to the country’s grave environmental challenges: it is experiencing its worst drought in modern history, with water shortages and recurring electricity cuts that cut the internet, halt lifts and disrupt air conditioning in 40C heat. Authorities in Tehran are even considering to bringing working day forward, from 6am to 2pm, to help workers cope. But Mohammad, who relies on his father’s pension for survival, like a “leech feeding on blood” as he puts it, is not speaking about the environment. Instead he is referring to a wider crisis he says has created a sense of hopelessness permeating Iranian society, which few have seen on such a scale since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.  A combination of factors ranging from economic grievances and a lack of social and political freedoms to international pressure and sanctions has put the country under unprecedented pressure. Many Iranians would now agree with Mohammad that the country faces a pivotal moment.  “People are desperate to find a way out,” he says. “If it’s war, so it be, but quick; if it’s reaching an agreement, so it be, but quick; if it’s regime change, so it be, but quick.”  Weeks of sporadic protests across the country over water scarcity, unpaid salaries and currency depreciation, combined with mounting pressure from the Trump administration, which wants all countries to stop buying Iranian oil by 4 November, have piled pressure on Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani. He is increasingly being seen as a lame duck as he proves unable to fight off hardliners and pursue his agenda. One pledge he has delivered on – the landmark 2015 nuclear deal – is unravelling after Donald Trump pulled the US out of the framework in May.

      Throughout Middle East, the Web Is Being Walled Off - —In Egypt, the websites of the Huffington Post and Human Rights Watch aren’t available to most internet users. The Turkish government blocks more than 100,000 sites, including Wikipedia. In Saudi Arabia, a range of news sites linked to rivals Qatar and Iran are off limits. “My first thought was, ‘Welcome to China,’” said a banker in Cairo, recalling his attempt to access Mada Masr, Egypt’s leading independent news organization, which has been blocked since June 2017. He asked to have his name withheld for fear of government reprisal. In recent weeks, Egypt’s Parliament has moved to cement online censorship in law, including legislation passed on Monday that gives the government the right to block social-media users and accounts that engage in any of a number of vaguely-defined violations such as “incitement to break the law.” Authoritarian governments in the Middle East are increasingly adopting a version of China’s approach to online censorship, walling their citizens off from swaths of the internet and denying access to popular websites, often with the aid of Western technology. China has banned Facebook since 2009, two years before social media played an instrumental role in the uprisings of the Arab Spring. As a result, surfing the internet is often a more limited experience than people in the West are used to. Cairo, for example, has more than doubled the number of websites it blocks to an estimated 500 in the past year, according to watchdog groups. And the internet can differ considerably from place to place, depending on the priorities of people in power.“We’re starting to head toward a model where each country has its own version of the internet,”  Governments that see potential threats from the internet have long sought to spy on their citizens online, and Middle Eastern regimes have often cut off or slowed down the internet in times of stress. Egypt briefly shut down all internet access during the 2011 revolution that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak. Turkey has blocked and slowed social media repeatedly, including during the crackdown that followed the failed 2016 coup attempt. But as advanced technologies become more widely available on the open market, even countries without a large domestic tech industry are becoming increasingly sophisticated in targeting internet usage. Those technologies include deep packet inspection, which allows authorities to block, monitor, redirect and alter internet traffic, experts say.

      Commandos Sans Frontières: The Global Growth of US Special Operations Forces - Early last month, at a tiny military post near the tumbledown town of Jamaame in Somalia, small arms fire began to ring out as mortar shells crashed down. As it happened, Staff Sergeant Alexander Conrad, a member of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces (also known as the Green Berets), was killed.  If the story sounds vaguely familiar — combat by U.S. commandos in African wars that America is technically not fighting — it should. Last December, Green Berets operating alongside local forces in Niger killed 11 Islamic State militants in a firefight. Two months earlier, in October, an ambush by an Islamic State terror group in that same country, where few Americans (including members of Congress) even knew U.S. special operators were stationed, left four U.S. soldiers dead — Green Berets among them. (The military firstdescribed that mission as providing “advice and assistance” to local forces, then as a “reconnaissance patrol” as part of a broader “train, advise, and assist” mission, before it was finally exposed as a kill or captureoperation.) Last May, a Navy SEAL was killed and two other U.S. personnel were wounded in a raid in Somalia that the Pentagon described as an “advise, assist, and accompany” mission. And a month earlier, a U.S. commando reportedly killed a member of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a brutal militia that has terrorized parts of Central Africa for decades. And there had been, as the New York Times noted in March, at least 10 other previously unreported attacks on American troops in West Africa between 2015 and 2017. Little wonder since, for at least five years, as Politicorecently reported, Green Berets, Navy SEALs, and other commandos, operating under a little-understood legal authority known as Section 127e, have been involved in reconnaissance and “direct action” combat raids with African special operators in Somalia, Cameroon, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Tunisia. None of this should be surprising, since in Africa and across the rest of the planet America’s Special Operations forces (SOF) are regularly engaged in a wide-ranging set of missions including special reconnaissance and small-scale offensive actions, unconventional warfare, counterterrorism, hostage rescue, and security force assistance (that is, organizing, training, equipping, and advising foreign troops). And every day, almost everywhere, U.S. commandos are involved in various kinds of training.

       It’s Official, “Israel” Is Now A Joint Russian-American Protectorate --Everything that the Western world previously assumed about “Israel’s” supposed “invincibility” has been exposed as a discredited propaganda operation that not even the US is capable of conducting anymore after the on-the-ground facts have disproven its very basis. Long thought of as the “Sparta” of Mideast affairs because of its military’s ability to punch well above its weight in regional conflicts and the efficient capabilities of its intelligence services in catalyzing the MENA-wide Yinon Plan of the so-called “Arab Spring”, “Israel” has now been exposed to have several glaring vulnerabilities that have put it in such a position of weakness vis-à-vis Iran that it’s now compelled to seek joint American and Russian assistance in ensuring its security. During the joint press conference in Helsinki, President Putin proclaimed his long-known desire to protect “Israeli” interests by telling the world that:“I would also like to note that after the terrorists are routed in southwest Syria, in the so-called ‘southern zone’, the situation in the Golan Heights should be brought into full conformity with the 1974 agreement on the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces. This will make it possible to bring tranquillity to the Golan Heights and restore the ceasefire between the Syrian Arab Republic and the State of Israel. The President devoted special attention to this issue today.”Trump took it even further by adding that: “We’ve worked with Israel long and hard for many years, many decades. I think that never has any country been closer than we are. President Putin also is helping Israel, and we both spoke with Bibi Netanyahu. And they would like to do certain things with respect to Syria, having to do with the safety of Israel. So, in that respect we absolutely would like to work in order to help Israel, and Israel will be working with us, so both countries would work jointly.

      Israel carries out biggest air strikes on Gaza since 2014 war - Israel carried out air strikes against Gaza on Saturday, killing two teenagers and injuring a dozen more people, in what the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are boasting was their largest bombardment of the tiny Palestinian enclave since the seven-week, 2014 Gaza War. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Sunday that the IDF attacks would continue until all missile and “arson attacks” on Israel cease. The first named are small crude rockets built with pipes, the second are Molotov cocktails and flaming kites. Both are rudimentary and ineffective compared to the massive US-supplied arsenal deployed by the Israelis.  Going into a cabinet meeting, Netanyahu distanced himself from a ceasefire that Egypt and the UN’s Special Mediator for the Middle East had brokered late Saturday between Israel, Hamas, Gaza’s governing party, and Islamic Jihad, its Iranian-backed ally. Israel, he declared, would not agree “to a ceasefire that would allow the continuation of terrorism by incendiary kites and balloons …We are not prepared to accept any attacks against us.” “Whoever hurts us,” continued Netanyahu, “we will hit them with great strength. This is what we did yesterday. I hope that they got the message; if not, they will get it later.”

      Gaza Escalation: 40 Israeli Airstrikes Overnight, Hamas Mortars, Fires In Southern Israel Tensions along the Israel-Gaza Strip border escalated dramatically on Saturday with an intense exchange of fire between Palestinian militants and Israeli security forces, including Israeli air force strikes inside Gaza, which reportedly targeted underground tunnels which Israel says are designed to launch attacks. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) cited 31 rockets fired from the Strip overnight to which Israel responded with airstrikes on 40 targets including Hamas' battalion headquarters, in a flare-up of hostilities officials are calling the biggest attack since Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Amazingly, however, no serious casualties were reported on either side, according to Bloomberg.   Hamas, for its part, claimed 15 sites struck withing Israel, saying in an official statement the rocket launches were meant to "force the enemy to stop the escalation." Both Hamas officials and Palestinian activists say Israeli security has deliberately targeted civilian protesters along the border fence which has left hundreds dead and wounded, which the United Nations is currently investigating.In response, Israel claims the civilian protesters are being deliberately used as human shields - including women and children - ordered by Hamas military officials to go to the front lines where they know they could be shot. Since March, Gaza officials have counted over 140 Gazans killed almost 2000 wounded by Israeli live fire. Israeli military statements further said the significant overnight airstrikes on Hamas positions were in response to a series of arson attacks as well as assaults on Israeli solders.

       Israeli forces 'deliberately killed' Palestinian paramedic Razan An investigation conducted by Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem has concluded that Israeli security forces deliberately shot and killed Palestinian paramedics Razan al-Najjar, contradicting the Israeli army's claims that it was an accident.On June 1, the 20-year-old al-Najjar was shot in the chest with the single bullet, exiting through her back, while she was trying to help wounded demonstrators in Gaza near the perimeter fence with Israel.B'Tselem's investigation found that a member of the Israeli security forces aimed and shot directly at her as al-Najjar stood some 25 metres away from the fence, "despite the fact that she posed no danger to him or anyone else and was wearing a medical uniform.""Contrary to the many versions offered by the [Israeli] military, the facts of the case lead to only one conclusion," Amit Gilutz, spokesperson for B'Tselem said.Rami Abu Jazar, 29, a volunteer paramedic from Khan Younis was with al-Najjar when she was fatally shot. In a testimony provided to B'Tselem, Jazar explained that around 6pm that day a group of paramedics approached the fence to evacuate two young men who had fainted due to tear gas inhalation. The paramedics wore medical vests and raised their hands above their heads "to set the soldiers at ease, to make them see we're paramedics," Abu Jazar said.

      China in the Middle East: Behind Xi’s economic charm offensive --China, the world's second-largest consumer of crude, has stepped up its investment in the oil-rich Middle East with a pledge of more than $23bn in loans and millions more in aid. President Xi Jinping also wants talks on free trade areas and is putting forward an "oil and gas plus" investment model to representatives of 21 Arab nations at a forum in Beijing. He believes it's a model that can create jobs and helps safeguard China's future energy requirements.  Xi told Arab leaders that China would like to form a strategic partnership to become "the keeper of peace and stability in the Middle East ... and good friends that learn from each other."  The Middle East plays a vital role in the billion-dollar One Belt One Road Initiative, a megaproject that aims to link people in Asia, Africa and Europe via an ultramodern trade route. It is a reinvention of the ancient Silk Road for the modern age. Middle East countries currently provide more than half of China's crude oil imports and China is the largest trading partner with the region. Its goal is to double its Middle East trade to $600bn by 2020.  "This is part of a long-term plan of China to secure its resources for the future," s"Oil is very important; energy resources for China will be more and more crucial in the coming 10 years, 20 years, 30 years. So, they have already invested in other places like Africa and South America for other resources. But for the oil, the Middle East is the primary area, and the platform that they are conveniently using now is the Belt and Road."

       China Just Doubled Oil Shipments To North Korea - After the recent visits of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to China, Beijing has almost doubled the volume of crude oil pipeline shipments to North Korea, South Korea’s newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported on Thursday, citing a source in Beijing. The surge in Chinese shipments to North Korea is raising additional concerns that China could undermine the international sanctions against Kim’s regime.Pipeline volumes of between 30,000 tons to 40,000 tons are enough in the summer to keep the pipeline from China to North Korea unclogged, while this volume is around 80,000 tons in the winter, Chosun Ilbo’s source said. Although it’s summer, China has recently increased the oil flow to the winter levels, the source told the South Korean outlet.Under the latest United Nations Security Council sanctions regarding oil sales to North Korea from December 2017, North Korea is allowed to import a maximum aggregate amount of 500,000 barrels of all refined oil products for 12 months beginning on January 1, 2018. The sanctions also introduced a limit of 4 million barrels - or 525,000 tons - per a twelve-month period as of 22 December 2017 for the supply, sale, or transfer of crude oil to North Korea.If China sends 80,000 tons of oil to North Korea every month, this volume already brings the amount to 960,000 tons a year - above the 525,000 tons limit for a 12-month period in the sanctions, Chosun Ilbo argues.Citing a confidential U.S. report to the UN sanctions committee, the AFP reported last week that the United States asked the UN Security Council to impose an immediate stop to all shipments of refined oil products to North Korea, after finding that Kim Jong-un’s regime had vastly exceeded the UN-restricted quota for oil product imports.According to the U.S. report to the UN, North Korea received at least 759,793 barrels of oil products between January 1 and May 30, well above the 500,000-barrel annual quota.  The supplies have been made via ship-to-ship transfers with North Korean tankers that have called in port at least 89 times, the United States says. The United States also accused China and Russia for keeping oil sales to North Korea.

      China’s ageing population problem worsens as birth and marriage rates fall - China’s ageing society problem appears to be worsening, with the latest official statistics revealing that both its birth and marriage rates have dropped significantly. The country is facing huge challenges with its new births in decline and a quarter of the population expected to be aged over 60 by 2030, according to a cabinet plan.  Its rapidly ageing population pushed Beijing to end the notorious one-child policy – introduced in 1979 to control population growth – in 2016, and couples can now have two children. But despite the new policy, some 17.58 million babies were born in mainland China last year, compared to the 241 million people aged over 60, Xinhua reported on Sunday, citing the latest National Health Commission figures. The birth rate fell to 12.43 births per thousand people last year – down from a record high of 12.95 in 2016. Fifty-one per cent of those newborns were not the first child in their families, the report said. Demographer Chen Youhua from Nanjing University said the lower birth rate was mainly to do with a drop in the number of women at childbearing age – a population structure resulting from the low birth rate in the 1990s.

      Trade war fallout to lead agenda as Xi Jinping gathers elite for strategy session at Beidaihe, the Communist Party’s Camp David-style retreat - Chinese President Xi Jinping might try to forge consensus and handle political fallout from the US trade war when the Communist Party elite gather at the seaside resort of Beidaihe for their annual Camp David-style summer retreat, party watchers said.There has been no public announcement of a date for the start of the gathering of retired and serving political leaders but the event is understood to be taking place around the first week of August, after Xi returns from a trip to the Middle East and Africa.After the retreat, Xi is expected to meet Malaysia’s newly elected Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in Beijing on August 13 at the earliest, the South China Morning Post has reported.Beidaihe has traditionally been a rare chance for dozens of the most politically influential figures in China to socialise and discuss policy and politics.This year’s meetings have been overshadowed by China’s escalating trade frictions with the world’s largest economy, tensions that observers say could affect the country’s politics and grand strategy.Deng Yuwen, former deputy editor of Study Times, a newspaper affiliated with the Central Party School, the party’s top academy, said he did not think the trade war in itself would be a focus given that China had already made its position clear.  “Yet issues raised by the trade war could be key, including the changes [the trade war] will have on domestic politics, society, foreign policy and ways the country will be governed,” Deng said.The trade war – dubbed by Beijing as “the biggest in economic history” – started officially two weeks ago when the United States and China imposed 25 per cent tariffs on US$34 billion of each other’s products.Deng said the row would put pressure on China’s leaders to rethink their main strategies, Sino-US relations and their approach to US President Donald Trump. “The Beidaihe meetings could be followed by more adjustments [in strategy],” he said. “As the situation develops, it could prompt more diverse views within the party.”

      Don't mention the trade war: What China doesn't want people to know in its dispute with the U.S. - China’s censors are scrambling to control the narrative about the trade war with the US by giving the media a list of dos and don’ts when reporting on the topic, sources have said. Four separate sources working for Chinese media, who were briefed on these internal instructions, told the South China Morning Post that they were told not to “over-report” the trade war with US and be extremely careful about linking the trade war to stock market falls, the depreciation of the yuan or economic weakness to avoid spreading panic. “When you report a fall in the stock market index or a weakening in the yuan’s exchange rate, you can’t use ‘trade war’ in your headline,” one source with an official Chinese media outlet, who declined to be named, said.A separate source said China’s control of public discourse about the trade war, an issue too big to be ignored completely, has gone beyond a white-or-black approach and aims to be more subtle. “Different media organisations were granted different levels of leeway in covering the trade war,” the source said. State media outlets with a higher political ranking are allowed to publish news and editorials about the trade war, while local media and internet news portals are often told to republish what state media have already published and not to overplay the issue. For instance, publishing an instant translation of what US President Donald Trump has posted on Twitter – a site that is banned in China – may be seen as an offence, the source said. 

      Will Trump’s Tariff War Help India Deepen Its Trade with China? -- India has seen its trade deficit with China quadruple in the past decade – from $16 billion in 2007-08 to nearly $63 billion in 2017-18 – despite its best efforts to increase exports and reduce the imbalance. Can India now take advantage of the ongoing US-China trade war to step up exports as Beijing explores the possibility of expanding trade ties with emerging economies to make up for the loss of US market? The US-China trade war has thrown up export opportunities for India, but there are challenges to harnessing those opportunities, say experts. Over the last few months, the Donald Trump administration has put up tariff barriers to Chinese exports worth more than $250 billion, provoking the latter to hit back with retaliatory tariffs on key American exports like cotton, soybean, maize, chemicals and petrochemicals. Experts say India can fill China’s demand-supply gap for products like cotton, sugar, groundnut, groundnut meal, oilmeals, chemicals and petrochemicals where it has exportable surplus. The Chinese market is now going to be very lucrative for Indian cotton exporters, said M.J. Khan, chairman, Indian Council of Food and Agriculture, a leading farm sector policy think-tank. India exported goods and commodities worth $10.17 billion to China in 2016-17, and out of this cotton accounted for $1.34 billion, or 13% of total exports.However, cotton exports to China declined to $1 billion in 2017-18, as per data available with the commerce ministry. China has imposed a 25% tax on US imports of cotton, and shipments from India are consequently expected to see a boost this year. “India is already world’s largest cotton producer and it can further increase acreage of the commodity if it gets to replace US exports to China,” Khan told The Wire. 

       Government May Soon Infuse Rs 10,000 Crore In State-Owned Banks The Wire The finance ministry is likely to infuse about Rs 10,000 crore within a few days in some state-owned lenders including Punjab National Bank, Corporation Bank and Central Bank of India, to help them meet regulatory capital requirement, sources said. Some of these banks have come under pressure because of interest payment to their bond holders of additional tier 1 (AT-1) bonds, they said. As a result, these banks were facing the risk of breaching the regulatory capital requirement, sources said, adding that the ministry has decided to provide capital to four-five banks which are facing “acute shortage”. Banks raise capital through AT-1 bonds, which are perpetual in nature and therefore provide higher interest rates to investors. A high level of bad loans and widening losses have made it difficult for banks to service these bonds from their own earnings. The sources said that capital infusion may take place this week itself or latest by next week. The infusion would be part of remaining Rs 65,000 crore out of Rs 2.11 lakh crore capital infusion over two financial years. The new round of infusion will be between Rs 8,000 and Rs 10,000 crore, sources said.

        India: Google engineer latest victim of mob lynchings fueled by WhatsApp rumors - A 32-year-old Google engineer was beaten to death and three others were severely injured in the southern Indian state of Karnataka on Friday in the latest incident of mob violence fueled by fake social media messages. The victims were assaulted after one of them reportedly offered imported chocolates to school children, according to local media reports. The assailants assumed the group were trying to kidnap the children — the attack bore terrifying similarity to a string of mob lynchings in recent weeks. Police arrested 25 people on Sunday. Since May, at least 25 people have become victims of vigilante justice triggered by fake warnings of kidnappers or organ harvesters circulated on the Facebook-owned messaging platform WhatsApp. The perpetrators in most cases are villagers, many of them first-time smartphone users unable to discern between real and fake videos sent via the platform. Technology-driven menace An explosion in smartphone use is widely regarded as a major cause of the problem. Nearly one in three Indians own a smartphone. Last year, 134 million smartphones were sold in India, which is the world's second-biggest market after China.

      In India, WhatsApp stirs up deadly rumours - Al Jazeera -- On Friday, an IT engineer working for a multinational corporation based in Hyderabad went on a drive with three others, including a Qatari friend, in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.  Hours later, Mohammad Azam was beaten to death by a mob of around 200 people in Bidar district, about 150km from Hyderabad - a major IT hub - after he was suspected of being a child kidnapper. At least 32 people, including the administrator of a WhatsApp group that circulated the abduction rumours, were arrested following the attack on Friday, India's NDTV website reported. Azam was the latest victim of abduction rumours circulating on the popular messaging platform owned by Facebook. Since the end of April, more than two dozen people have been beaten to death by mob vigilantes across India over suspicions of child abduction, according to reports. Two weeks ago, five men in their 20s were also lynched by a mob at Dhule in the western state of Maharashtra, following similar rumours shared on WhatsApp, according to police. One of the five men, all nomadic beggars, was spotted talking to a young girl at a bus stop, leading to the deadly beating. They all died before police could take them to hospital. Activists and technology analysts have raised alarms that messaging applications like WhatsApp are being hijacked by people intent on spreading hoaxes. Harsh Mander, an activist fighting hate crimes and mob lynchings in India, said WhatsApp only serves as a platform to spread a pre-existing tendency for violence. "It's the culture of violence patronised by the politics of hatred that legitimises such killings, and not just a social media platform," Mander told Al Jazeera.

      Pakistan’s economic crisis deepens in an election year -- The Pakistan government to be formed after July 25 elections will inherit a record high-trade deficit of $37.7 billion, a plunging stock market that hit this year’s lowest at 39,288 points on Monday and a currency that has been devalued by over 15% in the past seven months. The outgoing Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government has been criticized for its economic policies, which have left the country with a balance of payments crisis, and a record debt, with the rupee being devalued three times since December 2017. A recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) report on Pakistan says “risks to Pakistan’s medium-term capacity to repay have increased significantly… due to mounting external and fiscal financing needs and declining reserves.”The report says, Pakistan’s external financing needs are expected to rise from $21.5 billion (7.1% of GDP) in 2017 to $45 billion by 2023 (9% of GDP). The figures suggest that the next government will have few options but to seek another IMF loan to reduce the current account deficit.Finance Ministry sources told Asia Times that a recent $1 billion loan from China was agreed to in May this year. It will provide a much needed respite to the foreign currency reserves. Pakistan has received an additional $3 billion worth of loans from Chinese commercial banks in recent months in connection with the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).Finance Ministry officials, however, say Chinese loans are a short-term fix and Islamabad will need a longer-term solution. “Pakistan has borrowed up to $7 billion from China over the past two years, but an IMF bailout has become a necessity. And it is the new government that will carry it out,” said Waqar Masood Khan, a former federal secretary at the Ministry of Finance. While the PML-N government continued to deny it was looking for an IMF bailout during the last few months of its tenure, the then finance minister, Miftah Ismail, had talks with World Bank and IMF officials during his trip to Washington in April this year. Diplomatic sources confirm that a major purpose of the US visit was to discuss terms of a bailout package for after the elections, which the PML-N expects to win.

        Afghanistan: Civilian deaths hit record high, says UN - The number of civilians killed in Afghanistan hit a record high in the first half of the year, despite last month's ceasefire, according to the United Nations.  In the latest figures released on Sunday by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), 1,692 civilians were killed during the first six months of 2018 - the most recorded in the period over the last decade since the agency began documentation.  However, with a total of 5,122 casualties, including 3,430 injuries, UNAMA recorded a three percent overall decrease in the number of those affected by the violence in the war-torn country. The UN figures also showed a 15 percent drop in child and women casualties - at 1,355 and 544 respectively - but UNAMA voiced grave concern over the human cost of the conflict. "In the first six months of 2018, the armed conflict continued to destroy the lives and livelihoods of civilians at the same toxic levels as last year," the report said. A temporary break in fighting was declared independently by both the Afghan government and the Taliban during the first three days of Eid after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in June.

      White House orders direct talks with Taliban on Afghanistan - The Trump administration has told its top diplomats to seek direct talks with the Taliban, a significant shift in US policy in Afghanistan, done in the hope of jump-starting negotiations to end the 17-year war. The United States is preparing to undertake a review of its strategy in Afghanistan, US officials told Reuters, a year after President Donald Trump begrudgingly agreed to extend America's involvement in the 17-year-old war.  The Taliban have long said they will first discuss peace only with the Americans, who toppled their regime in Afghanistan in 2001. But the US has mostly insisted that the Afghan government must take part.The recent strategy shift, which was confirmed by several senior American and Afghan officials, is intended to bring those two positions closer and lead to broader, formal negotiations to end the long war. Over the weekend, seven people were killed and 15 others wounded when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden vest in Kabul. The shift to prioritise initial US talks with the Taliban over what has proved a futile "Afghan-led, Afghan-owned" process stems from a realisation by both Afghan and American officials that President Donald Trump's new Afghanistan strategy is not making a fundamental difference in rolling back Taliban gains. While no date for any talks has been set, and the effort could still be derailed, the willingness of the US to pursue direct talks is an indication of the sense of urgency in the administration to break the stalemate in Afghanistan.

      Michael Hudson: Argentina Gets Biggest IMF Loan in History -- naked capitalism by Jerri-lynn Scofield - In this this Left Out podcast of The Hudson Report, a weekly series produced by Left Out with the economist Michael Hudson, Paul Sliker speaks with Hudson about the economic and political implications of the International Monetary Fund’s $50 billion loan to Argentina, which is the largest IMF credit line in history. Hudson is research professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and a research associate at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College. You can find the audio version here:

      Lula the only hope for millions of Brazilians, says ex president Dilma Rousseff - Brazil's ex-President Lula da Silva, who is serving a 12-year-one-month jail term for alleged corruption, represents “hope” for millions of Brazilians, former leader Dilma Rousseff said on Sunday. Rousseff succeeded Lula as president and belongs to the same left-leaning Workers' Party (PT), which named Lula its presidential candidate in upcoming Oct. 7 elections, despite his legal woes. “Lula is our hope and our opponents think that we are going to withdraw his name from the electoral process. We are not going to do it,” she said. Rousseff spoke to reporters on the sidelines of the Sao Paulo Forum meeting, which kicked off on Sunday in Havana, Cuba. “Lula can make Brazil grow again, reduce the brutal inequalities that exist in my country and, at the same time, renew international relations that aren't subject to the United States and the great powers,” said Rousseff. She attended the Sao Paulo Forum to seek the solidarity of regional progressive parties and movements. Lula was the victim of political persecution by right-wing rivals who wanted him out of the race, said Rousseff, adding he was convicted “without evidence.” “Lula has been imprisoned so that he cannot be a presidential candidate, so that he will not be elected president because, even as a prisoner, he has more popular support with each passing day,” Rousseff said. Polls have consistently shown Lula leads the field of potential candidates with more than 30% of the votes. Though he has lost numerous appeals, his appeals process continues through the courts. However, to run in October, he must be acquitted before Aug. 15, the deadline for registering as a candidate.

      Last survivor: The story of the 'world's loneliest man' - Extremely rare video footage has emerged of a tribe member who has been called the "loneliest man in the world". The 50-something man has been living alone in the Brazilian Amazon for 22 years, after the last members of his tribe were murdered. The shaky video - filmed at a distance and released by the Brazilian government's indigenous agency, Funai - shows a muscular man cutting a tree with an axe. The footage has been shared around the world, but there is more to it than meets the eye. Funai has been monitoring the man from afar since 1996, and needs to show he is still alive to renew a restriction order on the area of land he roams, in the north-west state of Rondonia. The area - spanning around 4,000 hectares - is surrounded by private farms and deforested clearings, but the order prevents anyone from entering and endangering him.   "They have to keep proving that this man exists," said Fiona Watson, the research and advocacy director of Survival International, a non-profit group dedicated to tribal peoples' rights. "There is also a political motivation for releasing the video," she told the BBC. "Congress is dominated by agribusiness; Funai has had its budget slashed. There is a big assault on indigenous rights going on in the country."  Farmers have in the past contested Funai claims.  The man is classed as uncontacted, meaning no outsider has ever spoken to him (as far as it is known). He is believed to be the only survivor after a group of six was attacked by farmers in 1995. His tribe has never been named, and it is not known what language they used.

      Death toll in Nicaragua protests reaches 273, human rights group says --At least 273 people have died and 2,000 have been injured in the unrest that's rocked Nicaragua since April, according to the human rights arm of the Organization of American States (OAS). The standoff at Divine Mercy Church was the latest in a series of violent clashes that started in April when the Nicaraguan government announced changes to the social security system regarding pensions.

      Haiti's Prime Minister Resigns After Riots Over Fuel Price Hike demanded by IMF  - Haiti's Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant resigned Saturday after days of riots sparked by a plan to raise prices on fuel.   Lafontant, a doctor who only took up the job of prime minister in early 2017, resigned shortly before a no-confidence vote was to be called in Haiti's parliament, which could have led to his removal from office. Reports differ on how many people have been killed in riots — at least two, three or seven — that happened over the last weekend. Demonstrators reportedly blocked roads, burned tires and vandalized shops. The government announced on Friday, July 6 that prices would go up the following day by 38 percent for gasoline, 47 percent for diesel and 51 percent for kerosene. By the following day, Lafontant said the price rises would be suspended, and said the government "strongly condemns the acts of violence and vandalism" that happened after the initial announcement was made. The price increases were part of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund, which often requires countries to implement economic reforms in exchange for access to funds. The Haitian government signed an agreement earlier this year with the IMF to gain access to $96 million in loans and grants, according to the Miami Herald.  Haiti's government subsidizes the cost of fuel in the country. The World Bank said in a report last year that the richest 20 percent of Haitians were receiving 93 percent of the subsidies and that the country was spending 2.2 percent of its GDP on subsidies in 2014. But the price hikes were too much to bear for many in one of the world's poorest countries. The World Bank says the majority of Haitians, about 59 percent, make less than the equivalent of $2.41 per day. The IMF said Thursday that it still supports removing subsidies as a way to give the government funding for social services, but advised doing so more gradually. The U.S. State Department issued a "do not travel" warning for U.S. citizens on July 9 over what it called "widespread civil unrest and violent demonstrations in Haiti. Protests, tire burning, and road blockages are frequent and unpredictable."

       Mexican President-elect Lopez Obrador slashes his salary by 60% - Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador says he plans to earn less than half of what his predecessor makes when he takes office in December as part of an austerity push in government. "What we want is for the budget to reach everybody," he told reporters Sunday in front of his campaign headquarters. Glancing at a piece of paper with numbers on it, Lopez Obrador said he will take home 108,000 pesos a month, which is $5,707 at current exchange rates, and that no public official will be able to earn more than the president during his six-year term. The transition team calculates that current Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto makes 270,000 pesos a month. Lopez Obrador said he'd like to reduce his salary even further, but that he doesn't want to cause resentment among future Cabinet members who are in some cases leaving private-sector positions and academic posts that pay more than the new ceiling for public officials. He reiterated campaign promises to cut back on taxpayer-funded perks for high-level government officials, such as chauffeurs, bodyguards and private medical insurance. The official presidential residence will become a cultural center and ex-presidents will no longer receive pensions, he said. At the same time, he doubled down on pledges to stem corruption. Mexico ranks 135 out of 180 countries in Transparency International's 2017 Corruption Perception Index, with higher numbers indicating higher levels of corruption. Public officials will have to disclose their assets, he said, and corruption will be considered a serious offense. 

      The Global Expansion: Still Strong but Less Even, More Fragile, Under Threat -  IMF - Amid rising tensions over international trade, the broad global expansion that began roughly two years ago has plateaued and become less balanced. In our latest World Economic Outlook Update, we continue to project global growth rates of just about 3.9 percent for both this year and next, but judge that the risk of worse outcomes has increased, even for the near term.Growth remains generally strong in advanced economies, but it has slowed in many of them, including countries in the euro area, Japan, and the United Kingdom. In contrast, GDP continues to grow faster than potential and job creation is still robust in the United States, driven in large part by recent tax cuts and increased government spending. Even US growth is projected to decelerate over the next few years, however, as the long cyclical recovery runs its course and the effects of temporary fiscal stimulus wane. For the advanced economies, we project 2018 growth of 2.4 percent, down 0.1 percentage point from our April World Economic Outlook projection. We maintain an unchanged forecast of 2.2 percent growth in those economies for 2019.For emerging market and developing economies as a group, we still project growth rates of 4.9 percent for 2018 and 5.1 percent for 2019. These aggregate numbers, however, conceal diverse changes in individual country assessments. China continues to grow in line with our earlier projections. In some large economies in Latin America, emerging Europe, and Asia, we now project growth rates below our April forecasts. Supply disruptions and geopolitical tensions have helped raise oil prices, benefiting emerging oil exporters (for example, Russia and Middle Eastern suppliers) but harming importers (for example, India). For the aggregate of emerging market economies, the upward and downward revisions largely offset each other. Overall growth in sub-Saharan Africa will exceed that of population over the next couple of years, allowing per capita incomes to rise in many countries; but despite some recovery in commodity prices, growth will still fall short of the levels seen during the commodity boom of the 2000s. Adverse developments in Africa—civil strife or weather-related shocks, for example—could intensify outward migration pressures, especially toward Europe.

      Commentary: Global economic slowdown is likely and necessary later in 2018 or 2019 – Kemp - (Reuters) - No one likes to predict recession, but the global economy is likely to experience a significant slowdown before the end of 2019, and the slowdown may be necessary to relieve upward pressure on oil prices.In its latest World Economic Outlook, the International Monetary Fund forecasts the global economy will expand at 3.9 percent in both 2018 and 2019, slightly faster than the 3.7 percent achieved in 2017.But beneath the sanguine headline numbers, the outlook provides a long list of downside risk factors, including mounting trade tensions, rising interest rates, political uncertainty and complacent financial markets."Growth generally remains strong in advanced economies, but it has slowed in many of them, including countries in the euro area, Japan, and the United Kingdom," the IMF admits."Even U.S. growth is projected to decelerate over the next few years, however, as the long cyclical recovery runs its course and the effects of temporary fiscal stimulus wane".The broad global expansion that began roughly two years ago has plateaued and become less balanced, according to the Fund ("Global expansion: still strong but less even, more fragile, under threat", IMF, July 16).The principal economies are still growingly rapidly, with high levels of business and consumer confidence, and contributing to optimism among investors, but there are signs of a potential future slowdown.Global trade volumes are still increasing but the growth rate has slowed significantly since the second half of 2017, according to the Netherlands Bureau of Economic Policy Analysis ("World Trade Monitor", CPB, July 2018).Leading economic indicators monitored by the OECD have weakened since the start of the year and point to slower expansion over the next six to nine months ("Composite leading indicators", OECD, July 2018).The OECD says that growth momentum is stable in the United States and Japan but is easing in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Canada. At global level, the expansion is exhibiting increasing signs of maturity, with commodity prices and interest rates rising and capacity constraints emerging in some sectors.

       Global Population Growth Ceased In 1988...Population Has Only Grown Older Since Then (10 graphs) The world stopped growing about 1988... and has only grown older since. Global births, per five year periods, according to the UN… Births and UN medium and low variant estimates through my best estimate of the most likely births. Despite the significantly larger (older) total population, births continue to languish and appear set to decline. Since 2000, total births are declining everywhere except Africa. Assuming the UN medium variant...chart below shows births by Africa, S. Asia (India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Iran, Sri Lanka) and the world minus Africa / S. Asia.. Or, looking at births by GNI (gross national income) per capita. Only the poorest nations are having more children, while all other nations (by income) are having significantly fewer (high income and upper middle) or stalling (lower middle income nations). The next charts below show the child bearing populations, from high, upper middle, lower middle, and low income countries (based on 2016 GNI per capita, detailed by the World Bank HERE). For the high income countries, peak annual growth in the child bearing population took place as of 1963, but the total child bearing population didn't peak until 2009. The population capable of child birth will continue falling through at least 2030 and likely far longer. The upper middle income countries peak annual growth took place as of 1985 and the total child bearing population also turned negative in 2009...and again will continue declining indefinitely. Lower middle income countries peak annual child bearing population growth took place in 2000 and annual and total growth continues to decelerate. Low income countries annual child bearing population growth is still rising and not likely to peak until around 2040, while the total child bearing population will continue rising until perhaps 2060. Finally, the best proxy for economic activity is energy consumption. The chart below shows actual and EIA estimate energy consumption through 2040. Clearly, the population growth in S. Asia (lower middle income) and particularly in Africa (low income nations) has not and is not anticipated to result in significant energy consumption or economic activity. What that looks like as a %. Somebody should write about this stuff. 

      Google Bitten by 2nd Antitrust Fine in the EU, $5 billion, Hugest Ever Anywhere. Third Waiting in the Wings -- In the US, the internet giants – Google, Facebook, Amazon, et al. – can do pretty much as they please, interrupted only by occasional hearings in Congress, where Mark Zuckerberg, or whoever, has to grin-and-bear it for a few hours, knowing that this too shall pass. The EU takes antitrust actions against super-dominant giants a tad more seriously. The EU’s Competition Commission, after a three-year investigation, hit Google with a €4.3 billion antitrust fine – $5 billion – the highest fine ever by any antitrust agency anywhere. No one dominates like Google. According to earlier EU findings cited by Bloomberg, Google’s market share exceeds 90% for general Internet search, licensed mobile device operating systems, and app stores for Android software. “Google has used Android as a vehicle to cement the dominance of its search engine,” EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager told reporters. “These practices have denied rivals the chance to innovate and compete on the merits.” The fine is so large because of Google’s “very serious illegal behavior” going back to 2011 and due to the huge revenues Google has earned with this behavior, she said. In addition, Google was given 90 days to stop its “illegal practices” of forcing cellphone makers that use Google’s Android operating system to install Google apps. This fine comes on top of the €2.4-billion fine the EU hit Google with in 2017 after an investigation into Google’s shopping-search service. And the EU is not through yet. It’s investigating Google’s online advertising contracts and could issue an additional fine. Online advertising is Google’s primary revenues source.

      Japan, EU sign trade deal to eliminate nearly all tariffs - The European Union and Japan signed a landmark deal on Tuesday that will eliminate nearly all tariffs on products they trade. The ambitious pact signed in Tokyo runs counter to President Donald Trump’s moves to hike tariffs on imports from many U.S. trading partners. It covers a third of the global economy and markets of more than 600 million people. “The EU and Japan showed an undeterred determination to lead the world as flag-bearers for free trade,” Abe said at a joint news conference with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Tusk praised the deal as “the largest bilateral trade deal ever.” He said the partnership is being strengthened in various other areas, including defense, climate change and human exchange, and is “sending a clear message” against protectionism. The leaders did not mention Trump by name, but they did little to mask what was on their minds — highlighting how Europe and Japan have been pushed closer by Trump’s actions. The agreement was largely reached late last year. The ceremonial signing was delayed from earlier this month because Abe canceled going to Brussels over a disaster in southwestern Japan, caused by extremely heavy rainfall. More than 200 people died from flooding and landslides. The measures won’t kick in right away and still require legislative approval. But they will bring Japanese consumers lower prices for European wines, pork, handbags and pharmaceuticals. Japanese machinery parts, tea and fish will become cheaper in Europe. The deal eliminates about 99 percent of the tariffs on Japanese goods sold to the EU. About 94 percent of the tariffs on European exports to Japan will be lifted, rising to 99 percent in the future. The difference reflects exceptions on such products as rice, which enjoys strong political protection from imports in Japan.

      EU and Japan sign trade deal - Amid considerable fanfare about the need to defend free trade and in an obvious push back against the protectionist measures of the Trump administration, Japan and the European Union have signed the world’s largest bilateral trade pact.The deal has been five years in the making but the impetus to have it finalised was accelerated by the US trade war measures which have targeted both parties. Japan has been hit by Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership, advanced by the Obama administration, and was not granted an exemption from the imposition of US tariffs on steel and aluminium.The EU was also refused a carve-out from these measures and now faces the threat that the US will impose a 25 percent tariff on its auto exports, on the grounds of “national security.”Tensions between the EU and the US have also been ratcheted up with the decision by the European Commission to impose a record €4.3 billion fine on Google in an anti-trust ruling. The EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager, who two years ago ordered the clawing back of €13 billion from Apple, found that Google had engaged in “very serious illegal behaviour” using Android as a vehicle to cement the dominance of its search engine, hitting consumers and competitors.The EU-Japan trade pact, which will go before both sets of parliaments before coming into effect, covers one-third of the global economy. Involving significant concessions on both sides, the deal will lead to the reduction of significant Japanese tariffs on European wine, cheese and other foods, while the EU will end tariffs on Japanese cars and auto parts. Overall it eliminates about 99 percent of the tariffs on Japanese goods sold to the EU and about 94 percent of the tariffs on European exports to Japan, rising to 99 percent in the future. The difference reflects continued protection on rice imports, which is a politically sensitive issue in Japan.

      The EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement Falls Short Compared to an EU-China Trade Deal - European and Japanese officials have just finalised the long awaited Economic Partnership Agreement which while falling short of a full free trade agreement does help to open up Japanese markets to EU goods and the EU market to Japanese goods. While the deal was largely inevitable, it does appear that Donald Trump’s protectionist streak has helped to accelerate the finalisation of the deal. Likewise, European leaders have not hesitated to portray the deal as a rebuff of the present US opposition to free trade. While the deal is clearly a step in the right direction both for Japan and Europe, the deal falls far short of the potential inherent in a would-be China-EU trade deal of a similar nature. One of the peculiar points of common approaches to free trade, particularly where Europe is concerned is that EU leaders are traditionally more keen on developing free trading relations with economies that are similar to those in Europe. This has the effect of creating documents which appear to very much embrace free trade but which in reality do not significantly change realities for either trading partner.

      World's Largest Shipping Company Collapses As Trade War Reality Strikes - While US equity markets (well a few mega-cap tech stocks anyway) have remained resilient in the context of rising protectionist fears, the world's largest shipping company is seeing its stock eviscerated as investor anxiety over trade wars finds an outlet that makes rational sense. A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S may struggle to make a profit this year after the U.S. and China descended into a trade war that is already showing stress in sentiment surveys. As Bloomberg reports, Maersk, which is based in Copenhagen, has already lost almost a third of its market value this year as investors gird for more bad news, and it is losing value in line with the collapse in the US Treasury yield curve. Trade protectionism means less demand, and history suggests the shipping industry will struggle to make the necessary supply cuts. What’s more, Maersk is now more exposed to shipping as the former conglomerate divests its energy business.Per Hansen, an investment economist at Nordnet in Copenhagen, says Maersk is currently “in the eye of the hurricane” when it comes to the damage that will be inflicted by a trade war.The company said earlier in the week it will need to temporarily scale back its service between Asia and North Europe as a result.“It’s highly likely that Maersk’s valuations could sink to its trough valuations in the coming months as investors avoid shipping stocks until more excess capacity is being removed,” said Corrine Png, chief executive officer and founder of Crucial Perspective, a Singapore-based research provider focusing on transport.

       European Council President Donald Tusk Urges Trump, Putin Not To Destroy World Order - — A senior European official on Monday urged U.S. President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and China to work with Europe to avoid trade wars and prevent conflict and chaos. Speaking before Trump and Putin were due to meet in Helsinki, European Council President Donald Tusk appealed for leaders to avoid wrecking a political and economic order that nurtured a peaceful Europe and developing China. Tusk spoke at a news conference with China's No. 2 leader, Premier Li Keqiang, following an annual EU-Chinese economic summit also attended by the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. They met amid mounting acrimony over Trump's tariff hikes on goods from China, Europe and other trading partners. '"It is the common duty of Europe and China, America and Russia, not to destroy this order but to improve it, not to start trade wars which turn into hot conflict so often in our history,'' said Tusk, a former Polish prime minister. Tusk appealed to governments to "bravely and responsibly'' reform the World Trade Organization, the global trade regulator, by updating its rules to address technology policy and state-owned industries — areas in which Beijing has conflicts with its trading partners. Trump has criticized the WTO as outdated and has gone outside the body to impose import controls, prompting warnings he was undermining the global system. "There is still time to prevent conflict and chaos,'' said Tusk. "Today, we are facing a dilemma — whether to play a tough game such as tariff wars and conflict in places like Ukraine and Syria, or to look for common solutions based on fair rules.''

      Europe's Remarkable Ability To Remain In Denial - by Yanis Varoufakis - Europe’s establishment is luxuriating in two recent announcements that would have been momentous even if they were only partly accurate: the end of Greece’s debt crisis, and a Franco-German accord to redesign the eurozone. Unfortunately, both reports offer fresh proof of the European Union (EU) establishment’s remarkable talent for never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity. The two announcements did not come in the same week by accident. The Greek debt implosion, back in 2010, was the ugly symptom of the eurozone’s design flaws, which is why it triggered a domino effect across the continent. Greece’s continuing insolvency reflects the deep disagreements within the Franco-German axis concerning eurozone redesign. While three French presidents and the same German chancellor were failing to agree on the institutional changes that would render the eurozone sustainable, Greece was asked to bleed quietly. Under Macron, new, hopeful ideas were proposed: a common budget for the eurozone; a new safe debt instrument and quasi-federal tax-raising capacities; a common unemployment insurance fund; common bank deposit insurance and a common pot from which to recapitalize failing banks. Moreover, a new investment fund would mobilize idle savings across Europe, without adding to the fiscal stress of member states. A year later, with Italy on a collision course with the EU, the Meseberg Summit between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Macron delivered an agreement on eurozone reform. A few days later, the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers delivered its own “solution” to the Greek debt crisis. In a decent universe, these two announcements would herald the end of a lost decade for Europe and the beginning of an era of rebuilding so that Europeans may face, together, the challenges posed by US President Donald Trump and the next economic downturn. Alas, that is not the universe we inhabit.Even before the Meseberg Summit, Macron had diluted his proposals to the point of surrender. The common bank deposit insurance scheme and the recapitalization fund were pushed into an implausible future in which the eurozone periphery’s banks have to shed their bad loans before a proper banking union is forged. The common unemployment insurance scheme was not even discussed. A common debt instrument to underpin a eurozone budget amounting to 2-3% of eurozone aggregate income was unceremoniously consigned to the dustbin.

      Unions strangle strike efforts by European Amazon workers on Prime Day -- Thousands of Amazon workers in Spain, Germany, and Poland are engaged in coordinated strike action meant to coincide with Amazon “Prime Day,” the company’s invented one-and-half-day shopping holiday. In every case, the unions have worked to limit the strike and to prevent any significant coordination of workers across borders.Prime Day is the occasion for a major publicity campaign by the corporate media in the United States and internationally, virtually akin to a commercial holiday like “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving. The media has done its best to provide Amazon with free advertising for its biggest sale day of the year.In 2017, Prime Day sales amounted to an estimated $2.41 billion—a 60 percent increase over the previous year. In the 30-hour timeframe of the event, Amazon surpassed its combined sales for Black Friday and Cyber Monday in 2016 and added more Prime members than ever before.Yesterday, in anticipation of a new record-setting day, Amazon’s shares rose by 0.5 percent. Jeff Bezos, the largest shareholder, increased his net worth to $150 billion, wealth obtained through the brutal exploitation of Amazon’s global workforce of more than half a million people. For Amazon workers internationally, Prime Day, and the weeks leading up to it, are synonymous with stepped-up exploitation, intensified speedups, forced overtime, overheated and unairconditioned warehouses and grueling labor. The immense technological capacities that make possible Amazon’s pledge of same- or next-day delivery are, under capitalism, translated into ever more onerous conditions for the working class.

      Spain's New Submarine Is Too Big To Fit In Its Dock - El País reported on Wednesday that Spain’s struggling new S-80 submarine procurement programme had run into another problem. After previously being found too heavy to resurface, the boats, which are 81m long and weigh 3,000-tons, were now too long to fit in the submarine pens at the Cartagena naval base, meaning millions would need to be spent extending them. The submarines were lengthened—and re-baptised the S-80 Plus—to fix the weight problem. “The MoD will have to make the docks at the Cartagena base bigger because the new submarine doesn’t fit”, the paper headlined, reporting the new €16 million overrun would go into the nearly €4 billion project cost, or nearly a billion euros per submarine.

      Salvini: It Will Take 50 Years To Expel 500,000 Illegal Migrants From Italy -- Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has spoken out this week against the current rate of migrant deportations in Italy, claiming that it would take 50 years to expel a backlog of 500,00 illegal immigrants unless more than 10,000 migrants are deported per year, reports ANSA.In an impromptu meeting with other EU officials, he stressed the time sensitivity of the migrant issue.  Although Salvini made clear that he prefers a peaceful  resettlement process for asylum seekers, he leans toward more aggressive deportation procedures after hundreds of additional migrants arriving by boat in the past months have exacerbated problem by overwhelming border control authorities and increasing the backlog.“If arrivals in Europe are reduced there will be no problem at the internal borders of the EU and we can continue to work peacefully among peoples as we intend to do,” said Salvini, Express reports.Salvini’s comments on the migrant issue were preceded by his controversial decision to prevent NGO boats carrying rescued migrants from docking in Italian ports. A tough critic of the clandestine immigration taking place in Europe’s southern border, Salvini has justifies his policy by asserting a Italy-First stance, saying that “Italy cannot become Europe’s refugee camp.” While this no-landing policy was the norm of his predecessors, Salvini is more flagrant in his enforcement of the matter and has recruited allies across the European Union to more effectively combat this issue.“I have to do everything I can to protect the people who live in this country... Nobody will ever change my view that the fight against human trafficking and clandestine immigration is one of this country’s primary objectives,” Salvini said on RTL radio on Friday. Salvini’s hardline immigration policy was recently overruled by the Italian prime minister in a case involving a docked NGO boat in Sicily containing rescued migrants. This overruling was prompted by pressure from the Italian president and NGOs. This is significant because the President is largely a ceremonial figure and his foray into this matter makes it an exceptional circumstance. Salvini reacted with “regret and amazement” to the president’s intervention.

      Italy Blocks 450 Migrants As New Mediterranean Crisis Unfolds - Italy dug its heels in on Saturday after conservative Interior Minister Matteo Salvini refused to let 450 migrants aboard two military vessels dock at Italian ports, marking the country's latest stand against the large-scale influx of predominantly North African refugees. The migrants had originally set sail from Libya in a single wooden vessel which was identified early Friday as it passed through Maltese waters. After being denied safe harbor in Italy, they were transferred to the two separate vessels near the Italian island of Linosa - close to Malta, after which Salvini suggested they "head south, down to Libya or Malta." One of the two ships is operated by EU border agency Frontex, while the other belongs to Italy's tax police. In an exchange of messages, emails and phonecalls on Friday, Rome had tried to push Valetta to take responsibility for those on board the wooden boat.But Malta said the ship was much closer to the Italian island of Lampedusa, insisting that those on board only wanted to reach Italy.On Saturday morning, they were transferred to two military vessels but where the vessels will dock remains unclear. -France24During the night (13-7-18) #Malta and #Italy discussed who is responsible for a refugee boat with 450 people in immediate danger and distress.  None of the supposedly 'responsible authorities' took action for hours.— Alarm Phone (@alarm_phone) July 14, 2018 The new standoff began just hours after Italy allowed 67 migrants to disembark in Sicily from an Italian coast guard ship on Thursday.  "We need an act of justice, of respect and of courage to fight against these human traffickers and generate a European intervention," said Salvini during talks with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

       Italy threatens to block ships from EU's Mediterranean migrant mission - Italy is ramping up further pressure on EU states to share the migration burden, this time by threatening to not allow ships from the bloc's Mediterranean anti-trafficking mission to transport migrants to Italian ports.Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero fired the latest salvo in a letter three days ago informing EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini that Italy wanted a revision of the EU's Sophia mission in the Mediterranean. In the letter, which Germany's Die Welt obtained, Moavero demanded that other member states take in migrants from the anti-trafficking rescue mission. Under the terms of the naval mission, migrants automatically disembark at Italian ports. The issue is now being discussed in EU political and security circles.The new populist coalition government of the League and 5 Star Movement has closed its ports to humanitarian rescue ships, saying it wants a fair distribution of migrants across the EU.  It also wants the Libyan coastguard to take the lead in intercepting migrants and bring them back to Libya. Part of Operation Sophia involves training and equipping the Libyan coast guard.

      China’s super-rich lead the way as applications for British millionaire visas surge - There has been a 46 per cent increase in the number of the global super-rich prepared to invest £2 million (US$2.65 million) for the privilege of living and working in the UK despite Theresa May’s ordering a crackdown on a wealthy visa scheme to root out “illicit and corrupt” money flowing into the UK. More than 400 very wealthy overseas investors applied for tier 1 investor visas in the year to March 31, a 46 per cent increase on the number of applicants in the previous 12 months, with Chinese continuing to be the most common applicants. The tier 1 investor scheme, widely described as the “golden visa”, allows visitors to stay in the UK for 40 months if they invest more than £2 million in the UK economy. The increase in applications comes despite the government introducing tighter rules in 2015 requiring applicants to prove the source of their wealth. Earlier this year the Chelsea FC owner, Roman Abramovich, had his application to extend his tier 1 visa delayed as part of a government review of previously granted visas to root out suspect funds.  He has since been granted Israeli citizenship and is understood to have withdrawn his UK visa application. Research by Collyer Bristow, a law firm that advises the global super-rich, found that 405 people applied for tier 1 visas in the year to 31 March, up from 278 in the previous 12 months. The number of applicants from Russian citizens increased by 46 per cent to 52, Chinese interest rose by 26 per cent to 123. The biggest rise in applications was from Turkey, where the number rose 85 per cent to 24 following the government making it harder for Turkish citizens to apply for permanent residency.

      Theresa May: Trump told me to sue the EU - Donald Trump told Theresa May she should sue the EU rather than negotiate over Brexit, she has told the BBC. The US president said on Friday at a joint news conference he had given Mrs May a suggestion - but she had found it too "brutal". Asked by the BBC's Andrew Marr what he had said, she replied: "He told me I should sue the EU - not go into negotiations." It came as another government member resigned over her Brexit plans. Robert Courts said he quit as a parliamentary private secretary - an unpaid ministerial aide - at the Foreign Office to "express discontent" with Mrs May's policy before key Brexit votes on Monday. "I had to think who I wanted to see in the mirror for the rest of my life," he said in tweet. He could not tell his constituents he supported Mrs May's proposals "in their current form," he added. Mr Courts replaced David Cameron as the Conservative MP for Witney, Oxfordshire in 2016. Defending her Brexit blueprint on the Andrew Marr show, the prime minister said it would allow the UK to strike trade deals with other nations, end free movement of people, and end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. A White Paper published on Thursday fleshed out details of her plan, which advocates close links with the EU on trade in goods, but not services. Before the paper was published, Brexit Secretary David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson resigned, along with several junior government figures, saying it would not deliver the Brexit people voted for in the 2016 referendum.

      Boris Johnson Vs. Theresa May: Too Close To Call -  During President Trump's working visit to the UK, he gave an interview to tabloid newspaper The Sun in which he dropped a number of bombshells on Prime Minister May - which he later attempted to back-pedal during their press conference.Among them was a warning regarding May's Brexit plan, saying: "If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the EU instead of dealing with the UK, so it will probably kill the deal”. Piling further pressure onto the PM, he also appeared to throw his support behind recently resigned foreign secretary Boris Johnson, saying he would "make a great prime minister". As Statista's Martin Armstrong notes, Johnson has long been expected to launch a leadership bid, and the chances only seem to have gotten higher since his resignation. While he apparently has Trump's backing, does he have enough support among the public and, perhaps more importantly, Conservative voters?  A new survey by YouGov reveals that Johnson and May are actually seen in a similarly unfavourable light across the country and, while they are certainly more popular among Conservative party supporters, there is very little to choose between the two of them at this stage in terms of popularity.

      May Avoids Defeat By 3 Vote Margin As Even More Brexit Chaos Breaks Loose - Just over a week after Theresa May narrowly survived a revolt by Brexiteers which saw several resignations including that of Brexit minister David Davis and Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, on Monday evening May faced another cabinet rebellion, this time by Tory "remainers", when May barely scraped through Customs Union amendments with a nail-biting margin of just 3 votes, and only after 3 Labor MPs voted with the government. More from the Guardian:The government majority was reduced to just three votes on the most controversial amendment after leading Tory remainer Anna Soubry complained that the prime minister had lost control of events by making concessions to the rightwing European Research Group of MPs.The reason for the Remainers ire is that earlier in the day, May unexpectedly had caved in to Brexiters by accepting their amendments to a customs bill to head off a leadership challenge before the summer break. The most important of the four amendments proposed earlier in the day from the hardliner Brexiteer European Research Group of MPs, or ERG chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg, had been designed to frustrate May’s compromise proposals over customs arrangements agreed at Chequers and had been initially been opposed by the government until Downing Street made a sudden U-turn in the afternoon.But wait, weren't Brexiteers furious last weekend precisely because May sided with remainers when she presented her controversial white paper? Why, yes, it is: what happened is that in the span of ten days, May went from angering Brexiteers, who threatened to overthrow May, to infuriating remainers, in the hope of placating Brexiteers. Or as political correspondent Emily Ashton writes, "the government has narrowly avoided a defeat - by three votes! - from Tory Remainers over an amendment that it only backed in order to avoid a defeat from rebel Brexiteers."

      What top Brexit lawyers think of the white paper wording -- “Vague” and “cleverly worded” — that is how two of the country’s top Brexit lawyers described the government’s white paper.  As the world pored over the 98 page document to make sense of the UK government’s stance and its potential impact on the UK economy, Financial News asked Barney Reynolds, leader of the governance and advisory practice at Shearman & Sterling, and Jonathan Herbst, global head of financial services at Norton Rose Fulbright, for their views on key parts of the text.

      Brexit: DUP seeks legal guarantee over customs border -- The government will come under pressure on Monday to give a legal guarantee that there will be no customs border down the Irish Sea after Brexit. The move is supported by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in an amendment to the Customs Bill which is due before Westminster. The party is also due to meet the government this week about the prime minister's Brexit plan. On  Friday, the government published its blueprint for UK relations with the EU. The long-awaited White Paper is aimed at ensuring trade co-operation, with no hard border for Northern Ireland, and global trade deals for the UK. Despite repeated assurance from Theresa May ruling out the prospect of a sea border, the DUP wants more certainty.  That is why the party is supporting the amendment by Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg to write that assurance into law. That would effectively kill off the prospect of Northern Ireland being treated differently than the rest of the UK after leaving the EU. But it is not clear if the government would support such a move even though it relies on the DUP to get its Brexit legislation through Parliament. The amendment calls for a single United Kingdom customs territory. It states that it shall be "unlawful for Her Majesty's Government to enter into arrangements under which Northern Ireland forms part of a separate customs territory to Great Britain". 

      May sees off rebellion on customs union as amendment is defeated -- Theresa May saw off a damaging Commons rebellion on Tuesday as Conservative remainers lost a high-stakes vote on the customs union, giving the prime minister some much-needed breathing space on Brexit before the summer break.She avoided all-out Tory civil war and the wrath of the Eurosceptic wing of her party, which had threatened to launch a leadership challenge, when MPs defeated the proposal by six votes.However, minutes earlier, May suffered her second ever Brexit defeat when the Commons, in an unexpected move, backed calls for the UK to remain under EU medicines regulation. Just 24 hours earlier, the prime minister had caved in to hardline Tory Brexiters by accepting their amendments to the customs bill, infuriating remainer MPs and leaving Eurosceptics convinced they had killed off her Chequers plan.Downing Street sources suggested, however, that the prime minister would be emboldened in her negotiations with Brussels by the result as it showed that she had the backing of parliament. MPs voted 307 to 301 to overturn the rebel amendment to the trade bill under which Britain would be forced to join a customs union with the EU if no agreement were reached on frictionless trade by 21 January 2019.Twelve Tory remainers, led by former ministers Stephen Hammond and Nicky Morgan, backed the proposal, which they claimed offered a safeguard in the event of there being no trade agreement with the EU in the run-up to Brexit on 29 March.Sources claimed more Tory MPs would have rebelled if government whips had not threatened to pull the third reading of the bi ll and table a no confidence vote in May themselves if the vote was lost, raising the spectre of a general election.

      Brexit: the House of Stupid --OK, so Vote Leave and the ghastly Darren Grimes have been fined by the Electoral Commission for exceeding spending limits.  I am not going to accept, however, that this in any way affects the legitimacy of the referendum result. Those that complain about a weakening of democracy need to remember that we joined the EEC in 1972 without a democratic mandate. Joining was not in the Conservative manifesto, the vote in the Commons was rigged and, in the 1975 referendum, where the <="">effect was reversed, there were no spending controls. The pro-EEC groups, got through £1,481,583 (roughly £11.2 million in today's money), vastly outgunning the "no" side, which spent a mere £133,630 (just over £1 million today). Those born-again democrats who argue that the extra spending by Vote Leave would necessarily have garnered extra votes (as if politics was that simple) must, if they apply that measure to the 2016 referendum, concede that the 1975 vote was invalid. That notwithstanding, the chances of a re-run are vanishingly small and it is about time frustrated remainers stopped trying to re-run the referendum and concentrated on the issues to hand – not least the almost complete collapse of our parliamentary system. For my part, I can't remember exactly when it was that I decided that the House of Commons had lost it over Brexit. But if we needed any reminders of how far the MP collective has departed from reality, yesterday's proceedings in the House serve more than adequately.  The PM "squeaked home" on a vote on a customs union, only to lose by 305 to 301 a vote on an amendment calling for the UK to stay in the European medicines regulatory network

      Brexit: closing in -- If something particularly unmentionable had legs and could speak in the House of Commons, it would possibly look rather like the erstwhile foreign secretary. And, in delivering his wormtongue personal statement in the House yesterday, Johnson illustrated the great divide between himself and the prime minister.While he harped on about the Lancaster House speech, which marked the collapse of any sentient Brexit policy, Mrs May has been progressively forced to inch closer to reality, ending up with the White Paper. But getting closer to what is needed – but by no means close enough – this has the oaf Johnson throwing his toys out of the pram, unable to cope with a world of which he has never really been a part. One way of describing Mrs May's current approach is to picture a wide estuary up which a ship must be piloted. The prime minister imagines that the navigable channel runs up the median line – a course she has charted with the White Paper. But, in fact, the deep water skirts one bank. Anything wide of that risks running aground. If one takes one bank to be her Lancaster House "vision", the other is Efta/EEA. Johnson would have us running aground well before the ship reached its destination. The trouble is that Mrs May isn't going to get much further. That much is evident from a report in the Guardian which seems to have taken time out to do some real journalism.  It is telling us that the EU's team of officials, led by Michel Barnier's deputy, Sabine Weyand, has picked apart the most contentious parts of the White Paper when it was presented to them by Olly Robbins this week. Discussions, apparently, were "difficult", with the Brussels team voicing the oft-deployed accusation of "cherry picking".

      Brexit: heads in the sand - It was Mrs May's in her Lancaster House speech who declared that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain".That was on 17 January 2017, almost exactly eighteen months ago. Natural curiosity alone might suggest that one should start exploring precisely what that entailed. Certainly, it set me off on a trail which produced multiple posts all pointing to one inescapable conclusion: "no deal" is not a credible option. About a year later the European Commission started its series of Notices to Stakeholders, setting out the consequences of the Brexit without a formal, ratified agreement. Largely ignored by UK politicians and media alike, the Commission has now upped the ante with the publication of COM(2018) 556 final - a communication on: "Preparing for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on 30 March 2019". Accompanying the Com is a press release and an annex listing the 68 Notices to Stakeholders so far published, plus a downloadable factsheet which sets out "Seven things businesses in the EU27 need to know in order to prepare for Brexit".Collectively, this bundle of documentation paints a far more comprehensive picture of a "no deal" scenario than I ever could, but one could only draw the same conclusion that I did. There is no mistaking the severity of those consequences, across a wide spectrum of economic activity.  Yet, for all that, The Times, once known as the paper of record, seems to have ignored the Commission initiative, instead opting for a story headed: "Brexit - civil service chief John Manzoni warns no deal could have 'horrendous consequences'".  This is classic British media, obsessed with "planting the flag" on its reports, using UK sources for its reports rather than relying on anything of foreign origin. It is hardly surprising, as a result, that the population is so ill-informed about the European Union.

      Ireland open to new proposal on Brexit border - The Irish government has said it is open to the possibility of a fresh proposal for a deal on the border issue, but will only consider a new plan if it is better than the one on the table. The Irish finance minister, Paschal Donohoe, was speaking hours after Theresa May demanded the EU abandon its stance and “evolve its position” to include a guarantee there would be no border in the Irish Sea in the event of a no-deal Brexit. “The only thing that could replace this current form of a backstop is, number one, something which is better, number two, something which is agreed, and number three, something that would be legally operable,” Donohoe told the Irish broadcaster RTÉ. “The Irish government is very clear that the Irish backstop must be retained for any future agreement between the EU and the UK to be put in place.” In a speech in Belfast, the UK prime minister said it was time for the EU to drop what she believes is its inflexible view on an Irish border solution to break the Brexit talks impasse. She branded the EU’s proposal “unworkable” and repeated her assertion that a border down the Irish Sea was unacceptable to any British prime minister. May said she was still committed to a backstop, or insurance policy, in the event of no deal, but it had to deliver the December joint report that sowed the seeds of the current disagreement by guaranting regulatory alignment north and south of the border. The prime minister told an audience of business leaders in Belfast’s Waterfront building the UK government had “put an approach on the table which does precisely that” in the Brexit white paper – a goods-only proposal that would involve near-frictionless trade. “It is now for the EU to respond. Not simply to fall back on to previous positions which have already been proven unworkable. But to evolve their position in kind,” she said. 

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